There has been significant erosion in the conviction that preaching is a vocation of significance, that it is an avenue of influence in the world. So, intelligent, talented and passionate young people are turning away from preaching toward careers as worship artists, public policy wonks and NGO officials.
During my days as dean of the chapel at Georgetown College I had the wonderful privilege of coaching many students as they wrestled with vocational decisions. Frequently the question was posed like this: Do I want to go to seminary or law school? Do I want to work in the church or go into Christian higher education? Do I want to invest my life in congregational life or social justice?
These dilemmas arise in the soul of a person who wants to live a life of significance, who wants to make a difference in the world, who wants to be, in some way, a person of influence. Often these young people have been shaped by the Christian gospel and have responded to the call to follow Jesus and take seriously God’s purpose for their living.
Working with young people like this is thrilling; it’s what keeps people like me working on campuses across the country.
But student wariness of working in the church is troubling; their ambivalence toward preaching is disturbing.
Over the past six months I have visited many of the 60 church-related institutions of higher learning within a 150-mile radius of Lexington, and my observations and concerns are widely shared by campus religious leaders.
The best way to phrase it is this: There has been significant erosion in the conviction that preaching is a vocation of significance, that it is an avenue of influence in the world. So, intelligent, talented and passionate young people are turning away from preaching toward careers as worship artists, public policy wonks and NGO officials.
One attractive young preacher at the college got enamored with technology. He moved from the podium to the sound board. “One hundred kids,” I told him in a mild rebuke, “can manage the sound and lights. You can do what they cannot. You can stand up in front of a crowd and speak passionately and persuasively about Jesus. Don’t give it up.”
This is what undergirds The Academy of Preachers.
The Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis—and I will write about that later in this series—caught the vision of what the academy can do for young people struggling with a call to preach. They have provided the funding for the venture.
On Jan. 1, I will formally begin my work launching this opportunity for young people. The academy will revolve around The Festival of Young Preachers, scheduled for January 2010 in Louisville. We will send out an open invitation for aspiring preachers to come to preach, young people from age 16 to 28. We expect more than 100 young preachers, and we anticipate a crowd of more than 1,000 gathering to hear them.
We shall see what God can do with such an event to inspire a new generation of preachers.
So You Want to Be a Preacher (first column in the series)