Bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction gave advice to those new to the ministry or considering going into the clergy during the Young Preachers Festival.
The third biennial festival, June 27-28, was presented by the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, which also hosted Bishops Week for the jurisdiction’s episcopal leaders and their cabinets. Although the two events were in different parts of the sprawling campus, both groups gathered for an opening to the Young Preachers Festival, followed by a lunch where the bishops dispersed to talk with the 100 young preachers and those considering the ministry. They all gathered again at the end of the day for an ice cream social.
The overriding advice from the nine bishops to their young counterparts was to be themselves.
“Speak with your own voice,” Rio Texas Bishop Robert Schnase said.
“Be authentically you,” echoed Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Conference.
Several bishops said they have seen pastors through the years who had obviously been imitating other pastors, and any message they might have been trying to deliver was lost.
The bishops encouraged personalization in the sermons of the young preachers.
“Do tell stories,” Bishop McKee said, “but not stories where you’re the hero every time.”
Louisiana Bishop Cynthia Harvey, the lone female bishop currently in the jurisdiction, said women face additional obstacles – citing sermons where she was complimented on her shoes more than her message.
“There are additional responsibilities and additional emotional intelligence,” Bishop Harvey said. “Know who you are and know who it is you’re talking to.”
Oklahoma Bishop Jimmy Nunn echoed the mission of the 4-H club, saying sermons must “honor God, preach to the head, preach to the heart and preach to the hands.”
Great Plains Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said he follows the lead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who grasped the hopes and concerns of the people and “took it to a higher plane” in helping the community.
“How is the church an extension of the healing ministry of Christ?” Bishop Saenz asked.
Texas Conference Bishop Scott Jones said he made it a point as a pastor to ask the same question five times in five different ways – through sermons, Bible study and newsletter articles, among other ways.
“Know your people,” Bishop Jones said.
During a Q&A time, young pastors and students asked how they should approach potentially controversial issues in their sermons.
Bishop McKee said the answer is a product of time.
“Walking that line is difficult,” he said. “You’ve got to be trusted. But you’ve got to be a pastor before you can be a prophet.”
Bishop Jones said that time builds trust among a congregation.
“People don’t care how much you know,” he said, “until they know how much you care.”
The two-day Young Preachers Festival included presentations by Dr. Jerusha Neal, assistant professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School; the Rev. Kevin Murriel, senior pastor of Atlanta’s Cascade UMC; the Rev. Sarah Heath, First UMC in Costa Mesa, California; the Rev. Charley Reeb, senior pastor of Pasadena Community Church in St. Petersburg, Florida; the Rev. Scott Chrostek, campus pastor at Resurrection Downtown in Kansas City, Missouri; and the Rev. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of Church of the Resurrection, the largest church in the denomination.
Hamilton said he is his own worst critic as a preacher. Noting in baseball, getting a hit one-third of the time is outstanding, he said one-third of his own sermons are good, another third are so-so and the remaining third are what he calls, “Maybe you should come back next week.”
He read a card from a former parishioner who objected to what that person called a liberal bias overriding his sermons and services. Hamilton, who founded Church of the Resurrection in 1990, said such messages bothered him early in his ministry, but that he learned the best defense is to speak one-on-one with the individual to answer any concerns.
“Don’t quit when you receive opposition,” Hamilton said. “It either crushes you or keeps you going.”
Hamilton noted that John Wesley was a rebel in his time, and continued despite opposition from some in his congregation.
“He didn’t quit,” Hamilton said. “He kept going.”
David Burke, communications coordinator, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.