Preaching, the Rev. Adam Hamilton says, has never been as important as it is now.
“The health of the church is highly dependent upon our doing our best to preach well,” the founding pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, said. “I think it’s the single most important thing we do in our life as a pastor, aside from tending our own souls and making sure we’re serving God ourselves.”
Church of the Resurrection hosted the second-annual Young Preachers Festival and Conference on July 21-22, and its 138 attendees represented 27 annual conferences in 26 states. Those at the conference were nearly evenly split between high school and college students, graduate and seminary students, and pastors already serving in local churches.
“There’s a passion in our church to see the church renewed, and to see the next generation of leaders being equipped,” said Debi Nixon, managing executive director of Church of the Resurrection and one of the festival coordinators. “We wanted to be a part of what God was doing to raise up the next generation of leaders for the church.”
The festival included keynote speakers Alyce McKenzie, professor of preaching and worship at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas; Olu Brown, lead pastor of Impact Church in East Point, Georgia; Matt Miofsky, lead pastor and founder of The Gathering UMC in St. Louis; Great Plains Bishop Scott Jones; and Hamilton.
“If you preach well, people come to faith in Christ. If you preach well, people grow deeper in their faith,” Hamilton said prior to his keynote speech on the first night. “If you preach well, people give their time in Christian service. If you preach well, they’re inspired to go out and serve Christ in the world. If you preach well, they’re inspired to give more of their time, talent and resources.”
Before his speech, Hamilton said pastors “need to up our game” to best communicate in a short-attention span, highly visual society.
“We have access to things no other generation of preachers ever had access to. We can get information at our fingertips, which means we ought to prepare better-informed sermons than we ever have before,” he said. “We have the ability to use technology to communicate. The use of video changes things – we can use it to tell the story. We live in a visual society where people want to see it.”
Besides the keynote addresses, workshops were conducted to discuss inclusive preaching, the use of pop culture and sharing personal stories.
There were also lighter moments, including a “Sermon Slam,” where volunteers competed to extemporaneously give their thoughts on a Bible verse chosen at random.
Grace Woods, a senior this fall at Tonganoxie High School in Kansas, volunteered to compete in the Sermon Slam – and then Hamilton was chosen as her opponent.
“I’m learning what it means to become a pastor – the scary parts and the parts that take a lot of work,” Woods said of the festival. “It’s opened my eyes to say, ‘Yes, I think I can do it.’”
The Rev. Lora Andrews, pastor of Grace UMC in Winfield, Kansas, said she looked at the festival as a refresher course from seminary.
“In seminary, it’s academics, but these are practitioners who are doing that work,” said Andrews, who said she is leaving the festival with the courage to start “switching things up” and improve her sermon preparation time.
A 35-year veteran of the ministry, the Rev. Jaime Farias of the Laurel UMC in Nebraska, said he was encouraged by the young people attending the festival.
“Hopefully, our prayer is that they find opportunities to get involved in some seminary and be involved in participation,” he said.
Farias said he was learning how to connect with younger generations.
“I’m learning how to proclaim the message in a society that’s changing a lot,” he said. “I’m learning about using technology to spread the word of God.”
The festival concluded with the young pastors and students giving sermons from the same lectionary, with critiques by veteran preachers.
A grant helped fund the first two years of the festival, and Nixon said she hoped the event would be able to continue.
“Preaching is so important in our ability to retain people who might want to give us a try,” she said. “That preaching, that communication from the platform is important for people to connect with something that’s relevant and makes them want to come back.”
David Burke, communications coordinator, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.