It’s been several years ago now since Dwight Moody sat down with me next to a mechanical bull and showed me a vision for the future of preaching. There in that western-themed restaurant in Kansas City, he decried the fact that young people simply do not hear (or listen to) the call to preach as they once did. While preaching was once considered a calling of the highest caliber, now it is more likely that young people feeling called will be drawn to youth ministry, or counseling ministry, or some other type of ministry within the Church. While these are each high callings, so is the call to preach. Yet Dwight’s suggestion was that young people simply have not imagined themselves as preachers because they have not seen preachers their age. Preachers that they have seen in the pulpit are not their age, or so often their gender or race. But what if young people saw a collection of preachers from many walks of life, all their age or close to it? What impact might it have on the ways that they hear God’s call in their own lives?
Fast forward to 2015, the year that Dwight and the Academy of Preachers celebrated its sixth year, culminating in a National Festival of Preaching in Dallas, Texas in the first days of the year. That festival celebrated the talents of over 50 preachers, aged 14-28. Young women and men from all walks of life and from around the country preached. I was not able to attend this year’s festival, but have attended two similar national festivals, and have heard some of the best preaching I can remember at each. I have had the opportunity to accompany a young preacher discerning his own call to ministry, and hear him and many of his contemporaries preach inspiring words from the pulpit. But in addition to hearing the Word proclaimed with strength and conviction, I was also witnessing an important step in the lives of young women and men in the pulpit who saw themselves as preachers in a new way. As well, I was witnessing the inspiration of many other young people who watched others that looked like them standing behind the pulpit. And for some of those young people, there will come a day when they will look back on a long career in the pulpit and say that an AoP festival helped inspire them to answer God’s call for them to preach.
Now, forward again into the future, to June 2015. American Baptists from around the world will gather in Kansas to hear incredible speakers, preachers, and presenters. But perhaps some of the most important individuals for us to hear – and be both heard and seen – will come from and to those who are 14-28 years old. I want to encourage you to participate in the regional Academy of Preaching that will take place during the Biennial, on June 26-28. Plan now to participate in this important event. Attend and bring a young person to hear some great preaching. Carefully choose a young person who might be willing to preach and mentor them as one of the young preachers at the event. Pray about young people in your life who could be called to preach. And watch the difference it makes.
The Church is in for a wild ride in the coming years, not unlike a ride on that mechanical bull in that Kansas City steakhouse several years ago. But as I look ahead to the ways that God is preparing the Church for the future, I believe that the Academy of Preachers is an important tool to bring strength and inspiration to a new generation of preachers. I invite you to saddle up and enjoy the ride, and watch what God does in the next generation of the Church today.
Rev. Matt Sturtevant Pastor, First Baptist Church, Lawrence, KS