Good News for the Future of Preaching

And it worked. Beautifully.

Well, there was one troubling moment early on in one of the first preaching sessions. Conveners had been selected to keep all the sessions moving along, introducing the mentors and preachers, managing the clock, and so forth. Among the announcements they read before every preaching session was this one: "The Festival is one of the most ecumenical endeavors in American Christianity today. We believe this is God's gift to us. We encourage you to have eyes to see and ears to hear the remarkable diversity of these messengers of the Gospel and the message they bring to us."

But despite that goal and plea, one of the conveners—a local pastor—took it upon himself to "correct the theology" of a progressive young preacher, who had self-identified as gay, following his sermon. It was quite a devastating judgment. A couple of mentors in the audience stood up and took the convener to task because he was out of line, and a tense encounter followed. After a serious discussion between staff members, mentors, and the convener during the break, the latter chose to withdraw and another person volunteered to assume the role.

Later I told the preacher who caused the havoc, "This is what happens when prophets speak." Several other young preachers around him at the time said, "That's exactly what we've been telling him!"

But the sessions quickly returned to their harmonious diversity, and I heard many more young "prophets." For instance, right after that troubling experience, it was a rich blessing to sit in on a sermon by a 14-year-old white Presbyterian girl, which elicited numerous amens and other enthusiastic responses from her African-American brothers and sisters in the audience.

As event leader Dwight Moody wrote in the program book, "The wide spectrum of Christian experience represented at this Festival means that all of us will hear things, see things, and feel things that will push us out of our comfort zones. Do not fear. Receive this celebration as a teachable moment."

The vast majority of those in attendance did just that. And that can give us all hope for the future.

Over these three days I sensed the Spirit of God at work powerfully in these young lives. I wish I could share their names, because you will be hearing from many of them in the years ahead. I'm sure many of them will be heard on "Day 1" one of these days! Perhaps not all of them will end up as preachers, but my guess is that they will all make an incredible impact on our society, for the glory of God and the common good.

1/19/2011 5:00:00 AM
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