I just spent 3 days with 14 young preachers ranging in age, sex, and theological backgrounds. We came from various Christian traditions, educational backgrounds, and preaching styles. This morning we split up into 3 groups to go to 3 different services in the Louisville area. The group I was in went to Journey Community of Grace, a new church plant. I have to be honest that a couple of us were a little worried because we knew that this wasn't going to be our typical worship experience. We have a love for our hymns, pews, pulpits, and some of us our liturgy and we went into this worship not expecting any of those things and wondering how we would experience worship in a new and different setting.
Now I have been to many different types of churches and most of the time (not all) I leave services that are out of my comfort zone still hungry and longing for worship as I know it. So my fear was not having that sense of worship this week.
When we walked into the building we were warmly welcomed (not the uncomfortable church welcome to our worship have a seat) by people who wanted to know us, where we were from, what involvement in the Academy of Preachers meant to us and how they could support young people just like us. They had a breakfast where people ate together, caught up with one another, and welcomed visitors.
Then we went into worship. The band played 2 contemporary songs and then Dr. Moody interviewed the four of us from the Young Preachers Leadership Team that were with him. After he finished his questions he opened the questions to the congregation there and one individual was very curious about how they could be relevant to the younger generation in their midst. This was very refreshing to hear someone ask us how they could be relevant to us instead of telling us what they had to offer.
After the panel discussion one of the members of our Leadership Team shared his journey of faith with everyone, partnering that with Paul's letter to Timothy speaking to keeping the faith, finishing the race, and fighting the good fight he challenged the congregation to keep being hospitable to visitors, to keep reaching out to young people, to come to the festival, and to pray for us. After his sermon he asked that the congregation join around us and lay hands on us to pray for us. Folks lifted up affirmations, shedding tears of joy for being inspired by those they were inspiring and encouraging. They prayed for us, for other young preachers who are discerning a call to preach, and we all realized that something my good friend Winterbourne had said during the panel discussion was very true. Winterbourne had said that something we have learned through the Academy is that God dwells where God's people are gathered. Here we were four young preachers sitting in a worship service that was unfamiliar to most if not all of us, skeptical and hesitant going in but stepping out in faith, trusting God, and feeding off of one another.
After they prayed for us we sang the following words:
Savior, he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever, author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Shine Your light and let the whole world see
For the glory of the risen King
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We're singing, for the glory of the risen king
The energy in the room after the prayer and while singing this closing song was amazing. The encouragement that we received from a community of believers who are committed to serve, encourage, and inspire young people, the welcome and hospitality, the pure love of worship that these people shared with us was amazing. We left hungry, but it wasn't because the worship service wasn't what we were used to, we left hungry to fulfill our calling as young preachers. We left inspired, filled, and excited about what God was doing through us and through the Academy.
As our work continues, as the Academy continues to identify, network, inspire, and encourage young people to discern their call to gospel preaching I pray that more congregations will step up and show genuine hospitality to young people, that they will continue asking what they can do to be relevant and encourage us, that we can continue to work together across generations, genders, denominations, and theological differences to stand on the common ground of Christ.
I am looking forward to the Festival of Young Preachers in January. I look forward to meeting new young preachers to network with. I look forward to opening myself up to listen to brothers and sisters who are very different than I am. I look forward to meeting up with old friends and catching up with where they are and what they are up to. I look forward to encouraging fellow young preachers who are discerning a call to preach and have no idea what that looks like or what that means. I look forward to seeing God at work and being a part of the work. I look forward to being a part of something as powerful and as transformative as the Academy of Preachers.
January 6-8 will be here before we know it and 104 young people from all across the nation will gather to celebrate gospel preaching. It will be exciting, it will be a unique event, and it will be worth attending.