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Institute helps clergy become better preachers

Institute helps clergy become better preachers

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Institute helps clergy become better preachers

By Sarah Alsgaard | March 31, 2009 {0992}

When the Rev. Kent Crow heard about the Institute of Preaching, he was apprehensive.

“I was in this mode that ‘I’ve been doing this for a while so why would I go do this and read books about preaching?’ ” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Jim Harnish (foreground) and Warren Pattison teach a class on passionate worship, one of the five disciple-making practices of The Methodist Way. The session was part of a series of workshops on each of the practices held a day before the official start of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. Pattison is director of media and worship arts at Hyde Park United Methodist Church. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1135. For longer description see photo gallery.

Only when the Rev. Dr. Jim Harnish, senior pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Fla., and a facilitator for the institute, asked Crow to attend, did he decide to go.

“Once I made the decision to be a part of it, it became ‘Why didn’t I do this a long time ago?’ ” Crow said.

Crow, who serves as pastor at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Winter Haven, Fla., was part of the 2008-2009 Institute of Preaching class.

The Institute of Preaching is a partnership between the Florida Conference Institute of Preaching committee and Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., and is sponsored by the Florida Conference and Western North Carolina Conference Parish Ministry Fund. Its goal is to make great preachers even better.

“This is not a remedial preaching course,” said the Rev. Roy Terry, chairman of the Florida Conference Institute of Preaching committee and pastor at Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, Fla. “This is for pastors who really want to become better. They’re already good preachers, but they want to be better preachers.”

Eleven pastors from Florida participated in the 2007-2008 class. The institute expanded for the 2008-2009 class to include pastors from the Western North Carolina Conference. Twelve pastors from Florida and six from North Carolina are participating.

Pastors must apply in order to be considered. Those who are accepted attend three retreats: one in September, one in November and one in either April or May. The first retreat is held Durham, N.C., and the two subsequent retreats take place in Florida.

During the retreats, pastors bring a DVD of a sermon they preached, and a group of four or five fellow pastors participating in the institute offers feedback; so do a speech pathologist and other faculty from Duke Divinity School.

“What I liked about the experience is focusing on the fact that preaching is an art — it’s a creative experience,” said the Rev. Scott Smith, pastor at Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport, Fla., and part of the 2007-2008 class.

“What we look for is people who have academic experience so we bring in from the Duke faculty a speech pathologist and senior professors,” said Nathan Kirkpatrick, program director at Duke Divinity School. “The rest of the institute we bring in experienced pastors to share their wisdom and what they have learned. So we have had everyone from district superintendents to well respected members from the Florida and Western North Carolina conferences come and speak.”

During one retreat, Duke Divinity School arranged for a panel of lay people who work with the media to participate and discuss the changing face of media and target audiences.

Wearing a T-shirt reflecting the main point of the day, the Rev. Roy Terry leads a plenary session on “the gathering,” the second of four parts of a worship service, at the “Passionate Worship: Divine Inbreaking” event at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, in April 2008. File photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0816. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0836/April 23, 2008. For longer description see photo gallery.

“When we’re preaching, do we ever pay attention to targeting our audience and the medium?” Smith said. “Are we changing to change with the times? That (discussion) was really informative.”

Another component of the institute is pastors selecting members of their congregations to become a congregational committee. That group meets with the pastor at least once a month to review his or her preaching.

“(The congregational committee) is one of the best parts of the program,” said the Rev. Cynthia Weems, a member of the 2008-2009 class. “Having the committee has allowed me to build relationships with those people, and we have embarked on this exploration of my preaching, and I feel very supported by their presence, by their insights.”

Weems, associate pastor at the Florida Conference’s Plantation United Methodist Church, said she will continue having a congregational committee after completing the program.

The Institute of Preaching began about 20 years ago when Florida United Methodists Frank Sherman and his wife donated money to create the institute in Florida with the belief that every preacher can become better.

In 2007 the institute changed its model from providing one event attended by pastors from across the Florida Conference to a partnership with Duke Divinity School and a yearlong training for clergy accepted into the program.

Because of financial help from the Western North Carolina Conference and the Florida Conference’s Center for Clergy Excellence, pastors who participate are required to pay only for transportation to the retreats.

“I believe the program helps to foster a renewed sense of passion for preaching,” Weems said.

In the future, Terry would like to see either more conferences participate in the institute or create their own based on this model.

“It has been a difficult experience for me because it’s challenged me to look at things that I probably wouldn’t have looked at before,” said the Rev. David Williamson, a member of the 2008-2009 class and co-pastor at Spring of Life United Methodist Church in Orlando, Fla. “But it has been well worth the journey to see things that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t opened myself to hear from other people.”

Applications for the 2009-2010 Institute of Preaching are now being accepted. The deadline to apply is April 17.
All full-time elders and local pastors who are serving in either the Florida or Western North Carolina conferences and do not anticipate a change of appointment in the coming year are eligible to apply.
An application and more information about faculty, dates and location are available at under “Programs and Training,” “For pastoral leaders” and then Institute of Preaching. Interested clergy may also call 919-613-5323.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer.