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After COVID-19 shutdown, Institute of Preaching is back in session

After COVID-19 shutdown, Institute of Preaching is back in session

Conference News

An effective worship service incorporates multiple elements, including music, prayer, scripture, and fellowship. But the centerpiece of nearly every service is the message delivered by the pastor.

A mediocre sermon can leave the congregation unfilled, and overcoming that isn't always easy, even for veterans of the pulpit.

That's why the Institute of Preaching was founded in 1984 through a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Frank W. Sherman. They encouraged Florida pastors to be the most effective preachers they could be.

It's not one-size-fits-all.

In 2007, the Institute partnered with Duke Divinity School as the program focused on peer group learning and personal mentoring to affirm and enhance a preacher's unique gifts.

It assumes that "every preacher can become a more effective preacher than he or she currently is." 

The purpose is "to motivate all of us to accord priority to the preaching event and to discover fresh resources in inspiration and craftsmanship for the task of preaching."

After shutting down in-person sessions in March 2020 because of COVID-19, the Institute has resumed face-to-face instruction.

"It's a big deal because preaching really matters. I think we need to continually focus on the expectations of people in the congregations that something significant might happen because of the preaching," said retired Rev. Jim Harnish, who serves as a facilitator for the Institute of Preaching at Duke Divinity School.

"Preaching that matters doesn't just happen. It happens because of the work of the Spirit through the pastor and the congregation. We want to equip people with more of the skills to be successful."

The Institute consists of three retreats and is open to Elders, Deacons, and Local Pastors in the Florida Conference who participate in preaching.

Working together to preach more effectively

The first one ran from Nov. 1-5 at the historic Fenway Hotel in Dunedin. Twelve preachers from across the Florida Conference along with three facilitators re-participated.

"It was a real joy to connect with the twelve preachers and the three leaders of IOP in person at the Fenway, which is a fabulous location for this event. The energy in the room was palpable, and these are folks who are serious about improving their craft of preaching," Conference Director of Clergy Excellence Sara McKinley said.

"This is not a remedial program but an opportunity for good preachers to become great preachers."

Across the next nine months, the preachers will engage in additional retreats at Winter Park and St. Simon's Island in Georgia. They will participate in peer groups to develop their skills and provide feedback on each other's sermons.

Between retreats, they will join with their lay teams for study and dialogue.

The Institute will cover all expenses associated with the three sessions, including tuition, room, and board.
The only cost for pastors and their congregations is traveling to and from the lay orientation and the three retreats. There is a $25 application fee.

The initial three retreats are already booked, but the Institute plans three more sessions starting sometime next year. Information about registration for that will be available when the events are finalized.

"In launching this, we asked how preaching has changed? We help the preachers focus deeply on the context of their congregations and the communities in which they live," Rev. Harnish said.

"We know that online services are going continue to be a reality even after the pandemic ends. They're not going away. Preachers need to ask how they fit into this hybrid culture of in-person and online. What's the right way to use the technology? To do that, we'll try to expose them to a variety of congregational settings so they can get a fresh look at how they do this."

It's a group effort.

Lay members provide feedback to the preachers and help them better understand the needs of their congregations. Communications leaders also help preachers understand what styles and approaches are most effective.

"We've had the joy of seeing people who spent nine months together say, 'Wow! I feel more confident about my preaching.' We had one preacher say he wished he had done this 30 years ago," Rev. Harnish said. "They're discovering their gifts and how to use them more effectively."

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