National Lutheran News

Preaching to the preachers

Nashville to host 2013 Festival of Homiletics

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, was a featured preacher at the Festival of Homiletics in 2012. She will be back again this year in Nashville. Photo courtesy of Luther Seminary

America’s country music capital will host something a bit different this year, and it has nothing to do with cowboy boots or guitars. The 21st annual Festival of Homiletics will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, May 13-17.

The Festival of Homiletics is a weeklong, multi-denominational conference that brings together a wide variety of preachers and professors of homiletics to inspire a discourse about preaching, worship, and culture. Attendees participate in worship services, lectures, and workshops on homiletics — a fancy word for preaching — to consider various styles and methodologies, and to get the unusual opportunity to step down from the pulpit and simply listen.

Homiletics history

In 1992, Presbyterian minister David Howell had an idea. In addition to his work in the ministry, Howell is a licensed professional counselor. As a result of his counseling work, Howell had attended large psychological conferences where seminal and influential thinkers were brought in to speak about the latest theoretical advances in psychology and treatment.

Howell always left these conferences inspired and refreshed, ready to serve both his clients and his congregants in an even more informed and powerful way. So he thought, if psychologists can do it, then why can’t preachers? And thus emerged the Festival of Homiletics. What started out as a gathering of 400 preachers has turned into a beloved tradition of over 1,600 church professionals.

Two years ago, Luther Seminary purchased ownership of the Festival, and now hosts the conference once every three years. But Luther has not abandoned Howell’s vision and legacy. “When David approached us about the partnership, we could easily see the potential for not only sustaining his good work but growing our reach and influence beyond the Lutheran world into other mainline denominations,” says Sally Peters, director of lifelong learning at Luther Seminary. The Festival now attracts a range of clergy from Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and Episcopal congregations, in addition to some independent churches and international attendees.

Why the preachers need a preachin’ to

Karoline Lewis

The Festival, strategically scheduled during the weekdays so that preachers aren’t required to miss a Sunday of preaching, may be the only time during the year when they can sit in the congregation. “Preachers have little opportunity to nurture their craft,” says Karoline Lewis, Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Homiletics at Luther Seminary.

Preachers will be challenged to think about the way in which the church is moving, what members want to hear, and what they need to hear.

“They are so busy ‘doing it’ that chances for much-needed reflection, inspiration, and imagination are few,” Lewis adds. “This event is the gift of time for celebrating their call to proclamation, to help them think about where, how, and why they want to grow as preachers. It is an opportunity for collegiality, for support, for building relationships that carry them through the daily realities of the preaching life.”

This year’s Festival features widely respected and dynamic speakers such as Walter Brueggemann, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Barbara Lundblad, Diana Butler Bass, Bishop Mark Hanson, and Luther’s own David Lose and Karoline Lewis.

“There will be, guaranteed, a sermon, a lecture, a workshop that will cause you to look at preaching in enough of a different way, through a different, albeit perhaps only dim, lens, that will give you the grace to face your general and specific challenges as a preacher,” promises Lewis.

David Lose

Lewis will lecture on identity and authenticity in the pulpit. Her colleague, David Lose, the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, will address the more provocative topic of how preachers must transition from performers to coaches if they want the church of the future to cater to its modern members.

“I’m thinking about titling the presentation ‘Is the Festival of Homiletics Killing Preaching?’” says Lose. “At events like these we come to hear good speakers and preachers and sit back to be inspired, encouraged, and entertained … all fair things to want, by the way. That pattern of preaching worked when the larger culture was at least nominally Christian and church attendance was encouraged. But those days are gone, and if people don’t know how to ‘do’ the faith for themselves in a world of multiple faiths and meaning-making narratives, I don’t think they’re going to keep coming.”

Preachers will be challenged to think about the way in which the church is moving, what members want to hear, and what they need to hear. “I’m interested in moving from what I call ‘performative’ preaching to ‘formative’ preaching where the mark of the good preacher isn’t simply that the preacher is great at interpreting the Bible, connecting faith and life, and sharing his or her faith, but rather after a year or two of preaching, the congregation is better at these key skills of the Christian life.”

Alexandra Wertz currently lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and works as a college completion coach at a college access organization there.

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