Organization Launched to Inspire, Support Future Preachers: Lilly Endowment Funds Pilot Phase of National Group

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Students pursuing a call to Christian preaching now have unprecedented support and leadership through the Academy of Preachers. The first program of its kind, the Academy of Preachers will recruit students in high school, college, and seminary to participate in a series of inaugural events over the next twelve months. Academy participants will reflect the inherent diversity of the Christian faith: liberal and conservative, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Pentecostal, male and female, Asian, Hispanic, African and Anglo-American.

Students pursuing a call to Christian preaching now have unprecedented support and leadership through the Academy of Preachers. Founded by Christian leaders in Louisville, the Academy is launching a regional pilot phase this year with plans to grow nationally over time. Initial funding for the Academy is being provided through a grant from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment. The $395,000 grant is being administered through Louisville-based St. Matthews Baptist Church.

"The Academy will serve a role similar to youth organizations oriented toward other careers, such as Future Farmers of America, Future Business Leaders of America, and the myriad of organizations for young athletes and artists," said Dr. Dwight A. Moody, Executive Director of the Academy. "To our knowledge, there is no organization in the United States with a purpose similar to what we have articulated. In this sense, the Academy fills a large void in opportunities afforded to those who sense a call to the preaching ministry."

The Academy of Preachers, which may be visited online at http://www.academyofpreachers.net, will recruit students in high school, college, and seminary to participate in a series of inaugural events over the next twelve months. For example, the Academy will host a preaching camp in the summer of 2009 and initiate a certification program to sustain young preachers in their personal and professional development. On January 7-9, 2010, the Academy will sponsor The Festival of Young Preachers, a two-day gathering at St. Matthews Baptist Church. The Festival will present opportunities for Academy participants to preach for friends, family, clergy, and seasoned evaluators as well as receive instruction and inspiration from some of the leading preachers in the United States.

"Creative and inspired preaching is a critical dimension of Christian worship and essential to the spiritual vitality of a congregation's life and work," said Craig Dykstra, Senior Vice President of Religion at the Lilly Endowment. "We are pleased to support the Academy in its efforts to identify young people with gifts for ministry and to encourage them to embrace the call to preaching."

Initial student recruitment is focused on a region that includes Louisville, Lexington, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. Sixteen young people serve on a leadership team to help design the Academy's activities and promote its mission. They are assisted and mentored by a board of advisors comprised of clergy and lay leaders from the region.

Moody, a Baptist minister and former Dean of the Chapel at Georgetown College, is the creator of the Academy and will serve as its Executive Director. Moody believes the Academy is good news for the church and the pulpit. "We want to inspire these young people with the social significance and cultural influence of Christian preachers, empowering them to be agents of transformation in the lives of individuals, families, congregations, communities, and the nation," said Moody.

Dr. Leslie Hollon, Senior Pastor of St. Matthews Baptist Church said that Academy participants will reflect the inherent diversity of the Christian faith: liberal and conservative, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Pentecostal, male and female, Asian, Hispanic, African and Anglo-American. "We believe the Academy of Preachers will make an important contribution to 21st century Christianity by enriching the lives and ministries of young people," said Hollon. "I can't think of a better time to be a preacher."

"The Church has long needed a vehicle that steeps preachers in preaching, mission work, evangelism, theology and Biblical Studies at the beginning of their journey in ministry. Thank goodness the Academy of Preachers has arrived," said Martha Simmons, President and Publisher, The African American Pulpit Journal.

"The Academy of Preachers promises to be a very important new program for supporting and developing young preachers across denominations and traditions. It is a program that is long overdue. We at Vanderbilt Divinity School are pleased to be involved," said Dr. John McClure, Chair, Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, TN.

"In forty years of preaching I have seen time and time again the life-changing effect of preaching the gospel, and I thank God for the privilege of sharing God's Word with others. However, it's regretful that some are losing confidence in traditional preaching and are gravitating to slicker, more high tech and often less substantive presentations. The Academy of Preachers is seeking to restore the value of preaching by motivating young ministers and training them to become effective expositors of God's Word. I applaud their initiative and am confident God is going to bless their efforts," said Bob Russell, Bob Russell Ministries and Pastor (retired) of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville.

"Never has the church been more desperate for preachers who can help us discern the presence and leading of the living God. The Academy of Preachers promises to help raise up a generation of preachers who are empowered by the Spirit, steeped in the Bible, captured by moral vision, alive to language and imagination, and possessed of cutting edge theological insight. I am honored to commend this program to high school students, college students, and seminary students as being a real life-force for our time," said Dr. Ron Allen, Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"One of the Church's sacred tasks is to declare God's good news to each emerging generation, lest the gospel become a relic of the past. By identifying, cultivating, and encouraging the next generation of preachers, the Academy of Preachers will ensure that the ancient story of redemption will be proclaimed in innovative ways now and for generations to come. Whenever we invest in young preachers, we are sure to receive a lasting, and everlasting, return on the investment," said Rev. Brad Braxton, Senior Minister, the Riverside Church in New York City, New York.

The Academy of Preachers was founded in 2009 to nurture, strengthen and provide support to students pursuing careers in Christian preaching. Led by Dr. Dwight A. Moody, the Academy of Preachers is sponsored by St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. More information is available online at http://www.academyofpreachers.net.

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