Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richard Voelz

Richmond, Virginia

To create and field-test a workbook that will equip pastors to walk with adolescent preachers as they prepare to preach in public worship and other congregational contexts.

Researcher(s): Richard Voelz 
Academic Discipline: Homiletics and Liturgics

Project Summary

Adolescent youth are often leaders in worship, especially as preachers, but pastors are often ill-equipped to help adolescent preachers prepare to preach. This research will serve Christian worshipping communities by creating and field-testing a workbook/guide to help pastors walk with youth as they prepare to preach. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year? List at least two questions that have generated theological reflection and have helped shape your project.

  1. How do youth exercise voice through preaching in meaningful, lasting ways in worshipping communities? What is the nature of leadership & meaningful participation in the worshipping assembly, especially as youth preaching is often dismissed or treated as temporary novelty? 
  2. What is the relationship between youth public protest and the preaching of young people? I raise this because in one debrief meeting, a young queer woman cited Emma Gonzalez as a reason she was interested in preaching! 

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations?

Pastors have cited that the Youthful Sermons workbook has given them a solid framework for this mentoring work and the confidence/resources to do it again. So it impacts leaders who want a way to walk with young people on their way to the pulpit. As I participated in digital worship gatherings that used "chat" functions in Zoom or YouTube, I saw adults affirm and support young preachers in real time. A sense of community and support was fostered in these gatherings in a way that they might not have been in face-to-face settings. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

I had one participant pair drop out late in the game and had to scramble to replace them. I would have greatly appreciated the opportunity to be on-site for these preaching occasions (COVID-related). I had the opportunity to expand the pool to young college students/campus ministries, which was a plus, but will impact revisions for the workbook since it was originally aimed for Middle and High School students. 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

I'm not sure! But this has been deeply meaningful to add on to my previous research. 

What products will emerge from your project?

I will, obviously, have a workbook that will be revised and ready to go to press. Finding a publisher will be a different story. I have tried two already: Chalice and Wipf & Stock/Cascade. Chalice passed and Wipf & Stock pushed me to the W&S imprint, which I would need to partially fund, and as a result, I opted not to take the contract. So after the project concludes, I will be shopping the book around. I'm open to any ideas/publishing avenues!