Becoming Equipped to Follow God’s Call
Called at age 39 to be a messenger of God, a minister-in-training finds acceptance, insight, and guidance through a preaching peer group.
In this Strengthening Preaching blog series, preachers from a range of Christian traditions and denominations reflect on their growth as preachers through their involvement in the Strengthening Preaching initiative of Lilly Endowment Inc., which is coordinated by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. At the heart of the initiative are preaching peer groups, sponsored by various seminaries, which engage preachers in reading, discussion, preaching, and feedback—all within a collegial circle of support.
I am a 41-year-old minister-in-training at Christ Baptist Church in Gary, Indiana, under the leadership of Pastor Lawrence E. Robertson. I acknowledged my calling in May 2016 and began seeking ways to become the best servant and messenger I can be for the Lord.
I enrolled in Indiana Wesleyan University in August 2017, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. I am involved in several ministries of my church, mostly those dealing with the youth and men of the church, and I belong to an outreach Bible study class at a local men’s shelter.
No experience necessary
As I pursued my calling, I felt the need to be surrounded by others in ministry who could provide me with guidance and insight into the world of preaching. My mother, who has always been one of my strongest supporters, informed me about a group whose goal was to help preachers improve their preaching. I contacted Pastor Virgil Woods of First AME Church of Gary, who told me about a local preaching group he leads, sponsored by the Styberg Preaching Institute. The group is designed to strengthen the kingdom of God by strengthening the messengers of his holy Word.
After registering online, I was invited to the group’s first Revival Showcase. I was impressed by the strong attendance and the quality of the preaching I heard that first day. But I was uncertain if I’d been clear about my inexperience in ministry, so I prepared myself to hear that I was underqualified to join the group. I feared I would be rejected.
However, I received a warm welcome and immediately felt the group’s special chemistry. Composed of both female and male ministers from a multiplicity of denominations, the group amazed me with its clear focus on enhancing one’s preaching skills.
The first workshop we embarked on asked, “How do you eulogize someone you never knew personally?” I fell in love with the challenges of our workshops and the way every participant had a voice that was heard. Soon we began watching videos on “good news preaching,” various preaching styles (from a manuscript, from an outline, and so on), finding our voice, and how to open and close sermons.
These workshops provided the group with a wealth of insight and sharpened the focus of my messages to always emphasize salvation through Jesus Christ. We also participated in eight-minute sermonettes with the objective of streamlining our messages. This exercise had the added benefit of increasing my comfort level when speaking under strenuous circumstances.
Friends in ministry
Dr. Woods has been a godsend to me and, I’m certain, to the rest of the group members. His teaching style places you in the driver’s seat—yet he provides instruction when needed. His ability to both enhance the things you do well and support the areas where you lack makes him a great leader. The encouragement he gives to those who struggle with speaking in front of a crowd clearly makes them more comfortable.
Our peer preaching group has become more than just a group. We have grown to become friends in ministry, friends I would not have known if it weren’t for this opportunity.
Perhaps what has made joining the Styberg preaching group most beneficial for me is that, though I was not an established minister, I was accepted based on my sincerity for preaching the Word of God. I will forever be thankful unto God for leading me to a group where messengers can fellowship, grow, and learn together.
Read So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive, an examination of the impact of pastor peer groups.
Explore preaching and ministry resources from the Center for Excellence in Preaching.