Preaching Event Equips Clergy for Upcoming Advent Season

September 08, 2019
Under the leadership of Dr. Sam Parkes and Rev. Jeremy Steele, clergy from around the Alabama-West Florida Conference gathered on Thursday, September 5, 2019, at Montgomery FUMC to collectively explore sermon preparation around the Advent season.
Parkes, senior pastor at Mary Esther UMC, and Steele, teaching pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, co-led the group through multiple exercises that would encourage reading scripture in various ways. As the leaders read scripture in the morning session, the attendees were asked to reflect on out-of-the-box imagery connected to scripture and collaborate with their table to accept other imagery discovered. A unique method of doing this was through art; whereby the participants drew images with oil pastels on canvas without editing, keeping the crayon active on the page the entire time.
“Part of what we are doing through this process is to collaborate, which means both being assertive with our ideas, but also respecting the ideas of others enough to build on them without feeling the need to ignore them or offer stark alternatives,” said Parkes. “We wanted to encourage the pastors to just say YES, AND to the ideas of others without saying YES, BUT.”
The group also engaged in verb processing to identify what stirs, evokes, fascinates and bothers them in scripture passages. Questions such as, “What do you know about God from this moment in text that gets you” and “Why does your community need to hear this today?”
As participants began to shape their sermon ideas for each week in the series, Steele asked them to think about preaching to the whole person:
-What one idea do you want the listener to KNOW?
-What would you hope the hearer would FEEL?
-What action might the hearer DO in response to the gospel proclaimed in the sermon?
The participants departed the workshop with two complete sermon series themes for Advent/Christmas along with themes for each sermon in the six-week series. Steele will work with his creative team at Christ UMC to produce graphic elements for bulletin covers, media templates for worship, and social media promotion. 
“This is just the beginning of walking alongside pastors to better equip them with the tools they need to become better preachers,” said Rev. Ashley Davis, AWF Director of Connectional Ministries. “Not only does this specifically speak to one of our conference priorities, research shows that of all the needs church members and visitors have, a good sermon each week is at the top of the list. With the leadership talent in our conference, we have the ability to better teach, coach and train our pastors in our own backyard.”
The Alabama-West Florida Conference Preaching Excellence Team will analyze feedback from this event and hopes to offer future events like this in the coming months. Click here to see more photos by Luke Lucas