Peer Mentoring for Preachers: Helping Priests Become Better Preachers
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This project focuses on the monumental task of helping priests effectively communicate and answer the homiletical question in the 12-15 minute window of time they have for a sermon each Sunday. The homiletical question every preacher must ask in crafting a sermon is this: What does the Holy Spirit want the people of God to hear from these texts on this occasion? Through peer mentoring, this project pilots a way for priests to listen and give critical feedback to the preached sermon. The goal of this project is to help priests become better preachers by discussing content, theology, delivery and clarity of their preaching with their peers. Before the peer group began to meet, some clarity and teaching around how to mentor was sought. Through homiletical classes at The School of Theology, Sewanee and the Preaching Excellence Program offered by The Episcopal Preaching Foundation, a great deal of exposure and learning took place. Under the primary direction of The Rev. Dr. William Brosend, I was able to learn a great deal about what make a sermon good, how to listen to a sermon, and how to offer critical and constructive feedback to peers. Then, the pilot program took off among six priests in our first 10 years of ministry or less, in and around the Atlanta, GA area. These priest took turns sharing sermons and with some guidance, learned how to give and receive feedback over a period of six month. In listening to others preach, and applying the homiletical question, the critique !i and feedback grew over time, and each member agreed that the experience was invaluable. As was noted in the proposal for this project, the preacher can never tire from her task. The imperative to preach the good news of Jesus Christ is never to be taken lightly, or allowed to go stale. While the fully human preacher can sometimes get derailed in the tasks of a week, this 12-15 minutes are for many the most refreshing and nourishing words a parishioner may hear. And what's needs to be heard is the good news in ways that ensures the listener that the preacher believes it with all she has to give. For many, the only feedback the preacher receives is the obligatory "nice sermon" as parishioners head out for another week in the life. And for many, there is little exposure to preaching skills after seminary. If a priest is not willing to seek out feedback or take some continuing education classes, or at least to hear sermons by other preachers with a critical ear, they may find themselves become stagnant. The gospel can not afford a preacher who is anything less than fully alive in Christ, and passionately willing to share the Good News. The project is hopefully the beginning of a new way for clergy to mentor each other around preaching. With the success of the first group, the goal is to join with a broader audience including priests in other diocese to help start groups for priests to engage their preaching, or re-engage with their passion for preaching. The gospel demands no less.