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Program Design

The Cultivating the Gift of Preaching Initiative (CGPI) aims to identify, train, and support emerging preachers across the Synod, by working together with the 11 presbyteries and with key partners at Johnson C. Smith Seminary, Alma College, and the addition of new Synod staff dedicated to CGPI.


Identification: Together with leaders from each of the 11 presbyteries and 650+ churches, we will identify 35 church leaders (ruling elders and others) each year for participation in the Initiative (approximately three persons per presbytery). These will be leaders with limited or no formal training in preaching and/or theological education but who are gifted with traits that can be further developed to develop compelling and effective preachers. These traits include, but are by no means limited to, (1) a commitment to studying Scripture, (2) congregational leadership, both spiritual and organization, (3) comfort with public speaking, and (4) experience as worship leaders / liturgists.


The program director will work together with presbytery leaders, pastors, ruling elders, campus ministry directors and others to identify potential participants. If you are interested in applying, please contact your Executive Presbyter, Stated Clerk, Presbytery Moderator, or your Pastor.


 After potential participants are identified, they will be asked to complete an application in order to help the Synod staff and advisory committee discern participants for each 18-month program. The application will also help future enrollees to understand the scope of the Initiative and to begin thinking carefully about proclamation. After the first cycle of participants complete the program, they will help the Initiative identify candidates for subsequent cycle. The witness and endorsement of Initiative alumni will be invaluable input for those considering participation in the Initiative.


Training: Participants will receive training via three primary means of instruction: an annual conference, monthly cohorts, and written listener feedback.

1. The program will begin with an Annual Conference held each June at Alma College. This first annual conference is scheduled for June 6-10, 2024. At the conference, the participants will have the opportunity to focus on the craft of preaching with a larger set of colleagues and mentors over several days (a Thursday through a Monday). Participants will build relationships with other church leaders, their mentors and cohort leaders, keynote and worship leaders, pastors, and synod and presbytery staff. Moreover, they will attend sessions and workshops that will include: an overview of the Bible, methods of exegesis (biblical interpretation), the principles of Reformed theology, sermon preparation and delivery, rhetoric, digital storytelling, and more. Throughout the conference there will be opportunities for all participants to worship together and hear sermons from leaders from across the Synod and from Johnson C. Smith and Alma faculty and staff. Initiative participants will attend the conference twice, once at the beginning of their program and again 12 months later, alongside the next cycle of participants.

2. Participants will be assigned to a cohort group. Each cohort will be led by an experienced preacher-mentor possessed of strong gifts in proclamation and facilitation. Cohort groups will meet monthly, online, and cover spiritual practices for preachers, watch and discuss video lectures by guest homileticians, and eventually preach sermons of their own and receive feedback. The video lectures will be condensed version of the monthly Preaching Workshop coordinated by the Synod and will include topics such as: oral rhetoric, hermeneutics (methods of interpretation), sermon structure, social justice, anti-racism, and evangelism. In addition, each month cohort members will reflect on a recorded sermon from a local worship service, or a sermon delivered over zoom to the cohort. The mentor will facilitate the conversation, focus on the sermon’s assertions about the Triune God, its proclamation of God’s grace, its connection to the biblical passage, and its overall effectiveness in engaging listeners. Over the 18-month cycle each participant will preach three sermons to their cohort and receive feedback from their peers and mentor. Finally, the cohorts will meet in person for two overnight gatherings during the latter half of the cycle. Cohorts will be organized geographically to best facilitate in-person gatherings.

3. Participants will receive written feedback on their sermons via listener surveys designed to guide preachers towards improvement (rather than “grade” or criticize sermons). Such coaching feedback instills the confidence and hope needed for compelling preaching. Twice during the second half of the program, participants will preach before worshippers who will complete a survey that asks questions such as: “What was the main point of the sermon?” and “How did the sermon connect with the scripture passage that was read before it?,” and “How might you put your faith into action after hearing this sermon?” The surveys will be compiled and synthesized by the New Media Department at Alma College and then discussed by the preacher-mentor and Initiative participant.


Support: The final element is care for the souls of our emerging preachers. At each cohort gathering, members will share spiritual disciplines and practices. The preacher-mentor will lead these gatherings in ways designed to strengthen the spiritual lives of each participant and to strengthen their love for God and neighbor. The groups might practice lectio divina, worship together, read a devotional book together, share prayer requests and pray for one another. Together with the in-person meetings and the annual conferences there will be ample opportunities for networking and forming not only connections across the synod but spiritual friendships that will serve as a support network in the struggle of each preacher to faithfully proclaim the Word of God.

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