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Inaugural Conference for Cultivating the Gift of Preaching (CGP) Inspires Participants

Last month, from June 6-10, we kicked-off the Cultivating the Gift of Preaching Initiative with a conference at Alma College. I confess that I am still riding the high! We in the Synod office have had many people ask us over the last several weeks how things went. The answer that we’ve each given is some version of this: We worked hard over several months to recruit mentors, find speakers, identify and enroll participants, plan and lead a five-day conference, and organize cohort meetings, get the news out about the Initiative, and frankly pray that God might bless this new Imitative. And O did God answer those prayers! The Holy Spirit moved in ways we never expected or could even have dreamed of! The Spirit’s work far surpassed anything that we did or could have done. The connections, friendships, formation, and much more that happened during our five days at Alma were a gift to all of us, participants, mentors, speakers, and staff alike! As the director, all of my expectations were exceeded and more. As I have thought back to the conference over the last few weeks, I have found that I can do nothing else than offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving!


We began each day with worship and a sermon from one of our mentors – Derrick McQueen (pastor at St. James Pres in NYC and faculty at Johnson C. Smith Seminary), Christina Jensen (pastor of three churches(!) in Lake Huron Presbytery), Jeff Schooley (pastor at First Pres Bowling Green, Maumee Valley Presbytery), and Nancy Jo Dederer (pastor at Circleville Pres in Scioto Valley Presbytery) – and each day was a masterful example of the craft of preaching! On Friday and Saturday, Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary gave two plenary lectures and introduced our participants to the struggle and blessing that is the preaching life. And on Sunday, Paul preached at First Presbyterian Church of Alma which graciously invited all conference participants to join them for worship and a delicious lunch. Participants attended workshops that included an overview of the Bible (Chip Hardwick, Synod Exec.), exegesis for preaching (Derrick McQueen), the basics of public speaking (Matthew Doggett, Alma Professor), the art of storytelling (Laura Von Wallmenich, Alma Professor), an overview of Reformed Theology (Matthew Bruce, CGPI Director), and spiritual practices for preachers (Michelle Olsen, pastor and spiritual director, Lake Michigan Presbytery). Finally, participants meet with their cohorts, got to know one another, and made plans for their monthly meetings over the next 18 months – in fact our biggest complaint, from post-conference surveys, was for more cohort time!


We learned, we laughed, we asked question, we cried, we shared our excitement and fear about preaching, we ate (very!) well, and we enjoyed the company of Christian fellowship. But, for me as the director at least, the highlight was witnessing the Holy Spirit transform and edify an amazing group of people who responded to the call to serve the church through the gift of preaching. Several of our participants already have significant experience preaching, yet they were excited to learn new modes of preaching and deepen their exegetical and homiletical skills and knowledge. The majority of our participants have very little prior preaching experience and came into CGPI with varying degrees of fear and trepidation about climbing into the pulpit. Many of them reported that their calls to preach were affirmed, that they were encouraged by the new things God is doing to enliven our churches, and that they had a newfound confidence to preach buoyed by their new friends and colleagues in ministry. Across the board, participants shared that the conference exceeded their expectations, that they can’t wait to be in-person with their cohorts again, and that they can’t wait to see the Initiative thrive and grow. Finally, as the director, I cannot help but share that in the post conference surveys, many stated that when they got home, they would start recruiting participants for next year!


In the upcoming months, I hope to be able to speak to some of you in person at presbytery meetings and perhaps bring one or more participants as well to share their excitement! We have already begun to recruit participants and search for mentors for the 2025 “class” of emergent preachers from across the Synod! Please do send me recommendations and encourage people to apply to part of CGPI. God is truly doing a new thing across the Synod and its 11 presbyteries and 650 or so churches. Please pray for the emerging preachers, mentors, and staff of CGPI, that God would continue to bless this new ministry for the sake of Christ and his church.


Dr. Matthew J. Aragon Bruce

Director, CGPI



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