The Compelling Word: The Center for Excellence in Preaching

Date Published

July 5, 2023

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Published by Scott Hoezee

Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching

Calvin Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Preaching (CEP) is in the first year of a five-year grant program funded by Lilly Endowment. Lilly granted CEP $1 million to implement its proposed program as part of its new Compelling Preaching Initiative. A primary goal of the Compelling Preaching Initiative is pursuing answers to a two-fold question: What constitutes compelling preaching today? And how is such preaching best delivered given the significantly altered ecclesiastical landscape that has come about due to the global pandemic and multiple years of fierce partisan political divides and disputes?

In this first year of the grant program, CEP is one of just over 30 entities and institutions to receive a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment. Each program has its distinctives and methods. The program CEP proposed centers once again on Peer Learning Groups. In this first year, CEP established 16 such groups. These highly ecumenical groups now include about 160 pastors from the U.S. and Canada.

Each year, the Peer Learning Groups will be asked to look at one specific aspect of the church’s contemporary preaching and worship environment. For 2023 the main focus is on the new reality of hybrid worship and preaching, as people now often tune in to worship services online rather than attend in person. Some church members have taken to attending virtually almost every week, while others alternate in-person attendance and virtual attendance. But pastors everywhere are cognizant that how their sermons are now heard and received has changed. What’s more, the new hybrid dimension to worship and preaching is just one of the more significant alterations to church life resulting from a culture saturated with technology, devices, screens, social media, and more.

In 2023, the pastors in these Peer Learning Groups will grapple with this environment. What are the challenges and obstacles this atmosphere presents to preachers? What new opportunities does this afford for preaching? Are there novel ways to think about the delivery of sermons, and if so, what might those look like? Can pastors experiment with new approaches from which others could also learn?

In addition to Peer Learning Groups and new focus areas, CEP will convene various colloquia on Calvin’s campus with conversations centered around the learning that emerges from the Compelling Preaching Initiative. It will bring influential preachers, Peer Group Leaders, and others together for focused, in-person interaction. Additionally, through the coordination leadership of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Lilly Endowment will convene annual gatherings of representatives from all grantee institutions. By 2024, these annual gatherings will bring together leaders from a wide ecumenical swath of American seminaries, universities, and other entities, all pursuing the goal of making preaching in the church more compelling for the 21st century.


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