The most important work of the Christian minister to faithfully preach the Word.
A 2017 Gallop poll shows there is still a hunger and desire for outstanding Christian preaching, with sermons cited by three out of four worshippers as the major factor attracting them to religious services. The same poll showed that parishioners place a high value on pulpit messages that teach about scripture, and they long for messages from the pulpit that help them connect their faith with their daily lives.
Despite the high value placed on preaching, three major challenges face Christian proclamation in the United States and around the world, described here as preaching among exiles, preaching burnout, and preaching shortage. It is the hope that the International Center for Christian Preaching will help meet these challenges head-on by equipping and encouraging Christian ministers and lay preachers to faithfully proclaim the unchanging Gospel in an everchanging world.
1. Preaching Among Exiles
In his book, Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles, Walter Bruggeman argues that, like the exiled Jews of the Old Testament, today’s churches are experiencing “a loss of the structured, reliable world which gave them meaning and coherence, and they find themselves in a context where their most treasured and trusted symbols of faith are mocked, trivialized, or dismissed. Exile is not primarily geographical, but it is social, moral, and cultural.” He argues that preaching among exiles requires a powerful reimagination of preaching that takes into consideration the reality that “this world is not my home.”
Barna president David Kinnaman echoes this sentiment using the same exilic imagery in his book Faith for Exiles. in which he draws on three years of research to describe the next generation of Christians as living in a “digital Babylon.” He proposes five research-based solutions to living in a world where Christianity is declining:
To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus.
In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment.
When isolation and mistrust are the norm, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships.
To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.
Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission.
In a post-Christian, post-truth, post-COVID world characterized by shallow moralistic therapeutic deism, the words of Paul still ring true, “How can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). While the message never changes, a changing context demands a recommitment and reimagination to providing proclaimers of the Gospel with the best tools and research available to be able to preach to an increasingly skeptical audience. We need to improve preaching education and professional development opportunities so that ministers can be trained to preach to a new generation of hearers who still need to hear the old, old story.
2. Preaching Burnout
The challenge of preaching “in exile” has led to emotional and mental health challenges for ministers who face shrinking congregations and dwindling budgets. A 2017 State of Pastors survey of 1,500 Protestant pastors conducted by Barna Group and Pepperdine University revealed that 75 percent reported feeling “emotionally exhausted” frequently or at times. And more than half of pastors at churches with fewer than 250 members reported episodes of depression.
Ministerial burnout has only been accentuated by the challenges of COVID 19 and the nation’s culture wars. A 2020 survey of Protestant pastors by Barna found that 29% said they had given “real, serious consideration to quitting being in full time ministry within the last year.” Kinnaman said 2020 has been a “crucible” for pastors. Churches have become fragmented by political and social divides. They have also become tattered, as “people’s connectedness to local congregations is waning. “The pandemic was a great revealer of the challenges churches face,” said Kinnaman. “The trifecta of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 election and the racial reckoning in response to the death of George Floyd hit like a ‘wrecking ball.’”
One of the chief contributors to the problem of ministerial burnout is loneliness. Research indicates that over 70% of pastors experience loneliness and have no close friends that they trust with personal matters. In many ways, preaching is seen as something that is done in isolation, which leads to depression and feelings of inadequacy. We need opportunities for preachers to connect with intergenerational peers and mentors who can build them up through equipping and encouraging.
3. Preaching Shortage.
The current climate and context for Christian ministry in the United States and abroad has led to a lack of people who are willing to serve in ministry. Indeed, churches around the country in all denominations are wrestling with how to maintain their institutions and churches when far fewer people are going into ministry as are retiring from it. An article by Dr. Dennis Tucker entitled, “Serving the 90%: The Challenge Facing Theological Education” also articulates a simple mathematical situation facing churches trying to find ministers:
The largest 10% of congregations contain approximately half of all churchgoers. […] This “means that most seminarians come from large churches, but most clergy jobs are in small churches. For most of my colleagues in theological education, this data is not surprising, but its challenges remain daunting nonetheless. If most seminarians come from large churches (top 10%) and those are likely the contexts to which they envision returning, what about the other 90% of congregations? What about the average congregation of 75 participants? Who will serve those congregations? Who will minister in those places, the kinds of places where, yes, the Gospel still breaks in, and lives are still transformed? The answer appears simple: Seminaries and theological schools need to recruit and graduate more ministers to serve the 90% of congregations – and we are all certainly trying. But here is where the numbers become stubbornly troublesome. The Association of Theological Schools reports that since 2006 total enrollment in theological education has decreased by 9%.
According to Dennis Tucker, the best solution to solve the preaching shortage is to help train lay preachers and ministers who are willing to step up to the pulpit on a volunteer and bi-vocational basis. As small churches get smaller and begin to show shrinking budgets, there is a growing need to provide education for those who are not needing the entry-level education provided by traditional means of theological education. As he states, “what about the God-called laypersons committed to the work and ministry of the church? Perhaps we need to reconsider how we prepare lay ministers and lay leaders to do the work to which they have been called. This seems like fertile soil for new collaborations between churches and seminaries. But even more, it could reflect a shared commitment to the unfolding of the church in a new generation.” We need to provide continuing education opportunities and ministerial resources for lay preachers and others who are serving small congregations.
In light of the challenges of preaching in exile, preaching burnout, and preaching shortages in the United States and around the world, the International Center for Contemporary Preaching exists to equip and encourage ministers, lay preachers, and future proclaimers of the Gospel to effectively communicate the Good News. The center will also help Mid-South Christian College fulfill its core purpose of being a ministry focused college, faculty, and student body by
1. Improving Preaching Education and Professional Development
Developing an innovative BA in Ministry / Preaching in English and Spanish
Offering a practical and professional Certificate in Preaching in English and Spanish
Hosting Preaching Workshops and Retreats
Building a State-of-the-Art Preaching Chapel
2. Helping Churches Recruit and Retain Christian Preachers
Discovering and Encouraging Next Generation Preachers
Coordinating Preaching Conferences and Contests
Facilitating Peer Learning Groups
Fostering Intergenerational Coaching and Mentoring Opportunities
3. Boosting the Availability and Quality of Preaching Resources
Creating an Online and On-Campus Preaching Library
Publishing a blog featuring articles and news regarding Christian preaching.
Recording a Podcast for interviews and sermons featuring Christian preachers.
Providing a Preaching Research and Preparation Space on Campus
Dr. Victor Lyons
Victor has served as a Senior Minister and Worship Leader for over twenty years in churches in Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi. He has also taught preaching in Cuba, Mexico, and Ecuador, and currently teaches expository preaching at Mid-South Christian College. Prior to directing the ICCP, Victor served as the Senior Minister at Christview Christian Church in Southaven, Mississippi. He also taught English as a Second Language at White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee.
Victor holds a Doctorate in Ministry degree in Expository Preaching from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (’19). He also holds a Master of Divinity Degree in Theology from George W. Truett Theological Seminary (’08), and a Bachelor of Arts in Music and English Literature and Composition from Mercer University (’05). Victor was born and raised in Chile, where his parents served as missionaries. His background as a “third culture kid” gives him a unique perspective on the art of preaching and ministry, and he is passionate about encouraging and equipping English and Spanish speaking ministry leaders in the United States and around the world.
Victor is married to Meghan Lyons, a 6th grade science teacher at West Collierville Middle School in Collierville, Tennessee. He has a rambunctious son, Stanley, who is ten years old.