How is it that you and I are meeting...here?
Happy as I am that we've come together in this blog post, no one could be more surprised about this than I am.
I never set out to run an online preaching formation center for Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy.
I didn't want to run an online preaching formation center for Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy.
I was given this nice, little idea to help a few preachers at a time. Work with them one-to-one for a year. Help them get better at preaching but tuck it into a process that's more like spiritual direction.
Great idea. Lovely, even. Direct from the Holy Spirit who gave me the idea in the middle of the night in early 2014.
But who am I to do such a thing?
I'm an unknown. I've only published a few sermons and one article. I'm an Episcopal priest of nearly twenty-five years, and a retreat leader and spiritual director longer than that. Known for my preaching, yes, but as as a practitioner, not an educator.
Umm, Holy Spirit? Hellooooo...why would anyone listen to me? You need someone else!
When the idea arrived I was newly transplanted for my husband's job from Minnesota to Houston, TX. The needs of my family required that I not seek a traditional parish call, so not even my own denomination would know me in my new home.
In fact, of the six million souls who make up the Houston Metro, I knew only one of them.
That's 0.00000017% of the population.
Not much to go on. Holy Spirit? I'm not the right preacher for the job!
Still, when the Holy Spirit wakes you in the middle of the night
and tells you to do something, reasoning doesn't get very far.
Especially because I could see how brilliant the Spirit's idea was. I could see that if I worked with someone intensively on their preaching and their life in God simultaneously then their fears, problem areas, and anxiety could be alleviated. Authentic, effective preaching was bound to grow and the Gospel spread.
Preaching wouldn't be so stressful anymore. Clergy would be more joyful and more connected to God and colleagues, more spiritually grounded. And more joyful, connected, spiritually grounded clergy would make for more joyful, connected, spiritually grounded congregations.
Plus, if were to work with clergy online I could work with them anywhere.
Down the road I could train others to be mentors, too.
A very cool idea given by the Holy Spirit, indeed.
But who would listen to me? I'm no one. Move on to someone else, Spirit!
Yet, shockingly, one person after another did listen.
- First, officials at the Episcopal Diocese of Texas listened. They thought Backstory Preaching™️ was worth pursuing.
- Then, Micah Jackson listened. He's the Associate Professor of Preaching at Seminary of the Southwest, the Episcopal seminary in Austin, TX, who asked me to teach his class while he was on sabbatical, (Me?! Teach preaching?! Are you sure?). He's now one of my partners.
- Next, the Bishop Quin Foundation in the Diocese of Texas listened. They offered funding so I could launch the Mentorship.
- Then, a group of intrepid clergy listened. They inaugurated our pilot year of Backstory Preaching's™️ Mentorship in 2016, and found it to be a life-changing process. It improved their preaching, and their connections to God and colleagues which, in turn, further improved their preaching.
In fact, when asked whether they would recommend BsP to their colleagues, they wrote things like this about the Mentorship:
- Yes! It has a great vision and I think anyone would benefit from experiencing this class. Also, most preachers I know give lip service to the importance of priests having a spiritual director but they rarely actually have one themselves. This kills two birds with one stone. It gives spiritual direction while also helping to improve their preaching and to lighten the burden of preaching for the sake of their overall ministry.
- I would recommend it to anyone who feels insecure about their preaching as it gives the support needed to grow.
- Yes, because I know that often priests do not take this responsibility as seriously as they should.
- Yes, it is good for exploration of the self as a preacher.
- The Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota also listened. At the last minute they needed someone to teach their Fall, 2016, seven-week, online local-formation preaching class. By accident they found us and asked us to jump in. We did, using BsP principles, and afterwards a student wrote,
- I do want you to know, that this has been one of the best classes I have taken through the school for formation. The content was stellar, the pacing of the course felt right and doable, you gave great constructive feedback in a loving way and I really feel I grew as a preacher. Your techniques are something I will carry with me the rest of my preaching life! Thank you, for all of this and the gift you are to forming future priests and bringing Christ into the world. You are a blessing!
Now we've been asked to return to the Diocese of Minnesota in 2017 to teach both of their preaching classes.
- And then, also by accident, the Roman Catholic publishing house, Liturgical Press, listened. I wrote them to ask for advice about getting published. Someday. Maybe fifteen years from now when I'm ready to retire. I sent along a very rough draft of the introduction for the book I imagined that would result from the material I wrote for the BsP Mentorship.
Two months later, I had a contract. My dad's an author multiple times over. Regarding the speed of the contract he's said over and over,
"This doesn't happen in real life."
The readers at Liturgical Press had this to say about "The Preacher's Trust" that helped them offer the contract so quickly.
- They loved your writing, and they believe that you’re putting together a fresh, insightful, and very helpful resource for people engaged in the ministry of preaching.
If all goes according to plan, the book will be published Spring of 2018.
Beyond the Mentorship,
none of this is what I imagined.
Beyond the Mentorship,
it's not what I wanted or didn't want so soon.
At the same time, when I describe Backstory Preaching™️ to clergy, laity, and even non-faith-based people, this is the common reaction:
Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?
I have no idea, but it prompted one preacher who found our website to write,
Thank you so much for developing this curriculum and for undertaking this project. When I stumbled upon your work, I thought, finally someone who gets how tough this preaching thing can be!
The impact and encouragement like the above has been overwhelming. The ideas the Holy Spirit keeps feeding me keep working for preachers. The effect of the Backstory Preaching™️ preaching processes and our first, stand-alone e-courses are having is astonishing. The evidence suggests that the Holy Spirit isn't going to keep this contained within my introverted comfort zone. Sigh.
But what this means is also great!!
The Good News,
and the very happy surprise,
is that all along,
Backstory Preaching™️ was made for you, too.
So, here I am. A tucked-away-in-a-corner preacher no one knows is now sending you emails, blogging, getting on Facebook, publishing a book, and inviting you to be a part of a preaching approach that's way bigger than you and me.
I deeply hope you'll be part of us,
a preaching formation community
of Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy
who is as dedicated to spiritual growth and formation as preachers
as we are to preaching,
so the Spirit can spread the Gospel
farther, deeper, and more effectively
than we can ask or imagine.
I've dedicated my life to Backstory Preaching™️ with an all-consuming and wholehearted devotion for nearly three years. I've never worked harder at anything in my life because I believe in this mission. I see the effects in the preachers we serve so I will continue to work just as hard.
I hope you'll be one of them. I hope you'll be one of the preachers I get to serve.
By working together I hope you'll preach even more effectively than you do now, and I hope you'll grow as a preacher for the sake of the Gospel.
To that end, I'm writing a series about what preaching "effectively" actually means. I'm in the process of writing them now; they'll be staggered over the next couple of weeks.
I'll be sharing them here, but you can receive them directly by signing up for our newsletter.
In the meantime if you just can't wait, send me a message about what you need as a preacher.
Truly, truly I say to you,
the Holy Spirit made Backstory Preaching™️ for you, so you can
"Be Good News to Preach Good News."
Founder and Steward, Backstory Preaching™️