LOUISVILLE — When Dwight Moody talks with younger people who want to go into the ministry, he often finds their interests transcend the pulpit.
"They'll talk about social justice, non-profit work, Christian higher education, counseling, mission work, youth work," said Moody, a former dean of the chapel at Georgetown College. "Very few of them mention preaching."
Moody is executive director of a new program, the Academy of Preachers, which trains and mentors young preachers. It's funded by a grant from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, one of the nation's largest philanthropies, which has a long history of funding clergy training.
"I believe that more American people hear a sermon in a given week than any other single extracurricular activity," said Moody, executive director of the program. "People who are sitting in the pews are wanting better preachers."
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One of the participants is James Bush, who has battled leukemia, now in remission.
At one point during pain and nausea from his illness, he didn't know whether he'd live through the night and turned to prayer, asking, "Where are you, God?"
Bush began praying the 23rd Psalm with his mother and drew strength from the phrase, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
Three years later, Bush draws on that experience when he explains why he wants to be a preacher.
He told The Courier-Journal of Louisville that he wants to reach other young adults, who are less likely to attend church than older generations.
"I feel most alive when I'm preaching," said Bush, a student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore.
Bush and about 15 other people — teenagers and young adults, liberals and conservatives from numerous denominations — attended a January retreat in Louisville to launch the academy.
St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville is a partner in the program, which includes the retreat, a "preaching camp" this summer and a "festival of preaching."
Leaders of the academy are guiding the students on their preaching techniques, and the young preachers are giving one another feedback.
Moody said that while denominations and seminaries do offer some training in preaching, there's a widespread desire for more.
Caela Wood, 28, is a student at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and is among the aspiring preachers seeking such guidance.
"It's such a gigantic responsibility to get up in front of everyone and feel like I have good news to share," she said. But "after I did that the first time, I was a lot less scared of it," she said. "I would rather be in the church and working with God and God's people than anything else."