Preachfest! Australia: training up a new generation of preachers

“Preaching is vital for the life of any church,” explains Preachfest! lead organiser Rev. Ben Gilmour. “But, aside from Bible and theological colleges’ formal educational offerings, many preachers don’t get the opportunity to be trained and inspired by others. They need to be encouraged and developed in this faithful craft.”

Enter PreachFest! Australia, a three-day festival designed to connect Australian preachers of all levels with some of the best international and local teachers and practitioners of the craft, and give them a jolt of intensive training. It is organised by Uniting Mission and Education in partnership with St Mark’s National Theological Centre.

“Preachers need to be encouraged and developed in this faithful craft.” – Rev. Ben Gilmour

Preachfest! Australia was inspired by the US Festival of Homiletics and the UK Preaching Festival – both of which are week-long conferences designed to inspire discourse about preaching, worship and society. This Aussie version, though, will be an in-person/online hybrid conference.

In-person attendees at two regional hubs – located in Sydney and Canberra – will be able to choose whether they watch the livestreamed presentation from the other location or the speaker at their own location. Plus, the conference app will be used to hold a live Q&A with each teacher after they teach. In addition, the entire event will be streamed online, with virtual attendees gaining access to both Canberra and Sydney speakers and the Q&A.

Preachfest will focus on training preachers in the actual craft – a significantly different approach to other preaching conferences currently available in Australia, which apply a practical lens to in-depth biblical study of a single subject or book. For example, Ridley College’s Annual Preachers Conference this year is looking in-depth at preaching on the book of Jeremiah. Similarly, last year’s Biennial Preaching Conference by Sydney Missionary and Bible College focused on preaching discipleship from the book of Deuteronomy.

Preaching training is, of course, available through some short courses run by individual churches and breakout sessions at large conferences like Hillsong Conference. There is also existing bible college offerings of homiletics subjects, offered as part of a degree or diploma, or as an external course run by theological colleges (see a Sydney Anglican offering here and here for a Catholic offering here).

Yet Preachfest’s three-day festival, dual location, online/in-person model – where both ministers and lay people alike will be trained in the craft of preaching – looks set to be a fresh incarnation of an ancient art.

“We are bringing some of the best international teachers together with local gifted and talented preachers to assist the church in Australia to lift the standards of faithful preaching,” says Gilmour.

“Anyone interested in preaching and in leadership in the church will find Preachfest! invaluable.” – Rev. Ben Gilmour

Preachfest’s two keynote international speakers are Dr Anna Carter Florence and Rev. Dr Sam Wells.

Dr Anna Carter Florence has been a keynote speaker at the US Festival of Homiletics and is the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary. Florence is interested in “preaching and public proclamation, and preparing leaders who can speak and listen in multiple contexts for ministry”. Her research has been focused on this area and how other related fields, like poetry and theatre, offer opportunities for prophetic speech.

Carter is also a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, a partner church of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Rev. Dr Sam Wells, has been Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields since 2012. He has served as a parish priest for 20 years and spent seven years in North Carolina, where he was Dean of Duke University Chapel. Wells is also Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College. He is a regular contributor to Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He has published 35 books, including works on Christian ethics, mission, ministry, scripture, liturgy and preaching.

There’s also a host of accomplished Australian preachers, including Rev. Stu Cameron, Rev. Jason Kioa, Rev. Bec Lindsay, Rev. Charissa Suli, Dr Mike Frost and many others.

And FYI, Preachfest! is not just for Uniting Church attendees, with everyone welcome.

“I hope pastors and ministers, lay preachers, people exploring a call to ministry, and anyone interested in preaching and in leadership in the church will find Preachfest! invaluable and a real blessing and encouragement,” says Gilmour.

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