February 27, 2014
DALLAS, TEXAS – Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University has launched a groundbreaking new program designed to improve the quality of preaching through enhanced classroom teaching and peer learning groups for pastors. To be known as “The Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence,” this program has been made possible through a $500,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. The program will enrich current preaching courses by adding a one-on-one mentoring component, by introducing new courses focused on seasons of the Church year, and by drawing on the storytelling expertise of SMU faculty from other disciplines. In addition, peer groups for pastors—eight groups with 10 members each—will be formed for two-year periods of study around the theme “Preaching the Story: Storytelling as a Vehicle for the Gospel.”
| Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie, Perkins School of Theology
Director, Center for Preaching Excellence
Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship
The Rev. Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie, George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, will serve as the director of the Center. An internationally recognized homiletics scholar and practitioner, Dr. McKenzie recently completed a term as president of the Academy of Homiletics. She is the author of numerous articles and seven books including Parental Discretion Advised: Preaching to Adults from the Old Testament (co-edited with Charles Aaron); Novel Preaching: Tips from Top Writers on Crafting Creative Sermons; and What Not to Say: Avoiding the Common Mistakes That Can Sink Your Sermon (with John Holbert). In addition to serving as a frequently featured preacher, Bible study leader and teacher at workshops, conferences, and worship services around the country, Dr. McKenzie—a clergy member of the North Texas Annual Conference—currently is Preacher in Residence at Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas.
Dr. William B. Lawrence, dean of Perkins School of Theology, is enthusiastic about the Center’s potential for improving the quality of preaching. “The compelling feature of this venture is its dual emphasis: teaching homiletics in a theological school where students are seeking their graduate degrees to prepare for careers in ministry, and enriching the pulpit ministries of pastors who are regularly engaged in the practice of preaching,” he said.
Dean Lawrence extolled Dr. McKenzie’s qualifications as the Center’s director. “There is no one better equipped to lead this venture than Alyce McKenzie, an internationally renowned author of works on the craft of preaching and a frequently invited preacher at conferences of various ecclesial bodies as well as local churches,” he said.
The “golden thread” that ties together the two-fold program is storytelling, according to Dr. McKenzie. “Crafting coherent stories out of incoherent events is a fundamental way in which we make sense of life, and the art of storytelling is an indispensable strategy for compelling, transformative preaching,” she said. “The work of the Center is built on the conviction that story is a central dynamic in human meaning-making. There are anthropological, theological, biblical, and homiletical reasons to focus on story as a key element in biblical interpretation and preaching,” she says, noting that “It was also Jesus’ favorite sermon form!”
The initial phase of the five-year grant starts with the spring 2014 semester and the first Introduction to Preaching course with mentors. Peer groups will be launched in fall 2014.
Members of the preaching and worship faculty at Perkins School of Theology will lend their expertise to the Center for Preaching Excellence. They include Dr. C. Michael Hawn, University Distinguished Professor of Church Music and Director of the Sacred Music Program; Dr. Mark W. Stamm, professor of Christian Worship and coordinator of Chapel community worship; Dr. Christopher S. Anderson, associate professor of Sacred Music; and Dr. Heidi A. Miller, assistant professor of Christian Worship.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grant-making is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes. More information can be found at www.lillyendowment.org
Perkins School of Theology, founded in 1911, is one of five official University-related schools of theology of The United Methodist Church. Degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Church Ministries, and Doctor of Ministry, as well as the Ph.D., in cooperation with The Graduate Program in Religious Studies at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.