The sixth annual National Festival of Young Preachers wrapped up Monday in Dallas. About 130 participants -- ranging from 14 to 28 years old -- stepped up to the pulpit at what’s known as Preachapalooza.
Early Monday morning, dozens of aspiring Christian preachers spilled out of the elevator onto the second floor of Highland Park United Methodist Church – ready for their final work sessions and preaching evaluations.
For 20-year-old Nick Bettis, the final day was the big day. The Southwest Baptist University student from Bolivar, Missouri, was last on the list to deliver a 15-minute sermon to peers and veterans of the pulpit who would evaluate his performance.
Before his turn, Bettis thumbed through his well-worn Bible with a duct tape cover, and checked his sermon notes on his tablet. He chose a story from the book of Acts: the lame man carried to the temple gates each day to beg who was healed by the disciple Peter.
“When he looks at this crippled man, he does not see a story that has been set," Bettis preached. "He does not see a future that’s going to be a cop and paste of the past. But he sees an open book with endless, crisp white pages that are just waiting to have a new story written. Waiting to have a touch of Christ.”
Bettis talked about how God had written new and wonderful stories for members of his family this past year.
"So today, give God the pen. Let him start writing your story," Bettis said.
SMU’s Perkins School of Theology was a co-sponsor of the festival. Professor of Preaching and Worship Alyce McKenzie says this year’s theme was “Tell Me a Story.”
“To me it’s really inspiring to see the unique personalities that God has called to speak the word," McKenzie said. "And the stories from peoples’ lives where they can see God at work and that they share with such enthusiasm. And the enthusiasm and the networking that goes on lasts a long time after the event is over. So, it’s been a wonderful event.”
And an event McKenzie hopes will spread enthusiasm for a life of preaching.
The festival is trans-denominational, drawing from every Christian tradition.
Bettis fits several categories. He identifies himself as Pentecostal, goes to a Baptist university, and is a part-time youth minister at a small methodist church. And he spent most of his free time at the conference hanging out with an Orthodox Christian and a Catholic. He says their talks lasted past midnight.
“And not just learning about each other. But trying to figure out what we can learn from each other," Bettis said. "And how we can improve our own spiritual lives. How we can improve our own churches. How we can improve our on preaching based on what we learn from each other.”
This was the first Festival of Young Preachers for Bettis, a college junior. He says he hopes to someday have his own church and bring what he learned at Preachapalooza to the pulpit.
“Here endeth the preaching. Go in peace.”
The 2016 National Festival of Young Preachers will be in Lexington, Kentucky.