BELLEVILLE - The fear of public speaking is reputed to trump anxiety about death, snakes and many other things that make people shake in their shoes.
And preaching a sermon is no exception.
So, what happens when a pastor goes on vacation and no one is available to fill his shoes in the pulpit?
Enter the Preaching Institute 2.0, which is designed to help lay ministers and young pastors gain confidence and become more effective in their preaching.
The course, organized through the Eastern Mennonite Seminary, will be offered for the first time in the Juniata Valley this fall.
Herb Zook, associate pastor at Maple Grove, said he took the class two years ago in Lancaster as he prepared to fill in for senior pastor Allan Kauffman, who was going on sabbatical.
Zook, who never attended seminary, said the class was the "perfect" opportunity to study, develop and learn about preaching.
"It helped me think about different ways of putting together a sermon and how people respond to different ways the message is delivered," Zook said.
The nine-month training requires every person to create their own listener group to hear and critique their sermons based on perception of the message, expression and flow, the pastor said.
Participants also videotape their sermons to critique themselves, and the class professor also offers feedback, he said.
"There is a lot of value in the whole process," because the training affects more than just the person taking the class, Zook said. The listening group, participant's pastor and mentor also learn through the experience, he said.
"Once a person preaches, they don't ever hear a sermon the same again," Zook said, recalling a conversation with his pastor. "You learn to listen differently."
As Zook and others from the congregation took turns preaching, he said he learned about other leaders' interests in taking a preaching class. That is when he decided to request that the Preaching Institute 2.0 offer a training locally.
From September to May, participants will attend five half-day workshops; prepare, deliver and videotape four sermons for feedback; read two textbooks, articles and other resource material; meet four times with a selected listener group; and meet three times with a mentor to reflect on the experience.
The class covers the basics and encourages experimentation with emerging trends of preaching: narrative, media, dialogue, special features and collaboration.
The first workshop will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Maple Grove Mennonite Church, Belleville.
The cost for the class is $495 for non-credit, or $1,242 for three credits of seminary study. For more information, contact instructor Mark Wenger at (717) 397-5190 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.emu.edu/lancaster/seminary/preaching-institute/.