Institute of Preaching

The Institute of Preaching is a nine-month program of three retreats designed to help clergy from the Florida and Western North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church improve their preaching.


Unlike other programs that focus only on style or techniques, the Institute of Preaching takes a comprehensive approach to preaching. Pastors examine not only their sermon content and delivery but also the contexts in which they preach and the integrity of their life and work.

During each retreat, participants hear from recognized authorities on preaching – both practitioners and Duke faculty — and also work with other participants in small peer groups, discussing their ministries and reviewing each other’s sermons. Between retreats, participants are encouraged to work with a small group from their own congregation to receive critical and constructive sermon feedback.

The Institute of Preaching is a partnership of the Florida Institute of Preaching Committee and Duke Divinity School. It is sponsored by the Florida Conference and the Parish Ministry Fund of the Western North Carolina Conference. All full-time elders and local pastors serving in either conference are eligible to apply.

Application & Deadlines

Registration is now closed. Duke Divinity School will begin soliciting nominations for the 2016-2017 Institute of Preaching in early 2016. Ideal candidates are United Methodist pastors who:

  • Serve as full-time elders or local pastors in the Florida or Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • Do not anticipate a change in appointment in the coming year
  • Want to take their preaching to the next level

The Institute is a highly selective and intensive program, with enrollment limited to no more than 12 pastors from Florida and six from Western North Carolina. Pastors who are selected for the program will participate in a congregational training day and three retreats.

Application Process and Deadlines:
Once we receive your application form, we will send you an email with instructions on the additional materials needed in order to complete your application. The steps in the application process, as well as the deadlines for submission and review, are included below.

Application Process:
Step 1: When you apply, you will be asked to submit a URL link to a video sermon or indicate that you will mail two copies to us prior to May 29.
Step 2: E-mail confirmation that your application has been received and requesting additional items
Step 3: Submit the following items:

  • Three short essay questions (you will also have the opportunity to upload this document on your application form)
  • 2 Recommendation Letters (one from your DS and one from your SPRC/PPRC)

Step 4: Decisions released via e-mail 

Registration Opens: Late February, 2015
Apply by: May 29, 2015
Application Deadline for Submitting Materials: May 29, 2015
Admissions Committee Meets: Beginning of June
Admissions Decisions Released via E-Mailed: Mid-June

Frequently Asked Questions:

How can I submit my video sermons?
You can submit them via an URL link (preferred way) or you can mail two copies (address will be included in your confirmation e-mail).

Why do you ask when I was ordained or commissioned?

  • It is important to the Institute of Preaching Admissions Committee to know how long you have been in ministry. We want the cohort to have a nice balance of people who are relatively new in ministry and those who are longer tenured.

Why do you want to know how large my congregation is?

  • Like tenure in ministry, having a variety of congregations represented by the preachers in the cohort – some serving small churches, some medium, and some larger – enriches our learning and makes for better conversations about the possibilities and challenges of preaching today.

Why do you ask for a video of a recent sermon along with my manuscript or notes?

  • Part of what the Admissions Committee wants to see is where your strengths are and where there is room for development. While we ask you to reflect on these things, it is helpful for us to see you preach to see if our perceptions of strengths and weaknesses is consistent with what you know of yourself.

What if I can’t get a video copy of a sermon?

  • For application purposes, it is more important that we have a video than that it is of fantastic quality. Even if a member of your church can video you using their phone, that is better than nothing. Throughout the program, though, please know that you will need to be able to provide videos of sermons for review prior to each session.

Why do you want letters from my District Superintendent and my Pastoral-Parish Relations Committee?

  • These letters serve two purposes. First, we want to hear from your DS and your SPRC/PPRC about why the Institute of Preaching might be a good learning experience for you. Second and just as important as the first, we want them to know that you have applied for this opportunity and to support your participation from the beginning. Because the IOP requires time away from your congregation (and financial support from your congregation for your travel), we want your DS and your SPRC/PPRC to agree to your participation.

Still Have Questions?
Please contact us at

Dates & Cost

2015-2016 Institute of Preaching

Attendance  at the congregational training day and all three retreats is required. Before applying to the Institute, pastors should make sure they may be absent from their congregation on all session dates.

Congregational Training Days Saturday, August 8, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

High Point, N.C. (for Western NC pastors)
Tampa, Fla. (for Florida pastors)
Retreat I September 14-17, 2015

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Retreat II January 25-27, 2016 Tampa, Fla.
Retreat III April 11-13, 2016 St. Simons Island, Ga.

Thanks to the generous support of the Florida Annual Conference and the Parish Ministry Fund of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, pastors may attend at minimal cost. The annual conferences cover the full cost of tuition, room and board, and instructional materials for each participant.

Pastors and their congregations are responsible only for the cost of travel to and from the sessions.


The sessions will be led by practicing preachers and educators who are known for their ability to teach and mentor others in the arts of preaching and communication.


Christine Parton Burkett is a speech-language pathologist by trade and a pew sitter by profession, and has been teaching and coaching preachers from all denominations at the Divinity School at Duke University for 24 years. She has a B.S. in Fine Arts, with a focus on drama, religious story-telling, and poetry and a Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her work at Duke Divinity she has the joyful task of helping young preachers find and use their own voice to present the gospel with clarity, energy and persuasiveness. She also travels to speak to seasoned ministers who are interested in fresh ears to evaluate their preaching and offers workshops on story-telling, public proclamation of scripture, and creative language in the pulpit. She has a special interest in women’s voices and their rich textures possible in graceful proclamation. She lives in Durham with her husband, three young children, and two special needs kittens.


Jim Harnish retired in 2014 with 42 years of pastoral experience, most recently at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida, where he served for 22 years. He is known throughout the church for his ability as a preacher and as the author of numerous books and bible studies including “A Disciple’s Path,” “A Disciple’s Heart,” and “You Only Have to Die.” He served as a Teaching Congregation pastor for Duke Divinity School, where he is a member of the Board of Visitors. He is passionately committed to effectively communicating the gospel through preaching and has been a facilitator for the Institute since its beginning.

Nathan Kirkpatrick is the managing director of Alban at Duke Divinity. He is also the Pastor-in-Residence at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he preaches regularly. Prior to joining the staff at Duke Divinity School, he served as the pastor at Asbury and Longtown United Methodist Churches charge in the Western North Carolina Conference. Among his responsibilities at Leadership Education, Kirkpatrick directs and teaches in a number of leader development program for congregational, denominational and nonprofit leaders. He is a graduate of Wake Forest University and Duke Divinity School and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Durham (UK).