Symposium on the Pastor and His Seminary Training
This year, 348 people attended the seminary’s annual fall symposium on September 16 and 17, 2013. To mark the seminary’s 150th anniversary, three papers were presented on the Pastor and His Seminary Training. The speakers focused on the three disciplines that have formed the school’s curriculum since 1863. They looked not only at how the seminary taught these disciplines, but also how individually they applied the disciplines in their ministries.
The Pastor as Exegete
Pastor Harland Goetzinger, a graduate of the class of 2001, spoke on The Pastor as Exegete. “Exegetical Theology is a study of God drawn from a careful, word-for-word, and phrase-for-phrase examination of what he says in the original languages of his Word,” says Goetzinger, who is the pastor at St. Paul, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and is also president of WELS-Canada.
After sharing a history on exegesis, he applied it to ministry today. “Sermon preparation is where our exegetical work comes into play most often, as we sit down to prepare his weekly message to his people. I’ve never been so busy that I haven’t made the time to make sure that I begin my sermon work with prayer and exegesis. It serves a dual function: a firm base for the preparation of God’s Word, and a regular reminder that this is God speaking. It keeps me tuned into God’s Word in spite of any personal opinions I may have about a matter,” he shared. “But really, what’s more practical than being filled up with the living Word of life and then applying it on a daily basis to yourself and then your flock?”
Professor Leyrer, in a reaction paper, wrote that the “paper is a fine expression of a busy pastor’s love for exegesis because he loves the Word.”
The Pastor as Dogmatician
Michael J. Seifert, pastor at Living Hope, Midlothian, Virginia, spoke on The Pastor as Dogmatician. A graduate from the class of 2003, shared that dogmatics (a study of doctrine) is vital today. “We must know our weapon so that we know what we must believe, what we must teach,
defend, suffer for, and, if God wills, die for,” he writes.
He remembered his dogmatics classes and is thankful for how they prepared him to serve. “They supply the pastor with the material he dispenses through his teaching, preaching, and counseling and also provide him with the strength to carry them out with a Christ-like heart and fervor. The finest wineskins will do the pastor no good if he has no wine to pour into them. The Scriptures must remain the heart of the seminary curriculum.”
He also sees how practical applications help in his ministry today. “I’ve found that instruction and counseling seem to go better when I go further than making reference to Bible passages or quoting them from memory or throwing them up on a screen, but actually open up a Bible and allow people to see the passages in their context: This is what the Lord says.”
Professor Lyle Lange, professor at Martin Luther College, reacted positively to the paper, agreeing that the study of doctrine is vital because it “is really all about Jesus. Any system of doctrine which does not focus on Christ, but treats the Bible as a manual for holy living, will lead to Pharisaism, legalism, and despair,” he says.
He added that it is also vital personally, not just as an item to use in ministry, “God has revealed doctrine to us in Scripture for our salvation. If we master the technical aspects of doctrine and eventually write a series of doctrinal tomes rivaling the dogmaticians of the 17th century, but remain distant from our Lord and His saving grace, we have accomplished nothing.”
The Pastor as Church Historian
For the final presentation, Pastor Bart Brauer, from the class of 1999, spoke on The Pastor as Church Historian.
In addition to discussing the importance of knowing the history of the world and the history of the church, Brauer reminded participants that history is about people, and is integral in ministry today. “Every church body has a history, and every congregation within that church body has a history,” says Brauer, pastor at Spirit of Life, Byron Center, Michigan. “Pastors, especially pastors new to a location, are wise to learn about it. If we ignore the local history, we may very well end up making mistakes that we could have avoided. If we have a lack of historical knowledge, we may be tempted to become judgmental.”
Martin Luther College professor Keith Wessel wrote one of the reactions to this paper. He commented, “God in his wisdom has only permitted us—at best—to partially understand the higher ways of his divine governance, and most of the time our analysis of history is done looking through glass darkly. But, most importantly, he has enabled us by his Holy Spirit to see and understand the pivotal event in all human history—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In his closing, Brauer mentioned the main purpose for the Symposium, “We have gathered at this symposium as brothers in Christ to give thanks to our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone of our education, the reason for our work, the center of our life, and the only hope of our eternal salvation. Our years at seminary were and are a true blessing from a gracious God.”
Celebrating their training and time spent at the seminary was the theme of this gathering. The Symposium isn’t only about papers and replies and comments, however. As the pastors spent time visiting with their classmates, sharing their experiences in the ministry, and encouraging each other, Paul Wendland, seminary president, reminded them, “What does it matter if books sit on our shelves if we as pastors are not daily . . . speaking the good news clearly?”
And so they went home, refreshed to share the good news.