Symposium on Preaching
Annual symposium takes a look at preaching
On Sept. 22-23, 400 pastors and students attended Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s annual symposium, which focused on preaching. From the time Jesus told his disciples to preach the good news until today—the sermon is where the pastor has consistently reached the largest number of people. Though the command to preach and essential content haven’t changed, the style has adapted through the centuries.
Paul Wendland, seminary president, opened the symposium by reminding those in attendance of the importance of the words they speak. “Words often seem like an insubstantial thing. They are spoken. They are heard. Then they are gone,” he said. “But not this Word. Jesus’ words are spirit. They are life. Heaven and earth may pass away, but Jesus’ words do not. We are privileged to speak those words.”
Three speakers then addressed how 21st century Lutheran preachers can clearly proclaim law and gospel in our rapidly changing, increasingly diverse, and biblically-illiterate culture.
Christ, the Preacher
In the first essay, Pastor Michael Jensen, class of 1992, looked at how pastors can trace their preaching roots to Jesus. He shared, “. . . the Messiah shows us what our preparation and preaching is to be. Like our Messiah, we do not come to announce law-based tips for better living. We come to announce something other-worldly, something that cannot be known or experienced apart from God’s proclamation. To proclaim this gospel is our sole reason for entering the pulpit.”
Jensen, who serves at St. Mark, Watertown, Wis., and is the First Vice President of the Western Wisconsin District, also encouraged those in attendance to remember “Filled with Christ-like compassion and molded by the Potter, each Lutheran preacher opens his mouth in a unique way. Yet, he takes everything, including his style, and makes it captive to Christ. His style serves, never sacrifices, the preaching of clear law and gospel; his sermon lets Christ shine forth as Savior.”
Prof. Joel Otto, reacted to the essay by highlighting, “Gospel-centered preaching has pastoral implications, as you noted by pointing out that preaching a sermon is akin to a public counseling session. Christ’s preaching brought comfort to poor sinners because he proclaimed the gospel. Our preaching does no less.”
An Evaluation of Modern Evangelical Preaching
Presenting the second paper, Andrew Bauer, class of 1989, traced the history of some famous American Evangelical preachers and their emphases and style. “For people whose activity of ‘preaching’ is so closely bound up with who we are, namely ‘preachers,’ it is a given that we will be interested in our craft, interested about hearing preaching in our circles and other circles, interested in learning what others have done, giving thanks for the good while marking the bad,” he shared.
Pastor Bauer, who serves New Life, Lake Zurich, Ill., and wrote A Lutheran Looks at… Mega Churches encouraged the preachers to remember the listeners: “If style and method of delivery are changing, then our love for souls entrusted to our care will cause us to learn about those methods, utilize what is good, and leave the rest. Our goal will be to have them love preaching as much as we do, because in preaching Christ as Savior is proclaimed.”
Professor Paul Zell, reacted positively to the paper. “Pastor Bauer asked us, ‘Can the preachers in this room learn a new thing or two by watching the example of others’ My own answer: Absolutely they can. But learning ‘a new thing or two’ comes not just from watching Evangelicals,” he wrote. “Sitting in this room are hundreds of men who for years and years have been devoted to preaching the good news. . . . So when you find a brother who confesses the faith as you do and preaches in a way you appreciate, what’s keeping you from devoting an occasional twenty minutes to watching his sermons?”
A Paradigm for 21st Century Lutheran Preachers
For the final presentation of the Symposium, Pastor Phillip Sievert, class of 1993, looked at today’s culture and how it affects both the preacher and the listener. “Twenty centuries after Peter proclaimed the Gospel on the streets of Jerusalem and Paul preached on the streets of Athens, the world we live in and the people to whom we preach, are becoming more and more influenced by a post-Christian landscape,” he says. “In a way, we are moving from an Acts 2 cultural context to an Acts 17 setting; from a world shaped by Christianity to a world that is pushing Christianity farther and farther into the background. As Lutheran preachers, we will want to gain insight in how to speak with such an ever-changing culture in a way that communicates as clearly as possible God’s unchanging truth and the Gospel of our Lord and Savior.”
To help gain these insights, Pastor Sievert, who serves Lord of Life, Thornton, Colo., shared that the post-modern 21st century culture is skeptical, secular, and storied. “Think of the Apostle in Athens. There he gave us an example of how to engage our ever-changing culture in a way that never compromises the never-changing gospel in biblically-faithful preaching.”
There is a paradigm for Lutheran preaching. As we preach Christ with a sense of our own weakness, we preach knowing God’s Word is truth and that Word is powerful.
Professor Richard Gurgel wrote the reaction paper. He commented, “While providing many wonderful suggestions to ponder, you respected your brothers’ ability to wrestle with the issues and suggestions you raised without supplying a rigid structure for lock step formation preaching.”