The Hills Circuit of the Dakota-Montana District meets from September to May (except for the month of their spring district pastoral conference). Their meetings are scheduled to last three and a half hours followed by enjoying lunch together. While they would like to meet for even a longer time, distance and long driving time get in the way of longer meetings.
The list of assignments for the upcoming year is given at the May meeting so the members of the circuit have adequate time to prepare over the summer.
The circuit has divided their study into the following areas:
• Psalms (devotional)
• Greek exegesis
• Church History
• Lutheran Confessions
Here is Circuit Pastor John Schroeder’s brief explanation of what they try to accomplish with each area:
Our use of Psalms as a devotion is to keep us sharp in presenting a devotion to the shut-in, hospitalized, or troubled. We stress the aspects of clarity, conciseness, and content with sensitivity to the plight of those to whom we minister in such settings. We want to learn how to pick out a compelling thought from the assigned Psalm portion as well as learn how to expand on a verse or two of that. Of course, the guys work ahead on this so it’s not like anyone is doing it off the cuff but that is, in fact, what we are shooting for: the skill to deliver a compelling devotion on short notice ex corde, so to speak.
Our Greek NT work has been mainly the Pastoral Epistles. The pastorals generate lively, helpful discussion. Novice or veteran, we all appreciate another’s take on things. The assigned portion is about eight to twelve verses divided along the major thought line of the text. Our presenters are asked to render due diligence in the exegetical area. However, the manner of presentation is up to them. So it usually goes verse by verse with discussion questions along the way.
The Lutheran Confessions portion we are currently tackling is the Augustana. We are using J.P. Meyer’s Studies in the Augsburg Confession as a study tool.
Our Church History work is a chronological excursion through the major developments and players of the Western church. Our younger brothers have graciously consented to present with a list of topics and persons. The goal of this study is to enable us to see how major movements and trends of the past repeat themselves in different forms in our times.
We try to allot forty-five minutes per presenter. However, that can be shortened if there is a thorny question of casuistry on the docket. We usually ask for and discuss those at the start of the meeting.
About every third meeting we try to include a sermon review. Sermons are anonymously submitted in printed format. They are distributed one meeting in advance so that they guys can have time to look them over. At the next meeting, they are discussed candidly. We are especially attentive to clear distinctions between Law and Gospel. We react to one sermon per meeting.
9:30 – Devotion
9:40 – Questions of casuistry; congregational, circuit, district, synod housekeeping items
10:00 – New Testament
10:45 – Confessions
11:30 – Church History
Here are several items worth noting in their plan that seem particularly helpful:
- There is a healthy balance in the planned study among the four areas of theology: exegetical, practical, historical, and systematic. Each area is covered in each meeting.
- The sharing of assignments gives each pastor who leads an opportunity to do the most growing as he prepares to present and lead the discussion. We learn best what we teach.
- While speaking the truth in love always remains in effect, the anonymous nature of the sermon feedback may allow comments to be given and received without some of the barriers that often can accompany sermon feedback among brothers.
- The giving and evaluating of brief devotions on the psalms seems to offer many practical benefits for ministry – in addition to providing opening worship for the meeting.
Here are a couple of suggestions for circuits that would consider adopting/adapting larger or smaller portions of the plans of the Hills Circuit:
- While the anonymous nature of reviewing a printed sermon can be helpful (as mentioned above), there is something lost in not hearing (or watching) the actual preaching of the sermon. Sermons find their reason for existence not as manuscripts but as they are preached. Alternating between reviewing a printed sermon and having someone preach live (or bringing along a recorded sermon) could also prove helpful.
- While what the circuit is reporting is a snapshot of their current practice, it would certainly be good to introduce some Hebrew exegesis along with the Greek exegesis. Since Hebrew was studied less in school, and is generally used less in preaching and teaching, this could be a helpful forum to encourage all the brothers to stay as fresh as possible in both biblical languages.
- If time would allow, a section in addition to the opening devotion that focuses on various areas of practical theology would be helpful. Agreeing to read a book together (rotating through the various areas of practical theology – leadership, counseling, evangelism, preaching, etc.) and discussing that book could add a stronger practical theology element to the meetings.