Eurasia Missionaries Join LCMS Chaplains for the Annual Lutheran Chaplains Professional Development Training Seminar: Part Two
Part 2: Why a Conference on Preaching?
Please note that any remarks made by the chaplains in this article are entirely their own. They do not necessarily represent the official position of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense, but reflect their own beliefs and ministry as chaplains of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS).
–By Elizabeth Ahlman
Part 1 of this two part series on chaplain and missionary continuing education covered a peek at the life and work of a military chaplain, as well as some of the difficulties faced by both chaplains and missionaries. We showed how a continuing education opportunity like the Lutheran Chaplain Professional Development Training Seminar is very important to the chaplains and the missionaries invited to join them. In this section, we’ll look specifically at this year’s topic—Variety in Preaching—and why it is an important topic to pursue.
The Heart of Pastoral Ministry: Preaching
This year, the speaker was Rev. Dr. David Schmitt, who teaches in the Practical Department of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Dr. Schmitt is the Gregg H. Benidt Memorial Endowed Chair of Homiletics and Literature. He presented on “Variety in Preaching.” When asked to sum up the week’s lessons, Dr. Schmitt said that
I talked about variety in preaching, variety in terms of how we organize the sermon, shape the sermon, the flow of the sermon. So we covered maybe ten different ways you could shape the sermon. The major metaphor I used was of a pilgrimage, that the sermon is a pilgrimage and it has two kinds of experiences: times when you get off the bus and you meditate at a place, and come to a discovery of a spiritual truth there, and times when you’re on a bus making a longer journey. And so I gave them several journeys you could take. You could have a sermon that moves from Law to Gospel. You could have a sermon that moves from meditating on a text to applying that text to your life. You could have a sermon that takes a Proverb and watches as that Proverb is fulfilled or becomes true in many different places. You could have a sermon that works with an image. I gave them many different sermon structures…many different road maps for different pilgrimages you could take. Then I gave them sample sermons so you could actually hear what it sounds like, because I think sometimes with theory it can get too theoretical, so I gave them several sermons to listen to and see how it sounds.
This variety in preaching forms, noted Dr. Schmitt, mirrors the Scriptures themselves, and that is why expanding the “preaching repertoire” is a worthy pursuit. Dr. Schmitt said that preaching with variety “honors the fact that God Himself proclaimed the Gospel in varying ways. So, when we read the Scriptures we have such a variety of ways in which God has preached the Gospel to us, in Psalms and in the poetry, and in the prayers, and in the epistles, and in the narratives.”
The material was in depth and thought provoking—there was even 224 pages of reading that needed to be done prior to the conference—so, why should so much time be spent talking about preaching? Dr. Schmitt voiced the importance of the sermon as central to what a pastor does:
[The sermon] is that proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, based on Scripture, centered in Christ, and for the benefit of God’s people. It’s that moment in the service when, what we always desire when we’re outside of the church—we open up the Bible, we read a passage, and we desire that God would speak to us—it IS that moment when God through the preacher and the Holy Spirit is speaking to us on the basis of Scripture about Christ in a way that shapes our life and [delivers] the forgiveness of sins and it’s an awesome moment when you think about it.
Even more so, with knowing that the participants were mainly military chaplains, Dr. Schmitt expressed the added sense of urgency in the preaching task for a chaplain. He pointed out that as a chaplain preaches for his unit or garrison or battalion, “these are people who might be involved in military action and this is the moment when through the Word God can speak to them, and who knows why they came to visit this service on this day.” Additionally, for military chaplains the preaching task greatly influences how they are viewed with regard to the counseling, encouraging and caretaking portion of their job. Dr. Schmitt related a conversation with one of the participants with regard to the connection between preaching and counseling:
Actually, one of the guys said to me that this was very helpful because he said that, in preaching, “I’m preaching to the people in my unit, and they are listening to me preach, but they’re also thinking about, is this somebody that I would go to with these issues in my life.” He said, that HOW you preach, who you are as you preach, and what is it that you share as you preach, if you’re sharing the forgiveness of God, and you’re sharing that love, that it has an impact on people in terms of “Is this a person that I would want to talk to one-on-one about very concrete things going on in my life?”
The Benefits of a Conference on Preaching
The participants expressed two main ways in which they benefitted from a conference on preaching. First, everyone expressed the need to get out of his “ruts.” As Dr. Schmitt explained, sometimes every pastor falls into a well-traveled road, which can be helpful, until the well-traveled roads “become ruts, because you’ve traveled them so long and so when you step back and you reflect about preaching, you’re able to kind of think about your own preaching and rediscover things you might have done in the past, but you’ve kind of stopped doing, or see new paths which you might want to stake out and try as you’re preaching.” Chaplain Shaw further explained:
This conference on preaching is really important, I think, for at least two reasons. One, pastors preach and they want to preach well. So just going back and reviewing the basics of the pastoral preaching task is important, but the second reason is we all fall into our own more narrow forms of preaching, and so we’ve raised a variety of issues. Preaching, not just regarding individual sin, but the life of the community. Preaching, not just regarding what we’re undergoing right now, but seeing it as part of the narrative of how God has worked from the beginning to bring salvation for all in Christ. So you can view preaching as reflecting the Word of God as through a prism, bringing light across the spectrum with different applications. And you know we have so many different people in the military from so many different religions and cultures and sections of society that it’s important to be able to consider alternative structures and approaches to the preaching task to hopefully reach people where they’re at with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The variety of people to whom a chaplain may preach mirrors in many ways the experiences of missionary pastors. Missionary pastors are often preaching to people of different cultures, different backgrounds, and who have perhaps heard almost nothing about Christianity prior to their encounter with the missionary. Or their situation, like that of Pastor Robert Flohrs in Frankfurt, Germany, may present them with an extremely varied base by nature of where they are. In Frankfurt a large portion of the population are expatriates from different countries who come to Frankfurt for work reasons. They are not as permanent as a traditional congregation, either. It’s sort of like having a moving target. Pastor Flohrs said that during the conference
I’m thinking about the congregation in Frankfurt and how diverse it is, and how can you use the tools you’re getting here at the conference to preach a Christ-centered, Christ-crucified, Christ-resurrected sermon and do some teaching. We have people all over the map as far as their knowledge of the Bible, their knowledge of even Lutheran teachings.
Pastor Flohrs also expressed the fact that just being able to discuss the texts and preaching concepts with fellow pastors was a huge help. How the group dissected texts or how a fellow pastor saw a text spurred a lot of thought and consideration. Of the preaching conference and its impact in this way, Pastor Flohrs said, “I wish I had this every week.”
As our chaplains and missionaries continue in their daily service, they take this time with them. Being strengthened in their faith, their confession, their work, their preaching and their relationships with one another, they are more able to continue to do that task to which they have been called: the proclamation of the Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments and the care of souls in their places of service. Chaplain Shaw summed up his thoughts on balancing work and faith in the military setting this way: “Our doctrine can be perfect and it must be. We have the true confession of the faith. When we get out there and live in the messiness of the world, it’s not so pure as the doctrine we preach and celebrate in oneness at the Altar of our Lord in Closed Communion. So, it’s good that we’re out there amongst sinners doing the best we can. We are indeed those sinners ourselves, so we’ll stay engaged fully in the community.”
- Please pray for our missionaries and chaplains.
- Pray for the members of the Armed Forces and their families.
- Read Part One here.