Sermons 101 —Introduction.

A letter to the editor from Carl Popkey

Sermons 101 —Introduction.
Why do so many seminarians/vicars have no idea how to prepare/deliver a sermon? The article by Pastor Teuscher was outstanding (Where’s Walther, The Canadian Lutheran, May/June 2010). I have had my ears assaulted by many a so-called sermons that left me wondering what did I hear? They left me cold. Now, Pastor Teuscher has outlined the essence of a good sermon. Seminarians/vicars and also pastors, please take note. This must be the introduction to a course on sermons.

Sermons 102— Length/Delivery.
What gives? A ten minute platitude? This seems to be the norm lately. How can you do justice to Sermons 101 if you limit the length of the sermon to 10/15 minutes? As a pew sitter, I am not pleased with such. To me the sermon is the one thing I look forward to each Sunday. I don’t expect something I could have read by myself from the Bible, or listened to on the radio, or watched on the tube—a “pat on the back” sermon. Why should I waste my time to attend church for a 10-minute nice-that-you’re-here message. Please don’t insult me! No sermon worth its salt is less than 20 minutes. With five minutes for the introduction, five minutes to windup, leaves ten minutes to deliver a good LAW/GOSPEL sermon. Enlighten me, uplift me!
Of course some preachers may go overboard. Remember, pew sitters have to commit what is said to memory. How much can they retain? At times a provocative statement is made. One ponders it; the sermon goes on, now what did I miss that was important? And if your memory is like mine, aging fast, I find I retain less and less as time goes on. Pewsitters don’t have the script in their mitts like the preacher has in his; so how much can the pew sitter absorb to memory? What is the max? My rule of thumb is a maximum of 30 minutes, anything more you are pushing it.

Sermons 103 — Research.
Background is important. Quotes at times are necessary and need explanation at times. Too many quotes do not a sermon make. A little fire and brimstone at times helps. To drone on is boredom. Verbal punctuation is essential sometimes. Preacher, be convinced yourself, now convince me. I’ll love you for it!

Sermons 104 — Pew Sitter Expectations.
Why am I sitting here, in a pew? What are my expectations? Start on time! Assault me with a wonderful sermon! Don’t make it something to endure! Don’t make it something too short and too sweet, though a pat on the back at times is kinda soothing. It is not an easy task to keep one’s mind on the whole service: crying babies, disruptive behaviour, hard seats, unfamiliar hymns, long prayers. One needs God’s help to concentrate. Love Him!
Now, here you have it — a course about sermons. There can be a lot more. I’ll let you expand it and fill in the details.

Carl Popkey
Windsor, Ontario


Re: In our Pulpits?

A Letter to the Editor from Rev. Andrew Craig
After reading In Our Pulpits? (Where’s Walther? The Canadian Lutheran, May/June 2010) I feel inclined to respond to the article as a pastor who is passionate about the preaching task and as a theologian who holds in high regard the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. I have read Walther, I have read Luther and like Rev. Teuscher I believe that God’s Word must stand clearly in our sermons. As to how that is achieved the author and I could not disagree more. In an effort to shed more light than heat, as it were, I would like to respond directly to the article quote by quote so as to appropriately represent the author.
“There are many gifted public speakers in our synod yet many sermons these days tend to be rather shallow messages on practical living and other “relevant” topics. In some churches the pulpit is a soapbox from which the preacher delivers his religious pep-talk of the week and tells a few stories which supposedly illustrate some spiritual truth.”

For me the key issue here is “relevancy” a term that is coined with much zeal in some denominations and which we tend to cringe at. To me, relevancy means simply to help a person understand what the text means for them, how it connects in their lives and why both Law and Gospel matter. With every passing day both are becoming increasingly irrelevant to people. Just ask the unmarried couple who is living together and yet attends worship every Sunday and they will tell you that they understand how that made sense then but doesn’t really in today’s world where we are more moderate. I could choose to simply lambaste them, or I can make the effort to illustrate exactly why God’s Word is unchangeable and His Law is eternal in a way that actually affects them instead of simply alienating them from the church. While I would agree that the pulpit is not a soapbox for personal matters or political views and the like, it IS a soapbox for the Gospel so that it can be held high and preached in a way that people hear it.
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Developing LCC’s National Youth Gathering theme

By Michael Gillingham

We’ve done some different things with the planning of this Gathering and I’ll be interested to see how things come together. When we were planning the theme, we gathered the Committee and the presenters who’d be helping us with the event. We decided to try to build these ideas and images together with the presenters, trusting that God might inspire them to flesh out our basic thoughts in some unique and creative ways.

We started by thinking and talking about specific teenagers we know. As we listed things about them (age, gender, family composition, interests, struggles, etc) we began sensing anew the massive challenge of trying to share God’s love and Word with such a diverse group of people.

We looked for themes that might speak to the youth and leaders at the event. We came up with several ideas and angles. I shared with the group that The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering had chosen the theme We Believe. I also shared with the group my work on songs for Concordia Publishing House’s VBS this upcoming summer and how they’d gone for the theme Believe and Belong. While we didn’t want to steal anybody’s ideas, we appreciated both thematic ideas. As we unpacked our thoughts about the young people we were hoping to serve, we noted a common need that so many young people have to belong. We wanted to focus on how we belong in God’s family, in the church, in our families and among our friends. We wanted to say clearly to the youth “You belong to God!”

We also wanted to talk about faith in Christ and what it means to believe. Many youth are surrounded by confusing spiritual messages. We felt it would be important to point the youth to a specific expression of the Biblical and historic Christian faith. We saw both the belonging and the believing as gifts that God presents to us in His mercy and grace.

We saw huge connections for talking about Baptism and Holy Communion as means of God helping us to belong and believe. We also saw huge connections for talking about God’s Word and its power in our lives as God’s people.

We also want to remind the kids that they belong in the Church. God has called the Church into being to be His people and share His love and mercy with all people. We want the kids to think about belonging to their own congregation as well as the larger Church (LCC and also the larger Christian church around the world and throughout time).

On a related note, I shared some insights from conversations I’d had with Pastor Matt Ziprick (Bethel, Sherwood Park, Alta.) on the relationship between believing and belonging. We noted that we’ve seen many people at Bethel who come first to our church looking for a place to belong. It’s later that God, working through His Word and Spirit, gives them the faith to believe. Sometimes for some people, including our youth, a sense of belonging is an important step in the journey to believing.

The reverse is also true. I’ve seen so often those who truly believe but feel little or no sense of connection to their local congregation, youth group or church body. We believe that both believing and belonging are important.

In our logo, we’ve tried to note that the relationship between “believing” and “belonging” can go both ways… belong and believe + believe and belong. During the Gathering, we’ll be making it clear that ultimately belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour is the only way to experience the gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life even as we talk about belonging to God, our families and the church.

Since this initial thematic development, the presenters have continued to meet and flesh out the sessions. I sat in on these sessions on the Gathering Committee’s behalf and it’s been really neat to see how they have developed the themes. I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works to have our presenters speaking in different ways to common themes and ideas as they complement each other.

Michael Gillingham is chairman of the National Youth Gathering Planning Committee and serves as director of Youth Ministry at Bethel Lutheran Church in Sherwood Park, Alberta.