What they didn’t teach me at the seminary (part 1)
This periodic series is prompted by my son’s blog. He is a first year seminarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. You can read some of his impressions at Reverand Seminarian (sic).
I went to seminary a while ago. Twenty-seven years ago to be exact. Pre cell phones. Pre PCs and Macs. But still post-diluvian. I still remember friends, dorms, classes and chapel. I still remember a lot of what I learned. But I’ve learned a whole lot more since then, in the day-to-day task of parish ministry. From time to time I hope to write about this ongoing education.
The first thing they didn’t teach me: sermon writing doesn’t get any easier. Sermon preparation is a big part of most of my days and weeks since the Sunday morning worship service serves as the hub of the church’s life together. I got all the tools, including Greek and Hebrew, hermeneutics, homiletics, and public speaking. I got good experience through field work and vicarage. So by the time I got to my first parish, I was locked and loaded to change that congregation, and then quickly move on to the community and then the world.
I’ve never really been able to reuse a sermon I’ve written before. Sometimes they really just weren’t that good. Other times they addressed issues specific to another group of people. And they usually drew upon time and place specific events. I think I’ve reused one or two sermons my whole career. You might think a few times through the three-year lectionary and you’re set for life, but that is not at all the case.
On the way your own life changes. Kids, moves, friends, experiences, joys, tears. Some of that change comes from God’s Word that you spend so much time in. Previously written sermons lack the needed depth created from life experience. So it’s back to the drawing board.
Perhaps I put too much pressure on myself. Each week, I want to say something meaningful, memorable, orthodox, entertaining, relevant, multi-generational, faithful, Spirit-filled, applicable, and cohesive. A tall order for one message, nevermind a weekly sermon. As a result, there are Sunday afternoons where you are haunted with the reality that you didn’t do a good job. In fact, you may have failed to achieve any of those goals. But God is good. You get to try again next week. Believe me, that’s grace.
So what I learned along the way is that most of the time, you do your best and have to trust God’s promise that his word is always effective. That’s because this kerysso stuff is hard.