National Lutheran News

For preaching to “knock your socks off,” Luther Sem provides helps

Pastors in the United States and abroad are getting extra help in preparing
their sermons these days, thanks to a project launched recently by Luther
Seminary.

“WorkingPreacher.org,” a Web site that went online during the 2007 Advent
season, is the latest tool for the continuing education of preachers offered by
the seminary’s Center for Biblical Preaching (CBP). Each week the site
provides detailed analyses of the biblical texts for the coming Sunday’s
worship services as well as fresh commentary from a variety of authors on the
craft of preaching.

The seminary has assembled a cast of more than 40 scholars and pastors as
contributors to the Web site. More than half of them come from its own ranks,
but a substantial number from other Lutheran and Christian seminaries.

The Web site already appears to have found a receptive audience. Jim Dudley,
the seminary’s Web manager, reported that the site, which is offered free,
received about 10,000 “hits” during the first month, when it was beginning
operation. That number grew to 19,000 in January and then climbed to
38,000 during the period between February 24 and March 26.

The majority of the contacts were from the United States but some were also
from foreign countries, Dudley said. And while the largest single number of
contacts from the U.S. were from Minnesota, there were ample numbers from
other states, he added.

The new emphasis on “biblical preaching” at Luther Seminary, of which
Working Preacher.org is the latest example, stems from comments seminary
leaders received from people in congregations across the country during a
strategic planning effort several years ago, said the Rev. Mary Brown. She is
associate director of the CBP and a former pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church
of Golden Valley.

“Time and time again it came back that people wanted to hear a sermon on a
biblical text when they came to church each week,” Brown said.
This was at a time when “topical” preaching was, perhaps, more of a trend,
she said. But the intensity of the feedback from parishioners was so strong
that the seminary decided to make biblical preaching one of its primary
strategic initiatives going forward.

The result has been creation of the CBP; establishment of the Marbury E.
Anderson chair in biblical preaching, now occupied by David Lose, academic
dean at the seminary; and the start of a new doctor in ministry program in
biblical preaching, for which Lose is one of the lead professors.

Prior to the recent launch of WorkingPreacher.org, the CBP began offering a
subscription-based audio CD series titled “In the Company of Preachers.”
Each CD in the quarterly series offers 15 to 20 minutes of instruction on a
particular aspect of preaching and features four selected sermons that
illustrate what has been discussed. All the sermons have been preached in
the daily chapel worship at the seminary. Subscriptions for “In the Company
of Preachers” have been “pouring in” since the start in the spring of 2007,
according to Pastor Brown.

Describing the reason for the CBP’s commitment to lifelong learning for
preachers, the Center’s section on the seminary Web site says that
“theological and practical education does not end with a theological degree,
but only rather gathers speed.”

And professor Lose adds that “while there are surely many excellent
preachers in the church today, so many people feel that the overall quality of
preaching can and should be improved.” As a result, Lose declares: “We seek
to offer today’s preachers excellent resources to equip them to preach lively,
faithful, and compelling biblical sermons that bring the Scriptures alive and
connect to daily life. Good preaching can change lives, and we’re out to help
preachers do just that.”

The Working Preacher.org Web site has sections titled “Preaching This Week,”
“The Craft of Preaching,” “Culture and Context,” and “Lifelong Learning.”
For the week preceding the second Sunday of Easter, for example, the site
offered a commentary on the first reading by Matt Skinner, associate
professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, and a commentary on the
second reading by Richard Jensen, emeritus professor of homiletics at the
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. The site also offered an article on
the pros and cons of the practice of having confirmands take sermon notes
by the Rev. Amy Thoren, associate pastor at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church
in Minneapolis, and an essay by one of the site’s four regular columnists, the
Rev. Kendra Mohn, associate pastor at Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, Wauwatosa,
Wisconsin. Another section announced two upcoming continuing education
courses at the seminary that preachers might find helpful.

Lose emphasizes that WorkingPreacher.org will not contain someone else’s
sermons. sermon outlines, or illustrations. “Our task is to make you a better
preacher, and that’s not going to happen by asking you to pretend someone
else’s stuff is your own,” he said.

The professor also stressed that the material on the Web site is new, created
for the site by selected contributors. It is not a repackaging of something that
has appeared elsewhere in print.

Lose concedes that at the start WorkingPreacher.org has been oriented to
provide text material that can be read. But he adds that the site will soon add
audio and video resources “that will knock your socks off” and it will also
become increasingly interactive.

A series of weekly video interviews with “some of the greatest preachers in
the country“ was scheduled to start prior to May 1, said Pastor Mary Brown.
The first was recorded with professor Charles Campbell of Columbia
Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) in Decatur, Georgia. Campbell is
president of the Academy of Homiletics.

Coming this summer, Brown added, are the first podcasts. These will feature
two or three Luther Seminary professors (and, in the future, one local pastor)
discussing the lectionary texts for the week for about six minutes. The
podcasts will provide a supplement to the written commentaries already
featured.

Lose said the contributors to the Web site currently are “mostly seminary
teachers and pastors who hail from the traditions associated with the
Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century.” But he said that as the project
moves forward, Luther Seminary is committed to attracting more voices that
represent other strands of the Christian tradition, both in North America and
throughout the world. “Eventually, we expect to be a fully ecumenical,
diverse, and international group united by the Reformation conviction that
God uses good biblical preaching to change lives,” he said.

Pastor Brown describes the seminary’s decision to provide the new Web site
free of charge to the church at large as a “tremendous investment.” Lose said
the cost to develop and put the site into operation in the first year was more
than $100,000 and it will take close to $20,000 each year to keep it going.
But enthusiasm for the project runs high at the seminary.

Brown, the former parish pastor, calls it “the most rewarding work I’ve ever
done in the church.”

Lose calls Working Preacher.org “the Web’s newest, most helpful, and
downright coolest resource for preachers.”

That might sound like a big claim, he admits. But he adds: “I actually think it’s
true. And, to be frank, if it does sound like we’re biting off a lot to chew on
this small part of the Web, I think that’s okay. Because our ambitions for this
site run high. Really high.”