Regular sermon evaluation proves to be hot topic for delegates

Photographs on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, at the 66th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, in Milwaukee. LCMS/Frank Kohn

The Rev. Dr. Brian S. Saunders, chairman of Committee 17 and District President of Iowa District East, brought levity to the convention floor toward the end of the day on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, at the 66th Regular Convention to the LCMS in Milwaukee. (LCMS/Frank Kohn)

By Sarah E. Ludwig

MILWAUKEE (July 13, 2016) — Delegates to the 66th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod ended up having plenty to discuss regarding one of four resolutions about preaching and education presented by Floor Committee 17 on Wednesday.

Committee 17 deals with preaching and church worker continuing education.

The Rev. Dr. Brian S. Saunders, chairman of Committee 17 and president of Iowa District East, opened the committee’s presentation with a question.

“If you have ever heard a boring sermon, raise your hand,” instructed Saunders.

The majority of the body did so.

“How about preached a boring sermon?” LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison countered.

Many hands stayed up.

“That’s a rather large contingency from Pastor Matthew Harrison’s congregation,” Saunders noted, to laughter from the convention floor.

Back to serious business, to introduce Resolution 17-03, “To Endorse Preach the Word Project as Celebration of 500th Anniversary of Reformation,” Committee 17 showed a video about the project initiated by the president’s office in concert with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The “Preach the Word” project’s theme is “It’s Still All about Jesus,” and its purpose is to help pastors work together to improve their preaching skills.

The project offers pastors the opportunity to follow video modules on a variety of topics with two other pastors of their choice by getting together for a couple hours, going back to their respective congregations and trying something new, and then getting together again to compare notes.

The resolution passed easily with 93.95 percent of the delegates in favor and 6.05 percent against.

Though the committee’s presentation began and ended unremarkably, the second resolution they presented regarding regular sermon evaluation proved to be a hot topic.

Resolution 17-04, “To Encourage Regular Sermon Evaluation by District Presidents and Circuit Visitors,” urges district presidents and circuit visitors to incorporate sermon evaluation as part of their regular visitations.

Since there were objections to immediately voting on the resolution, debate opened up quickly, with a considerable number of delegates entering the debate queue. Those who wanted to speak were fairly equally divided between being for and against the resolution.

The Rev. Jeremy D. Loesch, a voting delegate from the Missouri District, said that while he liked the resolution, he wasn’t sure how it could be implemented.

“If I send an audio file to [Missouri District] President Hagan for him to listen to as he drives about the district, I don’t want it on my conscience that he’s going to fall asleep at the wheel,” Loesch joked.

Saunders responded that he has been employing sermon evaluation in his district for the past six years and that there are a variety of ways to do it, including sitting and listening to the sermon during a Sunday service, watching a video, hearing sermons at a pastors conference, or listening to an audio file.

In response to one delegate’s concern that the district president or circuit visitor might disagree with the preacher’s approach, Saunders pointed out that this could actually strengthen the relationship.

“You’re sitting down with the Word, not personalities,” he said. “It’s a great way to build a relationship.”

An amendment was proposed to strike the last two lines of the resolution. These state, “Resolved, That all district presidents and circuit visitors be urged to make sermon evaluation a regular part of their visitations, using the Synod structure and resources available from the Synod and sister districts.” That amendment also sparked some debate, but ultimately failed.

“Apparently quite a few laypeople voting out there,” President Harrison remarked, garnering appreciative laughter.

The resolution itself, 17-04, was finally adopted with 75.56 percent of the delegates voting in favor and 24.47 percent against.

Resolutions 17-01, “To Enhance Clergy Continuing Education,” and 17-02, “To Encourage Participation in Continuing Theological Education by Ministers of Religion—Commissioned and Lay Workers,” were then bundled together in the interest of saving time. The resolutions were adopted by a majority of 86.70 percent.

Sarah E. Ludwig is a freelance writer and copy editor and a member of Concordia Lutheran Church in Cresbard, S.D.

Posted July 14, 2016

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