Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pulpit Review: Preaching Takes Work!

Anderson, Steven. My Last Sermon Was Better than the First: Preaching in the 21st Century. Sherrard, IL: Connemara Publishing, 2009. 143 Pages. Paper with Audio CD of sermon examples. $14.99. http://www.focusonthegospel.com/ (P)

Every once in a while I run across a book good enough to read in one sitting. This insightful and focused book on Christian preaching is one of those books.

Largely intended for an audience of Lutheran pastors (but by no means limited to preachers of the Lutheran confession), Rev. Anderson summarizes decades of experience in the pulpit, bringing together seminary training, what he learned from other preachers willing to share (12), the fruit of his own failures and successes, good common sense, and solid biblical theology.

Humility is a good thing in the pulpit. I pray that Rev. Steven Anderson is far from preaching his very last sermon, yet the book title admits the truth every preacher should be humble enough to admit: My Last Sermon Was Better than the First" (cf. 9). We can, should, and should want to do better than before.

One of the problems with preaching is not preaching well. This can be because of a disconnect with either the text or the people (26), a simple failure to communicate, or apathy on the part of people or preacher. Preachers can fall into bad habits like neglecting to study theology in their study, thinking of it more as an office. Greek and Hebrew references may give the preacher permanent crutches, or the seminary study of the Biblical languages might be completely set aside for a time. Fads, news, pet causes or texts and other distractions can take the Word out of the mouth of the preacher and the ears of his congregation.

I appreciated the intentional return to "exegeting the text" rather than "interpreting the text," avoiding the misleading terminology of the day (20ff). One should not be afraid to re-learn Greek and Hebrew and fully exhaust the text (25, et al). I loved the advice to "tell a good story" (34ff), because Christians have the best story of all to tell. The Gospel shall predominate (30). And the new edition of Walther's Law and Gospel will be appearing just in time to help preachers everywhere (48ff).

The pastor is a teacher. Rhetoric is a great tool that classical educators and schools are rediscovering in a meaningful (and dare I say practical) ways. Particularly after youth Confirmation Sunday this week, I enjoyed Pr. Anderson's introduction to Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric in the context of catechesis (58ff, cf. 69ff). One can gain (or regain) control of a classroom. Dryden: "Beware the fury of a patient man" (64).

"The next time you write a sermon, put yourself in the place of the listener. Are you speaking in such a way that your listeners are able to follow what you are saying?" (97). I often say it this way: Are you writing and preaching in a way you would be willing to listen?

"Focus on the Gospel was established to encourage the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially from the pulpit and in the classroom. We combine ancient and timeless methodologies with modern media to offer a variety of resources that will help pastors and laymen to accomplish that mission.

"The founder of Focus on the Gospel, the Rev. Steven L. Anderson, is the Administrator at Christ Lutheran High School in Rock Island, IL. Rev. Anderson has a background in education and theology and is an accomplished and in-demand speaker and teacher.

"In 1981 Rev. Anderson graduated from Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, IL, (now Concordia University Chicago) with a B.A. in Education. He continued his education at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, earning a Masters of Divinity degree in Exegetical Theology in 1985.

"Upon matriculation from seminary, he served for sixteen years as a sole parish pastor at churches in Wisconsin, Missouri, and Kansas before moving to Colorado, where for two years he worked in a Lutheran high school. While at that school he served as Dean of Students, Director of Recruitment, Instructor, as well as Associate Pastor at the church that ran the school.

"In the fall of 2002 he began his work at Christ Lutheran High. He serves as Principal, as well as Administrator, and continues to spend a great deal of time in the classroom as a teacher. His work at the school leaves him free on weekends and during the summer to serve pastoral vacancies and do pulpit supply in local congregations.

"Rev. Anderson is the author of several periodical articles, as well as My Last Sermon was Better than My First - Preaching in the 21st Century... He and his wife of thirty-one years have three grown children and live in Sherrard, IL" (http://www.focusonthegospel.com/).

"The goal every Sunday is to proclaim the Word in such a way that everybody, no matter what age or other consideration, gets it. Some weeks that happens more and better than other weeks. Some are always going to get more out of the sermon than others, and it may vary every week. Their body language will tell you, and sometimes their words. Sometimes I'm surprised both ways. From toddlers to elderly, and every age in between, everybody goes away with something" (43).
I pray this book will be a blessing to you to that end. Thank you, Pastor Anderson!

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.