When the Learning Hits the Lectern

Today was the first sermon session of the semester, and it was something I’d been looking forward to. After all, sermon-making is an art form, the tools of which we learn to use in the other courses. It’s what seminary is really about. That’s not to downplay the practical aspects of ministry, like people and organizational skills, for example, but those could be learned elsewhere if you wished. Crafting sermons, however, is unique to seminaries, just as fixing vehicles is unique to automotive school, even if there is more to running a successful automotive business than knowing how to fix cars. I was interested to hear what sermons were like long before they left the pulpit.

So on Wednesdays, then, we have two classes in the morning and then coffee. After coffee the entire student body assembles in the chapel and one student from 2nd, 3rd, or 4th year delivers a sermon. Dr. de Visser oversees the whole business, and the freshmen simply get to watch. After the sermon there is a short break, the student returns to the lectern, the student body readies the verbal ammo, and Dr. de Visser leads the charge. Everything – the message, the exegesis, the application, the theme, the points, the phrases, the words, the tone of voice, how you hold your head when you read the Bible, etc. – is criticized. There’s even, as one student put it, “the screen of judgement.” The session is recorded on video, and afterwards the powerpoint screen is ominously lowered. The student thus gets to re-experience some of his least favourite moments, play-by-play style. It was Rick Vanderhorst’s turn today. This was his first time up there, and to his credit he was still standing when it was all over. He didn’t even cry.

Kidding aside, the criticism is serious business; but it’s also a noble business. When I returned to our classroom afterwards to grab my books, I ran into my classmate, David Pol, who said, “That was intense!” He’s right, it was. It’s humbling, too, but more than that, it’s instructive and upbuilding. For any student who takes all that criticism to heart, this is a remarkable opportunity to grow in handling God’s Word effectively. We all get to hear the criticism and take note and apply it to our own preaching (or future preaching, in my case). I am very much looking forward to being up there next year, and having my new and untested skills shaped and purified. After all, ‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.’

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