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Doctor of Ministry Course in Dallas

My first Doctor of Ministry Course runs from Monday to Friday, July 9th to 16th, at Dallas Theological Seminary. I’m going to blog a paragraph or so each day.


First Day, Monday: I was more tense about the logistics of being in the right place at the right time than I needed to be. I drove up to Dallas Sunday afternoon and got settled in at Abbie and Tim’s in Crandall. Then on Monday I drove up to the seminary near downtown Dallas. It’s only about a half an hour drive, but I left myself an hour and a half, because I was worried about finding the seminary, getting a parking permit, finding the classroom, etc. Didn’t need it. Everything went well, logistically. Furthermore there was good internet access in the classroom (unlike Abbie’s house) so I’ll be able to post this first thing in the morning.

The class is going to be good. It’s called ‘Communication Relevance in Preaching’ and it’s taught by Dr. Donald Sunukian, who teaches at Talbot Seminary, and on the D. Min level at ten other seminaries. There are only nine students, and we sit at a round table with our laptops, taking notes and talking (and in my case, multi-tasking a little bit on some 3d Bible Scenes stuff). The quality of the students is quite exceptional. There is one Bible School prof from Russia, a musician and denominational leader from the Faroe islands, and others from all across the U.S. I’ve got seventeen years in ministry at this point, and that’s about typical for the group. This makes the discussions of preaching lively and interesting, coming as they do from people who have devoted much time and thought to what they are doing every week. It’s good stuff.

Second Day, Tuesday: We’ve been working through the process of creating a sermon from a given text. Dr. Sunukjian’s approach is very similar to what preachers such as Haddon Robinson and Ramesh Richard teach, but with a few worthwhile differences in approach and emphasis. But his ‘big thing’ is what I’ll call ‘exemplary applications’. From the very start of the message, Sunukjian will develop two or three stories, mostly fictitious, but about people very much like the people in his congregation. In these stories the people will encounter a vivid instance of the problem the text addresses in their own contemporary lives. For example, if Abraham and Sarah are called to leave from Ur and go to the promised land, then Bill and Wanda will be called to leave Houston by a job transfer and go to another state where just to be a Christian is to be a missionary. The Biblical text of what happened to Abraham has a great deal of contemporary relevance for them under that circumstance, and for others who identify with them. Sunukian will develop Bill and Wanda’s story, along with one or two others, in two or three episodes as he moves through the outline of the text, and bring his understanding of the Bible’s message to apply to these contemporary examples. It’s a powerful technique; I’ve done something similar on occasion, but being in this class, listening to Dr. Sunukjian do it has clarified it in my mind. Thoughts anyone?

Wednesday and Thursday: Sorry, didn’t get a chance to blog earlier, being busy. Wednesday evening Abbie, Tim and I went out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, Napoli’s in Crandall. It’s (obviously) an Italian place, a real good one; their stuffed mushrooms with crab meat are to die for (and of).

Wednesday was the middle day of the course, and of the sermonic preparation process. I’ve decided that one of the key values of a course like this is putting terminology to things that I’ve done without knowing (or remembering) what to call it. One of the big ideas for Wednesday was that every sermon is either inductive or deductive. Do you know the difference? Dr. Sunukjian’s distinction between the two is simple and memorable. If you approach a sermon by stating up front the central idea of the text, it’s going to be a deductive sermon. If you only state the question that the text raises in our minds, and answer it by developing the text, it’s an inductive sermon. Those of you who listen to me often know that I usually use the deductive approach, but occasionally the ‘big idea’ sentence that you see in the bulletin is a question – those are weeks I’m going inductive on you.

On Thursday we began to focus on details, especially those that make oral delivery effective. The big one Dr. Sunukjian promotes is restatement (which I keep accidently calling ‘recapitulaiton’). Actually the parentheses is an example of restatement – saying the same thing in other words. If the central idea of the sermon was ‘God’s grace toward me is awesome proof of how much I am loved’, I could restate it as ‘God convincingly proves how much he loves me by the greatness of his grace’ or some such. I don’t do this as much as Dr. Sunukjian would, though some who listen to me have remarked on the way I always have two or three synonyms for key words – that’s restatement too, and it is especially effective in oral communication.