Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

9/4 2020

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Preaching and Communication in Ministry

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is: “Preaching and Communication in Ministry.”

Dr. Angela Hancock

Dr. Angela Hancock, who teaches Preaching and Communication in Ministry alongside colleague Dr. Roger Owens.

About Preaching and Communication in Ministry

Earlier this year, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students learned about the theology and practice of preaching with the Rev. Drs. Angela Hancock and L. Roger Owens in the class “Preaching and Communication in Ministry.” This course is required for students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree program and is open to students in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) degree or Master of Theology (MTS) degree program.

In this course, students were introduced to the theology and practice of preaching, with attention to the performative skills involved in effective communication in ministry settings. Topics included: the oral interpretation of Scripture, biblical exegesis for proclamation, the role of culture and context in preaching, the structure and rhetoric of sermons, and the non-verbal dimensions of communication.

Upon completion of this course, students were able to identify their gifts for and calling to the task of Christian proclamation; define and describe the theological and methodological issues at stake in the movement from a biblical text to a sermon in relation to a particular congregational context; and give evidence of growth in the exegetical, rhetorical, creative, pastoral, and performative skills involved in the practice of preaching and communication in ministry. Further, students were able to demonstrate working knowledge of the basic exegetical method and approaches to sermon design introduced in class through the creation and delivery of two sermons. Students exhibited the capacity to think critically and deeply about their own practice and listened with discernment to the sermons of others, using the theological and rhetorical language of homiletical criticism.

Assignments included speech performative exercises and class participation, two sermons (written and preached), regular analysis of selected sermons, a midterm take-home assessment, and a brief ethnography of context for the second sermon. Students read Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place by Sally Brown and Luke Powery; Wondrous Depths: Preaching the Old Testament, by Ellen Davis; The Witness of Preaching by Thomas Long; and Getting the Word Across: Speech Communication for Pastors and Lay Leaders by G. Robert Jacks.


About the Instructors

The Rev. Dr. Angela Dienhart Hancock serves as associate professor of homiletics and worship. She is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and has served as pastor to churches in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Hancock is the author of Karl Barth’s Emergency Homiletic, 1932-33: A Summons to Prophetic Witness at the Dawn of the Third Reich, a contextual interpretation of Swiss theologian Karl Barth’s lectures on preaching in the early 1930s, based on unpublished archival material. Her current research explores Karl Barth’s contribution to the ethics of deliberation in Christian communities and the relationship between political and theological rhetoric. Hancock continues to preach, teach, and lead worship in a variety of settings.

The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens received his Ph.D. in theology from Duke University where he was awarded a Lilly Fellowship for the Formation of a Learned Clergy. Before that he completed his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School. As an undergraduate he studied philosophy and Bible/religion at Anderson University in Indiana. Owens is an ordained Elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. In North Carolina he served both urban and rural churches for eight years as co-pastor with his wife before coming to PTS. His newest book is Threshold of Discovery: A Field Guide to Spirituality in Midlife (Church Publishing, 2019). Owens serves on the faculty for the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation, where he lectures on postmodern spirituality and traditions of Christian spirituality.


8/28 2020

Evangelism: Asking the God Question and Listening for the Answer

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listen to God in church planting

I have a spiritual director. She is someone I meet with monthly who asks the “God question” in my life. I’ve learned a million things from this little practice of ours—several of them life changing—but the first thing I learned is that I hear God better when someone is listening with me. I see God more clearly, when someone is looking out at the world with me, also expecting to see God there—moving and offering and welcoming. Often in our sessions—when I start to assume all is lost—she asks again, “so where is God?” And I am forced to imagine again that there is some way out of this human mess I am in other than my creativity, diligence, or strength. And that is not easy work. I don’t know how to imagine a hope that doesn’t come from a concrete, plausible likelihood. When I most need the Good News, I really struggle to imagine that God is working and will show up when I need it, even if I see no evidence of that coming toward me through a familiar, practical, or logical channel.


God is Moving in the World

My spiritual director sits quietly and waits—sure that I will be given what I need, sure that I will be able to see God moving somewhere and be able to call it out. And while this exercise is hard, while it sometimes even feels delusional, there is always a moment in there, when something starts to shift in me. I start to think—“okay God, wherever you are, if ever you are—I actually can’t get out of this human mess with my creativity, diligence, or strength. I know, because I’ve tried, I’m frustrated, and it isn’t working. That is why I’m talking about it in spiritual direction. So where are you? What are you going to do about it?”

Now God never says, “I AM HERE! I am doing exactly what you wanted! It is fixed! Go have a snack!” But something happens. I start to remember that it is not all mine to fix. I start to remember that it is God’s world and God is moving in it. I start to be able to breathe next to all the things I’m worried about, and I learn how to live alongside all the things I can’t fix. They belong to God and not to me.


Listening to God in Church Planting

When I talk about church planting, this is the evangelism space I hope we as conveners might be able to open with each other, and with the people in our communities. As we gather, can we watch together for God to move? As we listen closely to each other’s lives, can we dare to ask the question—where is God? What is God doing here? Can we find comfort in asking it together? Could new faith communities be new spaces of courage to look together at what God might be up to?

This is my prayer for this work—that we might have eyes to look for God and ears to listen as we do the work of gathering those who trust, those who doubt, and those who are willing to bravely ask the questions. For it is in those holy spaces that I have encountered the converting truth of the Gospel.


The Rev. Karen Rohrer is director of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Before joining the CPI team, Karen was co-pastor and co-founder of Beacon, a Presbyterian Church in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The saints of Beacon taught her contextual ministry, the joy of being church, and the unique grace of being a lady pastor and boss in a neighborhood of matriarchs. The building of Beacon taught her amateur handy-woman and moisture remediation skills and that a particular space really can be a reminder that you are loved. As director of the Church Planting Initiative, she is excited to vision new ways the church can bear good news to the world and to support and resource the leaders God is calling forth to make it so.



7/29 2020

A Psalm for Every Occasion

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Psalm 118

Christians have turned to the Psalms over and over again throughout the history of the church. These ancient prayers have provided millions of people with just the right words to express their powerful emotions of agonizing grief, frightening confusion, or exultant joy. These are more than just beautiful words—they seem to tap into some of the most important aspects of what it means to live by faith.

This year, I was taught a framework that helps to describe how the Psalms relate to the universal spiritual journey. I learned it in a class taught by Dr. Peter Choi at the Newbigin House of Studies. If you haven’t heard of this program, it’s a nine-month online fellowship that provides theological formation by exploring the spiritual, public, and missional dimensions of the Christian life. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is a partner seminary for this fellows program, so the fellowship provides credit for PTS’s master of divinity and other degree programs.


Orientation, Disorientation, and New Orientation

In the program’s Spiritual Theology course, we discussed some content from Walter Brueggemann’s The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary. In this wonderful commentary, Brueggemann supplies a framework for better understanding both the Psalter (the entire collection of the Psalms) and the spiritual life: orientation, disorientation, and new orientation.

According to this view, psalms of orientation correspond to seasons in life or faith marked by well-being. These are psalms of creation that look upon and celebrate God’s reliably ordered universe. Psalms of disorientation correspond instead to seasons of anguish, suffering, and death; these are poems marked by painful disarray. Finally, psalms of new orientation have almost a surprised tone as they rejoice in new gifts of life from God.

But Brueggemann draws our attention even more closely to the transitions between these seasons (and their associated Psalms). He calls these the two decisive moves of faith: from orientation to disorientation, and from disorientation to new orientation. The first move in the ancient Jewish context would have been evident in the people’s initial enslavement in Egypt, their unforeseen difficulties in the wilderness, the arrival of new enemies outside their borders, and the cataclysmic move to exile. In the early Christian tradition, the clearest move from orientation to disorientation was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This type of move is captured in the Psalter with psalms of lament.

The other decisive move of faith is from disorientation to new orientation. Ancient Jews were no strangers to hope. In Egyptian bondage they had prayed for deliverance, and eventually they would enter a promised land. As exiles in Babylon, they had dreamed of a return to that land of promise; while the new orientation might not have been what they expected, they were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild and live in the city. For early Christians, of course, the disorientation of Christ’s death gave way to the new orientation of his resurrection. This movement of faith rings clearly in psalms of thanksgiving.


Psalms and Christian Spirituality

This is perhaps why the Psalms have been so useful in the spirituality of both individual Christians and communities of faith. They provide prayers calibrated to the decisive seasons and movements of faith and life: from a comfortable but naïve orientation to a bewildering and wretched disorientation; then, blessedly, from that pain and confusion to a new place of acceptance and gratitude. And, of course, over the span of a person or community’s life, these seasons and movements will occur many times.

Which season of life and faith are you currently experiencing? Does your heart need to cry out in anger or grief? Are you overcome by unexpected grace and love?

In any of these seasons, may the Psalms help you discover, name, and express to God what is in your mind and heart.


Jon Mathieu is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. While his background is in mathematics, he has been engaged in ministry in Pittsburgh for more than a decade. Most recently he has served as a writer and program director at an evangelical church. Sensing God was leading him into new ways of thinking, believing, and loving, he became a fellow at the Newbigin House of Studies and a student at PTS. His writing has appeared on RelevantMagazine.com.

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