Mennonite preaching has traditionally been characterized as hortatory, with emphasis on admonition. That concern to foster discipleship and provide encouragement for the Christian walk continues. However, increasing attention is being given to telling the story, teaching the Bible, and equipping for mission. The prophetic character of preaching, the ways that the sermon can undergird the church's concern for social justice, is also recognized. In most Mennonite congregations, the act of preaching continues to be at the center or climax of the worship service, and is given major time. However, other forms of "sermon" are also utilized, such as readings, dialogue, drama, and use of other arts as vehicle for proclamation.
Mennonite preachers are not generally orators, but tend to be more modest in style. The pastoral care function of preaching is recognized. Forms of biblical preaching predominate, strengthened in recent years by the training in Bible school, college, or seminary for increasing numbers of pastors. Here attention is given to better hermeneutical and communication skills. The existing Mennonite seminaries provide supervised experience in preaching.
There is a growing use of The common lectionary by Mennonite pastors, as well as preaching in relationship to the church year and series of sermons. Lay participation in preaching and the issue of inclusiveness in language and gender are receiving attention.
Mennonites have, however, published very little regarding preaching or sermons in written form. In a 1987 review of the catalogued holdings of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary library at Elkhart, Ind., of 684 listings in the card file on preaching, only 10 were by Mennonite writers, and only 5 were published works.
Several studies have examined Mennonite preaching. "Mennonite preaching, 1864-1944" a 1949 dissertation by Roy H. Umble, was a study of sermons of 11 representative ministers from 1864-1944, which included the initial transition from lay to trained ministry.
Paul M. Miller's study (1961) of the relationship between Mennonite theology and worship included a study of 21 sample congregations in the Indiana-Michigan Conference (MC). His findings indicated that the sermon was obviously regarded as the central and most essential experience in worship, that 16 of 21 sermons were expositions of Scripture, and that the majority of the sermons attempted to admonish worshipers how to live.
In 1965 Paul Erb edited a collection of 26 contemporary sermons, From the Mennonite pulpit (Scottdale). The sermons submitted showed a special emphasis in the area of mission and Christian living, indicating also the desire to propagate and not only preserve faith.
A 1971 study by James Waltner on "The authentication of preaching in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition" included a survey of preaching of the ministers in the General Conference Mennonite Church. Observations included: (1) the Scriptures are still seen as the primary source and authority for preaching, (2) the theme of discipleship in Christian living is strong, (3) in spite of the move toward a trained professional ministry there is interest to utilize aspects of lay preaching as members of the congregation share the task of proclamation, and (4) on the question of authentication, the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit are seen as central, though a sense of call confirmed by the church, and the preacher's example of following Christ in life are also factors that give authenticity to the preaching for the people.
John H. Neufeld's study in 1982 on "Preaching as equipping for ministry" takes seriously the understanding of the whole people of God as called to ministry in the world, and preaching as a crucial element in this equipping. This study also relates preaching to insights regarding the dynamics of adult life and faith development for adults.
Dyck, Cornelius J. "The Role of Preaching in the Anabaptist Tradition." Mennonite Life 17 (January 1962): 21-25.
Mast, Russell L. Preach the Word. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1968.
Neufeld, John H. "Preaching as Equipping Believers for Ministry." DMin thesis, Bethany Theological Seminary, 1982.
Waltner, James H. "The Authentication of Preaching in the Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition." DMin diss., Claremont School of Theology, 1971.
Miller, Paul M. "An Investigation of the Relationship Between Mennonite Theology and Mennonite Worship." ThD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1961.
Kennel, LeRoy E. Preaching as Shared Story. Dubuque: Kendal/Hunt, 1987.
Waltner, Erland. "Preaching the Bible in the Church." Paper for the April, 1977, Council of Mennonite Seminaries, hermeneutics consultation available in the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary library, Elkhart, IN.
Umble, Roy. "Characteristics of Mennonite Preaching." Mennonite Quarterly Review 27 (1953): 137-42.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 720-721. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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