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For preachers, a textual feast inside Austin city limits

Sermon Seminar affords spiritual — and physical — food.

AUSTIN, Texas — Welcome to the Lone Star State capital, home of the South by Southwest Festival and the Keep Austin Weird Fest & 5K.

A lesser-known annual festival: the Gourmet Preachers Tour, conducted during the Austin Sermon Seminar.

Austin Graduate School of Theology facts The informal tour involves a dozen or so minister friends. It usually starts with Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. Favorites such as Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and Chuy’s Tex-Mex follow. Don’t forget nightly visits to Amy’s Ice Creams.

“We emphasize fellowship,” said Larry Roberts, minister for the Daugherty Street Church of Christ in Eastland, Texas.

“A lot of it has to do with the psalm that talks about oil flowing down Aaron’s beard, I think,” quipped Greg Fleming, minister for the North A Church of Christ in Midland, Texas, referring to Psalm 133:2.

Joking aside, it’s not really the food — but rather the chance to feast on God’s word — that keeps these preachers returning to Central Texas.

For 36 years, the Austin Graduate School of Theology has hosted the Sermon Seminar.

“I love how the Sermon Seminar feeds both my mind and my soul as a minister,” Clyde Slimp, preaching minister for the Westhill Church of Christ in Cleburne, Texas, said in an email. “It sharpens my ability to share God’s word faithfully while also helping me consider how to preach it effectively.

Clyde Slimp “I also like the encouraging fellowship of everyone there, and how (President) Stan Reid and the Austin Grad faculty help put the heart back into ministers by honoring the holy work of preaching God’s word to God’s people,” added Slimp, who has attended nine of the last 13 years and led worship at the recent four-day seminar.

Austin Grad traces its origins to the University Avenue Church of Christ’s establishment of a Bible chair at the University of Texas in 1917.

The seminary, which offers a bachelor’s degree in Christian studies and a master’s degree in theological studies, plans a centennial celebration Oct. 19.

Reid spent 25 years in congregational ministry before assuming Austin Grad’s top post in 2003. He began attending the Sermon Seminar before he joined the school’s faculty.

“It’s always had an emphasis on preaching biblical and expository sermons,” Reid said of the seminar, which drew about 80 ministers this year. “We focus on the biblical text and try to help preachers get good research material that will help them develop biblical sermons.”

‘A theological exegesis’
Jim Eubanks, minister for the Dallas-area Forney Church of Christ, has preached for 47 years.

For the last 30 years, Eubanks has made his way to the Austin Sermon Seminar.

Steve Cloer preaches for the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)“I come here for one reason,” the 77-year-old preacher said, “because this is not an issue-oriented seminar — it is a theological exegesis.”

This year’s topics and speakers included “Preaching from Job,” taught by Rick Marrs of Pepperdine University; “Preaching from Ezekiel,” taught by Steve Cloer of the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth; “Preaching from 2 Timothy,” taught by Reid; and “Christian Ministry in Digital Culture,” taught by John Weaver of Abilene Christian University.

Often, Eubanks said, a single word or phrase by a seminar speaker will trigger a whole year’s worth of additional Bible study when he returns home.

“I want to learn something that will help me go deeper,” he said.

Richard Shields, minister for the Newland Street Church of Christ in Garden Grove, Calif., agreed: “They don’t give sermons. … They give tools and ideas for study and development.”

Clark Tatum, bottom left, takes notes during the Austin Sermon Seminar. Tatum preaches for the 14th and Main Church of Christ in Big Spring, Texas. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Refreshment and new ideas

Roberts, one of the Gourmet Preachers Tour organizers, has completed 50 years of full-time ministry.

Larry Roberts“I tell everybody that I come here every year to the Sermon Seminar because I’m still trying to learn how to preach,” he said with a chuckle.

On a more serious note, he said, “We not only benefit from the classes, but we have discussions nearly everywhere we go together about various things that are brotherhood oriented and doctrinally oriented. You just go back with a lot of refreshment and new ideas.”

As Fleming sees it, the seminar turns Austin into a sort of modern-day Jerusalem.

“You kind of get a sense maybe,” Fleming said, “of what happened for Israel when you had the festivals and went to Jerusalem — just the time you spend together.”

Filed under: Austin Graduate School of Theology National Partners preaching Texas

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