California North Conference – Arizona – California District
The Sierra Circuit is a geographically extended circuit, ranging from Redding, California to the Reno region including the churches in the greater Sacramento area. The pastors of the Sierra Circuit get together for nearly five hours of study time every month when there is not a conference. They also take one month off during the summer. Every other meeting is held at St. Mark’s in Citrus Heights because it is the largest and most centrally-located congregation.
After a devotion by the host pastor, the group views a video of a sermon preached by one of the pastors of the circuit. The decision to watch a video of a sermon was made because it was felt that you get a better feel for the preacher when he is preaching to a larger group (and his own congregation) than preaching to a small group of pastors. Critique and constructive criticism is offered.
The next hour is devoted to a text study of a lesson for the upcoming Sunday. The Sierra Circuit takes a unique approach to the text study. Using a Google Doc spreadsheet, pastors sign up to do work on various portions of the text study (translation of various verses; reading commentaries; looking into various points of grammar; comparing translations). Each pastor does his work ahead of time and comes to the meeting to share what they have done. Pastor Marquardt commented: “With the self-assigned tasks for group study of a text, we’re able to go both a lot deeper and a lot wider with our research than any one of us would have time to do on his own. When possible, we try to place our contribution in the circuit Dropbox folder in advance so everyone has a copy. This method takes more time in our agenda than we used to dedicate to text study prepared by an individual—or going around the table with each guy translating a verse, but I believe we all get more out of the process without any one of us taking on too much of an extra burden for the week.”
After lunch, the group spends about half an hour hearing and discussing a book report prepared by one of the men of the circuit. These books tend to focus on areas of pastoral theology. The Sticky Church was recently discussed, for example. This time slot has also been used to discuss various other practical matters, such as church copyright issues and catechism curricular options. The group even heard a presentation from a LOGOS representative on some of the under-used features of LOGOS.
The final hour is spent studying portions of “Reclaiming Our Christ-Centered Lutheran Devotional Heritage,” the series of essays and resources prepared by Professor Rich Gurgel and “Grow in Grace.” A leader is assigned to prepare and lead the discussion.
The meeting time ends with questions of casuistry and discussing other areas of mutual concern.
Fellowship time is difficult because the churches are so spread out, but they have occasionally gotten together for a picnic on Memorial Day. They also conduct a joint Reformation service.
There are several items about the study plan of the Sierra Circuit worth noting:
- Since some of the pastors of the Sierra Circuit have to travel a long ways to make the circuit meetings, the agenda makes their travel time worth the effort. Spending five hours together on a monthly basis for mutual growth and encouragement is a great use of time and energy and an example worth following by other circuits.
- Great use of technology by employing Google Docs for signing up for various parts of the text study and Dropbox for sharing materials. See Pastor Marquardt’s comments above for the value of this approach.
- The essays and resources on the “Grow in Grace” website were written for circuits to use in their study together. Having one of the pastors assigned to lead discussion can serve to make the discussion more beneficial.
Here is a suggestion for circuits that would consider adopting/adapting larger or smaller portions of the plans of the Sierra Circuit:
- Consideration might be given to occasionally devoting the time for the book review to studying a specific doctrine or one of the Lutheran Confessions.