Small group ministry resonates with Millennials

“I started going to growth groups here, and that fueled my faith like never before,” says Jackie Huebner, a 29-year-old member of St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis. “Finding people who wanted to talk about Jesus was awesome as well as seeing firsthand how fellow Christians would filter their lives through what God says. And to dive deeper into his Word and become a closer community of Christians is such a powerful thing.” 

Rev. James Hein, a pastor at St. Marcus, says that Huebner is a good example of a Millennial—someone who was born from 1980–2000. “Millennials are looking for close relationships,” says Hein. “We try to ensure that small group ministries are an essential part of the St. Marcus culture. We currently have 12 to 15 small groups running, and virtually all of our leadership comes from and is involved in these small, relational study groups.” 

Hein himself prepares the material for most of these groups, often based off of the previous Sunday’s sermon. A lay facilitator then presents the material to the group and helps group members work through it. Usually these groups meet in members’ homes over a meal, but they can also meet in coffee shops or restaurants. The location is not as important as the relationships that are built as members get to know one another and share life experiences with each other. 

“I attended a growth group at a friend’s house soon after I joined St. Marcus,” says Huebner, “and now I lead one with my husband. We get the opportunity to have real conversations about faith and how to put it into action in our lives in a like-minded Christian community. I depend on it.”

To watch a series of videos that discuss ministering to Millennials, as well as discussion guides and a playbook with tips for ministering to Millennials, visit welscongregationalservices.net. Choose the “Modules” dropdown menu and then “Discipleship.”

Teens learn they are never alone

From June 26–29, 2018, approximately 2,100 WELS teens and youth leaders attended the WELS International Youth Rally at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Organized by the WELS Commission on Discipleship, teens gathered for praise, learning, and fellowship under the theme “Never Alone.” This theme was based on the message of Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Attendees were assured that God is ever-present in their lives and that they are not isolated in their belief. Teens sang their praises with worship band Koiné and worked on a collaborative piece of artwork that was coordinated by WELS artist Jason Jaspersen (both pictured, left).


WELS Commission on Evangelism released To the Ends of the Earth, the fourth and final film in WELS’ outreach series, in September 2018. The four films in this series were a collaboration between WELS Commissions on Evangelism and Discipleship, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc. Encouraging witnessing is an important feature of the film, which tells the story of the apostle Paul and his work in Philippi. To view a trailer and learn more about the film, visit wels.net/totheendsoftheearth

Synodwide Outreach Campaign

WELS Congregational Services launched a synodwide outreach campaign called C18. The overarching goal of the program was to reach one million people with the gospel message during the 2018 Christmas season. Every commission from Congregational Services provided royalty-free resources that congregations and members could use in this effort.

“It all boils down to WELS members growing closer to Jesus so we have a heart that beats with a love and passion for the lost and we are willing to step outside our comfort zone to do whatever we can to share the gospel,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, director of WELS Congregational Services.

To learn more about C18, visit wels.net/c18.

Special Ministries

God’s Word—in Braille

“Her hands are her eyes,” says Timothy Redfield. He is talking about his six-year-old daughter, Libby, who was born blind due to an optic nerve condition.

Redfield and his wife, who are members of Trinity, Belle Plaine, Minn., are teaching Libby (pictured) how to read Braille. They are able to get free children’s books in Braille from the state and county, but they also want Libby to be able to read about her Savior, so they sent several of their favorite Christian story books to the Mission for the Visually Impaired. Volunteers then produced and positioned clear Braille stickers into the books so Libby could read along. The Mission for the Visually Impaired also provides weekly Christ-Light Sunday school lessons in Braille for Libby. 

Manned by volunteers and headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., the mission, which operates under WELS Commission on Special Ministries, produces devotional and other materials in Braille, large print, and on cassette tape. These are distributed free to WELS and non-WELS visually impaired people. The mission currently is working on a project to have downloadable Christian audio resources available online.

“Our goal is to spread his Word—in any way we can!” says Bill Bremel, director of the Mission for the Visually Impaired.

Learn more at wels.net/visually-impaired.

Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) Conference

OWLS members greet Steve Schroeder and his wife, Sarah, who presented on the challenges they’ve experienced during Steve’s career as a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot, which included a life-changing crash.


WELS Hymnal Project

Committees have been at work on the WELS Hymnal Project since 2013.  Rev. Michael Schultz, director of the Hymnal Project, says, “Our focus continues to be on the scriptural integrity and Christ-centeredness of the resources we are seeking to provide, on both preserving and producing faith-strengthening materials for worshipers today and in generations to come. Our goal continues to be to bring forward texts and music that will serve people of all ages in a broad array of contexts, so that through Scripture and rites and hymns and psalms, God will be glorified and his people edified.”

The work of the Hymnal Project is closely coordinated with WELS Commission on Worship. As part of the hymnal’s development, surveys and field testing have been conducted. The executive committee plans to review and approve final content for all resources in 2019 so that the hymnal will be available for purchase in Advent 2021.

Lutheran Schools

The Commission on Lutheran Schools began presenting its Ministerial Growth and Evaluation Process during the 2018–19 school year. Jim Rademan, director of Lutheran Schools, notes, “The Ministerial Growth and Evaluation Process makes use of Scripture and a variety of research-based educational best practices and tools to assist teachers, peer coaches, principals, and early childhood directors in encouraging and supporting one another for strengthening both student learning and our schools.”

The goal is to train all schools in the Ministerial Growth and Evaluation Process over the next 18 to 24 months. In November 2018, 50 school leaders in the Western Wisconsin District (pictured) attended a training session on the process.

Kirsten Duin, director of Grow in Peace Learning Center, Sun Prairie, Wis., says, “The Ministerial Growth and Evaluation Process training was an encouraging event for me because it gave me new tools to help me coach my staff and guide us to the goal of improving the way we serve our families in our center along with the quality of education that we provide to the community.”

Women’s Ministry

WELS Women’s Ministry is hosting a conference with the theme “Living stones, positioned to thrive” from July 18–20, 2019, at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. Learn more about the conference and the other resources provided by WELS Women’s Ministry at wels.net/women.

Christian Aid and Relief

WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided $850,000 in humanitarian aid and disaster relief grants in 2018. The organization works through WELS pastors and congregational leaders to assess needs, distribute aid, and bring in volunteers when requested.

Much of the money granted in 2018 was to help congregations recover from hurricane damage. Hurricanes Florence and Michael both damaged WELS churches and the homes of members and neighbors.

Christian Aid and Relief is also continuing to help with rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico following 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria. Christian Aid and Relief approved a $150,000 hurricane relief grant for phase one of repair and rebuilding to help the Confessional Lutheran Church in Puerto Rico, WELS’ sister church body. This grant will help rebuild the church building in Humacao, the church in Guayama, and pastors’ homes. Volunteers are expected to begin work in Puerto Rico early in 2019. Pictured are WELS President Mark Schroeder, Board for World Missions administrator Larry Schlomer, and Commission on Inter-Church Relations member Tim Satorius.

For more information or to volunteer, visit wels.net/relief.

Ministry of Christian Giving

WELS Ministry of Christian Giving serves on behalf of the Conference of Presidents to encourage every WELS member to “excel in the grace of giving” through Christ. In 2018, thanks to the support of WELS Foundation and others, the Ministry of Christian Giving created a planned giving newsletter, Grace of Giving, and mailed the initial edition to more than 13,000 households.

Christian Giving also represented WELS’ areas of ministry in 3,500 meaningful donor visits and partnered with Michigan Lutheran Seminary and WELS Congregational Services on special offering campaigns.

To request free, confidential assistance with a gift or Christian estate planning, visit wels.net/christian-giving.

WELS Benefit Plans Office

WELS Benefit Plans serves WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) workers and organizations through administration of the WELS Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association (VEBA) Health Plan, the WELS Pension Plan, and the WELS Shepherd Plan.

The WELS VEBA Health Plan provides benefits for church and school workers in accordance with God’s Word while remaining compliant with the federal health care reform law. The plan provides comprehensive, nationwide coverage. More than 80 percent of WELS workers and calling bodies participate in WELS VEBA.

The WELS Pension Plan provides WELS called workers with a valuable source of guaranteed income during retirement.

The WELS Shepherd Plan provides workers the opportunity to save and invest a portion of their earnings to provide income during their retirement years.

One important advantage of participating in WELS Benefit Plans is that the coverage and benefits provided are uniform throughout all 50 states. This supports the WELS ministry and call process because worker call decisions are not influenced by health insurance and retirement benefit decisions.

Visit welsbpo.net for more information. 

WELS Investment Funds, Inc.

WELS Investment Funds  is a self-supporting subsidiary of WELS. Its mission is to provide cost-effective, professionally managed investment portfolios exclusively for WELS-affiliated ministries. By pooling investment resources through WELS Investment Funds, congregations can take advantage of lower cost, institutional priced investment alternatives that would not otherwise be available.

WELS Investment Funds currently manages more than $200 million in assets, which includes $48 million for 180 congregations and 20 WELS-affiliated ministries.

Visit wels.net/welsfunds for more information. 

Northwestern Publishing House

Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) provides Christ-centered, biblically sound resources to the people of WELS and beyond. NPH publishes Forward in Christ and Meditations, elementary and Sunday school curricula, Bible studies, worship materials, music, and faith strengthening books for WELS members. In 2018, NPH released a total of more than 50 Christian resources in print and digital formats, including:

  • Growing in the Word and Growing in Grace, two catechism curricula designed to incorporate Bible history into catechism instruction;
  • We Still Believe and Confess, a Bible study that takes a careful look at the Lutheran Confessions;
  • a popular prayer collection—There’s a Prayer for That—that has sold more than 7,000 copies to date;
  • several titles intended to reach a broad audience, such as Ten Things to Tell Your Grandkids Because You Love them So Much, From Dirty to Dancing: God’s Grace for Those Struggling With Pornography, and Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You;
  • Christmas and Lent service kits for churches;
  • a vacation Bible school program; and
  • 17 music offerings for organ, piano, and choir.

In September, NPH closed its store location and now offers its merchandise solely online at nph.net and through its displays at select conferences and events. NPH’s website saw nearly 60,000 visitors in July, August, and September alone, more than 50 percent of whom were new visitors. The staff at NPH continually tests and adjusts the site’s design and organization to provide the most intuitive and pleasant shopping experience for customers.

Visit nph.net to learn more.

WELS Foundation

WELS Foundation exists to help God’s people support gospel ministry through WELS. WELS Foundation currently administers more than 1,200 donor directed planned gifts including endowment funds, donor advised funds, and gifts that provide income payments to the donor and/or their family members and loved ones. These planned gifts, generally established with the assistance of a WELS Christian giving counselor, benefit WELS congregations, schools, missions, and other affiliated ministries.

In 2018, WELS Foundation was privileged to distribute $5.7 million in gifts to various WELS ministries. This included $1.84 million to WELS ministerial education schools and $480,000 to WELS Missions.

Visit wels.net/foundation for more information.

WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc.

WELS Church Extension Fund (WELS CEF) provides financing through loans and grants to mission congregations so they can acquire land and ministry facilities to be used for gospel outreach in coordination with WELS Home Missions. WELS CEF also provides loans to self-supporting WELS congregations and schools for land and facility projects. The money to carry out CEF’s mission comes from investments and gifts from WELS members, congregations, and affiliated organizations.

In fiscal year 2017–18, $26.7 million of new loans and $2.3 million of new
grants were approved to mission and mission-minded self-supporting congregations. In addition, WELS CEF provided a grant of $837,070 to the Board for Home Missions from its annual unrestricted net asset grant program. WELS CEF ended fiscal year 2018 with assets of $208.3 million and net assets of $104.3 million. Three thousand four hundred WELS members invested $101.6 million. The loan portfolio held $159.4 million in 208 loans to congregations and affiliates.

For more information, visit wels.net/cef.


WELS Church Extension Fund has supported Beautiful Savior, Lakewood Ranch, Fla., with grants and lower-interest loans to help the congregation build its worship facility and early childhood center.

WELS Church Extension Fund provided a loan to Atonement, Milwaukee, Wis., that helped the self-supporting mission-minded congregation build an addition to alleviate crowding in its school’s classrooms. Before the space was even complete, some teachers began taking advantage of the extra room to spread out for certain projects.

Communication Services and Technology

WELS Communication Services coordinates the various WELS communications platforms so they have a recognizable look and feel and layers communications across those platforms. Some of those platforms include Forward in Christ, WELS’ official monthly magazine; “Together,” a bi-weekly e-newsletter and a bi-weekly video update; WELS’ Facebook page, facebook.com/welslutherans; and wels.net, WELS’ official website.

Communication Services also coordinates synodwide events such as the biennial synod convention and WELS’ annual night at Miller Park (pictured), which was attended by more than 2,400 WELS members in 2018.

In 2018, WELS released a new version of the WELS mobile app. This version replaces WELS Mobile. Now called WELS App, this progressive web app still offers a quick and easy way to get WELS news, devotions, and information but also now includes expanded content and new features like sharing and favoriting. Find the app at https://wels.app.

Apache mission

More than 1,200 people attended the Apache 125th anniversary celebration at Peridot Lutheran Church and School in Peridot, Ariz., on Oct. 26–28. The event commemorated the beginning of WELS World Missions sharing God’s Word on the Apache reservations of Arizona. In the months before the celebration, many mission teams volunteered on the reservations to help repair and clean the facilities and to share the gospel with the Apache. Pictured are Rebekah Patterson, who helped with vacation Bible school during the summer, and one of her students from Whiteriver, Ariz. For more photos and information from the anniversary event, visit wels.net/apache.


Did you know?

WELS Missions launched a new program known as Mission Journeys in 2018. The program coordinates short-term trips for WELS congregations and their members to help home mission churches, world mission fields, and existing congregations with outreach events. In 2018, teams traveled to Ecuador, East Asia, the Apache mission, Mozambique, and Paraguay. Want to get involved in WELS Mission Journeys? Learn more at wels.net/missionjourneys or by contacting missionjourneys@wels.net.


The Vietnamese government has invited WELS to build a theological training facility in its capital city of Hanoi, an unprecedented opportunity for our synod. WELS is currently the only Protestant church with official government permission to work with the more than two million Hmong living in Vietnam and surrounding countries. Hmong Christians in Vietnam are grateful for the message of free grace from Jesus that WELS has been sharing with them since 2012.

One Hmong pastor in Vietnam, Wasa Lau, says, “Many members would come and ask me to share the Word of God with them, but I didn’t know how to do it. Since receiving training [from WELS], I have grown in my confidence in what I believe and in sharing God’s Word. . . . The Hmong Fellowship Church currently has more than 300 congregations, but we still lack many things—especially training for all of the leaders of these congregations. That is what we are looking for now—for generation after generation to grow in the proper understanding of Scripture. That is what WELS can do for us.”

To learn more about Wasa Lau and his journey of faith, read the full article from the December 2018 issue of Forward in Christ at wels.net/pastor-lau. For information about how WELS has been serving Hmong Christians in Vietnam, visit wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

Malawi, Africa

Pastor Wisick Jeffrey (pictured with his wife) of Malawi is a member of the Yao tribe, a people group of two million people, which is predominantly Muslim due to historic contact with Arab slave traders. While he was growing up, Jeffrey became friends with children who attended Sunday school at a local Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA)—Malawi congregation. He accepted their invitation to go to Sunday school with them. Over time, the Holy Spirit worked through the gospel message Jeffrey heard in class and he began confirmation instruction. At about the same time, his mother began to pressure him into memorizing passages from the Koran. On the day of his confirmation, Jeffrey told his family his intentions to convert to Christianity. His family then refused to help pay for his schooling.

Eventually Jeffrey continued his education in the town of Zomba, where Deverson Ntambo, the first Malawian pastor of the LCCA—Malawi, was serving. Ntambo is also from the Yao tribe, and he gave Jeffrey the encouragement and Christian guidance that was missing in his life. Ntambo encouraged Jeffrey to consider studying for the ministry and began taking him through the LCCA’s pre-worker training courses. Jeffrey was ordained in 2008 and currently is serving at Kanyepa Lutheran Church, the oldest LCCA congregation in Malawi.

Intown Lutheran, Atlanta, Ga.

Rev. Lucas Bitter had the joy of performing Intown Lutheran’s first baptism for his daughter, Gabrielle Marie, in August (pictured, above). Bitter reports that soon after, he baptized a one-year-old whose mom, Melissa, was an atheist when she stopped at Intown’s booth at a fall festival in 2017. Out of curiosity, Melissa signed up for Intown’s free Bible Basics class.

“Through 12 lessons of instruction in a local coffee shop,” says Bitter, “the Holy Spirit changed Melissa’s heart and brought her to faith. She has now become one of our most active members, regularly attending church with her whole family and helping out in a variety of ways.”

“Bible Basics was a great way for me to get reacquainted with God,” notes Melissa. “It had been awhile for me, and Pastor Lucas was always open to answer questions and didn’t judge me. I now feel so much closer to God and welcomed back into the fold.”

“After starting out last fall with a core group of 21 souls,” says Bitter, “it looks like we will end 2018 with more than 40 souls in our church—and more scheduled to take Bible Basics in the new year. We are so thankful to be located in this densely populated, mostly unchurched mission field, where there are so many opportunities to connect people with their Savior.”

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wis.

WELS assists more than 550 campus ministries across the United States and Canada. The mission of WELS Campus Ministry is to help WELS college students grow in their faith so that they can reach out to other college students with the gospel. Campus Ministry also supports full- and part-time campus pastors, and provides assistance for WELS congregations as they reach out to college students in their area. Rev. Jon Bilitz, full-time campus pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wis., shares this story:

“A student arrived at the chapel, seeking answers about God’s Word. Through several contacts with the Word, the seed of gospel truth was planted and watered, and God made it grow. In late October, Manaporn ‘Mint’ Phaosricharoen was baptized—but not in our chapel. She requested the opportunity to be immersed, because that picture of washing away sins was important to her. So we braved the wind and chilly temperatures and entered the brisk waters of Lake Mendota for Mint to receive the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (pictured).

Redeemer, Edna/Victoria, Texas

Redeemer, Edna, Texas, began worshiping at its second site in Victoria in December 2017. The congregation flooded Victoria with fliers, billboards, and doorhangers with little response from the community.

In January, Magdalena and her high-school-aged granddaughter, Nikandra, (both pictured) attended worship at Redeemer, Victoria. Rev. Aaron Glaeske, pastor at Redeemer, followed up by taking a welcome gift to their home. As Glaeske sat at their table and visited, he addressed Magdalena’s spiritual concerns and questions. Then he asked Magdalena how she had found out about Redeemer. She pulled out Redeemer’s Christmas invitation that offered “Peace for the broken” from her Bible and said, “I saw this and knew I needed peace. So I came.”

Magdalena and Nikandra then studied with Glaeske nearly every week in their home and seldom missed worship or Sunday Bible study. On Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, Nikandra was baptized and both women were confirmed.

Nikandra used the opportunity of her baptism and confirmation to invite a friend and her mother to worship. Glaeske reports that these women have also started attending worship and are considering Redeemer’s Bible 101 course as well.


Did you know?

WELS Church Extension Fund supported Home Missions with a $1 million grant in September 2018, which led to funding for three new home missions being approved.

Martin Luther College

The mission of Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., is to train a corps of Christian witnesses who are qualified to meet the ministry needs of WELS and who are competent to proclaim the Word of God faithfully and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions and the Book of Concord. In fall 2018, 764 undergraduates were participating in this training.

To meet the current ministry needs of WELS, Martin Luther College

  • prepares men for pastoral training at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary;
  • prepares men and women for service as teachers and staff ministers in the synod’s churches, schools, and other institutions;
  • prepares men and women for other church ministries, both full- and part-time, responding to the needs of WELS;
  • prepares international students (pictured, right) for ministry in partnership with WELS mission fields; and
  • provides programs of continuing education that meet the ministerial needs of WELS.

For more information, visit mlc-wels.edu.


Did you know?

Martin Luther College’s staff ministry program celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018. The program prepares students to serve as specialized workers at WELS churches, schools, and parasynodicals. Students are given a background in theology and trained in skills like counseling and leadership. Upon graduation, staff ministers may be called to assist with youth and family ministry, evangelism, music and worship, administration, and more.


Ten Martin Luther College (MLC) students volunteered with WELS Christian Aid and Relief to help with the cleanup and rebuilding of Amazing Grace, Panama City, Fla., following Hurricane Michael. “These students had so much energy and enthusiasm,” says Elizabeth Zambo of Christian Aid and Relief. “They gutted the church and parsonage that had been flooded, ripping out drywall and insulation. It was messy work, but they never complained.”

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Hailey Stade, a sophomore at MLC. “I had no idea what to expect until we crossed the bridge to Panama City. Buildings were flattened. Every tree you saw was on the ground or bent in half. Power lines lay all over the sides of streets and sidewalks. Large boats were tipped to their side in the water, and a building was considered lucky if it even had some of its roof intact.”

“This experience was definitely life changing,” notes Becky Pruss, a junior. “When people who have lost so much still greet you with a smile and genuine conversation, it puts everything in perspective. Our God is definitely greater than the storms that may come our way in life. It really showed me that every day is an opportunity to live your faith.”

Izak Jirik, a freshman, says, “I saw the hope we have in Christ bless the members of Amazing Grace. Faith in Christ not only has eternal blessing, but it provides us amazing peace here in a sin-stricken world.”

Student Teaching

“My student teaching experience in the Lutheran grade school was such an eye opener!” says Elissa Koch (pictured). Koch taught first grade at Bloomington Lutheran, Bloomington, Minn., during the fall of 2018. “Growing up in the public school system, I never knew how much I was missing by not having God’s Word being present each and every day through Bible lessons, encouragement, and even the occasional discipline. Up until this experience I was impartial to public school teaching, and now I want nothing more than to teach in our Lutheran grade schools and share God’s Word every single day.”


In May 2018, 29 students earned their Master of Science in Education degrees and one student earned a Master of Science in Educational Administration degree from Martin Luther College. In addition, 145 undergraduate students earned their bachelor’s degrees, including 36 preseminary students and 109 education students.



International Service

Preseminary student Caleb Christopher (pictured, front left) spent the summer of 2018 sharing Jesus with people in Ukraine. “This trip was the experience of a lifetime,” notes Christopher. “It changed my outlook on outreach and the power of God’s Word.” For over a month, Caleb assisted two churches—aiding them in worship services and vacation Bible school programs. “I was able to convey Jesus’ love to kids whose language I hardly spoke,” says Caleb. “The experience gave me friendships that will last into eternity and taught me that God’s love spans cultural and linguistic borders.”

About two dozen 2018 MLC graduates are now teaching abroad. Some were assigned to congregations, and some opted to teach in conjunction with a WELS world mission field. In the last 10 years, 145 MLC graduates have opted for international service in 13 countries.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

In May 2018, 27 men graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis. WLS prepares men to begin pastoral ministry by providing them with spiritual, theological, and professional training.

The seminary also provides pastors with opportunities for continued growth in all their callings through its institute, Grow in Grace. Grow in Grace offers continuing education courses, a mentoring initiative for new graduates, a clearinghouse of resources for pastors, and an annual retreat for pastors who are celebrating milestones in their ministries.

For more information, visit wls.wels.net.

Preparing pastors—then and now

Rev. Bill Tackmier (pictured), professor of Old Testament and homiletics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, shared these thoughts in the 2018 issue of Preach the Gospel.

Sometimes when I walk past the statue of Martin Luther on my way to my classroom, I’m reminded how long the Psalms have been taught to young men who are training for the ministry. Luther taught the Psalms several times during his years at the University of Wittenberg.

In the classroom I’m reminded how much has changed, though. I walk into a room brightened with electric lights. Our students all have laptops. I project much of what I’m teaching on a screen. We have so many more resources available than Luther and his students had. The first time he taught Psalms, he didn’t even have the Hebrew text. He taught it on the basis of the Latin text. At the click of a mouse, our students can access the latest studies in the Psalms and even draw up high resolution photographs of the Psalm manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But many things have not changed. We are sifting through every word of God’s inspired Scriptures to mine even the subtle nuances in meaning from them. I help my students discover what it means that Christ was begotten by his Father from eternity (Psalm 2:7), how he would die on a cross for our sins (Psalm 22), and how he would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:9,10).

Many seminaries today teach that the Psalms that foretell what Christ would do really were not intended as messianic prophecies at all. We test such theories and rediscover why men like Luther have recognized that these prophecies cannot refer to anyone but God’s incarnate Son. The other professors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and I are helping these pastors-in-the-making discover these wonderful truths so that they can proclaim them to their congregations in years to come.


Did you know?

During the 2018–19 school year, 88 students are attending classes on campus and 26 students are serving as vicars for congregations throughout North America.


Pastoral Studies Institute

Dr. E. Allen Sorum (pictured), a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, travels around the world teaching and sharing the gospel in his role as director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, a partnership between WLS and WELS Missions. The Pastoral Studies Institute guides and assists spiritual leaders around the globe through their preseminary and seminary training.

Sorum notes, “After an intense week of gospel teaching, people respond with an outpouring of affection in the name of Jesus. This man is one of the key leaders in Liberia, and his hard exterior soon melted in the face of gospel teaching.”

Summer Assistant

Mark Zondag (pictured with his wife, Sarah) served at Grace, Scroggins, Texas, as a summer assistant, but his situation was different than that of his peers. “The church I was serving didn’t have a pastor, so my main duties were to lead the members in worship and preach every Sunday, as well as lead Bible class,” Zondag explains. “I had to write new sermons while I was serving at Grace, under the direction of retired district president Vilas Glaeske.”

Zondag learned many lessons in those six weeks. “The greatest lesson I learned is that everyone comes to church with a different struggle,” he says. “As someone training to be a pastor, I need to present the gospel clearly to them, because they came to hear about Christ. This is the greatest joy a pastor has, to preach Christ to the world, especially those struggling.”

Senior Thesis

In 2018, Erik Janke and Scott Henrich (pictured with President Paul Wendland) received the seminary’s Timothy and Titus Awards for their senior theses.

Janke’s paper explored the pastor’s weekly question, “Have I been faithful?” Henrich’s paper, titled “Race and the Lutheran Pastor,” underscored the importance of discussions about race and the necessity of careful communication between the pastor and his members regarding race. All the senior theses are available at essays.wls.wels.net.

Preparatory Schools

Liz Waldo, a senior at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, is listening to memory work recited by the children of Trinity, Bay City, Mich.

Featured photo: In November 2018, senior boys visited Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and learned more about WELS’ pastoral training program.

Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., prepare high school students for future service as pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. For the 2018–19 school year, Luther Preparatory School has 419 students and Michigan Lutheran Seminary has 192 students.

For more information, visit lps.wels.net or mlsem.org.


Congregational Services

WELS Congregational Services, which encompasses the work of the Commissions on Congregational Counseling, Adult Discipleship, Youth and Family Ministry, Worship, Evangelism, Special Ministries, and Lutheran Schools, has put together a five-year plan to direct its work. The plan addresses current demographic challenges facing many WELS congregations. Plans include:  

Creating a present-day mission emphasis—The Commission on Evangelism is developing a comprehensive evangelism curriculum that congregations can use to offer annual evangelism training and encouragement. 

Better capitalizing on WELS’ historic strengths—WELS’ school system, its compassion ministries, and gospel-centered worship are known strengths of our church body, so Congregational Services is working to strengthen these areas and promote them in our communities and to our congregations. 

Focusing on closing the “back door”—The Commissions on Adult Discipleship and Youth and Family Ministry in particular want to help churches address delinquency quickly, revitalize youth ministry, produce resources for Millennial outreach and retention, and create stronger inter-congregation connectivity.

Striving to strengthen the family—Congregational Services is working to produce resources that help train families how to grow together spiritually. 

Each area of WELS Congregational Services is working on different aspects of the five-year plan, but many times the groups are working together to develop resources to face these challenges. One major component of Congregational Services’ five-year plan is to develop a clearinghouse for all these resources so that congregational leaders can easily find the materials that they need. 

For more information, visit wels.net/congregational-services

Chaplain Certification Program

Mike Indest (pictured: third from left), a member of Crown of Life, New Orleans, La., recently completed chaplaincy certification through a partnership between the WELS Commission on Special Ministries and Martin Luther College. Indest became interested in the program after counseling he received following Hurricane Katrina. 

The Chaplain Certification Program is about helping people in special circumstances with special ministry needs. Training is open to all WELS members, both lay members and called workers, with a heart for meeting the spiritual needs of people in circumstances that require particular spiritual care. Specific areas of ministry include those in prison, hospitals, nursing homes, the military and their families, and public servants such as police officers and firemen and women. Chaplain Certification Program courses can be taken online through Martin Luther College. 

If you’re interested in becoming a chaplain, visit wels.net/chaplains. To enroll in training, visit mlc-wels.edu/continuing-education/wels-chaplain-certificate.   


Read Together article “Chaplain Certification Program courses offered.”

Offering spiritual growth opportunities

The WELS Commission on Adult Discipleship strives to help members grow spiritually. Interactive Faith Bible studies are presented twice each year. These live, online Bible studies can be used by congregations, small groups, or individuals. Members can gather at church or around their own computer to join in fellowship and learn about the Bible with brothers and sisters in faith from around the world. In 2017, the studies focused on enriching marriage and Luther’s lasting impact. To learn more, find out when the next study takes place, or watch archived studies, visit wels.net/interactivefaith.

WELS Women’s Ministry offers a rich assortment of free Bible studies at wels.net/women. The third edition of Heirs Together of God’s Gracious Gift of Life, a Bible study that discusses the unique callings and interdependence of man and woman, was released in 2017 and is available through Northwestern Publishing House at nph.net.

Did you know? WELS Youth and Family Ministry produces a monthly video newsmagazine for youth. Titled Kids Connection, the video features spiritually uplifting stories about people, places, and programs around WELS. For information, visit wels.net/kidsconnection.

Providing programs and resources for congregations

The Commission on Congregational Counseling operates a variety of programs that help congregations evaluate their ministry. One is the Self-Assessment and Adjustment Program.

As Rev. Jon Hein (pictured), director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling, notes, “The Self-Assessment and Adjustment Program not only helps the congregations to assess and adjust their ministry, but it also gives our commission a unique vantage point, allowing us to identify consistent challenges and needs among WELS congregations. We can then pass this information along to the other areas of Congregational Services, allowing them to shape their efforts in a way to meet these challenges and needs.”

For more information, visit wels.net/ccc.

Excellence in worship on display

The WELS Commission on Worship hosted the 2017 National Conference on Worship Music and the Arts June 13–16 at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. More than one thousand people attended the conference, which included a focus on Martin Luther’s contributions to worship as part of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The conference also included: 

  • morning and evening worship services;
  • a plenary address by Rev. Michael Schultz, the director of the Hymnal Project, who offered a Reformation perspective on worship;
  • more than 50 breakout sessions;
  • performances by WELS musicians in a wide variety of styles;
  • a children’s choir and high school honor choir;
  • a collaborative art project that was displayed at the closing service; and
  • a juried art exhibit.

2017 National Conference on Worship, Music, & the Arts

Read the Together article “Worship conference celebrates Lutheran worship.”


The WELS Hymnal Project

The subcommittees of the WELS Hymnal Project continue to make progress on the development of the synod’s next hymnal. The hymnal and accompanying resources could be available for purchase as early as 2021. As part of the hymnal’s development, WELS Hymnal Project subcommittees have been giving congregations an opportunity to use and review samples of the materials developed so far. The work of the WELS Hymnal Project is closely coordinated with the Commission on Worship. 

In July 2017, Forward in Christmagazine began running a series of nine articles that are focused on the use of hymnody. Along with those articles, the WELS Hymnal Project has published online the current list of Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement hymns, indicating which hymns have been selected for inclusion in the next hymnal and which ones have not. All members of the synod may offer feedback on this preliminary list. Visit welshymnal.com.

Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing our Schools for Outreach

WELS maintains one of the largest private school systems in the United States. The greatest growth in WELS’ school system over the past 20 years has been in early childhood ministries. Many congregations have started early childhood ministries to reach into their communities to share the gospel with nonmember families and create a gateway for new members to join the church. Research has shown, though, that while these ministries are doing a wonderful job sharing God’s Word with their young students, most are not reaching their students’ families. To help congregations create a harvest strategy that might better share God’s Word with these families, the Commissions on Evangelism and Lutheran Schools created Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing our Schools for Outreach.  

Telling the Next Generation is a daylong workshop (pictured: below, left) that helps congregation and school leaders focus on their joint mission, build relationships within the church and with school families, and develop an organized program to connect school families with the Word. From April 2016 through September 2017, 17 workshops were held in 11 of WELS’ 12 districts. Almost 800 people from 109 congregations participated.  

“The Telling the Next Generation workshop has had an incredible impact on the early childhood ministry of Apostles,” says Rev. Jay Bickelhaupt, pastor at Apostles, Billings, Mont. “We walked away with a detailed ministry plan and a refreshed focus to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus to children and their families. Our meetings and future planning have become more streamlined as we go forward with our agreed upon outreach and evangelism goals.”  

Bickelhaupt also reports that within two weeks of the workshop, God blessed Apostles with two preschool families in the congregation’s Bible basics class. As he notes, “Telling the Next Generation has empowered our ministry team spiritually with the gospel and has provided the practical lessons we needed to position our early childhood ministry as an outreach arm to our community.”  

For more information, visit wels.net/tellingthenextgeneration

Did you know? The WELS Commission on Evangelism provides a devotion each weekday that can be e-mailed to your inbox. Visit wels.net/subscribe to begin receiving these daily devotions.

Preparing principals to lead

Serving as a principal in a WELS school has grown in complexity over the years. The 21st-Century Principal Initiative recognizes that fact and encourages a shift in thinking and action from the traditional WELS principal approach. This initiative, coordinated by Lutheran Schools and Martin Luther College, encourages congregations and schools to structure the principal position in a way that respects the complexity and importance of the task and the training it requires. In addition, Lutheran Schools and Martin Luther College are providing training before a teacher is called to be a principal to help prepare a worker for this important role. The first cohort of seven teachers with leadership potential began Leadership Candidate Training in 2017. 

Sharing God’s message with Spanish speakers

Jackson (pictured), a new Lutheran living in Venezuela, can’t keep the peace he found in the gospel to himself.

“You fill them up with the gospel and this hope and peace and comfort, and it starts to spill out,” says Missionary Mike Hartman, field coordinator for Latin America. 

What’s amazing is that less than a year ago, Jackson didn’t have that peace. Living in a country that economically and socially is falling apart—and where there aren’t any churches that faithfully share God’s true Word—Jackson was looking for hope. He saw a Facebook post from Academia Cristo that shared the gospel message and invited him to join a Whatsapp (texting) group that discusses a daily devotion. As he learned more, Jackson began peppering group leader Henry Herrera, pastor at Most Holy Trinity, Medillín, Colombia, with questions. Herrera invited Jackson to take an online class that he was leading through Academia Cristo. Jackson joined all Herrera’s classes, went through Bible information class, worshiped online with Most Holy Trinity, and within months was confirmed. 

But that wasn’t enough for Jackson. He began inviting people into his home in Venezuela and teaching them what he had learned. He also started offering weekly worship, using the WELS website Iglesia Luterana Cristo for worship resources. 

Jackson is just one example of the people Academia Cristo is reaching. Since its launch three years ago, Academia Cristo has reached Spanish-speaking people in every Spanish-speaking country with the life-saving message of Jesus. And some of those people, people like Jackson, are sharing that message with others. 

Did you know? Academia Cristo (Christ Academy) is a joint effort between World Missions’ One Latin America Team and Multi-Language Publications that offers Christ-centered resources for Spanish speakers around the world.


“We thank you for the WELS training for the past three years. Now, we believe that we have salvation. Without that, today we would still be living in the darkness of Satan. We believe that God already answered our prayers through the WELS.”

This is just a snippet of the letter written to WELS from the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam, after members of the Global Hmong Committee and the Pastoral Studies Institute conducted pastoral training in Hanoi. Pastor Bounkeo Lor (pictured teaching), coordinator of the Hmong Asia Ministry, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute Team have been consistently visiting Vietnam to conduct training since 2015. In just three years, the Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 65,000 to 100,000 members and formed 53 new churches. The Hmong pastors in Vietnam are yearning for the gospel and eager to grow in a faith that centers around the free grace received from Jesus Christ.

Learn more about Hmong Ministry.