On July 21–23, 2016, the WELS Women’s Ministry Conference was held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. With a focus on mentoring, women left the conference driven by the gospel to share the love of Jesus with others through the relationships and opportunities that God has given them.
- WhatAboutJesus.com, WELS’ outreach website, was redesigned and updated. New articles are posted regularly as well the Commission on Evangelism’s popular daily devotions.
- Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing Our Schools for Outreach is a new workshop developed by the Commissions on Evangelism and Lutheran Schools. The program serves congregations with planning, assistance, and resources for implementation of outreach strategies in Lutheran elementary schools and early childhood ministries. Learn more at wels.net/tellingthenextgeneration.
In the past two years, the Commission on Congregational Counseling has helped 40 congregations assess and adjust their ministry to achieve more zealous gospel proclamation.
In 2016, the commission launched its School of Strategic Planning.
WELS Youth and Family Ministry debuted a new downloadable resource for church leaders to help them develop youth ministry programs. Titled Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders, the resource includes videos, which focus on the importance of the different aspects of youth ministry as well as a collection of Bible studies, recommended readings, and “how-to” resources for youth ministries. Visit nph.net to purchase.
Two series of Interactive Faith Bible studies were held in 2016. Rev. Gary Pufahl led a study in January entitled Who is your God? Rev. John Braun led a study in October on the continuing importance of Luther’s Small Catechism.
- A new referral link, wels.net/refer, has made it easier to submit names of people who often have a hard time receiving personal gospel ministry. This includes WELS members in the military, those incarcerated, or people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
- A new civilian chaplain, Rev. Don Stuppy, has arrived in Germany to serve WELS military personnel and civilians living in western Europe.
Rev. Mike Novotny presented at the Men of His Word Conference in Oshkosh, Wis., about the work of Conquerors through Christ, a Special Ministries team that provides resources to help people avoid or stop using pornography. In 2016, Conquerors through Christ developed resources for parents who want to protect their children from the corrupting impact of pornography.
Visit conquerorsthroughchrist.net for more information.
- The Commission on Worship has developed resources to assist congregations with plans to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. These resources will premiere at the June 13–16, 2017, national worship conference and include five Reformation-themed services and several newly commissioned hymns and musical resources.
- More than 60 people are immersed in the many details of researching and planning for the next WELS hymnal. Field testing of some materials began in select congregations in 2016. More information is available at welshymnal.com.
More than 2,500 WELS teens and their adult leaders gathered for the 2016 WELS International Youth Rally held June 28–July 1 at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Organized by WELS Commission on Youth and Family Ministry, the rally included Bible-focused worship, education, and fellowship opportunities. Attendees raved about their experiences:
Duke Backhaus, 18, from St. Paul’s, Tomah, Wis.: “The workshops were amazing; I really loved them. They all pointed me towards Christ and taught me a lot. I know now I’m going to be a pastor.”
Grant Kloosterman, 16, from Living Word, Gray, Tenn.: “WELS really is like a big family. It seems everyone knows someone, and nobody here at the rally feels like a stranger.”
Emily Gage, 18, from Good Shepherd, Woodlands, Tex.: “It was awesome to praise God with so many fellow Christians my age.”
Rev. John Boggs, chairman of the Commission on Youth and Family Ministry, says, “The young people of our synod are not just the future of our synod; they are the here and now of our synod. They need to be in worship and Bible study, and they need our prayers, support, and attention now. The focus of the WELS International Youth Rally is to share God’s precious Word that speaks as much to them now at the ages of 14-18 as it will as they grow older.”
The Pastoral Studies Institute team of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary gained one more member in 2016. Rev. Jon Bare accepted the call to serve as the international recruitment director. Bare joins Rev. Brad Wordell, world seminary professor, and Rev. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute. The team’s assignment is to find ways to follow up on requests from groups around the world who want to align with confessional church bodies like the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference through the training of their current church leadership.
As a joint project with WELS Missions, the PSI team collaborates with our WELS mission teams already in place and also collaborate with WELS immigrants in North America. In 2016, members of the PSI team visited groups in six states and seven countries. For more information, visit wls.wels.net.
Did you know? During the 2016-17 school year, 116 students were enrolled at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
“Of all the fancy technology that I have at my fingertips, my favorite is the kitchen table. There, teaching takes place. Relationships are formed. Dreams are inspired. Dreams that God blesses so they become travel plans and mission trips.” Rev. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
While serving as a vicar at Water of Life, Las Vegas, Nev., Jason Free gained important insights into the ministry: “So often we picture full-time ministry as something that happens inside a church. Then we step outside of that building and there is this massive world full of people, all kinds of people, who are just waiting to hear there is a Savior in this world who died for them, for their sins! That was the awesome message I had the privilege of sharing both to an African ministry that was just beginning to get its feet on the ground and a well-established Korean ministry.”
“I love what I do,” says Jessica Zahrt, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at Our Savior’s, Wausau, Wis. “There’s nothing better than seeing progress in young students’ academic and social skills and watching their knowledge of God and faith in him grow.“
When Jessica’s three children were in school, she began looking into master’s programs. “Martin Luther College (MLC) was the best fit for me,” explains Zahrt. “I loved the undergrad education I received there, which was focused on God’s Word and ministering to children and their families. . . . MLC’s completely online format was also convenient for me as a busy mom and teacher, and from what I found, also the most economical choice for our budget.”
Zahrt enrolled in MLC’s program in 2012 and graduated in 2016.
Reflecting on her time in graduate school, she says, “I most enjoyed the camaraderie of learning with fellow Christian teachers who are in classrooms so similar to mine. . . . These classmates, along with caring professors, encouraged me in my ministry to grow, improve, and faithfully continue to ‘run the race’ (Hebrews 12:1).”
In August 2016, Nate Wordell was ordained and installed as a tutor at Martin Luther College (also pictured is MLC President Mark Zarling). Wordell is a 2016 Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduate and a 2012 Martin Luther College graduate. Shortly before Wordell received his assignment to MLC, he reflected on his time there: “MLC taught me about God’s Word. Whether I become a pastor or not, the most important thing I can do is read my Bible. That is hands-down my biggest takeaway from MLC. MLC also helped me better understand people. . . . MLC taught me how much people need Jesus—myself included.”
On move-in day, Martin Luther College students were greeted with tables around campus advertising organizations to join and opportunities to build relationships and gain ministry experience. MLC freshman Jonah Backus says, “MLC is an amazing environment for learning and being encouraged in the faith.” MLC’s first semester on-campus enrollment in fall 2016 totaled 742. For more information, visit mlc-wels.edu.
Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS), Saginaw, Mich., and Luther Preparatory School (LPS), Watertown, Wis., prepare high school students to attend Martin Luther College and serve as called workers. For the 2016–17 school year, Luther Preparatory School has 423 students and Michigan Lutheran Seminary has 218.
Both schools offer “Taste of Ministry” opportunities for students, which include shadowing called workers to learn more about their work. Students also are given firsthand gospel ministry experiences on campus and during mission trips.
Christ-centered resources from Academia Cristo (Christ Academy) are reaching Spanish speakers around the world. Academiacristo.com offers free Spanish video and audio resources. Visitors can ask questions and chat online with national pastors and missionaries. In 2016. Academia Cristo Facebook videos were viewed 8.6 million times.
In 2016, the Lutheran Church of Cameroon took a big step toward becoming an independent church body by calling its first full-time Cameroonian teacher and dean of students for its worker-training program. Mesue Israel (pictured) has served as a pastor since 1999. He is responsible for teaching several worker-training courses as well as enforcing rules for campus life. The first group of students for the worker-training program began their studies in the fall of 2016. They will attend Bible institute courses for two years and then complete three years of seminary studies before being eligible for a pastoral call. Currently 10 national pastors serve 32 congregations in Cameroon.
WELS began its mission efforts in Nigeria in 1936. Currently 26 Nigerian pastors and more than 50 lay leaders serve about 5,300 baptized members in the two Nigerian sister synods. WELS supports one non-resident missionary to mentor Nigerian church leaders with the goal of helping the Nigerian church bodies become led solely by nationals.
On Sept. 11, 2016, Living Savior, Blair, Neb., held its launch service. One adult confirmand was welcomed into membership at the service. The congregation has rented space in a pair of office suites located in downtown Blair. This is where the congregation holds its worship services and Bible studies.
When Rev. Stephen Apt arrived to open a new home mission in Liberty Hill, Tex., in July 2015, he noticed that the community was growing so rapidly that it was beginning to lose its small-town feel. He saw this as an opportunity for his new congregation, Peace, to coordinate community events for families so that as Liberty Hill grows, Peace is considered a backbone of the community.
Since then, Peace has launched many family-friendly events, including a Mornings with Mommy program, Trunk or Treat, Family Bible Night, and Christmas and Easter for Kids.
In July 2016, Peace hosted its largest community event yet—an elaborate Independence Day celebration that included a live band, different booths, food trucks, and a professional fireworks show. A mission team from St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis. (pictured) helped the mission congregation run this event, which attracted more than 1,200 community members.
Before the fireworks show, Apt led a prayer for the country that included thanking God for our freedom but most importantly thanking him for our Savior who freed us from our sins.
In March 2009, 13 people met with Rev. Geoff Cortright to worship and consider starting a WELS congregation in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They chose the name Saviour of the Nations, because they wanted people of every culture, tribe, race, and language to know they have something that unites them above all else—or rather, someone: Jesus. Saviour of the Nations has been building cultural bridges and helping others find peace and forgiveness in Jesus ever since.
In fall 2014, the congregation was granted funding from Home Missions to start full-time ministry. One important component of the mission’s ministry is its free English-as-a-second-language classes and Bible studies. The congregation has a large Asian immigrant population, and Qiang Wang, a Mandarin-Chinese-speaking member, was installed as a part-time lay evangelist in 2016. He is studying with Cortright with the intent of preparing for the ministry through the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
The WELS Benefit Plans Office (BPO) 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.
One of the important advantages 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.
Did you know? The total average cost of U.S. health premiums has increased by 61 percent since 2005. Average WELS VEBA Health Plan contribution rates have increased by only 49 percent since 2005, preserving valuable assets throughout WELS to fund ministry efforts.
WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., (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 WELS self-supporting 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 2014–15, $21.2 million of new loans and $1.9 million of new grant requests were approved. WELS CEF’s loan portfolio ended the year at $133.7 million with 206 loans to WELS congregations and affiliates.
Photo caption: WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., provided a low interest loan to help Our Savior’s, Port Orange, Fla., increase space for its early childhood ministry, Small Steps Academy. On March 22, 2015, the congregation broke ground on the addition.
The mission of WELS Investment Funds, Inc., is to strengthen and enhance the ministry of WELS and WELS-affiliated organizations by providing professionally managed investment portfolios. WELS Funds provide eligible participating organizations with the opportunity to invest in diversified investment portfolios without becoming involved with the detailed accounting and safekeeping procedures required for direct involvement in the various securities in the portfolios.
WELS Investment Funds currently manages portfolios for 169 congregations and 35 affiliated organizations.
WELS Foundation exists to help God’s people support gospel ministry through WELS. Planned gifts provide funding for WELS congregations, schools, missions, and other affiliated ministries. Over the last three years, WELS Foundation has been privileged to administer and distribute $15,389,343 in donor directed gifts to various WELS ministries.
In January 2015, Malawi experienced floods that destroyed the homes of many families of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi (LCCA), WELS’ sister synod. Initial aid included supplies for temporary housing.
The floods also washed away the families’ crops, so (the staple food of Malawi) to an estimated 4,700 LCCA families in 21 different areas. National pastors oversaw the distribution and conducted devotions and prayers with the families receiving the donations.
Mr. Mark Vance, director of operations for Christian Aid and Relief, wrote: “As I watch the trucks get loaded with their 40 kilogram bags of maize, I say to myself, ‘That is a lot of maize.’ But when we get out to the villages and the families get their 20 kilograms (which is about a medium-sized bucketful), I say, ‘That seems like so little.’
“As I relayed this thought to one of the Malawian pastors, he said, ‘You must remember, ten minutes ago this family had no maize, and they don’t have much money at all to buy maize. Now they have more than they had, and it was given freely to them. This is a huge blessing to them, and to know that this gift of love and compassion came from their Lutheran brothers and sisters from around the world is for many of them more than their emotions can handle.’ ”
- Preach the Word, a publication for pastors, began a new series on preaching to Millennials. In 2015 this publication, along with Worship the Lord, became available in blog format at blogs.wels.net/worship.
- Sixty pastors, teachers, and laypeople are currently volunteering their time to work on the Hymnal Project. The work has transitioned from laying foundations to deciding actual content—lectionary, hymns, psalms, liturgies. For more information, see welshymnal.com.
- Presentations from past worship conferences are available at worship.welsrc.net. Some may be valuable for discussions by worship committees or boards of elders.
The Commission on Lutheran Schools continues to support the work of 524 WELS schools with an overall PreK-12 enrollment of 41,138. Leadership initiatives were the focus of the work of Lutheran Schools in 2015.
Photo Caption: Three guests from China attended the WELS National School Leadership Conference in Pewaukee, Wis., in June. The visitors are opening a Lutheran school in our fellowship in Shanghai. They attended the conference to network with more than 400 other Lutheran educators and to find best practices for their school.
- Adult Discipleship continues to coordinate the online Interactive Faith Bible studies series. In 2015, classes were held on the prophet Elisha and the book of Judges.
- Marriage enrichment retreats continue to be offered across the country. To find locations and dates, visit wels.net/adult-discipleship.
- As Adult Discipleship works with congregations, it links the work of its WELS Women’s Ministry Committee to the people it serves. To learn more about this committee and its resources, visit wels.net/women.
- Evangelism’s Daily Devotions are sent to nearly 10,000 e-mail subscribers and are available through WhatAboutJesus.com, wels.net, and the WELS Mobile App.
- My Son, My Savior was released in October 2015. This outreach film focuses on the birth, life, and ministry of Jesus told from the viewpoint of his mother, Mary, as she grows in her understanding that her son is also her Savior. The main message for all viewers is that Jesus is their Savior, too. During Advent, congregations and individuals purchased more than 75,000 DVDs and made use of the many complementary materials based on the movie. This is the third in a series of four outreach movies that are planned as a collaboration between WELS Commissions on Evangelism and Adult Discipleship, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc.
- Did you know?In 2015, an average of more than 23,000 visitors per month accessed WhatAboutJesus.com, an outreach website produced by the Commission on Evangelism.
- The Commission on Youth and Family Ministry spent 2015 planning for and testing a new Schools of Youth and Family, a project aimed at helping congregations plan and implement ministry opportunities for children, teens, parents, and families.
- Youth and Family Ministry continues to produce the popular Kids Connection video series, which is viewed in WELS elementary and Sunday schools. The purpose of the series to help kids “stay connected to Jesus.”
- Veterans from WELS and our sister church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, have formed an organization called Lutheran Military Support Group to support the work of WELS Military Services and—on the local level—to help military families.
- WELS Prison Ministry continues to add new Bible study courses for inmates to its resources. One prisoner recently wrote, “Thank you so very much for allowing me to participate in this Bible study course. I cannot express how much joy it brings me to study the Word of our Lord and to feel myself being drawn closer to his love. Your materials have been a great help and comfort to me at a time in my life that I have so desperately needed it.”
- Freedom for the Captives, a Special Ministries team, launched a new website, freedomforcaptives.com, with resources for survivors of child sexual abuse and for churches and their leaders who desire to minister faithfully when cases of such abuse become known.
- WELS Ministry of Christian Giving developed a new congregational planned giving manual to help churches jump-start a program of promoting planned giving opportunities to members. Christian giving counselors are available to every church to provide members free, confidential assistance with planned gifts and Christian estate planning.
- The Ministry of Christian Giving is coordinating the “One in Christ” offering to eliminate the synod’s $4.7 million debt by June 2016—two years ahead of schedule. If successful by God’s grace, the campaign will put WELS in a better financial position to train workers and establish missions at home and abroad.
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