Easter message from President Schroeder

 

 

Conference of Presidents spring 2019 meeting

At its spring meeting, the Conference of Presidents (COP) asked Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President-elect Rev. Earle Treptow to serve as an advisory member of the COP Doctrine Committee. This will provide the opportunity for the seminary faculty to give input and counsel on doctrinal matters. It will also help to ensure continued good communication between the COP and the seminary.

The COP has made a change to the calling window for teachers. The calling window is the time during which teachers may receive calls. Currently that window is from Nov. 1 through the first Sunday in June. The new window, to be implemented for a two-year trial, will be from Oct. 15 through April 15. This will make it easier for schools to make plans when they experience vacancies. It will also make it easier for congregations to request candidates from the Assignment Committee. The change will be implemented in the fall of 2019.

The COP learned from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary that next year’s entering class promises to be much larger than classes in recent years. Current class sizes at the seminary are in the mid-30s. Next year’s incoming class could be as large as 50. If classes continue to be that large, we could anticipate an easing of the pastoral vacancy situation four years from now.

In recent years, regular meetings have been held between the Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR) and the Doctrine Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). Beginning next fall, the COP Doctrine Committee will take the place of the CICR in those regular meetings. The reason for this is that the COP Doctrine Committee is a closer counterpart to the ELS Doctrine Committee.

In May, the COP will meet at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., to assign pastors, teachers, staff ministers, and vicars.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

 

 

Welcome home!

There are approximately 155,000 WELS individuals who come to church only one or two times per year. Some have not set foot in church in years. They are drifting toward becoming what we call a “back-door loss,” members who slip away from churches.

WELS Congregational Services is planning the Welcome Home initiative for this fall. Congregational Services will provide congregations with resources, training, and encouragement to try to regain those people. We want to welcome them back to their church home.

Congregational Services Coordinator Rev. Jonathan Hein describes the effort:

“Congregations are encouraged to pick a date—October 20 or October 27—as Welcome Home Sunday. This Sunday is ‘pitched’ to all members as an ‘everyone in attendance’ type Sunday. ‘We want a service where 100 percent of our members are there! Let’s pack the place.’ That way it does not seem to someone who has been absent that they are being singled out. ‘It’s great to have Joe back! He hasn’t been in church in 14 months!’ This is simply a day for everyone to attend.

“Worship that Sunday will focus on the blessings . . . the need . . . for the Christian family. Christians simply are not wired to exist as rugged individuals. We need one another.

“Resources will suggest ways to make that Sunday special: a fellowship meal, fall festival, activities for kids, etc. The goal is to get 100 percent of your members there, including those who rarely come to church, maybe who have not been in church in years.”

Many features of this initiative will help congregations to plan and carry it out, including online elder training and resources that help congregations track member attendance. There are also plans for a November sermon series in the weeks that follow Welcome Home Sunday. The prayer is that we not only get returning members to come back for Welcome Home Sunday, but through continuing efforts, we retain them in the fold.

You can find additional information about the Welcome Home initiative as well as the “10 for 10” stewardship program also planned for the fall at welscongregationalservices.net. Resources will be available at that site in June.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

 

WELS CEF offering limited-time special rates

Increasing requests for loans from WELS Home Mission churches and mission-minded congregations is prompting WELS Church Extension Fund (WELS CEF) to offer special rates for new investors. WELS CEF makes loans below or at market rates for WELS churches that are either new and building for the first time or established congregations with a new mission-focused initiative.

WELS CEF funds these loans through WELS congregations’ and members’ investments in WELS CEF products. With the need for funds increasing, WELS CEF, through this special offer, is seeking to raise approximately $12 million in investments. “If you are not an investor in WELS CEF, this is a great opportunity to support ministry. If you are already an investor, this is a great opportunity to increase your support of ministry by increasing your investments,” says Mr. Scott Page, director of WELS CEF.

For a limited time, WELS CEF is offering a four percent interest rate on a minimum investment of $5,000 in either a 56-month-term loan certificate or a 60-month-term IRA certificate. WELS CEF’s investment certificates pay and compound interest quarterly. The four percent interest rate applies only to new money investments.

“We’re offering a great interest rate for new investments,” says Page. “Congregations are eager to grow, and now’s the time to fund that need.”

Investing in WELS CEF is not only a smart way to manage personal finances, but it also supports the mission of the church. Rev. Keith Free, administrator for WELS Home Missions, says, “The continued investments of more WELS members and congregation gives WELS CEF additional funds to support missions and mission-minded congregations.”

View rates online at wels.net/cef. New IRA investors should contact WELS CEF at 866-511-7793 for investment materials. Investors can also manage their accounts and investments online.

 

Mission Journeys offers support and inspiration

In February 2019, Ascension, Escondido, Calif., welcomed a group of 11 volunteers from Resurrection and Life, Rochester, Minn. Together, they went door-to-door in the neighborhoods of Escondido and San Marcos as an outreach effort for Ascension. This collaboration was made possible through WELS Mission Journeys, the official synod program for short-term mission trips.

Rev. Jeffrey Duquaine, Ascension’s pastor, calls it “a wonderful event of God’s providence.”

As a small congregation near San Diego, Calif., Ascension was struggling. Its previous pastor had resigned, and its school had closed. Due to the dwindling number of active members, the congregation had considered shutting the church’s doors completely.

Upon beginning his ministry at Ascension in January 2018, Duquaine knew he and the congregation needed to plant the seed of God’s Word in the surrounding communities. Duquaine looked for support from Praise and Proclaim Ministries, a WELS parasynodical ministry that trains Christians in sharing their faith confidently and effectively.

Through Praise and Proclaim, Duquaine and the congregation learned about Mission Journeys. Mission Journeys connected Ascension with the volunteers from Resurrection and Life, and the groups joined together in Escondido for a weekend of canvassing.

“The timing worked out for the team from Rochester to join us for our event,” Duquaine explains. “It didn’t take long at all for us to make a connection as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

After training together, the Ascension and Resurrection and Life groups visited nearly 1,000 homes, encouraging people to attend a Neighborhood Safety Night at Ascension. They took every opportunity they could to share the gospel.

Duquaine was overjoyed to see his members find strength and encouragement as they spoke to others about their Savior.

“Presenting the gospel to people while we trained and while we canvassed gave the Holy Spirit plenty of opportunity to work,” Duquaine says. “The fruit of faith growth that I felt was observable was the confidence people showed in sharing their faith with strangers. There were people who were incredibly nervous and afraid to participate, and it was amazing to see them succeed.”

Ascension saw several people members met during their canvassing efforts attend the Neighborhood Safety Night. Duquaine continues to see results in unexpected ways. “Since that weekend of canvassing, I have had three more people in contact about various aspects of our ministry,” he explains. “It seems like when we trust God and go to work reaching out, he brings people in through the side door was well.”

Outreach efforts have just begun for Ascension. “It wasn’t a one-and-done event, but it was a time for us to pivot toward becoming a true mission group who keeps inviting people to learn about Jesus,” Duquaine explains. “That has been our view for the future.”

Ascension is currently planning more events, special mailings, and digital tactics. Mission Journeys helped the congregation take that first step.

Duquaine urges other congregations seeking support for their outreach efforts to consider partnering with Mission Journeys. “Do it! Definitely! It is great for the Mission Journeys group and the host congregation,” he says. “Even if you are afraid or tentative to actually go to a place and canvass, take the leap and trust that the Holy Spirit will provide you with the confidence and strength—he will give you what you need!”

Mission Journeys has 14 trips planned for the next four months. The ministry aims to facilitate 60 trips during its second year of operation beginning on July 1. To learn more about Mission Journeys—including how you and your church can get involved—visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

Watch the March WELS Connection for more on WELS Mission Journeys.

 

Huebner added to line-up for WELS Night

WELS First Vice President Rev. James Huebner will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers’ game against the San Francisco Giants on Fri., July 12, 2019. Game time is 7:10 p.m. “What a thrill to throw out the first pitch, and all the more because those of us who are big Brewers fans are so excited for this season,” says Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee.

The popular WELS Night T-shirts are available to order for $6, and for the first time, in both youth and adult sizes. Imagine thousands of WELS members wearing the brightly colored T-shirt, creating a sea of blue at the sixth annual WELS Night at Miller Park.

The Brewers are again offering WELS members up to 50 percent off the price of tickets. Seating will be along the third base line this year and in a block for WELS members. The pricing is Field Outfield Box sections 128–131 for $21/ticket, Loge Outfield Box sections 229–232 for $17/ticket, or Terrace Reserved sections 436–437 for $9/ticket. The ticket service fee will be waived for groups of 20-plus if you contact Greg Souza at 414-902-4492 or greg.souza@brewers.com.

Tickets can be purchased at brewers.com/wels. T-shirts can be ordered at welsnight2019.orderpromos.com.

 

A personal approach to sharing faith

In November 2018, Northwestern Publishing House released the book Quick to Listen: Understanding Viewpoints that Challenge Your Faith. This new title prepares readers to share their faith with Christian compassion as they encounter evolutionists, atheists, Bible skeptics, and members of the LGBTQ community in their daily lives.

Through the book’s written accounts and exclusive interviews, individuals from these four groups share their stories to explain why they hold their particular beliefs. The readers and pastor-authors then consult Scripture as they reflect on these challenging experiences and perspectives. Together, they look to God for the guidance and understanding they need to share the message of salvation with these groups.

Rev. Christopher Doerr, Garden Homes, Milwaukee, Wis., is one of the authors of Quick to Listen. He is joined by Rev. Samuel Degner, professor of evangelism and New Testament at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; Rev. Nick Schmoller, professor of theology and foreign language at Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn.; and Rev. Luke Thompson, pastor at St. Paul, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

When writing this book, Doerr often thought back to his time as a student at a secular college. There he learned that opening up about his faith with those who identify as members of the groups featured in this book was much more than a one-sided conversation.

“‘Friendship evangelism’ is knowing how to listen and ask questions, not just responding with what’s in your heart,” Doerr says. “We need to be in touch with people’s doubts and concerns regarding Christianity.”

With this in mind, Doerr and the other authors aim to make Quick to Listen a tool to help readers show Christlike care for the people who challenge Christianity. The readers’ efforts to share the good news of Christ can then be seen as what they truly are: expressions of that care and not simply counterarguments.

Rev. Mark Paustian, professor of English and Hebrew at MLC, wrote the foreword to Quick to Listen. He uses the text to teach apologetics classes—courses that focus on defending Christianity against differing beliefs.

“I’m deeply concerned for the faith of my students, and I need to be confident that the study we’re taking up together is truly edifying to their souls,” Paustian says. “I’m convinced Quick to Listen has been. I can say our discussions are exciting, even profound. I think there are countless Christians out there who hunger for such an experience.”

Paustian appreciates that Quick to Listen approaches apologetics through studies of real people. He believes this practical and human element is critical to sharing the gospel effectively.

“These accounts and interviews impress upon readers the need to understand people, not just worldly issues and arguments,” he explains. “The key is first to invest enough time trying to understand what’s really going on with the particular person God has put in front of us in a given moment. Quick to Listen makes that simple idea come alive.”

You can learn more about Quick to Listen, read a sample, and purchase the book online at nph.net.

 

Recommendations for church fellowship

One of the highlights of this summer’s 65th Biennial Synod Convention will be the formal declaration and recognition of fellowship with two confessional Lutheran church bodies. The 2019 synod convention will be held July 29 – Aug. 1, 2019, at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.

The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya (LCMC – Kenya) was formed when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya began to tolerate false teachings. A group of Kenyan pastors broke away and began searching for a confessional Lutheran church body. In 2015, Rev. Mark Onunda of the LCMC – Kenya met at length with the Doctrinal Committee of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Zambia Synod (LCCA – Zambia), a former WELS mission and now our sister synod. The LCCA – Zambia synod declared formal fellowship with the LCMC – Kenya last September. The WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations will be recommending to the synod convention that WELS also formally declare fellowship with the LCMC – Kenya.

The Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church in Taiwan began as a WELS mission and is now an independent Lutheran Church body that has always been in fellowship with WELS. Because this church is now independent, the Commission on Inter-Church Relations is recommending that the synod in convention formally recognize our fellowship with the Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church in Taiwan.

Representatives from each church body will address the convention and make presentations that will familiarize the delegates with these church bodies that will be recognized formally as a part of our fellowship.

We thank God for continuing to enlarge our fellowship with Lutheran Christians around the world.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about the 2019 synod convention.

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New task force focuses on special education

A new 20-member Special Education Task Force has been formed to provide special education resources and support to teachers and students.

“Our goal is to lay out a common, reliable, and researched path for identifying and supporting learners who struggle in academics and behavior,” says Ms. Kelli Green, a special education professor at Martin Luther College (MLC). “How do we support these children as well as provide school leaders and teachers with the support systems they need to offer this assistance?”

The task force will be researching the special education services already happening in WELS schools as well as the needs. It will also be exploring how to educate current students as well as administrators and teachers already in WELS schools about the resources available to help those with special needs, including ways to collaborate with one another and with public schools.

“We’re looking at how we can provide more support to our schools so more kids can hear the gospel at our schools on a daily basis,” says Mr. James Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools.

The group includes representatives from the Commission on Lutheran Schools, MLC, Wisconsin Lutheran College, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Bethany Lutheran College, Jesus Cares Ministries, and Christian Educators for Special Education, along with special education teachers from WELS area Lutheran high schools and Lutheran elementary schools.

Currently MLC offers two special education programs. Undergraduates can receive an Academic and Behavioral Specialist (ABS) Minnesota state teaching licensure, and graduates can return to pursue a master of science in education with a special education emphasis. Seventeen students are in the undergraduate program, and 12 are in the master’s program. MLC is working on adding a master of special education in learning disabilities.

Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis., offers special education undergraduate and master’s degree majors resulting in cross-categorical special education licensure. Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., also offers an ABS undergraduate major as well as a post-baccalaureate program for ABS licensure.

For more information about the task force, contact James Rademan, director of WELS Lutheran Schools, at jim.rademan@wels.net.

2019 WELS Night tickets now available

Tickets are now on sale for the sixth annual WELS Night at Miller Park. Plan to join thousands of WELS members for the Milwaukee Brewers’ game against the San Francisco Giants on Fri., July 12, 2019.  Game time is 7:10 p.m.

The Brewers are offering WELS members up to 50 percent off the price of tickets. The pricing is Field Outfield Box, Sections 128-131 for $21/ticket, Loge Outfield Box, Sections 229-232 for $17/ticket, or Terrace Reserved, Sections 436-437 for $9/ticket. All seats are on the third base side. Discounted tickets are now available to purchase online at brewers.com/wels.

Last year more than 2,400 WELS witnessed a dramatic walk-off home run as the Brewers defeated the Rockies in the bottom of the ninth inning. The epic three-run blast topped off a wonderful evening of fun and fellowship for the fifth annual WELS night at Miller Park. “Since several seating sections were filled with members wearing the royal blue WELS Night at Miller Park t-shirts, we have decided to offer the same shirt again this year in youth and adult sizes,” says Lee Hitter, WELS Director of Communications.

Shirt orders will be available soon. Visit wels.net/brewers2019 to learn more.

Synodical Council adopts ministry financial plan for 2019–2021

At its meeting on Feb. 22–23, the Synodical Council approved the ministry financial plan (budget) for 2019–2021 that will be recommended to the synod convention in July.

In the first year of the biennium (2019–2020), the plan calls for a small increase in the synodical support portion and in the overall spending levels (which include support from special funds, gifts, tuition, and fees). In the second year of the biennium (2020–2021), there is a small increase in synodical support and a small decrease in the overall spending levels.

Fiscal year2018–20192019–20202020–2021
Synod support29,308,100 29,417,00030,137,300
Gifts, tuition, fees44,976,02045,744,66144,964,914
Total74,284,12075,161,66175,102,214

The Synodical Council will continue to monitor the financial situation; changes could be made prior to the convention if circumstances require.

The Synodical Council approved several adjustments to spending for the current year, with all approved projects funded without additional synodical support.

As a part of the ministry financial plan, the synod convention also approves the “Unfunded Priority List.” These are programs that are not funded by the recommended ministry financial plan but would be implemented if additional funds become available. The Synodical Council will be recommending the following list of priorities:

  1. World Missions— mission support/expansion: $125,000
  2. Home Missions—mission expansion: $125,000
  3. Ministerial Education—financial assistance at MLC: $125,000
  4. Congregational Services—congregational counselor program: $150,000
  5. World Missions—mission support/expansion: $100,000
  6. Home Missions—mission support/expansion: $100,000
  7. Ministerial Education—top capital projects priorities: $150,000
  8. Special Ministries—WELS Military Services Committee: $50,000
  9. Special Ministries—WELS Prison Ministry Committee: $50,000
  10. Ministry of Christian Giving—additional giving counselor: $120,000

While 2019 Congregation Mission Offering (CMO) subscriptions pointed toward a one percent decrease from 2018 actual offerings, CMO results through the end of February are very encouraging. February’s CMO totals were 6.8% higher than a year ago, and year-to-date totals are 6.6% higher than the previous year at this time. We thank God for his blessings and for the gifts of his people.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

A new voice for WELS Daily Devotions

Starting March 3, the audio version of the WELS Daily Devotions features a new voice: Zach Steinke. Steinke is a senior at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., with prior experience in the radio communications industry.

“We are thrilled to have Zach as our new narrator for the WELS Daily Devotions,” says Rev. Eric Roecker, director of the WELS Commission on Evangelism. “His experience and expertise will be a blessing to the thousands of souls who listen each day.”

Narrating the Daily Devotions was an unexpected opportunity for Steinke. Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of the WELS Commission on Discipleship, was teaching one of Steinke’s classes recently and mentioned that they were seeking a new narrator for the Daily Devotions. Dobberstein asked the students to take turns reading portions of some devotional material, and Steinke’s abilities captured Dobberstein’s attention.

“When it was my turn, I read my paragraph,” Steinke recalls. “Then Pastor Dobberstein asked me to read the next one . . . and the next one.”

Afterward, Steinke shared his voice demos with Dobberstein and other WELS staff, eventually meeting with them to discuss the opportunity. He was quickly brought on board.

“I was not planning to audition myself as a candidate, and Pastor Dobberstein was not necessarily looking for a ‘voice’ from the classroom that day,” Steinke explains. “However, the Lord brought this all together, so to him be the glory.”

Steinke replaces Rev. Mike Hintz, retired director for the WELS Commission on Evangelism. Coincidentally, Hintz was once his pastor. Steinke sees this connection as another example of God’s hand in shaping this opportunity.

“It just shows you that this is something only the Lord can plan and work out,” Steinke says. “I am surprised and honored to be succeeding Pastor Hintz.”

In 2018, the Daily Devotions had nearly 11,000 subscribers in more than 15 different countries. Thousands of listeners tune in each day.

“The Lord has already blessed this ministry exponentially,” Steinke notes. “I pray that I’ll be a good steward of this ministry and that God continues to make it fruitful through me and the many writers of the Daily Devotions.”

Steinke expresses gratitude for being able to share the gospel in this unique way. For listeners of the Daily Devotions, he shares this message: “As you incorporate these devotions into your day, may the Holy Spirit strengthen your faith as God speaks his gospel comfort to your heart. I’d also like to challenge you to think of people in your life who need to know such comfort. Share these devotions with them so they can know Jesus, their Savior, and how precious they are in his sight.”

To read, listen to, and subscribe to WELS Daily Devotions, visit wels.net/daily-devotions. Listen to Steinke read today’s devotion.

First WELS EdTechLead conference to be held

The 2019 WELS Education, Technology, and Leadership Summit (WELS EdTechLead) will be held June 25–27 at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

This new event combines the National School Leadership and the WELSTech conferences into one expanded convention. It offers information and fellowship to those interested in exploring ministry tools, techniques, and best practices in the areas of education, technology, and leadership.

Created to be more sensitive to the time and funds of those who may have been interested in attending both conferences, WELS EdTechLead also aims to draw a broader audience than either conference might be able to alone.

“I think the conference really is for almost anybody in ministry,” said Mr. Martin Spriggs, WELS chief technology officer. “It’s an opportunity to help everyone put a bit more brainpower and a bit more passion into their efforts. It just makes sense to share that knowledge and energy and come up with better ministry plans and strategies together.”

The speakers and sessions offered at WELS EdTechLead are not simply related to one of the three topics of education, technology, and leadership. Many demonstrate the intersections between the topics. For example, teachers will be able to learn about instructional technology at the conference, and school principals and early childhood directors will have opportunities to develop their leadership skills.

The schedule is organized to allow attendees to experience a variety of workshops from each of the three fields. Half-day and full-day preconference sessions are also available to allow visitors to dive deeply into a specific subject.

“It’s to strengthen the network of support we have with one another in ministry,” said Mr. Jim Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools. “You are going to learn some tips and some tools, but, in many ways, this conference is to inspire you to move forward in your ministry.”

Registration for WELS EdTechLead is now open, with early bird discounts through May 1. Visit welsedtechlead.com to learn more and register.

CMO totals for 2018 and CMO subscriptions for 2019

Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) received in 2018 totaled $21,111,878. We are grateful for this generous support our synod’s mission and ministry. The total, however, was $246,000 (1.2%) below the offerings received in 2017 and $148,000 (0.7%) less than what congregations had indicated in their CMO subscriptions for the year. More than a decade of flat, and now even decreasing, CMO has made it increasingly challenging to maintain our current level of ministry, not to mention to seize some of the many gospel opportunities that God is graciously placing before us.

Adding to that challenge is the fact that subscriptions for 2019 are $20,913,700, nearly 1% less than 2018 receipts. Since our planning forecasted that subscriptions would be met in 2018 and that subscriptions for 2019 would increase by 0.5%, the task to maintain and expand ministry has become even more difficult. The results for 2018 and subscriptions for 2019 are $350,000 less than the forecast and compound to reductions from what was used for planning the next biennium of $454,000 and $456,000 for Fiscal Year 20 and Fiscal Year 21, respectively.

One bit of good news is that offerings for January 2019 were 6.4% higher than the January offerings in 2018.

At its meeting later this week, the Synodical Council will be looking to adopt a Ministry Financial Plan that recognizes these financial realities. All areas of ministry have been asked to look for ways to economize and to plan for less spending than what had been anticipated. Once a plan for the next two years is adopted by the Synodical Council, it will be forwarded to the synod convention this summer for approval.

As the economy improves, we pray that God will enable congregations to meet—and even exceed—their CMO subscriptions in 2019.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Church dedication in Puerto Rico

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria swept over the island of Puerto Rico causing great devastation and destruction.

WELS members responded generously with gifts to WELS Christian Aid and Relief. But the devastation caused by the storm made communication with fellow Christians in Puerto Rico difficult. It was hard to know what needed to be done to help and how that help could be delivered.

Early last summer WELS Christian Aid and Relief sent retired missionary Rev. Larry Schlomer Sr. to the island. He was asked to stay for up to a year to help the church leaders determine what needed to be done and then to help organize relief and rebuilding efforts.

God has graciously taken care of the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico and restored their church in Humacao. On Feb. 10, 2019, this church celebrated the completion of the rebuilt church with a dedication service. Many of the national pastors were in attendance along with Rev. Larry Schlomer Sr., WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder, and Rev. Tim Satorius.

View a slideshow of the dedication service.

WELS CAR - Puerto Rico Church Rededication 

Women’s ministry conference highlights being “living stones”

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

The focal point of the upcoming 2019 WELS Women’s Ministry Conference, being held at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., July 18–20, is “living stones” and how Christian women are called to be a part of something bigger.

Mrs. Dawn Schulz, conference coordinator, says the committee chose 1 Peter as the conference’s inspiration because it’s a great encouragement to women. “A ‘living stone’ is a woman who uses her God-given talents and gifts to build up God’s kingdom and to bless those around her, wherever that may be,” Schulz says. “Just like Jesus, we are special to God. We are chosen for a reason.”

A range of speakers will discuss the topic of living stones in keynote addresses and breakout sessions. One of the main points of the conference is how Christians fit together, like stones on a building. Each stone possesses unique qualities to serve God’s kingdom. To emphasize this point, the speakers have a range of backgrounds, including a lawyer, a pastor, and a ministry coordinator.

“We wanted to provide opportunities for a wide scope of presentations,” Schulz says. “The speakers who were chosen are people who have been speaking and researching God’s Word and will bring light to the fact that God uses every single person in his kingdom.”

The conference also will dive into how Christian women should look at the individuality of each person to more effectively share the gospel. For example, a young adult ministry professional as well as a panel of college students will emphasize how to reach younger generations today.

At the end of the conference, Schulz hopes women walk away feeling more confident in their purpose as a part of God’s spiritual house. She says, “This conference is going to nurture women in God’s Word, encourage them by bringing them together with other Christian sisters, and equip them with resources.”

For more information on the Women’s Ministry Conference and to register, visit wels.net/wmconference.

Mission and Ministry held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

From Feb. 5–7, students at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., participated in Mission & Ministry, an annual three-day event organized by the students.

Under the theme “Work for the Harvest,” this event highlighted the worldwide work of WELS.

Each day featured a worship service, keynote address, and an update from WELS administration. In addition, to give these future pastors a cross-section of experiences they may face in ministry, 24 breakout sessions were offered in specific topics. These sessions included discussions on personal evangelism; cultivating a caring congregation; urban ministry; planting churches in rural areas; 125 years of ministry to the Apaches; and mission opportunities in Africa, Latin America, and Vietnam.

Also, to highlight synodical resources that are available to congregations, WELS organizations set up displays to share information about their work in God’s kingdom.

“Mission and Ministry refocuses us. It takes us away from our daily routine and reminds us why we study every day. The stories presenters share give us a glimpse of what it will be like to work together with them in God’s harvest field,” says senior Andrew Nemmers, one of the event organizers. “Especially in the middle of a long winter, it’s always helpful to have that reminder that there is a light at the end of the long tunnel of training for pastoral ministry.”

For photos of the event, visit the seminary’s Facebook page.

Big steps for the WELS Hymnal Project in 2019

The development of the new WELS hymnal and its supplementary products is making significant progress this year in anticipation of the final release scheduled for Advent 2021. A preview of the new hymnal will be available in 2020.

“It’s really wrapping up,” said Hymnal Project Director Rev. Michael Schultz. “Almost every aspect of the main content is going to be finished at the end of the calendar year.”

The Executive Committee of the Hymnal Project reviews and finalizes all content. Several specialized subcommittees lead the design of certain elements or worship resources that serve the specific needs of churchgoers, musicians, and pastors.

For example, the Hymnody Committee evaluates which hymns to include in the new hymnal. Similarly, the Psalmody Committee is completing the text of the Psalter, a resource containing the full text of all 150 psalms with multiple musical settings for each. Other subcommittees focus on rites and Scripture as well as the technology for and communication of the project.

The pew edition of the new hymnal will be designed to make the text and music on the page clear and intuitive for all worshipers. Separate accompaniment editions for liturgy, psalms, psalter, and hymns will provide a robust resource for organists and pianists. Three settings of the main communion service will be included in the hymnal pew edition, each following similar worship structures while varying the musical style. Several additional musical settings are in development and will be made available digitally.

In addition to performance guidelines like tempo markings, the “Accompaniment for the Hymns” edition will include additional musical options for many hymns. A team within the Hymnal Project called the Musicians’ Resource Group is gathering even more arrangements for other instruments not included in the accompaniment edition, such as brass, flute, and guitar.

After four years of development, the updated lectionary for the new hymnal was recently completed. Each Sunday, the three Scripture readings, Prayer of the Day, Psalm of the Day, and Verse of the Day will now fall under one theme. The new Commentary on the Propers will help leaders plan their worship around these integrated service themes.

Each of these elements contributes to the Hymnal Project’s overall mission, which reads, “We begin our task so that worshipers now and long into the future can both hear for themselves and proclaim to God and the people around them the saving work of Jesus Christ.”

If you would like to learn more about the Hymnal Project and stay up to date on its continued progress, visit welshymnal.com and subscribe to the e-mail newsletter.

A joyful event in Puerto Rico

In the fall of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Puerto Rico with a vengeance. It is regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect the two islands. At its peak with maximum sustained winds at 175 mph, the hurricane caused catastrophic damage and numerous fatalities across the northeastern Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, the population suffered from flooding, the worst electrical blackout in U.S. history, and extreme damage and destruction to property.

Our sister synod, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico, was severely impacted. The church building in Guayama suffered extensive damage; the church in Humacao was completely destroyed. Homes of pastors and many members also were damaged.

WELS members responded generously with gifts to WELS Christian Aid and Relief. But the devastation caused by the storm made communication with our fellow Christians in Puerto Rico difficult. Damaged infrastructure made quick efforts to provide relief impossible. It was difficult to know what needed to be done to help and how that help could be delivered.

Early last summer WELS Christian Aid and Relief sent retired missionary Rev. Larry Schlomer to the island. He was asked to stay for up to a year to help the church leaders determine what needed to be done and then to help organize relief and rebuilding efforts.

In the months after Pastor Schlomer’s arrival, he worked, along with WELS volunteer Jerry Zimpelmann, to coordinate repairs to the church at Guayama and to the homes of pastors and members. They also coordinated the work of WELS volunteers who came to Puerto Rico to assist. Most of that work is completed. Significantly, this weekend marks a milestone in WELS efforts to help our sister church body. The church at Humacao has been completely rebuilt and will be rededicated in a worship service on Feb. 10.

Our fellow Christians in Puerto Rico have expressed their deep gratitude to God and to WELS members for this assistance. We thank God for our partnership in the gospel with our fellow believers in Puerto Rico, and we thank God for moving the people of WELS to make these relief and rebuilding efforts possible.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about WELS Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief.

WELS members support Christmas outreach program

Approximately 70 percent of WELS congregations participated in the synodwide Christmas outreach program known as C18. WELS Congregational Services created myriad materials for congregations to use to encourage members to reach out to the unchurched and to promote the theme “A Light in the darkness.”

“When we began C18,” says Rev. Jon Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, “we said our goal was ‘to reach’ one million souls prior to and on Christmas Eve. I realize ‘reach’ is a nebulous term. That was intentional. It is impossible for congregations to track how many people a member invites to Christmas Eve. So it is hard to quantify. What I can report is that at least 1.2 million ‘A Light in the darkness’ Christmas Eve postcards were shared.”

Hein also notes that through follow-up surveys, he has discovered ancillary benefits to this Christmas outreach effort. One of those benefits is a renewed focus on evangelism in some congregations.

One survey respondent commented, “I have prayed for years for God to make me bold enough to share the gospel. I have now done this . . . several weeks in a row for C18 and have had very positive results. I plan to continue this method of inviting neighbors to my church year-round for different events.”

Another said, “I don’t know if we had more visitors than normal [attend our Christmas Eve service]. I can say our people were excited about trying to invite their friends and family to church. I think they will continue to do that, which will have a longer lasting impact than can be measured by one worship service.”

In addition to evangelism materials, Congregational Services offered worship resources as well as family Advent devotions.

As one WELS member wrote, “I loved that C18 focused on reaching unbelievers. But I also love that it stressed feeding our children with God’s Word.”

After hearing from WELS members about the blessings that this Christmas program offered, Congregational Services is now planning resources for C19.

To read Hein’s full report about C18, visit welscongregationalservices.net/c18-our-christmas-efforts.

Fearlessly proclaim the gospel

Students heard the voice of experience Jan. 16 at Martin Luther College’s (MLC) 14th annual Evangelism Day. Following the theme “Fearlessly Proclaim the Gospel,” 30 presenters shared their expertise and personal stories, encouraging students to communicate Christ in their personal lives and their public ministries.

Students had positive reactions “I’ve never been more excited to be a minister of the gospel!” says Josh Wordell. Abby Mleziva adds, “It’s encouraging to see all the different ways that God’s Word is being spread and then picturing how we can fit into the body of Christ doing the same work.”

“It was a great reminder of why we’re here,” says Zach Kopplin. “I came out with this zeal for evangelism,” says Aislinn Eddy. “It’s not just about global missions. It’s about evangelism right where you’re at too.”

For the second year, MLC offered four evening presentations to the public: witnessing to Muslims, doing ministry in Spanish, sharing Jesus with little children, and the role of reason in Lutheran apologetics.

New this year is E-Day Action Day, a follow-up to Evangelism Day on April 10. Students will take their learning to the streets as Dave Malnes, a WELS staff minister and the founder of Praise and Proclaim Ministries, leads students and other New Ulm WELS members in an outreach effort. Participants will receive two hours of training before they begin knocking on doors and a debriefing session afterward.

Conference of Presidents 2019 winter meeting

The Conference of Presidents held its winter meeting last week. Topics for discussion and decisions made include:

  • The COP will work with the Commission on Congregational Counseling to develop guidelines for congregations that are beginning the process of closing or merging. Guidelines will be made available upon request from the district president.
  • The COP is developing a tool to assist congregations that are exploring alternative approaches to congregational structure and polity.
  • The COP expressed support for the plans of Congregational Services to offer two programs to replace Mission and Ministry Sunday in fall 2019. One program, the 10 for 10 stewardship program, will offer a ten-week emphasis on whole life Christian stewardship. The work we do together as a synod will be highlighted as one part of the program. The other, the Welcome Home initiative featuring a “Welcome Home Sunday” on Oct. 27, will help congregations to seek to regain those who have strayed from active congregational membership.
  • The COP expressed support for a WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership being planned by Congregational Services for Jan. 21-23, 2020, in Chicago, Ill. The conference will emphasize leadership that is rooted in the beliefs of confessional Lutheranism.
  • The COP discussed the importance of encouraging congregations in their efforts to increase Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO). The continuation of vital synodical ministries depends on increasing CMO support from our congregations.
  • The COP has begun an effort to review the synod’s bylaws dealing with discipline of called workers and congregations, as well as the appeals process. The COP will complete its work in time for the revised process and bylaws to be reviewed by the 2020 district conventions.
  • The COP Doctrine Committee will schedule regular meetings with the Doctrine Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and with the faculty of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
  • The COP expressed support for plans to form an Institute of Lutheran Apologetics (defending the Christian faith and teachings).
  • The COP reviewed the pastoral vacancies and noted that the overall vacancy rate has remained about the same since its last meeting.
  • The COP expressed its support for an effort by Congregational Services to assemble a “Rural Ministry Task Force” that will provide ministry resources for rural and small-town congregations.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

[This is a correction of a previously published item dealing with the teacher calling window.]
A special committee is studying the issue of the calling window for teachers. Currently the calling window runs from November 1 through the first week of June. The committee is considering a change in the window, moving it to the first Sunday in October through the first Sunday in April. The COP was asked for input and indicated that it would approve of such a change if proposed. The committee has not yet made a final decision. It will continue to seek input and will bring its recommendation to the COP at a future meeting.

Your gifts, God’s blessings 2019

“Your gifts, God’s blessings: An annual report to our members” is now available online. The 2019 report highlights the blessings that God has showered on WELS through the gifts of its members.

Learn more about

  • ten Martin Luther College students who volunteered with WELS Christian Aid and Relief to help with the cleanup and rebuilding of Amazing Grace, Panama City, Fla., following Hurricane Michael;
  • Libby Redfield, a young WELS member who was born blind and is blessed by Christian materials from WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired;
  • Wisick Jeffrey, a pastor for the Lutheran Church of Central Africa—Malawi, who was censured by his family for turning his back on his Muslim heritage; and
  • Manaporn Phaosricharoen, a college student who sought answers about God’s Word from Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wis.

The report includes photos of Christian brothers and sisters around the world, stories of faith, updates on WELS’ ministry, and a summary of WELS’ financial picture. Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, director of WELS Ministry of Christian Giving, likens WELS’ annual report to a family photo album, personal investment report, and prayer list, all wrapped into one.

“The report is part photo album with pictures of fellow Christians and brief narratives that vividly chronicle the gospel ministry Jesus enabled us to conduct together last year,” says Lueneburg. “The document also, like an investment report, describes God’s blessings on our combined talents, testimonies, time, treasures, and all other gifts we gratefully offered our Savior. Then, the report is a prayer list identifying reasons for which we praise, thank, and serve our Lord, as well as many initiatives that we ask our heavenly Father to guide, bless, and support in the coming year.”

To view the report online, visit wels.net/annualreport. Print versions of the report will be sent to every WELS congregation and to synod donors. Additional print versions are available from Northwestern Publishing House for free. Visit nph.net or call 800-662-6022.

Want to learn even more about how God is blessing your gifts to WELS? Schedule a Christian giving counselor to present a PowerPoint presentation to your congregation that summarizes the information in the annual report. Contact the Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for more information.

Announcing sixth annual WELS Night at Miller Park

Save the date for the sixth annual WELS Night at Miller Park. Mark your calendars and plan to join thousands of WELS members for the Milwaukee Brewers’ game against the San Francisco Giants on Friday, July 12, 2019. Game time is 7:10 p.m.

The Brewers are offering WELS members up to 50 percent off the price of tickets. The pricing is Field Outfield Box for $21/ticket, Loge Outfield Box for $17/ticket, or Terrace Reserved for $9/ticket. The discounted tickets for WELS Night at Miller Park will be available to purchase online in March at brewers.com/wels. More details will be released in the March 5 issue of Together.

Leaders of ELS, LCMS, and WELS meet

About 20 leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) met in Florida on Nov. 27-28 to continue the informal discussions begun in 2012.

At this seventh annual meeting, participants updated each other on news from their respective synods. They also spent time discussing the doctrine of creation and its relation to science—a topic about which they found themselves in agreement on the key issues.

Looking ahead to the future, participants debated whether or not it is proper to begin formal doctrinal discussions with a view to restoring fellowship between ELS/WELS and the LCMS. Given the issues that separate us, it was decided that such a move would be premature at this time.

Rather, the group decided to continue with informal discussions, with another meeting planned for December 2019. At this meeting, the group will discuss the doctrine of justification. They also will precisely articulate and commit to writing some of the specific points of controversy between our synods.

These intersynodical discussions, conducted outside of the framework of church fellowship, have been useful in clarifying our synodical positions and in sharing information on topics of mutual interest. This latest meeting was no exception. Many participants expressed gratitude for the opportunity to get together and to keep the lines of communication open.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

An amazing mission opportunity: Grace—Hmong outreach in Vietnam

WELS has been given the opportunity to take the gospel to the Hmong people living in the country of Vietnam. Not only has the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) asked WELS to teach and train its pastors in Lutheran doctrine and practice, but WELS has also been invited by the Vietnamese government to establish a theological training facility in Hanoi.

On Dec. 1, 2018, WELS launched a special synodwide offering to support Hmong outreach in Vietnam. Through this opportunity, God’s grace can be shared with the more than 100,000 members who make up the HFC and the 2 million Hmong living in Vietnam and the surrounding countries. The goal of the “Grace—Hmong outreach in Vietnam” offering is to receive gifts totaling $2 million by June 30, 2019, to fund the land purchase, building construction, and the first two years of operational costs for the theological training facility in Hanoi.

Promotional resources have been created for use in congregations, schools, and other church groups. Learn more about this opportunity in the December 2018 WELS Connection and through a special brochure that was mailed to each WELS congregation. Schools can participate by designating mission offerings to “Grace—Hmong outreach in Vietnam.”

Many other resources are currently available for download or will be made available during the month of December. These resources include:

  • PowerPoint presentation with notes
  • Promotional poster
  • Bulletin inserts
  • Informational text to copy and paste into church bulletins as well as church and school newsletters
  • Online version of the December 2018 WELS Connection, featuring Hmong outreach in Vietnam
  • “Grace—Hmong outreach in Vietnam” logos
  • Digital display and PowerPoint graphic
  • Digital files of various print pieces: eight-page congregational brochure, four-page informational flyer, and a larger eight-page congregational brochure

Progress updates about the work in Vietnam will be shared through Together newsletter stories, weekly Missions blogs, and through WELS social media accounts. Follow the WELS and WELS Missions pages on Facebook to stay up-to-date.

To learn more about this mission opportunity, visit wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

One in Jesus in Asia-Oceania

In early November, 60 Asian national church delegates and guests attended the second meeting of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) Asia-Oceania conference. The CELC comprises 32 member churches worldwide (including WELS), all of which are united by a common faith and confession.

Sponsored by South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) in Hong Kong, the conference brought together people from CELC church bodies in Japan, Indonesia, India, South Korea, East Asia, and Hong Kong as well as from future member churches in Taiwan and the Philippines. Mission partners from WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod also attended.

The conference theme “One in Jesus” was reflected throughout the meeting, including in the papers presented on the historical practice and current practice of the Lord’s Supper and on evangelism. Group discussion after each paper enabled workers to learn from one another’s experiences.

One participant noted, “I appreciated the opportunity to talk with missionaries and local workers in other fields and know their struggles and pressures. I really care about what is happening in other countries near mine.”

A number of churches shared that there is increasing pressure to suppress Christianity in Asia, but our churches are undeterred. One participant remarked that even though “they try to mow the grass, the grass keeps coming back.”

The first Asian regional conference was held in Seoul, South Korea, three years ago. Another Asian regional conference is being planned for 2021. Other regional CELC conferences held in 2018 include a European regional meeting in Plzen, Czech Republic. The next worldwide meeting of the CELC will be held in Seoul, South Korea, in 2020.

To learn more about the CELC, visit celc.info.

Informal doctrinal discussions with the Missouri Synod continue

Representatives of the Wisconsin Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod will meet Nov. 27 and 28 for another in a series of annual informal doctrinal discussions.

These meetings have proven to be beneficial in helping the three synods better understand the doctrine and practice of one another. The meetings have opened lines of communication between the leaders of the three synods and between various groups such as those responsible for world mission efforts. The meetings have also been beneficial in providing mutual encouragement to stand firm in the areas where there is full agreement.

In previous meetings the group has focused on various areas of doctrine and practice, working to identify where we agree and where disagreements remain. Topics discussed in the past have been Church and Ministry, fellowship, the role of men and women, and principles that guide the interpretation of the Scriptures. The main focus of discussion for this year’s meeting will be to identify, from each synod’s perspective, what issues would need to be resolved—on the basis of Scripture—for fellowship to be possible.

These discussions have been termed “informal” to avoid giving the impression that they will result in a re-establishment of fellowship in the near future. Any restoration of fellowship would be possible only when the three synods are in full agreement in doctrine in keeping with the Scriptures. Even though fellowship might not be possible now, the informal discussions will continue because of the benefits and opportunities they bring.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Conference digs into developing multi-site congregations

More than one hundred pastors, teachers, staff ministers, laypeople, and other ministry leaders from across the country gathered in Pewaukee, Wis., Nov. 12-14, for the 2018 WELS National Multi-Site Conference. Attendees met to engage in discussions and activities about developing multi-site churches throughout WELS.

Multi-site churches preach, teach, and carry out other ministry work from more than one physical location. These additional sites can help the congregation share the gospel message with new people and underserved communities. In many cases, they can also gather and use resources with increased efficiency.

Rev. Ron Koehler, pastor at Grace, a multi-site church in Tucson/Sahuarita/Benson/Vail, Ariz., led the conference’s first keynote presentation. He highlighted key reasons why a congregation may launch a multi-site effort. Rev. Jon Hein, director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling , then spoke about the potential of multi-sites to expand ministry work beyond their current reach. Rev. Nathan Strutz, conference planning committee chairman and pastor of a multi-site congregation, Resurrection, Verona/Monroe, Wis., closed the conference with a final keynote presentation reviewing what multi-site strategies are and can be for WELS.

Four sessions of workshops gave attendees opportunities to hear about experiences with multi-site development directly from project leaders. Pastors, church elders, and lay leaders spoke about reaching specific audiences, managing multi-site finances, uniting under one mission, and more.

Rev. Brad Snyder, Mt. Olive, Suamico, Wis., appreciated the fellowship among attendees at the conference: “We get together, enjoy and encourage each other, and stay minded on the mission.” Mt. Olive has called a second pastor to serve at a site it is developing in Hobart, Wis.

Rev. Paul Schupmann and Rev. David Brandt serve at St. John’s, Juneau, Wis., which is officially expanding to Horicon, Wis., in June 2019. They look forward to implementing what they learned from the conference at this new multi-site.

“The key concept is to grow the kingdom and continue to enable our people to share Jesus,” Schupmann explains.

“We all struggle with limited time and resources, but I see multi-site as a way to do more with what we’ve got,” Brandt continues. “I’m excited for the possibilities.”

Rev. Jeffrey Mahnke, St. Peter, Schofield, Wis., led a workshop at the conference to share what he is learning from an ongoing merger with Salem, Wausau, Wis. For any WELS church leaders considering undertaking multi-site initiatives with their congregation, he suggests, “Think big. Start talking about what could be done for the kingdom of Christ.”

The conference was partially sponsored by an Antioch II grant. For more information about multi-site churches and other home mission work, visit wels.net/missions.

 

 

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Ministering to Millennials

In November, WELS Congregational Services launched a new set of resources aimed at helping congregations minister to Millennials, those born from 1980-2000.

“The Commission on Congregational Counseling has worked with so many churches that have identified that the Millennial generation is opting out of church on a large-scale basis,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services and director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling. “I hear it from individuals too. They have a relative in their late twenties who still confesses faith in Jesus but who does not see the benefit in being a member at a church.”

Hein continues, “The Ministering to Millennials resources are meant to help congregations think through how they might better retain and gain members from this largest generation in America. However, I think individuals might benefit from it too. It can help them learn how to better understand ways to personally witness to Millennial-aged friends or neighbors. So we are hoping that everyone—congregational leadership and individual Christians—goes to welscongregationalservices.net and utilizes the Ministering to Millennial resources.”

Four videos with accompanying discussion guides are available as well as a playbook that outlines 10 important ministry behaviors to consider to retain Millennials in our congregations and when reaching out to share the gospel with them. To view these materials, visit welscongregationalservices.net, choose the “Modules” dropdown menu, and then choose “Discipleship Modules.”

For more information about ministering to Millennials, watch this “Together” video update featuring Rev. James Hein, who serves at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis., which has a thriving ministry to Millennials. Hein helped coordinate the video modules on this topic for WELS Congregational Services.

 

 

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