Together Video Update – March 14, 2023
Every two years, our synod holds its synod convention. This year the convention will meet at Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich., July 31–Aug. 3. The theme of the convention is “Embrace the Cross—Anticipate the Crown.” Planning for the convention has already begun.
Rev. Phil Hirsch, president of the Nebraska District, will deliver the essay that expands on and articulates the convention theme. Rev. James Huebner, first vice president of the synod, will preach for opening worship.
One high point of the convention will be the declaration of fellowship with the Obadiah Lutheran Synod in Uganda. This declaration of fellowship is possible because in-depth doctrinal discussions over the past several years have shown that our two synods are united in biblical doctrine and in our adherence to the Lutheran Confessions. Rev. Musa Makisimu, president of the Obadiah Lutheran Synod, will give a presentation to familiarize delegates with his synod’s history and ministry.
Another high point will be the public affirmation of fellowship between WELS and Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. This is a newly formed synod in Latin America, comprised of a merger of national churches that have already been in fellowship in WELS. (That’s why fellowship is being “affirmed” rather than “declared.”) In the future, new house churches forming out of Academia Cristo efforts also will be joining this synod. Rev. Tonny Quintero, secretary of the governing board of his synod, will address the delegates and give a presentation describing Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional.
This convention will feature elections for the offices of synod president and second vice president. Other elections will be held to determine membership on various synod boards and commissions.
About 400 voting delegates from around the country will attend the convention. Roughly half of the delegates are lay members while the other half are pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. The convention will also be attended by advisory delegates from the Synodical Council, the Conference of Presidents, and various areas of ministry. All voting delegates will be assigned to a floor committee. Each floor committee deals with a specific part of the synod’s mission and ministry and brings reports and resolutions to the convention for action. Memorials, which are calls for action on specific topics, will be assigned to the appropriate floor committee for discussion and recommendations.
All business to be considered by the convention will be published in the Book of Reports and Memorials (BORAM). The BORAM will be available on the convention website, welsconvention.net, by May 5, and all delegates and WELS congregations will receive hard copies by the end of May.
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
“I would use the illustration of a switchboard operator from the early days of telephone communication to explain the work of a diaspora ministry facilitator,” says Rev. Neil Birkholz, WELS’ Asian ministry consultant and diaspora ministry facilitator for East Asia. “When an inquiry from my designated people group comes to me directly or to someone else in WELS, I become the middleman/operator and connect them to the right person.”
Birkholz further explains, “If someone from Korea is looking to connect their son with a WELS church in the United States, I help connect them with the local WELS church where their son will be living. If a member of my WELS church in California is returning to their home country of Thailand, I help connect them with our WELS World Mission One Team in Thailand so this member can continue to worship with other confessional Lutherans while living in Thailand.”
The role of diaspora ministry facilitator is a new one. As globalization has increased, so have global migration rates, which has opened up new mission opportunities for WELS churches. Diaspora ministry—or people group ministry— is coordinated by Joint Missions because it involves both World Missions and Home Missions. Each World Missions One Team (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Native American) has at least one diaspora ministry facilitator, which is a role that a pastor takes on in addition to his full-time call. These facilitators have experience serving the people group with which they are working and stay in touch with the World Missions One Team for their area.
“Diaspora ministry certainly makes the world feel a lot smaller,” says Rev. Aaron Bublitz, pastor at Heritage, Gilbert, Ariz., and the diaspora ministry facilitator for Africa. “Our WELS congregations have opportunities to connect to and share the gospel with people who have come here from all over the world. We then have the opportunity to connect to and share the gospel through them in many places in the world. We are helping facilitate the Great Commission we have been given to take the gospel to all nations.”
Learn more at wels.net/jointmissions, including how to contact diaspora ministry facilitators to connect people groups.
WELS Special Ministries is introducing a new Bible study for congregational or small group use. “Helping the Hurting with Hope” was written to help participants appreciate the role of compassion in a Christian’s personal and congregational life, providing gospel motivation for participants to go beyond their comfort zones and act in compassionate ways through the Spirit’s power.
“We hope that the five-lesson study will give congregations an opportunity to discuss the best way to respond to broken people,” says Rev. Jim Behringer, director of WELS Special Ministries. “We hope members will rejoice when the Lord brings them into contact with people who need the Lord and work patiently and persistently to help them and connect them with Jesus.”
Behringer explains that where the Bible class succeeds in cultivating compassion, congregations will be better spiritual refuges for people with broken lives and welcome people looking for a church family where they can walk a new path after release from prison, or in recovery from addiction, or after a public fall into sin.
“WELS Prison Ministry has been successful in reaching the incarcerated with the Word of God, but when people who were in prison are released and look for a church family, some churches are very reluctant to work with returning citizens. Pregnancy counseling centers have experienced that their clients have a hard time finding a church family in a local church because they feel the stigma of disapproval of their past sins,” Behringer says, “When you recognize that someone is a sinner, rejoice to see them at church and encourage them to keep coming. Help them take the baby steps needed to start building a life in Christ.”
The Bible study is available for free online at welscongregationalservices.net/helping-the-hurting-with-hope. Learn more about WELS Special Ministries at wels.net/special-ministries.
Last month more than 1,300 men and women attended the second WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership in Chicago. Fifty-two percent of those who attended were laypeople. More than 100 attendees were high school and college students.
The conference featured a worship service with communion, as well as devotions. Five keynote presentations addressed a variety of timely issues facing the church today. Keynote topics were “Our Lutheran Moment: Why Now Is a Good Time for Us to Be Doing What We Do Best,” “Lutheran Leadership—What It Is and Why It’s Important,” “Shaping a God-Pleasing Congregational Culture,” “A Courageous Conversation on Modeling Gospel-Centered Unity,” and “Thinking Differently: On How the Next Generation Thinks, and On How to Help Them Think.”
Attendees could also choose to attend five breakout sessions (from 47 that were offered). The breakout sessions dealt with a wide range of issues, including congregational planning, dealing with current cultural issues, outreach and evangelism strategies, Lutheran worship, carrying out our Christian vocation in a secular workplace, and much more. A number of these were geared specifically for the young people in attendance.
It was very encouraging to see so many called workers and laypeople take time away from busy schedules to become better equipped to carry out the work that they do in their congregations. The information presented was practical, timely, encouraging, and spiritually edifying. I know that I benefited greatly from the presentations, and I can’t tell you how many people commented on how much they enjoyed the conference and were blessed to be a part of it. Called workers, laymen and women, and young people left the conference spiritually uplifted and full of ideas on how they and their congregations can better serve their Savior.
If you did not have the opportunity to attend, you can view video recordings of some of the presentations by visiting lutheranleadership.com. Select presentation videos will be released throughout the year.
We can pray that God will use this conference as a way to strengthen WELS members, called workers, and congregations as they carry out the mission God has given to us. The next National Conference on Lutheran Leadership is tentatively scheduled for January 2026.
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
Students at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., participated in Mission and Ministry, an annual three-day event organized by a student committee, Feb. 7-9. Under the theme “Go!” based on Matthew 28:19, this event highlighted the worldwide work of WELS.
Each day featured a worship service, an overview of ministry highlights by WELS leaders, an encouraging keynote address by a worker in the field, and the opportunity to attend three breakout sessions of interest. Presenters encouraged students with the Lord’s promise to be with his people always, no matter where they serve, whom they serve, or in what role they serve, giving them the strength to carry out his Great Commission.
The student committee arranged for 24 breakout sessions on different topics. These sessions included presentations on world missions building bridges across cultures, leveraging the internet to reach people around the world through TELL, starting a new home mission, urban ministry in the United States, renewing expectations of church membership since the pandemic, and how our churches support people with disabilities and their families. All presenters shared how their work carries out the Savior’s commission with the help of the Savior’s promise. WELS organizations also set up displays to share information about their work in God’s kingdom.
The seminary family was blessed to have visitors each day: the pastor-track juniors from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., participated on the first day, and students from Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mankato, Minn., participated on days two and three. Another special guest was Rev. Holger Weiss, president of the seminary for our sister synod in Germany, the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church. Weiss served as preacher in the opening service and shared blessings and challenges of mission work in Germany during a breakout session.
For photos of the event, visit Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Facebook page.
The situation in Ukraine remains very challenging and difficult for our brothers and sisters of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). Rev. Roger Neumann serves as the WELS liaison to the ULC and is in almost daily contact with Bishop Vyacheslav Horpynchuk, the head of the ULC. Neumann provides regular updates with information provided by Horpynchuk.
Horpynchuk often reports of the situation on the ground in Ukraine. Heavy shelling of populated areas continues. Even though there are widespread power outages and a lack of heat and sometimes even water, the congregations of the ULC continue to meet for worship (dressed in winter clothing) whenever possible. Pastors continue to be faithful to their callings by preaching, teaching, calling on members, and distributing food and medicine to their members, refugees, and communities. Many members have had to flee from their hometowns, but those people are often served by pastors in congregations where the danger is less intense.
Even when it seems safe, often it is not. Last Sunday one worship service was interrupted by a shell that fell 800 meters from the church, shaking the building and breaking some windows. Members in Kiev try to go about their normal life, using public transportation to travel. But when an air raid siren sounds, all public transportation stops. Subways can be stopped for two or more hours. Sometimes people need to remain in bomb shelters for up to seven hours. At night, when missile strikes shake their apartments, they wake up in fear and anxiety, wondering when the next missile will hit. Whenever families are separated by work, school, or buying groceries, they are in constant fear for one another’s safety. Yet they are quick to confess that they believe that the Lord will watch over them and that they await an enduring kingdom that is secured by our Lord Jesus, a kingdom where they will be safe eternally.
Plans for new church buildings have been put on hold, but there is every intention to continue those projects when the war is over. In the meantime, even small temporary places of worship become places of refuge and comfort as God’s Word is preached and his promises proclaimed.
Because of your generous gifts, WELS continues to provide financial support to the ULC. The pastors and people are using those funds carefully and wisely, providing food, clothing, medicine, and transportation to those who need it. Thank you for your generous gifts!
Please continue to keep our brothers and sisters in your prayers. Thank God that they continue to worship and hear his Word. Thank God that he has kept them safe. Pray that God would continue to bless them with his loving protection and that peace will soon be restored throughout Ukraine.
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
For the first time, WELS high school students were specially invited to attend the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership in Chicago this past January. Sixty-one teenagers from ten area Lutheran high schools attended keynotes and breakout sessions, participated in mixers, and went to Navy Pier for an evening of teen-only fun and fellowship. One of the breakout sessions even featured a panel of high school students discussing their experiences and views.
“[Our church body] is hemorrhaging young adults, and you often hear people my age (or even older) speculating on why that is the case. So we wanted to have some presentations where we actually listened to young people,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, convention coordinator and coordinator of WELS Congregational Services. “What are their views on why their generation is quitting church? What do they think we can do better to attempt to retain and reach young people today?”
He continues, “It was one of the most highly attended breakouts. In my work, I hear a lot of young people who say that they don’t really have much of a voice. They certainly had one at the conference.”
Natalie Hatzung, a student at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, Milwaukee, Wis., was one of the teen panelists. “After we spoke, I heard so many compliments and so much appreciation,” she says. “People were coming up to me who had no idea who I am—they just noticed I’m a teen, and they said, ‘Thank you for being here.’ Parents and teachers came up [to me] and said, ‘This is really eye-opening. I appreciate your input.’ ”
The fact that so many adults cared deeply about their input and experience left a huge impression on this next generation of Lutheran leaders. WELS teens desire to be respected and valued by the adults in their lives. Hein adds, “They want to have a role to play. . . . They want to be more than consumers of gospel ministry. They want to be doers of gospel ministry.” The conference exposed them to some of the very real conversations happening in the synod surrounding leadership, ministry, and outreach.
On the final day of the conference, Rev. Phil Huebner, campus pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, gathered the high school attendees together for a closing discussion about the conference. Favorite moments included the trip to Navy Pier, worshiping and communing with more than one thousand other WELS members, meeting teens from other schools, and engaging in conversation with the adults in attendance.
What was abundantly clear from that discussion is that these young people are compassionate and enthusiastic, with hearts for sharing the gospel. Moreover, many were open and vulnerable enough to reveal that they’re also nervous about the impact college might have on their faith.
But as Huebner explains, by inviting teens to this conference, we are showing them that they matter. We are making an effort “not just to talk about teens but rather include them and train up the next generation of leaders,” he says.
Read more about the WELS National Conference Lutheran Leadership in the previous edition of Together.
God continues to bless our synod with the generous and faith-filled offerings of his people, even in these difficult economic times. Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, director of the WELS Ministry of Christian Giving, reports:
By the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, God’s people remitted $3.36 million of Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) in December. (This is $1,500 more than CMO given during December 2021.) We thank our Lord for these generous offerings!
For calendar year 2022, CMO totaled $23.33 million, which is 2.9 percent ($654,000) more than 2021 CMO and 3.9 percent ($833,000) higher than projected receipts. This is the third consecutive calendar year in which our congregations have offered a record total of Congregation Mission Offerings and the first year in which CMO surpassed $23 million. Let us thank the Lord for continuing to bless us through his people’s generous gifts!
Clearly, our Savior’s gracious love for us has prompted this wonderful response from his people for his gospel ministry through our church body. It is fitting and right that we, like King David, acknowledge, “Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. But who [are we], and who are [our] people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:13-14).
We thank Jesus for you and your faithful response to God’s blessings through your Congregation Mission Offerings!
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
Last week, more than 1,300 WELS members gathered in Chicago for the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. For three days they dedicated themselves to learning about leading in the congregation and community as well as enjoying worship and fellowship. The conference was for all WELS members, both called workers and laypeople, men and women of all ages, and current leaders and future leaders.
The conference kicked off Mon., Jan. 16, 2023, with an opening devotion led by WELS Michigan District President Rev. Snowden Sims. The afternoon was spent absorbing the first three keynote presentations. The day concluded with a worship service, with 1,300 Christians raising their voices in glory to God and sharing in the Lord’s Supper. Music was led by varied instrumentation and members of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Chorus. Rev. James Huebner, WELS first vice president, served as the preacher. A portion of the opening worship service is available to view online.
Kicking off the keynotes were Dr. Joan Prince and Rev. Dr. Kenneth Fisher, with a presentation titled “A Courageous Conversation on Modeling Gospel-Centered Unity.” While acknowledging the lack of diversity across WELS, they reminded attendees not to let man-made constructs be a barrier to sharing God’s love; we are all citizens of a greater kingdom. As Fisher explained, the unbelieving world will see God’s love through the actions of believers. Prince spoke about how there are many ideas for unity in the world, but none of them work without the gospel.
The second keynote had Mr. Kurt Nitz and Rev. Eric Roecker, director of the WELS Commission on Evangelism, present “Culture Is Critical: Shaping a God-Pleasing Congregational Culture.” They defined culture as the shared thought-habits that form the way people behave and work together. Good organizational culture, they explained, is the product of intentional and deliberate actions. Because of the important God-given work of Christians, a good culture is critical for congregations.
Rounding out the afternoon was Rev. Jonathan Bauer, speaking on “Our Lutheran Moment: Why Now Is a Good Time for Us to Be Doing What We Do Best.” Bauer summarizes his presentation: “The last few years have presented an unending string of challenges to all leaders, including Lutheran ones. They’ve also done us a huge favor. They’ve accelerated things that were happening slowly and brought to light things that were happening beneath the surface. They’ve made it apparent that what our world needs right now are the very things that we do best. We Lutherans are equipped to meet the challenges of our moment in a way that few others are interested in or capable of doing.”
Day two of the conference gave attendees the opportunity to attend five breakout sessions on topics more specific to their local ministry needs or personal interests. Forty-seven breakout sessions on varying topics were available to choose from, offering something for every type of leader in the church.
Topics ranged from personal evangelism, outreach, issues facing WELS schools, discipleship, congregational governance, church culture, worship, and more. Some trends emerged based on breakout requests that revealed common challenges in WELS congregations. Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, says, “Looking at the top 20 [requested breakouts], I’d say how to develop and equip lay leadership was a massive goal. Any breakout about recruiting and equipping leaders had at least 120 people signed up. Another one seems to be the challenge of doing outreach and the challenges presented by the shifting American culture that is hardening against the church. Finally, the culture shifting breakouts did well.”
Mr. Kurt Nitz, breakout presenter of “Culture Shifting—How to Make It Happen,” led listeners through practical strategies for initializing culture changes in a congregation, such as knowing what the end goal is, the importance of leadership through the culture shift, and evaluating what already exists. Nitz, a WELS member, works with large organizations and corporations on their cultures and was asked to help develop Everyone Outreach, a program that helps congregations build a culture of outreach so that every ministry and every member is thinking about and participating in outreach. He says, “Every congregation has a culture and certain aspects of it can help or hinder your ministry. You should take a moment to look at it, and if it’s a barrier, do something about it.”
Dr. Glen Hansen, a radiologist and elder at Bethlehem, Germantown, Wis., attended the conference to bring ideas back to his congregation to help members become more comfortable with evangelism. “Our overall goal is not only to equip ourselves but to equip our members too,” says Hansen. “They can all be equipped to do the work of the Lord.” Of the conference, he says, “There are a lot of like-minded people who care about the work of the Lord, which helps me feel empowered to continue and go do that work.”
The breakout “Rethinking Congregational Partnership: Men and Women Working Together in Christ’s Mission” shared some practical considerations as congregations work toward ministry that honors God’s design for men and women and uses the gifts of every member of God’s family. “Rethinking congregational partnership means taking a look at the partnership men and women share. We are better together. We demonstrate this godly partnership to a world experiencing gender confusion and to future leaders in the church when we go through the hard work of putting God’s design for partnership into practice,” says Mrs. Dawn Schulz, a presenter at the breakout.
In the breakout “Leadership Skills Used in Industry and Ministry,” Mr. Chip Woods provided insights from his experience in the corporate world. He explains, “First, leadership skills that have been developed and learned in our vocations can also be applied in leading our ministries. Second, and inversely, servant leadership is not only effective in ministry but also in our vocations. And finally, time is important in industry as well as ministry. The time is now to spread the Word of God.”
Mr. Art Hora serves as the congregational chairman at St. Paul’s, Stevensville, Mich. When he’s not serving his church, he works in the nuclear power industry. “What I’ve learned from the things that I’ve seen here is that a lot of what I’ve done in the nuclear world can be brought back and applied, but in a different form.” Hora says, “There’s a lot to think about and pore over.”
Day three concluded the conference with two additional keynote presentations and a closing devotion, led by Rev. Michael Seifert, president of the WELS North Atlantic District.
For the first keynote on Wednesday, Prof. Luke Thompson presented “Thinking Differently: On How the Next Generation Thinks, and On How to Help Them Think,” where he addressed the types of doubt facing young Christians today. He stressed that in a world where everyone is “connected” digitally, what the younger generation truly needs is real connection and authentic relationships with their Christian family.
The final keynote was four TED-talk-style presentations from Rev. Mark Zarling, Dr. Donald Kudek, Rev. Luis Acosta, and Rev. David Scharf. Each presented his take on what Lutheran leadership is and why it’s important right now.
Attendees left the conference edified in their faith and inspired for their ministry. “I really like how not only did we have the keynote speakers but we got to choose breakout sessions that we think will line up with something we are really interested in or something that will help with our campus ministry,” says Hailey Russ, a student at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. “Not only am I getting personal information that will help me grow my faith and is firing me up a little bit, but also I have things that I want to take back to our campus ministry to implement.”
The ideas and inspiration could be overwhelming for WELS congregational leaders as they head home. Hein suggests, “Attendees don’t need to do everything all at once. There was a LOT there. But I’d love if those leaders would debrief about what they learned and pick a top priority or two to try and incorporate into their next annual plan.”
To find out more about the presenters or their presentations, visit lutheranleadership.com. Check back often as all the keynotes and several breakout sessions will be posted online in the coming weeks and months. Also, check out photos of the event online.
“Your gifts, God’s blessings: An annual report to our members” is now available online. The report includes photos of Christian brothers and sisters around the world, stories of faith, and updates on WELS’ ministry.
“As you read this annual report,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder, “join me in marveling at the grace of God—the grace of God that has brought us into his family and given us an eternal inheritance, and the grace of God that has blessed the work that he privileged us to carry out.”
These stories and more are presented in the 2023 edition of “Your gifts, God’s blessings.” Print versions of the report are being sent to every WELS congregation and individual donor. Additional print versions are available from Northwestern Publishing House for free. Visit nph.net or call 800-662-6022.
To view the report online, visit wels.net/annualreport. There you can also download a PowerPoint presentation of the report with notes that allow anyone to share the highlights of our synod’s work. Alternatively, churches can invite a WELS Christian giving counselor to give the presentation. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for more information.
The Conference of Presidents (COP) held its winter meeting Jan. 3-6, 2023, with all members present. Items addressed include the following:
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
In 2023, Forward in Christ (FIC) will include a special focus on Lutheran leadership. Each issue will contain features, editorials, or news stories that share insights and ideas to help and encourage readers as they strive to be Lutheran leaders in their congregations, homes, and communities.
Attendees of the 2023 WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership, being held Jan. 16–18 in Chicago, may recognize some topics and authors.
“Our goal is to build on the information presented at the conference, allowing those who attended an opportunity to continue to grow and offering those who couldn’t make it a chance to access expert knowledge on multiple topics involving Lutheran leadership,” says Rev. James Pope, FIC’s executive editor.
January’s FIC highlights Lutheran Leadership conference presenters’ views on what Lutheran leadership means to them.
Upcoming topics include:
Look for the Lutheran leadership icon to identify related articles.
Find articles and related materials online at forwardinchrist.net/lutheran-leadership.
We’re approaching the end of 2022. Undoubtedly, that leads us to look back at the year and to remember God’s numerous blessings. Those blessings were showered on us even through the many trials and difficulties we faced in a year of economic uncertainty, a terrible war in Europe, and political chaos. Through it all, God has continued to bless us with the comfort and guidance of his Word, the assurance of his unceasing grace, and the promises that he will never leave us or forsake us.
We will return to the manger in Bethlehem, where God demonstrated—in the most concrete way—the depth of his love for us.
But before the end of the year, we are approaching another important time—the season in which we pause to thank God for the greatest blessing of all. In just a few days, we will return to the manger in Bethlehem, where God demonstrated—in the most concrete way—the depth of his love for us. There, the One called Immanuel became man—to be with us and to be one of us. There, the One called Christ, was born to carry out the saving work that the Father sent him to do. There, in the manger, we see Jesus, the One who came in humility to save us from our sins.
As you gather with loved ones to celebrate this greatest gift of all, bring the thanks, the joy, and the peace that the Savior has given to us.
From all of us at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, have a most blessed Christmas!
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
The 67th biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod will be held at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., July 31—August 3. This will be the first “normal” convention after the pandemic necessitated a scaled-back, partially virtual convention in 2021.
The theme of the convention will be “Embrace the Cross—Anticipate the Crown.” The focus of this year’s convention theme will be twofold. As a synod, we embrace the cross of our Savior Jesus in a number of ways. We embrace the cross as we look to what Jesus did on the cross to win forgiveness and salvation for us. We embrace the cross as we offer our thanks and praise for the sacrifice he made. We embrace the cross as we proclaim to a sinful world what the Savior’s death on that cross means for them and for all people.
We embrace the cross in another way. As believers, we recognize that Jesus asked us to be willing to live under the cross in a sin-damaged world. Believers will experience hardships and trials. The church itself will be under constant attack by Satan and his followers. The church will face difficulties, challenges, and, from our human point of view, setbacks and obstacles. But as a synod and as individuals, we are reminded that we can bear those crosses willingly, even joyfully, knowing our God will never leave us or forsake us and his Word will always accomplish his gracious purpose in our lives and in our mission.
As we embrace the cross, we also anticipate the crown. God’s church, comprising all of God’s believers, looks ahead to when all of God’s promises will be completely fulfilled. We look ahead with confidence and trust to the time when God’s church will be transformed from the church militant to the church triumphant. We eagerly anticipate when the King of Kings, wearing his crown of victory, will take us to his side and crown us with the gift of eternal life.
So, this convention will focus on the here and now, on the meaning of the cross for our lives and on recognizing the work of the church will be one of continued struggle and spiritual warfare. But it will also focus on the time when our victorious and living Savior returns to make his final victory our final victory as well.
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
Reminder: The deadline for submitting memorials to be printed in the Book of Reports and Memorials is Jan. 15, 2023. Memorials submitted after Jan. 15 and approved for convention consideration will be posted on the convention website, welsconvention.net, if they are received by June 15, 2023. Further directions can be found at welsconvention.net. Send memorials to the President’s Office, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Dr, Waukesha WI 53188; firstname.lastname@example.org
This past fall, almost 30 congregations hosted WELS Youth Nights, offering area-congregation teens and youth leaders opportunities to grow in God’s Word and build relationships with one another.
Introduced at the 2022 International Youth Rally, WELS Youth Night is a series of three youth-focused events to bring teens and youth leaders from area churches together in between large rallies. WELS Discipleship provides all the resources to help congregations plan and run the events, which include games, food, music, prayer, a keynote address, and small group discussion.
King of Kings, Garden Grove, Calif., invited youth from 16 congregations in southern California to its WELS Youth Night in October. More than 50 6th- through 12th-graders from 8 different congregations attended.
“I had this dream of pulling [area youth groups] together out here just because when we get together it’s so special. But I was intimidated by all the work to make it happen,” says Mr. Josh Robertson, a teacher at King of Kings and the congregation’s youth and family elder. “At the youth rally, as I sat in on the WELS Youth Night presentation, I was floored by God and his goodness because literally my entire dream was already being planned by the synod.”
Robertson says he’s passionate about youth ministry because of all the societal pressure put on teenagers today. “I want to be able to share the gospel with them and help them be in a personal relationship with their Savior,” he says. “I think this event does that really well. They get to experience God’s love and Christ’s mercy and grace through growing with one another through games and play and fun but more importantly through worshiping their Lord, discussing important topics that need to be discussed, and praying together.”
Mr. Mike Leahy, the youth group leader at St. Paul, Howards Grove, Wis., also sees the importance of events like these. He coordinated St. Paul’s October WELS Youth Night, which gathered about 50 teens from 10 area congregations. “It’s good to expose them to other teens in the area . . . so they can see that there are more people their age who have the same passion for their Savior,” he says.
Mary Athorp, a senior at Howards Grove High School and a member at St. Paul, appreciated the event. “I knew it would be an incredible way to experience the community faith can create with other people,” she says. “I experienced this on a larger scale at the WELS International Youth Rally, so I was looking forward to the same idea but with a closer-knit group. I also wanted to learn how different people my age express their faith in God.”
Both Robertson and Leahy are helping plan a second WELS Youth Night in their areas this winter. Leahy prays that other congregations will take advantage of the easy-to-follow program: “Here’s a great event that can not only serve your church’s teens but other teens as well. It just takes that one person to start it.”
Learn more about WELS Youth Night at welscongregationalservices.net/wels-youth-night. The Youth Night #2 kit will be available later this week. Subscribe to the Youth Leader Resources newsletter to notified when the resource is released.
Along with Rev. Larry Schlomer, WELS World Missions administrator, and Missionary Howard Mohlke, head of the WELS One Africa Team, I was privileged to visit two of our sister synods in Africa in October. The experience is one I will never forget.
The first visit took place in Nairobi, Kenya. There we were greeted at the airport by representatives of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ–Kenya (LCMC–Kenya). The LCMC–Kenya was received into fellowship with WELS at our synod convention in 2019.
We had the opportunity to worship in the new partially constructed church building (made possible by the generous support of WELS members). We spent the next two days attending the synod convention of the LCMC–Kenya. The faith, zeal, and commitment of the pastors and laypeople attending the convention were truly moving. In the days after the convention, we visited several congregations where members themselves are erecting new church buildings.
Later in the week we traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There we were greeted by Dr. Kebede Yigezu, the president of the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). The LCE is also a relatively new sister synod of WELS, with fellowship declared at our synod convention in 2017.
One of the priorities of the LCE is Christian education on all levels. In a building in Bishoftu (also made possible by the generous gifts of WELS members), Dr. Kebede operates a school where three levels of theological training take place. We were privileged to attend the graduation of four men who had completed their training in one of the levels and are now ready to begin seminary training.
With his emphasis on Christian education, Dr. Kebede also has permission from the local government in Dukem to operate a Lutheran elementary school there. It will have an enrollment of 900 by next year. We visited the school at the start of the school day and were impressed by the enthusiasm of the students and the commitment of the teachers.
God is blessing the gospel ministries of these two growing sister synods. Your prayers and offerings have been a special blessing to them.
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
The Synodical Council (SC) held its fall meeting on Nov. 4-5, 2022. Four new members were welcomed: Mr. Brent Nemmers (South Central District lay representative), Mr. Chris Kestner (Michigan District lay representative), Rev. Phil Hirsch (Conference of Presidents representative), and Rev. Jonathan Schroeder (chairman of the Board for World Missions).
The SC reviewed the 2021-2022 financial results of the synod and its subsidiaries. Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) totaled $23.1 million, the first time that CMO has exceeded the $23 million level. That compares to $22.6 million in the previous year and is an increase of 2.2%. These higher-than-planned CMO receipts, coupled with underspending by areas of ministry, enabled the synod to end the fiscal year in solid financial shape. Synodical subsidiaries (WELS Church Extension Fund, WELS Investment Funds, WELS Foundation, Northwestern Publishing House) all reported strong financial results for the year.
For the first quarter of the current fiscal year, CMO support remains strong (4.3% higher than the previous year). Expenses are in line with the adopted plan.
The SC approved the first draft of the ministry financial plan (budget) for the 2023–2025 biennium. The proposed plan outlines planned synod support of $32,841,000 in the first year of the biennium and $33,742,000 in the second year. These are increases of 4.3% and 2.67%, respectively. Compensation for called and hired workers will increase by 2.5% in each year of the biennium. CMO expectations for the next biennium are expected to exceed $23 million in each year, continuing to remain above historic levels. The SC will revisit the ministry financial plan (including proposed compensation levels) in February 2023 and will make adjustments if the financial situation changes. Once the plan is adopted in February, it will be forwarded to the synod convention in July 2023 for consideration.
The SC set the new relocation reimbursement rate. Since moving expenses are taxable for all workers, lay workers will be reimbursed at a rate of 19.65% of the moving cost and called workers will be reimbursed at a rate of 27.3% of the moving cost. These rates assure that workers are reimbursed for additional taxes they may incur. All calling bodies are encouraged to follow this policy.
The SC approved a change to the compensation guidelines, encouraging calling bodies to review annually cash housing allowances for called workers who rent. This change was made because of the rapidly rising cost of renting.
The SC received progress reports from the ministerial schools regarding potential construction needs on the campuses. Master campus planning and feasibility studies are taking place at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; and Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.
The SC discussed a proposal that was submitted to the Conference of Presidents for consideration. The proposal is to change the synod convention from a biennial to a triennial convention. As was the case with the Conference of Presidents, the SC discussed both the pros and the cons of such a change. Such a change requires an amendment to the synod constitution (not just the bylaws). This means that if the COP decides to forward this proposal to the synod convention in 2023, it would need to be approved by the 2023 convention and discussed at 2024 district conventions, with final consideration happening at the 2025 convention. The COP will determine what to do with this proposal when it meets in January 2023.
The SC received an update on the work being done to develop the next long-range strategic plan for the synod. It’s expected that the final plan will be considered by the 2023 synod convention.
In July 2022, WELS Friendly Counselor Rev. Gregory Bey made his first visit to Indonesia since the pandemic began. Bey attended the convention of WELS’ sister synod in Indonesia, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI currently has about 1,650 members in 29 congregations served by 30 pastors and 5 vicars.
The GLI convention was held on the new seminary campus on the island of Java. Construction of this seminary, called Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL), was completed in 2021. Seminary classes are taught by Indonesian pastors with support from Bey. The seminary currently has 27 students, many of whom are graduates of a Lutheran high school that was established in July 2018.
“Walking through the new campus evoked emotions of exhilaration and excitement coupled with thankfulness to God for this beautiful blessing,” says Bey. “But it was interacting with the students, staff, and faculty that brought to mind these words of St. Paul: ‘Entrust the things you heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, to faithful men who will also be able to teach others’ ” (2 Timothy 2:2 Evangelical Heritage Version).
Bey concludes: “God-willing, STTL will produce a steady stream of qualified national pastors for many years to come.”
GLI continues to grow in number and maturity. In 2015, a plan was set in motion to transition a significant amount of financial support from WELS to GLI. Pastor salaries for men in established congregations will, prayerfully, be fully supported by local members by 2025. In some cases, GLI pastors may need to serve as “tent ministers” who support themselves with secular jobs. WELS would continue to provide funding for seminary professors and possibly the synod chairman. Savings could then be used to support building projects for existing churches as well as exploratory work in new regions. This is a huge step toward self-sufficiency and independence as a stand-alone church body.
WELS’ Asia One Team is in the process of calling for a full-time friendly counselor to support and advise the work in Indonesia. Bey has been filling the role on a quarter-time basis since he retired from full-time work in 2019.
Learn more at wels.net/indonesia.
Hear from Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief, about the damage that Hurricane Ian caused for WELS congregations and how the recovery process is going. See footage of volunteers in action as they work to help their brothers and sisters in Christ.
For more details, read “WELS Christian Aid and Relief responds to Hurricane Ian” at forwardinchrist.net/hurricane-ian.
In October, Baroque Plus, a Ukrainian musical group that includes members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), traveled to Germany to present concerts at several Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) congregations. These concerts were a thank you for the German church’s support to Ukrainian refugees who fled the country to escape the war with Russia. These concerts not only showed the ULC’s gratitude for that aid but also offered an opportunity to assimilate the refugees more fully into the German Lutheran churches.
Three sister church bodies—the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany, and WELS—worked together to plan the trip. Three ELFK congregations hosted the special worship services that included music from Baroque Plus, other German and Ukrainian hymns, gospel readings, devotions, and prayer.
“The services were edifying and beautiful,” says Rev. Roger Neumann, WELS’ liaison to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church. “Translators made it possible that three languages were used during the service: Ukrainian, German, and English. Although, for the Lord’s Prayer, all three languages were spoken at the same time, which was quite impressive.”
Fellowship times before, during, and after the services provided opportunities for members from the Ukrainian Church and German church to interact. “There was truly a unique bond of fellowship at each church, which flowed from a sense of empathy, Christian love and concern, and the powerful bond of unity that believers have in Christ. Strangers quickly became friends,” says Neumann. “We pray that those who attended the service, Ukrainian and German visitors who have no church home, will come again to learn more about Jesus and what he has done for them and for all people.”
Hanna Bulu, the leader of Baroque Plus and a member at Resurrection, Kiev, Ukraine, appreciated the opportunity to come to Germany. “After traveling thousands of kilometers from our native home, we met good friends in Germany—and also a long-forgotten feeling of peace and quiet. Such concerts are like bridges between churches, between hearts, between children of God, who are one in Christ.”
WELS, the ULC, and the ELFK are all part of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a group of 34 Lutheran church bodies from around the world committed to the teachings of the Lutheran Church found in the Book of Concord. This fellowship of believers offers support in faith and doctrine. “This was a blessing, given to us by our Lord, that flows from the unity of believers from around the world who form the CELC,” says Neumann. “The people from Ukraine who were there that week, as well as people from the various church bodies that form the CELC, can better understand that they are never alone.”
Read more thoughts about this trip from ELFK President Rev. Michael Herbst at wels.net/familyofbelievers.
Biblical doctrines and principles do not change. But there are times when those doctrines and principles need to be understood clearly as new situations arise and are addressed by the church. That is certainly true when it comes to what the Bible tells us about the God-given roles of men and women and the nature of their relationship with one another.
Our synod’s current doctrinal statement on the roles of men and women is called “Scriptural Principles of Man and Woman Roles.” After more than a decade of work and discussion, it was adopted by the 1993 synod convention as a correct explanation of biblical truth and as our synod’s formal doctrinal statement on the issue.
Since the adoption of “Scriptural Principles of Man and Woman Roles,” our synod’s doctrinal position has not changed; the statement still expresses biblical truth. But new questions and issues have arisen regarding the biblical roles of men and women that did not really exist in 1993. Understandably, those questions were not addressed at the time.
For those reasons, the Conference of Presidents determined that it would be beneficial for our synod to consider an updated restatement of the scriptural principles outlined in the 1993 document. After three years of work and study, a proposed draft of that statement is now ready. The new statement is entitled “God’s beautiful and balanced design for male and female.” The Conference of Presidents encourages you to study and discuss the statement and invites you to provide feedback.
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
Learn more about the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership straight from the workshop presenters themselves. Discover more about the topics that will be discussed and why it’s so important for both lay and called, male and female to attend. For a full list of all presentations and to register, visit lutheranleadership.com.
The Conference of Presidents (COP) met for its fall meeting October 4-7. The COP welcomed two new members, Rev. Daniel Leyrer, president of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, and Rev. Michael Seifert, president of the North Atlantic District.
As a part of its meeting, Rev. James Pope was installed as the new executive editor of Forward in Christ. Pope succeeds Rev. John Braun, who is retiring after 15 years in the position.
The COP approved a recommendation to shift the responsibilities of deferred giving counselor Scott Wagner from another district to the Southeastern Wisconsin District. Mr. Wagner has agreed to this change.
Currently there are 155 vacancies in pastoral positions, with 141 of those being in parishes. The remaining positions are in retirement calls (two), foreign mission positions (three), professor positions (five), and other pastorally trained positions (four).
The COP determined that a mechanism will be put in place to facilitate suggestions and questions regarding the restatement on the roles of men and women. A decision will be made at a later date as to whether the statement will be submitted to the 2023 synod convention or whether additional study is beneficial.
The COP heard an initial report from the task force studying teacher shortages. That task force will continue its work. Mr. Jim Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools, also provided an update on the development of a new K-12 religion curriculum. The COP will call someone to lead this project later this year.
Home Missions provided an update on the 100 missions in 10 years effort. Planning is continuing, and the initiative will begin in 2023. World Missions also provided updates on the work our synod is doing in India, Africa, Hong Kong, Thailand, and London. World Missions continues to be the conduit for ongoing relief efforts in Ukraine.
Rev. Jon Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, introduced a proposal to better utilize the staff members who oversee the work of the various commissions of Congregational Services. A detailed proposal will be presented to the COP at a future meeting.
The COP asked me to appoint a task force to study ways to identify alternatives to Title IV funding (federal student loans and grants) and to explore possible ways to increase financial assistance to students preparing for ministry. The recommendations are intended to be placed before the synod convention in 2023.
The COP approved the creation of a practical, viable, multi-tiered system of professional and ministry certification to support early childhood teachers currently serving in the field. Plans also call for a suite of resources that can be used by early childhood ministries and congregations to better prepare early childhood staffs for teaching in WELS schools.
Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder
It’s been a busy fall for WELS Home Missions.
“As WELS Home Missions prepares for the official launch of its 100 missions in 10 years initiative in 2023, it’s exciting to see all the ministry that God is already blessing,” says Mr. Sean Young, senior director of WELS Missions Operations. “We’re committed to aggressively reaching lost souls throughout North America with the gospel—today and in the years to come.”
For more information about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.
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