COP addresses major topics at its fall meeting

The Conference of Presidents (COP) held its fall meeting last week at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis.

Two years ago a special committee was appointed by the Synodical Council to consider ways to improve the WELS pension plan for called workers. That committee has completed its work; its recommendation will be considered by the Synodical Council in November. Since the Conference of Presidents has a vital interest in the called workers of the synod, the committee shared the details of its proposal with the COP. The COP expressed its support for the recommendation and will forward its endorsement to the Synodical Council. If the Synodical Council adopts it, the detailed proposal will be made public and sent to the districts for consideration at their conventions this summer.

The COP adopted a document entitled “Human sexuality, Personhood, Identity, and the Historic Christian Faith: A Confession on Human Sexuality.” This document was written to address the current controversy and unbiblical views of the transgender issue. A shorter pastoral brief on the issue is also being prepared to help pastors as they address this issue in their ministry. These documents will be ready for publication as soon as they are placed into final form.

Another major decision of the COP was to accept the work of a committee that has produced a restatement of our synod’s doctrinal position on the God-given roles of man and women. “Male and Female in God’s Word” does not represent any change in our synod’s position; rather it is intended to clarify and expand on several aspects of the issue that are not fully addressed in the current WELS doctrinal statement. An accompanying Bible study has also been produced. These materials will be made available later this fall for study and discussion at pastor and teacher conferences and in congregations. Input and questions will be sought during the next year, and the statement will be presented to the synod convention for approval in 2021.

The COP is continuing its work on revisions to the synod’s bylaws that deal with the process of discipline for called workers and congregations.

Finally, the COP is also continuing to investigate whether the IRS provisions allowing ministers of the gospel to deduct their housing expenses applies to female teachers. There are some questions about whether the IRS and the courts have changed in their interpretation of this law and whether female teachers qualify for the deduction. The COP will report its findings as soon as they are available.

Serving in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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OWLS mining for Jesus at annual convention

The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) was “mining for Jesus” this year at its annual convention for seniors in Galena, Ill., Oct. 7-9. The region around Galena was known for mining of lead when the first settlers came to the area, but the OWLS came in search of spiritual treasure found only in the Savior and the life he gives.

The four main speakers presented ways to be “miners for Jesus.” Missionary Dan Sargent presented on how God helps us to accomplish his plans bit by bit, Christian Life Resources Director Rev. Bob Fleischmann shared how a lifetime of experience prepares us, Special Ministries Director Rev. Jim Behringer’s presentation was titled “Christian caring matters,” and Chaplain Ken Wenzel spoke about lessons on Christian hope connected with medical objects.

Galena is known for its historic downtown and the beautiful countryside around it. Attendees had the opportunity to visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in nearby Dubuque, Iowa­, before the opening of the convention. An unexpected highlight of the convention happened as a result of a last-minute necessity. The cancellation of the musical entertainment led the organizers to ask OWLS President Norman Schell to do a presentation on the American effort to put a man on the moon. Schell worked on the Apollo project and showed some never-before-seen pictures of the project.

The OWLS rejoiced at the creation of a new OWLS branch in Downers Grove, Ill. Members of the new branch were present to receive their charter and a warm welcome into the organization.

For more than a decade, the OWLS has used its offerings to support the WELS European Civilian chaplaincy, which serves military personnel and WELS civilians in Europe. This year, the OWLS presented Military Services with a check for $50,000 for work in Europe. Two convention offerings and record proceeds from a silent auction were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplain in Europe as well.

The OWLS also provides $350 scholarships to six Martin Luther College students. This year’s recipients are Claudia Meyer, Morgan Gosch, Daniel Bilitz, Dayne Kopfer, Clara Kammueller, and Derek Gulrud.

Professor Em. John Paulsen, OWLS executive director, says, “This convention provided a chance for everyone to grow in historical knowledge and about researching and preserving your own history. Everyone I talked with said that they had learned so much and enjoyed the convention at the Eagle Ridge Resort, all the while able to see eagles soar in the distance over the lake below.”

The 2020 OWLS convention for seniors will be held in New Ulm, Minn. With the theme “Tell the Next Generation,” the convention will have a special focus on Martin Luther College. The convention is open to all seniors in WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, regardless of OWLS membership.

 

 

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Equipping Christian Witnesses effort underway

Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., is embarking on a two-year synodwide offering called “Equipping Christian Witnesses.”

Martin Luther College (MLC) is our WELS college of ministry. It prepares nearly all of our called workers, training teachers and staff ministers to serve when they graduate and providing college-level training to young men who will enroll at the seminary to prepare to serve as pastors. Our synod is experiencing a great need for more called workers, and that is what this effort intends to help address.

The offering will provide resources to increase recruitment efforts around the synod.

In addition to that, it will address one barrier to enrollment at MLC: the cost of education. Even though MLC strives to keep educational costs down (and is widely considered to be successful in doing that), the prayer is that this offering will assist in recruitment by providing additional resources for student financial aid, reducing the need for students to borrow for their education.

Another goal of this offering is to provide funds that will help the college improve its facilities, particularly student housing and recreation facilities. While certainly not the main motivation for studying for the ministry, campus facilities do play an important role in recruitment.

We pray that God will move the hearts of our congregations and their members to take part in this opportunity to support the important work that MLC is doing on behalf of us all.

To learn more, visit mlc-wels.edu/mlc-campaign.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Commission on Inter-Church Relations holds its fall meeting

The WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR) held its fall meeting last week. The CICR serves under the Conference of Presidents in the following ways:

  • To preserve and strengthen—on the basis of complete unity in scriptural doctrine and practice —the bond of confessional fellowship with those church bodies with which such fellowship already exists.
  • To extend the bond of confessional fellowship with other church bodies where complete unity in scriptural doctrine and practice becomes apparent.
  • To extend the true doctrine and practice of the evangelical Lutheran church by offering testimony and assistance—outside of fellowship—to groups that show a desire to grow in their understanding of scriptural doctrine and practice.
  • To keep itself informed on doctrinal trends as they become evident in the church at large.
  • To formulate doctrinal statements needed for dealing with other church bodies and, upon request, to address other doctrinal issues.

The members of the CICR keep in contact with churches around the world that are a part of our worldwide fellowship. Those contacts are intended to provide encouragement and support to those churches and to keep our synod informed of how God is blessing those church bodies. In addition, members of the CICR are also assigned to monitor and observe what is happening in Lutheran church bodies that are not a part of our fellowship. A good part of the meeting was spent reviewing reports from CICR members.

The CICR also participates in reviewing requests from Lutheran groups around the world seeking possible fellowship with our synod. In the past two years, the CICR has recommended to the synod convention to recognize and declare fellowship with Lutheran church bodies in Ethiopia and Kenya. Other opportunities continue to increase, especially in Africa, with inquiries coming to us from countries like Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, and others. The same can be said about Asia (Vietnam, Bangladesh, the Philippines) and Latin America (Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, and others)

God continues to open doors of opportunity for the proclamation of the saving gospel. Please pray that God would continue to build his church around the world. Pray also for your Commission on Inter-Church Relations as it works diligently to strengthen these fellowship relationships.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Celebrating the blessings of WELS youth ministry

As one decade comes to a close and another begins, WELS youth ministry programs have exciting milestones and events on the horizon.

First, the monthly video news magazine Kids Connection is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Created to complement the WELS Connection monthly video news magazine, Kids Connection encourages children and their families to “stay connected to Jesus” through Christ-centered stories and segments presented by two teenage hosts.

“We have an incredible number of passionate kids and adults in our church body,” says Mrs. Kris Snyder, producer. “God places each of us in spaces and situations and in different relationships to nurture our faith and provide us with opportunities to serve him by serving others. Kids Connection is our chance to share their stories and connect us through our common faith.”

Snyder recalls how the tagline “stay connected to Jesus” first came to be a signature element of the program.

“Early on, we used the line ‘stay connected to Jesus’ to close a few episodes, just encouraging kids to stay in their Bibles, to learn more about their Savior,” Snyder says. “Soon, kids began to quote that line when they wrote letters to us; it became a permanent tagline. I even heard it used during one of our WELS grade school graduations!”

Kids Connection is valuable in numerous settings, including grade schools, Sunday schools, preschools, early childhood education centers, and Christian homes. It can even be shown after worship for the whole congregation or during visits to elderly homebound church members.

Another way for young people to stay connected is the WELS International Youth Rally. The next rally will be held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, June 23–26, 2020, under the theme “Vision 2020: Seeing Christ Clearly, Serving Christ Boldly.”

“So much in our culture distracts, distorts, or outright denies the incredible love of God who sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for their sins,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Commission on Discipleship. “This rally will position Christ and his cross in front of them to encourage clarity of faith and motivate bold service to him in their lives.”

Youth rally attendees will join more than 2,000 others who share their faith, making this event the largest regular assembly of WELS members. Special speakers and workshops will further bring into focus the meaning of their Savior’s presence in their lives today and in the life to come. Christ-centered discussions of critical topics like evangelism, anxiety, and social media will guide and empower teens long after the event.

“We don’t want the rally to impact them for just four days,” says Dobberstein. “We want this to be transformational in their lives as they understand who they are and what their God has equipped them to do.”

Attendees also will be able to enjoy the Anakeesta Theme Park, river tubing, paintball, and other recreational activities around Knoxville for an additional fee, all the time growing through fellowship with their Christian brothers and sisters.

Churches and schools are encouraged to start promoting and planning for the youth rally by announcing the dates of the event to church teens and youth leaders and by connecting with the event on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Registration booklets will be available at churches and online in January. Early-bird registration begins March 2.

To learn more about and subscribe to Kids Connection, visit wels.net/kidsconnection. To learn more about the 2020 WELS International Youth Rally, visit wels.net/youthrally.

 

 

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WELS CEF special rates coming to an end

To meet the need for increasing requests for loans from WELS home missions and mission-minded congregations, WELS Church Extension Fund (WELS CEF) has been offering special interest rates for new investors.

For a limited time, WELS CEF has been 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. The opportunity to invest under these terms is ending Sept. 30.

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, has been seeking to raise approximately $10 million in investments. So far, investments of nearly $9 million have been made.

Mr. Scott Page, director of WELS CEF, says, “WELS Church Extension Fund would like to thank all our investors. These investments help WELS missions and self-supporting congregations build and expand their ministries. We are pleased to assist you in being good stewards of your gifts while also providing funding to help spread the gospel around the United States.”

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.

 

 

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Ministerial education school enrollments

Total enrollment at the four ministerial education schools for the 2019-20 school year is 1,452, down slightly from 1,487 last year. Two of the schools saw small increases from last year; the other two schools experienced slightly lower enrollments.

Here are the unofficial opening enrollments at each school:

We thank God for moving these young people to prepare for the public ministry. We pray that he would bless them in their studies and bless the work of our ministerial education schools.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Lutheran Leadership Conference to kick off 2020

WELS Congregational Services will host the first WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 21-23. WELS Congregational Services works under the Conference of Presidents to help congregations assess, plan, and carry out gospel ministry.

The conference will have five keynote presentations that deal with major cultural challenges before every WELS congregation. Twenty-five breakout sessions will deal with issues specific to certain congregations, including overcoming a consumer mentality in church, Christian apologetics, increasing volunteerism, retaining and gaining young members, fully utilizing the gifts of women in ministry, equipping members for personal evangelism, having a “high-expectations” church, strategic planning, using social media for outreach, operating a financially sustainable elementary school, and more.

“I hope individuals walk away from this conference with three things,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of Congregational Services. “First, I hope they are motivated to throw themselves into gospel ministry in every way: feeding the faithful, reaching the lost, and pursuing the straying. Second, I hope attendees better understand the massive challenges before our congregations but also realize that God will help us meet those challenges. Finally, I hope that they can take home some practical resources from the breakout sessions that they can immediately implement in their mission efforts.”

The National Conference on Lutheran Leadership is open to all: called workers and lay volunteers, men and women, lifelong Lutherans and new congregants. Congregations are encouraged to send multiple participants to the conference.

“A church gets the most out of a conference like this when there is a critical mass of members attending,” Hein says. “They can divide up and hit every relevant breakout. They can present a united, excited voice when they go back to their congregation.”

Travel rebates are available for congregations that send three or more individuals to the event.

Registration is now open, with an early registration discount through Oct. 31. Register online at lutheranleadership.com. There you can also find free promotional materials—including a video, posters, social media graphics, and other digital images.

 

 

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Learning to be a church that welcomes members home

As part of its “Welcome Home” initiative resources, WELS Congregational Services released a series of four videos with accompanying Bible studies to address some of the most common reasons Christians stop attending church and how to show love and minister to these members. The videos are meant to be used by congregational leaders and members to guide congregations as they strive to bring straying sheep back to the Good Shepherd. Rev. Nate Bourman, Mt. Lebanon, Milwaukee, Wis., was featured in the videos discussing how to be a welcoming congregation.

Bourman explains that a welcoming church is “a church where no one stands or sits alone; everyone feels comfortable and safe. A place where everyone knows what is going on and feels that they can navigate the facilities or get information about our congregation. A place where parents, adults, and children feel safe to hear God’s Word and can easily participate and are welcomed to participate.”

He says the most common reasons he’s heard that members haven’t felt welcome is because they weren’t greeted, no one talks to them, and they felt like an outsider. “It’s possible to be a stranger in your own house,” says Bourman.

It’s important that all members participate in being a welcoming church. “Care and concern for the members of the church is not just the pastor’s job. It is not just the elders’ job. It is the job of each and every member. Love calls us to participate in their care. None of us sits on the sidelines when it comes to welcoming God’s people home,” says Bourman. “All are coming to church with sin and weakness and brokenness and frustration. Be part of the throng rejoicing to gather for worship with each other.”

All congregations are encouraged to participate in the Welcome Home Sunday, either Oct. 20 or 27, 2019. The mission is to “pack the church” with every member. The four videos and accompanying Bible studies in the Welcoming Returning Members series—“Members drawn away because of sin,” “Members who left after being sinned against,” “Members whose needs were ignored,” and “Members who left for another church”—are available at welscongregationalservices.net/welcome-home.

 

 

 

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C19: Sharing the meaning of Christmas with others

According to current research, Christmas is the most appealing time for the unchurched and dechurched to attend a worship service. That makes C19, this year’s synodwide outreach campaign for Christmas, a critical opportunity.

Available from WELS Congregational Services, C19 equips congregations and individuals to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with others in their community and to invite them to Christmas worship services. This year’s theme is “God so loved the world.”

“Many people look at the pain and suffering in our world and conclude that either there is no God or that, if there is a God, he doesn’t love the world,” explains Rev. Eric Roecker, director of WELS Commission on Evangelism. “Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem proves that God does indeed love the world, a world that includes every single soul.”

Here are some of the resources that are available:

  • Worship materials for Christmas. C19 provides ready-to-use worship folder templates with liturgy and music that edify heart, soul, and mind.
  • Evangelism materials for Christmas Eve. Low-cost outreach postcards as well as free Facebook video advertisement and digital files to post on church websites are available to share the message of the theme.
  • School resources. C19 provides guidance for using schools as outreach arms during the Christmas season. The program resources help encourage even the youngest WELS members to invite others to worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • Special needs ministry. C19 includes materials to help congregations reach out to families who have children with special needs.

About 70 percent of WELS congregations utilized some or all of the resources provided through 2018’s synodwide outreach campaign, C18. Its goal was to reach one million souls, and Roecker has high hopes again this year with C19: “With the Lord’s blessing, we would like to see more than one million people invited,” he says.

Many C19 materials will be offered as free downloads at welscongregationalservices.net/c19. Some materials are available now; others will be provided in the coming weeks. Pastors and interested laypeople should sign up now to receive updates, which will include notices when new materials are posted online as well as planning tips and timelines to carry out the program successfully.

 

 

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WELS convention highlights

Delegates to the 65th biennial synod convention, held at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minn., three weeks ago, have much to remember and to share with others as they return to their home congregations.

Illustrating how our worldwide fellowship of confessional Lutherans continues to grow, our synod had the privilege of declaring fellowship with two overseas Lutheran church bodies. The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ—Kenya is a relatively new Lutheran church body that is united with WELS in doctrine and practice. The Christian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Taiwan had its origin as a WELS mission in 1968 and has since become an independent church body. The convention formally declared fellowship with both Lutheran churches; delegates cast their unanimous votes with a standing ovation.

The convention approved the synod’s two-year ministry financial plan recommended by the Synodical Council. No changes were made to the plan that was proposed. This plan outlines the financial support that will be provided to all areas of ministry for the next two years.

Numerous changes to the synod’s bylaws were approved. Most of these changes involved bringing more consistency to the length of terms on various boards and committees. Nearly all positions are now four-year terms, with a person able to succeed himself twice.

Twenty memorials (requests for convention action) were acted upon by the convention via floor committee reports and resolutions.

Director of the WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling Rev. Jon Hein’s keynote presentation provided an honest evaluation of membership trends and the challenges posed by a changing culture. He outlined the synod’s plans to address these challenges making use of the means of grace and committing all results to the hands of the Holy Spirit.

After hearing reports from all areas of the synod’s missions and ministries, many delegates commented that for the first time they had a real picture of the scope and nature of the many things we are doing together as a synod. They expressed an eagerness to return home to share what they had learned with their congregations.

Rev. Joel Voss was re-elected as the synod second vice president and I was blessed and honored to be elected to serve another term as synod president.

The convention was another opportunity for WELS to acknowledge the amazing grace of God as he works through us to proclaim the gospel now and, as the convention theme stated, “for the generations to come.”

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Access all synod convention news and materials at wels.net/2019synodconvention.

 

 

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Serving generations in the future through endowments

WELS Foundation announced it has distributed $2.9 million from more than 300 endowments through its endowment program this year. WELS ministerial education schools received $1.9 million, and WELS Missions received $508,000. The remainder was distributed to congregations, schools, or other WELS/WELS-affiliated ministries that benefit from donor-designated endowments.

WELS Foundation manages endowment funds established by individuals, congregations, or other WELS organizations for the benefit of Christ’s work. These donor-restricted gifts are invested with WELS Investment Funds into its endowment allocation (a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds; learn more here). Annual distributions from the endowment investment returns provide a source of ongoing financial support for WELS ministries.

But the support isn’t just for ministries; it’s for people like Mr. Jonathan Neumann, who is starting his final year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., and Rev. Adam Lambrecht, a 2019 WLS graduate and a new missionary in Laramie, Wyo. Both Neumann and Lambrecht received tuition assistance grants for their schooling from an endowment through their congregation Crown of Life, Pueblo West, Colo.

Mrs. Helen Kuehl, a WELS member who lived in the area, set up a charitable remainder trust through WELS Foundation in her will. In 2016, the Rev. Ernst Claus Kuehl Memorial Scholarship Fund—named in memory of Helen’s late husband—was established with the remainder of that trust to help local students studying for the ministry. Each year, Crown of Life receives a distribution from that fund to help pay college or seminary expenses for members who are studying to become full-time called workers.

“The people who knew her talked about how she had a passion for the synod and the long-range view of people sharing the gospel,” says Rev. David Wietzke, pastor at Crown of Life.

Neumann says it was a big relief to receive this help. “It’s peace of mind when it comes to you,” he says. “It also sets you up for the future. As you’re leaving school, you don’t have to be thinking about debt in the same way.”

But the funding doesn’t only help financially. Neumann says receiving a gift like this shows him how invested an individual and a congregation are in his future ministry, even if he may not be serving their church directly. “It’s a testimony to the power of the gospel,” he says. “It’s an encouragement of faith.”

Wietzke shares that if Crown of Life doesn’t have a member currently studying for the ministry, the congregation sends the money directly to WLS for needs-based tuition assistance. “It’s neat to know that we can make a difference,” he says. “And this isn’t a one-time thing. This is something we can do every single year.”

He continues, “It’s a great example of how people can be thinking past their own time on earth. They can be serving the gospel to generations in the future.”

To learn more about adding to an existing endowment or setting up an endowment for a ministry close to your heart, contact your local Christian giving counselor at wels.net/giving-counselors. To learn more about WELS Foundation, visit wels.net/foundation.

 

 

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New Bible translation available

A new translation of the Bible—the Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV)—is now available from Northwestern Publishing House (NPH).

More than one hundred people—pastors, professors, teachers, and laypeople—have been working on the translation since 2013, all under the direction of the Wartburg Project, an independent Lutheran Bible translation effort by WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) pastors and professors. About 30 WELS and ELS pastors and professors were involved in translating and the technical review, and 100 people served as proofreaders and popular reviewers. “By the time it was done, at least ten people had read every book,” says Rev. John Brug, general editor and Old Testament editor. All are volunteers, except Brug, who worked full time.

The EHV aims to provide a balanced translation that is good for all uses in the church, according to Brug. This means it preserves traditional familiar biblical idioms while better clarifying some language that may be confusing in other translations. Being balanced also means that “sometimes you have to be a little more literal in your translation, and sometimes you have to be a little more free,” says Brug. “We tried to look at each passage in its own case and not have one rulebook that covered everything.”

While only WELS members and those in fellowship with WELS worked on the translation, Brug is quick to note that this is not a “WELS Bible,” and it is not just for Lutherans. “No one should be able to say there is a Lutheran slant in the translation,” Brug says.

The Wartburg Project is working on content for an EHV study Bible that will provide Lutheran commentary on the passages. It hopes to have an electronic version available by the end of the year.

A committee appointed by the Conference of Presidents has reviewed the EHV. In its report, it writes, “Several of our reviewers expressed the hope that the EHV will continue to go through an editing process in anticipation of future editions. . . . At the same time, we find the translation accurate and faithful, and can recommend it for use in our church” (2019 Book of Reports and Memorials, p. 8). Brug says that the Wartburg Project welcomes suggestions to improve the translation. He anticipates reviewing changes for revisions after three to five years.

The new edition of Luther’s catechism from NPH using the EHV translation is available for preorder. It also is available using the English Standard Version and the New International Version 2011 translations. This is an example of NPH’s use of the eclectic approach: offering multiple translation choices when possible for a single resource.

Brug says he has been blessed to have been able to take part in a project of this scope. “I certainly learned a lot, but the greatest thing is the spirit with which the participants worked,” he says. “To work together with my brothers and sisters in Christ on God’s Word—the whole Bible—intensely for five years is a great blessing, and we hope it will also be a blessing to those who use what we developed.”

Learn more about the EHV translation at wartburgproject.org. Order the translation at nph.net. Read the full review of the EHV.

 

 

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WELS VEBA offering full open enrollment

WELS Benefit Plans will offer a full open enrollment into the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan from Nov. 1 through Dec. 2, 2019. This means any eligible workers at WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) sponsoring organizations, including organizations that do not currently participate in WELS VEBA, can enroll for WELS VEBA medical benefits effective Jan. 1, 2020. Workers who are currently enrolled will also be able to add or remove eligible family members and/or change to a different deductible option during this open enrollment.

This year, the annual rate increase is only two percent, significantly lower than projected. This type of rate stability is possible because the cost of health care is shared across all participating sponsoring organizations. Grouping together all covered workers under one plan allows WELS VEBA premium costs to be as low as reasonably possible and stable over time.

“If an organization or worker has wanted to return to the VEBA plan or to participate in the VEBA plan for the first time, this will likely be the best opportunity for the foreseeable future,” says Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of WELS Benefit Plans.

He continues, “WELS VEBA is purposefully designed for workers serving at WELS and ELS ministries. As a plan sponsored by a religious organization, WELS VEBA is uniquely consistent with both God’s Word and the law.”

A full open enrollment is not guaranteed to be offered every year. Eligible workers will receive a packet of enrollment materials in late October. Currently, more than 80 percent of WELS calling bodies participate in the WELS VEBA plan. Learn more about WELS Benefit Plans and how to participate at welsbpo.net.

 

 

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Equipping women to be “living stones”

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4). This was the theme passage for the WELS Women’s Ministry Conference held July 18–20 at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. More than 325 women attended to learn how women thrive in any circumstance when they understand they are part of the spiritual house God is building.

“No two women are alike, which meant we needed to design a conference that would nurture, encourage, and equip women with God’s Word to be ‘living stones’ whether that was at work, with friends, at the park, or in church,” said Dawn Schulz, a presenter and member of the Women’s Ministry team. “Christians are unique by God’s design and united by God’s purpose all at the same time. Like the New Testament Christians Peter was writing to, we need to be encouraged that we are part of something bigger than ourselves—God’s spiritual house. We also need the reminder to have confidence to use our unique gifts and talents because what we do is acceptable through Jesus Christ.”

To accomplish that, the conference explored how women can use their God-given gifts and talents to build up God’s kingdom and be a blessing to others around them, wherever that may be. Presentation topics included understanding your spiritual gifts, working in diverse teams, speaking your faith in love, supporting Christian students on the secular campus, understanding and supporting young adults, resources for teaching women’s Bible study, and godly characteristics in the workplace.

“The conference was stimulating,” says Gail O’Keefe from Waupaca, Wis. “There were many diverse topics to choose from, and I found many I was excited to sit in on.”

“I loved being at the conference with so many amazing women,” says Lori Lorig, one of the conference’s presenters. “My prayer is each woman feels empowered to boldly live out her personal calling and that we as individuals value one another’s uniqueness.”

Naomi Schmidt reminded the attendees of God’s purpose for their lives in her presentation entitled, “God Uses All of the Legos.” “Christian women are built and resting on the solid rock of Christ,” said Schmidt “Because of that, God uses the way he uniquely designed each woman to be an integral part of a holy temple he is building here on earth. Without understanding the big picture or final goal, our daily life and struggles can be overwhelming.”

Dinah Spurgin from New Ulm, Minn., was thankful for that message. “This conference was exactly what I needed, at exactly the time I needed it. . . . I get so trapped in my world of trying to problem solve everything, that I forget daily that I am not in control. I very much needed to be reminded that I am cut from the Living Stone, that is Christ. Because of him, I am precious, and I am chosen.”

WELS Women’s Ministry, part of the WELS Commission on Adult Discipleship, holds a conference every three years. Learn more about WELS Women’s Ministry. Access conference written presentations and video presentations.

 

2019 WELS Women's Ministry Conference 

 

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Delegates present reports and resolutions

Synod convention delegates concluded their work on Thursday morning by presenting, discussing, and approving reports and resolutions.

Floor committees began bringing their reports and resolutions to the convention floor on Wednesday morning. The first two resolutions were highly anticipated before the convention—resolutions to declare fellowship with the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ–Kenya and the Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church in Taiwan.

Delegates continued to support world mission work by designating the opening worship service offering of $5,038 to WELS’ efforts for Hmong outreach in Vietnam. In addition, delegates approved a resolution encouraging congregations to schedule a mission festival, participate in a WELS Mission Journeys team, and to increase Congregation Mission Offerings to assist World Missions.

Teacher Jim Henrickson, chairman of the floor committee considering the work of the Commission on Lutheran Schools, presented two resolutions dealing with financial support for Lutheran Schools. The first resolution requests increased financial support for the 21st-Century Lutheran Principal Initiative, which helps to address the growing need for school leaders in WELS schools. The second resolution requests that the “Synodical Council give strong consideration to increased funding for the Commission on Lutheran Schools.” Delegates approved both resolutions.

Rev. Jay Bickelhaupt, chairman of the Conference of Presidents Floor Committee, presented a resolution titled “Encouraging education about the staff ministry program.” The resolution calls for the synod to publicize the staff ministry program more widely among local congregations and schools and that “congregations looking to fill vacancies or seeking to expand ministry be informed by their district president about the benefits and availability of staff ministers.” Delegates approved this resolution.

Teacher Paul Scriver, chairman of the Constitutional Matters Floor Committee, was the first chairman to present on Thursday morning. Scriver read 17 resolutions dealing with bylaw revisions. These changes were all recommended either by the Synodical Council, the Conference of Presidents, or the Board for Ministerial Education. Delegates approved all 17 resolutions.

Delegates also approved a resolution encouraging WELS members to support Martin Luther College’s two-year campaign titled “Equipping Christian Witnesses.” The campaign is focused on increasing enrollment and student financial aid as well as improving student facilities.

The final resolution of the convention looked ahead to the next synod convention in 2021. Delegates resolved that the 66th biennial convention of WELS will be held at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.

For a full list of all resolutions made at this convention, visit wels.net/2019synodconvention.

 

 

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New partners in Christ

Delegates welcomed two new church bodies—the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ—Kenya (LCMC) and the Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church of Taiwan (CLEC)—into confessional Lutheran fellowship with WELS on Wednesday morning.

Representatives from both Kenya and Taiwan were present at the convention: Rev. Mark Onunda, chairman of the LCMC, and his wife, Grace, and Rev. Peter Chen and Mr. Michael Lin from the CLEC.

“My wife and I have traveled far to be with you these few days,” said Onunda when addressing the delegates. “Our short time together will secure a lifelong partnership to advance our positions in many fields of battle.”

The LCMC, a church body of 25 pastors, 46 congregations, and between 3,000 and 5,000 members, is relatively young. Registered as an independent church body in Kenya in 2013, it formed after several of its pastors and churches broke away from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya because of false teachings. This fledging church body immediately began searching for like-minded confessional Lutherans. After they made contact with WELS World Missions in 2014, Prof. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, visited Onunda for the first time in Kenya in 2015. The Lutheran Church of Central Africa—Zambia, WELS’ sister synod, declared fellowship with the LCMC last September.

“With our blessed partnership in place, your brothers and sisters in Kenya can now attend to our most pressing challenges,” says Onunda. “We want to be aggressive in our mission work. We want to be strong in our encouragement of the pastors and congregations already in our church body. . . . There is also the pressing challenge of human need and suffering among our Lutheran people in Kenya.” This includes partnering with WELS to serve South Sudanese refugees living in Kakuma, Kenya.

The Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church (CLEC) in Taiwan started as a mission of WELS, with missionaries serving there from 1979 through 2013. The CLEC is now an independent church body.

“We are happy to be united with WELS in faith,” said Chen to the delegates. “WELS is like a mother to us.”

Chen notes that church members were unsure about what would happen to their church when the missionaries left. “When I go back, I can let my members know WELS hasn’t left us!” he says. “Now they declare we are in fellowship with each other so even if there are no missionaries in Taiwan, it doesn’t make a difference. We are one.”

Chen was also impressed by the theme of the convention, “For the generations to come.” He is training Lin to be a leader for one of the four CLEC churches. Lin will finish his training this year. “This is a good chance to pass on the whole idea of who we are and who we belong to for the next generation,” he says.

This was Lin’s first trip to the United States. He was amazed by the opening worship service. “I will go back [to my congregation] with lots of pictures and stories. I can tell them this is the way our mother church is,” he says.

The CLEC has four congregations, one pastor (Chen), and about 100 members. Three men, including Lin, are training to serve congregations as tent ministers. It is reaching out in a country of 23 million people, of which 5 percent are Christian. “Please pray for us,” says Chen.

Delegates celebrated the declaration of fellowship by joining together to sing, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation” (Christian Worship 531).

 

 

 

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Delegates approve ministry financial plan

On Wednesday afternoon, synod convention delegates approved the Synodical Council’s proposed ministry financial plan—or budget—with no changes.

“This plan balances trust that God will continue to provide with the many mission opportunities that he is placing before us,” says Rev. Steven Gabb, chairman of the Ministry Financial Plan Floor Committee.

Rev. Jonathan Schroeder, chairman of the Synodical Council’s Ministry Committee, explains that the development of the ministry financial plan is a collaborative process between the areas of ministry, synod leadership, and the Synodical Council.

“It’s that collaboration that has impressed me most during my 10 years serving on the Synodical Council,” says Schroeder. “These groups work together to develop a plan that balances resources with priorities and emerging opportunities. President Schroeder and his advisory committee bring a kingdom-wide perspective to the task.”

The Synodical Council divides the responsibility for the ministry financial plan between the Finance Committee and the Ministry Committee. The Finance Committee determines the financial support levels and the total size of the budget. The Ministry Committee then allocates the resources to the various areas of ministry.

“The hardest part of the process comes when we have to determine which initiatives or projects won’t be included in the ministry financial plan,” says Schroeder. “For each synod convention we prepare a list of unfunded priorities to show the delegates the ministry programs we could accomplish if God blesses us with more resources.”

In a separate resolution on Wednesday, synod convention delegates also passed the unfunded priority list proposed by the Synodical Council.

“WELS is financially sound and the budget is balanced,” notes Mr. Todd Poppe, chief financial officer of WELS. “The increases in support that we have forecast are modest, so ministry opportunities have been left unfilled. If God blesses us with more than we forecast, we can begin to fund items on the unfunded priority list.”

Schroeder concludes by saying, “Every year God’s people provide these amazing gifts through Congregation Mission Offerings and individual offerings. It is a high privilege to be involved in organizing how they are implemented to fulfill Christ’s mission to call the elect to faith through the gospel.”

 

 

 

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New capital campaign for Martin Luther College announced

On Wednesday evening, delegates learned about a new two-year capital campaign for Martin Luther College (MLC) called “Equipping Christian Witnesses.” This campaign will help MLC celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2020.

“Our gracious Savior, who ‘is not willing that any should perish,’ is opening mission doors beyond our imagination!” says Rev. Mark Zarling, MLC president. “As the WELS College of Ministry, we at Martin Luther College want to seize these opportunities—to his glory! Now is the time for all of us to equip even more Christian witnesses to share Christ’s love with the world. This is what this campaign is all about.”

Zarling shared that the three pillars of the campaign are student recruitment, student financial aid, and student facilities.

Currently MLC enrolls about 750 on-campus undergraduate students. The goal is to have 900 to 1,000 students eager to train for gospel ministry. Zarling reminded delegates that they can help recruit students—both traditional and second-career—to pursue the gospel ministry, both by encouraging young adults they know or by submitting names of potential future students to MLC at mlc-wels.edu/go/recommend.

To help students graduate with as little educational debt as possible, MLC is working to fully fund its Congregational Partner Grant Program (CPGP) Matching Fund for years to come. Through CPGP, MLC matches dollar for dollar, up to $1,000, the gift a congregation gathers to apply to the tuition of their student at MLC. MLC has a goal of raising $3 to $5 million for this second pillar of the campaign.

Finally, MLC wants to build a new residence hall and renovate its current dormitories to meet the need of the next generation. It also wants to construct a new turfed recreation facility so that students can participate in sports year-round. “For many years, we have not had adequate athletic space—for our student body, our teams, or visiting teams. The new Knight Center will meet these pressing needs of today and help us offer expanded health and wellness opportunities tomorrow,” says Zarling.

With the support of the Conference of Presidents, WELS is looking to raise $16 to $18 million in total through this campaign. Congregations have already received information about how they can participate.

After delegates learned about how they can be involved in the campaign, MLC staff offered tours of the campus so that delegates could learn more about the campus and plans for the future.

Learn more about “Equipping Christian Witnesses” at mlc-wels.edu/mlc-campaign.

 

 

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Congregational Services presents scope of work

WELS Congregational Services comprises several areas of ministry committed to guiding and assisting WELS congregations and schools in conducting local ministry.

The Commissions on Congregational Counseling, Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, Lutheran Schools, and Special Ministries all provided overviews and updates from their respective ministries.

Rev. Jonathan Hein, Congregational Services coordinator, introduced the upcoming Lutheran Leadership Conference being held January 21-23, 2020, in Chicago. The conference will feature sessions that address issues many congregations face in local ministry and congregational operations. Find out more about the conference at lutheranleadership.com.

Congregational Counseling
Congregational Counseling (CCC) helps congregations assess their needs and develop strategic plans for local ministry. They accomplish this through a Self-Assessment and Adjustment Program; Ministry, Organization, and Staffing Evaluation; and the School of Strategic Planning. The CCC is working to train circuit pastors to proactively assist congregations in doing self-assessments and setting and meeting goals.

Evangelism
Evangelism aims to instruct members on reaching out in their communities by creating a congregational outreach culture. One resource to accomplish this is the upcoming C19 program. Much like the C18 program over the 2018 Christmas season, C19 resources will be developed and available to aid congregations in their evangelism efforts over the Christmas season. For year-round efforts, a video-based online congregational evangelism kit to train congregational leadership will be available on welscongregationalservices.net by early 2020.

Rev. Eric Roecker, Commission on Evangelism director, introduced the upcoming Let’s Go initiative, planned for summer 2020. This online training program is being developed to help any Christian become a more informed gospel witness by helping to remove fears and provide tools.

Discipleship
Rev. Donn Dobberstein, Commission on Discipleship director, presented Welcome Home, an effort to care for the 155,000 WELS members who don’t attend church regularly and “welcome them home” to active church life. Every member will be encouraged to attend on this special Sunday, which can be held on October 20 or October 27. Welcome Home includes a worship series that encompasses the season of End Times as well as elder training resources to assist church leadership in compassionately and zealously meeting the spiritual needs of delinquent members.

A new stewardship program, 10 for 10, suggested to start in September, is a three-Sunday emphasis on the biblical principles of giving. 10 for 10 is designed to incorporate Bible studies into the weekly worship service over three weeks, then for the next 10 weeks to challenge members to increase giving. 10 for 10 stands for tithing for 10 weeks.

Resources for Welcome Home and 10 for 10 are available at welscongregationalservices.net.

Future priorities include focusing on strengthening families and home devotional life, anchoring young people ages 14 to 24 to their church, encouraging small groups in congregations, improving Sunday schools, and creatively approaching adult instruction.

Also announced was the 2020 WELS International Youth Rally, June 23-26, 2020, in Knoxville, Tenn. More information will be available in upcoming issues of the WELS “Together” e-newsletter.

Worship
The Commission on Worship is assisting in the development of the new WELS Hymnal, scheduled to be introduced in 2021. Rev. Bryan Gerlach, Commission on Worship director, suggested congregations start budgeting for the new printed hymnals as well as the supplemental books and digital tools.

Lutheran Schools
The Commission on Lutheran Schools (CLS) provides resources, training, and support for WELS schools and teachers. Mr. James Rademan, Commission on Lutheran Schools director, discussed the changing landscape of Lutheran elementary schools. About 15 percent of elementary students and 29 percent of early childhood students are now from families without a church home, creating a tremendous outreach opportunity. To help meet this opportunity, CLS offers the Telling the Next Generation program to assist schools in creating outreach plans.

Looking ahead, CLS is focused on recruiting and training principals and early childhood directors to help meet vacancies as well as mentoring and supporting new principals and directors. This helps mitigate the number of new graduates stepping into these roles without appropriate training and experience.

Special Ministries
Rev. Jim Behringer, Commission on Special Ministries director, said Special Ministries is about compassion, outreach, and inclusion—removing barriers that prevent people from hearing the gospel. The Special Ministries umbrella covers eight specialized areas: Mission for the Visually Impaired, Care Committee for Called Workers, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Ministry, Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Commission on Mental Health, Health and Wellness Committee, Military Services, and Prison Ministry, which is marking 25 years of ministry.

Special Ministries invites members to sign up to help meet the spiritual needs of those impacted by incarceration, those serving in the military and their families, and families with loved ones with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Go to wels.net/refer.

To learn more about the many ways Special Ministries serves congregations and members, visit wels.net/special-ministries.

 

 

 

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Delegates complete election of committee members

One of the responsibilities of synod convention delegates is to elect members and chairmen for a variety of synod committees and boards. On Wednesday morning, delegates completed their voting, and the names of those elected were reported by the Elections Floor Committee.

Rev. John Boggs, pastor at Divine Savior, West Palm Beach, Fla., was re-elected as chairman of the Commission on Discipleship.

“I consider it a great privilege to continue to serve our gracious God in this way,” says Boggs. “As chairman of the commission, I see myself partnering with our administrator, our commission members, and Congregational Services as a whole to get resources, encouragement, and ministry tools into the hands of leaders in our congregations.”

Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of Discipleship, also appreciates this partnership. He notes, “The ministry of Discipleship is so vast. A ‘just-me-and-no-more’ style of leadership would be at best a lonely way to do ministry and at worst a horrifying waste of the members of the body of Christ, which he loaded with gifts and abilities.”

“I believe it is critical for WELS leadership to continue to involve both called workers and lay leaders serving in congregations throughout our nation and the world to be involved in helping lead WELS forward in the blessed work our God has given us to do,” says Boggs. “Working together, I believe we can better understand the challenges before us as well as plan and implement ministry tools that address these challenges. We truly can accomplish more together than by ourselves.”

The full list of election results is available at wels.net/2019synodconvention.

 

 

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Ministry presentations filled Wednesday

Throughout Wednesday, delegates heard about several ministries.

Rev. Keith Free, WELS Home Missions administrator, and Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, Board for Home Missions chairman, provided an update on the scope of Home Missions’ ministry. Home Missions has provided support for 89 new mission starts and enhancements since 2011. In 2019, the Board for Home Missions approved three new starts and one enhancement. In addition to starting new churches and providing support for mission-focused ministry enhancements, Home Missions also supports WELS Campus Ministry and cross-cultural ministries serving Hispanic, Hmong, Korean, South Sudanese, and more. Learn more about Home Missions at wels.net/missions.

Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) shared the history of the synod’s publishing house, from its beginnings in 1902 to its recent move to the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in May. Rev. Curtis Jahn, vice president of publishing services at NPH, provided a look at many resources NPH offers, ranging from children’s curriculum, devotionals, adult Bible study materials, music resources, and more. Learn what NPH has to offer at nph.net.

Rev. Joel Pless from the WELS Historical Institute invited delegates to learn more WELS history by visiting the first WELS church, Salem, in Milwaukee, Wis. The WELS Historical Institute exists to preserve and present the history of WELS. It works closely with the synod archives, located at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry. Learn more about the historical institute and the synod archives at wels.net/archives.

Chairman of WELS Christian Aid and Relief Rev. Robert Hein gave an overview of the type of assistance Christian Aid and Relief provides around the world, including relief following natural disasters and humanitarian aid that supports ministry efforts of world missions and congregations in North America. Christian Aid and Relief was able to grant $466,212 for humanitarian aid in 2019 for projects such as digging boreholes for fresh water, literacy programs, and health clinics. Learn more about Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief.

Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, director of WELS Ministry of Christian Giving, spoke about trends in Congregation Mission Offerings. 2018 offerings totaled $21.1 million, which was 0.7 percent below commitments and 1.2 percent below prior year receipts. 2019 subscriptions point to a decrease of 0.9 percent from 2018 actual offerings. “We thank the Lord and commend his people for these gifts and commitments,” said Lueneburg. He encouraged congregations, “When setting CMO, aim for ten percent of offerings. If at or above this goal, encourage your congregation to maintain its generous support or consider increasing it as you’re able with God’s blessing.”

Rev. Jason Hacker, pastor at Grace, Waukesha, Wis., a board of directors member for the Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG), began his presentation recognizing veterans and service members serving as delegates. The LMSG supports the needs of our military veterans and our military families of both active duty members and veterans, working closely with WELS Military Services. The goal of the LMSG is to have a liaison at every WELS congregation to provide resources and ideas to minister to service members. Learn more about the group at lutheranmilitary.org.

Speaking about the new hymnal project, Rev. Michael Schultz directed delegates to welshymnal.com for the latest updates on the project. He said 80 to 100 volunteers on 15 different committees are working on different aspects of the project. When completed, it won’t be just the hymnal, but encompass 18 different hard copy books for various elements and musical arrangements as well as worship planning software. The committee is planning to complete the new hymnal in time for Advent 2021.

 

 

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Rev. Mark Schroeder re-elected as synod president

Delegates re-elected Rev. Mark Schroeder as synod president Tuesday morning.

“It is truly humbling that you have placed this trust in me again, and I can assure you that it is a privilege that I thank God for every day that I get to serve you as your synod president,” Schroeder said to the delegates as he accepted the call. “Please continue to keep me in your prayers and God’s church in your prayers.”

Schroeder was first elected as president in 2007. This will be his fourth four-year term.

Rev. Joel Voss, pastor at Resurrection, Centerville, Ohio, was also re-elected as the synod’s second vice president. He already has served in this position for two-and-a-half terms, elected first in 2009.

He too accepted his call. “For three decades of parish ministry and now a decade of serving our synod, I have experienced every day what you also experience—that when you serve the Lord Jesus out of love for him, you are always blessed back from God more than you gave,” said Voss. “It’s been a pleasure to serve our synod, and I appreciate your prayers and your support.”

Elections for members of various WELS boards and commissions will continue. Keep up-to-date on election results at wels.net/2019synodconvention.

 

 

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Looking ahead for the generations to come

Rev. Jonathan Hein, director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling, presented his essay topic following the theme of the convention, “For the Generations to Come.” In his presentation he provided an overview of current church membership trends, not just in WELS, but in Christianity across America, as well as the social and cultural factors that contribute to these trends.

The heart of Hein’s message focused on the real motivation for the work of WELS as a church body and its individual congregations—sharing the love of Christ, as Christ commanded in Matthew 28:19,20.

In examining membership decline, Hein noted that, if trends continue, WELS could lose anywhere from 260 to 400 congregations in the next 20 years. Hein attributes this decline to a few cultural shifts in recent years, including the acceptance of religious pluralism, secular humanism defining modern morality and ethics, the erosion of the traditional family, and increasing distrust in churches as institutions. Meanwhile, 25 percent of Americans in 2019 identify as having no religious affiliation, an increase of more than 70 percent in the last decade.

“We’re facing very real and large challenges, but the way the Lord always works, he takes things that look bad and makes them good,” says Hein. “We need to seek first that we’re glorifying Christ.”

He stressed the importance of creating a Christian community through relationships and building friendships with people God puts in our lives.

Delegate Daniel Douglas, principal and teacher at Mt. Olive, Overland Park, Kan., says, “It was comforting to reinforce my approach as a principal – that it’s about the importance of relationships. When you have a relationship with people, then that can open the door for ministry.”

Rev. Jim Strand, pastor at St. Paul, Bloomer, Wis., says the idea of encouraging members to let their light shine is critical to standing out today. “If you let your light shine, then people might ask why, and then you can proclaim Jesus. That’s the best evangelism program.”

In his presentation, Hein said: “We will help our members see the face of Christ in their neighbor. We will encourage them to build authentic friendships with those currently outside the church. Hospitality will be a core value among us. We will do whatever is necessary to knit our members into something more than acquaintances. They will have a family. We will zealously, almost recklessly, pursue the straying.”

“If we are doing all we can with the gospel, the numbers do not matter,” concluded Hein. “Only the gospel can create faith, but we need to do a better job of creating an audience for the gospel.”

 

 

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Presentations highlight mission opportunities

Delegates had several opportunities to learn more about mission work at home and abroad on this first day of the convention.

The morning started with women from the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) presenting the 63 flags of the countries where WELS is actively partnering in gospel outreach. Ms. Emily Kom, who just completed serving as LWMS president, greeted the delegates on behalf of the 60 LWMS circuits around the U.S. and Canada.

Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, and Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, director of the Ministry for Christian Giving, then shared more about the amazing opportunity that WELS has to train Hmong pastors and leaders in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam. Through a synodwide campaign called Grace—Hmong Outreach in Vietnam, congregations and individuals have given more than $1.5 million of the $2 million needed to support the building of a theological education center and ministry education costs for a two-year period­­­. This funding will allow WELS to provide seminary-level education for 350 pastors and catechism training for an additional 2,500 leaders, who will in turn share the gospel with the more than 120,000 members of the Hmong Fellowship Church.

Delegate Joel Bradtke, a member at Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wis., was moved by what he heard about WELS’ work in Vietnam. He served for 14 months in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. “Like a lot of veterans, I came back from the experience uninjured physically yet still carrying the baggage of participating in a war,” he says. “It is healing for me to think about the door that the Lord has opened. We’re finally able to beat our weapons of war into plowshares—sharing the gospel—and into pruning hooks, pruning away the idolatry and misconceptions that some of the people we are reaching will have. I’m just grateful for the opportunity [for WELS] as well as for the healing that this gives me.”

Delegates also heard an overview of other exciting things happening in World Missions from Schlomer. Then they were able to dig deeper into several ministries at the evening’s missionary presentations. There they learned more about the work in Latin America, Hong Kong, and South Asia. They also heard about home mission outreach in Castle Rock, Colo., and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, will present more about the opportunities in the United States, Canada, and the English-speaking West Indies in his report tomorrow.

 

 

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Rev. Schroeder delivers President’s Report

On Tuesday morning WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder provided an overview of the mission and ministry work WELS is privileged to conduct as well as some blessings and challenges the church faces.

Contemplating the idea of contradictions, Schroeder explained that what seems like a contradiction in a Christian’s life—or a church body—is no contradiction at all: “The details of our future may be unknown to us on the one hand, but on the other hand we know exactly what God has in store for us, since he himself has promised that all things—all things—will work together for our good and will be used by him to carry out his good and gracious will.”

Along with sharing highlights of the work of WELS Missions, Ministerial Education, and Congregational Services, Schroeder provided encouragement for the work the synod does and will do together and called for a recommitment to stand firm in the Word and share that message with the world, passing it along to the generations to come.

Here are some excerpts from his report:

“The Lord Jesus has entrusted his saving gospel, as well as all the truths of Scripture, to us believers and disciples. Our stewardship of those gifts involves two important and compelling responsibilities. First, we need to hold on to those truths for ourselves. That involves committing ourselves to remain faithful to the doctrines that we have learned. It involves defending God’s truth against all attacks from within and without the church. It means recognizing our Lutheran heritage, based solely on the truths of God’s Word, as a treasure to be embraced and retained no matter what the cost. But the second responsibility is one that flows from the faith and joy that the gospel has worked in us. That is the responsibility to share that good news with our children, with our friends and neighbors, with our communities and country, and ultimately with the world. And that message is not just for us and our families and for people today. It’s a message that we will want to preserve and proclaim for the generations to come.

“As part of a renewed effort to preserve God’s truth now and for generations to come, we have begun to focus our attention and efforts on how we can be more faithful in that stewardship of God’s blessings. The commissions of Congregational Services are leading the effort to focus our attention on encouraging faithful and zealous efforts to reach the lost, nurture the saved, regain the straying, enrich and preserve our worship, and grow in our practice of faithful Christian stewardship. At this convention, you will hear much about innovative new resources that will be made available to congregations as they strive to enhance their efforts in gaining and retaining members and in the area of faithful Christian stewardship. It is my prayer that you will take what you learn back to your congregations, circuits, and districts. We don’t know what God has in store for us if these efforts are carried out faithfully across the synod. But we know with certainty that he will bless those efforts in his own way and in his own time. His Word—and we depend only on his Word—will not return to him empty.

“Since we do not know exactly what God has in store for us, today is a day for recommitment. A recommitment to standing firm on his unchanging and powerful Word. A recommitment to sharing that message with the world and passing it along to the generations to come. A recommitment to live in the joy and freedom of the gospel. A recommitment to support the work with generous Christian giving. A recommitment to defend God’s truth when it is attacked and to witness to God’s truth when given the opportunity. A recommitment to support and encourage one another in Christian love and fellowship.”

Schroeder summed up his message, saying, “In a time when we worry about the future—at home, family, church, work—it’s really important that even though we don’t know what the future holds, God holds the future in his hands. That confidence guides the work we do as a church and gives us every reason to do our work with joy and leave the results to him.”

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Delegates learn more about WELS ministries

WELS delegates began hearing presentations on Tuesday. Some of the convention presentations help delegates as they work in their floor committees. Others give them a broader view of WELS ministries and the ministries with which WELS partners.

Rev. John Moldstad, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, brought his greetings from our sister church body and noted, “What a joy and privilege it is for us to be bound together in confessing the truths of God’s holy Word and also in putting doctrines into practice.”

Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, gave two presentations on Tuesday morning. The first centered on the amazing opportunity WELS has to train Hmong pastors and leaders in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam. The second presentation focused on the many other areas where WELS is spreading the gospel around the world. Schlomer shared that WELS has a mission presence in 40 countries, with new mission opportunities in 25 additional countries. More than 700 people are enrolled in pastoral training programs around the world.

Rev. Paul Prange, administrator of WELS Board for Ministerial Education, gave an overview of WELS’ four ministerial education schools—Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. He emphasized the message that “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Mr. Todd Poppe, WELS chief financial officer, detailed the ministry financial plan for the next biennium that has been submitted to the delegates for their consideration. He explained the process that WELS areas of ministry follow as they develop a ministry financial plan and the current financial realities and forecasts that were used to create this biennium’s plan.

Mr. Dan Johnson, president of Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis., shared the college’s mission with delegates. He noted that Wisconsin Lutheran College is WELS’ college of lay leadership and said, “Wisconsin Lutheran College is as passionate about the cross of Christ as any other WELS ministry I’ve served. . . . The anchor of our school is the joy we have to promote spiritual growth to our students.”

Convention presentations will continue on Wednesday.

 

 

 

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WELS delegates now meeting in convention

WELS’ 65th biennial convention is now underway at Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., under the theme “For the Generations to Come.”

“The theme of the 2019 synod convention emphasizes the privilege and responsibility that we have to hold on to God’s saving truth for ourselves and to pass it down to those who will come after us,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder.

The synod convention helps set the priorities and chart the direction of the synod’s areas of ministry in the coming years. About 400 delegates—including pastors, male teachers, male staff ministers, and laymen—have the opportunity to provide grassroots input about the work that we do together as a synod.

The convention opened with a worship service at MLC’s Chapel of the Christ on Monday evening, July 29. Nearly 700 people attended that service.

The first order of business at this year’s convention is the election for synod president, to be followed by the election of WELS’ second vice president. Delegates will also elect chairmen and members for various synod committees and boards.

Throughout the convention, the delegates will hear reports from WELS’ areas of ministry so that the delegates are well informed as they work in floor committees and present resolutions to the full convention. These reports also help the delegates as they come together to adopt a ministry financial plan for the synod for the next two years. This ministry financial plan will detail how WELS will use the financial resources God provides to carry out his work.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 30, Rev. Jonathan Hein will present his convention essay, titled “For the Generations to Come.” Hein will present on the challenges and opportunities facing WELS as it carries out God’s mission today and in the future.

Closing worship is scheduled to take place on Thursday, Aug. 1, and will include the installation of the synod officers elected this week.

Follow the convention from home by visiting wels.net/2019synodconvention. The majority of the convention will be streamed live. In addition, WELS will provide daily video and news updates along with photos from all the convention’s activities. As floor committee resolutions are presented, those resolutions will be posted to the convention website as well as daily convention minutes.

 

 

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Synod convention opens with worship

Nearly 700 convention attendees and visitors filled the Chapel of the Christ at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., Monday evening for the opening worship service of the 65th biennial synod convention.

WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder presided over the service and Rev. Jonathan Bauer, Good News Lutheran Church, Mount Horeb, Wis., preached a sermon themed “The bigger our picture of the Church, the bigger our prayer for the Church,” based on Ephesians 3:14-21.

Bauer says, “As we think about the work we do as a synod, it’s easy to see a much smaller picture than Paul does and, as a result, be filled with worry rather than confidence as Paul is. My hope is that the time we spend in these words gives us a sense of calm confidence as we remember Christ’s Church will never die or fall.”

About 65 choir members ranging in age from sixth grade and up from New Ulm-area congregations, along with 13 instrumentalists, including the piano and organ, led the service’s music. Many of the service’s liturgical elements, hymns, and instrumentation selections were a preview of the new WELS hymnal, which will be released in time for Advent 2021.

Mr. Earl Heidtke, a retired Martin Luther College professor who sang in the choir, says, “It’s a joy that the opening service is based on songs and liturgy from the new hymnal; it’s a great way to introduce it. And, the instrumentation is so broad.”

“For me it was exciting to hear the choir and voices together,” says Rev. Dennis Klatt, president of the Minnesota District and pastor at Holy Trinity, New Hope, Minn. “The Word was so crisp and clear from Pastor Bauer, reminding us that the big picture is about Christ and his Word worldwide.”

“That service – was wow,” says Mr. Gene Szaj, a lay delegate from Star of Bethlehem, New Berlin, Wis. Saying he was at a loss for words after the worship service, he plans to call his wife to tell her to watch it online tonight.

You can watch the entire worship service at livestream.com/mlc-streams.

 

 

 

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Hosting the synod convention

Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., is the host of this year’s synod convention. The convention site rotates between three of the WELS ministerial education school campuses: Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.; and Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.

“Hosting a synod convention means that delegates and friends can explore their college and walk around their campus,” says Rev. Mark Zarling, MLC president. “The more they learn about MLC’s role in the Great Commission, the more people can pray for us.”

Planning already started for the convention in December 2017. Leaders and staff from MLC and the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry worked together to arrange all the details. “I love putting this puzzle together—from figuring out the right dorm room for a delegate, to the right shuttle for them to take from the airport, to providing the meals they need,” says Mrs. Michelle Gartner, MLC’s event coordinator.

Gartner says about 35 MLC faculty and staff are volunteering for the four-day event, doing jobs ranging from communion assistant to cafeteria greeter. “We are honored to host this convention and for the opportunity to welcome people from all over the country to our campus,” she says. “For many it will be their first time here, and we want to make them feel at home. We just love having company, and this and other events throughout the year afford us that opportunity.”

MLC hosts more than 100 events a year, everything from local business meetings to Children’s Theatre, which brings five thousand people to the campus over four days.

“It is a distinct privilege and blessing for MLC to host the synod convention,” says Zarling. “It is a great encouragement to me to see so many people who will return home with prayers for the kingdom work we do together.”

Learn more about Martin Luther College at mlc-wels.edu.

 

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