“One Faith, One Family.” – Hmong National Conference 2022

What would lead people to pack into three vehicles at 11:30 p.m. and drive through the night from Kansas City to Wisconsin or catch the 2:00 a.m. red eye flight from Fresno to Milwaukee? The answer is the Hmong National Conference hosted by Trinity Hmong in Manitowoc, Wis., this past July 29-31. After canceling the last two national conferences due to COVID, about 170 Hmong brothers and sisters were finally able to gather together to celebrate with food, fellowship, and the Word of God.

The theme for the gathering was, “One Faith, One Family.” Separate breakout sessions were held in English for the teens and in Hmong for the adults.

Pastor Sam Lor of St. John’s, Minneapolis, Minn., led about 50 teens through the topic, “Cultural Identity through Baptismal Identity.” Why this subject? Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) student and cohost, Semson Lor, said, “In the world today you can identify so many different ways. We wanted teens to see who they are in Christ.”

At the same time the teens met, Pastor Pheng Moua of Immanuel Hmong in St. Paul, Minn., was leading the adults in the Bible Study, “How to Encourage One Another.” “We are living in the End Times and it is important to motivate each other and build each other up in order to let our light shine to the world.”

All the devotions, sermons, and Bible studies of the conference reinforced the theme, “One Faith, One Family.” Pastor Ger Lor of Grace Hmong in Kansas City, Kans., stated, “Unity of brothers and sisters in Christ was what the Savior prayed among his disciples: ‘that they may all be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, and they may also be one in us.’ The gospel creates a unity of faith with our Father, our Savior and our fellow believers.”

Pastor Joel Nitz was also in attendance for the first time since he took the call to serve the Hmong in Vietnam. He reflected, “I had a wonderful experience as I connected with our WELS Hmong members in the U.S., worshiped and learned with them, and practiced my Hmong language skills.”

In addition to feeding the soul, there was plenty of food for the body. The meals reflected the different places Hmong people have called home over the decades. Laotian pho was served for lunch one day and all-American hamburgers served picnic style for dinner on another. In order to work off the extra calories, a sports tournament was held on Friday that included volleyball and corn hole.

The highlight of the conference was at the Sunday morning worship service where the group expressed their spiritual and doctrinal unity at the Communion Service.

And why travel so far? Pastor Xing Yang of Faith in Clovis, Calif., shared, “Jesus. I tell the people it is about Jesus.” The next Hmong National Conference is scheduled for 2024 in Fresno, Calif.

Written by Rev. Leon Ehlert, Chairman for the North America Hmong Committee

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Worship and Outreach – In a Southwestern Suburb

God had Isaiah say it first, but Peter quoted him. “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Many people have favorite verses or stories in the Bible. This passage has always spoken to me. It has it all: original sin, man’s mortality juxtaposed against God’s eternity, means of grace, and preservation in faith. When you add that Isaiah originally put those words into the mouth of John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ, you also have the summary of our Law and Gospel witness.

Perhaps that verse suggests the nexus of outreach and worship, too. The lifelong Lutheran with a “WELS” tattoo needs to hear “all people are like grass” just as urgently as the “none” granddaughter. The serious-looking octogenarian in the second row needs to hear “the word of the Lord stands forever” so that his heavenly hope rests on God’s eternal word. So does the postmodern millennial who is looking for an anchor in the storm of 21st century culture.

All the souls in your parish and community will wither and fall. Will they do so with the Lord’s eternal promises in Christ? You already know that the application of our gospel witness looks a little different from place to place depending on context in ministry. This is a part of what it looks like in Marana, Arizona.

Context

Redeemer is located in the northwestern suburbs of Tucson, Arizona. Tucson stretches across a valley floor to the foothills of five mountain ranges. It is located roughly halfway in between Phoenix to the north and Mexico to the south. In 1950, Tucson’s population was about 80,000. Today, it has surpassed 1,000,000. The University of Arizona is here. And, because the sun shines here more than it does in Florida, so are a lot of retirees looking to escape the cold and snow. That makes the city an eclectic mix of young and old, as well as a melting pot of people from every corner of the country.

Parish demographics reflect our community. We are close to equal parts ages 0-25, 25-55, and 55 and up, and reflect many different races and ethnicities. We have native Tucsonans, transplants from the west coast, the Midwest, and the east coast. Of our more than 500 parishioners, maybe 40 percent have a WELS background. Among our numbers are many new Christians, recent converts, de-churched who have found a new home, and others who have come to us looking for orthodoxy.

An important part of our context is Marana’s rapid population growth. When Redeemer relocated to our current location in 1998, we didn’t have a lot of neighbors. Now, thousands of homes have been built, and thousands more are planned. On any given Sunday, we will welcome six to eight brand-new first-time guests to worship. In a year we’ll total between 400-500 first-time walk-in guests. Many of them are new to Arizona, new to our area, and are looking for a church home.

Culture

Some congregations are not ready for outreach. That culture needs to be built. My former congregation in Indiana wasn’t ready. Their congregational roots dated back to 1972 when a splinter group left LCMS because of frustrations over Seminex. Feeling burned by their former church body shaped the congregational culture. Their attitude was, “It’s us against the world!” Anytime a guest visited worship, you could feel the coldness and see the suspicious looks from across the chapel. They needed patient teaching that helped them make peace with their past before they were ready to make peace with worship guests.

A similar situation existed when I arrived in Tucson. Redeemer enjoyed rapid growth in the early 2000s, expanding their pastoral staff to four full time men and daughtering a mission congregation. That came to an abrupt halt when the market corrected and the economy stalled in 2008. The so-called “Great Recession” hit Tucson hard. Housing starts stalled. Many who were upside-down on their mortgages were forced to sell at a loss and move to a new city for employment. The parish that had seen impressive growth was halved. By the end of 2011 all four pastors had taken calls away, leaving a once thriving congregation looking forlorn. Some were downright angry. And when you walked into church, you felt it. They needed time to heal. They weren’t ready for outreach.

“It’ll take five years before the congregation trusts me. We need time to heal.”

How do you change that? How do you change a congregation’s culture and prepare them for outreach? You make haste slowly. Just after I got to Tucson, I remember talking to a very faithful man. He was a retired businessman, and bored. He was so excited to have a pastor after an extended vacancy that he walked into my office and wrote me a blank check. “Anything you want, pastor, I will do it.” His noble enthusiasm was tempered by my curt response. “Jim, I accept your offer, but it’ll take five years before the congregation trusts me. We need time to heal.” He looked at me in disbelief! He was ready to go. Why didn’t the congregation share his enthusiasm?

The first thing we worked on was attendance. In Indiana, you always knew who was there; the numbers were smaller. Redeemer was at least five times larger than that parish. I was new and didn’t know anybody. Add to that Redeemer had no system of tracking attendance or differentiating members from guests. After about a year, I called Jim into my office. “I’m still getting to know the people, but it sure looks like we have a lot of outreach potential.” Outreach? He didn’t think so. Neither did many of the other leaders in the congregation. In the absence of accurate data, who really knew?

One of the tools we agreed to use early on was a Friendship Register. Leaders were dubious whether it would be embraced or be perceived as an intrusion. To avoid the latter impression, we came up with an idea. Rather than ask a serious looking usher in a blue blazer to hand them out, we assigned the task to four smiling children in elementary school. Even now we rarely get 100% to participate, but when a pigtailed little girl in a sundress hands you the register, even the most curmudgeonly will usually cooperate. It took time and patience, but eventually it caught on. After we collected attendance data for a season, we discovered that on any given Sunday 25% of the worshipers were non-member guests, either first time worshipers or repeat attenders. Leaders were stunned! We had a mission field right inside our chapel and no one had any idea!

When a pigtailed little girl in a sundress hands you the register, even the most curmudgeonly will usually cooperate.

As leaders began to acknowledge the open door of outreach God was driving into our chapel, we began work on our worship welcome. That meant addressing our Sunday morning culture. As you address culture, this point is critical: the pastor sets the temperature for the congregation climate. Many people already operate with a stereotypical view of pastors that we have to work to overcome; they are stuffed shirts; they’re overly serious, not down to earth or relatable. Many people never see their pastors other than in the pulpit, even on Sunday mornings. Do your congregation a favor and work hard to dispel those stereotypes! Set the temperature. Be visible on Sunday from the time people arrive. Meet them in the parking lot; welcome them in the entryway; visit with them in the nave. Call everyone by name, look them in the eye, and greet them warmly. Carry their burdens. All people are like grass, pastors included. Show them you’re human. Smile, joke, and laugh. When you practice the golden rule, treating people like you genuinely love them, they’re much more inclined to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.

An evangelism professor from our Seminary once noted that guests make up their minds about whether they’ll return to your church in the first two minutes of their visit. Before they hear your carefully rehearsed choir, before they see your professionally produced service folder, before they listen to your homiletical prowess, they’ve already made up their minds. Creating a friendly and welcoming atmosphere is worth the effort. After the pastor leads by example, put your people to work. We placed greeters outside the chapel doors to welcome people with a smile and a hearty “Good morning!” Ushers were carefully trained to answer questions and assist with special needs. We tapped five of our most bubbly parishioners for a special task. Get to church a half hour early, and personally welcome every new face you see in the chapel, whether young or old. Over time, something better happened. The whole congregation began to participate. Now, it’s common for first time guests to comment before they leave, “This is the friendliest congregation I’ve ever visited.”

We tapped five of our most bubbly parishioners for a special task.

Chapel

Our chapel was dedicated in 2002. When I arrived ten years later, our property team noticed the carpet bubbling. “We should fix that.” A year later, transplants lamented that the acoustics were lousy. “Can’t we fix that?” Another year passed, and I followed up on guests who hadn’t returned. They explained they couldn’t see the chancel because of the placement of a load bearing pillar. “Can’t you fix that?” In 2015, a parent who attended school chapel bemoaned how washed out our screen projectors were. “Can’t you fix that?”

Although our chapel was very usable, there were enough needling limitations that congregational leaders resolved to address it. They planned a tasteful cosmetic update that would be done by fall 2019 in time for our 75th anniversary. We selected a designer, made plans, but missed a key vote and our anniversary deadline. The following spring, COVID complicated everything. That turned out to be a gift. Since our timelines were pushed back, we revisited our plans, adjusting its scope to prioritize the chancel. After we suffered through supply chain constraints and constantly pushed off deadlines, our project is now complete.

A stunning makeover that powerfully influences both worship and outreach.

Our color scheme changed from the greens and purples of a Tucson sunset to something warmer. We replaced the carpeting with luxury vinyl tile. The pews were reupholstered. We purchased new LED light fixtures, and the entire chapel was painted white. The music space was reimagined. The biggest improvement, though, was in the chancel. The screens were removed, so now the eye is centered on the powerful visual of a free-floating cross.

What began as an innocuous project to address a punch-list of irritations turned out to be a stunning makeover that powerfully influences both worship and outreach. Our previous chapel was utilitarian, but “meh.” The remodel has a wow factor. It is difficult to describe just how impactful good lighting is on people’s demeanor, their mood, and their willingness to engage in worship. A bright space makes for happy people who want to engage. Replacing the carpet with tile has significantly enhanced our singing. It’s a live room; sound jumps. A retired LCMS pastor who worships with us occasionally commented, “I always knew your people could sing. But now they raise the roof! The new acoustics are a real game changer.” Prior to the remodel, nobody commented about our chapel. Now it’s often one of the first things people notice: “Your chapel is just beautiful.” Happy people, vigorous singing, and a friendly culture connect worship to outreach.

Happy people, vigorous singing, and a friendly culture connect worship to outreach.

Consistency

One of our oft repeated internal sayings is, “Whoever shows the love gets the soul.” You have probably already done the math. With as many walk-in guests as we see annually, shouldn’t we have 4,000 members by now? That’s our next mountain to climb. We’re working on building a consistent, repeatable follow-up program to worship. Here is what we’ve built so far.

Whoever shows the love gets the soul.

Every Monday, a lay-led team visits those first-time guests at their home. They deliver a welcome bag filled with devotion books, coffee cups, magnets, and church information. What’s in the bag is irrelevant. The initiative and the personal, face to face visit is what matters. Since they did us the honor of visiting our chapel in person, the least we can do is say “Thank-you” in person. By the end of the week, a team of ladies with good penmanship has sent off a handwritten note. About ten days after their initial visit, the chairman of the outreach team reaches out by phone or email. The hottest prospects are referred to the pastor. The simple logic behind the effort is that you never know which personal touch will resonate. Whoever shows the love gets the soul.

About a year ago, Joe walked into church. He’s an 80-year-old Marine. His idea of fun is to wake up at 2 a.m. and bicycle 40 miles up Mt Lemmon. After that he lifts weights and rides his motorcycle. When Joe walked into church the first time, he told us he hadn’t been in church in 50 years. But his wife had just died; he was looking for answers. “All people are like grass.” I didn’t meet Joe that day, but our follow up teams ran their program: doorstep, handwritten note, outreach chairman, pastor. A vicar eventually took him through instruction and today he’s an active member. Just yesterday, this 80-year-old Marine approached the woman who delivered the initial follow up bag. He was weeping. “I am so thankful that Redeemer reached out to me. You have no idea how special this church is to me.” Whoever shows the love gets the soul.

This 80-year-old Marine was weeping.

I love that story because I had nothing to do with it. Joe is a victory of our parish, a victory of the consistency of our process, of the Golden Rule. You know that there are no silver bullets in ministry, but this is as close as it gets. Work hard. Take initiative. Be consistent. Follow up and follow through. Show love. Delegate, and train your people for ministry. And then get out of the Holy Spirit’s way.

Conclusion

Nobody has ever been converted because of a shiny new chapel. Nobody repents because of a solid greeter or usher program. No saint who is now in heaven credits the bubbly brunette or the glad-handing pastor. It’s the Word that works.

Consider the alternative. A gloomy environment, dour people, or an aloof pastor are a turn off. Any one of them can undermine a gospel witness, casting a pall over the God we praise. Of course, God can save people in spite of us. Is that really what we’re aiming for?

Understanding your context in ministry matters. You’ve got to play the cards God dealt you in your backyard. Working to improve your ministry culture helps to prepare souls to meet Jesus. That’s what John did. He prepared the way for the Lord by eliminating barriers. He made the path straight. He raised the valley up, he brought the hills down, he smoothed out the rough ground. He made it easy for people to meet Jesus.

Isaiah said it first. “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

“And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).

By Adam Mueller

Since 2012 Pastor Mueller has served Redeemer, Tucson, AZ. Previously he served in Kokomo, IN where he also helped start missions in Lafayette and Greenwood, IN. Besides parish ministry, he has served in various roles on the district level including evangelism coordinator and circuit pastor. On the synodical level, he has served on translation review teams, the Commission on Congregational Counseling, and as chair of the Hymnal Introduction Program.


“The remodel has a wow factor.” The photo to the right shows before the remodel. The after picture is at the beginning of the article. Additional photos are available online in #116a at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-worship-and-outreach. Pastor Mueller also led a significant renovation project in Kokomo, IN. It was featured in #19 at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-church-architecture.

 


Recent Resources

The Foundation Year A worship planner – PDF and Excel files for the full year were posted in mid-August after Advent through Epiphany was posted earlier in June.

Hymnal Highlights – The June 17 post includes ideas for fall or long-range planning. You can subscribe to receive them, along with other information, at welscongregationalservices.net/subscriptions.

Christian Worship: Service Builder – Six tightly scripted videos are now available at: christianworship.com/resources (under Articles) and at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources. These videos are useful both for those already using Service Builder and for those just exploring—and to help congregational leaders to see the value and potential of Service Builder.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Preach the Word – Insights from an Urban Setting

Preaching with Outsiders in Mind

Insights from an Urban Setting

Editor’s note: This issue continues our series on preaching with those outside our church membership in mind. The previous issue provided insights from a pastor serving in rural Nebraska. This issue provides insights from a pastor serving in the greater Seattle area.

Pastor Daniel Lange shares insights from his ministry at Light of Life Lutheran in Covington, WA, where he has served for twelve years. Pastor Lange also serves as the first vice president of the Pacific Northwest District.

Ideas from Pastor Daniel Lange

Four examples or thoughts on how outsiders have impacted your preaching preparation:

Preschool parents – Every week I see the moms and dads dropping their kids off at our preschool. They are outsiders who could visit church any given Sunday and sometimes do. In my conversations with them, I’m often reminded that they are busy, stressed, worried for their children, filled with questions or guilt about parenting, and looking for deeper peace and purpose in life than living the “American dream” in the suburbs of Seattle. (I confess as a parent living in the same community that I struggle with much of the same). What would I want to say if a family from our preschool stepped in this week? “God use these words for them. May they find the Savior who invites them to find rest for their weary souls.”

The conversation died when I said I was a pastor.

My neighbors – Last year, two young professionals moved in next door. As we greeted one another, the conversation died when I said I was a pastor. Since then, as I’ve poked around different topics, I would describe their worldview as many living on West Coast—atheist, humanist, and secularist, with a splash of anti-religion. They care deeply about social issues. While they haven’t come to church yet, my prayer and goal for them is that someday they will. When I see opportunities to touch on current events in my sermon, I ask myself, “How would I say it if I knew they were coming? Or how might I say it if we were talking to one another in the backyard?” When looking at issues in the world, we may not agree on the cause, but we can agree that the symptoms are ugly. I, too, see the devastating effects sin has on our society. How can I connect those problems to the Problem and finally to the Solution of Jesus?

The drug-addicted welder – I met a man in my community two years ago. He was more open with me than anybody I’ve ever met. After finding out I was a pastor, in the first five minutes he confessed to me he was addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, and sometimes slept with prostitutes. He said he had recently been trying to quit it all. With tears starting to run down his cheeks, he wondered if I had time for a question. He wanted to know if his baptism still meant anything. I was able to talk him into a Bible Information Class but still have not convinced him to come to church, although he has promised many times to show up. He is a reason I sometimes ask myself, “Is God’s grace clear in this message? If this is the Sunday he arrives, will he see the Jesus who forgives him still, loves him still, and, yes, whose baptism still promises eternal life?”

Many of them are burned out by heavy preaching which presents Christ only as example.

The drifting de-churched – The collapse of Mars Hill in Seattle left 10,000 Christians without a church home. A few of these families have made their way to our congregation, joining some others with a non-denominational background. Many of them are burned out by heavy preaching which presents Christ only as example. They remind me to preach the law with all its deadly force and the gospel with all its life-giving power.

Three encouragements to preachers for keeping outsiders in mind in sermon preparation:

  1. Regularly pray for first time visitors at your church. I live in an area where we don’t get walk-in visitors on a regular basis. When we do, one thought I don’t want to have is, “I wish I would have put more time into my sermon this week.” I’ve heard this from several others: the best outreach a pastor can do is to have a good sermon every week. Praying for regular visitors is an exciting pastoral practice. It’s exciting because God often says, “Yes,” to those prayers. It also helps me keep the outsider in mind when preparing the sermon.
  2. Trust your sermon preparation process. Sometimes when Easter, Christmas, or VBS Sunday is coming, I find myself falling into the trap of focusing on the audience before I have spent enough time in the Word. At some point, we do turn from gazing into the Word to gazing at our audience, but don’t make that turn too quickly. Stay glued to the text, soaked in the Word, and keep digging, just like any other week. When the speaker is captivated by what he has discovered, the audience (both insiders and outsiders) will be listening.
  3. We have THE STORY. In the age of information, where people are bombarded with disinformation, fake news, biased views, and thousands of stories every week, what comfort to know that we have THE STORY. Even though we may not know the personal story of every outsider who comes into our doors, we know that God’s STORY includes them. What a privilege to share, even if it’s just one time.

Two sermon excerpts of preaching with outsiders in mind:

Here is an excerpt from Pastor Lange’s sermon on Genesis 1, preached during the summer of 2020 when protests and riots gripped Seattle, Portland, and much of the nation. Lange comments that the sermon attempted to connect social issues people are passionate about to the greater problem of sin.

“Why is our world broken?” Be careful as you answer that question. Some might say, “Because of racism.” I wouldn’t disagree. Some might say “Because of lawlessness.” I wouldn’t disagree. “Because of selfishness, because of hatred, because of greed.” I wouldn’t disagree. But the reason I urged you to be careful in answering the question, “What is wrong with our world?” is this: everything we see happening right now is connected to a problem that runs much deeper than anything you see in the headlines. Like a river of pollution and filth THE PROBLEM runs its ugly course through every part of our existence. It’s source, the headwaters, begin flowing into our world just 2 chapters later.

I find myself falling into the trap of focusing on the audience before I have spent enough time in the Word.

Genesis 3. The tragic account of how God’s beautiful creation fell apart. Tempted by the devil at a tree, the first human beings reached for something they could never attain, they believed the serpent’s lie that they could become like God himself. And rebellion, evil, and sin went viral. Spreading like a cancer into all of God’s creation. Racism is an evil that flows from this event. Lawlessness is an evil that flows from this event. Injustice, violence, hatred, fear, greed, selfishness, apathy—all of it flows from what took place at that tree.

It’s very likely that because of your background and upbringing, one of these issues angers you more than another. And because of that, you are likely drawn to one side more than another. And if you are drawn to a side, you then have the target: the other side. To point out how they are so wrong and how your side is so right. And like blinders on a racehorse, our anger focuses our attention on the issue and against the other side and we forget something. We often can’t see it, but since the fall into sin there is not a single person living on earth who is completely right. Not even close to it. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). I’m not saying there isn’t a time to speak up and speak out and stand for justice and righteousness, but I fear we often do so without acknowledging and confessing something first—that wicked and evil river of pollution flowing from the tree in the Garden of Eden has flowed right into my own heart as well. As children of Adam and Eve, we were born with hearts of darkness. You were born with a heart of emptiness. We all enter this world with hearts filled with chaos, emptiness, and disorder. We are all guilty and deserve God’s righteous and true anger to come down upon us.

The scene is set again for one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power and love. He looks at this mess of a world and he sends his Word again to bring peace, order, justice, and life. This time he didn’t just speak the Word, he sent the Word. The Word of God took on human flesh. Born of a woman and placed in a manger. The Word grew up and walked the earth. He, and only he, lived righteously and walked perfectly. He, and only he, was always in the right. He, and only he, was truly in a position to look down on everyone else in righteous anger, but he didn’t. Instead, he looked up to his Father and said, “Let it be me! Let your anger come down upon me! Not them. Let all this mess fall squarely upon my shoulders.” And so, we go to another tree. The tree where the innocent Son of God, took up all our pain and misery and suffered injustice for us once and for all.

Many guests would be used to preaching heavy on sanctification and light on justification.

Here is an excerpt from Pastor Lange’s Palm Sunday sermon on Philippians 2. This sermon was preached on a Sunday when many preschool guests would be in attendance. Lange comments that this sermon attempted to speak to the de-churched with a non-denominational background. Many guests would be used to preaching heavy on sanctification and light on justification.

Remember what was said at the beginning (of the text), “In your relationships with each other have the same mindset Jesus displayed.” God commands us to be humble just like Jesus. And if I said, “Amen,” right now and you left, you might be thinking this was the sermon summary: “1) Jesus was humble, 2) God commands us to be humble just like Jesus,” and you might be fine…for a while. You might go to IHOP and get your pancakes, go to Home Depot and buy your hanging flowerpots for the deck, but sooner or later this question would catch up with you today or this week, “Have I been humble like Jesus? Am I in my life being humble like Jesus? Can I ever be humble like Jesus?”

Why is it that my heart enjoys having the advantage over others? When people treated Jesus like nothing, he carried on in love without complaining? But why is it that when people dismiss me or treat me like nothing, I want to say, “Excuse me, don’t you know who I am? How significant I am? You can’t treat me like that!” And being a servant? Why is it that after a long day of work, the dishes get done, the house gets picked up, and finally a quiet hour for me, and right when we sit down, we hear from upstairs, “Mom, Dad, I need you.” Why is this heart of ours is so slow to serve? This is not a “Look at Jesus and be humble like him!” kind of sermon, this a “Look and first be humbled!” kind of sermon. Be humbled by the truth we haven’t loved this way. Be humbled that God commands us to love this way, but we can’t. We have broken his commands. Someone had to pay for our pride and our selfishness, someone had to pay for the times we haven’t loved others. Someone had to pay for all of our sins. That is what Jesus came to do. It was the reason he came to the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. To rescue us from sin. He didn’t bring an army. He would win victory over sin by surrendering himself. His humility is our hope!

There is no greater act of humble love. The exalted one, who by nature is God, allowed sinful humans to pin him to a crossbeam with nails. The most powerful being to ever walk the earth rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and offered himself to die. The one equal to God didn’t consider using that advantage for himself, even when the other crucified criminals mocked him telling him he should save himself. He stayed. He didn’t even think of saving himself, because all that was on his mind was saving you. The payment we owed God the Humble Servant has given.

One preaching resource (besides the Bible and Confessions) in your library and why you have found it valuable:

One resource is my blank sermon writing template page. Every week I open this document when it is time to begin a new sermon. It has prayers, reminders, tidbits from homiletics class, quotes from other preachers, sermon diagnostic questions, etc. Here is a sampling of what is on it right now:

  1. Begin with prayer. Remember: It is a privilege to stand in pulpit. Enjoy the process!
  2. Catch ME in the Gospel net this week!
  3. Holy Spirit, use this message despite me!
    • Text: Theme of Day: Prayer of Day: Lessons: Initial Ideas:
    • Law: “How can I preach the Law to the secure sinner?” (CFW Walther, Proper Distinction)
    • Gospel: “How can I preach the Gospel to the crushed sinner?” (Walther)
    • Other thoughts and questions:
      • Where is Christ in this text?
      • What lie is the devil telling? How does this portion of God’s Word expose that lie?
      • OT questions: What does the text reveal about God and his will, God’s acts, covenants, law, grace, etc?
      • What is the narrow and broad context of this text?
      • Don’t forget the “So What?” factor.
      • With this sermon I pray that the Holy Spirit will ____ my listeners to…
Timeless Reminders

Editor’s note: This issue’s timeless reminder comes from sainted Prof. Daniel Deuschlander’s article, “Preaching Old Testament Texts.” You can read Prof. Deutschlander’s article its entirety in Preach the Word 7:2.

Perhaps it will help if we start with the simple and so useful assumption: Every text is unique. It makes no difference whether the text is from the Old Testament or the New, keeping that assumption in mind may help to guard against preaching the same sermon every Sunday or from using the same application, no matter what the text: This is the Word of the Lord. Now let’s go out and share it with our neighbors and relatives. Just as the miracles of Jesus are all the same only different, so too are the Bible stories of the Old Testament. Jesus’ miracles all prove that he is the omnipotent Son of God who cares about our human condition. But each recorded miracle is at the same time unique, containing in its telling a lesson found nowhere else in quite the same way. So also the Bible history of the Old Testament. Each story makes the point that God is serious about his Word, both the law and the gospel.

The preacher is always looking for what makes these inspired words, this particular story, unique.

Each story illustrates the truth that grace is always undeserved, that we live by faith, and that we walk as pilgrims under the cross. And at the same time each story is unique and sharpens our understanding of those eternal truths just a little bit more. It is part of the art of the preacher of the Word that he is always looking for what makes these inspired words, this particular story, unique. He is always asking the text: What are you doing here? Of all the things that God could have said, could have told us about, why this?

Written by Joel Russow


The Foundation – Year A

The worship planning spreadsheet (and PDF version) for the entire year has been available since mid-August. Advent through Epiphany had been posted in early June. Some materials such as the Preacher Podcast and graphics are still being provided as they become available.

To receive earliest notice of such materials, be sure to sign up for email notification of new resources at welscongregationalservices.net/subscriptions/. Pastors might want to encourage musicians to sign up for the Hymnal Highlight series, which offers practical and helpful ways to introduce new hymns.

Are you just now considering The Foundation for the first time? Be sure to review the introductory video at welscongregationalservices.net/foundation-yr-a/ and also Worship the Lord #111. A link is just under the video. Note that you can use The Foundation even if you don’t have the new hymnal. You can easily adapt the worship plan for CW21 in the Year A Planner to CW93. The new lectionary is available in the free test drive version of CW Service Builder (builder.christianworship.com) and for purchase from Logos. Since the Gospel readings in the new lectionary are almost always identical to the old, you can still use Planning Christian Worship (worship.welsrc.net) for hymn suggestions if you’re still using CW93. Just watch for any hymns that focus on a First or Second Reading that might have changed in CW21.


 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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What does starting a Lutheran seminary look like?

Walking through the central streets of Medellín, Colombia, is sensory overload. Smell the oil from the fried empanadas. Traffic everywhere. Whiny motorcycles. Carts selling some of the most beautiful fruit you’ve ever seen. Hey, is that WELS vicar Zach Satorius with a guitar case slung over his shoulder? Hard-working people scurrying off to their jobs. Others we see are obviously struggling in life. I wonder if people even noticed us. . . A tall professor from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and three short men: a Bolivian, a Colombian, and an American missionary, walking the streets for an hour or two every day, talking as we went. Is this what the start of a seminary looks like?

Followers of Jesus in places as far as Bolivia, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic have banded together to form a new international confessional Lutheran synod in Latin America: Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. God-willing there will be a representative from this new synod at the 2023 WELS Synod Convention, so you’ll be hearing more about this.

WELS mission efforts in Spanish-speaking Latin America are focused on Academia Cristo. We find people through social media. A mobile app walks people through the basics of the Christian faith. It’s up to each person if they want to continue learning. Those who finish the app are invited to participate in the first level of online discipleship training courses. By the end of level one, some of those who finish will join the Lutheran faith. They’ll also have the desire to teach others and start a core group. In level two we provide training for leading such a group through its early stages, with the goal of forming a church. (By the way, you can share our app with Spanish speakers in the U.S.)

As God blesses the work of the new Latin American synod and WELS mission efforts, groups become churches of the new synod. So how do people get further ministry training? It’s okay to start simple. WELS has been training pastors for almost 160 years. Know how it started? My understanding is that theological training happened inside the school building of St. Mark’s in Watertown, Wis. Humble beginnings. Not so different from the test classes that leaders of the new seminary, Seminario Cristo (Christ Seminary), have already started for more than a dozen group leaders to build on their Academia Cristo training. Participants learn to apply law and gospel, counseling, and biblical interpretation. They get to apply some of what they’re learning with the group they’re teaching right away that same week. Preaching, advanced doctrine, and other topics are coming. The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) and WELS missionaries advise and consult. The new synod leads the seminary in training people for different forms of ministry.

We did work in Medellín. Seminary leaders made philosophical and curriculum decisions. It was clear that we all shared the same faith and values. Everything needs to be Biblical, Christ-centered, and practical. We all knew it.

We preached to each other and prayed together. We played dominos. Shared life stories. We drank tinto (Colombian coffee) several times a day. We walked the streets of Medellín for hours. We laughed and prayed and bonded in Christ. Starting a confessional Lutheran seminary. . . there’s real work to be done. But it’s easy to forget that the love of Christ, walking together and loving one another. . . that’s part of starting a seminary too.

Written by Rev. Joel Sutton, world missionary on the Latin America mission team

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His plans are best

This past May I graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and was assigned to a mission restart at Calvary in Canyon Country, Calif. That was a surprise! I thought for sure I was staying in the Midwest. I assumed that I was the only student in my class who indicated that cold weather and snow don’t bother me at all. I figured I would be assigned accordingly. But the Lord knows best, and his plans were better.

I received a call to a place that is far removed from snow and freezing temperatures, and it is wonderful! I made the 2,000-mile trek from my home in Wisconsin to California, where I fell in love with my new home almost as soon as I moved in. The beauty of southern California is vast, and there is endless opportunity to enjoy God’s creation here.

Even better though, are the people at Calvary, the greater Santa Clarita area, and California in general. In my two months at Calvary, I have met numerous people who want to help and offer their advice and guidance as I make the transition from the Midwest to the Southwest. I have found people at Calvary and in Canyon Country who are truly warm, welcoming, and caring. Canyon Country already feels like home!

It has been somewhat challenging for me, a brand-new pastor, to navigate church life, Home Missions, and my district mission board. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve got this all down. But God blesses his workers and puts many individuals in their lives to offer assistance. Members of our core group at Calvary are always asking what they might do to help or who they can contact to find answers. The district mission board, mission counselors, Home Missions office, and pastors in my district have also proven to be a valuable resource to orient me to mission work and navigate various boards in our synod. These people are truly blessings from God and have helped me adapt to my new setting.

Our efforts at Calvary these last few months have been blessed and made to prosper by our God. Our core group continues to meet around God’s Word and Sacraments so that we might be strengthened and encouraged for our work in Christ’s Kingdom. We continue to grow in our faith, plan for our future, and are even finding opportunities to share the love of Jesus with our friends, neighbors, and community. God be praised for his many blessings the last few months!

Written by Rev. Barton Cox, home missionary at Calvary Lutheran Church in Canyon County, Calif.

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Images of Grace – Partnership between MLP and Bethany Lutheran College

WELS Multi-Language Productions (MLP) is partnering with the Bethany Lutheran College Fine Arts department to produce illustrations of Bible stories and Catechism lessons for use in world mission fields. Fourteen ELS/WELS artists came together alongside Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for MLP, to illustrate 54 Biblical accounts for use in Zambian Sunday Schools. Church leaders in Zambia plan to distribute these illustrations for use as inexpensive, impactful visual aids in Sunday School classes.

The “Images of Grace,” exhibition will be available from August 31-September 27 in the Ylvisaker Fine Arts Center Gallery. A special gallery reception is being held on September 1 at 7 p.m. and will include a panel discussion with Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz; Rev. Larry Schlomer, WELS World Missions Administrator; Professor Andrew Overn, Art Director; and various contributing artists. All are invited to attend.

This exhibit represents the beginning of an ongoing project and partnership between Bethany’s Art Department and Multi-Language Productions. Learn more about MLP and the resources they provide to WELS world mission fields at wels.net/mlp.

Learn more about the exhibit and gallery reception on the Bethany Lutheran College event page.

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Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Montana

July 23, 2022. 10:00 a.m. The grill is heating up. Everything is ready to go for Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Mont. People start walking past our pavilion in the park, and the core group kicks into gear. “Good morning! We’re North Valley Lutheran Church, and we’re here trying to show some love for our community. We’ve got backpacks. We’ve got burgers. We have face painting and crafts. Come on in and take a look around!” We’ve come a long way to get to this pavilion in the park.

Our work in northwestern Montana really began over ten years ago. A group of WELS members who had moved to Kalispell reached out to the pastor at Living Savior in Missoula. Missoula is 100 miles away from Kalispell, but out here in Montana, that’s the closest WELS church they could find. From that point on, the pastor from Missoula would drive up once a month to lead a worship service with Holy Communion.

Kalispell has changed a lot in the last ten years. The secret of Montana’s natural beauty has gotten out, and people are moving in. The latest United States census identified Kalispell as the fastest growing “micropolitan” area in the country. The city council is constantly approving new housing developments. Old hotels are being torn down and replaced with apartment complexes. In all of this, God has given us an opportunity!

Over the last couple years, the core group has intensified its efforts. The group meets for weekly worship in a hotel conference room. They also meet online for midweek Bible Study. I drive up two Sundays a month with one overnight stay so that I can spend Monday connecting with prospects. There have been challenges. When the next closest WELS church is 100 miles away, it can feel isolating. But God’s blessing has been immense. Last summer, we welcomed volunteers from four different congregations across the state of Montana for a weekend of canvassing. This summer, a dozen teens came from the Twin Cities to help advertise for Backpacks and Burgers. And it was an absolute joy to see the results that God brought about!

At our pavilion in the park, we gave away 40 backpacks and 80 burgers. We had a chance to welcome all kinds of different people. Fifteen new families expressed interest in learning more about our church. These families are not only from Kalispell, but also from nearby Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Some are new residents to Montana. Others have been here their whole lives, but have never been connected to a church. Still others have been attending big mega-churches, but are looking for a place where they won’t be overlooked – a place where they will be served with God’s Word. What a privilege we have to introduce these people to their Savior!

Way out here in Montana, we are so thankful for the prayers and the support of our brothers and sisters across the country. We are thankful for our partnership in the gospel. As our synod begins its ambitious goal of 100 Missions in 10 Years, we are praying that Kalispell, Mont., will be part of it. Next time you’re planning a vacation to Glacier National Park, make sure you keep Sunday afternoon open. We’ll be so happy to see you.

Written by Rev. Noah Willitz, pastor at Living Savior in Missoula, Mont.

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Summer is time for growing

What could you possibly call 60 people frantically (even raucously) scampering around trying to find an only child and a green-eyed vegetarian?

Well, a business meeting, of course. At least, that’s what we call it here in on the Apache reservations. On our Native American mission field, summer time is not just for relaxing, but also for growing! As God grows our ministries in fields ripe for harvest, He also graciously grows our mission team of harvesters. So each summer our teachers pause in their last minute preparations of arranging new desks and sharpening pencils for a new school year and our pastors clear their calendars to gather together. We meet our new team members, study God’s Word together, review ministry plans together, eat together, and even search for only children and vegetarians together. New relationships are formed, and old relationships are renewed and strengthened as we prepare to do battle with Satan and his helpers for the souls that God has entrusted to our care. This year we welcomed teachers Tony Sahatjian and Claudia Meyer to East Fork Lutheran School, and Pastor John and Mindy Holtz to our Native Christians team. They will be carrying on the important work of equipping Native American Christians to lead and serve God’s people.

Missionary John Holtz and his wife, Mindy

But we’re not done growing! This summer we have another reason to rejoice as we look forward to adding another missionary to our Native Christians team and expanding our gospel reach to more locations. More than 500 tribes that are overwhelmingly not Christian are still waiting for the life-changing, future-changing seeds of the gospel to be planted in their fields. And while we never found an only child or a green-eyed vegetarian on our current harvest team, we’re all ready and willing to get to work. Maybe the new missionary will fit that description?

Please join us in prayer that our gracious Lord would bless our team, our plans, and the people we will serve. Ask Him for opportunities to share Jesus, and the courage and love for us to make the most of them.

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, world missionary on the Native American mission team.

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WELS Missions – 2022 Impact Report

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. . .

Matthew 28:19

God is blessing the efforts of WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions in amazing ways! Your prayers and gifts are making a difference in communities across the U.S. and around the world; we are grateful for your generosity.

Here are some ways your gifts are being used to share the good news of the gospel.

HOME MISSIONS

  • Five new churches were approved in Windsor, Colo.; Wichita, Kans.; Canton, Ga.; Conroe, Tex; and Lodi, Wis. Home Missions also approved enhancements or unsubsidized mission status at seven other locations. Learn more at wels.net/newstart.
  • Campus Ministry provides over 30 campus ministries with financial support and assists hundreds of other congregations in their campus ministry outreach.
  • Plans and preparations are being made to plant 100 new home mission churches and enhance 75 existing ministries from 2023-2033. Learn more at wels.net/100in10.

WORLD MISSIONS

  • Two missionaries are beginning ministry in London this year.
  • Over 500 worldwide gospel ministers are proclaiming the Good News, and more than 90 additional men have graduated from worker training programs this year alone.
  • Building of the theological education center in Vietnam has begun.
  • Plans are being made to welcome a synod in Uganda and an international synod in Latin America into WELS fellowship at the 2023 Synod Convention.
  • Nine new missionary positions have been approved.

JOINT MISSIONS

  • The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) is working with One Teams around the world and providing theological training to immigrants in the U.S. for service to their people groups.
  • Mission Journeys provides opportunities for volunteer trips to WELS mission fields at home and abroad.

Praise God for his mercy and grace and thank YOU for your prayers and support! There is always more work to do, and we are grateful for your continued partnership. Pray for God’s blessing on his Church. Share God’s grace and forgiveness with others you meet. Ask God to give us strength to serve others with love.

Learn more at wels.net/missions and like us on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions

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God’s Word lost . . . and found!

Imagine not having the Word of God. This is true for many people in the world.

One people group in the northern part of a South Asian country has wanted the Bible in its language for over 35 years. They began translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew but it was such a slow process that they made no headway.

Another man was determined to translate the New Testament from Bangla—the most common language in this country—into the language of his tribe. He worked night and day. He did nothing else. His wife was angry with him for not working in the fields. He said, “I must bring the words of the Bible into the language of our people.”

When he finished the New Testament he brought his papers to a Bible society in the capital of his country. Two months later he made a second trip to the capital to check on the progress of his translation. The Bible society then discovered they had lost his documents. Three years of work—all gone! The words of the New Testament in the language of his people lost!

Now this man is working with our team to translate the New Testament from Bangla into the language of his tribe. All of the team members are working without pay. We finished the oral and written translation in May. Multi-Language Productions (MLP) is paying for the printing of 5,000 copies of this New Testament.

We are also translating the New Testament from Bangla into the language of three more people groups. Some of these people groups are “unreached.” There are hardly any Christians in these tribes. Those who do convert to Christianity are persecuted and sometimes killed. In one tribe of 200,000 people we know of only three living Christians. All three are workers on our team.

We have also translated Luther’s Catechism from English into Bangla. Oh, how our men worked on this project! They love the catechism. Four different men/groups proofed the translation. This is hard work—but worth it. They went “the extra mile.”

One of our team leaders worked with the publisher so that pages of the Bangla catechism “line up” perfectly with the pages of our English catechism. What is on page 29 of the English catechism, for example, is exactly what you will find on page 29 of the Bangla catechism. Now we will be “on the same page” (pun intended). This is helpful for teaching.

Even the wonderful diagrams in the English catechism are in the Bangla catechism. The color of ink (blue and black), the binding and cover are the same! MLP is generously providing the funds for the printing of 5,000 copies.
MLP is our partner in bringing God’s Word to those who do not have it. Humanly speaking two mission fields in South Asia would not exist without MLP. God’s Word was lost—and now is found!

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Unity and peace

The Winter Olympics, you may remember, took place this past February. One highlight of the Olympics is always the opening ceremony. Nearly a hundred nations stream into the stadium waving their flags, people from Asia and Africa, Europe and the Americas all join together under one Olympic banner.

This image of all these countries coming together is a beautiful image of unity, of togetherness. The problem, however, is that these countries do not come together because they’re striving in unity toward the same goal. They come to compete. Once the opening pleasantries finish, it’s time for the fierce competition. It doesn’t take long to see that the supposed “unity and peace” of the opening ceremony, while seeming beautiful, are nothing more than nice thoughts.

Yet for us who belong to the Kingdom of God, unity and peace are more than just “pleasantries.” At a recent East Asia meeting of local leaders and missionaries, brothers from different regions and countries all joined in unity. There were three different languages spoken and many different faces shown on the screen. The brothers gathered not to compete, not for pride of glory as the world sees it, but to spread the good news about Jesus Christ crucified.

A beautiful foretaste, it seemed to us, of what’s waiting in heaven, just as Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .” What a beautiful scene, the nations gathered together under one banner, in one place, in true unity!

As we continue to reach and train Christian leaders here in East Asia, that multitude John describes in Revelation seems to swell. We thank you for all your prayers for the East Asia missionaries and local leaders as we continue to bring the gospel to the nations.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

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Impactful relationships

Depending on how you count, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs make up about 10-20% of the population of the Greater Toronto area. That’s almost two million people! That percentage is even higher in Mississauga, which has a particularly high population of Muslims. As you can imagine, they are a very difficult population to reach with the good news of Jesus. They don’t respond to typical evangelism programs, law/gospel presentations, etc. They are conditioned to be polite but skeptical of Christians, expecting them to “just try to convert them.”

That is because, much like many Christians in the West, our affluent and entertainment-saturated culture has caused many austere believers in Islam or Hinduism to soften their beliefs into simply “cultural” faith. That means they don’t believe much of what their religions teach, but they also don’t want to convert to Christianity because to them Christianity is a culture, not a religion. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean believing in Jesus as much as it means to stop being Saudi, Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, etc., and become Western/Canadian. Therefore, we cannot bring them to Jesus with simple presentations of the gospel. They see that as close to racism against their culture. Our only chance is long-term relationship investment.

That’s what is happening with Priyanka. Her name is changed, and she isn’t pictured to hide her identity. She is an immigrant from Bangladesh whose husband cheated on her, left her, but because of their culture and religious background, still “owns” her in a sense. Her fear of him is why her identity is hidden. And yet, despite all that, her culture makes it very hard for her to accept that Christianity may have something to offer her.

My wife has been regularly meeting her to take her to the doctor, have her over to make Biryani (a Bangladeshi staple) together, take her grocery shopping, or just keep her company. She is naturally resistant to Christianity, but after almost two years of meeting with her, she agreed to receive a Bible in Bangla, her native tongue, and has come to our house once for a Bible study. She is not a Christian yet, but this is the kind of long-term work that allows people from these cultures and religions to even listen to the gospel.

Missionary Caleb Schultz and his wife Johannah

But this is not limited to people of Middle Eastern or South Asian background. This is becoming more and more true of the non-immigrant population as well. Those who grew up in a Christian culture are also increasingly seeing the church as a social/culture club where people try to get you to behave differently. This has moved our congregation to a model of relationally expensive outreach. Investing in people over time, not to convert them, but just because Jesus loves them. That means expecting that it will take years in some cases for people to know Jesus. But in the end, those people will know a Jesus who didn’t just give them a set of beliefs or culture, but brought them into his life through his body, the Church.

You can do this too. Many white people are intimidated to engage immigrant populations (I was too!), but they really ought not to be. Invite them over for dinner. Ask them about their culture or homeland. Be the type of person they want to call first when something goes wrong in their life, because inevitably something will, and you will have an answer (Jesus!) that is far better than any other.

Pray for this woman and us as we try to reach the many people groups of our city.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at, Cross of Life, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

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Back to square A (Albania)

Luke and I moved to Russia in 1997 right after he finished seminary. We arrived in Novosibirsk with next to nothing. . . no cultural knowledge, language skills, children, ministry experience, or possessions. Gradually over the next 25 years, God gave us all those blessings and more. Russia became our home, the place where we felt comfortable, the place where we raised our three children. We knew where to fix the transmission, how to file taxes, which plumber to call, what to substitute for cream soup, and where to get stitches. We had one adventure after another at church, school, and home, and each adventure gave us new knowledge, appreciation, and experience.

Now we are living in Durres, Albania. . . and it feels like déjà vu!

Once again, we are the new guys, sorely lacking in cultural knowledge and language skills. We don’t know much about how ministry works in Albania. We are empty nesters. It’s like we’re newlyweds again!

We’ve spent a grand total of 87 days in Albania. That isn’t much, but we are having adventures and learning.

Albanians are hospitable and friendly. Pastor Nikola Bishka (Niko) and his family found us a lovely apartment to live in and let us borrow things we needed. They are always happy to help. (We especially appreciate their old espresso machine!) Church members have welcomed us warmly.

Albanians don’t want to tell you “No.” I learned this the hard way. Don’t keep waiting around if someone says they’ll do it “in 20 minutes.”

You can buy eggs one at a time. And there’s always a lady selling live chickens just down the block. (Should I surprise Luke some day?)

Locals advise me to look for goods imported from Italy. That is the signal for quality. My new favorite butter comes from Italy. And coffee. And small appliances. And laundry soap. And wine.

Don’t buy bread or baked goods at the grocery store. A nearby bakery will offer fresher goods and cheaper deliciousness.

In Durres, directions are given much like in rural Nebraska: by landmark. We don’t even have a street address. We’re in the apartment building by the pub, “Bar ZaZa.” Taxi drivers and pizza delivery guys know exactly where we are.

Don’t eat olives off the tree. They don’t taste good. Fresh olives must be brined for at least two weeks before eating. My favorite olive merchant is also an excellent, patient man to practice language with. So I buy a lot of olives!

You can keep your washing machine outside on the balcony. (This isn’t Novosibirsk!) I don’t think they are worried about freezing pipes in Durres.

Our apartment is on the 10th floor, and we have a beautiful view overlooking the Port of Durres on the Adriatic Sea. The deep turquoise of the sea at noon becomes a lovely light blue at sunset.

Sunset is the perfect time to wind down and take a walk. The sun is not so hot, the water is beautiful, and the ice cream vendors are still out in full force.

Though I can’t understand most of the words at church, I can see the fruits of faith. I see that the people are happy to gather for worship. They care about each other. They love their pastors. They sing praises with gusto. They are patient and loving with us.

Right now, we are in the U.S. for some family time, classes, and meetings. God-willing we’ll head back to Albania soon. We’re looking forward to learning more about life and work in Albania with new adventures!

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, wife of World Missionary Luke Wolfgramm.

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Blessings of Academia Cristo in Colombia

Latin America Missionary Matt Behmer made a trip to Colombia in early July 2022 to connect with Academia Cristo students in the country. Here are a few updates:

 

1) On Wednesday, July 6, Academia Cristo student Álvaro Moreno (pictured far left) and Missionary Behmer (far right) shared a law and gospel message with approximately 15 workers from the estate where Álvaro lives in Armenia, Colombia. That night, one of the workers died in his sleep. We praise God he got to hear the gospel in his final hours. On Thursday, July 7, Missionary Behmer and Álvaro made five in-person visits to potential members of Álvaro’s soon-to-be-formed Grupo Sembrador (A group that gathers regularly around God’s Word using a two-year packet of worship and Bible study materials provided by Academia Cristo).

 


2) On Saturday, July 9, Academia Cristo student Yeison Lozano from Bogotá, Colombia, conducted a two hour interview with Missionary Behmer about our ministry on his radio program. He made several pleas to his listeners to download our app and enroll in live classes. Yeison gathers an independent group in a rented space in Bogotá and shows serious potential to become a church planter.

 


3) On Sunday, July 10, they held an in-person workshop in Bogotá. There were 27 in attendance. Among the participants were Academia Cristo student Verny (pediatric physician) and his family from Costa Rica. They were in Bogotá on vacation. Lucho Herrera from Doral, Fla., was in Bogotá and served as the keynote speaker. Academia Cristo student Camilo Herrera hosted at his restaurant and led the final worship service. Missionary Behmer had the privilege of baptizing the son of an Academia Cristo student! (Pictured)

 

 

Please join us in giving thanks to God for the work of the Holy Spirit in Colombia! View more photos from Missionary Behmer’s trip in our Flickr album.

 

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Worship and Outreach – In a Large Midwestern Parish

Worship and Outreach

In a Large Midwestern Parish1

Introductory Matters

Every article has a context. A brother’s words still ring in my ear from a past Call deliberation: “You recognize, don’t you, that the public worship life of the church has been in disarray throughout the course of history?” The topic at hand has been surrounded by conversations, some of which have caused harm and division in church bodies past and present—of this I am fully aware.

If any of this is compelling, God bless it. And, if not, God bless you, dear brother.

So I need to say clearly: I am no expert. My musical gifts are laughable, and I have no advanced degrees in either worship or outreach.2 Nor is this a persuasive essay. I write as a pastor, recognizing the gospel is the lifeblood of the church.3 I am a pastor, daily and increasingly aware of my own shortcomings, and growing, I pray, ever more charitable and enjoying the dialogue with those who think differently about why I do what I do, especially in the areas of worship and outreach, and where they intersect. I don’t claim to have this all figured out, nor do I serve 1,250 parishioners and a number of weekly visitors to the Sunday Service who are completely united on this matter, either.4

My prayerful aim in these few short pages is to give a brief glimpse into how one larger, midwestern parish has sought to serve the lifelong WELSer and the newcomer with the same unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ, to his unending glory.5 If any of this is compelling, God bless it. And, if not, God bless you, dear brother, Called to serve real sinner-saints in your own context. I am thankful that this article and the ongoing conversations have given me a new opportunity to think through these items and to pray for you and your ministry, as well.

“The terrible sin of pessimism, which is the pastor’s greatest temptation, is finished with.”

In No Particular Order
  • Hermann Sasse: “The humble preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the simple Sacraments are the greatest things that can happen in the world. For in these things the hidden reign of Christ is consummated. He himself is present in these means of grace, and the bearer of the ministry of the church actually stands in the stead of Christ. That certainly puts an end to any clerical conceit. We are nothing. He is everything. And that means that the terrible sin of pessimism, which is the pastor’s greatest temptation, is finished with as well. It is nothing but doubt and unbelief, for Christ the Lord is just as present in His means of grace today as He was in the sixteenth or the first century. And ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ [Matt. 28:18] is just as much His today as it was when He first spoke that promise to the apostles. And it remains so into all eternity. Do we still believe this?”6 This has something to say to our time together on Sunday morning, I do believe. For our members. And for those that you have prayed for or worked with, who saw a Facebook ad, who are down on life, or who simply took a friend up on an invitation to join them in worship.
  • Paul ambled up to me after my first Sunday in Mukwonago. “Thanks for the Service, but the problem is this: you had us stand way too much.” If I remember correctly, it was pretty standard fare, a Service from the hymnal; singing “How Great Thou Art” and probably “On Eagles’ Wings” as well7, I was no glutton for punishment! The next week Paul nodded as he passed by: “That was much better.” Same service. Same rubrics. Lesson learned: “How we’ve always done things” is a flexible conversation. Lesson learned: let’s spend a lot of time talking about why we do what we do.8

Do you display care and concern for the entirety of the Service or just the sermon?

  • Sainted pastor and former district president Herbert Prahl was quoted in Preach the Word 26.1 (May/June 2022). “Love your hearers as Jesus loved them.” He also gave the reminder that the sermon must answer a big question: “So What?” I maintain the same goes for presiding. Members and visitors know what is important to you, dear pastor. Are they aware that you want to be there? Do you display care and concern for the entirety of the Service or just the sermon? Have you thought through your movements and your words? Practiced your pace? Does the joy show of standing in the stead of Christ and absolving the sinner in front of you? Would they know this is one of the high points of your week? “Dignified without being stuffy” is a compliment I once received. We’re handling other-worldly things in this place, in this hour. Let them see you reduced to tears as you explain to them the meaning of the salutation; as you marvel at God’s grace to you to serve in the place where he would have you serve; as those sitting there love you in return; to the glory and praise of God. Let them see you tremble as you baptize that child. Let them see you smile as you commune that couple you were quite sure weren’t going to make it; or as you commune that dear widow; or that dear young woman on Mother’s Day who has suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. (A dear brother in associate ministry for the first time: “Today was the first Easter in my ministry where I have not preached. But I did absolve; I read; I prayed; I distributed holy body and holy blood; I spoke the blessing. That isn’t nothing!”) Let them see this as the greatest hour of the week, and that you would not want to be anywhere else!
  • “Sharp elbows cause problems in pick-up basketball games and in church narthexes and in meetings.” What does this have to do with worship and outreach? The visitor can sense when things are on edge. Members, too. Forgiveness and mercy are the rule of the day. The Eighth Commandment looks good on you. If I remembered where I heard it for the first time, I’d surely give credit: “You have found the right church when you can have a little laughter; when you don’t take yourself so seriously.” The gospel is serious business, yes. The work of the church is serious business, yes. But to have a little fun this side of heaven, in bounds, and in service of the gospel, this too is a gift of God. “Oh, how good it is … where the bonds of peace, of acceptance and love, are the fruits of his presence here among us.” (CW 731:1)

To have a little fun this side of heaven in service of the gospel is a gift of God.

  • The children matter. We’ve learned to embrace their chatter. We tell young parents: “Don’t worry, we don’t hear your kids.” We provide a cry room and seats in the entryway if that’s where they find their comfort. But we do all we can to encourage them to have their children with the rest of the church family in the Service. If they learn it for hymnology, I try to remember to have it sung on Sunday. We don’t frown at parents if they sit towards the front and let their kids ask questions. The little ones receive a blessing as their parents commune. We teach the sign of the cross, that is free to be used, or not, at appropriate times in the Service. An ill-timed “Amen” and a “Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!” from the lips of these little ones are welcomed in the ears of Jesus and in our midst, as well.
  • Every one, bring one. Pastor David Rosenau’s “One by One”9 presentation at the 2020 Leadership Conference resonated with how we’ve approached outreach. Everyone Outreach10 from Congregational Services strikes the same chord. When people come through our doors, if they do not have a pastor, we consider that our role until they tell us not to be their pastor. If a parishioner tells us about a family member or friend is in the hospital, we ask if they have a pastor serving them. We have invited some folks to the Adult Instruction Class a dozen times before they have said yes, and many more still keep saying “no.” We recognize that some of our greatest outreach happens before, during, and after the Sunday services.

If a parishioner tells us about a family member or friend is in the hospital, we ask if they have a pastor serving them.

  • March 2020 brought two specific blessings to our worship life. Online Morning Prayer and an online “Prayer and Conversation” meeting emerged. Two-plus years later: a ten-minute Morning Prayer is made available Monday through Friday on our YouTube page. I cannot tell you how many parishioners and non-members have commented how this has changed their daily routine. “I thank you my heavenly Father” and “Lord, have mercy” are on the lips and hearts of dozens every morning. We have now added to this a “live” Morning Prayer on Wednesday mornings during the Advent, Lent, and Easter seasons. It works for some retirees, and for some on their way to work, and for a few school families. The faculty stops in. As the online “Prayer and Conversation” meetings waned, we decided to add a monthly Prayer at the Close of Day Service.11 We’ve used this Service to introduce some of the newer hymns and psalmody. God’s children (and their friend, if they’ve brought one, as they’ve been encouraged) often go home with “I will wait for you through the storm and night” from Psalm 130 in their ears. Blessed be those old words made new again! Some months ago, we brought in a speaker for an evening lecture beforehand.12 I recognize this is not in everyone’s wheelhouse, but if the midweek “Bible study” has become an accepted norm (for which I’m thankful!), I maintain that a regular gathering for Morning Prayer and Prayer at the Close of Day could be an accepted norm, as well.
A few more lessons I have learned

Some people have strong opinions about what they want in worship. Over the past eight years, out of the hundreds who have come from outside of our fellowship to join us, I can count on one hand those who had strong opinions already formed regarding worship. It’s worth a conversation. To the lady with a nominal background in Methodism, I asked her: “Tell me your favorite hymns,” and lo and behold, some of them fit, and I gave attention to those in my next round of worship planning. The new confirmand from Roman Catholicism says: “I’m thankful that I don’t have to give up the sign of the cross—and to now know what it means!” Each denomination, and congregation within a denomination, is going to land somewhere on these questions. “We’ve always and we’ve never.” You could write a book! Our congregation has landed in a place where we are not going to try to “out Baptist the Baptists” or “out Catholic the Catholics.”

A ten-minute Morning Prayer is available on YouTube. I cannot tell you how many have commented how this has changed their daily routine.

This article isn’t a sales pitch for the new hymnal—no royalties for this guy! But what Pastor Michael Schultz says in his Introduction to Christian Worship has been true and, we pray, will continue on in our congregation: “There is something for everyone to appreciate and to use: seasoned worshipers, newcomers, and a generation yet unborn.”13 Our experience has been that liturgical worship and a frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a deterrent to our outreach efforts, but rather, combined with intentional education and “every one reach one” outreach efforts, has been a tremendous blessing, to member and non-member alike!

We are not going to try to “out Baptist the Baptists” or “out Catholic the Catholics.”

Dr. Wade Johnston, writing about preaching, says something that can be applied to our worship and outreach as well: “The church has time, but sinners do not. So we should stop wasting their time. There’s only so long to hear, and so what gets put in their and our ears is crucial. Christ knew that and gave the paralytic what he needed first, whether or not the paralytic or anyone else realized it. There’s a freedom in that realization for the preacher, that everyone’s need is the same: forgiveness.”14

God bless your worship and outreach to that end!

By John Bortulin

Since 2014 Pastor Bortulin has served as one of the pastors at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. In the past eight years, St. John’s has seen over 250 adults join the church family through her Adult Instruction Class. This has created the dynamic of a large, established, congregation with many in the pews who were not previously familiar with liturgical worship. Additionally, John is the Worship Coordinator for the SEW District, serves on our synod’s Board for Ministerial Education and Joint Mission Council, and was a member of the Rites Committee for Christian Worship.


St. John’s intentional teaching of Why We Do What We Do
  1. Every AIC lesson is connected to a part of the Service. The same goes for youth catechism. The catechism student’s sermon study form also asks them to list their favorite hymn and anything in the service that drew their attention. Where do I see this truth when I come to worship? Where does this truth and this worship intersect with daily life?
  2. Lesson four in the AIC starts out: “Any questions about that Service you just sat through?” It’s a good temperature check. Sometimes that lasts an hour. Sometimes it leads to the next lesson, a step-by-step walkthrough of the Divine Service.
  3. Sunday morning Bible study often starts with “Any questions about worship today?”
  4. Utilization of explanatory notes in the Service Folder.
  5. Sermon connections to various parts of the Service, when appropriate.

Recent Resources

Are you aware that the Musician’s Resource (MR) is now live at nph.net? See the upper right-hand corner. Next to “Login” find “Musician’s Resource,” a link to a search tool and simplified site view to streamline the search experience solely to MR resources.

Christian Worship: Service Builder: Another of Caleb Bassett’s tightly scripted videos was posted in mid-June, A Powerful New Paradigm, available at: christianworship.com/resources (under Articles) and at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources. These videos are useful both for those already using Service Builder and for those just exploring—and to help congregational leaders to see the value and potential of Service Builder.

Another new resource: Rethinking the Role of Digital Displays in Worship. Find the article under “View Presentations” at the hymnal intro page above.

Have you seen the Hymnal Highlights? You can subscribe to receive them, along with other information, at welscongregationalservices.net/subscriptions. Or visit the hymnal intro page above. The most recent one (the title includes “In This Holy, Blest Communion”) includes lots of ideas for fall or long-range planning.

Also helpful for future planning: the Year A worship planner PDF and Excel files for Advent through Epiphany were released on June 17.


1 Some of this article flows from previous presentations at the National Worship Conference and at the Mission and Ministry Seminar held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Drop me a line and I’d be happy to share those presentations in outline form.
2 I am, however, indebted to the brothers who have done advanced study and have expertise in both areas. I am the richer for the ongoing conversation.
3 Augsburg Confession V.
4 I write this article smiling about two recent conversations. The first, from a soon-to-be adult confirmand: “You guys sing some weird stuff.” The second, from a midweek Bible study, when a series of comments about the recent selection of hymnody left me feeling pretty good about myself: “Pastor, we just love the new hymns we’ve been singing,” and then quickly brought back down to reality from the back of the room: “You could pick some of the old familiars, you know!”
5 The context matters. St. John’s is a parish founded in 1890. In the past eight years, one-fourth of our membership has come from outside of WELS, many from Roman Catholic, Evangelical, un-churched, and de-churched backgrounds. “How we’ve always done it” and “What I’m used to in worship” could fill volumes.
6 Hermann Sasse, The Lonely Way, Vol. 2, p. 139.
7 I work to find hymns that fit the theme of the day. I also recognize that the parishioner and the visitor will likely appreciate the familiar rather than the hymn that makes a great connection with the second reading in the third stanza. My philosophy here: Do the one without leaving the other undone. I’m guessing a couple dozen favorite hymns get sung 4-6 times/year. The ones that are their favorite and not mine happen to get sung while I’m on vacation.
8 The more I’ve learned about worship, the more I enjoy leading the Service and teaching the Service. If the old advice is helpful, “Read Walther’s Law and Gospel yearly,” I gladly add to that: “Read something decent on worship every year.”
9 welscongregationalservices.net/one-by-one
10 everyoneoutreach.com
11 Pastor Jon Zabell at St. Paul’s, Green Bay has been doing this for years. I think he would tell the same story: this has been a rich blessing for many. A new book, Prayer in the Night, by Tish Harrison Warren has served as an eye-opening guide to the prayers of this service.
12 Topics have included: Vocation; the Family Altar; Witnessing to Mormons; Psalms in the life of the Lutheran Church; Galatians.
13 Christian Worship, iv. One would also benefit from a re-read Pastor Jon Bauer’s article in Worship the Lord (#106, 2021) available at worship.welsrc.net.
14 Wade Johnston, Let the Bird Fly, 1517 Publishing, pp. 45-46. Johnston is on the faculty at Wisconsin Lutheran College.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

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Preach the Word – Insights from a Rural Setting

Preaching with Outsiders in Mind

Insights from a Rural Setting

Editor’s note: This issue continues our series on preaching with those outside our church membership in mind. The next two issues provide insights from pastors in differing settings—a pastor serving in a rural town and a pastor serving in a big city.

Pastor Frederic Berger shares insights from his ministry at St. Paul’s in Plymouth, NE and from preaching at Christ Lutheran in Beatrice, NE. Pastor Berger previously served at St. Paul’s in Livingston, MT and currently serves as the chairman of the Nebraska District Mission Board.

Ideas from Pastor Frederic Berger

“Funerals are one of our best forms of outreach.”

Four examples or thoughts on how outsiders have impacted your preaching preparation:

I come at this from the rural ministry perspective of a longtime established congregation. We live in a town of 400 people (Plymouth, NE). That means that on a typical Sunday we don’t have a lot of “outsiders” randomly coming for worship. But that also means that it becomes easier to key in on the types of services that we absolutely know there are going to be outsiders. Here are a few examples:

People are longing for these types of relationships, and they are in short supply among pastors in our country.

  1. Funerals – When I arrived in Plymouth, one of our elders commented, “Pastor, funerals are one of our best forms of outreach.” He wasn’t wrong. Everyone here knows everyone. People take time off to attend funerals. They bring food in abundance to share at the luncheon. They stay after for fellowship. They pay attention to the service, the building upkeep, the small details, and the sermon. Unlike other churches in our area, they have noticed in the sermon that the pastors have a close relationship with those who are now in heaven and with the family. The sermon is all about Jesus, but it’s always wonderful to share in the sermon how our church has connected the person who is now in heaven to the message of Jesus in immense proportions through Word and Sacrament over his/her life, while they were able to come to church, while a shut-in at home, and even in the last moments in the hospital. People are longing for these types of relationships, and they are in short supply among pastors in our country. Using relationships to connect people with the means of grace is our bread and butter in the WELS, and outsiders notice this.
  2. Weddings – At least in our area, and this is probably a widespread phenomenon, weddings even in churches have turned into a quasi-service, with officiants becoming ordained online for twenty bucks or acting like it. We have had several people take the Bible Information Class (BIC) who first came in contact with us as a guest at a wedding. And so even though I have found wedding sermons to be some of the most difficult to write, it gives an excellent opportunity to share law and gospel with many “outsiders.”
  3. Confirmations, Baptisms, Big Anniversaries, and Birthdays – Again, due to the strong family ties (often multi-generation families that stay in the area), when there is a family event, all the uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, etc. who are churched and unchurched attend the worship service. It might be for a special prayer or bouquet of flowers in the front for mom’s 80th, and 40 “outsiders” will be in attendance. I try to keep this in mind during sermon preparation. How can I take the truths of God’s Word and convey them in a simple, straightforward way? An introduction to catch their attention. A comment about Bible Information Class. A time in the sermon for them to actually ponder (and share with people sitting next to them) what this means for them. At this year’s confirmation service, one of the younger church council members commented to me, “That sermon was perfect for all the guests who were here today.”
  4. Christmas and Easter – These are Sundays for “outsiders” in all settings. I always think it is interesting to tailor your illustrations to your audience, which is quite easy when you are speaking to a congregation that understands farming and agriculture, because God often uses these illustrations.

Good preaching for “outsiders” is probably also good preaching for “insiders.”

Three encouragements to preachers for keeping outsiders in mind in sermon preparation:

  1. A good sermon is a good sermon. Good preaching for “outsiders” is probably also good preaching for “insiders.” As you spend time crafting a clear message, using pertinent illustrations, making applications to everyday life from God’s Word, sharing law and gospel, reviewing biblical accounts for the biblically illiterate and for the long time Bible reader who needs a refresher, defining terms such as justification, sanctification, repentance, redemption, etc., working on delivery, memorizing, it’s going to be a faithful sermon for all. Study the text. Write it. Memorize. Go and preach it like you mean it.
  2. Try to put yourself in their shoes. It is scary coming into a church for the first time, especially to an established one in a rural setting. People are going to notice you. So, from start (greeting) to finish (greeting) and everywhere in between (liturgy and sermon), do everything you can to make the service easy to follow and make them feel comfortable and welcome.
  3. In our setting, strong relationships and rapport already exist between members and non-members, which allows our members to easily invite non-members to worship, and, even better, to BIC. Take advantage of that. Sometimes our established rural congregations can be greatly benefited by using some of the same ideas that our new mission churches are using. Borrowing an idea from a mission church in our area, we offered a BIC at a brewery. This non-traditional idea especially sparks a lot of interest in a setting where only the traditional is expected. We had 125 various insiders and outsiders join us over the 18 weeks. In a rural setting, our members have an already established strong network for friendship evangelism.

We offered a BIC at a brewery.

Two sermon excerpts of preaching with outsiders in mind:

Here is an excerpt from Pastor Berger’s confirmation sermon. Times of celebration prove to be wonderful opportunities for outreach at St. Paul’s. Pastor Berger notes that his small rural congregation had 388 in attendance for this confirmation sermon on 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

I’m going to start by asking you a fairly ridiculous question, but I want an honest answer: If God told you to chew a piece of Trident original flavored gum every day, would you do it? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? It takes us out of the hot topic of religious discussions and simply gets to the heart and core of this matter: If God tells you to do something, do you do it? Looking at a ridiculous question helps you to understand your attitude towards listening to God or not listening to God.

Which is so different than everything else in life, isn’t it? If you do not listen to someone’s good financial advice, you might not have as much money as you could have. If you do not listen to someone’s fashion advice, you might not look as stylish as you could have. If you do not listen to someone’s lawn advice, your grass might end up looking like mine—half dead. But if you do not listen to God, those stakes are so much higher. It finally ends up being heaven or hell for all eternity.

My guess is that you’re here today because you recognize that. My guess is that you do care what God has to say. Do you do it perfectly? No, none of us do. That’s why we confessed our sins at the beginning of the service. That’s why we need and why we have a Savior named Jesus. But my guess is that you’re here today because you care about what God says in his Word, and you’re here today because you want to encourage these confirmands to do the same.

The truth is, God doesn’t tell you to chew a piece of Trident original flavored gum everyday…. But God’s Word does tell you to do something…. God’s encouragement for each of us: CONTINUE IN WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED…

(Continuing in what you have learned involves having) a devotional plan. If you need one, talk to me or Pastor Dauck. We would love to be your personal devotional trainers. Make Sunday morning the priority. I know that stuff that can come up, that you can get sick, that you might have to be out of town. But make it the priority. And I’m talking the Sunday morning package—45 minutes in Bible Study, it’s awesome. An hour in worship. And if you have some hang up, some reason that is preventing you from coming, talk to me, Pastor Dauck, or the elders. If someone says that they aren’t coming because the pews are uncomfortable, let us know. We will remove a pew and put in a Lazy Boy for you…. That’s how much we want you to be here with your brothers and sisters, remembering your baptisms, hearing the Word, and receiving the Lord’s Supper.

(God tells us to continue in what you learned) for a really important reason. Because he says in verse 15 that the Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (The Holy Scriptures) make us, who are born spiritually dead, spiritually alive. They share with us this incredible message—that because Jesus, God who took on human flesh, lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, our sins are forgiven … and that when we die, we live with God for all eternity in a place he describes as Paradise….

We will remove a pew and put in a Lazy Boy for you.

And contrary to common thought, it’s not just for the future—not just for after death. No, God wants us to continue in what we have learned because, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

When you become the famous athlete, continuing in God’s Word prepares you for fame and what you’re going to do and say in your 30 seconds in the spotlight. When you’re diagnosed with a horrible disease, continuing in God’s Word prepares you for processing that difficult news. When you become extremely wealthy, continuing in God’s Word prepares you and helps you understand where it came from and how to use it faithfully. When you’re struggling in school, when you’re dating that special someone, when marriage gets tough, when family grows or doesn’t grow, when you’re struggling with an addiction, when your loved ones are being called Home, in every circumstance that you can ever think of in life, continuing in what you have learned prepares you for it.”

Here is an excerpt from one of Pastor Berger’s funeral sermons on Revelation 7. He exhibits what he commented on earlier—preaching Christ-centered funeral sermons as a pastor who has a close relationship with his people.

Your sins, the things you have done wrong in your life, the ways that you have disobeyed the Almighty God—they are forgiven! That secret something that you did in your younger years, that very few people know about, that burdens your conscience to this day and still you lose sleep because of it, Jesus tells you, “I suffered for that sin on the cross. It is finished. The price has been paid!” One day, on a day only God knows, you will stand before his judgment throne and you will hear the two most beautiful words, “NOT GUILTY!”…

This is a short summary of things Frank, Tudy, and I would talk about around their kitchen table. And Frank, when he’d hear that gospel message, that good news that heaven is secured for him not because of anything he could possibly do but because of what Jesus has already DONE, COMPLETED, and FINISHED, you’d see his face just light up. Because this meant that one day when he died, he would be with the Lord in paradise with 100% certainty because what was necessary for his salvation was already accomplished.

One day having talked about the Bible’s clear main message, the gospel, I gave Frank and Tudy bread, which Jesus says is his body. And then I gave Frank and Tudy wine, which Jesus says is his blood. And I told them, “Frank and Tudy have peace today knowing that your sins are forgiven, and heaven is won for you.” And Frank gave that Frank Imes’ laugh and said to me, “Pastor, that’s the best news in the world!”

Why did Frank say that? Because he knew his sin. Over his 80 years, he knew his thoughts, words, and actions did not always line up with God’s will. He knew that he fell far short of God’s standard, which is perfection. But this good news about what Jesus did for him—taking upon himself Frank’s sin and giving to Frank his perfect record…. Yes, that wonderful message of the gospel changed everything for Frank. It meant peace no matter what happened on this earth. The best news in the world meant that Wednesday was the best day of Frank’s life because God whispered in his ear, “Today you will be with me in paradise” and then peacefully took him there. And John in Revelation 7 gives us a glimpse of what Frank is experiencing right now.

“It’s good for the shepherd to smell like his sheep.”

One preaching resource (besides the Bible and Confessions) in your library and why you have found it valuable:

A longtime District President is a member in my congregation, and he often stops by the office and says, “I always worry about a pastor spending time in his office.” I usually respond back, “I find myself worrying about you a lot too,” mostly because I don’t know how else to respond to that. But I think he makes a good point. Or as another pastor once said, “It’s good for the shepherd to smell like his sheep.” Probably more than another book to read in our offices, my best preaching comes after spending time with those I’ve been Called to serve. The more I get to know them, the more I know in what ways the text I’m preaching on will apply to the joys and difficulties they are facing in their life. Not only will interacting with our members give good flavor to our sermons, it will also give them encouragement to be with the church family around Word and Sacrament on Sunday mornings.

But if you really want a book, Just Say the Word!: Writing for the Ear (by G. Robert Jacks, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1996) is a good resource to transition seminarians from essay writing to sermon writing. But otherwise, put down the book, close Facebook, and spend time with your members and prospects.

Put down the book, close Facebook, and spend time with your members and prospects.

Timeless Reminders

Editor’s note: This issue’s timeless reminder comes from Rev. Daniel Leyrer, currently serving at St. Marcus in Milwaukee, WI. You can read Pastor Leyrer’s three articles, “Full Strength Law and Gospel Preaching” in their entirety in Preach the Word, Vol. 6:1-3. This excerpt comes from “The Pastor Preaches Full Strength Gospel” (Preach the Word 6:3). All back issues are available at worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/preach-the-word.

One of my favorite lessons on preaching comes from the story of the minister who was scheduled to conduct worship at the state penitentiary. The day before the service he walked around the chapel with the warden to “get the lay of the land.” As he viewed the seating arrangements, he noticed that one of the chairs was draped in black cloth. The preacher asked the warden about the chair. “The man who sits in that chair tomorrow morning will be executed tomorrow night,” the warden explained. “His chair is draped for death. Your sermon will be the last one he hears.”

Every time I mount the pulpit I may very well be preaching to someone sitting in a pew draped for death.

That story reminds me that every time I mount the pulpit I may very well be preaching to someone sitting in a pew draped for death. My pulpit might be draped for death for that matter. The point is we never know. We preachers never know if this is the last sermon a parishioner will hear or the last one we’ll have a chance to preach. Seen from that perspective, preaching a sermon is urgent business.

If you knew it was the last sermon for somebody, what approach would you take? It would be a good time to remember one of our titles: minister of the gospel. Given one last chance to preach a sermon, we would present the gospel as clearly and personally as we knew how. This is full strength gospel preaching—speaking not so much about Jesus’ word of forgiveness but becoming Jesus’ voice to speak that word of forgiveness.

Written by Joel Russow


 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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The story of open and closed doors

The circumstances change, but the gospel will not be chained. Join us in praising God for open doors. Join us in pleading for an open door for his message of salvation to our English speaking community, our Hmong brothers and sisters, and our new Hispanic mission.

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

Colossians 4:3

An open door for the message of Christ . . .

Was it on the hearts of the St. John German community as they built their first church in 1871? Maybe that is why they built a church that seated 1800 people. We can imagine the prayers of desperation when their church building was condemned in 1961, when they had to decide how to move forward as a congregation on the corner of Hope and Margaret.

Did they hold their children close and pray when they opened a Lutheran Elementary School in which those children would bask in the beauty of the gospel? When a partnership was formed with Immanuel Hmong, were prayers of joy offered? Prayers for more open doors? And when the Hmong community mourned the loss of its pastor, there must have been prayers about the door.

God provided a new pastor from within the group, and there were prayers of thanksgiving about the door. Did they throw themselves on trust and pray that a door would open for the message when they had to close their school doors in 2017? When they entered into a three year vacancy, did they pray for open doors?

Through three vacancy pastors they praised God for holding open those doors. Covid literally closed the doors. Covid figuratively closed doors. Did they pray for the doors to reopen?

A humble servant came asking for a corner in which to meet with Spanish-speaking families she met through New Life Pregnancy Center. She needed a couple of classrooms where she could proclaim the mystery of Christ. Did they pray for open doors even as they unlocked the empty school’s doors?

The community center next-door asked to rent rooms through which members of the surrounding community would walk. They wanted to help with physical and emotional needs. They needed keys to the door. And St. John prayed that doors would open for the gospel.

A community garden is planted behind the church. A place to connect with the neighborhood without the need of a door. And another open door. Standing before the next open door and . . . a new awareness of how the community is changing.

A visit from our synod’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Rev. Tim Flunker. Demographics and interviews. Encouragement from the District President. A new ministry plan. An application for support from WELS Home Missions. A call list of bilingual pastors. Approval. A six week call deliberation. A road trip across the country. And a new pastor behind those parsonage doors. A hot installation afternoon. A tiny breeze through the open church doors. The fervent prayer for more open doors. A call to you, brothers and sisters in Christ. A plea to you, partners in the Lord’s vineyard. We ask of you, who already stand inside the Church . . .

Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

Actually, since Christ has opened the door for bold prayers, ask that God would open not doors but floodgates; that many may find peace and salvation through the mystery of Christ as they walk through our doors on the corner of Margaret and Hope.

Written by Jennifer Otto, wife of Rev. Timothy Otto who recently was installed as bi-lingual pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

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Double the Pastors in Nigeria

Two of our sister synods in Nigeria doubled the number of pastors serving in their church body in one day!

Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria is based in the town of Uruk Uso, and All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria is headquartered in Ogoja. Until now, each of those synods had nine men serving in the public ministry. After five years of study during some unique circumstances, our mission partners each received nine new pastors on June 11, 2022. We praise the Lord for doubling the number of pastors who will shepherd God’s people with the truth of his Word!

For many years, WELS has sent missionaries to Nigeria four or five times per year. Those missionaries reviewed what the students had learned with their previous teachers. They also taught new material at the seminary in Uruk Uso. In addition, they provided direction and study materials for the coming months until the next teacher came. In the meantime, Nigerian Pastor Aniedi Paul Udo directed their studies.

Joyfully celebrating God’s gift of kingdom workers

Things were different with this current class of graduates. WELS provided the students with food and study materials, but we were unable to send visiting missionaries due to safety concerns. Director Udo and Missionary Dan Kroll made the best of the situation, attempting communications via the internet when it was working. Our missionaries and brothers in Nigeria learned a lot of valuable lessons after five years of training like this. Students learned about the need to be flexible and open to change during the time of transition. . . invaluable qualities for gospel ministers.

At the end of the day, we are trusting the Holy Spirit to transform these Nigerian students into faithful servants of God. And that isn’t unique. In all of our ministry partners’ worker training programs around the world, the success of building God’s kingdom depends on the Holy Spirit. We plant the seeds and wait for the crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:8).

Or even double the pastors.

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NEW Long-Term Volunteer Opportunities

Jesus gave the Great Commission to the Church saying, “go and make disciples of all nations.” Christians throughout the millennia chose different ways and methods to carry out our Savior’s command. Starting in Acts, churches saw the need to send missionaries to reach people with the gospel. In WELS, members partnered together to start churches throughout the United States and to send missionaries to many parts of the globe. WELS Home Missions, seeing the great need for the gospel, continues to plant new churches in hopes of the Holy Spirit reaching more souls for God’s Kingdom.

WELS Mission Journeys, under the leadership of WELS Home Missions, is starting a pilot program to give more individuals the opportunity to share their faith through a long-term volunteer opportunity. Mission Journeys wants to place mission-oriented individuals in strategic locations to assist in forming and developing quality core groups, the building blocks in starting new home missions. A core group is the local group that does the work of meeting, praying, outreach, planning, and evangelism.

We’re looking for individuals that love Jesus and can communicate that love with other people. They’ll need patience, flexibility, and a spirit of adventure. This would be a tent ministry, where the individual would have a job outside of the ministry to support themselves. This could include remote work, a local job, or some combination. Mission Journeys, as a part of this pilot project, will work with the individual for possible financial assistance in moving or other expenses.

Current opportunities include:

  • Bentonville, Arkansas: Bentonville is the home of Walmart, a corporation investing heavily in the community to provide a higher quality of life. The economy is booming for jobs in all job markets. The core group consists of four families.
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho (Now filled): Idaho Falls is located on the western side of Teton National Park. Idaho Falls is a fast-growing area and a hub for the surrounding area. The core group consists of three families.

WELS Home Missions provides each location with a proven plan on starting. Each location has a home mission counselor to assist in planning and coordinating ministry ideas. The core groups also worship with a pastor twice a month. This pilot program is designed to give an individual with a heart for missions the opportunity to work on the ground floor of a mission start.

For additional information, please contact Mission Journeys Coordinator, Shannon Bohme, at shannon.bohme@wels.net or 651-324-4218.

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Just one time and then?

Chreaster connections? Maybe a little background is needed. They called them, “Chreasters,” in the congregation I had served in Wisconsin. Maybe we know them as “C-E Christians.” Not unique to WELS, this is common across Christian denominations. People who come to worship services maybe only on the big holy days of Christmas and Easter. We throw around words like Chreaster as an easy label for someone. (Likely with a dose of sinful, self-righteous derision). When we get to know people and their stories – where they came from, where they are at – these labels lose those negative connotations. To be clear, we always want people in the Word of God and in worship as often as possible. But there is also reason to rejoice when a face we haven’t seen in quite awhile is there in worship. Especially on days like Christmas or Easter. The message of what God has completely done for a world full of sinners, and therefore for me, resounds so clearly. Plus, it all starts somewhere. Why not start on a day when we know people will hear the good news of forgiveness and life in a way it cannot be missed?

So, at Good News in Lehi, Utah, we have developed our own Chreaster connections. Much of it happened through the simple ministry of a mission congregation. Blessed with a faithful start group from Prince of Peace Lutheran in Salt Lake City, we got to know one another through Bible study together. We worked to get to know our community. We looked to find ways we could connect with people so we could connect them with the gospel, the Good News. One of the most basic ways is one of our better ways. Invite people to join us in a worship service.

This past Easter we continued to work to find ways to connect with the community. Easter postcards were sent to thousands of homes. Social media and sidewalk signs were set up to let people know about our Easter service. And perhaps most importantly, our members took invitations and gave them to the people in their lives. And people brought people. Friends, neighbors, and family members we only see a few times a year were there.

It was a beautiful day. Having been pushed by the pandemic of last year to try outdoor worship, we did it by choice this year. Members arranged a meal. Decorations were done. A great day. Maybe, just this one time, maybe not again until Christmas, but the Word of God is powerful.

Written by Daniel Heiderich, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Lehi, Utah.

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Cameroon Seminary Graduates Seven

May 27, 2022, was an amazing day for our brothers and sisters in Cameroon. Amidst celebrations that reached across Africa, the Lutheran Church of Cameroon graduated seven men into the full-time work of the holy ministry.

In 2016 the LCC identified 14 men to begin ministerial training. They were men with a reasonable level of education, a Spirit-led love for the Lord, and some years of service as laymen in their congregations.

There were, of course, losses along the way. A few students left the program for valid reasons. A political crisis made it unsafe for the men to be together and caused the loss of an entire year of classroom studies. The same crisis made it impossible for WELS missionary Dan Kroll to do any face-to-face teaching in the final three years of the five-year program.

Although the devil uses such things to try to discourage us, we endure with the knowledge that the Lord is refining us as he promised through Jeremiah (9:7): “I will refine and test them.” The Holy Spirit was refining well for the gain of the Lord’s church, so that seven men were able to complete the course to prepare them for full-time ministry. The LCC’s teachers have grounded these men in God’s Word and prepared them to shepherd the Lord’s flocks in Cameroon. The Lord has strengthened each of them to face the challenges of his unique ministry.

The names of the graduates are Solomon Anim, Jean-Jacques Dooh, Nicole Epie, Ferdinand Fomenyam, Thomas Ngalame, Vincent Ngalame, and David Tembuc, They essentially double the LCC’s ministerium.

One of the LCC’s other pastors, Gervase Ngalame, is moving to the seminary campus to assist in training the next group of men for the ministry. Currently, Pastors Mathias Abumbi, Joseph Njume, Daniel Muankume, Julius Njume, Barnabbas Ngalame, and Fon George are serving as full-time congregational shepherds.

We give thanks to God for the addition of these seven men. The Lord has reminded us that he is watching over his church in Cameroon!

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You made a difference for TELL as they train leaders for Christ!

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

Mark 15:15

Multi-Language Productions’ online Bible-based training platform called TELL (Think, Evaluate, Learn, Lead) has been blessed with generous support from WELS members. We thank God for these gifts and pray for his continued blessings!

Your gifts to TELL are bringing the “Word to the World” through devotional videos and digital content. Below are just a few specific ways that your gifts are being used to support the training of English-speaking church multipliers throughout the world:

  • We have 1.4 million followers on Facebook. We leverage this large audience by paying for Facebook ads and inviting them to download our app or go to our website and begin their self-learning courses.
  • We have over 200,000 app downloads by people in over 50 different countries. After completing the three self-learning classes they are encouraged to sign up for live online classes.
  • We have over 200,000 distinct website visitors from 186 countries. These visitors can also complete courses on the website before signing up for live online classes.
  • We have 300 online students who have or are currently taking online classes with TELL pastors. As these students move through the 23-course curriculum, they are equipped to spread the gospel and multiply churches in their communities.

Thank you for your continued support of WELS Multi-Language Productions’ TELL program! There is always more work to be done. Pray for open hearts and many opportunities to share the gospel. Share this exciting update with friends and family. Ask God to bless the work of TELL as we continue to spread the gospel to millions online.

Thank you!

Learn more at wels.net/tell.

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Do miracles still happen in our mission fields?

A woman is bitten by a cobra. Our evangelist is there. He prays for the woman. She lives. People in her village are stunned. No one survives a cobra bite. How can this be? This event has such an impact on the people, along with the sharing of God’s word by this evangelist, that 22 men with their families convert to Christianity. Many say, “Your God is stronger than our God.”

An imam in a mosque is unable to raise fish on his farm. Everything he tries fails. Our leader who befriends this man for many months prays for his fish ponds one day. Suddenly his ponds are filled with fish. This incident has such an impact, along with the continuing witness of this Christian friend, that he becomes a Christian.

Then a mob of 500 people come to his baptism to kill him and those who are performing the baptism. He speaks to the entire group and tells them of his personal belief in Christ. Miraculously the mob spares him and the Christian leaders.

Do miracles still happen? Yes, we believe they do. Still our certainty in spiritual matters rests on God’s Word and not our experiences.

It should be noted that we have offered prayers for others who were bitten by cobras, believers and unbelievers, and they did not live. We always pray, “As God wills . . . ” We do not understand why God provides dramatic answers to prayers sometimes and other times not. We trust in God’s wisdom and love. We live by faith not by sight.

Now I will tell you about the most amazing miracles:

We were told not to work in the villages where these events took place. Christians from other churches said, “Do not go there. It is too dangerous.” There was not a single church in this area. But this is where we are having our greatest harvest.

Two months ago a mob came and destroyed the homes of 31 families in our fellowship. They used a bulldozer to level the small brick homes to the ground.

The people who suffered this loss are trying to rebuild their homes with bamboo sticks along dusty roads. Now members of this mob are coming and tearing down some of the second homes they made with palm branches.

Here is what surprises me.

  1. Our brothers and sisters in Christ talk about loving the people who destroyed their homes. If someone lit a match and burned my home to the ground, I’m not sure my first thought would be, “How can I show love to them?” They want to use this event to lead their enemies to Christ.
  2. So far no one has left the Christian faith and returned to their former way of life; even though from a human perspective their conversion has brought them great suffering.
  3. They have not asked for any help in rebuilding their homes because they do not want to open themselves to the accusation that Christianity has brought them material gain.

Such maturity! Such perspective! And from people who are new in the faith! How can this be? Oh, the power of God to change human lives.

I see miracles, the greatest miracles of all: the miracle of being brought to faith and the miracle of being kept in the faith through the message of Jesus Christ.

Do miracles still happen in our mission fields?

Yes.

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia

 

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Love your neighbors – of all faiths

My wife and I spent a week with a young man and his wife who have a heart for reaching out to those of Muslim faith. During the month of Ramadan they held a party at a ministry house where they like to spend time with their Muslim friends. As you may know, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during the 30 days of Ramadan. According to custom we broke the fast – at 8:20 p.m. that night – and everyone was given a fig to eat. We then enjoyed many special foods packed with flavor. Laughter and love filled the house. Our hosts and guests played the guitar and ukulele and sang songs until well past midnight. More than 35 guests joined us this night.

The day before this party the host asked me to have a devotion for his friends at the party. He said, “The most important thing is to tell them about the love of Jesus. It makes a deep impression – how Jesus loved even his enemies and asked God to forgive them when he was nailed to the cross.”

We had a devotion on Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and his crucifixion. Jesus was not weak – as some think. He was strong. He could have escaped. The mob fell backwards when Jesus said, “I am he.” Jesus then rebuked Peter who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest saying, “Put your sword away!  Don’t you know those who live by the sword will die by the sword?” Then Jesus picked up the severed ear and reattached it. He performed a miracle of healing for the very people who came to hurt him. We also shared some of the words Jesus spoke on the cross, such as, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” – and how he rose again on the third day.

Then we asked, “Why did Jesus suffer and die on the cross if he had the power to escape? We explained, “It was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross, it was his love for you and me.”

The day after the party we traveled 220 miles south to one of the fastest growing cities in America. One of our WELS churches in this large midwestern city has a  center that provides care for women. We had a Henna Party from 3:30-7:30 p.m. With great skill our friend’s wife painted beautiful henna designs on the hands and forearms of all who came – describing the love of Jesus in the designs she made. The woman who has served as the director of this center for more than 25 years and the dedicated ladies who volunteer made everything run smoothly.

I was planning to “stay out of the way” but as the first people arrived, I was stunned to find many from the countries I serve on the other side of the world. My heart swelled as I spoke with some of them in their native tongue. It was a parade of nations – 75-100 ladies from places like Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Nepal, Bhutan, Assam, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. My eyes marveled as I realized – God is bringing the nations to us! You no longer have to go overseas to share the gospel with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. They are here! On our doorsteps!

My friend told me, “The most important thing is that you love Muslims. Really love them – even if they show no interest in Christianity. If they think you are a friend because you want them to become Christians, they will feel you are a hypocrite. Be kind to them. Spend time with them. Care about their families. Let them be in your heart – and in your prayers – and even in your living room! When you introduce them to the Friend of Sinners, be a friend!”

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia

 

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It’s good to be back with changes!

The COVID-19 pandemic hit us six months into our existence as a mission and as we all experienced, plans came to a halt. We pivoted as many churches did, finding new and different ways to do ministry and outreach that we continue to utilize. However, we looked forward to the day when some of our neighborhood outreach plans could resume. And guess what . . . they’re back!

During the year before we began worship, we actively reached into our target area through neighborhood festivals and events. Two of the neighborhoods in our target area host several events during the year, like Fall Festival, Easter Egg Hunt, and Fourth of July bike parade, to name a few. The events are organized and run by community directors. We can have a booth there for a small fee or by sponsoring an aspect of the festival. The results were fantastic during our first year as we were able to have dozens of conversations about our mission and our Savior, as well as build name recognition for our ministry.

Neighborhood festivals in our area started coming back mid-2021 and this last Easter we were able to participate in two Easter events on back-to-back weekends and the results were amazing. Hundreds of people turned out for these events. We provided small pots, dirt, and flowers for children to assemble, as well as stickers to decorate the pots. We handed out hundreds of invites to Easter Sunday worship and had several people join us on Easter as a result. Several families signed up for our Monday morning e-devotion and wanted more information on the church. It was great to be back at these events and the people were thankful we provided this blessing to their community. This year, though, there was a big change from our pre-pandemic outreach efforts at these festivals. Our congregation’s participants have changed!

Between the two Easter events this year, we had over 20 of our members participating. Fourteen of those were new members since our first year of existence! Our new members stepped up with a lot of excitement and eagerness to be involved in outreach. They were active in the planning in the lead up to the event. They engaged our neighbors and told them about our ministry. They arrived early to help setup and stayed late to tear down. They took ownership of outreach to advance the gospel.

As a mission pastor, you pray the Lord would bring in more souls to the kingdom and if possible, have them be part of your congregation, and if he is so gracious, that they become active partners in the ministry. The Lord has answered those prayers in a big, encouraging way. Our launch team has commented several times, “Pastor, we aren’t in the majority anymore!” And that’s a great blessing.

It’s great to be back to more in-person events . . . with some great changes!

Written by Jeremy Belter, home missionary at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Candelas, Colo.

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The seven provinces of Costa Rica

This past March I visited a number of our Academia Cristo students in Costa Rica. The last time WELS missionaries had been in the country was in March 2018, and even then, only briefly. We traveled there mainly to get to Nicaragua. A short stop. We didn’t have very much online student activity yet in Costa Rica.

But, four years later, the focus was Costa Rica. A lot more students and a lot more activity!

Pedro and María

For example, I’d like to introduce you to Pedro and María, who live in the capital of San José.

María and Pedro downloaded our Academia Cristo app in late 2020. They watched all 38 self-study videos in the App. When they finished those foundation lessons, they were invited to sign up for live, online classes. They successfully finished all 13 live classes in 2021 and loved what they had learned. After a thorough review of the doctrinal points with me, we welcomed María and Pedro as our new brother and sister in the faith.

Pedro and María were ready for the next level of Academia Cristo classes. They were now Lutherans and they wanted to share that message with others. For these students, we start training them to start what we are calling “planting groups,” which, if the Lord blesses their efforts, will eventually become more established congregations.

One of the tools we use to help these new leaders make plans and takes steps toward their goals are monthly goal setting meetings, usually online. We study a portion of the Bible together and then we talk about their dreams for their ministry efforts and we discuss what small steps they can take before our next meeting.

It’s nice to talk about their dreams during an in-person visit because you get to spend much more time together. Pedro, María, and I did just that. They invited me into their house. We studied the Bible. We walked around their neighborhood. We met up with other Academia Cristo students. We visited their family and another family who would like to start a congregation one day. Lots of time together.

As I listened, I heard a theme that I could tell was Pedro and María’s dream for the ministry in Costa Rica. They kept saying, “We want Academia Cristo to be in all seven provinces of Costa Rica.” There it was! The big dream. The hope and prayer of a couple excited about the gospel.

So we wrote it down on the document that has their goals and next steps on it.

“THE SEVEN PROVINCES OF COSTA RICA”

We review this goal every month and pray about it together. Then we discuss the next steps they can take to help achieve it. Step by step. Aiming for that goal.

May the Lord bless Pedro and María and other Costa Ricans as they start their groups and work to reach all those seven provinces of Costa Rica.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, world missionary on the Latin America mission team.

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A new campus ministry in Cleveland

“I have this group of about ten college students coming to church.” That’s how the conversation started. Further communication turned into an opportunity for WELS Campus Ministry Mission Counselor Dan Lindner to meet in downtown Cleveland with a group of college students along with Pastor Paul Learman and his wife Rachel from Our Savior Lutheran Church in Strongsville, Ohio.

Each ministry to college students is unique. The work in the Cleveland area is no different. There is no immediate college or university in Strongsville, but the Greater Cleveland/Akron area is host to many schools that offer specialized studies in healthcare, science/technology, and music. There are also many young adults coming to Cleveland to work internships as part of their education. Since there are only two WELS churches in the Cleveland area, the students travel a distance to attend church.

“Our congregation was so impressed that these college kids are getting up Sunday morning on their own to drive 30+ minutes to attend worship and Bible study. We wanted to make them feel welcome while away from home and support them in whatever way we could,” says Pastor Learman. The students have also stepped into various ways of serving including using their musical talents in worship.

The welcoming environment at Our Savior also meant the congregation takes steps to connect with the college students and help them connect with each other. Invites are extended to go out to eat after church or come over to pastor’s or member’s homes for dinner. Discussions over Saturday morning coffee have offered the chance to mentor students pursuing similar careers as church members. The congregation has also provided exam week care packages and gas gift cards. Rides are provided for those without a car.

Their hope is that they can do even more. At the meeting in Cleveland the students shared ideas that could help the church serve even more students. Plans are underway to start offering a college Bible study and schedule Saturday outings together such as hikes in the local national park. The students also shared some information on ways our WELS Campus Ministry Committee may be able to help to either bolster existing work or start something new in other areas across North America. We value these young adults and their initiative.

The college years are a key time for young men and women to receive needed encouragement to remain faithful to their Savior. The hope is that if they stay close to home, they’ll continue to be active at their congregations. For those that join the military, we hope that they connect with our WELS Military Services Committee. For those that go farther away to college, we want to be able to connect them with the local WELS campus ministry/contact pastor. This third situation is where our WELS Campus Ministry Committee is here to help.

Some of the key ingredients we ask the Lord to provide and bless: 1) A mixture of the student’s own initiative, paired with continued encouragement from their parents, home congregations, and Lutheran high school; and 2) a hospitable welcome by the congregation with the intent to be a home away from home, by fellow college students attending school in the same area, and by the called workers serving that location. Congregations and parents are strongly encouraged to help a local church and campus ministry connect with their students away from home.

We thank our Lord for congregations like Our Savior Lutheran Church that are excited to welcome collegiates into their church family. Our hope is that there will be more situations just like it.

Learn more and sign up with campus ministry at wels.net/campusministry.

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Preach the Word – Insights from Unique Ministry Settings

Preaching with Outsiders in Mind

Insights from Unique Ministry Settings

Series Introduction

“I’m clearly not a part of their target audience.” After a busy day, I flipped through a few television channels one night. I settled on an old movie and soon the plot suspended for a brief commercial break. Over the next ninety seconds, advertisers tried to sell me adult diapers, fiber supplements, and a lifeline medical alert system. The commercials presumed a demographic audience other than a thirty-something pastor who was watching that night. I snickered to my wife, “I’m clearly not a part of their target audience.”

Would listeners snicker similar thoughts about our sermons? Dr. John Brug writes in The Ministry of the Word, “The church has not two ministries but one—to preach the gospel. This one gospel has two audiences—members of the church and nonmembers” (p. 61). Does our sermon preparation keep both audiences in mind? Or would the often easy-to-overlook nonmember audience snicker, “I’m clearly not a part of this preacher’s target audience?”

Reflecting on my own preaching, I tried to be mindful in preparation for major festival sermons of the visitors who would be listening to Lutheran preaching for perhaps the first time. But shouldn’t a Lutheran preacher keep that audience in mind in all his sermons? Different worship visitors informed me that before they ever came in person, they had been listening online “for months.” Pandemic preaching had its challenges, but it also opened up opportunities. Many preachers found themselves proclaiming to a wider audience through livestreamed services, recorded sermons, and printed messages. It forced this preacher to wrestle more zealously with important questions like: what can a preacher do in sermon preparation to communicate the one gospel to the two audiences? What encouragements would other preachers offer to proclaim the gospel with those outside the church?

“This one gospel has two audiences—members of the church and nonmembers.”

This series of Preach the Word articles will wrestle with preaching with those outside of our church membership in mind. Through interviews, sermon excerpts, and timeless reminders, we will aim to grow in being wise toward outsiders and seek to make the most of every preaching opportunity to them. I pray our conversations will be full of grace and seasoned with salt so that member and nonmember alike will recognize, “I’m clearly a part of this preacher’s audience!”

Ideas from Pastor Thomas Spiegelberg II

Editor’s note: Spiegelberg served as a preacher and an exploratory missionary in Boise, ID for five years. He then served as a preacher and missionary in a cross-cultural setting on the island of St. Lucia for sixteen years. He has been serving as a preacher in his current mission field of Mobile, AL for the past four years. He draws on his wide variety of ministry experience and sermon audiences to share the following thoughts. While the specific examples of his efforts to connect with those outside the church may not apply to your situation, I hope that you find his passion to do so inspiring.

My own council once tenderly criticized my sermons.

Four examples or thoughts on how outsiders have impacted your preaching preparation:

  1. In door-to-door canvassing, I met and kept conversing with an atheist in Boise. We came to a mutual agreement. I would read a book he suggested. In exchange, he would come to our Easter worship. The book he suggested was Why Christianity Must Change and Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile, by John Shelby Spong. It was one of the most painful books I ever had to read. (And no, I would not recommend it). But I understood what the man was looking for—he wanted me to look at Christianity from a perspective which he found noteworthy. He also followed through on his end of the agreement and attended Easter worship. I seized the opportunity that Sunday to preach on the credibility of the resurrection and its basis for our faith. The man didn’t come back, but he heard Christ crucified and risen.
  2. My barber in St. Lucia never went to church. No way! He explained that he didn’t even want to know or trust in Jesus. “That is white man’s religion,” he said. (St. Lucia is an island of predominantly African descent). But even with his aversion to Jesus, my barber wanted me to know that he prayed. Curious, I asked, “What do you say? Why do you pray? To whom do you pray?” Our conversation prompted a sermon on prayer and some reading up on books to address his understanding of prayer. My barber never came to church, but he did listen to what I had to say every time I got my hair cut.
  3. My own council once tenderly criticized my sermons. After a huge upswing in violent crime in the area, they asked why I never addressed or mentioned crime in my sermons. Interesting. In my mind I thought, “Because the pericope doesn’t line up with current social struggles. I will get to it, but not until after Pentecost.” As a result of our conversation, I did two things. I began reading the local newspaper and tried to incorporate one thing happening in either the application or introduction of the sermon.
  4. A reporter came to church, and I interviewed him. I asked him to make me a list of the top ten things on which his news station reports. He did and it was great! Sermon fodder flowed out of that list. One series was called, “Get a Job, Uh.” (Uh is a St. Lucian expression that they add to the end of a sentence to emphasize it). It was a series1 on work and Christian vocation addressed from a law/gospel perspective. It got so much attention, we actually were interviewed by the local news station on how we as a church were trying to help the unemployment and poverty problem in the country. We also had people show up in the following months thinking we were giving out jobs.

The sermons got so much attention, we actually were interviewed by the local news station.

Three encouragements to preachers for keeping outsiders in mind in sermon preparation:

  1. Talk to those outside the church and read with them. This is really hard and can be extremely painful, but it will give you a better understanding of where people are.
  2. Address the struggles people are going through and apply the Word of God to those struggles. Maybe the struggles addressed won’t resonate with everyone, but in the process, you are helping your congregation in how to dialogue with the unchurched. This can be extremely valuable especially if most of your church members’ lives are lived in the context of the church.
  3. Think of sermon preparation like writing your sermon for your homiletics professor first, but then rewriting it for your unchurched “Alabama fan neighbor.” The same points will be drawn out, but hopefully with a different delivery.

Two sermon excerpts of preaching with outsiders in mind:

Here is an excerpt from Pastor Spiegelberg’s sermon on Easter Sunday with the atheist in attendance. He acknowledges some of the “nonsense” that might be stirring around in his listeners’ minds and takes the listener back to the impact of the empty tomb and the sure and certain word of God:

… When we got to my grandfather’s funeral, I was never able to bring myself to look inside the casket as if looking at him would prove that he was really gone. There is just something so final about death that it is hard to accept. And if I didn’t look at him, maybe it wouldn’t be over. And then they closed the lid. Irreversible. Final. It’s a story that I bet every one of you can tell. The loss of a loved one. The quietness in the house the following weeks that they are gone. The rest of the world goes on with what they are doing, and yet the finality takes a long time to sink in.

Sometimes we celebrate Easter with such repetition and familiarity that I wonder if we fail to imagine what life would be like if it wasn’t true. We have grown up believing that there is a heaven and there is a resurrection for those who believe. It is the central belief in Christianity. Paul sums it up when he says in Corinthians, “If Christ is not arisen then you are still dead in your sins. Your faith is worthless.” If Christ is not risen, then it is all nonsense….

It is not difficult to understand why no one believed the women. At that time, women’s testimony was not even allowed in court, but a more obvious reason was the nature of death. Irreversible. Final. Who argues with those basic facts of life? It made no sense. People don’t come back from the dead…. So why do I believe? I know death. I’ve seen it before. It’s always the same. Why should I believe that Jesus conquered it?

… I have gotten to know God and how he works. Not because I have any deep insights into the divine, but because God wrote a book about himself and that tells me a lot of who he is. And from what I can see, that’s how God works. This is his style. He always works through the slow and difficult. He doesn’t just zap the evil away, but he allows the evil to exist, and then twists it for our good. He doesn’t remove evil, he transforms it. God allowed his Son to die that we might live!… I have gotten to know God in his autobiography, I know he is more than a powerful God but a God of love. I believe that he created me and genuinely wants me to be with him. I believe he created my loved ones too and he wants them in heaven with him too!

… There are two ways to see human history. One as a long list of violence and pain, difficulty and unpleasantness that we experience with Easter being a once-a-year fairy-tale exception—something with a happy ending. Just another Sunday in which we celebrate hopeful thinking that there is a heaven and one day we might be there.

But the other is this. Seeing Easter as the starting point in our lives. If God could conquer death which is irreversible, then just maybe he can take care of me in my life. Just maybe I will shake the hand of Rev. Ed Weiss, my grandfather, once again. Then maybe God can and does do everything he says he does. That’s what the empty grave is all about. Look into it and believe that God can and he does. I believe.

Here is an excerpt from Pastor Spiegelberg’s sermon on Luke 10:25-37 (the Gospel for Proper 10, July 10 this year). He implores his listeners to love the neighbors God placed into their lives:

We are planted with people in our neighborhoods, workplaces, families, schools and the question we have to ask ourselves is, so how do we show God’s love? Here is why neighboring is maybe a bigger question in our world today than ever before. The average American moves more than eleven times in their life. On average, 40 million of us move in any given year. Some of those moves are large. Some are small within cities, but that’s a lot of movement.

Bringing it closer to home, let’s talk about Alabama…. Baldwin County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state at a growth rate of 16% annually…. People move, and with every move, relationships are uprooted. If you are in the military, you know that full well. It takes work to develop new relationships. One of the sad side effects is that the cohesiveness and responsibility we feel toward our neighbors and our communities become fractured….

Notice, the lawyer asked who his neighbor was, and Jesus did not define it as what side of abortion you are on, your political orientation, or your color of skin. He doesn’t say it is people who look like you, who act like you, who talk like you. He doesn’t give us the option to be selective on the who. It is anyone we are planted around and who needs us….

There is no way that he or any of us can walk away saying, “Yeah, Jesus. I nailed that one.” Instead, what he wanted the lawyer to realize, what he wants us to realize is, “Lord, I need a perfect neighbor like that.” See, what Jesus was saying is that we are the man in the ditch that needs someone who recognizes our need. We need someone who is willing to give all for our good. We need to be healed. We need a perfect neighbor. And Christ is the one!…

“Can you name all your neighbors?”

I have just two applications for you this morning as we go from God’s house…. Take your bulletin insert this week and draw your street. Include a little box for all your neighbors. Can you name them all? Maybe you can. If you can’t, commit yourself this summer to figuring out who they are. Go introduce yourself. Bring them some cookies. Mow their lawn. Say hi to them when you drive by. Even the grumpy ones. And get to know your neighbor.

The next step. Give. Be the kind of neighbor you wish you had always had. Put yourselves in their shoes. There are more dispossessed people around us than we realize. God has planted us here at this time to be life where we live. Let’s share the love of Christ. If you want to know what to say, sit in on our Bible class over the next couple of weeks as we explore what to say. But as we live, love locally. Start with the State Farm mentality: Like a good neighbor, be there.

“Learn a lesson from the profound simplicity of Jesus’ sermons.”

One preaching resource (besides the Bible and the Confessions) in your library and why you have found it valuable:

They Like to Never Quit Praisin’ God: The Role of Celebration in Preaching, by Frank Thomas, United Church Press, 1997. When I got to St Lucia, one of my members always gave me a run down on whether my sermon was lively enough for St Lucians. It got me thinking that preaching to fit a cultural setting does make a difference. So, I started reading a couple of books on African-American preaching. Obviously, there are some theological discrepancies with this book, but in a celebratory preaching style, you are drawing a listener to the joy of salvation. You are leaving the listener with something to be joyful about. For a Lutheran pastor, that is an easy goal.

Timeless Reminders

Editor’s note: Each issue of this series will conclude with timeless reminders from the Preach the Word archives. This issue’s reminder comes from Rev. Herbert H. Prahl, who joined the saints triumphant earlier this year. You can read Prahl’s article, “From God’s Word…Through Your Heart…To Their Lives,” in its entirety in Preach the Word 3:5.

Sermon preparation is our top priority. We are entrusted with the task of proclaiming God’s holy Word, not ourselves. God’s people expect and deserve, our best and nothing less….

Don’t put yourself above your hearers or talk down to them. Talk at their level. Don’t get too technical. Learn a lesson from the profound simplicity of Jesus’ sermons. Love your hearers as Jesus loved them. Put your pastoral heart into your message to them….

Good application is probably the number one request of members when it comes to sermons. It might not quite be the way you as the exegete or homiletician view the text, but unless you “connect” with your hearers, they easily tune you out. Their plea is: “Show that you understand us, that you have us on your heart, and that you understand our day-to-day lives when you study the text and write your sermon.” One pastor has taped the words “So What?” in his pulpit, visible to his eyes above his Bible each time he preaches. He uses it as a reminder to keep the law and gospel relevant to his congregation.

Written by Joel Russow

A new series editor: Joel Russow began serving as professor of pastoral theology and systematic theology at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in January of 2022. Prior to that, he served as a parish pastor in Tallahassee, FL.


Thematic groups in the season after Pentecost

“[Jesus’] words establish our faith, transform our hearts and minds, and guide our lives in him. During the Sundays after Pentecost, we gather to let the Holy Spirit do the work Jesus promised he would do in the way Jesus promised he would do it.

“Because the season after Pentecost is quite long, it may be helpful to break these Sundays into thematic groups. The groups and individual themes suggested below seek to pick up on the cues given by the gospel writer Luke.”2

  • June 12-19. Jesus’ words possess Jesus’ power. (Due to the late date of Easter this year, Propers 3-6 are omitted.)
  • June 26-August 14. Jesus’ words focus Jesus’ followers.
  • August 21-October 2. Jesus’ words confront us with challenging truths.
  • October 9-23. Jesus’ words produce the faith he seeks at his return.

1 An occasional topical series apart from the lectionary can be useful. But it is also possible to craft a series from the lectionary. Examples are in The Foundation (welscongregationalservices.net) and in Commentary on the Propers, Year C on which The Foundation is based. See the sidebar.

2 Bauer, Jonathan. Christian Worship: Commentary on the Propers, Year C, 213. NPH 2021. The thematic groups from this book differ slightly from those in The Foundation.


WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Worship and Outreach – A New Mission Congregation’s Perspective

This issue begins a new series on worship and outreach. The goal is simple: to encourage all congregations to do their very best in both realms. But isn’t it fair to assume that they already are? Doing their best? By some measurements, yes. But it’s also clear that our churches face various challenges. If improvements can be realized, we are likely under God to see greater blessings in both worship and outreach.

So, this series will share perspectives and ideas from a variety of congregations, hoping to inspire ongoing attention to these twin priorities. Of course, a series of articles alone will not provide all the resources needed. This series joins other resources: a new hymnal suite of resources, welscongregationalservices.net, and much more. As part of this emphasis, readers are also encouraged to review materials from the 2010 symposium on worship and outreach: wisluthsem.org/symposium-archives.


When I was young, my dad listened to talk radio. I used to think, “This is so boring! How can anybody listen to this and not fall asleep?” Yet, ironically, I find myself really getting into podcasts, some over an hour long. The ones that I find most useful are those that pull you into a conversation. The podcast hosts are not trying to give you a prescriptive way to do something, but they are giving you the opportunity to be a passive member of a conversation. As the conversation goes on, you are thinking through your own thoughts on the subject matter and how you might apply things in your specific context.

In a similar way, I’d like to pull you into some of the conversations of a new mission church as they thought through worship, how worship would interact with outreach, and how a church could thoughtfully accomplish several things with a worship service. I pray that it may be edifying for you as you think through worship in your context. Certainly, much that follows is descriptive and not prescriptive. (Goes without saying, but I say it anyway.)

Word-Centered Worship

In an introduction to a New York Times Magazine article, Nausicaa Renner wrote, “There’s nothing more persuasive than the obvious. To appeal to it is to ask people to be bigger, better, more noble—to take a sweeping look at the facts, admit what is plain and do the right thing. Tell me with a fixed gaze and an air of confidence that something is obvious. I will be tempted to believe you, if only to join in the clarity and sense of purpose that comes with accepting what is staring me in the face.”1

Now certainly this author was, in no way, speaking about the Church, the Bible, or anything remotely religious. Yet, this quote makes a case for stating the obvious. In the beginning stages of planting a new church, sometimes it feels as if you are consistently stating the obvious. Let me tell you what I mean.

As a new mission church, we gathered together for almost an entire year before we had our first worship service. This was a unique time in the life of our church, but a vital time. We’d gather for meetings that were part Bible study, part mission meeting, and part fellowship. They were an opportunity to have conversations about the ministry that we hoped to carry out in our area.

Although this Core Group (as we called it) was made up of mostly long-time WELS members, these discussions always started with stating the obvious, grounding ourselves in the obvious. And what I mean by that is the obvious truths from Scripture.

Here is an obvious truth that pervaded our conversations: the Word of God needed to hold the center position of our ministry. We wanted to be and needed to be a Word-centered church.

If we truly believe what we do about the Word, why wouldn’t we make it the center? If we believe that faith is created and strengthened through the Word (Rom. 10:17), then it really ought to be the focal point. If we believe that the Word is active and powerful (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16), then it ought to be utilized liberally.

That certainly has many applications in the life of the church, including its application to the worship life of the church. Whether it was the songs, the readings, the responses, or the sermon, they had to be centered on the Word. Word-centered worship will not only reach out with the power of the Spirit to the new guest, but it will also strengthen and prepare the long-time member to reach out with the gospel that is proclaimed and explained among them.

Through Word-centered worship, both in-reach and outreach may be accomplished. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to create faith in the unbeliever who wandered into your church, to restore faith in the de-churched person who came back, or to strengthen faith in the person who has been in church all along.

We wanted people to know from our worship that the Word of God defines this congregation. We don’t just claim the Bible is important in the “About Us” section of our website, but we  actually carry that out in a real, tangible way.

In a survey sent out to our congregation about worship, it was asked, “What do you think a new guest might take away from our worship services?” One member gave an answer and an anecdote from a different WELS congregation, “[The guest] can see that the Bible is a part of the entire service. I met someone at one of our WELS churches a few years ago that had gone through the BIC and became a member at the church because he had come as a visitor and had never had a church that would back up so much of the sermon with the Bible.”

In this case, it is definitely worth stating the obvious: the Word of God needs to hold the center position in our worship.

I was surprised to find some insights about liturgy-based worship.

Liturgy-Based Worship

I preface this aspect of the conversation by saying that some people in our region are familiar with historic liturgy. This region of South Dakota is largely Catholic or Lutheran, so some people who walk into our services are used to having a set order of worship and likely know many of the components, like creeds, Lord’s Prayer, etc. Yet, as I observed our Core Group’s conversations and sought input from people with zero connection to our church, I was surprised at some of their insights about liturgy-based worship.

#1 – Millennials and Gen Z see great value in things that are historic.

Speaking as someone who does own a record player, I was not surprised to find this article title and subtitle in an online culture page: “Why Are Old Things Increasingly Popular with Young People? Vinyl, calligraphy, and vintage are three of a handful of trends that have little place in the tech age, but are enjoying a resurgence nonetheless.”2 Certainly it was not the goal of our church to jump on something because of a trend or a fad, but it was worth considering: why is there a desire to be connected to something old or historic?

What I found in talking with people inside and outside our church is that they see value in being connected to something that is bigger than they are. When it is taught that the historic liturgy that we use “has been shaped throughout 2,000 years of Christian history,”3 there is this sense that we are connected with Christians of the past and that connection is appreciated.

However, as a congregation, we realized that if someone were to walk in our doors and not understand the connection to historic Christianity, then we are failing to provide them with the opportunity to appreciate it. We’ve found small ways to accomplish this with notes included in the bulletins or explanations in the back of the bulletins or we’ll take time during the service to explain something (even if we’ve explained it before).4

From the survey of our members here is one response: “I appreciate the effort to be connected to past generations of Christians while at the same time speaking to challenges/opportunities unique to this century.”

#2 – In a world that is constantly changing, the stability of the liturgy is cherished.

This point is not unrelated to the previous point. The historic aspect of the liturgy communicates stability because it has endured through centuries. For many this is a precious quality. In a tech dominated world, things are changing so quickly. Stability is coveted and seemingly elusive to many people.

Yet it’s not just the historic aspect of the liturgy that communicates stability. The repetition aspect also communicates stability. The lives of your parishioners may have a lot of instability, and they may go through many changes, but there is a stableness to the liturgy that is different from the world around them.

One of our members said, “I like knowing what to expect when I come to worship. When everything else may be out of control, I know that when I come to worship, I’m going to hear the Word and I know how the service will go.”

Jonathan Bauer made a similar point about how worship can offer a respite from the instability of people’s lives, “Rather than engaging people with the gospel using forms that mirror what people find comfortable and familiar, perhaps the real opportunity presented by modern life is to highlight and excel at the features of historic, liturgical worship that offer people a respite from what is comfortable and familiar.”5

#3 – Repetition is beneficial to the new Christian.

Around Easter of 2021, a single-mom and her son visited our worship. She had grown up around church but hadn’t been back for a while. Her son was baptized but had never really attended church.

This single mom (we’ll call her Sandy) took our Bible Information Class and joined the church. Sandy’s son, Michael, who was 15 years old, started taking Catechism classes individually with me. I had the opportunity to talk with him about our worship from his perspective. Here are a couple of his comments:

“I actually really like the repetition that we get at church because even if something is difficult for me the first time, it gets easier the next time. It doesn’t take too much time to catch on.”

“I also like the repetition, because without even trying to memorize it, I feel like I already know the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.”

We are connected with Christians of the past and that connection is appreciated.

#4 – Participatory worship is beneficial.

Christianity Today released a special pastor’s issue in the early spring of 2022. One of the articles was “As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond?” The article included several stats including answers to this question: “Would you consider a pastor to be a trustworthy source of wisdom?” This study found that 19% of all adults surveyed say “no,” and on the flip side, only 23% gave a definitive “yes.”6

While you could apply the results of this survey in different ways, here’s one takeaway to consider: If pastoral trustworthiness is eroding, then does it make sense to lengthen the sermon where only the pastor is speaking and as a result shorten the parts of the service that are participatory? The answer would appear to be no. It would seem all the more important to make the Word the center of worship and to get the parishioners involved in the service. We certainly aren’t dismissing the importance of the sermon and its role in the service, but we are encouraged to hear a crowd of voices in worship.

Does it make sense to … shorten the parts of the service that are participatory?

Jim Belcher, author of Deep Church, connected this concept to the universal priesthood of all believers. He wrote (regarding worship), “As priests, we are all required to be involved. There are no spectators. Thus, the liturgy should be as interactive as possible. It is a dialogue between the people and God. God speaks to us through his Word and we respond. Throughout the service, God engages us in the call to worship, multiple Scripture readings, the sermon and the words of blessing, and each time we respond in prayer, song or action. It is dynamic, action-packed, thrilling.”7

In our member survey, one person said this, “There is no dominant personality in the room and therefore none are pushed to the margins. All matter.”

Guest Awareness in Worship

When we first started worship in September of 2020, we didn’t have much happening besides worship. We had a BIC starting soon and one other Bible class, but we had zero programs and no big events on the horizon. So, in a lot of ways, worship was it. It was the focal point. This was what our members were inviting people to come and see.

So, the natural consequence of that was to plan and carry out worship assuming that you will have an unchurched or de-churched guest sitting among the congregation. We always wanted to try to see the Sunday morning experience through their eyes. Were they greeted by a smiling face in the parking lot or at the door? Was someone there to direct them to the coffee or give them a worship folder? We considered questions like that, but we also considered what they would see in the actual worship service.

While granting that someone might not understand some element of the service at first, we wanted to make sure that the service was accessible. One way we do that is by offering two methods of following along with the service, both printed in the worship folder and projected on a screen.8

We have also utilized the worship folder to explain why certain things happen in the service. For example, sometimes we include footnotes to indicate the biblical source for some items (e.g., responses, the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria or the Sanctus). Other times footnotes explain historical connections (e.g., the Nicene or Apostles’ Creeds).

The worship folder also helps people to focus on the sermon. We encourage people to take notes and include guiding questions that help them follow along. These questions are also used as a devotional resource outside of worship. We have also provided information on the sermon page of the worship folder to aid understanding. For example, on Transfiguration Sunday the sermon referenced the Old and New Covenants and words like condemnation and righteousness. While these were also explained during the sermon, we also provided a concise definition on the sermon page so that no one would feel lost.

“I like when we take time to explain why we do some of the things we do during a service.”

While these measures were specifically meant to target guests, even long-time members have appreciated such resources. One member said, “I like when we take time to explain why we do some of the things we do during a service. I learn new things or am reminded of things I’ve forgotten.” Another said, “I really enjoy the questions to think about in relation to the sermon. It helps me to take notes, which helps me to retain things better.”

Conclusion

What a blessing! What a blessing that we get to wrestle with how best to carry out a service where God gives his gifts to his people! What a blessing that we get to communicate the gospel of free forgiveness to people who need it! Such a blessing and also an important responsibility.

Since it is such an important responsibility, I pray that the worship conversation continues and that we continually strive to bring God’s gifts to his people. Blessings as you administer those gifts, brothers.

By Craig Wilke

Pastor Wilke graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2019 and was assigned to start a new mission in Brandon, SD. In September of 2020, after a year of preparatory work, Sure Foundation launched every-week worship with 75 people in attendance at their first service.


1 Renner, Nausicaa. “How Do You Explain the ‘Obvious?’” The New York Times Magazine. August 21, 2018.
2 Pritchett, August. “Why Are Old Things Increasingly Popular with Young People?” Study Breaks, June 10, 2017. studybreaks.com/culture/past/#:~:text=Theres’s%20a%20loss%20of%20quality,a%20way%20to%20stand%20out.
3 Strey, Johnold J. Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts. (Northwestern: Milwaukee, 2021), 82.
4 See “Worship Service Notations – Sharpsburg 2014” at worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-education.
5 Bauer, Jonathan. “Worship and Outreach.” Worship the Lord. No. 106, January 2021, 3.
6 Packiam, Glenn. “As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond?” Christianity Today: CT Pastors Special Issue. Spring 2022, 34-35.
7 Belcher, Jim. Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 2009), 139.
8 A comment from the editor: If you are not already committed to projecting hymns and liturgy, give careful thought to whether this is really an improvement in your setting or not. Just because Service Builder will export a slide deck doesn’t mean that this is recommended in every situation. See “Projection in Worship” at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-intro-presentations, especially the video linked in the final bullet.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Faces of Faith – The Mwale Family

Anderson Mwale began working with the Lutheran Mobile Clinic as a maintenance worker for the Msambo village clinic in January of 2020. He was married to Annah, and had a one-year old girl named Harriet who was active and playful. They were members at one of our Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) church in Msambo, outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. Anderson had once considered becoming a pastor and was an elder at Mtima Woyera Lutheran Church where they were members. As part of his duties with the clinic, Mr. Mwale would give a devotion for the people who had come to clinic in the morning each week. He would weigh children, direct patients where to go, and be responsible for cleaning the clinic building and getting it ready for clinic. He helped oversee the completion of a new clinic building and kept the site secure during construction. When COVID-19 came to Malawi and the clinic had to temporarily shut down, he would supervise the use of the building, keep the grounds clean and safe, and gave sermons on Sundays. When clinic resumed in October, he helped supervise new volunteers who maintained COVID precautions at clinic with our patients.

He remembers the date – February 28, 2021, when Harriet became very sick with malaria. It was not a clinic day so he and his wife brought her to Kamuzu Central Hospital where she was treated for nearly a week. Afterwards, she had weakness in her right side, and could no longer run and play. They prayed for her to recover, but cerebral malaria had caused permanent neurological damage. The Mwale’s brought her to our clinic for follow-up where one of the clinicians realized that she would need ongoing therapy and seizure medication. Harriet was the first child who was referred to Children of Blessings, a private clinic giving free therapy to children with physical needs. The cost of transportation to the clinic three times a week, however, was not affordable for the Mwale’s, so the Central Africa Medical Mission, with the help of special donors, began providing the funds for this in March of 2021. Within a few months, Harriet could hold her head straight, stand with support, and was no longer crying in pain. Her seizures were under control. Her mother learned the exercises to do at home. The Mwale’s were thankful that there was hope for their daughter.

Within a few months there were four more mothers who came weekly to the Lutheran Mobile Clinic for help with their children’s disabilities, as well as their illnesses and malnutrition. Mrs. Mwale befriended these moms and often traveled with them and their children to therapy. Meanwhile, a new vicar at Msambo had weekly Bible studies with the women. One mom became a member of the church and her daughter was baptized. Since the start of 2022, two more children were baptized by Pastor Msiska, who became the vacancy pastor at Mtima Woyera, and continues to share God’s Word with these mothers.

Mr. Mwale said that many prayers have been answered concerning Harriet, and he is thankful she is getting the help she needs. He expressed his gratitude to the donors who support the Lutheran Mobile Clinic and provide the transportation needed for Harriet’s therapy. He trusts the Lord for her future, and knows she is loved and saved by Jesus.

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