A Wealth of Accompaniment Options

Church acoustics consultant Scott Riedel is in the habit of saying that an ideal geometric shape for a worship space looks like a shoe box turned on its side. Horizontally it has a definite long and short axis, and vertically it has enough ceiling height to provide a proper reverberation. Carpet is minimal, if not absent. If newer, the floor might be tile or finished concrete; if older, it likely is hardwood planks. I’ve been in a few sanctuaries like that, including the one I first frequented as a young child. Today, when I take a seat in a live acoustic space like that, I look forward to enjoying one thing in particular—you can hear the people sing.

Liturgical ensembles

These days, more often than was the case a decade or longer ago, the seat I take in the worship space is occasionally a 24” high, four-legged stool. A guitar is on my lap and a music stand in front of me. Nearby are an amp, a piano, and a mic stand or two for the cantor(s). I occasionally play with the ensemble at Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha, WI, or I’m on the road for a conference or Bible class, sampling psalms, hymns, and ritual music from the new hymnal resources.

Years ago, it was rare for me to participate from my four-legged stool. While serving as a parish pastor for 24 years, my guitars and amp most often stayed at home. Part of that was for personal reasons. I had no desire to “feature myself” as far as playing guitar for worship. Nor were either of the two congregations I served necessarily ready for that kind of instrumentation. They had been in “organ-only” mode for virtually all of their existence. Piano was not used for congregational singing, and I would still say that, in most cases, a single acoustic guitar, even when amplified, is not well-suited to lead congregational singing.

But there was another issue, one that Don Chapman (hymncharts.com) wrote about: “In 2002, as a new music director at a church plant, people in my congregation were complaining that I wasn’t including hymns in my praise sets. I wasn’t including them because back in those days, there weren’t any! So I started arranging my own.” I don’t have raw data to cite, but anecdotally, I get the impression that two to three decades ago, Lutheran musicians who played instruments other than the organ were in some cases channeled toward commercial Christian arrangements, in great part because those were the only arrangements available for their instruments. There were, of course, a few hymns found in Lutheran hymnals, known by Lutheran worshipers, sung across a broader swath of Christianity, and arranged for ensemble instruments. But twenty years ago, just a few.

The scope of this article does not cover the difference between commercial worship songs and familiar hymns. But if it did, a key point would be the difference between songs that are more suited to trained singers and hymns that can be sung by the whole assembly. I, of course, have a bias, and it’s not just against worship songs that tend to be more soloistic and in favor of hymns that are familiar and were written for group singing. I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.

I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.

In recent decades, that’s where the rub has been. Liturgical ensemble arrangements of “our” materials have not been available in any kind of abundance at all. By no fault of its own, our publishing house has not published individual hymns arranged for a liturgical ensemble. In the past, the few resources in this genre were typically found in collections in which some titles would not be found in our hymnal. Such a small supply of resources can, of course, result in the same kind of overboard repetition that some Lutheran congregations have run into with non-Lutheran arrangements—twenty songs that get repeated every six or seven weeks. I hope that’s not an inaccurate caricature; it’s what I have heard that some of our congregations have discovered. Oddly enough, it’s the very same thing that congregations can run into when using liturgical ensemble arrangements of our curated and published materials—there isn’t enough to go around, i.e., to go around a whole church year’s worth of worship planning.

The new hymnal project will change that. And that’s not just because we think it’s a good idea to balance organ-led services with piano/guitar/ensemble-led services. That’s not just to put to good use the skills of the pianist/guitarist/instrumentalist the Lord has brought into our membership (though we certainly want to be good stewards of such gifts). That’s not just because some think that the ensemble can sound more upbeat or because they subjectively prefer it over the organ (and why wouldn’t we want to keep them happy?). No, our plan to provide a wealth of curated materials for a liturgical ensemble is because God’s grace in Christ has made us want our sacrifice of praise to be the best it can be.

One element of “best” can be objectively defined. Can you hear the people sing?

With organ music, the servant on the bench needs a keen sensitivity toward the interrelated items of organ registration, worship space acoustics, number of people in the sanctuary, intended mood of the service, and worshipers’ familiarity with the materials that are on the musical docket. All of that and more will come under consideration as the organist goes about his or her task of supporting the song of the assembly. It’s no different when the liturgical ensemble is providing the worship music. Sufficient rehearsal, congregational cueing (especially for introductions or inter-stanza turnarounds), dynamics governed by number of worshipers present, attaining the proper mix through the soundboard, mic levels and overall volume level of amplified voices and instruments properly adjusted, small ensemble or large—there are plenty of things to look out for. But one consideration rises to the top of the list: can you hear the people sing? The Lord has good hearing. Be it barely audible or raising the roof, he will always hear the praise of his people. The question to ask is, “Can the people hear each other?”

Can the people hear each other?

Whether you bring together two musicians or ten in an ensemble, share with them that our goal is to let the people’s song be heard, because that’s where the general scripture truths and the specific gospel message reside—in the lyrics of the assembly’s song. Instrumentalists need sensitivity to volume control and willingness to be a team player (aka, trusting the sound tech to get the mix right). Cantors need to understand (and also the congregation by educating them on this point) that they are not singing primarily to the assembly or for the assembly but along with the assembly. Instrumentalists and vocalists serve to strengthen the assembly’s song.

So back to the opening paragraph of this article. I’m in a sacred space where music is going to lift the life-giving gospel around the room, direct it into ears, and anchor it in believing hearts. I look forward to hearing a room full of people singing the gospel. To pull this off with an organ, there are pallets and pallets of music to enliven the pipes and fill the room with the godly music of saints and angels. God be praised for that! Three volumes of our new hymnal products (Accompaniment for Hymns, Accompaniment for the Psalter, Accompaniment for Services) will bring together an abundance of those organ arrangements for the hymns, psalms, and rites we have compiled. By comparison, rather than pallets and pallets, it seems we may have not much more than a partial filing cabinet drawer of arrangements for the liturgical ensemble. Let’s see what we can do to address this situation.

Accompaniment Editions

As you may have noticed from mock-ups at christianworship.com, the accompaniment editions are 8.5×11, portrait orientation, spiral-bound. For the most part, they contain only keyboard arrangements. In a number of cases, however, there are both organ settings and piano settings. For a majority of the hymns that were originally written for piano, an idiomatic organ or general keyboard arrangement was added. For some of the hymns that are regularly played on organ, an idiomatic piano arrangement was added. (See below about many more piano arrangements, along with auxiliary instrument arrangements, available in CW: Musician’s Resource [CW:MR]).

In addition to upscaling and reformatting the pew edition hymns to fit on a letter-sized page (which, incidentally, make the music easier to read for some), many of the hymns in Accompaniment for Hymns have multiple keyboard settings: alternate key; alternate setting; modulation to a festive final stanza; soloed organ setting; alternate piano or organ arrangement. For a total of 683 hymns (656 in the pew edition and 27 appearing only in CW: Service Builder), Accompaniment for Hymns offers an additional 447 auxiliary keyboard settings of the various types just mentioned. Similarly, Christian Worship: Psalter includes 470 musical settings of the 150 psalms. The Accompaniment for the Psalter offers 93 additional keyboard settings. Some of the piano arrangements in these accompaniment editions will have corresponding instrument files in CW:MR.

Besides accompaniments for the lectionary psalms that appear in the front of the hymnal pew edition, Accompaniment for Services includes the keyboard scores for all of the ritual music. This includes The Service: Settings 1-3, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Settings 2 and 3 of The Service and the Compline setting have both a complete organ setting and a complete piano setting. The piano arrangements of Setting 2 (Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen) are simplified piano arrangements, intended to make the piano setting accessible to the vast majority of pianists. More complex arrangements will be available in CW:MR. Auxiliary brass/timpani arrangements for the organ setting and auxiliary ensemble arrangements for the piano versions of Settings 2 and 3 will be available in CW:MR. Additional settings of The Service, available only in Service Builder, will be similarly resourced with organ and piano settings and auxiliary instrument files available in CW:MR.

Accompaniment for Hymns offers an additional 447 auxiliary keyboard settings of various types.

Additionally, a greatly expanded aspect of ritual music in the new hymnal suite of materials is the music of the Gospel Acclamation. (See a sample at christianworship.com/resources in the “look inside” section.) Formerly called the Verse of the Day, the Gospel Acclamation consists of an opening and closing alleluia refrain with a seasonal or proper verse of the day in the middle. Accompaniment for Services provides 230 pages of Gospel Acclamation music. Each of the three settings of The Service has its own Gospel Acclamation setting, and there are an additional 21 Gospel Acclamation settings for the entire church year. All of these acclamations are written for general keyboard (organ or piano). Some acclamations use additional instruments. For example, Irish Alleluia, published by GIA and arranged by Richard Proulx, has a version for organ, brass, and timpani, but it can be performed just as well with piano, guitar, and other instruments. A 7×10 spiral bound edition (Christian Worship: Gospel Acclamations—Cantor’s Edition) will be available for presiding ministers, cantors, choir members, and instrumentalists. (This edition allows users to avoid illegally copying the keyboard edition for singers and other musicians.)

Musician’s Resource

Most of the music for the liturgical ensemble will reside in Christian Worship: Musician’s Resource. The NPH website will add a section dedicated solely to searching for, reviewing, and purchasing auxiliary keyboard and instrumental music that supports the hymnal and psalter. Thousands of pages of music will be available at this location.

For example, the most basic liturgical ensemble is a piano accompaniment with another instrument playing the melody. If that other instrument is a clarinet or trumpet, additional music is needed since these are pitched at B-flat rather than C. To match keyboard music, trumpet music has to be raised a whole step. If the keyboard music is in F Major, the trumpet part must be in in G Major. We have already done the foundational work on over 500 hymns, so that the various instruments which play at different pitches have a musical score to work with the pew edition setting of the hymns. Each SATB hymn ends up with 16 pages of transpositions. That means we already have 8000 pages of instrument transpositions for the pew edition hymn settings.

But most of the Musician’s Resource is comprised of arrangements that go beyond the pew edition settings. Not always but most frequently, the liturgical ensemble is looking for music that has been arranged with other instruments in mind, not just “SATB hymnal versions.” The Musician’s Resource will include a variety of these resources: vocal descants; instrumental descants; lead sheets; alternate choral stanzas; alternate harmonizations; full modern arrangements; modulations (transitioning to a higher key for a festive final stanza; roughly 5% of the hymns in Accompaniment for Hymns have such an optional modulation).

More often than not, the liturgical ensemble is looking for full modern arrangements. One strong advantage of these arrangements is how they can fit almost any size ensemble. These arrangements may have parts for eight different instruments, but they also work if you have only piano and guitar. We are aiming to offer a full modern arrangement for every hymn, and eventually more than one. Since CW:MR will be a living resource, we can continue to add to it long after the hymnal has launched in the fall of 2021.

Christian Worship: Supplement (2008) included Divine Service II, a service that made use of metrical canticles. These are songs of the liturgy where the text has been recast as rhymed verse and the tune is that of a familiar hymn. Christian Worship: Service Builder will include several dozen metrical canticles for those who wish to build such a service. Our goal is to arrange also these metrical canticle hymn tunes for liturgical ensembles. Such arrangements can, of course, serve double duty for both a hymn text and a metrical canticle.

We use the term liturgical ensemble because the ensemble is supporting the congregation as the congregation participates in the liturgy.

Looking forward

Liturgical worship makes use of the church year with its appointed lectionary and propers, it has a regular celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar, and it follows a historic order which includes the ancient texts of several songs that tell the story of our deliverance through Christ. We use the term liturgical ensemble because the ensemble is supporting the congregation as the congregation participates in the liturgy. The ensemble may consist of anywhere from two to ten or more instrumentalists and anywhere from one to four or more cantors. So the term liturgical helps establish some healthy parameters: this is a group that assists the assembly in singing the ritual music (canticles), the Psalm of the Day, the Gospel Acclamation, the Hymn of the Day, and other selected hymns.

It would sadden me if I were writing this article solely because there might seem to be a trend toward piano/guitar/instrument ensembles and away from organ accompaniment. With a fitting registration, the organ does a magnificent job of supporting the song of the assembly. The many organ resources that are queued up for our new hymnal will continue this fine heritage. I wholeheartedly support both organ accompaniment and ensemble accompaniment. I also do not hesitate to say that we need and are preparing more resources for the latter. I look forward to having a six-stringed instrument on my lap and an abundance of music on the stand before me, composed for a liturgical ensemble. I look forward to accompaniment editions and a Musician’s Resource that put those ensemble scores in front of a host of WELS instrumentalists, affording them the high privilege of leading God’s people in song.

And soaring high above all that music, I most look forward to hearing assembled voices clearly singing that Jesus Christ is the LORD, Our Righteousness (Jer. 23:26).

By Michael Schultz

Pastor Schultz has served congregations in Flagstaff, AZ and Lawrenceville, GA. He chaired the hymns subcommittee for Christian Worship: Supplement, compiled its guitar edition, and currently serves as project director for the new WELS Hymnal Project. As a member of Trinity, Waukesha, WI, he plays guitar for worship and occasionally preaches.

A small liturgical ensemble (pictured above) provided music for a COVID-era Easter service recorded in the seminary chapel. That video is still available here: https://wels.net/together-at-the-empty-tomb-this-easter. The socially distanced musicians performed in an empty chapel without a congregation present.

Another excellent companion video to the topic of this issue is at welscongregationalservices.net/worship-led-by-a-modern-ensemble. Some of the new songs and arrangements in both videos are included in the new hymnal project.


Correction

The printed version of the previous issue, Worship and Outreach, was missing its second paragraph. Please reference the online version at worship.welsrc.net if this issue is used for group discussion or in a Bible class setting.


 

 

 

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Preach the Word – Joy and Confidence from the Basics – Part 4

A drill sergeant is giving an order to a cadet.

Sergeant: “There is no talking during drill.”

Cadet: “Yes, sir. The fellas were just explaining that to me.”

Sergeant: “Be quiet, cadet! There is no talking during drill!”

Cadet: “Sergeant. I know all about that. Like I was saying….”1

On it goes. The cadet takes the sergeant’s words as a communication of information. What is he missing? Only what the words have to do with him.

What we have here is a failure of application.

The Scriptures communicate the costliest information that can be thought of: preeminently who Jesus is and what he has done. But the Word is not a communication of information alone, but of capability as well—to repent, to speak, to persevere. As Paul instructed (Titus 2), the grace of God is teaching us how to live as we wait on Jesus’ return.

They hunger not to become walking encyclopedias of religious information.

The people of God daily hunger for the external Word to come to them from the outside, telling them that they are sinners and telling them they are saved. And they hunger for this, too—not to become walking encyclopedias of religious information, but to take up into an actual life even the smallest part of what they know.

Appropriation and Application

Let’s distinguish appropriation and application.

Appropriation is about people not only having the truth, but being had by it. It is about taking to heart the things of God so as to be renewed and transformed by them. We want people to see some essential piece of divine revelation more clearly than when they first walked in the door. We would have them delight in some aspect of the grace of God as it is revealed in Jesus—the glory of his self-sacrifice and his astonishing resurrection. Appropriation grabs hold of the big facts and celebrates those two words Martin Luther held dear: For you.

Appropriation celebrates those two words Martin Luther held dear: For you.

Application depends entirely on appropriation. The “Now what?” follows on the heels of the “So what?” and draws on its strength. Application is about our changed situation—how life can now be lived, now that Christ is revealed to our hearts again by Word and Sacrament. Whether we include explicit directives for life depends on the telos of our text. If we say with John, “Little children, love one another,” but are a little short on the details, it is to leave intact the marvelous freedom of the Christian “to do or not do” (Luther).

An example

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).

I was disciplining one of my daughters in her bedroom. Her spirit was a fist balled up. She was seeing a side of me she hadn’t seen before. I became gradually harsher, needing only to see some glimmer of sorrow over her sin.

I broke her. Contrition poured out in a wail: “I’m sorry! I can’t help it!”

Now I broke, too. I know a thing or two about that. Now everything changes.

“O, sweetheart…” I say and crush her to my chest, searching for words and taking my time, all to overwhelm her with God’s love and with mine.

I talked about this with my grown daughters the other day (to get permission to share). They didn’t remember the episode and demanded to know which of them was in the story. I’m not telling.

I talked to them about how a father’s heart goes out to a child, how it bursts from his chest. How he rushes to her side, chasing all the space away. It happened from the time they were little. It happened at first words and first steps, at sporting events and musical performances, at graduations and weddings, at times my God let them shine. But, as I tried to put into words, none of that can touch that day in my little girl’s bedroom.

Do you think you understand how a father runs to his child in her struggle against sin? How he is with her? How he is for her and on her side in the fight against this thing she hates? She has gotten to him. She is his. He is hers.

Let’s be in no hurry to move on. In your struggle with sin, think about this with me. Think about how a father loves a child.

You live all these decades in a room called grace only to discover that one of the walls is an accordion door. You push it back to discover there is more yet than you had seen. What is it like to be reconciled to God? What have I yet to grasp about this relationship, this love—how wide, how long, how high, how deep? I find that the furniture in my mind is still being rearranged.

“As a father has compassion on his children.”

This is application. We search out the implications of salvation—what it has to do with me and what can be different about today.

What do you notice?

You notice that what we are discussing takes time. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

You notice that my example is heavy on appropriation. It leaves the application mostly unstated. It wouldn’t need to be so. Application of the phrase “those who fear him” would fit nicely in my exposition of the text earlier in the sermon. But I take the accent here to be on something we are supposed to know in our bones about the sort of compassion God-fearers will always find in God.

Notice that this example has a modest goal. This is not “the whole counsel of God” packed into one sermon. I am not trying to do everything. Rather, I have concerned myself with a single thought that a child can know. You learn that to speak with understanding the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer is not so modest a goal after all.

Finally, the example above happens to blend illustration with application (a term that includes appropriation in its broad sense). Those components of preaching play well together, especially if I mean to go beyond conveying the information packed into that single verse, “As a father has compassion on his children,” costly as it is. I am taking pains to close the loop. Everything this magnificent psalm has ever meant—to its original hearers and all those across time—it means for you.

Appropriation in particular

One of the axioms of education is to take people from the known to the unknown. You understand the periodic table in basic chemistry? Good. Let’s see what happens when these elements combine.

Now think about taking people from the appropriated to the unappropriated. We address people who prize the death and resurrection of Jesus. They don’t doubt that they are reconciled to God. This is good. Why, then, are many of them so anxious? How do you close that loop? That’s a good question.

It helps to know our people as well as we can. Audience-centeredness is critical. Take the time to ask good questions, listen well, and reflect deeply on what you’ve heard. Perhaps recycled sermons fall flat not because they were poorly written but because we had entirely different faces before us as we wrote them.

Might we ever be content with appropriation alone and have no application at all? I think so.

The people you preach to are living lives no one has ever lived before or will again, with their particular gifts, confronted by the particular obligations of their vocations and the needs of their particular neighbors. This goes to the freedom of the Christian to look around, and in the peace of forgiveness, to do “whatever comes into their minds to do” (Luther).

The third use of the law slides so easily into the first. The voice of conscience wakes up as cruel as ever.

A colleague has said that “the law is no puppy that only does what you want it to do.” I may intend by the imperatives and cohortatives in my sermon to guide the grateful lives of people. “How can you express this thankfulness you feel, this wonder at so great a Savior? Here’s how.” But as we know, “lex semper accusat” (the law always accuses). The third use of the law slides so easily into the first. The voice of conscience wakes up as cruel as ever, though it was never our intention to leave people there.

With clarity about what the gospel alone does for people and what the law never can, I sometimes elect to emphasize appropriation and take care not to overwrite my applications. This I do to cultivate gospel predominance as C. F. W. Walther taught us.

Good Friday is one day I want “It is finished” to echo through every world there is and ring in every ear. Let this and only this carry them out the door. Not, “I’ve really got to do better!” Not, “I had better get my act together.” Just, “It is finished!”

This is about so much more than sinning less, to put it bluntly. The death and resurrection of Jesus into which we are baptized remains a matter of perpetual appropriation as we learn to daily die and rise with Jesus.

Application in particular

Sermon application takes careful thought.

Until the eternal gospel of our Lord is heard above the sound of a nagging conscience and the complaints of offended reason, we cannot ask in the right way what God would have us do. We risk either tying on burdens or waking up the pharisee if our applications are not built on a robust presentation of law and gospel.

I want my applications to be “aha moments.”

I want my applications to be “aha moments.” In the spirit of the law, we sweat and strain to produce the qualities of heart we know should be there—we should be more compassionate, more patient, more fearless. Good luck with that. Think instead of the good things that come to us simply because we see. Think of the fruit that grow spontaneously on our branches simply because we have taken in the person and work of our Savior with clearer sight. “In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

“In view of God’s mercy.” Aha!

And I hope that deeply rooted Christian optimism characterizes our applications.

When I preached Romans 12 not long ago— “Love must be sincere…” —I told a story of my best friend in high school. During a midnight heart-to-heart he confessed, “I don’t know if I’ve ever really loved anyone.” Next I looked into the faces of hundreds of college students and asked, “Do we love each other? I mean it. Do we?” I let the question hang in the air for some time. (Good things happen in the pauses, don’t you agree?) Students told me they talked about that all through lunch. They didn’t know what I would say next, and they wondered, “How could we not have known?”

Students told me they talked about that all through lunch.

In my message, I reminisced about the quality of the friendship that tenth grader offered me—it still takes my breath away. No, we do not love to our own satisfaction. We are not love’s definition. You don’t look at the likes of us to know what love is. But we do, indeed, love because God, in Christ, loved us first. We love because Jesus did not fail in his quest, not only to rescue us in every way a person can be rescued, but also to teach us brotherly love and to create a people eager to do what is good.

“And in fact, you do love all of God’s family…. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:10). This is how we talk to the bride of Christ.

Given everything we are led to understand about this sinful flesh of ours, as good theology teaches us to call things as they are—given what we are led to expect of fallen people in a fallen world—is it not a wonder when God’s people love? What a few words and a little bit of water can do!

It goes to a question I often raise with my students: how does one properly speak to the bride of Christ? We can preach the law to powerful effect without needing to say things to the Church that are simply not true. For example, her works done in faith are not the “filthy rags” Isaiah spoke about. There are lifelong believers who think that! How refreshing it will be for them to find out that the smallest act of Christian love is the Lord Christ celebrating his victory over sin, death, and devil. The moment came from him, as did the impulse, and the strength. These acts are his even as they are ours, and in them, in grace, he positively delights.

Aha!

There is more we can teach our people as we depict the life of freedom that busts out in good works. For example, I love the picture a brother has offered: a father holds the hand of a toddler as she takes her first steps. She cannot walk a single step apart from his grip on her. But don’t think she is not the one doing the walking. Just watch those little feet go. Now take a look at his face—how a father loves a child.

Just look at his face as the people of God, his masks, offer up their holy vocations in service to their neighbor—a subject we will never tire of, nor will they. There’s an aha moment in the thought that my sanctification is for the people who experience me, those whom God wants loved.

Lastly, when we understand that we are nothing without Christ and can do nothing without him, our references in preaching to the means of grace will not be obligatory. We know no other way of sermonizing than that, in our applications, we perpetually call our people to remain in Christ. How? We drag ourselves in our poor half-heartedness to Word and sacrament in hopeful expectation of being wakened and warmed. We let the Word of Christ live richly within us, as God gives us the strength.

“Thinking must be turned a new direction; Christ must be thought of if you are to say Christ lives in you” (Luther).

The habitus practicus

In the twin arts of appropriation and application, our own credibility is implicated. By the earnestness of our appropriations and the realism of our applications, we demonstrate that we know what we are talking about. We show that we “share in human stuff” with the people in the pew. The pulpit is not our private confessional, but they can tell that we know something about living as sinner and saint in this actual world of simple pleasures and broken shoestrings—that our preaching is an extension of our very lives.

It will be obvious at the end of our lives that we did not become who we so badly wanted to become. Instead, we learned to never let the cross out of our sight. That cross is dear and what we learn through tentatio and Anfechtung (trial and struggle) we will teach to others and call it all blessed. Luther: “For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will inflict you, will make a real theologian of you.”

There is no escaping the struggle of Christian living. Instead, there is the promise of Jesus to meet us there by his Word. We display to our people what we have learned in the Spirit’s school: that God allows us to be battered by devil, world, and flesh so as to learn to hang on for dear life to the gospel. In the end, we wage everything on Jesus.

To grow in “the practical habit of the theologian” is not only the task of the pastor. He will urge on his people that gaining the knowledge of Christ is a way of life. It happens, for example, when some in the body of Christ are offended by others and are making motions of leaving. You plead, “The first time someone hurts you, you want to leave? Really? You will miss it. Now is when theology becomes life. Now is when we find out what all this has been about from the start, when you forgive freely from the heart for Jesus sake.” This is application.

God allows us to be battered by devil, world, and flesh so as to learn to hang on for dear life to the gospel.

We are not drill sergeants whipping cadets into shape. We are pastors seeing to the care of souls. They are not “brains on sticks” (James K. A. Smith), empty receptacles in which to pour Bible trivia (if there is such a thing). In a nod to C. S. Lewis (The Abolition of Man), they are people “with chests,” capable, in Christ, of responding to Christian truth in whole-hearted Christian living.

Their capability is Christ. By the Spirit, his every gospel imperative—to trust and not be troubled, to hope and be glad—will ring true in them.

What a pleasure to guide God’s people in what it means to linger and live in God’s thought—how a father loves a child.

Written by Mark Paustian

Dr. Paustian is a professor of communication and biblical Hebrew at Martin Luther College where he teaches “Advanced Christian Rhetoric” which combines an introduction to homiletics and an introduction to apologetics in one course. He holds a PhD in Communication from Regent University.

1 From The Parables of Kierkegaard.


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Mission partners in Finland

Did you know that WELS shares fellowship with a Swedish-speaking church in Finland? Get acquainted with Pastor David Akerlund, his wife, Marika, and their congregation.

The following is taken from a recent interview with Pastor David Akerlund:

I serve as one of three part-time pastors in St. Johannes Evangelical Lutheran Church. Our church began in 2008 with six members. Since then, God has blessed us. We have grown to 28 members who meet at two different sites, in Jakobstad and Vaasa on the west coast of Finland. I serve together with two other pastors, Pastor Ola Osterbacka and Pastor Oyvind Edvardsen, and one Bible teacher/organist, Hans Ahlskog.

I usually preach two Sundays a month. I visit the sick and share the gospel with people in my neighborhood. God gives me many opportunities to talk about the Savior with my extended family and workers at the meat-packing plant where I work. Sharing the gospel takes time. I’m thinking about one of our recent confirmands. . . I first shared the gospel with him (Rasmus) in 2008. He’s a cousin on my wife’s side of the family. At family gatherings, I would talk with him and my other relatives about our eternal needs. Our conversations continued over the course of nearly a decade before Rasmus was finally ready to take adult instruction classes and join our church.

Pastor David and Marika in the home they are building

I love sharing the Good News of Jesus. There are so many people in our neighborhood who are searching for answers to the most serious questions in life. Who is God? Why am I here? Where am I going? I want to share God’s truth with people who are hurting and looking for comfort.

I’m married to a wonderful woman named Marika. Together we are a support family for a little girl named Lena who is nearly three years old. We are building a house. [David and Marika are actually building their house with their own hands, brick by brick and board by board.] My dream is that God would allow us to adopt children so that our house will be full!

A couple of prayer requests:

  • Please pray that God would give our congregation many open doors for sharing His comfort with the people in our community.
  • Please pray that God would help us through the long, difficult process of adopting children.
  • Please pray for me and my service. I think it would be great if I could become a full-time pastor for the workers at our meat-packing plant! Many of them are interested to hear about the Savior. I would love to spend all my time preaching, teaching, meeting prospects and encouraging people with God’s Word.

Interview conducted by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia

St. Johannes is an Associate Member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a group of 32 confessional Lutheran churches and synods from around the world. The CELC gathers at triennial meetings for encouragement, fellowship, study, cooperation in projects, and an internationally united voice. Learn more at celc.info.

 

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The first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life

“This is the first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life.”

I wasn’t expecting her to say that. I met her in the parking lot before church. She had finished going through basic Christian instruction and said she wanted to become a member of our church. This was the day she would join us as the newest member of our church family. I love those days. SO much.

Worship at a local restaurant in North Nampa

So when I met her in the parking lot, I was all smiles and congratulations. But she was more serious. She’s been through a lot in life. Men have been awful to her. Churches have made her feel guilty and confused. She’s been living with a lot of emotional and spiritual pain. It was all on her face that morning in the parking lot. And that’s when she said it: “This is the first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life. I’m really glad to be here. This church is where I belong.” And then she smiled.

Cross of Christ in Boise, Idaho, began services at our multi-site in North Nampa in November of 2019. It had been tough to find space to meet, but a local restaurant is closed on Sunday mornings, so we meet there for church. It’s worked so far, but it’s getting tight.

We had no idea who we’d encounter in the coming months and how God would guide our ministry. We certainly weren’t planning on canceling in-person services only months after starting because of COVID-19. But God has his plans. We anticipated needing a larger space to rent as we grew out of the restaurant, but we weren’t expecting to have every opportunity fall through or prove too expensive. Yet God still has his plans. We definitely weren’t expecting to suddenly have the opportunity to purchase our own 5,300 square foot building during the global pandemic, and be scheduled to hold services on our church’s second campus this summer. Go figure. . . God has his plans.

Cross of Christ’s new location in North Nampa

That woman in the parking lot is one of many souls we’ve been privileged to meet in the past year. Who knows who God will bring our way in the years ahead? How exciting to have a new and bigger building for even more gospel ministry in Nampa, Idaho! How exciting to discover what further plans God has for us!

I still smile when I see her every Sunday. She’s glad that she’s here. I’m glad she is, too. Every new face, every new opportunity, every new day of God’s mercy, and every great spiritual decision new friends make as they start following Christ—it all just makes me smile.

Written by Rev. Kurt Wetzel, home missionary at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho

 

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My students are my teachers

I teach seminary classes and Bible institute courses in three countries – two Muslim nations and one Hindu. The students are my teachers.

Tonight I go to the home of a man who has been head of a Bible school since 1996. He is distinguished and well-educated. I was invited for supper at his home two months ago. He lives where three of his four brothers also have families. Their tiny homes abut one another, and until recently had thatched roofs.

I take off my shoes at the door and my host leads me to the living space – a bedroom! There is a narrow walkway between the dresser and bed. My host, and some members of his family, sit on the bed cross-legged while I sit on the only chair. We visit like this for an hour and a half.

Then it’s time for the evening devotion. We leave the bedroom and go to the one “living room” for the four families. Hunched together–husbands, wives, and children sit in the dim light. The oldest daughter of my host is sitting on a cot. She pulls out a tiny, hand-held air-organ from under the cot and plays hymns. Everyone sings. Then a brother reads the Word of God. I was asked to share a devotion.

Now it is time to eat. They lead me back to the bedroom. A small narrow table is pushed up against the footboard of the bed. My coworker and I sit at the table while others sit on the bed. Course after course of food is brought in. We talk, laugh, and enjoy the delicious food. Then at 10:30 at night, after 3-4 hours of visiting, it is time to go back to where we are staying.

I think of this family, and families in America, and I ask myself, “Who is the most happy?” I realize that it’s not what’s in the house that makes a happy home. It’s what’s in the heart that makes a happy home.

My students have a passion to learn the Word of God. They will travel great distances to attend a workshop. One young lady walked two days to reach a bus, and then rode the bus for three days.  Five days of travel one-way. Then she will sit on the floor with a hundred other people for 5-10 days from 8 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. to learn and discuss the Scriptures in large and small groups.

My students have a passion to reach the lost. They love the people who persecute them. One man had his home vandalized several times for sharing the gospel. He was also beaten, cut with a knife, and threatened with death. I see his face light up and hear the excitement in his voice as he talks about new ways to reach the lost. I wonder, “How can this be? They hurt you. They left a 2-foot scar on your body. . .  and you love them?!” I gain new insight into the love of God which caused him to send his Son into this world.

My students have great faith. While Christians make up only 1% of the population, they trust God to do great things. The don’t focus on what they cannot do. They focus on what they can do under God. They don’t play defense–that is, they don’t hide from the world. They are always on the offense. Attack, attack, attack. . . not with weapons of violence, even though their enemies use these weapons, but with love and truth. They are peacemakers storming the gates of hell. It is an inspiration for me to work with men and women like these. They have a joyful spirit, a contagious faith.  “Forward, forward, forward” in Jesus we go.

These students are my teachers.

Written by a WELS missionary

Details have been intentionally left out due to the sensitive nature of the mission work occurring in these countries. Please privately email missionspromotions@wels.net if you’d like to learn more.

 

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Hope remains

What thoughts come into your mind these days when you think of Portland, Oregon? In the midst of a pandemic, Portland has been in national headlines many times for its 100 days of protests. When I first arrived in the area, I visited near the downtown area to grab some of Portland’s famous donuts and coffee. I was greeted at the donut shop by a bouncer wearing a bulletproof vest, and I was served at the café from behind two layers of bulletproof glass by a barista wearing a full-face mask. It was eerie, it was scary, and it was intimidating.

The Hope core group at work

It is true that the challenges of starting a church in the midst of pandemic, unrest, wildfires, and mistrust are very real. And yet, there is incredible opportunity amid the challenges. In a dark time, the light of Christ shines brightly! In a time when hopelessness threatens all of us, the hope that lives because Jesus lives lifts us up. This message of hope is a powerful message for the people of Tigard. As a city, we have watched as so many of the things that give us comfort be removed. We’ve been forced to ask the question: “What can I possibly put my hope in that will not disappoint me?” The only thing that will not disappoint us is the hope that we will live eternally with Jesus!

We, as a core group of believers in Tigard, have had the incredible privilege of sharing that hope with the people of our city. We have experienced opportunity and success in the most unlikely places! I’ll share two of these unique opportunities.

Boarded up business during the protests

Over the last two months, we have been putting on our masks and knocking on people’s doors while holding a freshly baked loaf of banana bread with just one simple message: “Hi! I’m from Hope Lutheran Church – a brand new church here in Tigard. We know that times are hard right now, so we are here to share some hope and banana bread with you!” It wouldn’t seem like knocking on people’s doors to share food and conversation would be the most successful tactic during a pandemic, and yet the gospel opportunities we’ve had have been astounding.

In the first days of January, a riot took place in downtown Tigard. Small businesses already struggling to stay afloat were damaged and were forced to board up their windows. In the aftermath, we were able to talk with some of the business owners and help clean up. We were able to share the hope of Jesus in yet another situation where it might seem that hope could not thrive. We were even given the opportunity to witness this hope to the mayor of Tigard and the chief city councilor!

Pastor Bourman’s son, Theo, packing Hersey’s kisses for prospects

The challenges are real. Yet, instead of the dwelling on the challenges, I ask you to pray with us for opportunities for the Holy Spirit to create faith in people’s hearts. The unrest is real. Yet, instead of struggling with the unrest, I ask you celebrate with us the forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. Whether in peace, pandemic, or protest, only one thing can remain certain: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! In this we place all of our hope.

Written by Rev. Paul Bourman, home missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Tigard, OR


 

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Christian Noblewomen

Throughout my ministry, whether it was serving U.S. congregations or as a member of WELS World Missions, I saw many Christian noblewomen with a variety of spiritual gifts offering their time and talents to the Lord. These sisters in Christ possessed the characteristics of the many women who can be found in the Scriptures, such as Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, the Marys of the New Testament, Anna, Tabitha, and many more.

Their faith was evident through the fruit that it bore.

Two other biblical names come to mind when I think of my position as a WELS Friendly Counselor to Indonesia: Ester and Ribka (Hebrew for Rebekah). Both of these Christian noblewomen are members and current workers of our sister church, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). Both have a unique set of spiritual gifts and skills, distinct from one another, which they are using in the gospel ministry of GLI.

Ester

Ester (which probably means “star”) is an appropriate name for Gereja Lutheran Indonesia’s Publications Coordinator. Through her work, she is “letting her light shine before others so that they may glorify their Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). On a local level, she also is active in her congregation and as a member of the regional women’s group. She is also the wife of GLI’s seminary chairman, Pastor Mikael. She was able to accompany her husband when he came to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for extended studies and attend classes with her husband. Her studies helped her better understanding English theological words and phrases. Strengthened in faith and with a deeper understanding of doctrine and terminology, she is now better equipped to translate, print, and share materials. Her commitment to faithful translations will serve GLI for generations to come.

Ribka

Ribka is the administrative assistant at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran, the seminary of GLI. She also assists GLI’s leadership in various ways, including processing reports in English for WELS personnel, interpreting between Indonesian and English speakers during meetings, as well as helping with travel and housing arrangements for visiting guests. She is a faithful and accurate translator of God’s word. The assistance she offers synod and seminary leadership requires a high level of trustworthiness, and she faithfully carries out all of her tasks.

While God has gifted GLI with many such women who also use their time and talents to glorify their Savior and assist fellow believers, I was privileged to work personally with both Ester and Ribka in recent years. What a blessing that God gives his church faithful men AND Christian noblewomen who are equally equipped with the spiritual gifts needed to carry out his great commission of sharing the message of salvation. To God alone be the glory!

Written by Rev. Greg Bey, part-time friendly counselor to Indonesia

Learn more about Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) at wels.net/indonesia.


 

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2020 hindsight

Well, that didn’t go according to plan.

We began 2020 with a well thought out strategy, a good mix of outreach and in-reach efforts. We’d pull together with four big seasonal events to attract the community and engage our members. In the off months we’d look for quick wins – joining in the next 5K, hosting a game night, perhaps even bowling (as embarrassing as that would be for me). We met as a church to identify coordinators and volunteers. Everything was falling into place. Ready, set, go!

We never got to “go.”

Survive & Thrive after Quarantine webinar

Like churches across the country, the unexpected sidelined our plans. No community Easter brunch. No door-to-door introductions and invitations. No 5K’s, no concerts, no strawberry socials. Our focus shifted from the myriad of possibilities before us to managing the practical concerns of simply worshiping together. One step forward, two steps back.

But would you believe the Lord still brought blessing?

By necessity, our live-streaming capabilities matured rather quickly as online worship services moved from the confines of our website to the open spaces of Facebook. With our in-person events canceled, we pivoted into the all-digital event arena and hosted our first ever webinar: Survive & Thrive after Quarantine, an online event intended to help our community see COVID through a Christian lens. We got used to fellowship on Zoom and, in time, to worshiping six feet apart. Simply put, we shelved our big plans and rolled with the opportunities God placed before us.

And the Lord brought blessings – unplanned, unexpected, unforeseen blessings. Our online worship allowed us to connect with prospect families we might never have met otherwise. Zoom Bible studies kept us growing together even from a distance. Phone calls, text messages, email, and even snail mail were tools for mutual encouragement.

Ascension’s Christmas Festival

And as in-person events came back, the Lord gave us more opportunities. We swapped our planned indoor family Christmas event for an outdoor, socially-distanced Christmas festival, complete with individually packaged cookies, free raffles, and live music. Long-time members of Ascension and new friends rolled up their sleeves and donned their masks to enjoy the Christmas season with a much-needed sense of semi-normalcy. The Lord gave us good weather, a good turnout, good fun, and good contacts.

2020 was a challenging year to try to hit the ground running as a home mission restart. It’s humbling to so quickly shelve your first-ever ministry plan. But it’s far more humbling—and inspiring—to see the blessing the Lord Jesus pours out apart from our planning. We’re excited to bring several families into membership early this year and begin classes with several more, all blessings realized in the chaos of COVID.

Last year didn’t go according to plan—well, not our plan. And as it turns out, that’s a good thing.

Written by Rev. Ben Berger, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania


 

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And he brought him to Jesus

What Andrew had found made everything else on the to-do list fade away. This discovery was of such importance that Andrew went right away to find his brother Peter. The discovery wasn’t a what, but a who. Andrew told Peter that they had found the Messiah (John 1:41-42). What greater thing can a person do for a sibling than to bring them to Jesus?

Bible information class in Mandarin at Reformation in San Diego

Many Chinese Christians freely use the term “brother” when they talk about a friend in the faith. When John, a Chinese member of Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, brought his Chinese friend Mark to a Thanksgiving church event, Mark was introduced as a brother in the faith. During the Thanksgiving event, Mark and his family enjoyed playing games with other brothers and sisters. The event was a reminder for everyone in attendance that we are always able to give thanks when Jesus is our focus. Mark’s family also heard a clear law and gospel message in Mandarin from Vicar David Choi (from our sister synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod).

Mark was eager to talk with the pastors and vicar afterward to learn more about the life of a pastor. The desire has been in Mark’s heart to find a path to study for full-time ministry. The pastors and vicar at Reformation have been able to share more information with Mark about our synod’s Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) – a possible path for Mark to study for the pastoral ministry.

The first step is for Mark to study Reformation’s Bible information class and become a member. Thanks to translation efforts in the past, Reformation’s membership courses are available in Mandarin. Mark’s studies are well under way, and he is cherishing the time to be brought closer to Jesus.

Andrew and Peter would go on to share the truths they had learned from Jesus. They brought others to Jesus by sharing what Jesus had taught them. These brothers knew the best they could offer anyone would be to welcome them into the family of believers with the Good News of Jesus.

All of us have friends we can invite to join the family in spending time with Jesus. How might that person we invite respond when Jesus speaks to them? How might God use that person in the future to reach out to others? God continues to amaze us in the ways his gospel changes hearts and lives. May we all continue to follow Andrew’s example of prioritizing an invitation to those around us to join us as we spend time with Jesus.

Please keep Mark, John, Vicar Choi, and the growing outreach ministry to our Chinese neighbors in San Diego in your prayers.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, WELS Asian ministry consultant and Associate Pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, CA

Learn more about Asian outreach occurring throughout North America at wels.net/asianministry.


 

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So much more than a burial

The body of late Evangelist Chitanzane Kantokoma Mapulanga was laid to rest on December 6, 2020. The coffin was lowered. The dirt was heaped. Wreaths were placed.

Evangelist and Mrs. Mapulanga – December 2016

But the funeral was so much more than a burial. It was a “witness to a stricken world.”

In Christ, who tasted death for us
We rise above our natural grief
And witness to a stricken world
The strength and splendor of belief. – CW #607

Some say that the best evangelism opportunities in Malawi are funerals. Why? Because the masses gather. Not just the fellow members of the deceased’s home church, but the entire community. Crowds of people. And as you can well imagine, a variety of faiths in need of a message whether they realize it or not. What better time to share the gospel of Jesus?

That is exactly what Pastor Khwima Msiska did.

He preached 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, “. . . the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Pastors Msowoya and Msiska

Pastor Msiska could have hijacked the sermon time and simply highlighted how much Evangelist Mapulanga had accomplished during his personal and ministry years. God had given the Evangelist a total eight decades spanning from 1940 to 2020. There would have been plenty to say. After all, just in his gospel ministry of serving the Lutheran Church of Central Africa, how many sermons did Evangelist Mapulanga preach? How many babies and adults did he baptize? How many member visits had he made? How many people of the Lutheran church had he comforted, corrected, rebuked, and trained in righteousness? Over decades of service, how many kilometers had he pedaled and miles had he walked to serve the Lord’s people?

But Pastor Msiska didn’t dwell on those things. For that matter, neither did the Liturgist Pastor Msowoya nor any other speaker. The funeral focus was not about the man Mapulanga but about the God man Jesus Christ. Both Lutheran Church of Central Africa pastors answered very clearly the questions that are most important: What had Jesus done for Evangelist Mapulanga? What had the Promised One accomplished? Why did Christ die on the cross? What does Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death mean for him, and me, when I die? 

Ah, now that’s something to talk about. And sing about.

And that is what the Lutheran women and men did. The preacher and the liturgist were not the only ones witnessing to the stricken world. So were the many people who attended the funeral and are longing for Christ’s coming. We arrived at the funeral home at 9 a.m. We departed at 4 p.m. And for the better part of seven hours, people were singing. Why?

Because there was something to sing about! The funeral was so much more than a burial. It was a witness to a stricken world that there is hope beyond the grave. There is life after death. There is a crown of righteousness in store. No wonder the family of God longs for their Brother’s appearing on the last day! We are not just waiting for Jesus Christ to come again, but desiring it, yearning for it. Looking forward to it, patiently but with anticipation.

One day our fight will be over. Our race will be finished. And we will live no longer by faith, but by sight.

Missionary Holtz with Evangelist Mapulanga

And so with the strength and splendor of belief, the men and women lifted up their voices. They sang at the funeral home, at the mortuary, walking to the cemetery, and huddled around the grave. The day was one of song, and the songs were ones of witness. And the witness was to Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, so will Evangelist Mapulanga. Because Jesus paid the penalty of sin, we don’t have to. Because Jesus gave up his crown, we will wear one!

A gift of grace.

Until the Lord calls us home as he did Evangelist Mapulanga on December 4, we will still have graves to dig, funerals to attend, and loved ones to bid goodbye. We will mourn. Hearts will ache. Tears will flow.

But not without hope.

So we will also have sermons to preach and songs to sing and a witness to give. Because there is a world out there stricken with sin and in need of a Savior. No matter in which country our loved ones die, let the masses and the crowds come to our Christian funerals! It’s so much more than a burial.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, world missionary on the WELS One Africa Team


 

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Worship and Outreach

“This hymnal won’t just benefit your congregation’s worship. It will also benefit your congregation’s outreach.” Without the ability to go back in time and scan every piece of publicity produced, I would imagine a claim like that was seldom made in advance of the 1993 publication of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal. At the time, the latest iteration of the megachurch movement was just starting to pick up steam. Churches like Rick Warren’s Saddleback and Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek were still in their infancy. Andy Stanley’s Northpoint had not yet been founded. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church and Sally Morgenthaler’s Worship Evangelism, both influential in the “worship as evangelism” movement, had not yet been published.

As our church body prepares to publish its next hymnal, I’m confident I’m not the first one to say this nor will I be the last: This hymnal won’t just benefit your congregation’s worship. It will also benefit your congregation’s outreach.

What I mean by that, however, might surprise you. The primary benefit this hymnal provides to a congregation’s outreach efforts has nothing to do with the time during which the hymnal is actually in use. It has nothing to do with what happens in that sacred space we call a sanctuary and that sacred hour we call a service. The primary way this worship resource will also benefit a congregation’s outreach has very little to do with worship, and that’s probably how it has to be. Let me explain.

From “Seekers” to “Nones”

There was a time when, due to various factors both spiritual and societal, a considerable portion of our country’s population could be described as “looking for a church.” They likely identified as religious, even Christian. They did not attend services regularly and/or had not committed to a specific church home, but they would be willing to do both assuming they found the right church. They have often been referred to as “seekers.”

To whatever degree and during whatever period of time that was true, most would agree that it is no longer true today. James Emery White has thoroughly chronicled the rise of the religiously unaffiliated, a group often referred to as “nones.”1 In 2020, “nones” comprise almost a quarter (22.8%) of the population according to the Pew Research Center.

Many of these religiously unaffiliated Americans are now raising members of Generation Z. Generation Z, also referred to as iGen, consists of people born between 1995 and 2010. As you might imagine, a generation raised by people who are increasingly religiously unaffiliated will be likely to have no strong connection to religion themselves. Jean Twenge points out that, while about a quarter of the overall population is religiously unaffiliated, a full third of young adults (ages 18-24) fell into that category already in 2015.2

A “none” is the opposite of a “seeker.” It’s not that they don’t believe in God. It’s not that they are hostile to religion. They simply have no strong feelings about either. In a May 2003 article in the Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch made famous a term to describe this mindset: apatheism. He wrote, “Apatheism—a disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.”

As one might imagine, the decline of “seekers” and the rise of “nones,” has had an impact on the way Christian churches view the connection between worship and outreach. In a world full of “seekers,” worship and outreach work together in services that are “seeker-friendly.” James K. A. Smith summarizes such an approach this way: “If the church was going to feel welcoming, it needed to feel familiar, accessible, and ‘cool,’ characterized by the sorts of professional experiences people associated with consumer transactions together with the thrilling enjoyment of a concert. The seeker-sensitive church would feel like the mall, the concert, and Starbucks all rolled into one—because those are places that people like, where they feel comfortable.”3

Jared Wilson calls these attractional churches. He points out the increasing naivete of such an approach in today’s world: “As cultural Christianity fades, so does the potential customer base for attractional churches.” Wilson predicts that the attractional church will “slowly grow further out of touch with the surrounding culture” by “assuming its neighborhoods are looking for church, but different; religion, but relevant; Christianity, but cool.…”4

As a result of this cultural shift, our weekly services will likely bring us into contact with fewer and fewer people for the first time. Whether that service is publicized as “casual, relevant, and engaging” or “rooted, reverent, and transcendent” will make little difference to an apatheist. Rather than designing our gatherings to bring people in, more and more we will need to disperse from those gatherings and seek people out. Pastors and laypeople will need to invest in relationships with the people around them, build trust by demonstrating genuine love and concern, and look for opportunities to share the gospel.

The tools and resources provided … allow pastors to get out of their offices to spend more time engaging people with the gospel and equipping their members to do the same.

That’s the primary reason I say what I’m saying: This hymnal won’t just benefit your congregation’s worship. It will also benefit your congregation’s outreach. The tools and resources provided don’t just allow congregations to do more in worship. They allow congregations to do it with less time and effort. They facilitate and streamline many of the time-consuming mechanics of worship planning and preparation. They allow pastors to get out of their offices to spend more time engaging people with the gospel and equipping their members to do the same.

In a world of “nones” rather than “seekers,” that’s inevitably where more and more gospel conversations will have to take place. In the end, that’s probably a good thing. When we are faithfully reaching out with the gospel the way our world needs us to, we won’t feel the burden of trying to design our worship to do outreach for us. As Wilson observes, “You don’t have to treat the worship services like a coffee shop conversation if you’re actually engaged in coffee shop conversations with unbelievers.”5

“You don’t have to treat the worship services like a coffee shop conversation if you’re actually engaged in coffee shop conversations with unbelievers.”

What If They Actually Show Up?

But what happens when someone actually shows up? We might be tempted to think that worship that follows a historic, liturgical structure will feel increasingly foreign in a world that continues to drift from any discernible Christian moorings. That might be true, but that might not be an entirely bad thing.

As we become more aware of some of the effects of “life as we know it” in our modern, technology-driven world, many of the effects we are starting to observe are quite disturbing. On the one hand, our technology allows us to interact with people all over the world in staggering numbers. However, those virtual interactions are poor substitutes for the full, rich relationships God created us to enjoy. Our connections increase exponentially, but true intimacy is a scarce commodity. Loneliness and isolation are on the rise. Cal Newport makes this comparison: “Much in the same way that the ‘innovation’ of highly processed foods in the mid-twentieth century led to a global health crisis, the unintended side effects of digital communication tools—a sort of social fast food—are proving to be similarly worrisome.”6

In addition to connecting us to a staggering number of people, technology connects us to a staggering amount of information. As a result, however, the task of separating what is important from what is trivial, much less what is true from what is false, becomes staggeringly difficult. A single platform, YouTube, hosts both the pastor’s sermon from last Sunday and the “Charlie Bit My Finger” video (and the latter, not the former, briefly held the title of being YouTube’s most-watched video of all time). A single platform, Facebook or Twitter, delivers sourced, verified news from trusted media outlets and every conspiracy theory under the sun. A single pipeline, my email inbox, delivers announcements from my church and my children’s school and scam requests from Nigerian princes who need my bank account information. Alan Noble points out the effect that the information age can have on our ability to identify what is important: “Our frenetic and flattened culture is not conducive to wrestling with thick ideas, ideas with depth, complexity, and personal implications.”7

Finally, our device-driven world may be the greatest reflection and reinforcement of a post-Enlightenment, “brains on a stick,” view of humanity. Smith describes that view this way: “We view our bodies as (at best!) extraneous, temporary vehicles for trucking around our souls or ‘minds,’ which are where all the real action takes place.”8 We often operate as if every problem is caused by ignorance and solved by information. Content is king, and our devices deliver it in virtually limitless supply. The more time we spend with our screens and inside our own heads, the more detached we are from God’s physical creation around us.

It shouldn’t surprise us that these same problems can find their way into worship if it is designed to mirror “life as we know it.” The same forces that so easily isolate members of the human race even as they are superficially connected are quite good at atomizing the body of Christ. Noble argues: “Part of the challenge of contemporary services is that our focus is directed to the stage rather than to one another. Volume levels rarely allow us to hear ourselves clearly, and certainly not our neighbors. The result is that we experience worship much like we experience a concert. It becomes an individual, emotional, and spiritual exercise wherein I try my best to think about the words and praise God. But even though I am surrounded by the saints, I remain comfortably in my own head.”9

The same technologies that deliver limitless information, entertainment, and advertising to us can easily be used to deliver content to worshipers. When the same media and platforms that deliver the trivial and the untrue are also used to deliver the gospel, however, the difference between these things is flattened. Noble observes, “We’ve tried to communicate the gospel with cultural tools that are used to promote preferences, not transcendent, exclusive truths. We see [these trends] at work in high-production church services that feel more like a concert and a TED Talk than a sacred event.”10

It should not come as a surprise that the same young people who are most inundated by the content delivered by our devices are the most disinterested when similar media are used to deliver the gospel. Wilson observes, “From Gen Y on down, generally speaking, those interested in local expressions of Christian community are less and less interested in programmatic, consumeristic approaches to spirituality. This is somewhat counterintuitive, because younger generations tend to be the ones most readily embracing technology and innovation. But the issue is not the use of technology or innovating new ideas; it is the lack of authenticity they sense in an overproduced spirituality. They tend to respond negatively to pop-song covers, movie-clip illustrations, and cheeky sermon series titles.”11

Finally, when the same forms and media that pump endless information into our heads are utilized in worship, the same “brains on a stick” view of humanity reinforced by so much of life can also be reinforced by our worship. Worship can give the impression that every spiritual problem is caused by ignorance and every spiritual solution is information. Noble argues: “Our church services (especially in evangelicalism) involve less liturgy, less focus on bodily participation, and greater emphasis on disengaged reason…. We have made communion with God a thing that happens inside our heads, not with our whole selves, including our bodies.”12 The pandemic of 2020 has been a revealing experience in this regard. As churches were forced to close their doors and go exclusively online for a time, it became evident how many people concluded that a service delivered in their home through a screen was in no way inferior to one experienced in person with other Christians—and how many churches seem to have concluded the same thing.

Perhaps the real opportunity presented by modern life is to highlight and excel at the features of historic, liturgical worship that offer people respite from what is comfortable and familiar.

Rather than engaging people with the gospel using forms that mirror what people already 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 respite from what is comfortable and familiar. At its best, liturgical Lutheran worship is a truly communal exercise where the proclamation of the gospel is carried out not just by the experts or professionals up front but by the person sitting to my left and to my right. At its best, liturgical Lutheran worship conveys the fact that something important is going on during the hour between invocation and benediction. It delivers the palpable gravity the gospel deserves. First time guests may walk out our doors using a variety of words to describe a liturgical Lutheran service. “Trite” is not likely to be one of them. At its best, liturgical Lutheran worship takes disembodied minds and reorients them to the physical world God created, redeemed, and will one day glorify. It engages their senses and involves their bodies. It aims not just to fill their heads but to move their hearts with the flesh-and-blood saving acts of the Son of Man and the bathing-and-feasting sacred acts he instituted. Rather than trying to fill up the outward shell of “life as we know it” with the gospel, Lutheran liturgical worship delivers the gospel within a shell that can give people a taste of “life as it was meant to be.”

In other words, “strange” and “foreign” might actually be valuable features of Lutheran worship rather than flaws. Talking specifically about reaching today’s youth, Smith observes, “These strange historic rites of the church catholic serve to reenchant the world for those immersed in our secular, disenchanted age…. The very similarity we wanted in order to keep young people entertained is precisely what makes them suspicious that there’s nothing really transcendent going on here.”13

Historic, liturgical worship will not do a congregation’s outreach for it. In a world full of more “nones” and fewer “seekers,” no worship style will. However, a Lutheran congregation can be confident that Christ-centered, liturgical worship will support, not stunt, outreach efforts aimed at taking the gospel to the people of its community rather than waiting for them to come to it.

One Thing’s Still Needed

In the meantime, the realization that our worship can’t do our outreach for us will enable us to keep our eyes squarely on the bullseye we are aiming for in worship, namely, to let the gospel have center stage. If more and more people are living without the gospel, more and more people are living with the consequences of life without the gospel. More and more people are looking not just for a little help to improve some facet of their lives. They are looking for something that can adequately serve as the foundation for their lives. They are in search of an identity and a sense of worth. They are looking for unconditional approval and belonging. They are in desperate need of a solution for their guilt and shame. They need what the Bible calls righteousness. Even secular anthropologists are noting how much this search drives human behavior. Jonathan Haidt writes, “An obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational.”14

The gospel is not just what someone needs in order to go to heaven some day. The gospel is what someone needs in order to get through each day. “It is the chief article for a reason. Not only is this the chief article on which the Church stands or falls…, but this is also the chief article on which individuals stand or fall. Restless hearts and anxious minds find peace in justification. Frenetic lives of self-justification have rest in the salvation of Jesus Christ.”15

The gospel is the one thing people need most both for heaven and earth. It is the one thing needed by both the first-time worship guest and the lifelong Christian. And more than anything else, liturgical Lutheran worship is designed to proclaim the gospel. Our rites tell the basic gospel story weekly. Our calendar of readings puts tissue on that gospel skeleton by repeating the works and words of Jesus annually. Our heritage of hymns aims gospel truths and gospel events squarely at people’s hearts by setting them to poetry and music. Lutheran worship brims with the gospel. Lutheran worship is above all else Christian worship. It was Christian worship in 1993. It will remain Christian worship in 2021 and beyond.

By Jonathan Bauer

Since 2014 Pastor Bauer has served at Good News Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, a growing suburb of Madison. Good News is a mission congregation that was started in 2013. In addition to his service at Good News, he is a member of the Institute for Worship and Outreach and the WELS Hymnal Project’s Executive Committee.


More on Worship and Outreach

An interview at christianworship.com (under the link For Worshipers) offers additional thoughts on worship and outreach. The interview is moderated by Eric Roecker, WELS Director for Evangelism, and features Jon Bauer, Caleb Bassett, and Jon Schroeder. The interview and this article—along with other interviews, articles, and videos—can be recommended for advance viewing and reading for a leadership group or open forum that discusses the new hymnal.


1 See James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014).
2 Jean Twenge, iGen (New York: Atria, 2017), p. 121.
3 James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), p. 103.
4 Jared Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), p. 34.
5 Ibid, pp. 95-96
6 Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), p. 136.
7 Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2018), p. 24.
8 Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 3
9 Noble, Disruptive Witness, pp. 137-138.
10 Ibid, p. 122.
11 Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church, p. 30.
12 Noble, Disruptive Witness, p. 130
13 Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 148.
14 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (New York: Pantheon, 2012), xii.
15 Gene Edward Veith and A. Trevor Sutton, Authentic Christianity (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), p. 98.


 

 

 

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Preach the Word – Joy and Confidence from the Basics – Part 3

I watch a pastor from three rows behind and a little to the left. He is celebrating 25 years in the ministry. He is listening to a sermon with his face in his hands. His bride puts her hand on his shoulder and steals a glance. A big thing is happening right beside her.

The preacher up front is performing a great kindness by the picture he paints. He is depicting the Lord Christ as he walks among the lampstands that are the Good News churches, keeping them lit. His saving face is revealed in their soft, flickering light. But there is more. See, he is holding the stars of the churches—their pastors—in the palms of his hands.

What greater kindness is there than to search all possible means of communication, beginning with the images that sparkle and the narratives that unfold within the sermon text itself, all to inscribe the thing deeper, deeper in the bottom of a soul.

Reconciled to God. Kept. Held.

Why illustrate?

The pastor longs to show his people things—not just to tell them—and to have the truths of any given Sunday bore down through the head and into the heart. He would have those truths be all the more available for life by means of that high homiletical art we call illustration.

A good story—the truth-telling that disturbs, the ending that makes it worthwhile—is like good art. It creates a conversation for the car ride home. It leaves you with more to say than just, “My, wasn’t that nice.” It gives you something memorable on which to hang that day’s whole point.

And so, having expounded the meaning of our text, having captured the truth in clear and dramatic doctrinal assertions, the sort that Christians love, now we want to let this truth get up and walk around. We want to give it a human face. We want to set things beside it to say, “This is what it’s like. This is how it looks. This is how it feels.”

Why tell stories?

The guru of narrative communication is named Walter Fisher (1931-2018). He happened to be a gentleman scholar of some Christian depth. He liked to say that people are fundamentally “storytelling creatures” [homo narrans] with brains hard-wired for narrative. Story is the form of communication that is most like life for the way it meets us in a steady sequence of events and ambiguities.

Fisher pushes back on what he calls the “rational world paradigm,” the view that the world meets us in a series of logical problems, and that being educated means being trained in the kind of critical thinking that can help us succeed in navigating such a world.

In contrast, children are enculturated from little on in what Fisher terms “narrative rationality,” the ability to think in stories. He saw all human communication as narration so that even greeting someone in the hallway is a story—it settles in our minds as an episode. Long after we may have forgotten every word our favorite teacher ever said to us—when all that content has long drained from our busy brains—what remains in episodic memory, perhaps for a lifetime, is how she made us feel. That we may take to our graves.

This goes to the profound “stickiness” of stories, especially those that draw on deep currents of feeling. Episodic memory—how we easily retain dozens of details in a well-told story—is vastly more powerful than eidetic memory—retrieving, say, a random seven-digit number.

Stories lodge like seeds in the soil of people’s thoughts.

Think of Jesus’ parables. Stories lodge like seeds in the soil of people’s thoughts—even if they do not immediately understand the meaning that hides curled up and green inside the shell, perhaps one day, by the Spirit, they will.

Incidentally, please don’t hear, “Once upon a time…” when I use the word “story” throughout this article. This is no small thing. At our insistence that the divinely inspired history recorded in the pages of the Bible is true, worlds hang in the balance.

And Fisher, too, was no postmodern. He had a correspondence view of truth—there are good stories and there are bad stories in terms of their claims on reality. He noticed competing stories about the way things are within the Bible itself—“‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Fisher understood that devil, world, and flesh persuade more by the slippery stories they tell than by anything remotely rational. He trusted the meta-narrative of Scripture, the grand story from garden to garden that reveals to us and to our children everything we really need to know: who God is, who we are, what’s wrong with everything, where our redemption and hope are found.

They are found in Christ. Nothing else will do.

What makes a story work—what explains its influence—is when it has “narrative fidelity” and “narrative coherence.” That is, it “rings true” and it “hangs together.” With these qualities in place, stories carry within them what Fisher calls “good reasons”—to trust, to serve, to wait, to hope. For a fuller accounting of these ideas, Walter Fisher’s groundbreaking book, Human Communication as Narration, is fascinating and accessible.

A good story doesn’t need to be explained. Doing so may only break the spell. Good stories heal the rift between mind and emotion. The best stories leave no part of the prodigal untouched. As C. S. Lewis believed, they lower our defenses and “sneak past those watchful dragons” to deliver truth home. Lewis described that the subsequent events in a narrative—this happened, then this, then this—are like a net in which something may be caught that “is not subsequent”—what grace is and, more ineffably, what it is like.

Good stories heal the rift between mind and emotion.

Of course the true story of Christ crucified and raised for us all is the soul of preaching. It is the soul of worship itself.

Where will our best stories come from?

“I will open my mouth in parables and utter things hidden from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35). Our best stories are found within the Scriptures themselves and in the teaching of the Rabbi from Nazareth.

These are the stories to which the Spirit has married himself. Without needing to pry open the mind of the Spirit to know why he communicates as he does, his love for stories is evident across the entire scope of the Bible. The Word has the ultimate stamp of “narrative coherence”—it all hangs together in Christ—and “narrative fidelity”—by the Spirit it rings true. The “good reasons” it provides are to die for.

Let me mention two of the narrative strategies that the Scriptures model in particular. “Narrative transportation” names the way the Scriptures steal us away, for example, to a mountainside in the Sinai Peninsula where a bush burns but does not burn up. The whole atmosphere of the place is the infinitive qualitative difference between God and us.

“Identification” is the way we come to “share human stuff” with Moses on our knees, feeling with him the enormity of his calling and the overlap of our identities as men who some days want to cry out, “Who am I that I should lead these people?” Similarly, the inspired writer of the book of Ruth wrote high theology into the mouth of a woman who struggles with grief and loss.

In an earlier issue, I mentioned the “epidemiological approach” to the Scriptures, or, catching the mood of these texts like a contagion. When Alexander Pope wrote, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” he was commenting on the seldom recognized problem of talkativeness on the subject of God. He means those who prattle on about the deep mysteries of God with scholarly detachment as if talking about a strange bird or a shiny rock.

Not Naomi. We grieve with her so as to arrive where she does at the first mention of her redeemer, “Yahweh has not abandoned his loving kindness to me!” (Ruth 2:20)

We do not want to excavate the meaning of our text and then discard the form, as if the story itself didn’t matter, or as if there’s no compelling reason divine revelation has come to us in the way it has. We would do violence to the parables of Jesus by bogging down in an academic study of what sort of corn the prodigal fed to what sort of pigs. Let the story be the story.

One of our fathers, you may know, made it his practice to begin a sermon on a New Testament text by drawing on the well of inspired accounts found in the Old Testament, and vice versa. I can’t imagine your search would ever end in disappointment when you go looking for an account from the other testament, so to speak, that is asking to be brought into conversation with your text.

Is preaching to become story time?

To paraphrase E. M. Forster:

“The queen died. The king died. Those are facts.
The queen died, and the king died of a broken heart. That’s a story.

Notice from this example that we are not necessarily thinking of long, rambling narratives. Some people who study narrative communication advise us to think instead about the disproportionate power of a two-minute story wrapped around a compelling image.

The disproportionate power of a two-minute story wrapped around a compelling image.

The LORD speaks through Isaiah about a vineyard set on a fertile hill. He cleared the stones and built a tower. He planted it with choice vines. He hewed a winepress to hold the good grapes this vineyard would surely produce for him. But what he found was reason enough to destroy the whole thing outright. And then we find out.

“Israel is the vineyard.”

A two-minute story wrapped around an image.

If there’s any chance that Walter Fisher is right about our being “hard-wired for narrative,” I don’t think we need to resist what is palpable in preaching. It is natural that the attention of our listeners waxes and wanes across the span of twenty minutes. And we may need to risk taxing their ability to hang with us when crucial doctrinal content takes some time to expound. But when the first few words of a story leave our mouths—“So my dad used to take me fishing…”—we can feel our people perking up and coming back to us. Or is it just me? I don’t think so.

Rather than turning preaching into story time, we are not wrong to notice the features of the story form that allow it to do what it does as a communicative event, for example, the way a baked-in conflict or obstacle or tension entangle its hearers. We cannot not listen for how the thing can possibly be resolved. That observation about the structure of narrative can inform the way we introduce a sermon in an attention-arresting way without overtly using narrative at all.

No, preaching isn’t story time. But there is time for a good story. Whenever I divide my communication classroom into four corners according to four personalities that you’ll find in any group, I ask students in each corner, “What would you like to tell the rest of us about how to communicate with you?” Inevitably, one particular corner of the room will say, “Tell us a story. That’s how we get it.” Then another corner will chime in, “And it needs to touch our hearts. We won’t learn if you leave that part of us out.”

“Lose the autobiography?”

I told a story of my Aunt Marie in a sermon one time. A colleague I revere complimented my message, but then said, “Preaching is proclamation. So lose the autobiography.”

I’ll admit that I struggle with that counsel when it comes to drawing on our own life experiences as preachers. I made that adjustment for more than a year and received the feedback from someone close to me, “You’ve changed what you do in the pulpit. And for me, something is missing.”

Episodic memory is vastly more powerful than eidetic memory.

There are some obvious pitfalls to avoid. The pulpit is not our personal confessional. On the other hand, God forbid we make ourselves the hero in our own stories, when that position belongs to another. And the truth is, our wives and children should not cringe or live in dread of what may come out of our mouths that is private and theirs alone.

How much we value transparency may be a generational thing. This is a generalization, but it seems to me that the college students I serve would say, “Show me some glimmer of understanding that life is hard, and that you know what struggle is. That’s when you have my attention.”

How we feel about our lives makes sense within the way we tell our story. So there’s something we can model as we tell our stories with more true Christian optimism and less of a grumble for having Jesus drawn into our frame, even as he has drawn us into his.

So, while I personally conclude that “less is more” when it comes to what we share from the pulpit, I have been blessed by those brief, scattered glimpses into the lives of the preachers who have served me well. I say this in the spirit of the letter to the Hebrews: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

Why use imagery?

Illustration is not confined to the story form. Our use of images can be brief but impactful.

Jonathan Edwards once spoke of the futility of saving ourselves through good works. This he captured with the image of a spiderweb that cannot even slow a falling rock. He had a gift for tying a truth to a sensory experience as a way to impress it indelibly on his hearers.

The Scriptures themselves are a saturation of mental pictures.

That is an original image. But notice again that the Scriptures themselves are a saturation of mental pictures. Kenneth Burke relishes the “this-ness of that and the that-ness of this” to explain how images work. How is the mercy of God like an ocean? How is an ocean like the mercy of God? We are getting to the essence of things as we come to see the one in the light of the other.

What imagery has in common with story is that both are maieutic. That is, they leave work for the listener to do. We leave room for the listener to complete the meaning, such as when we pray, “Keep me as (literally) the little man of your eye” (Psalm 17:8). Look close into the eye of God. What do you see there? What does it mean? David doesn’t say.

Likewise, we want to allow people to linger over an image like that, to let it hang in the air a bit. Why? Because we know that truth can be made more fully one’s own for that moment we have prepared of, “Ooh! I get that!”

This doesn’t mean leaving things to chance. The listener’s effort must be rewarded. One approach would be that early in our message we let the story be the story, as I say, or let the image be the image, but then we can come back to it in the end to be sure we’ve left no one scratching their heads.

The apple of God’s eye. The beauty there is an aspect of the meaning. The incandescent moments in Scripture are not merely a way to say more impressively what could have just as well been said another way. They bring us into closer contact with what we already know. They help us not only to know what we know, but to love what we know as well.

The incandescent moments in Scripture … bring us into closer contact with what we already know.

Where do illustrations come from?

My Dad used to say, “You can tell a pastor who reads from one who does not.” He was referring to the quality of the man’s words and the freshness of his thoughts. They will not be what they could be if he impoverishes himself to the narrow confines of his own thinking or experience.

To “the pastor who reads” we can add: the pastor who tunes in to the world when it is telling its best stories, such as they are, revealing its rebellion, its idolatries, its hunger, and its need. We can add: the pastor who is curious—who engages in history and art, fiction and non-fiction, movies, music, and all the rest of popular culture. Out comes an introduction based on the Isak Dinesen’s story, “Babette’s Feast” or the poignant chorus of Jason Isbel’s, “If We Were Vampires.” Talk about packing a wallop.

Above all, to the pastor who reads, we add: the pastor who inhabits the biblical world, immersing in and absorbing its stories, images, poems, and songs.

What does it look like when Truth gets up and walks around? When it wears a human face? Look there. It is the Lord Christ strolling among the lampstands and holding their stars in the palms of his hands.

Written by Mark Paustian

Dr. Paustian is a professor of communication and biblical Hebrew at Martin Luther College where he teaches “Advanced Christian Rhetoric” which combines an introduction to homiletics and an introduction to apologetics in one course. He holds a PhD in Communication from Regent University.


 

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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A head-start on the restart

Our mission in Wesley Chapel chose to get a head-start on the restart that every church is experiencing right now. Two years ago the members of Emmanuel in Zephyrhills, Fla., decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. They chose to sell their property and everything but the hymnals, font, and communion set. They chose to work with their District Mission Board, call a home missionary, and spend time as a wandering church. . . a restarting church that would find a way to evangelize nearby Wesley Chapel, Tampa’s booming northern suburb.

I accepted the call to the Wesley Chapel home mission a week before the March shutdown. We knew back then we were joining a church choosing to restart. The group had taken this leap of faith and was seeking a shepherd for their next steps. Members dreamed of the future, but first we needed to answer some fundamental questions: What is the Bible’s blueprint for a church? What’s absolutely critical, and what can we let go? What ministries and programs should we offer? How will we invite the community? As 2020 wraps up, our group is still studying God’s answers to those questions, and we’re still studying our Wesley Chapel mission field. We plan to spend 2021 setting up our primary ministries.

What’s changed since March is that every church is now forced to answer similar questions: Why do we gather? Are we essential? What will we offer online? Is it worth restarting that program or not? See! Our group was just ahead of the pack!

Home missionary Phil Hunter’s installation – poolside!

Our Wesley Chapel home mission has navigated the same practical puzzles as all other churches (meeting location, online worship, safety measures, etc.) Again we just happen to be very flexible–for such a time as this! We didn’t own a building anyways, so we were prepared for simple services in unusual locations. We met in a family’s yard. We held a poolside installation service. We now lease space from a beautiful new school and meet on their covered patio. We adjust the sound system for each new space, laugh at ourselves when the candles won’t light, and consider it all part of the adventure. We’ll likely own another facility soon, but for now we enjoy a camaraderie with Christians across the ages and the globe who worship outdoors or meet in houses.

The pandemic has not hindered our home mission start. However, it has slowed down our communication. In normal times, we could all gather for a meal and an open forum or brainstorming session. Now it’s an in-person forum for some, a Zoom meeting for others, an e-mail and online form for others who can’t Zoom, plus letters and phone calls for the few beautiful souls who have managed to avoid the internet. It is still possible to gather input and distribute info. . . but it takes more time and effort. In the big picture, that’s a pretty easy yoke for us to bear.

A final bit of news: A new name for this new church year. We spent a month gathering name suggestions. Our leaders discussed them, compared them to other area churches, and narrowed them down to a final four. We took those finalists and surveyed area WELS school kids, core group members, and dozens of people at parks and stores around Wesley Chapel. The result of that research is a name that’s both fresh and iconic, appealing to WELS kids and unchurched families, and connects well with Biblical imagery and local geography: Citrus Grove Lutheran Church, launching in late 2021 here in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Jesus bless your church’s restart. . . and ours!

Written by Rev. Phil Hunter, home missionary at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla. 


 

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2020 blessings in Vietnam

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20b

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lord is always with his church. Our brothers and sisters in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam are not stopping reaching out to lost souls. Pastor Zang said, “Most of the pastors in the Hmong Fellowship Church are farmers, and they know very little about germs. They have heard many scary things through television and radio about the impact of COVID-19, but they see it as less dangerous when compared to the lost souls that have no chance to hear the gospel before they die. The souls will be condemned eternally to hell without hearing the word of God.” In 2020, more than 12,000 have come to be believers in Jesus.

Pastor Fong burns a pagan altar

In 2020, Pastor Fong and his evangelism team reached out to many villages in his area. The Lord has blessed their outreach tremendously. They were able to establish nine new mission congregations in nearby villages. Fong said, “We proclaimed the Word and cast demons out of some people that were brought to us. The people had sought help from shamans in their community, but they couldn’t drive out the demons. In Christ’s name, we were able to drive out the demons and heal the sick.” Besides this, they also burned the pagan altars of the unbelievers to prove to the community that Christ has power to overcome Satan. In some cultures, you don’t dare to burn the altars in which sacrifices are offered to the devil because they think that they will bring curses to their family.

Despite the pandemic, the Lord has provided a way for the WELS to continue training the Hmong Fellowship Church church leaders. The last WELS trip to Vietnam was in January 2020. In November, the Vietnam mission team responded to the request of Hmong Fellowship Church and offered Zoom training to 57 students in Hanoi. Rev. Joel Nitz teaches the gospel of Mark and I teach Law and Gospel. The students are divided into two groups. Each group spends eight hours per week online. Due to poor Wi-Fi connections, some students have had to travel to the city to get a better connection. They have never utilized technology to assist in their ministry before. Instruction via Zoom is something new for them. It took me two days to guide the students in how to use the program. Praise be to God, they finally learned how to use it! Due to their excitement, some students have asked permission for their wives and parents to join our training as well. They are welcome in Christ’s name!

During the training. Rev. Nitz asked the students to recall the blessings in their lives given to them through Christ. Pastor Tsheej and Ntsuablooj said, “The biggest blessing in my life is the opportunity to be part of WELS training in Vietnam.” Pastor Nukhai said, “The more I learn from WELS, the more I feel like I know nothing about the Scriptures. There is so much to learn. If I look back to the last eight years, before I received WELS training, I saw a dark path in front of me. But now I see a clear path before and after me. I will dedicate my whole life to learning from WELS, God-willing.”

WELS’ teaching has helped the church leaders identify the false teaching in Vietnam. Thanks be to God for the well-trained pastors in WELS! The Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 126,000 to 138,000 in 2020. To Christ alone be the glory!

Zoom training

The Hmong Fellowship Church has been tremendously blessed; however, there are also some big challenges ahead of them. More than 1,360 leaders are waiting for someone to train them in the Word of God. They are also waiting to build more churches for new believers to worship their Lord. Evangelism work is the priority for them. They are very skilled in doing evangelism in their community. With proper training and materials, these men will continue to share God’s word.

The building project in Vietnam is still active but has been delayed due to COVID-19. Once I visit Vietnam, I will arrange a Zoom or face-to-face meeting (God-willing) between WELS representatives and the representatives in Vietnam. The government also wants to make this project happen as quickly as possible.

Our brothers and sisters in Vietnam send their greetings and say, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” to all WELS members. They appreciate your help and support, especially to train their leaders in the word of God. They also ask for your continued support and prayers.

Finally, I would also like to thank our members in WELS for your continued support for the work in Vietnam. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. May the Lord of the Church send more workers to harvest his fields. May the Lord continue to bless our leaders, members, and the work in the U.S. and around the world so that the lost souls may be saved through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator


 

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Perfect timing

The timing seemed awful. Missionary Joel Sutton and his family and I had only been in our new mission field in Paraguay for a few months. We had just found housing, but it certainly didn’t feel like “home” yet. We were really looking forward to changing that: getting to know our neighbors, traveling a bit in the country, making connections in the community.

Then the pandemic hit. Paraguay´s government issued a “total isolation” policy. We could leave our houses to get food or medicine, but that was about it. So much for our plans of getting established in a new mission field! From our perspective, the timing of the pandemic couldn’t have been much worse.

But God’s timing is always perfect. We were locked in our homes, but so were people all across the world. Many were scared and searching for answers. The Latin America missions team had just rolled out a new, Academia Cristo Bible study app for smartphones. . . and downloads surged. Sign-ups for our online Bible training courses surged too. Zoom classes with 10-20 students before the pandemic were now filled with 40-50. God was reaching more souls with the gospel all over Latin America!

One of those souls was Lester Soto from Managua, Nicaragua (pictured above). He had downloaded our app just after the pandemic hit and signed up for our live classes in April. When I met with him after class one day via Zoom, he admitted that he had been putting off his relationship with God for a long time. But God had used events in his life to lead him to search for the truth, and he found us online. More importantly, his Savior found him. “I was lost,” Lester said. “But now I know Jesus did everything for me. I have a spiritual peace I’ve never had before.” He told me he wanted to join one of our churches. When I said we didn’t have a church in Managua yet, he said he wanted to help start one.

Over the course of the pandemic, Lester was able to take 11 online Bible courses with us. He’s now gathering a group in his home to share with them what he is learning. And he’s not the only one: I could tell you about Eduardo from Bolivia (pictured), José from Ecuador, Benjamín from Colombia, and others—all of whom found us during the pandemic and are now working to plant churches where they live.

It might not always seem like it to us, but God’s timing is always perfect. The Christmas story reminds us of this. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, miles from home, with a barn for their hotel room. That doesn’t seem like the best moment for the Savior to be born! But there in Bethlehem was precisely where and when God had promised it would happen (Micah 5:2). In God’s eyes, the timing was perfect: “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” (Galatians 4:4)

In our case, having just arrived in a new mission field did not seem like the best moment for God to allow the pandemic to happen. But just ask Lester, Eduardo, José, Benjamín, or any of the countless others across the globe that God has used the pandemic to reach or grow with the gospel. I’m sure they’ll all tell you. . . God’s timing couldn’t have been better.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, world missionary on the Latin America missions team who resides in Asunción, Paraguay. 

Want to learn more about world mission work in Latin America? Visit wels.net/latin-america to learn how Academia Cristo, an online training tool used by the Latin America missions team, is reaching millions of Spanish-speaking people with the gospel.


 

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Growing God’s garden

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

– Galatians 6:9,10

Not everything grows down here. This past quarantine, my wife and I, like millions or other amateur gardeners and do-it-yourselfers, decided to plant a garden. After a few weekends, several hours, and countless trips to Lowe’s, we had our own budding garden, with okra, raspberries, zucchini, tomatoes, and grapes.

But not everything grows down here. The peonies failed to thrive. A dogwood tree and an elephant ear rotted in the boggy clay. A few berry bushes withered; one snapped at the base with a gentle pinch.

It’s easy to grow weary of that kind of work, isn’t it? To toss the gloves in the garage and ignore the yard. All that caring, feeding, and nurturing, only to have the fate of a crop slip from your hands. What went wrong? The soil? The seeds? Did I do something wrong? Could anything grow here? Could anything grow now?

A little amateur gardening experience leads us to appreciate some of God’s great truths about his kingdom and how it grows: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” – Mark 4:26,27

Have you felt the same way? Pastors and members alike have spent time maintaining interpersonal bridges; exploring mysterious livestream glitches and problems; calling, texting, and brainstorming to find some way of hanging onto everyone. At times, church work can feel like starting a broken lawnmower. Bursts of energy trying to get something going, only to puzzle over what the problem could be.

Worship at May River

Not everything grows down here. What grows near you? Do you feel fatigued? Perhaps a creeping sense of futility? Frustration?

There’s a reason Paul says not to get weary. Because while not everything grows immediately, some things do. And they grow. . . and they grow. . . and they grow, bearing far more fruit than one might imagine. As I write this, we are currently on our second crop of Okra. The first grew to a height of four feet. After we chopped them down in September, another crop appeared.

How much more wonderful to see what God is doing with souls here! Even in the midst of a pandemic, God blessed us with the opportunity to finish teaching Bible information class to seven adults and two of their teens now enrolled in catechism classes.

Beyond that, God’s people continue to bear fruit. New members step up into service and longtime members keep serving. God’s people still make it a priority to clean, decorate, coordinate, serve, and pray for one another. After church, you overhear members building one another up. In the midst of uncertainty and tension in our nation, generosity holds strong. In uncertain times, God still works in beautiful ways.

No, not everything has grown. The new, thoughtful sermon series, your friendly invite, the hours spent tweaking the tech may not have yielded results (yet). But God still promises—yes, even in a pandemic—that his Word produces fruit.

Just as every hardship is an opportunity to gain a better grip, a deeper appreciation of God’s promises, so he nurtures and tends a young home mission congregation. He draws us closer and closer to his Word. He shapes our hearts, gently tugging us from our own strength and capabilities, laying us back on his shoulder for his grace every day. And in our Savior Jesus, we regain a fresh sense of optimism and hope. As we turn, again and again, to his promises, we catch our breath and make our way back out to the fields, ready for the harvest.

Written by Rev. Erik Janke, home missionary at May River Lutheran Church in Bluffton, South Carolina

Want to learn more about the ministry at May River? Watch Pastor Janke’s Moments with Missionaries video update from Taste and See.


 

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There Is Room in the Choir

There Is Room in the Choir

Hymn selection criteria and variety

Every fall throughout my ministry, it has interested me to see who would come out of the woodwork to join the choir and who would continue to opt for a pew downstairs. A musician in my first parish was a National Endowment for the Arts scholar. He received that prestigious award to study jazz at New York City University. He never missed church, but his gigs often kept him up to the wee hours of the morning—ensuring a late service attendance. Consequently, the most musically gifted man in the parish never joined the choir.

A quiet, private woman with a thick Spanish accent from Guatemala did. Her background was not in jazz, but in costume design. She was never at the center of conversations in the commons. But in the soprano section, she sang Bach, Getty, and Gerhardt with all her heart. A man with a post-doctoral degree in organic chemistry joined too. He sang bass. His profession was pharmaceuticals. His passion was singing. A hard-working delivery driver usually sat next to him. The choir was always a fascinating blend of the family of believers—young and old, white and blue-collar, life-long WELS, and brand new to the faith. There is room in the choir for all of these people and more!

This cross-section of the faithful on earth is a miniscule, yet precious, sample of the heavenly choir. There, the music will always be in tune. There, the labor of long days and longer nights will not keep us away. There, the harmony will be perfection—a symphony of praise to the Savior: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” To quote the Christmas hymn, “Oh, that we were there!”

Do you ever wonder what that will sound like? Everyone dreams of heaven just a little differently. What will it look like? What will our reunion with loved ones be like? What will our bodies be like once they are unchained from the shackles of sin and decay? For me, I often dream about the sound. This comprehensive, heavenly music, what style will it be? Will we recognize it? Scripture obviously does not give us the answer. What it does give us, however, is a template—of sorts—for what the Church’s music can strive to be on earth: Comprehensive in scope, Christ-centered in content.

Comprehensive in scope, Christ-centered in content.

Think of our new hymnal as a “choir” of sorts. Specifically, a choir that has 683 members. Unlike an eager choir of musical novices, each and every member of this choir had to pass a rigorous tryout with at least six separate stages of text and tune analysis and development. 15,000 hymns tried out for a seat in the ensemble. 683 made the cut. Why such an exacting process? Because scriptural truth and stewardship of musical treasure demand a bar that is deliberately set high. This choir, after all, will sing, teach, and impart Christian truth to the Church! It will do so for hundreds of thousands of people, in thousands of weekly services, in dozens of countries, states, and territories, over the next thirty years.

15,000 hymns tried out for a seat in the ensemble. 683 made the cut.

These rigorous standards for membership in the choir were already embedded in the Hymnody Committee’s “Hymn Criteria List” that was unanimously adopted by the Executive Committee and guided hymn tryouts for the next five years. To be included, a hymn must…

1. be Christocentric.
2. be in harmony with the scriptural faith as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord. (Especially, but not restricted to, means of grace focus, justification centered, law/gospel dichotomy, receptive view of worship, proclamatory/didactic function of hymnody, etc.)
5. be superlative examples of their genre in regard to both textual content and musical craft.

An exceptional choir is made up of top-shelf talent. Many members of the choir may indeed be—in and of themselves—musical standouts. But a choir of musical standouts is a choir that will quickly standout as unpleasant to listen to! A choir is not a choir of soloists doing their own thing. A choir seeks blend and balance across all members and sections. The many seek to present themselves as a united voice.

Profound theologians who won’t wow you with esoteric knowledge.

So too, our hymnal is a book for the many—not just the standout musicians of the congregation who are usually called upon to sing the solos. It is meant not primarily for the members of a band, but for the band of believers that sit in the pews of the church, the desks of a classroom, and the comfy chairs of the living room. Many of the members of our new hymnal’s choir are profound theologians, but they won’t wow you with esoteric knowledge that is meaningless to most. Many of these hymns have sung in the grandest buildings of Christendom, but they will never refuse an opportunity to sing at bedsides and sickbeds too! The members of our new hymnal’s choir are not musical specialists. Their pictures are not hanging on the wall of a museum. Instead, they have been sung by multitudes of God’s people over the years and, therefore, the hymnody committee is convinced, will continue to be sung by multitudes for years to come. (This assumes, of course, leaders and parents willing to invest the effort to teach them to members and children!)

That’s why your hymnody committee spent six years of their lives painstakingly looking for hymns that would…

6. be accessible and meaningful for God’s people at worship in both public and private settings.
7. be useful for those who preach and teach the faith.
8. be part of a corpus that will find wide acceptance by the vast majority of our fellowship.

A good choir has a certain knack for singing a wide repertory of music—and does so convincingly. Thirty years ago, I had the experience of sitting in on a rehearsal for a community choir in Annweiler, Germany. They sang the songs of their homeland in a wonderful way. I smiled hard, however, when they began to sing a spiritual, “Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.” Buxtehude himself could not have sung it more squarely! But they tried. But as they sang, a little bit of our American experience was experienced in the rolling woods of the German Palatinate, and the audience loved it.

The choir of our new hymnal has been very deliberate in casting a wide net for members that are our very own from Lutheranism’s heartland and members that will become our very own from around the world. Looking back, several more of Paul Gerhardt’s children will be in the choir. Looking forward, many hymns by newer talents from Getty Music will sing as well. The new choir will sing the seasons of Christ’s life that are unfolded in the seasons of the church year with a distinct expertise. We will hear much that resonates with the various seasons of our lives. It is impossible for one book to be a one-stop resource for every ethnicity and culture. But the law of Christian love and the doctrine of the holy Christian church caused us to be deliberately inclusive of the nations, tribes, people, and languages with whom we will sing in the heavenly choir.

That’s why we invested thousands of hours of time and effort in recruiting choir members that would…

3. be rooted in the Church year with its emphases on the life of Christ and the Christian’s life in Christ.
4. be drawn from classic Lutheran sources and deliberately inclusive of the Church’s broader song (including so-called international or global music).

The choir in my first parish was a wonderful cross section of the congregation, which, in turn, was a good representation of our community. Demographics are of interest to church leaders as they make plans to find the lost and strengthen the found. What do the demographics of the hymnal choir look like? They look much like a church that is both deliberately rooted and reaching.

An important group of hymns that predate the Lutheran Reformation serve as an important reminder that we are no cult! We are a continuation of the one, holy Christian and apostolic Church. It may be of interest to know that the ancient hymn, “O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel” was the most sung hymn in WELS in our data. Not surprisingly, a significant number of the members in the hymnal choir sing with a decidedly German accent. WELS members will be pleased to hear that we invested significant effort into helping our German friends improve their English by means of fresh translations! When appropriate, we also dressed some of them up in a tune that was a little less continental.

We invested significant effort into helping our German friends improve their English.

Germany fought two world wars with the English and Americans. But in the hymnal choir, they all get along wonderfully well. The hymns of England and America are well-represented. Almost 100 members come from the British Isles. They come from soaring cathedrals and pleasant meadows. Roughly 50 members sing not the Queen’s English but with an American accent. Our American experience—folk, revival, and spiritual—is well-represented.

Our hymnal choir is well-represented by the elderly members that we love and cherish! But what is different about this choir is the number of youth that have joined! The Hymns Committee gave tryouts to literally hundreds of hymns and contemporary songs with a fresh, modern sound. “Fresh,” “young,” “contemporary,” and “modern” are words that mean many different things to different people. No matter what your definition, as you page through the hymnal, you will notice about 10% of the faces will fall into those categories. They have not yet stood the test of time. But they have been properly vetted. Their talent holds promise for a long and fruitful future. It is our hope that Gerhardt and Getty will make beautiful harmony in the choir for years to come.

What is different about this choir is the number of youth that have joined!

Rounding out the membership in the choir, one sees faces from the Islands, Africa, and Latin America. They hold an important place in the choir. Their inclusion will help us all remember that vision of heaven’s choir—a vision that is desperately needed in an age where racial harmony has often spiraled into a sinful cacophony! We are all members of the body of Christ. If for only that reason, they need to be represented in this hymnbook.

This brief demographic survey shows that we have a hymnal that is decidedly rooted in the Lutheran tradition, but is certainly trending younger and younger. This has always been the Lutheran Church’s way!

Perhaps the best way, however, to get to know a choir is to stop talking about the different members and simply listen to them sing. We will get to know this choir best by attending a concert or two. So what’s on the program? A useful program has been compiled titled, Christian Worship: Hymn Preview. (See the sidebar.) This preview highlights 54 hymns. Each of these hymns illustrate the concepts that led to inclusion in the choir. It is a program that will be certain to impress, no matter what expectations you bring with you.

You became immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its multifaceted beauty!

Take some quality time to read or even sing the preview in its entirety. You can’t judge a book by its cover, nor should you. You certainly shouldn’t judge a book based upon what other people have said. Experience the hymns for yourself, lots of them. Experience them with an open mind and open ears. Let your preview serve as a prelude to a renewed appreciation for, fascination with, and commitment to Christian hymnody. You might sit down at this concert thinking you will just experience a choir. Instead, you will become immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its multifaceted beauty!

Page through the preview. Look at all the hymns—each of them is unique. “Lift Up Your Heads” has gone on a diet and looks lovely in her new tune. “Dawning Light of Our Salvation” is one of the younger members of the choir. Her composers were youth confirmation age when our current hymnal was published in 1993. “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” sings in a section with about 22 other American folk tunes. (Spoiler alert: “Thou” is not an accident in her title. A careful read will reveal a bit of bias in bringing back some thee’s and thou’s in the “new” hymnal. This choice reflects common usage among American Christians in 2020.) In the Christmas section, can you hear some familiar carols that weren’t part of the CW93 choir? The preview contains a carol from Poland (“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”), one from England (“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”), and one from France (“Love Has Come”). Finally, a member with a widely-recorded voice rounds out the Christmas section, “Joy Has Dawned” by Getty and Townend. In just these first several hymns, one already sees a Christ-centered cross-section of old and new from the Old World as well as the New.

A Christ-centered cross-section of old and new from the Old World as well as the New.

And WELS will be blessed. Grandmas and grandpas will be blessed as they continue to sing their old favorites and teach them to their children’s children. The children will be blessed by a gospel heritage in song that has now come to them. The 683 singers in CW21 will be with us for thirty years. How wonderful to know that they will gladly serve as they always have: spreading the good news, teaching the truth that sets us free, inviting the lost, strengthening the found, encouraging the living, and comforting the dying. Until…

Until we join the hosts that cry,
“Hosanna to the Lord most high.”
Then in the light of that blest place
We shall behold you face to face. (CW93 230:3)

 

By Aaron Christie

Aaron Christie began service this year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary where he is Professor of Worship and Homiletics and Dean of Chapel. When he served as the chair of the hymnal project’s Hymnody Committee, he was pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, WI. In addition to his training as a pastor he holds the Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University Wisconsin. He has served the synod at large as a member of the Commission on Worship and the Institute for Worship and Outreach and as a presenter for the Schools of Worship Enrichment.


More New Hymnal Information

Several new items are available at christianworship.com. A new article under the Resources link, What’s New, gives quick access to all the new content. Christian Worship: Hymn Preview shares 54 of the approximately 200 new hymns planned for the new hymnal. Each hymn is accompanied by a brief comment on its origin, spiritual meaning, usage in the wider Christian church, or other interesting detail. Some samples from Christian Worship: Accompaniment for Hymns are included—options for both piano and organ. CW: Hymn Preview is available only as a viewable (not printable) PDF. This is due to restrictions placed by copyright holders.

The following chart shows the new items available.

CW: Hymn Preview54 hymns with comments, as described above.
Hymn listsA comprehensive list of 683 hymns and liturgical songs from both the pew edition and CW: Service Builder. Available in three formats: Excel, RTF, and PDF. The list is tentative, pending copyright permissions.
There is Room in the ChoirThis issue of Worship the Lord is also available online.
A Liturgical Philosophy for Christian WorshipThis article by Prof. James Tiefel is from the forthcoming Christian Worship: Foundations, a companion volume to the new hymnal. This volume is a pastor’s manual that provides rationale for the services in the new hymnal. It will appear in a forthcoming issue of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.
“For Us and for Our Salvation, … He Became Truly Human” (The Translation of the Nicene Creed in Christian Worship)In this article Pres. Earle Treptow offers an explanation for the wording of the Creed. This is a preliminary draft of an article that will appear in a forthcoming issue of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.

 

 

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 – Joy and Confidence from the Basics – Part 2

If there were such a thing as “Paustian’s Famous Home-Cooked Chili,” I imagine creating each new batch by some combination of habit, instinct, and muscle memory. A handful of this. A dash of that. But the messier and more ill-defined the process, the more I need to lift a ladle of the stuff to my mouth before serving it up for my friends. “Hmm. It’s missing something. But what?”

What is my process, you wonder? If you watched me cooking up the next sermon, what would you see? I’m afraid I can only describe it in broad strokes as others have before me: I study myself full. I think myself empty. I write myself clear.

But the more ill-defined my procedure, the more important is that final tasting of the homiletical chili. Having written a sermon for my friends, these are the questions I ask as I preach to myself: “What have I missed? Is some element under-developed? Is something too overpowering? Is some quality lacking?”

With your indulgence, I’d like to plow some of the old ground from the last issue before pressing further down on my list of ingredients.

Is my sermon truly textual?

If every sermon text is like a town in England having a “Main Street” that is the inspired writer’s flow of thought, then we want to walk this street often in our preparation so as to know it intimately.

A thousand windows each have a clear view of Main Street.

I suppose when we think about the old cliché about the “thousand sermons in every text” we can extend the analogy to a thousand windows that each have a clear view of that Main Street. It is not as though we can ever speak the last decisive word about Psalm 23 or close down all the meanings at the Pool of Siloam. The waters are too deep.

But there’s an important caution here. We need to ask ourselves what the Spirit of God is intending to say and do in the lives of people by means of a given portion of his Word. What is the telos—the purpose—that throbs like a beating heart within our chosen Scripture? We answer this question on the basis of a robust study of our text which we undertake with every tool at our disposal.

A “thousand sermons” does not mean “anything goes.”

The point is that the “thousand sermons” bit does not mean “anything goes.” Simply put, when it comes to what we have casually taken to be the point of our text, we can be wrong.

We brought our own agenda or our minds missed a crucial element of context. On the basis of something that immediately caught our eye in the lesson, our thoughts ran ahead to a favorite story or clever insight…and the sermon starts to write itself. But we may have missed entirely the driving thought of Isaiah or John or Paul that caused them to write as they did. (I’ve often found that a good commentary can call me back.)

To multiply our analogies, we’ve been taught to “marry our text” in just the sort of intimate familiarity and steady commitment we’ve been describing. Personally, I’ve come to prefer the “arranged marriage” of preaching on a text that has been assigned to me or that I’ve chosen from the lectionary in a systematic way. I’ve come to appreciate that early period of warming up to a portion of Scripture I would never have chosen. I meet it as an awkward stranger. It resists me at first, then begins to release its secrets. An affection stirs. We become close. And I will need no reminder to keep in constant contact with my text as I write.

One more? I appreciate Kierkegaard’s “epidemiological approach” to the Bible. This is a call to catch the mood of the Scriptures like a contagion, like a disease, and to not be content with an exposition that gets the words right but that remains on the outside of the prodigal’s shame, the Father’s longing, or the joy of the Coming Home. I ask not only, “What does this Word teach?” but also, “What does it do to me?” for an engagement with the text that is not an intellectual one alone.

John 10 furnished our example of the tension in the room that you could cut with a knife as our Lord thundered—yes thundered—“I am the Good Shepherd!”

Does my text stand behind some touchstone of Lutheran theology?

This issue isn’t mentioned on my original list of criteria, and so it’s possible that in my early years in the pulpit I left this too much to chance. My practice now is to always check the index to Pieper’s Dogmatics to determine whether my text has served as a doctrinal sedes.

For example, I recently preached on Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. It struck me how relevant the Donatist Controversy still is to both the flawed pastor and the watching flock and to any of us who have our radar tuned for hypocrisy, that is, if we are each still to thrill to our baptism or come eagerly to the Table.

“Master, should we pull up the weeds?”

“No. You’ll only get it wrong.”

In connection with John 10, we could reflect in our sermon about the person of Jesus or of the perichoresis of the Trinity in all of eternity, both of which inform and beautifully complicate that stunning moment: “The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life…”

Speaking of which, a recent study by Pew Research shows that 78% of evangelical Christians side with Arias in the Arian Controversy naming Jesus as the first of God’s creative acts. Millions of people are poorly served. Even having the Nicene Creed as a regular part of liturgical worship would rescue them—“light from light, true God from God.”

78% of evangelical Christians side with Arias in the Arian Controversy.

My point is that the lectionary provides people with a regular catechesis in the great doctrines of Scripture such as keep the soul alive to God. We do not want to emulate the doctrinal indifference of modern Christendom. Just imagine, for example, if you were 58 years old (like me) and it were 45 years since you last heard a serious treatment of the person of Jesus.

Imagine no longer being sharp on the truth that what happened to Jesus happened to God himself or the fact that Jesus, our true brother, is the very one who rules all things for the sake of his Church. What does Christian living become then?

The lectionary provides people with a regular catechesis in the great doctrines of Scripture.

I expect we would live under the common illusion in Christendom. We would think that the true heart and core of Christianity is our living for God, instead of what it really is, namely, that God, in Christ, lives for us.

Does the law in my hands disturb?

Good things happen to me when I take up residence in that textual town and walk its Main Street, not that they are easy. I am implicated, unmasked, revealed. Always. It no longer comes as a surprise. Like you, I have learned in the Spirit’s school to be suspicious of myself and to remain alert to the plank in my own eyes.

I am implicated, unmasked, revealed.

If the Scripture on which I will preach is nothing but a gush of Good News, there is likely to be something in the immediate context that confronts me with my fallenness. We may have to walk the side streets of our little textual “town” or even take a quick stroll in the countryside that is the wider context of the book.

Our example in John 10 was brutal. We were compelled to ask ourselves whether we are the “hired hands who care nothing for the sheep,” and we withered before a Savior who calls things as they are.

As far as just how harsh we will be, we will take our cues from the divinely inspired words in which we have immersed ourselves. It is, of course, no fun being the prophet, so to speak, the one who sees the maladies in our midst, all those impulses and qualities that have no place in family of God. There are a range of ways in which we may confront these things so as to make the Good News of Jesus, in a word, necessary.

We may draw people into that surgical light in which no sinner looks good.

We may hold up the mirror of God’s holy will or draw people into that surgical light in which no sinner looks good. Or we may take some seemingly trivial human foible or some common observation about the way we are or the things we do, and ask over and over, “But why?” so as to expose the ugliness at the root.

Ask that question often enough and what begins, for example, with the mundane fact that we lie or pretend may take us in the end to the way we worship at the altar of other people’s opinions. There the cruel deity howls, “You need me! Don’t you know what I can do to you!” There lies the bleeding idolatry, the blasphemy, the inward curve of soul, the thing fit for crucifixion.

The law is always present in our minds. That means that sometimes, as our text guides us, it is enough to peel back the bandage and expose the wound that is the sinner’s predicament, the problem of which we are in no way the solution, and to gently draw into conscious awareness that this need that is always with us—whatever it may seem to be—is our need for Jesus.

“Have you examined yourself and found yourself wanting? The Scriptures call you a sinner—have you proved it already today? Does unworthiness overwhelm you and put you on your knees? It is a good place to be. Let me tell you why….”

However we choose to apply the law, we do it in compassion over the common pain and familiar shame of the sinner. We know something about that, do we not? All struggles overlap. It is a kindness that we help people over and over to walk right up to Sinai, touch it, and die.

Good Lord, what a relief!

Did I gain a fresh hearing for the gospel?

If each sermon text is a town in England with its own Main Street, you will recall that there is also a “Road to Oxford” leading out from that little town. There is a natural, unforced path to our true subject, Christ crucified and raised for the world. We hope to find a road that we pray the Spirit would approve. To our robust understanding of the human condition and of the Word of God we have taken up in our private study, we add a robust understanding of Jesus and what he means in this moment. Right here. Right now.

Again we take our cues from the Word of God as we strive to gain a fresh hearing for this gospel, and to have it once again be heard above the nagging of a terrified conscience or the complaints of offended reason. A whole menu of ways to communicate the grace of God is already on extravagant display across the pages of our Bibles, its stories, poems, and images. There is a full repertoire for us to gain across a lifetime of scriptural study that is already there in the mouths of the biblical characters and still hot off the pens of the ancient writers.

Understandably, the “Road to Oxford” may be more difficult to spot when we preach on the Old Testament. Finding it has well been described as an instinct.

In the book of Ruth, for example, the character of Boaz is saying, “There is a Redeemer who shares your own flesh and blood, who takes your disaster and makes it his own. I am not him. I only point to him.” “There is an affection, a bond, and an enjoyment of Another,” so says the marriage of Ruth and Boaz and every Christian marriage, “But I am not it. I only point to it.” The ancestral land of Israel says, “There is a place for you that will not be taken from you, and a name that will not be cut off. I am not it. I only point to it.” There is a true and better Obed, the baby redeemer whose name means “Servant” and who, just by being born, revived the hopes of his whole human family.

There is more being said in that book than, “Be like Boaz. Be like Ruth.” There are Old Testament texts that, to borrow from Martin Luther, are true “John the Baptists” pointing beyond themselves.

Further, Christian eyes read the Old Testament as Luther did, always tuned in to the struggle between faith and unbelief including as they battle within a single heart. Witness the war on every page between the striving and calculations of men and the redeeming grace of God. There is a true Israel within Israel that waited in hope for Messiah to come, as does the true heart within my heart.

As to proclaiming Christ on the basis of the New Testament, our text might be a little “Oxford” itself, leaving no doubt what expression of the gospel will animate our sermon or what feature of the gospel we will wear on our faces.

What grace that among us there is no talk of “theories of the atonement!” We absolutely do not choose among supposedly competing ideas about this God on a cross. Is he our sacrifice of atonement? Is he the Second Adam in whom we hide ourselves in faith? Is this Christus Victor whose whole heart goes out to us poor victims of sin, death, and devil? Yes, yes, and yes. And more still than this.

When the devil stirred in the hearts of the “hired hands” to do their worst, death claimed a victim that did not deserve to die. So it was that sin, death, and devil fell right into his hands, our Noble Substitute, our Champion, our Real Life, and our So Much More.

Is my sermon coherent?

Prof. John Jeske taught my generation of preachers to ask, “What does the Spirit mean to accomplish in the hearts and lives of my listeners on the basis of this text?” We must have clarity about the “What?” and “So What?” and “Now What” of our text. Ideally, we get these down in words so as to guide the process of writing and inform the hard decisions about what to leave in and what to take out. This will have no one who heard our sermon wondering, “Why did he tell me all that?” And with God’s help and to his glory, we’ll leave no listener behind.

I strive to express in one unambiguous sentence the burden of my message. Let no one walk away unable to answer the question, “What was that all about?” Our example from a text in John 10: The Father prizes the act of the Son laying down his life, only to take it up again, and he prizes all those who prize it with him, by grace, through faith.

I am learning to thank God that writing doesn’t come easily to me. And this piece is as hard as it gets. But there’s a sermon in there. I can taste it. There’s a coherent message already taking shape, one I can write in the stream of this single grand idea.

My introduction involves the moments in life we prize or fail to. My exposition will observe how the “hired hands” missed the joy of the moment when a blind man received his sight. As a law application I could tease out the ugly reasons why according to Jesus’ own diagnosis. This prepares the moment lit up by the words of Jesus when I will give my coherent center (above) room to breathe and spread its wings. I’ll conclude with an echo of my introduction about the moments we prize, and ask: “Why not this one? Why not now, when Christ is again revealed to that ‘true heart within your heart?’”

I study myself full. I think myself empty. I write myself clear.

Yes, it takes time. We have two more matters to take up in the next issue: how to illustrate and how to apply the Word of God. For now, an encouragement.

There are sounds of birth pains coming from your private study. As August Pieper wrote long ago, for there to be a new Springtime of the Spirit among us, it must begin with a Pentecost in the “pastor’s little prayer cell.”

It puts a man on his knees before his Audience of One.

It is as high a privilege as can be thought of: to inhabit the Scriptures, to breathe deep the atmosphere of a particular text, to gather up its colors, to climb the steep hill of understanding, and to capture in writing the mind of Christ for the sake of people who arouse all your compassion. It puts a man on his knees before his Audience of One.

It is a good place to be.

Written by Mark Paustian

Dr. Paustian is a professor of communication and biblical Hebrew at Martin Luther College where he teaches “Advanced Christian Rhetoric” which combines an introduction to homiletics and an introduction to apologetics in one course. He holds a PhD in Communication from Regent University.


 

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How long does it take to build a church?

How long does it take to build a church?

182 years. It took 182 years to construct the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

182 years is a long time. It probably felt like a dreadfully long time to workers in Year eight or nine of the project. It must have seemed like it was going to take forever. By the time Year 50 rolled around, how many of the original workers had retired? How many lifetimes did it take to complete this church-building work? Finally, the people in 1345 AD got to see the completed structure.

How long does it take to build a church? Not the church-structure, but the church-church. The people. How long does it take to build a congregation?

One year to explore the field. Another year to plant the first seeds and assemble a core group. A third year to plan and execute a launch. By year five, that mission is off and running. By year 6 or 7 or 10, that mission is standing on its own two feet. Time to move on to the next one.

Mission core group in 1993

Praise God when that timetable works out! Praise God for the mission starts that “catch” quickly like a spark in tinder and flare up into a roaring fire!

Praise God also for the “slow-burning” missions. Praise God for the church-building work that follows a cathedral-like timetable. Praise God for the missions that take lifetimes to grow.

But how?

If you are building a cathedral, stopping to measure your progress every few minutes only makes the goal feel out of reach. The row of stones set in place seems pitifully small. The edifice pictured in the building plan seems impossibly large.

Instead, let the builders just keep building. Let gospel work proceed at a steady pace. Let each living stone built on the foundation of Christ and his Word be set in place carefully and lovingly, yet urgently. Let the pace of the workers be diligent and energetic. And then…let the progress of the work rest in the hands of God.

Finally, in God’s good time, after all the halting human labor by frail human hands is finished, we will get to see the completed masterpiece that God himself constructed.

To Him alone be glory!

Home Missionary David Boettcher serves the dual-parish mission of St. John’s, Wetaskiwin, and Mighty Fortress, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, which plans to become self-supporting in 2022. For the many years of mission subsidy, these Christians are grateful for the patient and generous support through WELS Home Missions and the many members who have donated to Christ’s church. Thank you! 


 

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Pandemic proclamation

In 1918, the United States experienced a pandemic. The Spanish Flu Pandemic was terrible. How bad was it? By many estimates, 1/3 of the world’s population was infected and 5% of the entire world’s population died. However, the Lord brought something good out of that terrible pandemic. As Missionary Guenther rode to various Apache camps, doing what he could do for the sick by applying the homemade remedies of skunk oil and tar paper, he came upon the ailing Chief Alchesay. The Holy Spirit worked in the conversations about Jesus that followed, and when he recovered, Alchesay founded and dedicated the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona.

Just over 100 years later, we are in the midst of another pandemic. If our missionaries today tried to ride around town on horseback applying skunk oil and wrapping the sick in tar paper, getting arrested may be the kindest reaction they would receive. But the Lord has opened other doors to share the same good news about Jesus.

Under the banner of Native Christians, our mission field has been working on new ways to share Jesus. And with all of our reservation churches still unable to worship as normal (and some not in person yet at all), sharing the gospel digitally has taken on fresh importance. The pandemic has given us a wonderful opportunity to work on ways to share without gathering in person.

Part of our plan to reach Native people inside and outside of our reservations in Arizona included completely overhauling our website and providing a platform for us to share our Bible study resources. Local member Kasheena Miles has been able to build the site from start to finish, and her filmmaker/entrepreneur husband Douglas Jr. (both pictured) supplied the excellent photos and videos. With their help, our pastors are now able to reach a much wider audience with the gospel.

The website is one piece of our effort to create a Native Christians Network. We are actively seeking Native people to reach them with the gospel and offering sound Bible training to anyone interested, no matter where they live. Through our website and social media, our gospel reach is expanding. Pray that our generous Lord continues to give us more Alchesays, and pray that our efforts continue to be successful.

If you’d like to see the website and get the latest updates on our field, please visit www.nativechristians.org

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, field coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona


 

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Christ-centered wedding blessings

Greetings from East Asia! I want to share with you that God is still working powerfully here in East Asia even during these very trying and special times. COVID-19 has pretty much shut down international travel, yet I feel so blessed that I have been able to remain both safe and healthy here in East Asia during these unusual times.

While most may look back on 2020 as a challenging year, my new wife Christine and I will look back on all the blessings God has poured out on us during these past months. As my Asia Lutheran Seminary classes and opportunities to meet friends face-to-face became limited in February through April, opportunities to spend more time with Christine and lead online studies became greater. While most Bible study friends confined themselves to their homes and socialized mostly on social media in one of our four weekly online studies, Christine and I were excited to explore the empty parks and travel to see each other on the traffic-free roads. Even while large gatherings were banned, we fell deeper in love. We were soon engaged and were trying to figure out how to hold a wedding in such special times. One of our plans was to invite our friends to a secluded park and have an outdoor wedding, but the logistics of bringing chairs, tables, and a shelter seemed too much. Finally, in the middle of July, we were referred to a banquet hall that was just given permission to open their doors to group gatherings (as long as the virus situation in our city stayed under control). We booked our wedding for August 8 and invited our friends. We thought maybe 100 friends might be able to join. . .  within the couple weeks we used to finalize all the details, we had 260 friends asking to join our special day. Many friends were so excited to have this chance to see each other and celebrate something so joyful after months of isolation.

By God’s grace we were able to hold our wedding on August 8th, 2020. Throughout our planning, we made an effort to put God first and desired every detail to point to God and his glory. We knew that there would be many of our friends in attendance who were not believers and several who knew very little about Christ and his redemptive work for all mankind. Other friends in attendance had been studying God’s Word with us for some time, but had not yet come to place their faith in Jesus and call themselves a believer.

Our preparations were blessed. The Holy Spirit was working powerfully during our wedding service. One brother who held onto a quarrel with the pastor of our wedding was moved by his preaching and servant-like attitude and reconciled the difference in the days after the wedding. Another friend that had been attending Bible studies for over three years was moved to be baptized. When Christine and I were moving from table to table to greet and toast the guests, she told us about her desire to be baptized. Praise God for moving her, through our Christ-centered wedding service, to want to join the fellowship of believers! Christine and I made our way to the stage in front of the banquet hall, this time accompanied by our friend. Christine held the microphone as I had the privilege of pouring the water connected to our Triune God’s name over our friend’s head. We sang Amazing Grace for the second time that day, and this time my friend could personally relate to the words, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

What a privilege to see the Holy Spirit working so powerfully here in East Asia and around the world. We give God all the glory and honor for changing our lives and those around us to follow him and praise his name.

May God continue to bless the work he is doing here in East Asia. Thank you for all of your support and prayers. It is our privilege to see the answers to your prayers.

Written by Mike, evangelist with Friends Network and partner of our work in East Asia 


 

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Eight years of blessings in Lafayette, Indiana

The weatherman said that Saturday, October 3rd, was going to be a beautiful, sunny 70 degree day in Lafayette, Ind. He also said that about Monday, October 5th. But Sunday, October 4th was predicted to be a rainy, cold, and windy 45 degree day. That was the day our leadership team had chosen for our outdoor service and picnic lunch at Prophetstown State Park to celebrate our eight year anniversary as a congregation. People texted, “Pastor, are we going to postpone this? Weather doesn’t look good.” We didn’t have a contingency plan because we figured, “It’s a large covered shelter with space for 150. We’ll be fine!” I texted back, “Bring your jackets and blankets.” When we arrived it was colder than 45 degrees. The wind was blowing across the prairie grass of the state park with nothing to stop it. . . and it was raining.

They say that Lutherans are hearty people, and I guess “they” are correct. Keep in mind that we average about 40 on a Sunday morning in our storefront worship space. That morning, 55 people showed up with jackets and blankets, including 11 students from our Purdue campus ministry group and 7 prospects. Three of our young people played brass, and three others played violin to lead those gathered in the hymns. I did feel bad for the instrumentalists, barely able to keep their lips and fingers warm enough to play, but they sounded great in spite of the circumstances.

That Sunday I preached the final part of my sermon series, “Why we do what we do in the Divine Service” and focused on Numbers 6:22-27, “The Blessing.” For the past eight years the LORD has put his name on his people at Lamb of God Lutheran Church. For the past eight years the Lord has blessed Lamb of God by shining his face on us and looking on us with favor. The past eight years the Lord has given us peace. Now, we need his name to be on us more than ever as we look to the future of our ministry. God-willing, by the end of this year, we will close on an existing facility in West Lafayette and move out of our storefront sometime in 2021.

In February 2020, the pastor of Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette called my office and said, “Hey, I heard you’re looking for a new piece of property or existing facility. We’d like to sell our property to you!” Our leadership team, members of the church, and the district mission board toured the facility. The members agree to pursue the purchase of this property.  We are currently in the negotiating stages of our purchase. I ask for your prayers, that this new facility will be a great location for us to better reach out and serve our great Lafayette/West Lafayette community and Purdue University. Stay tuned!

Written by Rev. Paul Horn, home missionary at Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Lafayette, Ind.           


 

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I could not find Jesus, but he found me

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the name of an autobiography written by a Muslim who used to be an ardent defender of Islam. While we do not agree with all of the writer’s theology, the book describes how Nabeel Quereshi became a believer in Jesus and an evangelist to Muslims. The title of Nabeel’s book could be used for another Muslim man who has become my friend.

*Names changed for security reasons*

Habib attended a madrassah (a Muslim school of learning) for three years. He shared with me:

“I never stopped reading the Koran (the holy book of Islam). One day I read surah 19 (the word for chapter in the Koran) ayah 21 (the word for verse) called Maryam (the Muslim name for Mary). I learned that Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus) was born of a virgin and that he came to this world for the people. When I read this, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to learn more about Jesus. My teacher told me, ‘You don’t need to know about Jesus. Learn about Mohammed. Jesus came for the Israelites, not you.’ In spite of his warning, I read more and more.

The Imam at my mosque called me and asked, ‘Why don’t you come to the prayer times? You used to sing the verses of the Koran for everyone to hear. I heard you became a Christian.’ Shortly after that I went to the barbershop in my village and the barber told me, ‘Everyone is complaining about you. They say you do not pray (Muslims have five daily calls to prayer). You do not read the Koran.’ My barber was sympathetic and told me to go to the Catholic church. When I entered the Catholic church, a man confronted me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Muslims are not allowed inside our church. Go to the mosque.’ I told him, ‘I am a Christian.’ He said, ‘We do not share Jesus with Muslim people.’ I did not know what to do.

Soon I met a humble Christian brother who gave me a Bible. I read the Bible day and night. I felt it was written for me. I also became part of a small group of Christians and was baptized. Then I learned that the imam at my mosque—and the village elders—made a sharia (“law”) judgment against me. They summoned me to a meeting. They said, ‘If you do not renounce Christianity and return to Islam, we will kick you out of the village.’ I remembered Jesus’ words, ‘Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:33). I told the imam and the village elders, ‘Yes, I am a Christian. I will never leave Jesus. I will never leave this truth.’

They isolated my family from the rest of the community. My father went to the mosque for the daily calls to prayer, but they would not let him enter the mosque. They told him, ‘You cannot enter the mosque, because your son is a Christian.’ This upset my father very much. He began to beat me and told me I must become a Muslim again. I could not live with my parents so I had to find a way to make a living. I started a study circle and became an academic coach. This was going well until people told the parents of my students that I was a Christian. The parents stopped sending their children. I had no job. Finally I found work at a fish market where I brought water in buckets to splash on the fish.

Only my mother would talk to me. I shared the gospel with her—and in time she became a Christian. My father became angry with her and deserted her. She was alone and the people in our village began to persecute her. Now I care for my mother. She cooks meals for me. We pray that one day my father will become a Christian too.

God opened the door for me to study at a Bible school. We are working with this Bible school to teach students and to prepare them to be evangelists. I never had such in-depth learning. It was profound. Now I am sharing the gospel in a new area. I am thankful for the bike I was given. I ride this bicycle to six villages where we tell the people about Jesus. We are starting churches in these communities.

Against impossible odds I became a Christian. I was in a madrassah and never stopped reading the Koran. I could not find Jesus, but he found me. Now I want the whole world to know about Jesus.”

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia


 

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Good bones

I don’t know about you, but one of the most dangerous things I did during this pandemic was to turn on Home and Garden Television (HGTV). I know, I live on the edge, but hear me out. HGTV is dangerous because it gave me ideas, and ideas led to trips to Harbor Freight, and trips to Harbor Freight led to purchasing 28-foot scaffolding, and scaffolding may have led to teenagers performing front-flips onto giant bean bags. I told you that HGTV was dangerous!

In spite of the great dangers involved in watching home improvement shows. . . I still do it. I try to quit, but there is an allure to seeing a project take shape. In all the shows, I love the phrase, This place has good bones.” Good bones means you have something solid to work with. It means you know it is going to be incredible in the end.

About two years ago, the members of Carbon Valley Lutheran in Firestone, Colorado, started our own rehabilitation ride. After years of searching, we found some good bones”  at a former plant nursery—an all-steel structure, 3 ½ acres, commercial zoning, sewer, water, parking lot, street lights, landscaping, and water tap all were there. We could work with this.

But there’s another reason HGTV is dangerous. It inspires you to take that leap of renovation faith without really showing all the time and work that goes into the final project. And yet that work is really what gets you to the big reveal. Don’t worry, we didn’t stop being a church. We continued worshiping in a local elementary school, strengthening the faith of our members. We reached out to our community through service projects and local festivals. We raised money through the generosity of our people. We asked the right questions and walked through the loan and town processes. We rolled with the twists and turns and ultimately stepped out on faith.

Outdoor worship at their new location

And when the pandemic took our public school location, the bones of our building became our impromptu worship location. We worshiped outdoors in the middle of our steel structure. We watched as the roof and walls were stripped. We saw the foundation piers being dug. We heard the concrete slabs being cut. And the big reveal hasn’t happened yet. But it’s coming.

God does amazing things with bones, even more amazing than transforming an old plant nursery into a sanctuary. God brings bones to life through the perfect life of his son Jesus, and he builds up believers to make an impact on communities. He’s doing that very thing in us at Carbon Valley Lutheran and through our new building that will be used for generations to come. And he still builds up the body of believers to share Christ with their community. So much so, that we’ve even had five families visit us in the “bones” of our new building.

Written by Tim Spiegelberg, home missionary at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church in Firestone, Colo.

Want to watch Carbon Valley’s building progress? Check out Carbon Valley’s Facebook page to see pictures.


 

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A lifeless body, a life-giving opportunity

The gospel is like water. It will always find a way to break through boundaries that seem impossible. In an area where preaching the gospel is hard to do, the Holy Spirit will inspire and open the ways so that people can hear that good news.

Friends carrying the casket

In a country like Indonesia, it is not easy to find opportunities to preach the gospel. We can not leave tracts in some places, nor doing street evangelism. However, the opportunity is always there. Indonesian people like to socialize, are close to neighbors and friends, and have a high sense of commitment to communal work. When a friend or neighbor needs some help, they will come to help as much as they can. At least once a month, people in a neighborhood will gather to discuss things that happened or work together for the good of their community. People here like to connect and interact.

Some special moments of life—like birth, marriage, or death—are shared not only within the family, but also by neighbors and friends. In a moment of sorrow, like the death of a family member, people will especially show their sympathy. They will come to the deceased person’s house to offer their condolences to the bereaved family. Some of them will come to the funeral ceremony. However, there is something special in this moment, especially when a good Christian dies.

What do we see when a Christian dies? Basically, there is no difference in comparison to other people: sadness, tears, and a sense of loss. People will come and solemnly follow the funeral rites. Even the closest neighbors will join the family in accompanying the deceased to the grave. At the funeral service, songs of praise to God are uttered, words of comfort regarding faith will be preached, and the hope of eternal life in Christ is proclaimed. What makes a Christian funeral different is the hope we have that Jesus has redeemed the late believer by his death on the cross. The family left behind shows their belief that their loved one is already with Jesus in heaven, and that death is only a temporary separation. Sadness is certainly felt, but hope that springs from faith silently creeps into the heart and brings comfort. This is what distinguishes the funeral rites of believers from non-believers.

Friends and neighbors helping bury their friend

The funeral service is an opportunity for many people, whether Christians or not, to sit and listen to the hope of the Christian faith. But why would people want to come to a Christian funeral if they are not Christian? Why would they show us this kindness to their Christian neighbors? In a community that highly values solidarity and good relations, such friends simply want to show respect.

While we are still alive we can touch the lives of others by living a good Christian life, demonstrating our faith through good works, being an example of love, and bearing the fruits of the Spirit. But even our death can become a vehicle that impacts the lives of others in a spiritual way. After we breath our last, our lifeless bones most likely will never be used by God, like those of Elisha to give life to one who is dead (2 Kings 13:21). However, our funeral service provides an opportunity for our pastors to preach the gospel freely, without restriction, in a solemn moment, not only for the Christians but also for non-Christians. The result is that all the people who are present will hear Jesus’ name and the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is the gospel message used by the Spirit to call people to faith in Christ, to bring dead souls to life both here on earth and forever in eternity.

Written by Ester S.W., Multi-Language Productions (MLP) coordinator in Indonesia


 

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Update – Hmong outreach in Vietnam

But God’s word is not chained.

2 Timothy 2:9b

Since 2014, WELS Pastor Bounkeo Lor has made regular trips to Vietnam to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church. God blessed that work, and WELS adopted the ministry in 2015.  The true grace and peace of Jesus proclaimed to the Hmong leaders had a profound positive effect. They wanted more of our training. The government of Vietnam recognized the value of our training and gave us permission to build a training center in Hanoi. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

The gospel training would have continued and the building construction would have progressed in 2020, but COVID-19 ground everything to a halt. Since early 2020, we have not made a single training visit to Vietnam and the building project could not move forward.

Because of these obstacles, the WELS Vietnam planning group explored the possibility of using online training for the Hmong Fellowship Church leaders. If we could not visit Vietnam in person, we could visit Vietnam on Zoom. The Vietnam planning group has decided to provide the technology and access to make this happen for the 60 leaders who are eager to continue their studies.

Soon all Hmong Fellowship Church leaders will be provided phones and internet connection to allow them to participate in online training classes. The men will remain at home or travel to nearby places with adequate internet. They will continue a planned course on law and gospel, and they will also participate in a study of the gospel of Mark to share with rural congregations. The free course of the gospel continues because God’s Word is not chained.

Written by Rev. Joel Nitz, Hmong Asia missionary


 

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Upside down

We’ve probably all heard it a number of times these last few months: the disruptions of COVID-19 have left us feeling like things have been turned upside down.

If you happened to say something along those lines while you were sitting next to Christopher, a young man who just recently joined our church, he’d understand exactly what you mean. In fact, he may even understand that truth better than you.

Because there was a time in Christopher’s life when God literally turned him upside down. It was only a few years ago, while he was living in Michigan. He was driving to visit his girlfriend when the combination of slick roads, high speeds, and a sharp turn left him upside down in a ditch. And if you asked Christopher about it, he’d tell you that being upside down in his car was a monumental—and wonderful—turning point in his life.

Looking back on it now, he sees God’s gracious hand in that pivotal moment. He sees a loving God bringing him even closer to the family of the girl who is now his wife. He sees a patient God using a life-threatening moment to teach him to re-prioritize the truly important parts of his life. He sees a gracious God directing all things—even a car on a slippery road—so that an undeserving sinner would be rescued from real spiritual danger. When he thinks about those moments upside down in his car, he can’t help but give thanks to the God who used them to bring him into contact with his Word.

That’s where Christopher found out just how gracious and loving his God is. He joined our church family at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming, a few weeks ago, after eagerly studying that Word. He’s still learning, of course. He’s daily rejoicing in the amazing miracle that took place on the cross, where Jesus paid for his sin; and at the empty tomb, where God declared him not guilty for all eternity. He’s soaking it up, relishing the beauty of a God who works all things for the eternal good of his people.

There’s a lot more to Christopher’s story—he could probably write a long and fascinating book about his life. Before God flipped his life upside down, he was fighting a daily battle against the demons of alcohol, the persistence of guilt, and the darkness of Satanism. That is what made his upside down experience so pivotal. He would describe it as the key chapter in the book of his life, so far. And he’d likely tell you that even these “upside down” times of COVID-19 are opportunities for God to work amazing miracles in the lives of his people.

Written by Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming 


 

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Meet the Mohlkes

Twenty-nine years ago, my wife Leslie and I were preparing to go to Africa to serve as a newly assigned missionary. We had three children ages four, two, and four months. The other two children would be born a few years later while living in Zambia. We were young and excited. I was eager to start working as an African missionary, and my wife was wondering how best to care for our young family, knowing that her skills as a registered nurse would come in very handy.

The Mohlke family in Zambia in the late 1990s

Now, all the kids are grown, four of the five children are married, and five grandchildren have been added to the family; and Leslie and I are getting ready to move again to Africa. This time I am going to serve as the leader of WELS World Mission’s One Africa Team. The One Africa Team consists of all the missionaries serving in Africa who work with various sister synods to share the good news of Jesus throughout the continent. Now days, this work usually takes the form of offering training and encouragement to those who serve as ministers of the gospel in our sister synods.

This is quite different from what I was called to do 29 years ago. Back then, my main job was to preach, teach, baptize, and offer the Lord’s supper to village congregations which did not have their own pastors. This meant driving out to the village areas at least four days per week and visiting at least two congregations each day for worship and/or Bible study. Between my visits, the congregations were faithfully served by laymen who preached from a sermon book and taught Sunday school and confirmation classes using books prepared for them. Through these men congregations were started, grew, and became strong.

As I return to Africa, many of those men are fully trained pastors and leaders in the Lutheran Seminary and their synod. Now WELS missionaries are not needed to serve as pastors in local congregations, but they are used to train and encourage ministers of the gospel in church bodies throughout the continent.

Missionary Mohlke and his wife Leslie

I am eager and feel blessed to take on the work of leading this group. I thank God for the years I served in Zambia, and I thank God for the past 20 years I have served while living in the United States. I am thankful for the things I learned as I served St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School in Norfolk, Neb. I am thankful for the experiences I had serving Messiah Lutheran Church in Nampa, Ida., especially what I learned about well-planned and organized outreach. I also served ten years on the Board for World Missions, four of those years as chairman. It was so enlightening to understand WELS World Missions not only as a missionary on the field, but also at the administrative level. I also feel that I will put to good use what I experienced serving as director of the Apache Christian Training School. That experience reminded me of how important it is that missionaries aren’t sent to be pastors for people; but rather they are sent to work with people to develop strong forms of ministry that best serve the needs of that community.

I am thankful to the Lord for giving me this opportunity to serve as the One Africa Team leader. I am thankful that the Lord has given me a wife that is so supportive and willing to return to Africa. Without her support, understanding, and willingness to serve, none of this would be possible.

Written by Howard Mohlke, new leader of the One Africa Team

Missionary Mohlke and Leslie are currently living in Nebraska while their paperwork is being processed for their move to Malawi. He and his wife Leslie will reside in Lilongwe, Malawi, on the campus of the Lutheran Bible Institute.


 

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Faces of Faith – Katherine

Sometimes mission connections happen in very interesting ways. Every year, Spirit of Life in Caledonia, Mich., hosts a booth at the local Davenport College Panther Palooza event. It’s an event where freshmen go to learn about opportunities to serve, learn, and work in the community. During that event we were publicizing a women’s self-defense class being held at Spirit of Life. Little did we know, God would bless us with a new member and a really great friend.

Katherine Campoverde was studying to be a recreational therapist at Davenport. She was Catholic growing up in Ecuador, and she had family in New York City as well. She spoke to us and visited the church that next Sunday. After some weeks, Katherine went through class to join our Lutheran church. For a few years we enjoyed having her as part of our church—but upon graduation, Katherine moved back to NYC for work. It was bittersweet for us because we wished her the best, but we were also concerned about Katherine’s connection with the church. We don’t have all that many congregations in NYC.

When Katherine arrived in NYC, we stayed in touch. I looked up her address in the WELS church locator and discovered a great blessing: Katherine was living less than 2 miles from Sure Foundation Lutheran Church, our WELS home mission congregation in Woodside. I immediately grabbed the phone and called the pastor there. And after a few short weeks, Katherine was connected. An even greater blessing was that Sure Foundation has Spanish services every week. Now Katherine could not only worship, but she also brought her father to worship for him to hear God’s Word in their first language.

But the interesting connections continued. Katherine’s mother still lives in Ecuador. So while she was on a trip to visit her mother, she introduced her to our world missionary living in Ecuador as well.

Recently Katherine had the opportunity to come back to visit us here at Spirit of Life, and she was welcomed with open arms. It’s really interesting to see how God works. He blessed our congregation to do some outreach at a local college. We shared the Word and Sacrament together with a new member. Little did we know the impact that would have in another congregation in NYC and possibly all the way down in Ecuador. God’s Word is so amazing, and his plans for our life are too.

What a blessing it is to have mission congregations around our synod who can connect and serve believers even when school and work causes them to move!

Written by Allen Kirschbaum, home missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich. 


 

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Anticipating a New Hymnal

Anticipating a New Hymnal

During a Pandemic

Worship looks different in a pandemic. From the middle of March through the middle of May, most churches were not permitted to meet publicly. Some were shuttered even longer. In their holy zeal to feed their flock with the Word, congregations took their worship online. Although most churches have reopened, only a fraction of people who were habitually in the house of the LORD have returned. Many who attend do so wearing a face covering. Those churches with robust choirs and diverse instruments have scaled back their programs; some musicians are not ready to return. Communion distribution has been adjusted, and bottles of Purell are now as common as Bibles and hymnals.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Human nature will quickly lament what has been lost. Worshiping online lends itself well enough to the spoken word, but it has limitations. Singing is a challenge. It’s easier for dad’s clunker notes to be absorbed in the nave than the living room. When the pastor picks a less familiar hymn, family members glance uncomfortably at one another in silence while they wait for verse five to finish. And what about the sacraments? Technological distance makes the congregation’s promises at a baptism feel less personal and doesn’t enable Holy Communion at all.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Sure, worship looks different in a pandemic. But what has been gained? How about a noble yearning to be found in the house of the LORD? You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. How about a renewed sense of appreciation for the worshiping body of believers? One woman quipped to me, “I never realized how important these people are to me.” How about a new online presence for hundreds of our churches who are reaching souls they would never otherwise have reached? It’s as if God sent a pandemic with a memo: “When I told to you make disciples of all nations, I meant it! Get the Word to the world!”

No other parish ministry has the reach of public worship.

Pastors and congregations will always find hundreds of things to do, but they all serve the main goal of touching the Gospel of Christ to as many people as possible as often as possible. A church may have dozens of ministries that serve dozens of people, but no other parish ministry has the reach of public worship. Perhaps that is because worship skillfully weds the means of grace with oratory and music while joining believers from the past to the present in praise of God. God will bless every effort to spread his Gospel throughout the world. Since worship is a primary vehicle through which we proclaim God’s grace, we can count on him to bless our best efforts in worship.

For some time now, our best worship minds and most talented musicians have invested countless hours to produce a suite of worship materials tailored for all kinds of churches, from mission congregations to large congregations. Headlined by a new hymnal and comprehensive psalter, 20 unique products in this suite of worship tools are slated for release in fall of 2021.1 Like a movie preview, leaders gave a sneak peek of hymnal project content at the January 2020 WELS leadership conference. Copies of Christian Worship: Preview were distributed to every participant. Forward in Christ articles and the February WELS Connection generated enthusiasm. Near the end of February, copies of Christian Worship: Preview were mailed to every congregation. And then the pandemic hit. Public gatherings were suspended; schools and churches moved online; elders and church leaders scrambled to find alternative ways to serve the flock. Evaluating a new suite of worship products was relegated to the back burner.

If your “pandemic parish” looked anything like mine, Christian Worship: Preview found a cozy corner of the copy room to rest undisturbed. Let this article be an encouragement to wake them from slumber. Inside that 60-page booklet is a wonderful walk-through of the treasures you will find in the new suite of worship resources. Permit me to break those treasures down into the following four parts.

Treasures old

When you hear “hymnal suite of products” and “nearly 20 volumes of worship content,” are you intimidated? Don’t be. At the heart of the 2021 project is a hymnal that includes so many familiar treasures that you can use it with confidence immediately.2

So many familiar treasures that you can use it with confidence immediately.

Worship will continue to follow the time-tested pattern of the church year that has served well for centuries. The three-year lectionary has been retuned so that the readings and psalm support the thrust of Gospel. All readings unify around a central theme, making it easier for worshipers to see how the Scriptures are interconnected and to benefit from one central theme each Sunday.

Christian Worship (1993) offered two communion liturgies, “The Common Service” and “The Service of Word and Sacrament.” Those beloved services served the church well for years. However, certain texts, canticles, and even the logical flow were unique to each liturgy. Communion liturgies in Christian Worship (2021) will be unified by a familiar format and flow.3 Titled “The Service,” it will provide opportunity for us to invoke the presence of God, confess our sins and be absolved, hear the Word, confess the faith and pray together, and receive the Supper. Interspersed throughout we will sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. Three musical settings of “The Service” will be included in the printed hymnal.4 Setting One makes use of music from “The Common Service” that Lutherans have been using since 1941, but with four-part harmony restored for the canticles.

It is difficult to describe the connection that people have to hymns. In adulthood, both men and women remember wistfully their grandmother singing “Abide with Me” as they put them to bed. As they wait to meet God in the ICU, pastors sing “Be Still My Soul” or “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” Two thirds of the 2021 hymns are favorites that have served Lutherans for generations. Luther’s insistence that hymnody proclaim the Gospel is another old treasure that is retained. Christian Worship: Preview spends more than twenty pages (pp 32-52) detailing the kinds of hymns that will be included.5 Reviewing those pages will be time well spent.

Treasures new

Just because an 8-year-old boy likes Legos doesn’t mean he wants his mother to repackage an old box and “regift” it to him for his birthday. Similarly, Lutherans who enjoy the familiarity and integrity of our rich worship heritage also expect that there will be new treasures to unpack as well as old. They will not be disappointed.

First, while the text of “The Service” remains the same, worship leaders can easily incorporate meaningful variety through various musical settings. In addition to the settings that are included in the pew edition, Christian Worship: Service Builder will include several more musical settings (more on Service Builder later). The diversity of musical settings provides an ability to bring musical freshness to worship within the context of a familiar pattern of worship.

Secondly, the psalms are significantly expanded. Congregations that have grown to love chanted psalm tones will have many options. But the hymnal and psalter will also include additional psalm styles: hymn type, melodic folk tunes, call and response format, and lyrical. Lyrical psalms lend themselves to solo or choral singing. So many excellent settings of the psalms exist that the best ones will be curated in a separate volume, Christian Worship: Psalter. This volume is worth consideration first for your choir or even just a cantor. Over time, people will grow to love the new treasures in psalm singing. CW: Preview gives details on pages 19-31.

Worshipers familiar with Christian Worship: Supplement quickly grew to love a modern hymn, “In Christ Alone.” It even serves as the introductory music to our monthly WELS Connection. No new hymnal is truly new unless it includes new hymns. Twentieth and twenty-first century hymn writers, American composers, and modern favorites have been carefully vetted. Offerings from Getty Music are plentiful6, as well newly composed music for time-tested texts. Congregations will have many new hymn treasures to unpack and enjoy.

Treasures in the home

When the LORD repeated the law in Deuteronomy, he enlisted parents to hand the faith down to their children. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). It’s no secret that the family altar is hurting, with devastating effect on our families and churches. Inside our upcoming hymnal, however, are treasures ready for the home. Can we encourage our parents and families that hymnals are not just for church anymore?

On the first three pages of CW: Preview you are introduced to the Scripture section. In addition to the church year lectionary, a daily lectionary will be included. Readings are chosen to harmonize with times and seasons of the year, and are easy to incorporate into another hymnal treasure for the home: the daily office. Brief devotional rites for various times of the day (dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, and evening) when paired with the daily lectionary, provide fathers and families a ready-made tool to build the family altar.

Famously, Luther introduced his Small Catechism thus: “As the head of the family should teach them in the simplest way to those in his household.” The Small Catechism will be printed in the hymnal, yet another devotional treasure for parents to use in the home. Between the text of the catechism, devotional hymns, ready to use psalms, the daily lectionary, and many other treasures old and new, busy parents will be able to incorporate a regular devotional life in the home. Pastors will find it easy to recommend the hymnal for home use.

Pastors will find it easy to recommend the hymnal for home use.

Treasures for leaders

Worship planning has matured from what it was in past generations. Sending Sunday’s hymn selections to your keyboardist on Saturday and asking the assembly to open to page 15 the next morning maybe once passed muster. (But shouldn’t have!) Now, worship leaders are expected to plan worship out at least month or quarter in advance. That good practice allows better lead time for your instrumentalists, vocalists, and choirs to prepare their musical offerings for the LORD and his people. Advanced planning also accommodates wider variety in worship. Even simple efforts help feed the flock and attract more sheep. Attracting more sheep—or not frustrating them in worship—has been the logic for another shift. Producing the entire service in a printed folder allows everybody to follow along seamlessly. Preparing a short “bulletin” might once have required only a small investment of pastoral time; now it can take many hours a week to prepare a true “worship folder.”

When we published our first hymnal in 1993, Windows 3.1 was ubiquitous. Technological advancements now make it possible to reduce the time needed for advanced worship planning. A cloud-based software solution, Christian Worship: Service Builder, is an obvious treasure for worship leaders. Planning services, including variety, making changes on the fly, allowing for widespread communication, automated copyright reporting, and producing service folders are all tasks that Service Builder can handle in a matter of minutes.

Smaller congregations might benefit the most from advanced technology. In churches without a keyboardist for live music, digital keyboards and computers have led worship via MIDI or HymnSoft. Technology has advanced to the point that any smart phone or tablet plays high quality music. Hymnal project resources will be provided in high quality digital format for use with a new tool called Christian Worship: Playlist. Leading worship will be as easy as compiling a playlist and clicking play.

Musicians will appreciate another technology tool. You are planning to sing the Gloria, aware that an eager teen would like to play her clarinet to the glory of God. Where do you find clarinet music for the Gloria? Inside the online Musician’s Resource! This online tool contains alternate settings, musical arrangements, and instrumental parts to serve the unique needs and gifts of your church.

Technology levels the playing field for churches of different sizes.

Technology levels the playing field for churches of different sizes. Sometimes pastors or members experience well-done worship in person or online, but feel deflated because “you can do that sort of worship in a big church, but we can’t in our small church.” When the content of the hymnal suite of products is paired with technology, every congregation will be able to enjoy the treasure of producing professional looking service folders, employing artistic variety, and leading worship with high-quality digital music. You can learn more about new hymnal technology in Christian Worship: Preview on pages 53-55.

Putting tools to work

Put a hammer in a mason’s hand, and the framing will take longer. Put a trowel in a carpenter’s hand, and the project will cost twice as much and take twice as long. The right tool for the job is essential. Since worship is the primary vehicle through which we build the faith of the flock, it’s worth our best efforts. It also deserves our best tools. Over the past eight years, almost 100 of our brothers and sisters have invested thousands of hours to produce tools beneficial for worship.

Of course, a tool is only as good as the person who uses it. Some of the tools will be ready to use right out of the box. Others will take time and practice to master. Just like a skilled craftsman, some tools you’ll use every week, while other tools you’ll employ for special circumstances. It is heartening and reassuring to know that whatever the job, you have the tools necessary to carry it out without a dozen trips to the local hardware store.

You will also find it heartening and reassuring to know that the 2021 hymnal suite of products will provide you with the tools you need to lead and feed the flock. Like the hammer your dad gave you in your youth, there will be treasures old. Like the shiny new tool you received for Father’s Day, there will be treasures new. Add to that the practicality of home use and time-saving technology. Congregations large and small can anticipate the new hymnal with excitement.

If your copy of Christian Worship: Preview has found a place in the corner of the workroom since the pandemic, grab a copy and familiarize yourself with the treasures inside. Work through it with your worship committee, your elders, and your council so that they also can appreciate the good things to come.

By Adam Mueller

A 1998 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Adam Mueller began his parish ministry at a mission congregation in Kokomo, Indiana. In 2012, he began to serve Redeemer, Marana, Arizona, a congregation of about 500 souls. He has served a variety of district and synodical positions. In January of 2020, Mueller was a keynote speaker at the WELS Leadership Conference where hymnal resources were previewed. He currently serves on the Commission on Congregation Counseling, and he is the director of the Hymnal Introduction Program.


Evaluating, budgeting, and special gifts

Here is one possible process leading to a decision to adopt new hymnal resources—with all respect for the realities noted in the first endnote.

  • In advance of a first meeting members of the worship committee or some other subcommittee review CW: Preview (content also available online) and additional material at the hymnal Web site (christianworship.com), especially the Q&A section under Resources. Start with viewing again the February 2020 WELS Connection, available under the Preview option.
  • The committee recommends to the church council the initial resources to obtain and others to consider in the future. The Q&A section includes helpful information about the CW: Service Builder software. At the bottom of the Resources page is a budgeting spreadsheet.
  • If the council approves the plan, the next step is budgeting (this fall yet for calendar year budgets, or early next year for fiscal year budgets) and encouragement of special gifts.
  • Use items from the Publicity Toolkit to inform members. Consider a special presentation after worship. Note that special offering envelopes are available from NPH; see CW: Preview page 60.

If leaders feel that more information is necessary, additional content will be posted to the hymnal Web site later this year and early next year. And for those who need a thorough review with new hymnal in hand, introductory workshops are being planned for fall of 2021.


C20 – Christmas 2020 resources

C20 is a synod-wide initiative to encourage and equip WELS congregations to invite the unchurched to worship this Christmas. Download promotional, outreach, worship, Sunday school, social media, graphics resources, and more at welscongregationalservices.net/c20. Don’t forget to order postcards by Oct. 23. Information about ordering and printing is in the “Introduction” document under “Getting Started.”


1 Hymnal project leaders recognize that not every congregation will want to or be able to adopt the new hymnal in 2021. Reasons include COVID uncertainties, tightened budgets, and uncertain futures. This article isn’t meant to ignore those realities but only to encourage review and planning in whatever way seems appropriate.
2 Plus it isn’t necessary to jump in and buy all resources at once. At christianworship.com under Planning Ahead only three items are listed as basic resources.
3 A rationale and outline of The Service was posted at christianworship.com in September 2020.
4 More information about these musical options plus additional settings mentioned below is available at the rationale/outline document in note 3.
5 CW: Preview content is also available at christianworship.com.
6 A partial list is at christianworship.com under the Q&A section.

 

WORSHIP

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

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