The Word perseveres

Arriving to Iowa in July, I could tell the members of Good Shepherd had a lot on their minds. They had been through a lot the past few years.

In 2018, they had to make the difficult decision to close their school. The following year, the Lord answered their prayers for a pastor, giving them Rev. Billy King. In 2020, their mission in North Liberty finally started moving forward when it was approved to receive funding from WELS Home Missions. March threw them a curveball, like every other congregation, in the form of a virus. Even though this meant not meeting together for a while, it did not stop them from going forward with their plans.

Damage from the “Derecho”

All of that came to a halt on August 10th, 2020. A land hurricane (I later found out the correct term was a “Derecho”) swept through Iowa with only one thing on its’ mind – destruction. The whole city seemed to be without power and trapped because of all the trees on the ground. Everyone raced to the stores to buy up the last of the generators. The church building was damaged, members’ properties were ruined, and no one knew who was safe.

I heard all of this, but it was hard to believe because everything looked in order when I arrived. Yes, there were some trees missing and each member had their own account of what happened, but it looked like a regular church to me. What I loved to hear, were all the different stories of how the Lord blessed them in their recovery. The Good Shepherd family grew stronger and closer together through all of this.

Although the church and the community may have thought this was the end, God has used it for a new beginning. A year later, almost everything is back to the way it was. The church building and most homes are repaired, but I get reminded of what happened every time I see a tree stump or an empty lot where I knew a building use to be.

But all this has not stopped God’s mission. Services are regaining their numbers at both campuses. Bible studies are becoming more and more well-attended. We at Good Shepherd are planning to hold all of our regular events and hopefully add a few more. The mission in North Liberty has not been forgotten in all of this. We are all getting on the same page in order to move forward. Members are moving forward from the past and help in our efforts to serve the community.

Summer baseball camp

This summer has especially been filled with mission efforts for Good Shepherd. We had a great group of volunteers come down to North Liberty and hang door hangers inviting people to worship and come to our Summer Baseball Camp. A group from Lakeside Lutheran High School came down to help teach the kids baseball basics. Another successful event was our Vacation Bible School. Children came and discovered the many wonders of our Lord in God’s Wonder Lab. We even had a small group begin meeting to play disc golf.

It is hard to not hold onto the past and have it not affect your present or future plans. Our plans and expectations may fail but the perseverance of God’s Word will never end. Whether storm or flood, war or famine, “the Word of the Lord remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).”

Written by Rev. Lucas Callies, home missionary at Good Shepherd in Cedar Rapids and North Liberty, Iowa.

 

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You made a difference for the WELS Central Africa Medical Mission

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Galatians 6:10

The WELS Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been blessed over the past 60 years with the generous support of WELS members. We thank God for these gifts and pray for his continued blessings!

Below is a brief update on how your gifts are being used to support gospel ministry through CAMM’s Christ-centered healthcare:

  • We are transitioning our Malawi Mobile Clinic operations over to a fully Malawian staff so we can free up our resources to explore expansion into other African countries and potentially throughout the world.
  • We have repaired and renovated all of our clinic buildings, including adding private exam and consultation rooms so more patients are comfortable coming to our clinic.
  • We are supporting disabled children in Malawi by providing transportation to physical therapy services. These children were introduced to us through the local Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi pastor who uses the service our clinic provides to connect with non-members.
  • We now have the capability to hire more staff as needed. Many of our staff are members of one of our sister churches in Malawi and Zambia, which strengthens our relationship with the local churches and the synods overall.

Thank you for helping us get to this point! There is more work to be done in Africa and throughout the world. The Lord calls us to help the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:40) Pray for his continued blessing of staff members who can share their faith with the patients by offering Christ-centered healthcare. Share the work that the Central Africa Medical Mission does throughout Zambia, Malawi, and potentially more of Africa. Ask God to allow CAMM to expand to other countries where we can offer basic healthcare in support of gospel ministry. Thank you for your continued support of the Central Africa Medical Mission!

Learn more at wels.net/camm.

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From Theirs to Mine: A Friend’s Journey to Baptism

As a lay evangelist in East Asia, new believers often introduced us to their friends. That was how we met Tom. To get to know Tom, we invited him to basketball and afterwards our Tuesday night Bible study. He gladly joined both. Soon he regularly attended studies, even if there was no basketball. It wasn’t long before he became a good friend.

Tom was smart. When we met, he was getting his PhD in geophysics at a top university in the East Asia. During his doctrinal studies, he published papers in top geophysics journals, in English, his second language.

That said, Tom’s relationship to Christianity always seemed cerebral. As a trained scientist and raised in an atheist culture, Tom merely expressed interest in Christianity, especially in the meaning it gave to people’s lives. But it never seemed to be personal. For Tom, it wasn’t “we believe” but “they believe.” Jesus wasn’t his but theirs.

Fast forward three years. Tom got his PhD and landed a post-doc position in Europe with one of the top researchers in his field. It was time for us to part. I still remember the conversation after our last Bible study. I said something like, “Tom, you’ve come to church and Bible studies for years now. You know who Jesus is and what he’s done. Do you believe it? Do you want to get baptized?” To this, he replied, and I’ll never forget it, “I’m just not ready.” So, sadly, that’s how we parted.

With the distance and life changes, Tom and I drifted apart. Occasionally we’d send a message back and forth, but no real relationship building happened. I heard he’d came back to East Asia and landed a nice job in a big city. Life seemed to be well with him.

Then one day, out of the blue he asked me if I knew any churches in a certain, small coastal city. I asked him if he was visiting that city. He told me he was moving there to teach at a local university. What? It was as if a PhD from Yale, who went to Oxford for a post-doc, worked in Chicago for a time, suddenly decided to teach in rural Montana. I was a little shocked. But I was also profoundly in awe. We did have a local church in that small coastal city (in a country of hundreds of huge cities). Not only that, but it was just blocks from where Tom was going to live. Coincidence?

A few months later, after connecting Tom to the local church, Tom kept coming up in my prayers. Then my wife mentioned him. Then another friend mentioned him. And so, I reasoned, “I’ve got to get in touch with Tom.”

I called him. I called him with the intent of asking him about his baptism, was he any closer to getting baptized? Was he ready? He picked up the phone, we exchanged pleasantries. Then, without prompting, he shot to the point and asked, “Will you come down and baptize me?” Tom went on to tell me that earlier that year his young son nearly died due to a maldeveloped heart valve. Since COVID had just hit the country, Tom and his wife were not even allowed in the hospital during their son’s surgery. Tom told me that the only thing he could hold onto was the hope that Jesus was with him, that God cared for him. So, he said, he remembered the many Bible studies and prayed to God. Some local church members also came to pray with him. Through the experience, Jesus went from being theirs to his.

After talking on the phone, I contacted the local leader who apparently knew Tom wanted me to be there at his baptism. So, just few months ago I got to perform Tom’s baptism. As I look back on this, I can’t help but recall Jesus words, Mark 4:26-27 – He also said, “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.”

When we scatter the seed, we don’t know how or when it will grow. But we trust the promise and pray to see the fruits of eternal life. Praise be to the God of the Harvest!

Written by a lay evangelist in East Asia.

 

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Campus Ministry – Helping parents one worry at a time

My wife and I are blessed with three daughters. They are all in college this year! They attend Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., and Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. And while my wife and I are enjoying our new-found freedom of being “empty nesters,” we still worry about the kids. Who wouldn’t, right? Life outside of the nest can be exciting, but so challenging and spiritually dangerous at the same time.

That’s why I have always appreciated our WELS Campus Ministry program. For all of the worries that I have as a Christian parent as I send my kids off to “foreign lands” in the world of academia, I have found a partner in WELS Campus Ministry that calms my worried heart. Here’s a few of them to show you what I mean:

Worry #1 – My kids could lose their faith on a secular campus

The Kom family

I won’t lie. For all of the training that my kids have gone through with a Lutheran Elementary School, and Catechism classes and teen Bible studies and even the benefit of a WELS high school. . . I still worry that a secular institution could wipe all that out with some slick talk and well-placed peer pressure and what “experts” are now saying in their field of study. Mix in a little “new found freedom” of being on their own and it’s a recipe for disaster. (A dad’s mind tends to go to the worst case scenario!)

Enter WELS Campus Ministry. It was a group of all of four people that first year for our oldest daughter. But it was like gold for making connections, having a support group, and even having a real, live pastor in town to have as a sounding board and spiritual advisor when things came up. They would study relevant topics, books of the Bible and all sorts of other things that “popped up” during their week. It was a safe place to vent, get answers to difficult spiritual questions that may have come up in class that challenged their faith and to cultivate some friendships with some great students, some of whom had already been through the challenges that my daughter was seeing in class.

What a blessing for my kids! I don’t worry as much, just knowing that they have a spiritual support system in place that they can engage in while they are there.

Worry #2 – My kids could lose out on using their gifts and talents to serve God’s Church

I don’t know if this is true of every WELS Campus Ministry, but one of the things that had me pleasantly surprised was how they connected my kids to a local WELS/ELS congregation for worship opportunities and service opportunities. One of my kids plays the flute. Another plays the oboe. One sang in the traveling choir for high school and regularly sang solos and led singing in our worship services at home. I was worried that their gifts of service would get buried on a campus far, far away.

Enter WELS Campus Ministry. They connected my kids with local churches. One plays her flute for worship. Another has helped with hanging flyers on doors with their evangelism program. Another will be collaborating with the organist in the near future about solos and the music program at the church. It warms my heart as a parent to know that, not only will my kids be fed in their faith, but they also get to exercise their faith through our Campus Ministry as well.

May God continue to bless our WELS Campus Ministry as they serve our students. . . and their parents.

Written by Mark Kom, a WELS Campus Ministry students’ parent

Learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and sign students up at wels.net/campusministry.

 

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Bridging the gap to the Philippines

Maricel considers herself blessed that God has given her three children. Maricel considers herself blessed that God arranged it so that she met and married Robb after the death of her first husband. She also considers herself blessed to be living in the U.S., though she was born in the Philippines. But, her three children Drewayne, David, and Samantha are not currently living in the U.S; they are still living back in the Philippines.  Not only was she concerned about working out the details for Visas for Drewayne, David, and Samantha to join her in her new home in Green Bay, Wis., she was even more concerned that none of them had been baptized.

But it wasn’t as easy as simply bringing them to church for instruction and then setting a date for the baptism since they live in a different country. What do you do when an entire ocean is in between yourself, your kids and your spiritual responsibility? Maricel reached out to the pastor at the church she attends with her concerns. God quickly turned what seemed to be a big problem into a big opportunity once the Diaspora Ministry Facilitator was contacted. The Diaspora Ministry Facilitator is a new position entrusted with coordinating gospel opportunities by bridging the gap between prospects in the U.S. who have a connection to someone overseas with our WELS world mission teams, as well as helping Christians who have immigrated to the U.S. I, as the Diaspora Ministry Facilitator for Asia, contacted Pastor Alvien de Guzman in the Philippines to make him aware of the situation. After a few initial e-mails, contact was established between Maricel, Pastor de Guzman, and her family in the Philippines.

The date and time for the baptism were picked. Pastor de Guzman drove the three and a half hours to home of Drewayne, David, and Samantha and spoke the words “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” while sprinkling water on the three children. Although Maricel was halfway around the world she had the comfort of knowing that her children were receiving all the blessings that come from baptism. Pastor de Guzman was able to make contact with those living in an area he had not been able to do ministry in before.

The following Sunday Maricel and the congregation were able to rejoice together as they watched the video of the baptism during the Sunday morning church service, once again giving evidence of the truth of that God truly does love people “from every nation, tribe, people and language.”

Written by Leon Ehlert, Diaspora Ministry Facilitator for Asia

 

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Different mission field, same mission

Joey’s last day in the office

Last year, my husband and I decided to emigrate from Hong Kong to England after much discussion and prayers. One of my struggles is that I must leave the Hong Kong office of Multi-Language Productions (MLP) and my lovely colleagues. I had been working for Multi-Language Productions (MLP) as a full-time staff in Hong Kong for around 10 years, mainly translating, editing, and proofreading the layout of various books and Bible resources in the Chinese language. I enjoy the work very much and I would like to continue to serve God in this way. After discussing with Yvonne, my supervisor, and Nate Seiltz, director of MLP, and getting MLP’s approval, I continue working for MLP in the form of Contract Service.

Joey and her husband in the countryside of England after quarantine

My husband and I finally boarded the plane at the end of June this year. Due to COVID-19, we had to spend 10 days in a home quarantine after arriving in the United Kingdom. This was my first time in a quarantine. Thank God, a local friend gave us great help and made it easy for us to get through the 10 days.

Although the Hong Kong people used to receive British education and are familiar with the British culture, there are big differences between the East and West. I have also experienced various cultural differences. The most significant is the language. Not only are Chinese and English different, but British English and American English are also different, including pronunciation, spelling and the meaning of certain words etc. Besides, some people here speak in strong accents and even the local people can hardly understand.

In terms of food and drink, the choice of food, cooking methods, and serving ways are different. Bread is the staple food of Westerners while rice is our staple food. The food we often eat in Hong Kong may not be found in the United Kingdom.

In terms of housing, residential houses in the United Kingdom are generally larger than those in Hong Kong. When the United Kingdom people want to rent or buy a house, they will check how many rooms in the house, whereas Hong Kong people will check the saleable size of the house.

In the United Kingdom, pedestrians can cross the road first (in the circumstance without a traffic light), but it is the opposite in Hong Kong. In the early days after we arrived at the United Kingdom, we would stay on the pavement waiting for the car to pass. We were surprised that the car stopped, and the driver would give us a signal to ask us to go first.

After a month for settling down in the United Kingdom, I started to work in August. My job duties are translation and editing, and since we experienced work from home last year, I was able to perform my work as long as I have a computer and internet access. I thank God, who lets me continue to serve Him.

I’m now working on updating the Chinese Catalog and editing the People’s Bible – John. One of our goals is to produce good materials for the Christians in East Asia to help them understand the Bible better. To produce the Chinese version of the People’s Bible Series is one of the projects we want to achieve. May God give me strength to continue contribute on this big project.

Written by Joey Chow, translator and editor for Multi-Language Productions (MLP)


More than 20% of members (including Joey Chow and her husband) and two pastors from WELS’ sister church in Hong Kong, South Asia Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), have moved to the United Kingdom. Read more about the plans WELS World Missions is pursuing to place a missionary in London in this article from the Together e-newsletter.

 

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Starting a mission church

The prospect of starting a new mission church, while certainly exciting, can also lead to a lot of questions, not the least of which is simply how? That’s what we at Trinity in Crete, Ill. are going through right now. The town of Cedar Lake, right across the border in Indiana, is a fast-growing town with more and more housing developments popping up. We know it’s a great place to begin a new church to be able to tell more and more people about Jesus. Now, we get to start the process of trying to start one.

If this describes a similar situation for you, the first place to start is to contact your District Mission Board. They will be able to guide you in the right direction and provide you with the next steps to take, essentially walking you through the process. They’ll also put you in contact with a District Mission Counselor who will even be able to meet with you and check out the potential mission field and encourage you throughout the entire process.

But the next step is equally as important: gather a core group. These are the people who are committed to turning potential into reality. Before you have a location, before you have hard prospects, before you have a building, have a core group of people who are already actively doing ministry activities in the area. If you don’t have a location, start meeting in someone’s homes for group Bible studies. You’ll not only grow in the word, but your group will start to grow closer to one another as you bond to one another.

The smile bags Trinity Lutheran assembled and donated to the Cedar Lake Police Department for kids of all ages who are in difficult situations.

Start group activities like outreach events in the area or finding some way to actively get involved in the community. Maybe you’re able to do some sort of onsite worship – do it! Whether it’s time in the word, fellowship activities, service in the community letting your light shine, or whatever else you can come up with, have your core group do it and before you know it, they’ll be owning the ministry and mission church idea. Have them invite their neighbors, their friends, be involved in the community inviting them to any event you do because the stronger the core group is, the easier the next steps in the mission process come.

The Mission Board and the Mission Counselor will be able to guide you through the necessary steps to take after this, but the biggest thing you can spend your time investing in is your people – your core group. They’ll be the seeds that, God-willing, he’ll use to reap a new harvest in a new location as he continues to use us to advance his kingdom.

Written by Kendall Cook, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Crete, Illinois.

 

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Humane Technology for Lutheran Worship

There are plenty of reasons to be interested in the upcoming release of Christian Worship: Service Builder.

I could tell you how much time you’ll save. Producing a worship folder from a service plan takes mere minutes. I know you’ll want to use the extra time on visiting more prospects, memorizing your sermon better, preparing a better Bible class, or even getting home to your family earlier each day.

I could explain how Christian Worship: Service Builder will put the entire Christian Worship: Hymnal and Christian Worship: Psalter at your fingertips in a powerful and intuitive planning interface. I know you’re probably ready for a better way to work with a database of your thousands of digital worship files.

I know you’re probably weary of making slideshow decks every Sunday. You’ll be glad to hear that Christian Worship: Service Builder does that job for you as well. Of course, you also know you aren’t required to use that feature.1

I think you’ll also like the fact that Christian Worship: Service Builder supports custom libraries. All those files of yours scattered to the four winds of Dropbox and Drive will be organized into the unified planning and production engine at the heart of your congregation’s worship ministry.

At the launch of Christian Worship: Service Builder later this year you’ll be able to watch training videos that detail the delightful power the software delivers. You’ll even be able to set up a free trial to test drive Christian Worship: Service Builder yourself.2 And, really, that’s your best bet. You need to know what it’s like to use it. And once you’ve gotten a sense of what the software is and does, you’ll be happy to subscribe to the service. I won’t spend 2,000 words trying to convince you of something you just need to see for yourself.

I won’t spend 2,000 words trying to convince you of something you just need to see for yourself.

I will, however, spend 2,000 words on something that doesn’t fit nicely in the typical marketing materials for this kind of product. I want to explain how Christian Worship: Service Builder is a tool that stands in stark contrast to the way we typically encounter technology today. This is a tool that can be put to use building up the people of God instead of hollowing them out.

Technologies are not neutral

Technology seems to be a natural expression of our humanity. Already in Genesis 4 we meet Tubal-Cain, “who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” From tilling fields to constructing homes, such implements were put to use cultivating civilization.

Humans also use tools to kill. In the same chapter of Genesis we meet Lamech who boasted, “I have killed a man for wounding me.” While we don’t get the details, it seems safe to guess that Lamech had something either sharp or blunt to take care of the man who injured him.

This is a tool that can be put to use building up the people of God instead of hollowing them out.

But we don’t need a biblical narrative to confirm a truth that most people intuitively sense to be true: technologies are not neutral. They carry with them a kind of intent, but not something that arises from the nature of the tool itself. No, the intent arises from the human mind that designed the tool for a particular purpose. A plow tills not because the plow wants to till but because a person designed it to till. A blade kills not because the blade wants to kill but because a person designed it to kill. Tools are made for a purpose and work best when they are used according to their intended telos. Anyone who has tried to clean their ears with a screwdriver knows this.

Tools are powerful because they extend the relatively feeble capacity of what the human body can do. There’s a curious fact about mankind evident already in the beginning: the human mind can conceive far more than the human body can do. In this light, we can judge that the best technologies are the kind that not only aid us in our tasks but also invite us to participate more deeply in the kind of skillful effort that is both rewarding to the laborer and a benefit to others. This is humane technology in the formal sense of the word.

Discipleship in the attention economy

You can sense, as I do, that not all of our technologies are humane. In fact, the most lucrative and influential technologies of our day tend to be quite the opposite. The chief culprit right now is, of course, our social media. These technologies have been invented and engineered for a very particular purpose: to convert our time and attention into a commodity to richly benefit a few huge companies in California. We are beginning to see the harmful effects of such an all-out engineering effort. In fact, the whole topic has recently begun to stir the political pot in the United States. We’ve delegated that particular responsibility to our elected representatives, but we pastors do need to work out the implications of this so-called attention economy on the flock of Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that faithful discipleship requires believers to pay faithful attention to what matters most, usually in the form of, among other things, reading the Scripture, intercessory prayer, and then serving those for whom we pray. But reading, prayer, and service are not revenue-generating activities for the makers of our ubiquitous manipulative technologies. For all their claims to the contrary, companies like Facebook are not creating anything remotely close to what Christians have historically called “community.”

Furthermore, because the attention economy is so huge it feels like an inevitable fact instead of a contingent and deliberately-designed state of affairs. I also suspect that since so many of us have ourselves been converted into attention economy commodities we tend to discount the important counterexamples and counterarguments that point to the possibility of a different, more humane, approach to how technology fits in our lives and the lives of the people who belong to our congregations.

So you have the seemingly-invincible conclusion that in light of all this (here I gesture with my hands vaguely at, well, everything), what churches really need to do is get into the game and compete for attention. I suspect this is one reason why what was only an idea pre-Covid has gained serious traction ever since: that our churches now feel some degree of compulsion to transform themselves into media ministries.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. There is a vital place for modern media in the work of a local congregation. I’m not suggesting that you pull the plug on your website. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we think we’re going to compete with the likes of Facebook and Netflix at their own game, then we’re almost certainly mistaken.

The market for attention is a race to the bottom.

I’ve heard it said that Christians who see the church as a market are usually quite adept at sensing the winds of culture and setting the sails of ministry accordingly. This has produced some of the world’s best consumer churches, including some churches with charismatic leaders capable of getting a lot of attention in the form of likes and subscribes. But it also means that such Christians are largely unable to produce a consistent, counter-cultural witness when such a thing is needed. The market for attention is a race to the bottom. And the problem with a race to the bottom is that eventually you get there. The wiser course of action is to stay out of a race you can’t win and instead to train for one where you might have a real competitive advantage.

Technology to aid and invite the work of the church

So, what does this have to do with Christian Worship: Service Builder? Am I claiming that this hymnal software will somehow turn the tide and help churches cultivate faithful ways of living in our modern milieu? Sort of. And here’s why: Christian Worship: Service Builder is humane. Christian Worship: Service Builder is a technology that has been designed and engineered from first principles to be the kind of technology that aids and invites the kind of work that really matters, especially in the church.

Some of this is simply practical. I haven’t spent as much time as some of my colleagues trying out various worship planning and production systems, but I’ve kicked the tires on enough of them to reach some provisional conclusions. I’ve seen spreadsheets admirably refashioned from number-crunchers to worship planners. I’ve tested some of the more popular worship planning platforms out there. I’ve attempted to invent my own ways of automating the whole process. But nothing works quite the way I’d like it to. In the case of popular planning platforms, the cause is usually the design. Most programs assume the primary model of Christian worship is preparing a setlist of popular but often ephemeral Christian songs for a band to perform before the pastor comes on stage to talk for 45 minutes. The idea that there are texts to be read aloud or spoken by the congregation is foreign to the typical worship software available today. Entire aspects of Lutheran worship don’t fit because they were never part of the design conversation. And in the case of spreadsheets and databases, you can certainly do a lot with them to plan worship, but the production side of things still requires significant effort in other applications like Word or Pages. (Some are even still using Publisher, or so I hear.)

Christian Worship: Service Builder dramatically simplifies the worship planning and production process by providing automation where it’s needed most: in the busy work that isn’t the real work. Does anyone really think the real work of worship is cropping TIFFs? Do we really need to spend time copying and pasting texts? You may like the system you’ve cobbled together, but is your job title really Systems Administrator? (The answer to each of these questions is no.) By delivering significant productivity gains to aid the production side of things, Christian Worship: Service Builder is able to invite the pastor planning worship to put his skills to use in a way that is more rewarding for both him and the people he is called to serve.

Does anyone really think the real work of worship is cropping TIFFs?

Consider someone with gifts in planning excellent services. Christian Worship: Service Builder will free him to work more creatively with the rich resources available in Christian Worship (and his congregation’s custom library of materials). Now consider someone whose gifts lie in other areas. Christian Worship: Service Builder will allow him to rely, by default, on the wisdom and skill embedded in the content of the hymnal and the recommendation engine within Christian Worship: Service Builder. And because Christian Worship: Service Builder has powerful sharing tools, pastors and other worship planners will be able to share worship plans with one another easily. I envision healthy cooperatives in which a pastor with a well-deserved reputation as a good worship planner shares his gifts with others via Christian Worship: Service Builder. This is the good kind of sharing; not a lazy commons of miscellaneous materials but the genuine fruit of professional craftsmanship. This kind of sharing can free colleagues to do what they are better suited to do, like preaching, teaching, counseling, evangelism, and the like. A technology that aids with busy work and invites skilled effort will be a benefit for many.

Now, before I conclude, please allow me to point out the philosophical forest that consists of these practical trees. At the heart of this whole endeavor is the conviction that what’s needed for the people of God to flourish is not just automation and efficiency but invitation and embodiment. Indeed, one result of Christian worship is the cultivation of something in God’s people that cannot be outsourced, digitized, automated, or commoditized.

Consider this. Why do we call the mountains “lofty”? Why do they inspire us? In comparison to the total scope of the universe, mountains are anything but lofty. But we call them “lofty” because our perception of them is shaped by our own embodied stature. Because we are five-foot-something or thereabouts we experience mountains as the kind of places where we can enter into their beauty—but only with significant, yet rewarding, effort. For a disembodied consciousness the idea of “lofty” is emptied of its meaning and becomes nothing but a pure formality with all the excitement of an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. Apart from embodiment we have no real capacity to know what it’s like to call mountains “lofty” in this way.

Much the same applies to an array of Christian concepts. Take the command to show love and mercy to the weak and vulnerable, for example. A person who grows accustomed to disembodiment will have, over time (and maybe even quite quickly), a diminished capacity to show such mercy. Why? Because that person’s capacity to understand what mercy even is will be diminished. Looking into the eyes of a vulnerable person is a valuable Christian practice because doing so is to see yourself as you might be, indeed, as you will be. To gather together over the long years of Christian life is to see one another suffer from calamity, to succumb to illness, to grow weak with age—or maybe just to have really bad breath.

One of the central myths of our society is to pretend that such things don’t happen. We devote untold resources to shielding ourselves from the reality of suffering and weakness. And all this investment in avoidance yields a society that might prefer the death of the weak and suffering rather than to care for them. We must see these things in the flesh if we want to grow in our capacity to show mercy. We need to understand what “weak” means by knowing what it’s like to see weakness, to be weak. Weakness is a sight, a sense, a smell, not just a data point or definition.

Of course, worship is about more than seeing each other grow old; this is just one aspect of a multi-faceted subject. But, please, reflect on this deeply if you want to understand a bit more why the Holy Spirit instructs his church to not give up meeting together. This isn’t about moving your worship statistics from in-person to online. This is about inviting God’s people to grow in their ability to be, well, humane—as God has called them to be.

Core Lutheran intuitions are engineered into the interface.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the upcoming release of Christian Worship: Service Builder, not the least of which is that this is software designed for the particular purposes of Christian worship. This is a tool that matters not because it’s clever or trendy or economical. This is a tool that matters because it supports the redemptive invitation of Christian worship and the Lutheran tradition. Deep Christian convictions are baked into the assumptions of the program. Core Lutheran intuitions are engineered into the interface. It’s built to aid and invite the pastor in his work so he can invite the people of God to learn more and more what it’s like to be the people of God. This is no small thing.

Put technology to use, especially the humane kind, the kind that helps to make congregations into outposts of Christ’s kingdom on earth, the places where there is more than good content to consume online, the places where there are warm fires and comfortable chairs and generous meals and merciful people who know and serve one another even as they know and serve their Lord Jesus Christ.

By Caleb Bassett

Pastor Bassett serves at Redeemer, Fallbrook, CA. He is a member of the WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee and chairman of the project’s Technology Committee.


1 See “Projection in Worship” at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-intro-presentations for resources to evaluate pros and cons of projecting liturgy and hymns. The editor’s congregation is currently building a new church. Design criteria for projection include: 1) positioning does not detract from focus on the primary symbols of the means of grace in the chancel, and 2) design/location must not suggest that projection should regularly be used for liturgy and hymns. (Large monitors that dominate the chancel beg not to be empty). Inquiries are welcome. B Gerlach.

2 Last summer a very modest early release of Service Builder was made available to assist those who do long-range worship planning. This release provided the new lectionary—readings, psalm, Prayer of the Day, Gospel Acclamation, and Hymn of the Day. This enables even those who are not yet purchasing the new hymnal to use the new lectionary.


Service Builder and Books

With Service Builder’s remarkable power to include everything in the worship folder, why use printed hymnals at all? And why sing hymns from the book rather than a worship folder? An article on this topic is available at the link in the first endnote. Here’s a short summary.

  • The new hymnal is expertly designed and the content is carefully curated. These attributes communicate to worshipers and visitors alike a sense of rootedness in the church.
  • Hymnals are durable and last many years in a variety of worship settings.
  • Hymnals allow singing in harmony. Copyright restrictions prohibit the printing or projection of harmony parts in hymns.
  • Hymnals are a one-time investment that also reduce the annual cost of Service Builder.

 


 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Preach the Word – The Gospels: The Center of the Gospel

Preaching on the First or Second Reading with the Day’s Gospel in Mind

1 – The Gospels: The Center of the Gospel

The gospel is the good news that God forgives sins and saves sinners. This is good news because without this news the news is bad: God condemns sin and destroys sinners. Lutheran preachers make the gospel the priority of their preaching because the good news is the best news a sinner could ever hear.

The Bible communicates the good news in a variety of pictures. The good news is that God and sinners are reconciled; sinners are at one with God. The good news is that sinners are redeemed; they are bought back from the slavery of sin and the dungeon of destruction and restored as God’s children. The good news is that sinners are justified; God declares that sinners have a new status in his sight, a status in which he sees them as holy and blameless. Lutheran preachers use these and dozens of other Bible pictures to announce the good news.

The gospel is more than news, however. It is also power. In a way that we preachers cannot grasp, the Holy Spirit employs the good news to lead sinners to believe the good news. By the power of the gospel sinners come to trust what they have no right or reason to believe. As the gospel invades their minds and hearts, believers begin to understand the depth of God’s love. They gain courage in trouble, strength in weakness, confidence in prayer, joy in obedience, and hope for a life with God that never ends. As they preach the good news, Lutheran preachers provide the Spirit an opportunity to change the lives of sinners as he wishes and wills.

Lutheran preachers also preach the bad news, the law. The bad news clarifies the realities of sin. The law is not what the sinner wants, but what God wills. Obedience to the law is not a maybe but a must. Condemnation for sin is not a possibility but an absolute. The law does not coddle but warns. Without the preaching of the law, the gospel is ho hum and so what. The gospel will not be sweet until the law becomes putrid in the sinner’s soul.

Law and gospel. These two teachings, the most important truths of the Bible, must form the heart and core of the preacher’s sermon. Jesus, Paul, and Luther exemplified law and gospel preaching. C.F.W. Walther wrote a book about it.1 The absolute goal of Lutheran preaching is to announce and apply the law and let it do its work and to announce and apply the gospel and let the Spirit do his work. No greater epitaph can placed on a preacher’s headstone than this: He preached the law and the gospel.

The center of the gospel is Jesus, the Son of God from all eternity and then, in time, even this time, the son of Mary. The righteous God cannot forgive, reconcile, redeem, or justify without Jesus. The God-man stands at center of the Bible: everything before him foretold his coming; everything after him explained his coming. What the serpent first heard after Eden, Moses, David, and the prophets anticipated and announced. The Alpha and the Omega John saw in his vision of the future is he who walked with the apostles in time. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

So what did Jesus do and what did Jesus say that qualifies him to be center of the Scriptures and the central character of human history? The Spirit tells us this in the Gospels. What the apostles proclaimed in the days following Pentecost, four men, guided by the Spirit, wrote down some years later. Each man’s central character was Jesus, although each man, guided by the Spirit, told the story from a different perspective. Together these four, two apostles and two apostolic co-workers, presented the life and times of Jesus so that we are able to see how reconciliation, atonement, redemption, and justification were achieved. They present to us the Savior in his dual nature as divine and human. They assert that he was the one God had promised in the past. They point out his perfect obedience to the law in the place of sinners. They describe his desired use of baptism and his institution of the holy meal. With extraordinary detail they note the innocence of his suffering and the stark reality of his death as payment for sin. All proclaim his resurrection and the final days of his time on earth. Besides recording his deeds, each Gospel writer added thousands of words from the Savior’s own lips which announced the realities of sin and the good news of forgiveness. John alludes to all these words and works of Jesus when he writes at the end of his Gospel: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

Of course, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not the only Bible writers who knew the Savior’s words and works. Moses promised a prophet, David could envision a king, Isaiah described the suffering servant and his ultimate sacrifice. Zechariah could see the donkey, Micah knew about Bethlehem, and Malachi saw the Baptizer, but everything they saw and heard described the God-man who would work and teach in Palestine for 33 years. Peter proclaimed the universality of his Savior’s kingdom, Paul explained justification by grace and faith alone, and John described love as the essential feature of fellowship with God, but they all based their words and their faith on what Jesus said and did. And what Jesus said and did is recorded in the Gospels.

Much of Christian and Lutheran preaching over the centuries has proclaimed the gospel on the basis of accounts from the Gospels.

It does not surprise, therefore, that much of Christian and Lutheran preaching over the centuries has proclaimed the gospel on the basis of accounts from the Gospels. The first Christians replaced the betrayer with a man who had been with the apostles “the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). The same believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Peter’s sermons after Pentecost inevitably led to the words and works of Jesus; Paul’s sermons do, too (the notable exception being the Areopagus mission sermon). The early church fathers, including Ambrose and Augustine, regularly preached on the Gospel appointed for Sundays and the great festivals.2 Almost all of Luther’s published sermons, at least in the American Edition, are based on Gospel texts, although much of his preaching took place within the context of the Sunday Gottesdienst where it was expected that the historic Gospel would serve as the day’s text. This expectation remained in place at least in Europe until 19th century, often dictated by provincial consistories. Good Lutheran preachers even in WELS seem not to have hesitated to preach on the historic Gospel every Sunday. One gets the impression from personal conversations that many of today’s WELS preachers still preach on the appointed Gospel texts more often than on Old Testament and Epistle selections.

For hundreds of years, the choice of the Gospel text was as much pragmatic as it was principled. At least on Sundays, the historic Epistle was the only other possibility.3 In an effort to relieve some of the monotony, Lutheran churchmen offered alternate series of preaching texts with the claim, however, that these were intended to match the historic Gospels. Old Testament texts chosen to accompany the historic Epistles and Gospels were generally buried in small print (cf. The Lutheran Hymnal, pp. 159-161) or reference works (cf. The Lutheran Liturgy, p. 459 ff.4). In most cases, Old Testament texts were reserved for occasional services.

The introduction of the three-year series, offered by Roman Catholics in 1967 and then in revision by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship in 1973, suggested a new pattern. The liturgical rites created in that era included three readings on Sunday, one from the Old Testament, a second from one of the Epistles (or Acts during the Easter Season), and the third from one of the Gospels. Perhaps with more intensity than previously, our professors encouraged their students to rotate the three texts in preaching. Rotate we did in a variety of ways. The most efficient rotators preached equally on all three selections, e.g., Old Testament texts in Advent, Epistles over Christmas, Gospels during Epiphany, etc. Others followed the same sequence Sunday by Sunday. In many cases the believers in the pew heard as many sermons based on prophetic texts and teaching texts as sermons based on the words and works of Jesus.

Of course, there was value in this. Preachers were able to proclaim law and gospel to their hearers by means of Old Testament history and prophecies. They explained Old Testament history and its messianic implications. Preachers used Epistle texts to detail theological intricacies and applied them to the Christian life. The lectio continua nature of the initial set of Epistles enabled preachers to work through a single letter over a series of Sundays and highlight its content as they might do in a Bible class. The selected Gospels offered more of the words and works of Christ than the historic series had.

Much of preaching was unaffected by this change in mood. Preachers still based their text studies on the original languages and relied on the historical-grammatical method of textual interpretation as they had been taught at the seminary. The preacher proclaimed law and gospel through Isaiah’s pen and Paul’s writing as well as he had when preaching the words and works of Jesus. Preaching remained expositional and propositional as it had always been. In some cases, however, what came to be missing were the words and works of Jesus. Not on the festivals, of course. One can hardly preach on Jonah’s prayer from Jonah 2 on Easter without a focus on the resurrected Christ. The preacher simply can’t focus on the messenger who brought good news to Jerusalem (Isaiah 52) on Christmas Day without including the messenger who is Christ. But other Sundays don’t force such a connection. Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi’s God doesn’t require comparison with the leper’s decision return to give thanks and confess his faith. One can preach on Paul’s storm experience in Acts 27 without mentioning the storm on the Sea of Galilee which Jesus calmed.

Perhaps with more intensity than previously, our professors encouraged their students to rotate the three texts in preaching.

As the years passed as a regular preacher and as I taught seminary Middlers how to preach on Old Testament and Epistle texts, I began to wonder if it is possible to preach on the First or Second Readings assigned to a Sunday and connect them to the Gospels appointed for the day. In other words, can the preacher remain faithful to legitimate homiletical principles of exposition and proposition and yet enable the text to focus also on the words and works of Jesus? When the three readings are carefully chosen, can the preacher find a legitimate connection between the First or Second Reading and the day’s Gospel and can he include both the focus of the preaching text and the day’s Gospel in the sermon? I have no desire to compromise the truths or the settings of the readings; I do sense a desire to connect them to the words and works of Jesus. As an every-Sunday preacher again, I have opportunities to test this concept.

Can the preacher find a legitimate connection between the First or Second Reading and the day’s Gospel and can he include both the focus of the preaching text and the day’s Gospel in the sermon?

The Preach the Word articles which follow this introduction will explore this idea. Sections of a sermon based on 1 Kings 3:5-12, appointed to accompany the Gospel from Matthew 13:44-52 (Proper 12 of Year A in the new hymnal lectionary), provide an example of what this series means to explore.

 

Written by James Tiefel

Prof. Tiefel, now Pastor Tiefel, serves two small congregations in Mequon, WI, in semi-retirement. Over a 35-year career at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary he taught classes in worship and preaching. As an every-Sunday preacher once again, he is able to combine many of the concepts he taught in the classroom with practical experience.


I want to tell you a story you’ve all heard before. There was this guy and he was out for a walk, just looking around at the trees and the flowers and the big blue sky. All of the sudden he tripped and almost fell on his face. He figured it was a root or a stone, but when he looked it was a box, an old, beat up wooden box. He bent down and opened the cover—the lock had rusted away a long ago—and what he saw he couldn’t believe. He’d been in plenty of jewelry stores, but he’d never seen anything like this. What to do. He couldn’t offer to buy the stuff; it was obviously priceless. He wasn’t going to steal it, although the box was way too old to belong to the young farmer who owned the land. He was going to do this legally. He raced into town, got together every dime and dollar he owned, made an offer, bought the field and he got the treasure. You know why. The treasure mattered. It changed his life.

Here’s another story; you heard this one, too. He was a purveyor of pearls, those creamy white oval stones you find inside oyster shells. This guy knew pearls backwards and forwards; he knew the difference between fake and genuine and even between low quality and high quality. So one day, he found a pearl like he had never seen before. It had uncommon luster, brilliant color, and perfect shape. The price tag was outlandish, but he got together every dime and dollar he owned, made an offer, and he got the pearl. And you know why. The pearl mattered. It changed his life.

You know both of these stories because you heard Jesus tell them in today’s Gospel. The parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price are two of the seven parables Jesus told his followers in one fairly long sermon. Jesus made the same simple point in both parables: Search for what really matters in life and then do what needs to be done to own it and keep it.

So what really matters in life? Well, we all know the answer. We’re Christians and faith tells us what matters. The trouble is that our brains and our emotions don’t always follow faith. The line between what matters and what doesn’t matter gets blurred. Health matters, relaxation matters, possessions matter, education matters. And even if we know in our hearts what really matters, we struggle to pay the price to gain it and guard it.

The man in the field, the man in the jewelry store, and a man in Gibeon all teach us the same truth. You know the man in Gibeon, too, because you heard about him in the First Reading. The man is Solomon, the king of Israel, and his story isn’t a parable. It’s an actual event that took place at the very beginning of his reign. The story begins when God comes to the new king and says, Ask for whatever you want me to give you. Solomon’s response reminds us of this truth:

What We Want Is What Matters

1. Solomon almost didn’t get to be king. Even before his father David died there were palace intrigues and military coups that could have kept Solomon off the throne and maybe even left him dead. But Solomon was David’s choice and even more he was God’s choice and that settled it. Solomon proved himself the be the right choice. He showed his love for the Lord by following David’s instructions and by honoring God with his obedience and respect.

But he was young, probably only 20, when he became king. He had almost no experience. The nation of Israel was an emerging empire and surrounded by jealous monarchies. And ruling over 5,000,000 people—about the population of Wisconsin—who were notorious for being surly and stubborn would have intimidated anyone. So when the Lord invited Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted, this is what Solomon said, Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?

1 C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, W.H.T. Dau, translator (St. Louis: Concordia, 1927).
2 M. F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).
3 A stack of sermon outlines created by noted WELS pastor Carl Gausewitz indicates Gausewitz preached on the historic Epistles and Gospels throughout the entire year in alternating years, apparently with the same outline.
4 Luther Reed’s classic study of Lutheran worship was published by Fortress Press, Philadelphia, in 1947.


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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Finding a way to gather

David works in a sausage factory in Finland. Ingvar delivers the mail in Sweden. Artur teaches history in the local university in Portugal. Not only are the European CELC (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Synod) pastors scattered across a dozen countries, many serve as “tent ministers.” They preach and teach on weekends and support themselves with secular work during the week. (St. Paul was the original “tent minister.” See Acts 18:3.)

Tent ministry saps time and energy for serving souls. It also limits face-to-face meetings for professional growth and encouragement.

Early this past spring, Pastor Holger Weiss (Germany) and Pastor Ingvar Adriansson (Sweden) were struggling to organize logistics for study and fellowship. By tradition European pastors gather for a regional conference and/or Summer Quarter study. But this year borders were closed. Travel was nearly impossible. So, Holger and Ingvar proposed a workaround: “Let’s organize an online study with time to share news and pray for each other!”

Using the theme: “Worldwide Judgment and Deliverance: Then and Now,” local pastors supplied four Bible studies on the early chapters of Genesis. About twenty different participants prepared for online meetings by viewing videos ahead of time. Then we gathered to share observations and discuss practical application for life and ministry. The format was so interesting that small-group discussion time came to be known as “The Fastest Fifteen Minutes of the Week.”

After small group and plenary discussion, we shared news and prayed for each other. It seems Pastor Artur Villares from Portugal is dealing with the greatest blessings and challenges.

First the good news. After years of dialogue with an LC-MS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) trained pastor from Brazil, the Portuguese church finally colloquized Rev. Denício Márcio Godoy and received him into fellowship. Denício (pictured in photo above) lives in Belo Horizonte, population 6 million, the 18th largest city in the Americas. What an outreach center! The pastors in our Zoom meeting welcomed Denício and wished him well before our connection was cut. Please pray that God will soon reopen travel to Brazil!

Please keep Pastor Canoa in your prayers as he recovers from the stroke and God-willing continues to serve the flock in Lisbon

We have another reason to pray for our brothers and sisters in Portugal. Antonio Canoa, the only other pastor in the Portuguese church, recently suffered a crippling stroke. At this point Antonio is unable to serve his congregation in Lisbon. Artur, who lives four hours north in Porto, is doing his best to keep in touch with church members online. Please pray that God would care for Antonio and his people in Lisbon. Please pray also for the Portuguese speakers Antonio was befriending in Europe, Africa, and South America.

Travel restrictions might prevent us from seeing each other, but nothing can limit our Savior’s mighty gospel call! Help us, Lord! We trust in You.

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Europe

 

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Pakuwa Pakhawa (Hope Realized)

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog, from September 7, 2021. 

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end so that what you hope for may be fully realized (Hebrews 6:11).

In November 2019 I was ready to pack my bags and move to Nairobi. Then COVID-19 ended all international travel. One Africa Team Missionaries canceled all their planned trips to Uganda, Liberia, and other parts of Africa – full stop. But the global pandemic didn’t stop God’s kingdom or the gospel ministry of the LCMC (The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Kenya from moving forward.

The LCMC (The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Kenya declared fellowship with the WELS in the summer of 2019. Due to the pandemic, no WELS representatives paid them a formal visit. Some LCMC Kenya members wondered if they truly enjoyed a relationship with other confessional Lutherans outside of Kenya. They had to hope that their leaders were telling them the truth.

For 21 months, I kept in touch with One Africa Team’s ministry partners in Kenya from a distance. I helped coordinate ministry support from 1,200 miles away in Malawi, using e-mail, instant messaging platforms, and online teleconferencing. I received regular updates and phone calls. I taught Biblical Greek to students I had never met in person. Since I’ve always believed that “the house going pastor makes a church-going people,” I questioned my own effectiveness. I had to hope that God was in charge.

There was evidence of activity: photos of church building projects, expense reports, and videos of joyful church dedications. There was evidence of progress. There was evidence of financial support. But can a long-distance relationship last without meeting face to face?

In August 2021, One Africa Team leader Howard Mohlke and I visited our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Kenya. We wanted to solidify our partnership. We also wanted to give the members of the LCMC Kenya a chance to say, “Thank you” in person. There is a phrase in the Luo language that captures the goal of our visit. “Pakuwa pakhawa” means, “Our hope has been realized.”

Masaai Land

The area around Nairobi is the homeland of the Masaai people, who traditionally were hunter-gatherers and raised livestock. Near the Masaai town of Ngong, Pastor Frank Koyo serves a Masaai congregation at Olissi Lutheran Church. The church building is located at the end of a dirt path on top of a mountain. It is a most beautiful, if not remote place from which you can see the surrounding countryside. A Finnish Lutheran missionary helped the congregation put up a simple tin shack. Built a decade ago, it is still in pretty good shape. Pastor Koyo works as a plumber and has to walk down a steep hill to catch a bus to town. During the rainy season, the road is so slippery that it is impassable even on foot.

About 45 minutes away by car is Kibiku, the location of another Masaai congregation that is currently inactive.

Masaai members of Elkimasek LCMC Kenya

Since there’s no road, we made our own path up a hilltop. We found a Pentecostal church put up next to the Lutheran chapel. Pastor Koyo was serving the church but eventually stopped since the congregation’s offerings didn’t cover the cost of his transportation. The harvest is great, but the workers are few.

We then drove about two hours to another Masasi congregation in Elkimasek. Before his death, a member of the LCMC Kenya donated his land for a church building. A dozen or so adult men and women greeted us under a shade tree. The arid land sits on a volcanic plain where sheep and goats graze on scrub grass. The closest elementary school is 6 km away. Students occasionally encounter elephants and hyenas on their morning walk to class.

Western Kenya

God Miaha LCMC Kenya

There is a large concentration of LCMC congregations in Western Kenya. We drove seven hours from Nairobi to the town of Sondu. We passed through mountain forests, deserts, and huge fields of wheat and corn. We saw lush tea plantations and hills covered with cultivated farm plots. Some parts of Kenya are in the rain shadow and receive little or no rain throughout the year. Other areas are perpetually dripping with rain.

God Miaha is a beautiful chapel in the woods. Patrice Omolo recovered from a near-fatal illness in 2014. He vowed to finish constructing a church building for the congregation that his parents founded. Such thankful giving is evidence that gospel hope produces real fruits of faith.

Mr. Mzee donated the land for St. Peter’s LCMC Kenya

The members of Ramba Lutheran Church worship in a metal shack they constructed by themselves on rented land. It’s located next to a noisy indigenous Africa Christian congregation. Their whose members were banging on drums and metal bars the whole time we were there. But the Kenyan Lutherans didn’t seem to notice their next-door neighbors. They hope someday to buy land and build their own permanent structure.

One of the churches that WELS funds helped to build is St. Peter’s in Kindu town. The congregation began meeting under a shade tree. They started building on land donated by Mr. Mzee, who was in attendance along with a dozen or so of his relatives when we visited. WELS helped the congregation put a roof on their sanctuary, just in time before the rainy season begins.

Former Zambia Missionary Dan Sargent wrote a blog post that featured Nyang’un Lutheran Church. The congregation has 120 members, half of which are widows. Many men age 25-45 died in the AIDS/HIV epidemic, leaving their wives and families behind. But the WELS has not abandoned LCMC Kenya. Our visit proves that LCMC Kenya has fellowship with Lutherans outside of their country.

WELS funds helped complete the construction of a chapel for the members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the village of Ponge. The owner of the land where they were intending to build their church refused to join the LCMC Kenya. The majority of the members left and began building on another piece of land donated by an older woman. Samson Mambo, one of my Greek students, serves as their evangelist.

Preaching in Luo

I miss the privilege of preaching to a congregation every week. I was overjoyed and grateful that the members of St. Peter’s LCMC invited me to present a message from God’s word at their Sunday worship service. LCMC Kenya treasurer Paul Mboya picked me up from my bungalow in his Honda Odyssey. It’s not a vehicle built for dirt roads. He wound around in a corkscrew pattern to avoid the worst parts of the route. We left the minivan safely parked a quarter of a mile away from the sanctuary.

Othoro LCMC Kenya

The congregation conducts its worship services in the Luo language, so the pastor translated my English sermon sentence by sentence. I spoke on the gospel lesson from John 6. Jesus told his followers they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to live forever. The text goes on to say that most of the people abandoned Jesus after hearing this. So many people hope that God will perform miracles and shower financial blessings on them. This is a false theology of glory. True hope is found on the way of the cross, with real suffering and a real reward at the end. Jesus will remain with us forever.

After the service, we passed by the LCMC Kenya congregation in Othoro. These people started meeting on a rented piece of land. Then the owner forced them off of it when they joined the LCMC Kenya. They have made a down payment on a plot of land. It sits in the middle of a cornfield, where they have erected a simple chapel. They want to build a permanent structure after they finish paying for the land.

Leaders’ Workshop

We met with local LCMC Kenya leaders for a workshop at Kadie Lutheran Church. I presented a Bible study on Biblical principles of stewardship. Missionary Howard Mohlke gave a presentation on Church and Ministry. LCMC Leader Rev. Mark Onunda summarized what we said in Swahili because many of the older attendees did not speak any English at all.

Richard Ombuyi serves Erandi LCMC Kenya

The leaders’ workshop was a perfect opportunity to share God’s Word digitally. We gave each attendee a microSD memory card with audio Bibles and the JESUS film in both Swahili and English. Most of the people had either a phone or a tablet with a memory slot. Some of the card slots were under the phone battery. Other phones had a tray that ejects when a metal pin is inserted into a hole. I improvised with a staple that I straightened out with my pocket tool.

Immediately after we installed the cards the room was filled with the sounds of the Bible and the JESUS film. Each card came with an 8 GB memory capacity, of which half was taken up with the prerecorded content. That allowed users to download other digital content that I had brought with me on a separate device. It’s a local wifi hub that serves as a digital library with 160 GB of Bible commentaries, movies, and music. WELS Multi-Language Productions made these gifts possible.

On the way back to Nairobi we stopped at Nyamarimba church. The building is a simple brick structure with mud daubed walls and iron sheet roofs. It is located on the property of one of the members. We also swung by Erandi, Rev. Mark Onunda’s home village. He started a congregation because the local Lutheran pastor wouldn’t let them use the church for his son’s funeral.

Nairobi

Mwingi LCMC Kenya future sanctuary (left) and current chapel (right)

We held a second leaders’ workshop in Nairobi. The attendees knew English so Rev. Onunda didn’t have to translate into Swahili. Their spiritual maturity about the opportunities and challenges of raising support for church work made an impression on me. They understand that stewardship is a matter of the heart, not technique.

Mwingi village is located about 3.5 hours east of Nairobi. It is a dry and dusty place where water is precious. WELS is helping the local congregation of 80 families complete a permanent structure. By themselves, they had laid the foundation and built up the wall about 3 feet off the ground.

I finished my visit to Kenya the same way I finished my first visit in 2019. I preached at the LCMC congregation in the town of Kitengela. A lot has happened since then. Three church leaders, including the pastor, went home to heaven. Because of COVID, the Kenyan government stopped churches from meeting for seven months. Because the congregation in Kitengela did not meet, they were in arrears in their rent payments. The landlord placed a padlock on their front door. After two months, the members came up with the money they owed. They hope to purchase a plot of land and put up their own building.

The members of the LCMC Kenya have great hope for their church body’s future. They have taken advantage of their own members’ resources. They also enjoy the assistance of their ministry partners in the WELS. The members of the LCMC Kenya are working hard to turn hope into reality.

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

To view more photos from the trip to Africa, you can visit the Flickr site.

 

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A ripe mission field right next door

In Racine and Milwaukee, Wis., the school voucher program has opened many new and exciting opportunities to connect children and families to Means of Grace ministry. WELS Home Missions and the Southeast Wisconsin District Mission Board are helping in these efforts! Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee received funding from WELS Home Missions for a full-time School Pastor. A year later, Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine received funding for a full-time School Chaplain.

At Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Pastor Paul Krueger serves as the school outreach pastor. Pastor Krueger spearheads the efforts of the faculty and members of the congregation to reach families in the school. Similar work is taking place at Wisconsin Lutheran School where school Chaplain Mark Blauert leads efforts to connect children and families to Water of Life and First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Racine.

Mount Lebanon Lutheran School, Milwaukee, Wis.
“Our mission field is right next door across the parking lot in our school building; they are parents and grandparents in cars waiting to pick up their children from school,” says Pastor Krueger.

Over half of the school families at Mount Lebanon do not have a church home.

“We have children who are hearing everyday in classrooms about their Savior in devotions, Catechism classes, and in chapel. The children are excited and love to learn Bible stories and about their Savior! Mount Lebanon‘s congregation has its eyes on expanding this mission field to include the whole family – the moms and dads, aunts and uncles, the grandparents, and the siblings of our school children. Volunteers from church spend many hours in the school, church members plan outreach events, pray for, and adopt school families as they engage in great commission work. It is truly awesome to see the excitement for outreach ministry in the heart of Milwaukee.”

This excitement can be seen as members of the faculty and volunteers from the church come together for Bible study. After the study, they make calls to each family in the school. These conversations with parents of the school build relationships, lead to prayer, and include an invitation to church, small group Bible studies, and church outreach events. Outreach is truly a church and school effort.

Pastor Nate Bourman, lead pastor at Mount Lebanon, highlights this church and school joint effort, “Mount Lebanon church and school are really one community – a community with many parts but with one faith, one ministry, and really one family.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis.
In Racine, Chaplain Blauert focuses on building bridges from the school to the church. “We are always looking for an excuse to invite families of the school to church. Whether it is before or after school, at sporting events, or at parent teacher conferences, we are seeking to connect school families with our church and its members.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School offers Christian parenting Bible classes as a bridge to Bible information classes, baptism, and church membership. The brief Bible study takes place in the morning and allows parents to drop off their children and stay to study and be in God’s Word. “There is great excitement in seeing how the Holy Spirit works – parents and children are being baptized,” says Chaplain Blauert. With one-third of school families not having a church home, the mission field is ripe in Racine.

Where is the next ripe mission field?
The school voucher program has opened up new opportunities for outreach in Racine and Milwaukee. These unique gospel opportunities are why WELS Home Missions and the District Mission Board exist. Both boards seek to help churches and schools reach more people. If you see a ripe mission field, contact a member of your District Mission Board to explore a partnership in reaching more with the life-changing gospel!

“Every one of our Lutheran elementary schools is a ripe mission field that’s right next door,” comments Mission Board chairman, Pastor Michael Zarling. “Our Southeastern District Mission Board is excited to partner with churches and schools to develop a strategy to harvest these precious souls for Christ’s Kingdom.”

Written by Ryan Finkbeiner, principal at Mount Lebanon, in Milwaukee, Wis.

 

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Mission Journey to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”- Matthew 28:19-20

The eight teens that attended the Mission Journey trip

This passage tells us as believers what we are to do. This summer, eight teens and two adults from Immanuel in Gibbon, Minn., and St. John in Fairfax, Minn., did just that. Our Mission Journeys team volunteered to go door to door in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to help The Vine Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation that started in 2016.

The teens’ goal was to spread the gospel and see if people were aware of The Vine. They received two hours of training and then were sent out door to door with “a free pasta dinner” from The Vine.

One lady was so grateful for the large bag of groceries that tears fell down her face. With three children surrounding her, she told our team that she recently had a miscarriage and was struggling emotionally. They came at the perfect time. Another lady told a team that their family was struggling financially. She was so touched by the gesture, that she asked to be invited to participate the next time they delivered free bags of food.

One team came across a lady who expressed great concern about her brother who has pancreatic cancer. She asked the teen group if they could pray for him. Two teens immediately accepted and led a prayer at the door on behalf of her brother. Amazing!

Dave Malnes from Praise and Proclaim Ministries training the teens

An elderly woman greeted another team at the door. Once she found out that the team was from a church, she excused herself to find her boyfriend inside. A man came out and quickly sat in a lawn chair to tell a captivating story of how he was in a bad motorcycle accident and almost died. They were very interested in coming to The Vine and appreciated the personal invitation.

At the last house of the day, a team knocked on a door that looked a bit suspicious. Since they had an adult with them, they decided to go and knock on the door. A man answered the door, and it turned out to be a very positive conversation. It was apparent that he had a religious background but had probably not stepped inside a church for a long time. He expressed great interest in The Vine and gave the team his contact information. Things are not always as they seem!

Whitewater rafting

In addition to going door-to-door, the teens got to enjoy some of the things that northern Idaho has to offer. They hiked in the evenings, swam at Hayden Lake, ate “googys” (ice cream sundaes big enough to feed five people), visited Silverwood Amusement park, whitewater rafted in Montana on the way home, and saw bison in Yellowstone.

The teens visited over 500 houses and had 75 opportunities to share the gospel with the people they met. All around it was a great trip for our teens to grow in faith, share God’s Word, and see a different part of the United States.

Written by Anna Endorf, Mission Journeys team chaperone

 

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Growing God’s children

I blame Adam and Eve.

Among all the problems that sprung up when they just HAD to listen to Satan instead of God were thorns, literally. The ground was cursed. The thorns grow with no help from anyone, and they can make life miserable for everyone.

Here in Arizona, we are home to approximately 1.2 million different varieties of thorns. The worst are what my children and I not-so-affectionately call “goat heads.” When we go through months without rain, you can forget about them as you stare at the hard, bare ground. But at the slightest hint of rain, they come back with a vengeance. They are tricky, luring you in with little yellow and purple flowers, begging you to let them grow for a day. But they’re hiding a terrible secret. Those little flowers can seemingly overnight multiply by a thousand, filling every square inch of ground with devilish balls of thorns that look like a goat’s head. They go through bicycle tires, shoes, and pants, and then they sneak in your house to feed upon rich targets of bare feet. Worst of all, they’re nearly impossible to kill. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

From growing plants to growing children

On the other hand, trying to grow something good here requires a great deal of the sweat God promised. Hours and hours can be devoted to preparing poor soil, shading plants from the burning sun, and watering every single day.

It’s just as hard to grow God’s children. Our Native American Mission Field is unique in that we operate schools. August marked the beginning of another school year where our teachers are going to battle and sweat and nurture and grow the children entrusted to their care. Covid restrictions make it harder than ever, and not being able to have in-person education over the last year has put many of our children far behind. The goat heads of frustration, anger, depression, social awkwardness, and lack of confidence spring up without any effort on our part. They stab and hurt and threaten to choke the joy and learning out of the lives of our students. Our teachers work tirelessly to weed, water, fertilize, and nurture those growing children with God’s Word, love, patience, and perseverance.

In a moment of levity before the start of the school year, staff members at one of our schools were all given capes so they could do the work of superheroes to help their children this year.

Their strength will come from the Lord! Pray for our teachers, parents, and students as they begin another year sharing Jesus!

Written by Pastor Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American mission field

 

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Getting Into Vlogging

Vlogging is the act of creating and adding content to a “vlog” or “video blog” (think YouTube). Vlogging a term often used by content creators on YouTube, or “YouTubers” when talking about their craft. The advent of good quality video cameras on phones, like the iPhone, has launched a generation of videographers eager to use the internet to get their message out there. At last count nearly 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube EVERY MINUTE!

Just for fun, here are few more fun facts about YouTube:

  • There are 2.3 billion YouTube users world-wide
  • 79% of all internet users say they have a YouTube account
  • YouTube viewers watch over 1 billion hours of video each day
  • 62% of US-based businesses use YouTube to post video content
  • 70% of YouTube views come on mobile devices
  • 90% of people say they discovered new products or brands on YouTube

It is a compelling platform that millions use either to consume video or the subject of this blog post — to create it.

Today it’s becoming very common to find those in ministry (pastors, teachers, staff ministers, lay leaders) using vlogs to deliver their content, whether that be a devotion, lesson or other ministry-related content. Pastors might want to “vlog” shorter devotions, mini Bible studies, congregational reports, sermon “extras”, topical counseling tips, flipped catechism lessons, and, well you get the idea. Teachers have just as many vlogging opportunities. The obvious application are flipped classroom lessons, but others include parent updates, educational or how-to videos for colleagues, individual instruction for virtual students or those with specific needs, and even recordings for assessments and personal growth.

There are many use cases for getting into vlogging. Just think of all the written content you produce and ask, “Would creating a video enhance this content in some way, or increase its likelihood of being “seen?” When it comes to communications, those are the two big questions: how to amplify it and how to increase its useful viewership.

For those of you who have decided to get started, you probably are starting with using your smart phone to capture audio and video, and then uploading to YouTube or your ministries web site. You try to find a pleasing background and a space without too much competing light or especially noise. Great. But this series of blog posts, and subsequent vlogs will outline how to up that game a little bit with techniques and equipment. Why? Mostly because we now are publishing content in a world full of high production quality video. We don’t want, nor could we match, them, but it is important to recognize the gap between what people watch on YouTube, and our stuff. So things we can reasonably do to improve quality will be worth it —  balancing cost, complexity and results of course.

Today I’ll start by sharing just a baseline camera setup for vlogging created by Brian Urbanek of GoldWing Productions LLC. This recommendation was created for WELS Special Ministries “Gospel Hands” — a video signing project for the deaf and hard of hearing. Here is part of the recommendation’s introduction:

Because the intent is for the equipment to be operated by volunteers, the highest consideration went into the ease of use for each piece of equipment, while still being able to achieve a certain level of quality. Ideally, all of the gear should be operable by a single person, should they need to carry this work out alone.

Camera Kit

Goal

To have a camera that can shoot 4K and have as professional of a look as possible, for the lowest cost possible. These cameras are all very popular among vloggers and YouTube content creators, as they have been created specifically for that demographic. They all feature a pop-out screen to be able to see yourself before and during filming.

Sony ZV-1 (my recommendation)

Cost: $778 @ Adorama

  • This kit comes with an included 64 GB SD card, extra battery, and battery charger
  • PRO: Digital bokeh (more of a mirrorless camera look)
  • PRO: 4K up to 30fps
  • PRO: f/1.8 lens
  • PRO: great out of focus background

Other options: Canon G7X II or III, Canon M50, Sony a6400

Note: If purchasing after August 31, 2021 you may want to consider the newer model (Sony ZV-E10)

Final camera recommendation

The Sony ZV-1 camera is a favorite among YouTube content creators. It shoots at 4K video and has great autofocus capabilities, allowing the subject to always be in focus. It’s capable of creating a slightly blurry background, mimicking a slightly more cinematic look compared to the other two Canons on the list.

– above recommendation by Brian Urbanek

If you are interested in this camera I recorded a brief review of it myself below using the actual unit.

As you can see it records clear and color accurate video. There is no distortion, and it truly is a dream to operate.

Next time we’ll address lighting and backdrop recommendations.

Beyond the dinosaur phase

Many little children go through a dinosaur phase. Even before they can read, they have that ability to pronounce and identify dinosaurs that are skipped over by many of us adults. For fun try these: Huehuecanauhtlus, Thililua, Protoceratops, and T-Rex. The last two were thrown in to help build your confidence in the reading of dinosaur names.

This past May I had the opportunity to visit with a few people in Laramie, Wyoming. Part of the visit included a tour of the University of Wyoming. On that campus there is a building that houses “Big Al”, an Allosaurus fossil. We didn’t get to see it, but it had me thinking of the children I’ve met who have gone through those dinosaur phases. Most of them have all grown out of it. They have pursued other interests. Yet it’s still cool that the Geological Museum on that campus has the bones of this much easier to pronounce dinosaur.

More came to mind that day as we walked around campus. I was with the pastor from Living Shepherd Lutheran Church, one of Living Shepherd’s members who works at the University of Wyoming (and a graduate), and another one of our WELS Mission Counselors. It was the week before our celebration of Pentecost. If you happen to read a few chapters ahead you hear that the early church went through some phases where the Lord saw to it that his Word continued to spread (Acts 6:7 and 12:24 to name a few).

With the phases connected to the congregation in Laramie and its campus ministry, the Word of the Lord continues to spread too. As it spreads, more phases are happening. For that congregation they found a new space to worship. Previously, they only had access to a building one day a week (Sundays) and now they found a location where they have 24/7 access. Pastor Adam Lambrecht has been able to build upon the work done prior to his arrival about two years ago with both the congregation and with the campus ministry connected to it. There are members connected to the university that can help with some ins and outs for this location of higher learning.

As there is excitement for the congregation, there is some excitement as they serve and reach out to college students. The college years are another phase. For most, when it comes to looking at fossils like “Big Al”, marveling at our Lord God as the Creator of all things is not what is taught. For many it’s a time to marvel at science, reason, and the “greatness” of human beings. Because of that, we realize that during that phase of life, Laramie’s mission field includes the college campus. As the Lord God puts people in various places at set times and set locations, he’s provided a congregation and campus ministry named Living Shepherd to reach out to those who do not know their Savior.

We, as a synod get to support this location through our prayers and offerings. Living Shepherd is one of our home mission locations with a campus ministry connected to it. Please continue to pray for Pastor Lambrecht and his congregation there in Laramie.

Written by Rev. Dan Lindner, Campus Ministry Mission Counselor

Visit wels.net/college to learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and sign up!

 

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With great joy!

“Come in, come in! I want to show you something!”

His pride and joy
Pastor Willard Chipembere emphatically invited us into the parsonage at Chisomo, Thyolo. He was excited. He couldn’t wait to show us something in the house. Because I had been there before, I had an inkling of what it was going to be. Walking down the hallway, we came to a room from which came a lot of chirping. Chickens! Not just one or two but 100! Pastor Chipembere picked up one tiny chick in his hand and presented it to us with great joy. He then continued to explain more about his chicken business, and with a wave of his hand he showed us all that were under his roof. Mind you, these were not just in an outbuilding, they were in his home. His face shone. Eyes glimmered. Voice, exuberant. He was filled with great joy.

I have known about his passion for chickens for years now. Though I didn’t get a picture of him that day with the little chick in his hand, I did some years ago with ones that were much bigger and more mature than chicks at the time.

After showing us his pride and joy, we then hit the road and were on our way to a four-day professional development class at the base of Mount Mulanje in the Southern Region of Malawi.

The Word and his work
Five of us got together to work on learning about and designing engaging Bible studies. Along with the other participants, Pastor Chipembere designed and presented his draft Bible study to our pastors’ group.

As eager and joyful as Pastor Chipembere had been to tell us about his chickens, he was even more excited to eventually present his newly crafted Bible study to the church councilmen of his three congregations. He had something especially important and relevant to share. And he took it seriously. In fact, at the class, he wrote on paper what was already inscribed on his heart: “It is my responsibility as a pastor to teach Bible studies!”

He took his work and responsibility seriously but also joyfully. As he was working on designing his Bible study, he dug into 1 Timothy 3:1-10 and Ezekiel 11:1-12. He wanted to highlight the godly qualities and lifestyle of a leader in the church.

Pastor Chipembere presenting his Bible study

Pastor Chipembere looked forward to reviewing our course material, reading deeper, and reworking his draft Bible study; he especially was excited to finally present it to the congregation elders. In his hands was not a chicken to eat—but a Bible study to digest and share. After the class was over, we drove to Pastor Chipembere’s house and dropped him off. No doubt his family—and his feathered friends—were excited to see him.

The news and the questions
Several days later, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the news was spreading as quickly as it came:

Pastor Chipembere was called home to heaven. On that day he had taken his motorcycle for a ride. He was suddenly killed in a terrible traffic accident. A head-on collision.

The funeral was the next day (June 10, 2021). This time when I saw him, I was actually viewing him, as were the other funeral attendees. This time his face was lifeless. Eyes, closed. Voice silenced. But the church? Deafening with the sounds of grief. I can only imagine the questions swirling around in the pained hearts of the family, friends, congregation members, and community:

Was this God’s will? (Did God will him to die this way?)
Why him? (He was a pastor, ordained in 2006, who devoted his life to the full-time gospel ministry!)
Why now? (He was only 51 years old and was supporting a family.)

Chisomo LCCA Church in Thyolo

I don’t know all the questions the family and others were asking, but don’t we too wonder how to answer all the questions that get asked by people who have endured similar grief and pain? How does one offer comfort?  The same way Pastor Chipembere would have: with the Scriptures and the sure promises of God.

JESUS CHRIST: The answer and the comfort
Though at times in the church and at the outside funeral gatherings there were sounds of mourning and pain, there were also words and hymns of hope and promises and Good News:

Jesus was the Answer and the Comfort!

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God’s pride and joy
During the funeral it hit me: While we were grieving the loss of an LCCA pastor and while the family was mourning the loss of a husband/father, heaven was celebrating a homecoming! Not a loss but a gain! I can just imagine Jesus enthusiastically ushering Willard Chipembere into his House with a wave of his scarred hand: “Come in! Come in! I want to show you something . . .” Or better yet, “someone.” Here’s Paul. And here’s Elijah. Meet Lydia. And, oh, let me introduce you to James and John. And here’s . . . “well, here’s . . . my Father!”

Pastor Chipembere on Mount Mulanje on June 3, 2021

Or maybe with every newcomer to heaven Jesus will begin with his Father! “To him who is able to . . . present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24)! Stunning. Jesus presenting us before the Father. “Father, here’s Willard Chipembere!” Look at Jesus. His face shining. Eyes glimmering. Voice exuberant! Jesus filled with great joy presenting yet another one of his blood-redeemed brothers. This time . . . Willard Chipembere.

Presented without fault. (Sins paid for by Jesus)
Presented with great joy. (What an introduction!)
Presented by God himself who knows what it’s like to die a terrible death. And did so willingly, taking our own faults upon himself.

What Jesus achingly uttered about Jerusalem years ago he still desires today:
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). One day it will be your turn and your time to finally reach home. To join the ultimate gathering. A longing fulfilled. Ushered in by Jesus. And as Jude verse 24 assures, Jesus will . . . present you . . . with great joy.

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

 

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What to do when they’re knocking at your door

Nearly every day, somewhere in the world, a pastor from another denomination contacts a WELS pastor. Usually the pastors from other denominations are looking for some kind of collaboration. You might think that WELS pastors patiently explain to them what the Scriptures say about unity in doctrine before collaboration in fellowship—and they do! But some WELS pastors have added an invitation to their explanation. They have asked, “Would you like more instruction?” When the pastors of other denominations have answered, “yes,” great blessings have resulted.

The WELS Joint Mission Council (JMC) has examined the cases where the Lord has blessed contacts like this and have noticed a pattern. In the most successful cases, the WELS pastor enrolls the other pastor in his WELS Bible Information Class. That way the man finds out how everything we teach comes from the Bible. He is often exposed to clear law and gospel for the first time, with Jesus at the center of everything we teach in the power of the Word and sacraments. The Holy Spirit does his work, and the pastor from the other denomination begins to teach the truths of Scripture to his own flock. At a certain point, that pastor usually becomes a member of a WELS congregation.

A PSI training visit

At that point, the Joint Mission Council recommends that the WELS pastor enlist the aid of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A member of the PSI Team interviews the pastor who was formerly a member of another denomination and determines the best course of studies so that the man can become a fully trained WELS pastor. The PSI team member also arranges appropriate contact with local district officials, Home Mission counselors, or members of World Mission Teams, depending on the background of the new man and his flock. Sometimes the PSI team member helps the WELS pastor see that the relationship should develop in a different way than planned. With their many experiences and contacts, the PSI Team members can be very helpful in planning the best use of our resources.

Because many of the pastors who contact us have networks inside and outside of the United States, the Joint Mission Council takes great interest in new opportunities for outreach that they provide. Because the world is a complicated place, the patterns often diverge here, but one similarity remains: love for the truths of Scripture, as taught by Lutherans, leads men from many diverse places to bring people to Jesus.

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Joint Mission Council chairman

 

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While we were waiting

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7a

Missionaries are doers. We thrive on rolling up the proverbial sleeves and getting stuff done. We like to be “out there” in the field with people. We want to be active and interactive. But when COVID hit last year, borders closed, and travel ceased. Asia was closed for business, and that is still largely the case today. As the usual list of accomplishments (sometimes measured in flights logged, people met, or classes taught) was stripped away, it chipped away at our doer identities. We found ourselves sometimes pacing pensively and pondering, “What do we do now? What will we do if we can’t do mission work?” We found out doers don’t do waiting well.

Driven by necessity and lack of options (sadly, not always driven by expectant faith), we were reduced to waiting – waiting on God. I don’t mean reduced in a diminutive way, but in the way that Psalm 37 reduces all our objects of hope, help, confidence, comfort, and salvation to only the Lord. The drum beat of Psalm 37 is those “he will. . . ” phrases. He will grant. . . He will act. . . He does. We wait. We know this is true. But it still feels frustrating when we really can’t do what we want.

The missed flights, cancelled workshops, and tweaking plans (again) has sometimes been excruciating. But while we were waiting, we have seen God be faithful and active. He has answered prayers. He has helped a time of trouble. Let me tell you some of the things he has done for Asia.

  • While we were waiting, God built a strong, supportive, growing relationships between missionaries, partners old and new, an amazingly supportive Administrative Committee, and national church leaders, even though the Asia One Team has not yet met together in person (not even once). 15 months ago, we wondered how we would grow together as a team. I can point to Zoom and a few other tools, but I prefer to point to God answering daily prayers and doing it while we happened to be on Zoom.
  • While we were waiting, God did open some borders. Our friendly counselor to South Asia and national contact, Haris, have been able to travel to a predominantly Muslim country in South Asia. Asia One Team missionary family Guy and Linda Marquardt made it to Thailand, and newest missionary Mark Zondag and his family are on the way too.
  • While the Wiesenauer family sometimes bemoaned missing a furlough this year, being “stuck” in Thailand built strong local relationships and opened new doors. God worked through everyone else in all the places they were “stuck” too. Just ask any missionary about the doors God opened in their locations.
  • The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam grew by 12,000 members and planted new churches. In Indonesia, our sister church forged stronger relationships, built a seminary, and strengthened worker training programs. In India, the brothers there plowed their way through challenge after challenge – growing together in the process. In a predominantly Hindu nation in South Asia, our national church partner got through travel restrictions to deliver relief items, gain the trust of local officials, and open new doors for the gospel. Go tell it on the mountain happened literally in South Asia, one mountain after another. And in one of the most restrictive parts of Asia, two dozen members were recently confirmed.

A Confirmation class in Asia

  • While we were waiting, the Holy Spirit was faithful to strengthen and work through national Christians – sometimes with and often without WELS missionaries. This is a poignant reminder that God delights in working in all his children.

I could go on. But the point. . . While we were waiting, the Lord did stuff. He was our stronghold in a troubling time. He helped. He acted. He is still on the move. God also continues to prepare good works for us to do and blesses the work of our hands, but how comforting and joyful it is to know that our identity and success is in his hands, no matter what happens to our plans.

Waiting on the Lord is hardly an endorsement for laziness or fatalism. Indeed, none of us ran out of work to do. But someday when we are in a post-covid world, borders are open, and missionaries are flying all over the world again, I hope we will not forget what we have learned. Waiting on the Lord is never a last resort or the thing we do when nothing else works. It is the first and best resort of missionaries and God’s children in any walk of life in every circumstance. It is based on the enduring promise that God will be faithful. We only need to behold the cross of Christ and the empty tomb to be reassured that this is true.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, world missionary on the Asia One Team.

 

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God’s work across the globe

Things are slowly starting to get back to normal. There are less restrictions on social gatherings. There are more opportunities to return to usual activities. This is also true in our world mission fields. In June, Missionary Andrew Johnston got to spend ten days meeting face-to-face with believers throughout central Mexico. The goal of this trip was to encourage Academia Cristo students who are currently gathering groups of people around God’s Word. Check out the timeline below to see what Missionary Johnston did during his trip.

Bible study group with Javier (second from left)

Saturday, June 12. After arriving in Mexico City in the early afternoon, I journeyed to the far southern edge of Mexico City to visit Javier. Javier is a furniture salesman who gathers four different groups of people to study God’s Word. After meeting one group at his home, I was asked to lead a Bible study. This group has already finished an Academia Cristo course called “The Four Concepts.” This course provides an overview of sin, grace, faith, and works.

Sunday, June 13. I traveled to a factory in the northeastern edge of Mexico City where Artemio, an Academia Cristo student and now confirmed Lutheran, gathers a group of about eighty people. I was asked to preach and participate in the confirmation of nine members. In the afternoon, I joined Javier at Ricardo’s house where I got to meet Ricardo’s family and friends. Ricardo owns a small pharmacy. He and his wife had questions about the validity of their baptisms (they were baptized as infants in Catholic churches). We took the opportunity to study baptism as a group and reaffirmed their baptisms by repeating the promises of God. Afterwards, we returned to Javier’s house where we met with another one of his groups who are studying online.

Monday, June 14. Meeting early at the bus station,and I took the five-hour bus ride to Zacapoaxtla, Puebla, a small city in the mountains. At the bus station in Zacapoaxla we were met by Pastor Samuel. He drove us to Huitzitlan, a small town about two hours from Zacapoaxtla. It turns out that Samuel is also a taxi driver. At a church with a big Luther seal outside, Artemio and I met with Samuel and church president Pedro, and we heard their story. Samuel’s father-in-law had been the pastor. When he died, Samuel was named pastor, but had received very little training of any kind. Samuel was interested to hear about Academia Cristo and wants to give it a try. After being invited to eat at Samuel’s house and meeting his wife Rebeka, we headed back to Zacapoaxtla. On the way, we stopped in Huahuastla to visit a man named Floriberto, the pastor of the Lutheran church in that village. Floriberto seemed interested in Lutheran training with Academia Cristo.

Tuesday, June 15. Artemio and I spent the morning with Pablo Tamanis, the pastor at the Lutheran church in Zacapoaxtla. Pablo and his wife kindly received us in their house and made us breakfast. Saying good-bye to Pablo, Artemio and I retraced our steps back to Mexico City having a good conversation on the way.

Arturo, Maricruz, with their daughter, Romina, holding her baptism certificate

Wednesday, June 16. After using some free time in the morning for two online meetings, I visited Arturo (vice principal of a school) and his wife Maricruz (a teacher). We talked late into the night, working through several doctrinal questions. When the discussion of baptism came up, they shared that their 13-year-old daughter Romina hadn’t been baptized. They asked what would stop us from baptizing her. I almost felt like Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch. . . So, we studied baptism with Romina and baptized her that night. We are praying that, God-willing, we will recognize doctrinal agreement with them in September and talk about steps to gather a group.

Thursday, June 17. Today, I headed to visit Javier again. We walked through a goal setting process that we use with advanced students to help them grow in their faith and start a Lutheran group. I also officially presented Javier with a doctrinal agreement certificate.

Friday, June 18. I boarded a bus to San Martin Texmeluchan, Puebla, in the morning. There I met Gabino Sanchez Sanchez (yes, that is a double Sanchez). We enjoyed a couple hours of conversation over coffee and parted ways agreeing that we would spend more time together during my next visit. On this visit, we plan to work through our doctrinal agreement process.

Marli holding her doctrinal certificate

Saturday, June 19. On Saturday, we got to gather several Academia Cristo students together. Pastor Carl Leyer was also present to help with these meetings. It was very encouraging to get to meet with students from different backgrounds and with different stories all in one day. In the evening, Pastor Leyer and I traveled to Cuernavaca to meet with Marli, her husband Luiz, Edna, and Maricela (and their driver Roberto). Marli is a very active Academia Cristo student. We were graciously received by Luiz and Marli in their home.

Sunday, June 20. After breakfast, we went to work on setting goals with Marli. She is working on sharing Jesus with lots of people. She has two children’s groups, she meets with groups of police to share the Word, and other things. Marli is now committed to starting a women’s group.

Monday, June 21. We had an early appointment at a police station near Cuernavaca. The department psychologist has asked Marli to share the Gospel. We met with a group of 16 people, including at-risk kids, moms, and police officers. We led a Bible study on the story of Zacchaeus, It was a great opportunity to share the Gospel with a very engaged audience. After a meal at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to, Carl and I prepared to fly out the next day.

What do a pharmacy owner from Mexico City, a taxicab driver in a rural mountain village of Huitzilan, and a woman from Cuernavaca have in common? They, along with many others throughout Mexico and Latin America, are receiving training through Academia Cristo to gather a group and teach that group the truths of God’s Word. They are being equipped to share the gospel. They are being encouraged to share the peace that only comes from Jesus. We thank God for these students, and we thank God for the opportunity to visit them.

Written by Matt Behmer, world missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador.

 

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Out of your comfort zone

How do you feel about talking with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy of the gospel with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy you have in your heart with a family member or a friend?

I would imagine answers to those questions will vary. One response could certainly be that it would be one of the most frightening conversations to carry out.

Risen Savior in Mansfield, Ohio, was looking for ways to share the gospel in the community, surrounding the church. The church enlisted the help of “Praise and Proclaim” and speaker Mr. Dave Malnes. A weekend was set aside to learn some techniques that might open the door to being able to share the message of our Savior Jesus – with strangers, family, and friends.

A total of 20 people attended the Friday night training and role playing session. Besides those from Risen Savior, members from four other WELS churches made the hour-long drive to be part of the  seminar.

One of the groups that went out to share the gospel

Saturday rolled around and it was time to put the training into practice. Practicing and having fun in the basement of the church is one thing, knocking on a stranger’s door is a whole different ball game. Eight groups, of two people each, were ready to head out Saturday morning (after the rain stopped). Anxiety, fright, sweaty palms, and plain terror filled the room.

A sampling of statements that could be heard before heading out the door:

“I’ll hold the clipboard. You can do the talking.”

“If you need me, I’ll be right behind you.”

“Do I have to talk?”

After an hour or so of walking the neighborhoods, we gathered back at church for a debriefing. The fear and anxiety was replaced with excitement and joy. Now you could hear  phrases like:

“After stumbling through the first couple, it became easier.”

“My heart started beating again after a couple of doors.”

“People were actually nice.” and

“It really wasn’t as bad as I anticipated.”

Excitement was in the air as people shared their stories. The goal was not to simply invite people to church but actually share the  gospel.

Adding up all the groups, the message of our Savior Jesus was shared with over 50 people. Five additional people were interested in getting even more information. Over 300 doors were knocked on during the day and information about the church was handed out or left at the door.

When I look back at the weekend, I know some people were praying for the rain to continue all day so they could stay in the warm confines of the church basement. However, after the event, the thrill of sharing the gospel overruled the previous fear and anxiety. The final phrases spoken that hit home:

“When are we able to go out and do this again?”

“I am able to share this with family and friends.”

Mr. Malnes put it best when he said, “Witnessing is more about God than about us.”  May God continue to bless our efforts.

Written by Brad Wright, home missionary at Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Mansfield, Ohio.

 

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Faces of Faith – Roy

Roy Mendoza was born in Detroit, one of 10 children. From an early age, his parents tried to get rid of him. Twice they took him to Mexico and left him there. They took him to California and other states and purposefully left him behind. He always managed to find his way back, but his distrust and hatred grew.

He soon began to take lives. People in Southwest Detroit called him a vigilante. Neighbors would ask him to take out an abuser, a thief, or some other untouchable, and he would. He became good at killing—he boasted about it—and he didn’t think twice about doing it. He felt no remorse, until he accidentally took the life of his own son.

Shortly after that horrific event, Roy landed in prison. He didn’t want to hear anything about God or forgiveness because he’d killed his own son. But then he heard a verse from Luke where Jesus said, “They will be divided—father against son and son against father.” By the Spirit’s power alone, these words piqued his interest, since he had been wrestling with guilt for the first time in his life. Within months of being in prison, God grabbed hold of his heart through his Word, and Roy cried. Tough guys weren’t supposed to cry, but Roy did. . . and it felt good.

Roy Mendoza

As he reflects on the 25 years he spent behind bars for his life of crime, Roy says, “I didn’t go to prison. I went to school—God’s school.” He hadn’t known how to read, but he somehow started to learn by reading an old King James Bible someone gave him. He poured over Scripture day and night. At one point, he taught 14 men the Bible every day—many of whom had worked to destroy his own family because of things he’d done against their families on the outside. Roy came to know Christ and God’s grace for him, and with a humble, penitent spirit, he brought the gospel to his own enemies.

Since 2017, Roy has been out of prison—by God’s grace, a changed man. One fall day in 2020, after church, a member of Palabra de Vida bumped into him on the sidewalk and told him to check out our church. He did. He walked inside, and I met him. He’s been coming faithfully to worship and Bible study ever since. After studying with me in Bible information class, he was received into membership. Now, Roy is training to be a leader at Palabra de Vida. He encourages others who are just starting out in their faith. He applies the Word to hurting hearts. We pray that God continue to use Roy to give life to others—a big change from a few decades ago! All thanks to the Holy Spirit.

In awe of God’s mercy, Roy sees the famous hymn as his own: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now I see.”

Written by Ryan Kolander, home missionary at Palabra de Vida in Detroit, Mich. 

Hear more from Missionary Kolander in the presentation he gave as part of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) annual convention that occurred this past weekend: vimeo.com/566224349

 

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Worth the wait

The wait is over! After a long 14 months of the pandemic, we are finally able to enjoy many of our favorite activities again. Whether it’s flying to visit family, going to a baseball game, or simply giving someone a hug … as we finally get to enjoy these activities, we realize that we appreciate them more than ever. They were “worth the wait.”

The same thing holds true at church.

2020 was an unusual year for Intown Lutheran Church. The pandemic forced us to cancel most of our events and limit most of our gatherings. For nearly 6 months straight, we held “online-only” worship. It was all very unusual and unexpected. But as it turned out, something else about 2020 was unusual and unexpected too: the tremendous opportunities for outreach.

You might think that with extremely limited options for either gathering at church or going out and meeting new people in the community, our congregation’s outreach ministry would slow to a crawl. But surprisingly, we saw the exact opposite happen. The year 2020 turned out to be by far the strongest year of outreach that we have ever had, in 4 years of existence as a congregation!

How does something like this happen? Only by God’s guiding hand. It seems that during 2020 God used all the chaos and turmoil in our society brought about by the pandemic, politics, social justice issues, etc. to create a real spiritual hunger in many of our city neighbors who had previously been uninterested in church. Even though we were unable to do any of our normal outreach events, again and again God kept leading people to us “out of nowhere,” searching for spiritual guidance. During 2020 we brought more prospects through Bible Basics Class than ever before, and we confirmed more new members than ever before!

But nearly all of it took place online. The Bible Basics Classes were taught over Zoom.  The “New Member Sundays” took place over Facebook Live. Although many people were studying God’s Word and joining our church, in many cases they had yet to meet a single church member or come to a single in-person worship service. The blessings of Christian fellowship were sorely lacking.

But in the past few months, we’ve been able to gather again. The blessings of fellowship have come flooding back. And it has all been “worth the wait!”

On May 16 and May 23, we held back-to-back New Member Sundays, during which we officially welcomed 6 new members from 2021, as well as 10 of our new members from 2020 (most of whom had only been able to participate “virtually” up to this point.)

New member Sunday at Intown Lutheran Church

As new members stood before their congregation and heard the words “Welcome to the family, and welcome to the team…”

as they shared the Lord’s Supper with their brothers and sisters in Christ for the very first time…

as they experienced the smiles, friendly handshakes, and warm hugs of Christian fellowship…

as they watched excited kids sink their teeth into a celebratory post-church donut…

it was clear that all of this had been “worth the wait.”

So what comes next?

Members at Intown Lutheran

There is no fast-forward button in ministry. We can’t “skip ahead” to the next episode. Only God knows what special friendships will grow between old members and new. . . what growth will occur in the hearts of all the new people who have already enrolled in Bible Basics Class for summer. . . or what additional new people he plans to bring our way this fall, when we can finally start doing outreach at community festivals once again.

There are many things we don’t know, but there is one thing that we do. Wherever God decides to lead our growing congregation next – it will be “worth the wait.”

Written by Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Ga.

 

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A time to celebrate and a time to pray

Luke Wolfgramm, our WELS pastor in Russia, had a chance to talk with Holger Weiss, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany. The ELFK is WELS’ sister church and mission partner.

Let’s celebrate and give thanks with our brothers and sisters in Germany!

This is quite a year for the 1,300 members and 17 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK).

  • Steeden, the oldest congregation in the ELFK, is celebrating its 175th anniversary – that’s four years older than WELS.
  • Four other congregations (in Dresden, Zwickau-Planitz, Altengesees, and Saalfeld) are celebrating 150 or 100 years of God’s grace.
  • The ELFK seminary was founded in 1921, exactly 100 years ago.
  • And this year the Dr. Martin Luther School for elementary children is celebrating its 20th

When interviewed, Holger Weiss, said:

“God has performed miracles for our church. He preserved His truth among us despite two devastating world wars and decades of communist persecution. [Most ELFK congregations are located in former East Germany.]

Student at the ELFK seminary in Leipzig.

At first ELFK pastors were trained in the Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis. [At that time both WELS and the ELFK enjoyed fellowship with the LC-MS.] But when WWI prevented men from traveling to the United States, the ELFK had to find a way to train their own pastors. The church decided to send men to the state seminary in Leipzig. But they also established their own auxiliary institute to battle false teaching presented in that liberal seminary. This was the beginning of the ELFK seminary.

We are so thankful for Dr. Martin Luther School in Zwickau. Every day 120 students attend grades 1-4 and hear about the Savior. Most of these students come from unchurched families. This has been an excellent way to reach out to our community with God’s word.

But I feel sad. I live in the land of Luther and the Reformation. But so many people here have no idea of what Christ did for them. Today we are still suffering from the pandemic. People have gotten sick and died. Businesses have been closed. Many are living in fear. They sought hope from medicine, science and politicians – only to be disappointed. People need to know that our real troubles are spiritual! We need a new awakening!

Please pray that God would move young men to study for ministry in Germany. Pray that we can open new congregations and preaching stations. Pray that we can send out missionaries. Pray that all of us can be lights welcoming souls into God’s happy family. And pray for our seminary. Right now, we are exploring ways that we can serve not only German students, but men from our sister churches. We want people all over Europe to hear about the Savior!

What a special year! We thank God for past blessings. Now it’s time to get busy praying and working to share the Savior – no matter where you live!”

 

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Christian Worship Lectionary

When the Church gathers around Word and sacrament, it does so in the freedom of the Gospel. A congregation can choose worship forms from anywhere on the continuum that lies between what is commanded and what is forbidden in worship.

The commanded elements are: “that the Word be proclaimed; that the Sacraments be administered rightly; that the gatherings be done in Jesus’ name.”1 At the same time any word or action that is inconsistent with the Gospel must be barred from worship. Simple enough, right? “The peculiar problem in the formation of the worship service is posed by the wide area that remains between the two boundary lines of the absolutely forbidden and the absolutely commanded.”2

So while we enjoy great freedom in our worship, we also seek to be wise in our use of that freedom. How can we order our services to provide the best culture of the means of grace? How can we plan our public worship so that the congregation is fed by God, encourages fellow believers, and witnesses to the world in the best way we can?

For many centuries the Church exercised such wisdom by ordering its public worship around a tool we inherited from millions of other Christians across time, culture, and geography: the lectionary. These readings, prayers, and psalms appointed for Sundays and seasons are called the Propers. While the ordinary of the service remains stable, the lectionary provides the moving parts. Along with the Christian calendar, the lectionary provides the basis for the Church’s proclamation and the foundation on which its services, seasons, and songs are built.

When the development work on the new Christian Worship hymnal began, our church body was provided the opportunity to review and revise the lectionary from CW93. While many Christian denominations make use of a three-year lectionary, and while they share many common elements, there is no single three-year lectionary that is shared by a majority of Christians. The three-year lectionaries in use across Christendom often share the same Gospel reading, but after that they have become increasingly divergent.

So without a standard three-year lectionary to follow, the Scripture Committee set out to propose a revision. The goals for the CW lectionary were to be:

  • Historical. We wanted to respect the wisdom of the Church that has gone before us.
  • Ecumenical. Where we could share readings and seasons with the wider church, we would. If we had to choose between faith traditions, we would choose confessional Lutheran traditions.
  • Gospel centered. The Gospel for each day would set the theme for worship.
  • Thematic. All the proper appointments would thematically match the Gospel.

The results that CW offers to the Church are a revised calendar, a historic one-year lectionary, a three-year lectionary, a lectionary for minor festivals and occasions, and three volumes of Commentary on the Propers.

Three-year lectionary

The vast majority of WELS congregations use a three-year lectionary. This provides a set of readings for each liturgical year (A, B, C). Each year presents the Gospel in the voice of a different evangelist. Year A features Matthew; Year B, Mark; Year C, Luke. John’s voice is heard in Year B and in the Time of Easter in all three years. Christian Worship’s publication date means that the first liturgical year of its use will be Year C.

Calendars years divisible by 3 are always the beginning of Year A. So Advent of 2019 was the beginning of Year A; Advent 2020, Year B; and in November of 2021 Advent begins Year C.

Thematic Sundays are a chief feature of the new lectionary. In CW93 continual readings in the epistles meant that often there was no connection between the Second Reading and the theme for the Sunday. In the new lectionary, the second reading was selected to fit the theme for each Sunday. But what about all the other appointments? In the CW93 lectionary, especially in the Season after Pentecost, the Prayer of the Day, the Verse of the Day, and the Psalm of the Day often lacked connections to each other or the appointed readings. In the new lectionary all the following appointments will match theme of the day:

  • Readings 1, 2, Gospel
  • Prayer of the Day
  • Psalm of the Day
  • Gospel Acclamation
  • Hymn of the Day

The new lectionary largely retains the Gospels as they exist in the CW93 lectionary for historical and ecumenical reasons. The readings from the Gospels have the most correspondence to other lectionaries in use in wider Christianity. For example, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year A, the same Good Shepherd Gospel (John 10:1-10) will be read in WELS, LCMS, ELS, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian, and other liturgical churches. Such commonality is a good reminder that while there are proper reasons for denominations to be divided now, all who call on Christ as Lord are united in the Holy Christian Church and will one day worship undivided before the throne.

The Gospel sets the theme for the Sunday, and every other appointment seeks to undergird that theme. The result is a lectionary that uses both the old and the new: While the Gospels didn’t change much, the rest of the appointments did. Of the over 400+ appointments in Year A, 45% differ from CW93.

While the Gospels didn’t change much, the rest of the appointments did. Of the over 400+ appointments in Year A, 45% differ from CW93.

Compared to the current lectionary, the First Reading in CW will offer more narrative in balance with prophecy. Many of the important Old Testament stories provide great preaching texts, and they will be found on Sundays where they support the theme of the Gospel. The First Reading will continue to feature readings from Acts during the Easter Season.

The Second Reading will no longer feature continual readings but will present the important content in a thematic context. While having a set of readings from a single book across several weeks provides an opportunity for preaching sermon series, this lectionary has gone away from that. Instead it seeks to provide a tightly coordinated set of propers for every Sunday. The central point of the Gospel will be reinforced by every appointment, lending a cohesiveness to the appointments that was often lacking in CW93. Of course, the Church is free to continue to use a lectio continua but this effort seeks to have series preaching based on the lectionary’s patterns (see Commentary on the Propers below).

The Prayer of the Day has a long history, and some of those prayers have been used by the Church for fifteen centuries. The new lectionary sought to preserve all the historic prayers, but to arrange them to ensure a thematic agreement with the Sunday. This is most noticeable in the Season after Pentecost. In the CW93 lectionary, the same prayer was appointed for each Sunday in years A, B, and C. Even though the readings were all different, the prayer was the same over all three years. This meant that if there was a connection between the Prayer of the Day and the readings it was serendipitous. The new lectionary features historic prayers, some newly translated ancient prayers, some newly written, but all in line with each Sunday’s theme.

The same is true of the Gospel Acclamation, which we used to call the Verse of the Day. This thematic statement from Scripture is meant to prepare the congregation to hear the reading of the Gospel. It is to be sung with alleluias, except during Lent. The hymnal provides easy to use congregational responses so you can sing a thematic, proper Gospel acclamation on any Sunday.

New items to note

While much of the new lectionary will feel familiar and comfortable, some changes to terminology, practice, and purpose did occur.

Some terminology changes are minor:

  • Readings instead of Lessons
  • Gospel Acclamation instead of Verse of the Day
  • Holy Thursday instead of Maundy Thursday
  • Season after Pentecost instead of Pentecost Season

More significant changes follow.

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

The lectionary retains traditional Palm Sunday readings. However, it reintroduces the 500-year-old practice of appointing the Triumphal Entry as a choice for the Gospel on Advent 1. This corresponds to historic practice, restores the Palm Sunday connection to many Advent hymns, and allows for a new practice called the Sunday of the Passion.

The idea comes from the fact that some of the most significant portions of the Gospels—the parts that tell the sufferings and death of our Lord—are not appointed to be read on Sundays. Certainly, they are read during Lenten midweek and Holy Week services. But what percentage of your congregation attends those? Could it be that for a majority of your worshipers, their Holy Week worship takes them from waving palm branches on Palm Sunday to shouting “Christ is risen,” on Easter without hearing a word about the sufferings and death of Jesus?

The Sunday of the Passion places the entire Passion History in front of God’s people on Palm Sunday. For example, the reading appointed for Year A is Matthew 26:1-27:66. Some congregations preach a sermon; others use a responsive reading of the Gospel in place of the sermon. In our congregation, the service begins with the procession of palms, then the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel, and then the service continues with a responsive reading of the Passion History as appointed. This means that every Sunday worshiper hears the whole account of Holy Week annually in the voice of the evangelist for that year.

Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost

The Christian Church year has three divisions: the Time of Christmas (Advent to Transfiguration), the Time of Easter (Ash Wednesday to Pentecost), and the Time of the Church (Trinity to Last Sunday). The 1993 lectionary ended the Time of Easter with Easter 7 and began the Time of Pentecost with the festival of Pentecost. The new lectionary moves more in line with wider Christianity and puts Pentecost as the end and culmination of the seven weeks of Easter, as the last festival of the festival half of the Church Year.

The Time of the Church begins with the festival of the Holy Trinity on the first Sunday after Pentecost. So the name of the season changes. It’s not called the Pentecost Season, but instead the Season after Pentecost. In the Season after Pentecost there are 27 Sundays and the Last Sunday of the Church Year.

Proper system

The lectionary makes a major change by using the proper system to determine readings for the Sundays after Pentecost. The benefits of using this system include ties to wider Christianity, and the ease of determining the propers for the Sundays after Pentecost simply by their calendar date.

Here’s how it works. After the First Sunday after Pentecost (Holy Trinity), the assigned readings are determined not by a Sunday’s distance from Pentecost but by the calendar date on which it falls. The set of Sunday propers run from Proper 3 to Proper 28. (Propers 1 and 2 are used on weekdays, and so are not appointed in this lectionary.) If there are any propers that are not used because of the date of Easter, they come at the beginning of the season rather than at the end. Often, Propers 3-4 will not be used unless Easter is very early.

Each proper is assigned a range of dates by which it is paired with the Sunday on which it is used. For example, in the year 2021, the date of Pentecost is May 23, the date of Holy Trinity is May 30, so the next Sunday after Pentecost happens on June 6. This date falls in the range for “Proper 5— Sundays on June 5-11.” You would use Proper 5 readings on June 6, and then the Proper 6 readings on June 13, and so on.

Please note: Don’t call the Sunday “Proper 5” in the service folder. That’s just a reference to the set of readings. Definitely save or file your service folders and resources according to their Proper reference. It’s just not the name of the Sunday. In my congregation our service folder simply refers to them by their date in the Season after Pentecost. So next year the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost is July 17, 2022. We’ll list it in the service folder as “Sunday, July 17, in the Season after Pentecost.” But when we save a copy of the service folder it will be named “C-Proper11-2022-07-17.”

If this seems confusing, take heart. We will produce annual lectionary calendars that do all this work for you. It will look like the example shown here.

End times without End Time

The End Time Season was unique to WELS. Introduced in the 1993 hymnal, it was meant to create a fitting end to the Church Year with an eschatological focus. The new lectionary’s goals of historicity and ecumenicity led us to drop that uniquely WELS season. We want our church year to be ecumenical in the best sense of the word.

There is no End Time Season in the new lectionary. We definitely still remember the end times, just in ways that correspond to the wider church. The trajectory of each set of Gospel readings inevitably leads the Church to a focus on the coming judgment during the closing weeks of the Church Year. We recommend observing Reformation on the last Sunday in October and the Festival of All Saints on the first Sunday in November. The last Sunday of the Church year has two options: Last Sunday or Christ the King. The worship planner’s choice on the Last Sunday will dictate the choice of options for the following week on Advent 1. So on Last Sunday if the primary proper is used (Christ’s second coming), the primary proper is also used for Advent 1 (Christ’s triumphal entry). If the alternate proper is used (Christ the King), the alternate proper is also used for Advent 1 (Christ’s second coming).

Historic, Minors, and Occasions

The historic one-year lectionary in Christian Worship restores features that had been removed in our last hymnal. The pre-Lent –gesimas are back. So, too, the Latin Sundays of Easter. Quasimodo Geniti lives again. The Trinity season ends with Trinity 26 and Last Sunday.

Newly appointed occasions include Sanctity of Life, Military Service, Witness, Marriage and Family.

The minor festivals and occasions are fully resourced. The occasions that are frequently celebrated are given three sets of readings (Reformation, All Saints, Christian Education, Confirmation, Father’s Day, Missions, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Stewardship, Thanksgiving) to provide ample variety. Newly appointed occasions include Sanctity of Life, Military Service, Witness, Marriage and Family.

Commentary on the Propers

Worship planners performing long range, seasonal, or weekly planning benefit from having an understanding of the whole lectionary, the liturgical seasons, the direction of upcoming readings, and special features of each of the appointments. The Commentary on the Propers provides the tools needed.

This set of three books provides commentary on the propers assigned to each Sunday or festival. Designed to be the first resource pulled off the shelf when planning worship, each season, Sunday, and festival is treated in terms of its connection to the theme of the day and its place within the Church Year. This resource helps the worship planner know where they are, where they’re going, and what it all means.

Many pastors like to preach sermon series. These commentary volumes show that you don’t need to abandon the lectionary to do it. Special attention is given to the natural series that occur in the lectionary. In fact, there are sermon series provided for the entire Church year.

Logos Bible Software

The new lectionary will be available natively on Logos Bible Software. Simply search for Christian Worship and you will see two new options: Christian Worship One-Year Lectionary and Christian Worship Three-Year Lectionary.

 

By Jonathan E. Schroeder

Pastor Schroeder serves Faith, Sharpsburg, GA, a suburb of Atlanta. His duties beyond the parish are numerous: member of the Synodical Council, moderator of the Institute for Worship and Outreach, consultant for Schools of Outreach and for Schools of Worship Enrichment, and WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee. He chaired the committee that produced the new lectionary.


1 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, 221.
2 Brunner, 225.


See also FIC

See another article by Jon Schroeder in the August Forward in Christ. The FIC article focuses on the benefits of the new lectionary; this WTL article focuses also on understanding the design of the new lectionary and other propers.

Planning Advent through Epiphany

To assist those who do long range planning in summer, the Hymnal Introduction Committee has posted a planning tool for Advent through Epiphany. This tool includes far more than the new lectionary. It also contains:

  • Series themes and themes of the day (with explanations)
  • Hymn suggestions
  • Notes on new hymns that might benefit from advance planning
  • Two plans for introducing new musical settings of various canticles, one “conservative,” the other “ambitious”

Please note that no new canticle settings are suggested until Epiphany, giving musicians ample time to learn new settings.

Find this planning tool, Year C Advent through Epiphany, in the Look Inside section under the Resources tab at christianworship.com. At this location see also comments from Jon Hein about forthcoming resources from WELS Congregational Services that capitalize on this planning tool and new hymnal resources.

Supporting musical arrangements

At NPH (online.nph.net) search on ‘cw21choral’ to find arrangements of new hymns. Future information will assist with finding piano and organ service music settings.


 

 

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 – Movements in Sermon Writing

I find that writing isn’t difficult. Sitting down to write—that’s difficult. The good lurking within my procrastination, fueling the fear at the edges of my work, is that it matters to me profoundly, this business of writing Word-saturated, Christ-obsessed sermons.

At last, I dare to step past the basics of preaching1 and to take up the writing task itself. As a message begins to emerge from the scribbles on my legal pad, the essential question becomes one of movement. Where to begin? Where am I heading? How will I get there?

As I take up these questions with you, I find myself entwined in the great homiletical debate between deductive and inductive styles. To tease out the differences, let’s consider two sermons based on Hebrew 5:7-10.

Sermon Introduction #1

What if I told you a story about a young pastor, early in his days of planting a church, carrying the weight of the world? He answers the phone, listens for a few moments, hangs up, walks down the basement stairs, closes the door behind him…and cries. What if I cried a little just telling you about it?

I can imagine two reactions. One: you’re embarrassed for me, put off by the show of weakness, rolling your eyes. You think, “Man, keep it together.”

But I can imagine another reaction. You think, “Of all the times I’ve heard him speak, now he has my attention. Maybe he’s like me. Maybe I could tell him things. I think he’d understand. Maybe he could help.”

The very thing that repels one person draws another. You might even wonder what was going on down there? What do they mean, those sounds coming up through the basement door?

It is just this way with Jesus. He scandalizes many—this weakness of God on display in the lowly Jesus carrying the weight of the world, God the Son crying and crying in the Garden. It is the very thing that has our attention and draws us in.

What’s going on, not down the basement stairs, but a stone’s throw away? What is the meaning of the “loud cries and tears” of Gethsemane.

Answer? The Son of God is being qualified to be the Savior of the world and the saving of you.

Deductive Preaching – Arguing from a Conclusion

A message that starts that way is on the deductive end of the continuum between deductive and inductive movement. I reached a conclusion in solitude about the telic note of Hebrews 5:7-10. My 60-second introduction was designed to prepare a compelling announcement of that day’s whole point. I left no one in suspense about what it was. In the “loud cries and tears” our Jesus is being qualified to be our Savior. I would not have hesitated to announce this theme in advance.

By “arguing from a conclusion” I only mean that it was a joy to spend the remainder and bulk of my time playing on my theme and sharing the rewards of my study, unpacking the big thought and establishing it by means of the assigned Word.

It seemed to me at the time to be the way that particular text was asking to be treated. I elected to offer that sort of clarity right up front given that there was plenty left to challenge my listeners. Our Jesus “learned obedience?” When was he ever not obedient? “Once made perfect?” Was he ever anything but perfect? I pulled out all the homiletical stops I know of in the form of illustration—of willingness made complete in the act—and application—we are being qualified by suffering, too, you know. Lord, we are learning, too.

And I dare to hope, under the blessing of Christ, that people walked away appropriating the deep beauty and consolation of that text.

There is no one who understands you like the lowly Jesus. No one who knows you the way he knows you. No one cares the way he cares. No one who could ever have saved you the way this one has saved you. That’s what you’re hearing from a stone’s throw away.

Sermon Introduction #2

Hebrews 5 has challenged me. I have feared that something is lost on me, whatever it was that caused Psalm 110 to be the most often quoted Psalm in the New Testament. The writer to the Hebrews thrills at the thought of Jesus as “priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” To think that we have a king who is also a priest.

Um. Okay.

I have heard of priests and I know what kings are, but for most of my life I have felt no heart connection. The thrill doesn’t easily reach me.

I find I can’t go directly for the heart when I handle Hebrews 5. I need to drill down toward the heart through the head. There are things to study and grapple with, things to understand though they elude us until the Spirit lights them up.

To begin, let’s imagine the skyline of ancient Jerusalem dominated by two structures. The royal palace where the king sat amidst the trappings of royalty, power, and providence—here is one worthy of all your hopes. The holy temple where the priest serves in the aura of mystery, grace, and sacrifice—when he smiles at you, unworthy though you are, it is the smile of God.

The thing is, a man could be one or the other. Not both.

Was King David reflecting on that as he read the story of father Abraham and Melchizedek in the Torah? Did he think, “I can’t be both…but there was one once. There was a king who was also priest. There was a priest who was also a king.” Then the Spirit fell. Then true inspiration hit: “And there will be again!”

Inductive Preaching – Arguing to a Conclusion

I was, of course, just getting warmed up. There was more work to be done in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. There was further still to go in the “uphill climb of understanding” before we could arrive at the “smooth downhill of revealing.”

That’s one way to think of inductive preaching, simplistic though it may be. Inductive movement may involve communicating both the challenge of the text as it first confronted us, as well as the way that challenge resolves, one way or another, in a fresh view of Christ crucified and raised. We share the part that perplexed or disturbed us on our way to a conclusion in which all that was dark is light, questions find answers, and the restless may rest.

That sense of missing something in the name Melchizedek—something that ought to have me leaping—is absolutely what challenged me about that portion of Hebrews 5. And because it was real, it was what I found most interesting.

It sounds cliché, but inductive preaching is intentional about leading hearers on a journey of discovery. I create an itch that needs scratching. I propose an honest dilemma, and then, well, I write my way out.

Inductive preaching is intentional about leading hearers on a journey of discovery.

Why Not Go Full-on Inductive?

The extreme arguments you encounter for inductive preaching would have us take a risk we are not willing to take, namely, that for all our cleverness, our listeners may not arrive at the truth at all. There is a radical position that smacks of Erasmus in his debate with Luther, namely, in his preferring questions over answers. To this Luther insisted that the Christian heart loves and lives off the assertions of God’s Word and its crystal-clear propositions. The predictableness of preaching that always comes around to Christ and him crucified is a good thing. No, it is the best thing.

Early in my days as a preacher, there is no doubt that when I ditched deductive preaching, I turned instead to a method I must now refer to as the “hot mess.”

Ultimately, the extreme version of the argument that takes inductive preaching to be the only preaching that shows respect for a modern audience does not honestly account for the deductive style of some of the most gifted and influential preachers of our time.

Settle on Deductive Preaching and Call It a Day?

An extreme argument for deductive preaching will be hard pressed to justify why it takes so few cues from the communication in the Bible itself with its absolutely stunning array of communication forms. There is a wildness to biblical revelation that we would only domesticate and diminish when room is not given for its prophets and poets to speak the way they speak—in love song and rescue story, smoky ritual and visions by the river. There is nothing obvious about a Burning Bush.

The exaggerated “deductive-only” rant could cause a preacher to deliver a theological treatise and say contentedly within himself, “I told them, so now they know.” He may give so much away in his published theme and parts that people feel little reason to listen.

He may casually assume that all come hungry to hear what he has to say. That hunger may need to be awakened, such as by that itch that begs for scratching, a puzzle that needs solving, a story that demands an ending, a song that disturbs for the way you hold back the final note.

A radical position prefers questions over answers.

A False Dichotomy

We need not huddle on the two ends of the continuum. Combining deductive and inductive elements keeps preaching fresh. Any time we aren’t saying something in the most straightforward way we possibly could—by penetrating questions, in narratives we don’t immediately explain, through images we hope to hang in the basement gallery of people’s hearts—we are being inductive. We’re leaving room for our listeners to complete the meanings we intend and be part of their own persuasion, making things more fully their own.

There can be entangling moments of induction within a deductive style that has no lack of clarity or authority. There can be resolution at the end of a measured time of disorientation.

None of us want our preaching to be vanilla. There is a sweet spot between numbing ambiguity and spoon-feeding. Perhaps we are not helping people on toward further outposts in Christian thinking and living when they know what we’re going to say before we say it.

The challenge, then, is that audiences are diverse with the need for both straightforwardness and discovery, what is unambiguous blended with what makes for that interesting car ride home.

There is a sweet spot between numbing ambiguity and spoon-feeding.

Genre Can Help

If my sermon text is a gorgeous psalm, I try to write elements of beauty into my message. Like a novel by Flannery O’Connor, my preaching may set grace against the blood and dead bodies of the Old Testament such as to make evil recognizable. If my text is an ancient story, I might bring it into conversation with a story of now. A provocative text asks for a provocative sermon. To say nothing of a visual text. A somber text. An ironic one.

If, on the other hand, my text is theologically dense and tightly constructed, an expository approach has wonderful possibilities. Why deconstruct and then reconstruct a text like that? Instead, set the context. Walk through verse by verse. Draw law and gospel to the surface and Christ into the frame, if he isn’t there already. Insert pictures and encouragements as the moment requires. Why not adhere to the agenda the Spirit has set?

Combining deductive and inductive elements keeps preaching fresh.

Might as Well Preach It

A kind reader of Preach the Word offered me this advice. I was unsure of where to go next on the topic of sermon writing. He suggested I include a longer excerpt of a sermon as a way to communicate indirectly what I’ve been trying to say all along.

So, if you’ll indulge me, where were we? Ah.

Melchizedek.

We were drilling down through the head and toward the heart.

I can be as foolish as the pagans for whom it’s all about the question: what do I have to do to get the deity to care? I can carry the weight of the world, but the Word reaches me again: “Cast all your care on him.” Toss ‘em like a backpack tossed across your dorm room. Throw them on the one with the scars in his palms.

He cares for you.

Or think of Isaiah mocking the pagans for the gods they fashioned from wood and stone and then had to carry around on their own backs—heavy things hunching them over. I can be that foolish and that exhausted, trusting in things I have to carry around myself. But the News reaches me again.

There is one who carries me.

We haven’t seen the last of anxiety and shame. But I can welcome them when I see how strongly they play in my bondedness to Jesus—in the fact that I will always need him.

What I need is a king.

I require a king to adore, a king who can subdue me, carry on his rule of peace in this busy mind and this troubled heart. I need the king who will consummate his kingdom, the new Jerusalem descending from the sky.

What I need is a priest.

I am capable of so much shame, the great self-inflicted wounding. Sometimes I don’t want to show my face. It is just then he shows me his. He smiles on me with the smile of God, honors me, clothes me in beauty, covers my disgrace with a righteousness that is all him and none of me. I see it now.

I need a king who is also a priest. I need my priest to also be my king.

I need to know that wherever I am and whatever I am doing, the one who prays for me is the one at the center of all things, holding all things together by his powerful Word. And when I stand before him on that day, the King of the universe, the Lord of all there is, I will be standing before the one who laid his body down.

(Long pause.)

This will sound strange, but I walked through the cemetery near my house early this morning and threw a rock as far as I could. I actually did that. That was me naively wondering just exactly how far is “a stone’s throw away.” I don’t have a great arm…but it’s pretty far. I wanted to see for myself.

Can you picture it? Have you ever been able to hear someone not only crying from that far away, but you were even able to make out the words? Imagine. The loud cries and tears go on and on. At last it gets quiet. For the moment, he’s all prayed out.

Abba, your will be done.”

Here prays a king for all your fears, a priest for all your shame. A lone cross juts up from the landscape of human history. It dominates our horizon. Here the blood of royalty mingles with the tears of a priest.

Melchizedek! (I say this with a fist against my chest. You see it, right?)

Melchizedek!

Here is the name for the heart’s greatest affection. There is no one who understands you like the lowly Jesus. No one who knows you the way he knows. No one who cares the way he cares. None other could have saved you the way he has saved you. Blessed be the name. Amen.

The Moment the Preacher Dies

Guru of adult education, Jane Vella, steals a thought from Paolo Freire about “the moment the teacher dies.” They disagree only about whether both student and teacher recognize it when it arrives. It’s about what happens when the teacher truly joins those she means to serve in the task of learning, a student among students.

By “the moment the preacher dies,” I mean something else. Someone asked me what I pray for as I bow my head before reading my text. There are several variations on the theme. But whatever else I say to my God in that moment, I always also say what I learned in a garden:

“Not my will but yours be done.”

I know what I want to happen next. What do you want to happen, Abba? Honestly, preaching you still thoroughly humbles me. And so, because ultimately there’s my way and there’s your way, let it go your way.

As for me, let me die in this moment to all self-concern and to every doomed identity. Let me die outright to the hunger to be well thought of. But this—this preaching Christ crucified—it still scares me because of how much it matters.

I am willing to be disturbed, yearning, and unfinished until you, Lord, release the final note.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

As I lift my head, as I stand here, it is enough to take a good long look at the faces turned toward me and love them, even as I am loved. It is enough to be forgiven and to be, even now, on my way home.

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 The previous five articles in this series were titled “Joy and Confidence from the Basics.”


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Plans A,B,C,D…

We were ready to take Minot by storm with a new, innovative approach for starting a church. It was 2014, childcare was a massive need in a still-booming North Dakota, so we were going to start an early childhood ministry through which we would grow a thriving mission church. What could go wrong?

A failed land deal, a collapsed oil economy, and one year later we were onto “Plan B.” It was the start of a trend. The past seven years have been filled with plan after plan to reach out to our community. During much of that time we were on the lookout for a more suitable location for our ministry than a hotel conference room. Yet, whether it was an appealing land purchase, a building that would lend well to a renovation, or just leased space where we could get our footing, every plan seemed to fall through and result in a change of plans. We met at that hotel far longer than we ever envisioned.

Grace Lutheran’s church service.

Until one day, one of our members was speaking with a friend from a local Baptist church. They were looking to sell their building, we were looking to buy, and finally, that meant we had a plan that would work. We moved into the building right before Christmas and took a couple months to get it ready. We started up a Mornings with Mommy program shortly thereafter. For the first time it felt our ministry had reached a fifth gear, since we were able to engage in ministry programs that the limitations of the hotel had not allowed!

That was a month before COVID.  You can guess what happened next. Fast-forward to 2021 and I couldn’t tell you what “plan” we’re on. (By now, we have probably run out of letters in the English alphabet.) But all the while, God accomplishes his plan. It has taken me a while to see it because it has never quite matched my plans, but when I remember what God told his people through the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11); yet, plans that would somehow endure when the nation was about to get deported to a foreign land and the temple destroyed? If God could still turn that plan into a Savior and life and salvation, he can do the same for us.

Indeed, this is what I have seen in seven years in Minot: the message of a Savior bringing life and salvation to souls who crave it, even when my own plans have fallen apart. Christian baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals that would stop for no one. Grace from God that didn’t care what “plan” we were on.

I never saw myself as a home missionary, but when I started in Minot I set my mind to work hard and took comfort in the fact that the church would either take off in a “couple years” or it wouldn’t, but then I would be on to something else. It has been seven years now, and I have no idea how long it will take to reach that first “couple of years”, but I know that God’s plan will endure. As long as we continue to preach Jesus, nothing can stop it.

This is mission work. It is infuriating, and it is beautiful.

Written by Rev. Nate Walther, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

 

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Member roles from scratch

“My name is _______ and I’m the official _______ at my church.” How easy is it for you to fill in that second blank?

God the Holy Spirit gives gifts, talents, responsibilities, and roles to every believer in Jesus. We’re like parts of a body (Romans 12 and Corinthians 12). We depend on each other’s gifts to build each other up.

Unfortunately, an old phrase echoes around churches: “20% of the members do 80% of the work.” Why? I doubt anyone would say, “I don’t sign up because I’m lazy and afraid of commitment,” or “I don’t think my church’s ministries are worthwhile.”

More likely, a member who isn’t serving in any organized way in his or her church has more sympathetic reasons, like, “No one ever asked me directly,” or, “I think other people are already doing that,” or “I would like to serve, but the roles they offer just aren’t interesting to me.” Rather than thirsting for law or gospel, that Christian might be craving guidance toward a clear ministry role that suits his or her gifts and passions.

We at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Florida, are novices at everything, including member ministry. But as a new mission, we have the opportunity to organize all our ministries from scratch.

We decided to make Member Roles an early priority. They’re one of only four programs we offer (with weekly worship, Bible study groups, and quarterly mission outings). We want to make those roles obvious and official, so that every member with a role, has a title, understands the value of that role, and does it really well.

The “big board” that members put “pen to touchscreen”

On Ascension weekend, we renewed our confirmation vows—all members of all ages. On Pentecost, the members of Citrus Grove chose their ministry roles. These roles are the manpower for our four ministries: Gather, Grow, Give, and Go. Names were already filled in for the Pastor and Ministry Council, but 75 other blanks waited on the Big Board for any confirmed member to claim.

Some people had already found “their thing” during our early months of loosely-organized gatherings. They simply made it official by putting pen to touchscreen: Musician. Coffee Brewer. Women’s Bible Study Host. Others felt torn between two or three possible roles, so friends helped them pick the best one for their gifts.

Be careful if you’re thinking, “One? I serve in a whole bunch of roles at my church!” The right number of roles for each member is somewhere between zero and too many. Wearing too many hats can lead to its own problems: Pride, burnout, or guilt over unfinished or low-quality work.

We also started at one for another reason: None of these roles have job descriptions. (See how brave the members of this mission church are!) Over the next few weeks, members and leaders will work together to clarify the details of each role: Why is mine so valuable? How does mine connect people to Jesus? What exactly do I do, step-by-step? How long is the commitment? What if I run into an issue? What about substitutes? And anything else that will help the next member who serves in that role.

Earlier, I mentioned 75 blanks. Citrus Grove doesn’t have 75 members. That means the unfilled blanks await God’s timing. Those are the talents of people we haven’t met yet, but we’re already praying for them and looking forward to their fruitful service here. Until then, it’s a joy to see current members committing to serve Jesus, his church, and our mission field in roles so clear they can write them on their nametags.

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

 

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From one background to another

This is a world missions story that starts in the good ol’ U.S. of A. In fact, you could say that the mission work is mostly being done there. But at the same time, it’s reaching to people far across the ocean.

Back in the month of April, one of our Lutheran pastors in Arizona reached out to me here in Hong Kong. He said that he was getting to know a Filipina lady – one with a PhD, no less – who was living and teaching, not in the U.S., not in the Philippines, but in a city closer to us in Hong Kong. This lady works there at the overseas campus of an American public university, and she had started attending his online Bible instruction class in Arizona (even though they are separated by nine time zones). She was also bringing two of her local colleagues.

So, what could we do to help this lady and her colleagues? Of course, the pastor in Arizona would continue to teach them in the Bible instruction class. But would there be any chance that we could connect them with Lutheran Christians who live closer to them? By God’s grace and the work of his gospel through WELS World Missions, we do in fact happen to have a small group that worships less than an hour’s drive away from that campus.

This might sound like an amazing coincidence, but we know that nothing is purely happenstance in this world that our Savior holds in his nail-marked hands. It is also a blessing that comes as a direct result of the mission work that God has done through your gifts and offerings, your prayers and preaching. What grace from him that we are connected other Lutherans not only in North America but also around the world! What grace that we can work together to help acquaintances who might not reside in (or even visit) the United States! It takes a global village of Lutheran Christians to do this, and I thank God for all of you.

And that dear Filipina lady and her friends? They’ve finished the first part of the Bible instruction class and are continuing on to the second. Please pray for them that the Holy Spirit would grow them in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pray that they would be encouraged by our Lutheran brothers and sisters. And pray that God would also use them to let his mission story continue on to others.

Written by Rev. Tim Matthies, Professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong.

 

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Becoming Bible teachers

In 2019, I began serving as a full-time online missionary with TELL Network. Much like its sister Spanish ministry, Academia Cristo, TELL’s vision is to reach people online, teach the true gospel and equip men and women to share the good news of Jesus.

Very early in my work, I visited the ministry leaders of Academia Cristo in Doral, Florida. For several days we discussed their strategy of discipleship and multiplication. I learned that online ministry includes building an audience online with daily gospel-centered content.

Interested persons click on a link to download the self-learning Bible app. On the app they watch Bible lesson videos and answer questions. Upon completing the app they are invited to live group class with an instructor. Here teachers begin to equip students to become Bible teachers using the same Bible lessons they are learning but in their own setting.

During the same trip, I was invited to a missionary multiplication meeting. Here online teachers and missionaries from Latin America strategized about who was coming through the live group classes and how to follow up with them. For prospects ready to begin teaching themselves, trips are arranged to equip and train further.

Today, much of what I learned is being duplicated for TELL English. Like Academia Cristo, TELL’s emphasis is creating a large online presence and directing interested people to the TELL app where they start the self-learning courses. God has blessed this work too! Along with 1.5 million followers on its main Facebook page, there are over 10,000 active users on the TELL app and over 150 sign-ups for live group class.

Over 30 countries are represented somewhere along the TELL English process: some beginners, others finishing their ninth or tenth live group class. In the TELL multiplication meeting, world missionaries, and others, strategize about following up with students and how to make TELL more effective in training people who, in turn, teach others the gospel.

Moses Adesina is a TELL student who shares the gospel in Georgetown, Guyana. He found TELL on Facebook, downloaded the app and now is on his sixth live group class. Moses says: “Thank God for the TELL program. Ever since I joined the TELL program I thank God that even my spiritual life has grown. I have grown deeper in the Bible. So have my sermons in church. Studying the Bible is what TELL is all about.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, TELL Missionary.

 

 

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