Small in number, mighty in love

Crosspoint Church  in Georgetown, Tex., has been putting on an Easter Eggstravaganza event for over four years now. Each year it has become bigger and bigger, yet membership has stayed at 40 members. In 2023, the event attracted nearly 1,000 people. Rev. Mike Geiger and the members at Crosspoint were expecting just as big of a turnout, if not bigger, for this year as well. However, being a congregation consisting primarily of retirees, they needed more resources than what they had available to help this event be another successful one. The University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire’s campus ministry was asked if they would be willing to go down to Texas during their spring break. Four students volunteered and spent the week going door-to-door handing out invitations to both the Easter Eggstravaganza event and the Easter Sunday service, doing the heavy lifting of tables, tents, and signage to set up for the event, running different stations at the event, and helping take it all back down at the end of the day to get the church ready for service the next morning.

While Crosspoint may be a small church in number, it is still mighty in love and God’s grace. I don’t think there was one member who didn’t contribute in some way to the event, whether it was helping host the college students, stuffing all 14,000 eggs, setting up the event, lending tables or tents for the event, running the event, or helping take it down. There was so much love and hospitality everywhere you went. While planning and putting on the long-awaited event, the congregation was so full of joy and hope, praying that the Holy Spirit would use it as an opportunity to bring some more people closer to Jesus. After a week full of work by the campus ministry students and months of work by the congregation, the event was finally able to commence.

There were 817 people in attendance at the Easter Eggstravaganza, enjoying the event and learning more about what Crosspoint stood for. On Easter Sunday, four new families joined us. The families had either been at the event the day before or had gotten an invitation during our canvasing earlier in the week. We hope that through the Holy Spirit these people will come back and learn about Jesus, and eventually be led to become members at Crosspoint. May God bless all the work Crosspoint is doing to expand their ministry and grow their congregation in one of the fastest-growing areas of Texas.

Written by Ally Veley, member of In Christ Alone, the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire WELS Campus Ministry.

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Multiple home missions under one roof

St. John’s Lutheran in St. Paul, Minn., is an old congregation established by German immigrants over 150 years ago. It was the second WELS congregation started in the Twin Cities area. In the 1980s, the neighborhood demographic started to change. Asians and African Americans moved in while Caucasians moved to the suburbs. Throughout the 1990s and in the 2000s, the change continued as Hispanic immigrants moved into the area.

In 2005, St. John’s opened their facility to Immanuel Hmong, a WELS congregation focused on reaching out to the local Hmong community. As the neighborhood around St. John’s changed, so did the congregation. By 2015 the membership had decreased to about 300 souls. Enrollment in the school continued to decline throughout the years. In 2017, St. Johns made the difficult decision to close the school.

Over the next three years, St. Johns considered merging with other area congregations or closing their doors as they could no longer completely support a full-time pastor. Then, in 2020 a member of the church passed away and left a large bequest to the congregation. With the help of District President Rev. Dennis Klatt and Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant, the members of St. John’s “opened their eyes and looked at the fields” around them and decided to move forward in a new direction. They decided to ask WELS Home Missions for some financial help to call a bilingual pastor with the goal of starting a Hispanic ministry in addition to the English-speaking community.

In spring of 2022, St. John’s installed Rev. Tim Otto to serve as pastor to focus on outreach to the Hispanic community. What a joy to see God answer in a greater fashion than we could ask or imagine: the building now hosts worship in three languages every weekend!

Check out below some of the recent activities happening at St. John’s facility.

Hispanic Services in St. Paul, Minn.

Over the past year, St. John’s has started up Hispanic services and held various local community events under the name of Iglesia Lutherana San Juan.

In September, San Juan had a table at Fiesta Latina. It served to create a prospect list of around 100. The group gave away over 100 Bibles and a lot of flyers advertising their Hispanic ministry. This event was held by CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio) at a building next door to the church.

In January, San Juan started an evangelism program to the community called Kicks and Conversations (Patear y Platicar). They invited the community to come out of the cold and to play soccer or basketball in the gym. Attendees could also practice their English on Wednesdays in January and February leading up to Ash Wednesday. There was good participation and attendance from the community varied from 10 to 30 people.

In summer 2023, San Juan started a summer evangelism program partnering with Raices y Ramas, a Hispanic pregnancy counseling organization. The program is called Community Thursdays (Jueves en comunidad) and ran for six weeks over the summer. San Juan opened the gym and volunteers organized and ran crafts for the moms.

For more information on St. John’s/San Juan, please visit their website at stjohnev.net

Celebrating Thanksgiving & Hmong New Year in St. Paul, Minn.

In November each year, the congregation of Immanuel Hmong Lutheran in St. Paul, Minn., welcomes friends and guests to a special Thanksgiving and Hmong New Year celebration. This is a yearly celebration that includes members dressing in traditional Hmong attire. The celebration includes a special worship service followed by dinner that includes many Hmong dishes.

In addition to the annual Thanksgiving and Hmong New Year celebration, Immanuel Hmong also hosted various other activities such as marriage retreats, vacation Bible studies, summer fun festivals, family camping, and many different choirs.

God has truly blessed Immanuel Hmong, and we pray that God would continue to bless this home mission!

For more information on Immanuel Hmong, please visit their website at immanuelhmong.net

Written by Daryl Schultz, Minnesota District Mission Board member.

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Resilient in the face of rejection

“Christianity is dying.” “Religion is a waste of time and money and energy.” “I will be blocking any further posts from you.”

Our church ran an advertisement on Facebook recently for our Lent sermon series. The quotes above are a sample of replies we got as people scrolled through their feeds and ran into our post. Encouraging, right?

You’ve probably heard similar things. Perhaps no one has said something like this to you when you’ve invited them to church. Usually, people are much more polite if you already have a relationship. But they may have thought it. “Who still cares about that ‘church’ stuff?”

When we see churches all over the country shrinking, and people reacting more and more negatively to our invitations, we can become discouraged. We might even get angry. We’re tempted to lash out at those who disparage our faith, whether online or in person.

But some people responded quite differently to our ad.

“God bless you at all times and all places.” “Thank you.” “Pray for me.”

God’s children, even in an age that seems less and less interested in the gospel, are known through our attitudes of peace, joy, and kindness. Your neighbors see Christ’s love reflected in you, which is a wondrous work of God’s Holy Spirit.

The early Christians faced similar rejection and persecution. Many people accused them of cannibalism (because they were “eating someone’s body and blood” in worship) or of conspiracy and sedition (because they claimed another Lord ruled over them).

Likewise, we may face rejection and scorn for what seems like unfair reasons. But in that, we’re no different than our Lord. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”. 1 Peter 2:23-24

I’ve got an appointment on my calendar this week to stop by a new member’s home; someone who’s been ill recently and hasn’t made it to worship in a couple weeks. Their reaction to Christianity? A text that made me smile. “I’m frustrated. I really want to get back to church.”

This is going to sound obvious, but it’s a truth I’ve had to remind myself of more than once during our church’s restart project, “Don’t look for encouragement in discouraging words.” I found myself returning to those negative comments, reading them again and again, as if I expected a reply to suddenly occur to me that would absolutely flip their worldview on its head and convince them of the truth of the gospel. That won’t happen!

Instead, find encouragement among your brothers and sisters in your church. Cling to one another. “The family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings,” so let us “love each other deeply” (1 Peter 5:9 and 4:8). Love like that will stand out today, tomorrow, and always.

Written by Rev. Timothy Walsh, home missionary at Grace of God Lutheran Church in Dix Hills, N.Y.

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Pastoral Studies Institute: Winterim 2024

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous WELS member, the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) was able to bring five of our East Asian PSI students to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for an intensive one week of instruction. They were able to attend classes that were specifically focused on their course requirements but also upon their cultural background. One of the PSI courses is “History of Christianity in the Student’s Context.” Our students were able reap the blessings of being taught by Professor Emeritus Glen Thompson who served at Asia Lutheran Seminary teaching Historical Theology and New Testament. Professor Thompson shared his class “History of Christianity in East Asia.” Much of his course was new information for our students since most East Asian history is rewritten to coincide with the current government’s policies.

While on campus our PSI students were able to attend daily chapel and meet and interact with our traditional students who were also on campus for their intensive Winterim courses. Our PSI men made the most of their time on campus in a second course, “Engaging the Spirit World.” This was a very practical addition to their training as future pastors, given the high rate of spiritism in East Asian culture.

This is just one more way that the Pastoral Studies Institute attempts to be flexible in our training methods, but consistent and academically rigorous in delivering our Confessional Lutheran content. This is another fine example of our WELS members partnering with us to be able to provide these kinds of exceptional learning opportunities. For more information about the Pastoral Studies Institute, please visit wels.net/psi.

Written by Harland Goetzinger, Pastoral Studies Institute director

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Mission Journeys: Connecting with cultures in the U.K.

“John 3:16 tells us that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Our sins are forgiven and heaven is our home because of Jesus!”

This was our response to a question moments earlier. We were attending a course on Christianity and a young man had asked, “But why did Jesus need to die on the cross?” As lifelong WELS Lutherans, we were eager to provide the answer we knew so well. But, as we surveyed the room, we were met with blank stares and raised eyebrows. The course leader moved on quickly with another question, “So, do you guys actually think Jesus rose from the dead?” People went on to debate theories and opinions, never once mentioning the Bible. We left the class with heavy hearts. In a room full of 30 questioning Christians, why did our words have little to no effect? Why did the Bible cause so much confusion and offense? We realized that for those British Christians, evidence, emotion, and reason determined faith; not God’s Word.

How do we communicate God’s word in a culture that is not our own? During our six months of volunteering for WELS Missions in the United Kingdom, Pastor Michael Hartman challenged us to answer this question while working to start a church in Central London. By visiting other churches and building relationships with locals, we have learned that the vast majority of London churches lack a clear understanding of the Bible and disregard the Means of Grace entirely. They view Jesus as a good role model and God as our benevolent cheerleader. People in the U.K. are missing the real hope found in the Bible.

Realizing that Biblical illiteracy would play a role in how we communicate Christ, British members of the U.K. mission effort decided to name the church, “Holy Word – Your Hope.” This name and tagline communicates that our church values God’s holy word as its foundation. Through Scripture-based worship services and quality Bible courses, we plan to spread our hope to searching souls in London and across the U.K.

Connecting with cultural values provides opportunities to share God’s Word in an unfamiliar setting. In the past, WELS has done this in various countries by providing free medical care, English classes, and soccer camps. In the United Kingdom, we have found that charity work is highly valued. There are thousands of charities sprinkled throughout London, with programs to help protect the environment, make and distribute meals for the poor, and provide companionship for the lonely. Many people, including the royal family, dedicate hours of their time to volunteer work. We plan to reach out within our communities by providing volunteers for various charities in London throughout the summer. We hope to build relationships through these volunteers and connect people to Holy Word.

God’s Word transcends cultural barriers. Because London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, our church has the unique opportunity to teach God’s Word globally. We experienced this when we had an opportunity to serve our Christian sister from Pakistan, who left her home to pursue a master’s degree in London. We helped her through extreme culture shock. Despite the vast differences between our cultures, were able to connect and encourage her through our shared faith.

Our experience volunteering in the U.K. has shown us that the Bible is both deeply needed and immensely powerful. In a country struggling with loneliness and doubt, God’s holy word is a sure and certain hope. Our prayer is that God continues to bless the members of Holy Word as they consider how best to communicate the Bible in the U.K. and abroad.

Written by Ben and Abby Hillmer, Mission Journeys volunteers in England.

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Celebrating God’s goodness forever

May you keep celebrating birthdays until the year 3000! This is the last line in the Colombian version of the song Happy Birthday. Recently, members of Most Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Medellín, Colombia, sang these words when celebrating their congregation’s 50th anniversary. In addition to singing, there was a worship service with record attendance, a meal, and fellowship time. Former and current WELS Latin America missionaries had the opportunity to attend, share greetings, and participate in a question-and-answer session. There were also visitors from other congregations in Colombia, many hugs, laughter, and tears of joy.

When WELS missionaries began outreach in Medellín 50 years ago, their efforts spanned from teaching English classes to managing Christian Information Centers to cultivating friendships to training leaders. The Lord blessed this work. Today, Most Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is an active, growing congregation. Members meet for worship and Bible study. Children and youth are taught God’s Word in Sunday School and Catechism class. The congregation uses small group Bible studies as an outreach strategy. These studies, held in the homes of members in various strategic locations of the city, create an opportunity for their members to invite their friends and neighbors to learn about Jesus.

From Medellín, the work spread to other parts of Colombia. Congregations were established in other cities. A Confessional Lutheran synod was formed. Recently, this synod helped form a new, Latin American synod called Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. The congregations in Colombia also partner with Academia Cristo to promote church planting in new parts of Colombia and throughout Latin America. Most importantly, over the past fifty years, Most Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is a place where the good news of Jesus has been preached, taught, and applied to countless hearts and lives.

Celebrating the 50th birthday of the church in Colombia was a special occasion. Will the church still be celebrating its birthday in the year 3000? Its members can look forward to something even more amazing. They get to celebrate God’s grace, goodness, and mercy without end. Through faith in Jesus, we can look forward to sharing with them an eternal celebration in heaven. Praise God for his 50 years of grace in Colombia. Praise him for his unending love, blessings, and salvation!

Written by Rev. Matt Behmer, world missionary on the Latin America Mission team.

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Sowing seeds in urban soil

When you think of church, what pops into your head? I think of my home church building, St. John’s in New Ulm, Minn. I can see the stained-glass windows and large wooden cross up front. I can hear the organ and bells, the singing of hymns, and the subtle crack of the microphone as the pastor proclaims the sermon. I can smell the midweek Lenten supper simmering in the basement. I recall conversing with family and friends in the narthex after the service. It transports me to another world. Maybe you can relate.

Now, imagine you don’t have most of the things in that “other world.” There is no church building. No grand pipe organ blasting “Speak, O Savior; I Am Listening.” No microphones. No midweek Lenten soup. No Sunday morning conversations that last until the lights are shut off, telling you it’s time to go home. Would it still feel like church?

It might not feel like church, but it would be.

We don’t have a traditional church building in Boston or a large music ensemble yet (and one day, I hope we do). But we still have a church. Our church meets in many different places around the city: in libraries, co-working space, coffee shops, restaurants, and homes. We don’t have a large group of people, but we gather together to take in the scriptures, confess sins, recite creeds, and pray the Lord’s prayer. We do gather for fellowship and eat food together, and we share in the Lord’s Supper – just like you do.

It can be challenging for church to always feel like church when planting a new mission congregation. No programs are established and there isn’t a regular meeting on Sunday morning. It’s hard for the members of the congregation as well. Many of them are familiar with growing up in well-established congregations. I ask that you keep us in your prayers as we continue working on planting.

This may all sound a bit pessimistic up to this point, but I promise it’s not meant to feel that way. Why? Because church planting, especially in a city, gives us opportunities to reach many people with the gospel. Some predict that 68 percent of the world will live in urban centers by 2050. That tells me that we must continue to plant churches in urban environments. We have to start somewhere. From a human perspective, if we can work in cities, we can reach more people worldwide.

Church planting efforts, like the one in Boston, may feel small to begin with. At times, they may not feel like church, but they are. Efforts like the one WELS is making in Boston are critical as we seek to see the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

I am incredibly grateful for all the prayers and support of the work in Boston. Continue to pray for us and all of our church plants as we attempt to reach many with the good news of Jesus!

Written by Rev. Joshua Koelpin, home missionary in Boston, Mass.

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A Fresh Look at Symbolism

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

A Fresh Look at Symbolism

The Wisconsin Synod has come a long way in its nearly 175-year worship history. This article will not attempt to review that history1, but a brief glance at that story shows a church body whose worship customs have grown from straightforward and simple services to the full liturgical rite we know today. Musical diversity in style and instrumentation is now widely accepted. We also recognize the Word is proclaimed not only by our spoken words, but also in our songs and even in symbolism.

In this article, we explore the matter of symbolism in public worship. Symbolism is the idea that something we see or say or do represents something else—something larger and more significant than the symbol itself. With symbolism, we depict that which cannot be seen through art, ceremony, music, and even texts.

I’ve written about symbolism previously.2 An essay about symbolism is also included in the new Christian Worship: Foundations.3 These resources especially speak to the principles that underlie symbolism in public worship. Without mechanically repeating what has been written previously, this article takes a fresh look at some of the issues raised by common symbolic practices in our midst.

Symbolism Requires Participation

For several years, I have taught classes about worship to seniors at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School. On the day we discuss symbolism, I introduce them to a sampling of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. Besides the fact that most of the students are unfamiliar with Larson’s old comic strip and his unique brand of humor, the benefit of this exercise is that The Far Side requires you to “participate” with it to understand the humor. One example: Two dogs are looking at a broken mirror on the ground. One says to the other: “Tough luck, Rusty. Seven years of bad luck—of course, in your case, that works out to 49 years.” At the risk of stating the obvious: A reader needs to know the superstition that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck, and that “dog years” are commonly equated to seven years of a human’s life. A reader who brings that knowledge to the cartoon will respond with something between an outright laugh and an inward chuckle. But if the reader doesn’t know about the superstition or dog years, the cartoon makes no sense. We need to bring a certain “necessary knowledge” to the cartoon for it to be humorous. When we do, there is an “Aha!” moment—the moment when we understand the joke and it causes a reaction within us.

Symbolism works in a similar manner. Symbols—whether in art, ceremony, music, or words—require worshipers to “fill in the blanks.” Even though subtle printed explanations can be helpful, worshipers must engage with the symbol—observe it, ponder the biblical truth it is meant to portray, and apply it to their own present circumstance. The “Aha!” moment with worship symbolism does not result in a chuckle, but in a personal devotional application of biblical truth. The placing of the funeral pall over the casket communicates to mourners that their loved one is clothed in the righteousness of Christ through Holy Baptism, which gives them confidence and joy amidst their tears. The minister’s raised hands for the blessing communicate that this blessing from God’s Word is not a mere recitation of an excerpt from Numbers, but that this blessing is being applied to God’s people in that assembly and at that moment. When the organist adds a growly, low reed in the pedal (bass) for her accompaniment of stanza 3 of Luther’s A Mighty Fortress, many singers will understand that she is depicting the stanza’s opening words which describe a spiritual reality that must keep us on guard: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.”

Symbols require worshipers to “fill in the blanks.”

Just as a lengthy explanation of a joke causes the joke to fall flat, so a wordy explanation of symbolism causes the symbol to turn into mere information. Worshipers’ participation is blunted. But just as a lack of the necessary background knowledge causes a joke to bomb, so a lack of biblical understanding and catechetical truths can result in ineffective symbolism. Worshipers’ participation hasn’t been enabled.

Preaching and teaching must be solid for symbolism to be effective. Worshipers will experience those “Aha!” moments when they observe symbols because they know the doctrinal truths expressed in symbols. But another simple, practical way for symbolism to be more effective is with simple, succinct, printed comments about the symbolism employed in public worship. When space permits and opportunity suggests, an explanation along the margin or in a text box can enable worshipers to fill in the gaps of the symbols they see.

Depicting What Cannot Be Seen

One important value of symbolic communication is that it helps us to depict truths we believe and confess but cannot see. When we baptize an infant, we cannot see the child’s baptismal connection to the death and resurrection of Christ, but the sign of the cross over the head and heart visualizes Romans 6:3, and the lit paschal candle alongside the font symbolizes Romans 6:4. We cannot see this divine miracle with our eyes, but to communicate its reality, we symbolize it. We likewise cannot see the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament, but the sign of the cross in connection with the Words of Institution not only sets apart these elements for Christ’s purpose, but also communicates that the bread and wine we receive are in fact the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us on the cross.

Because symbolism depicts what we cannot see, some common symbols we use might be considered redundant. For example, I once heard someone argue against the use of a unity candle in wedding services. His rationale was this: Marriage is established by the public consent given by a man and a woman. We witness this at a wedding service. We hear this in the vows that they speak to the Lord and to each other. There is no great need to symbolize that which people can hear with their ears and see with their eyes. Not everyone will agree with my acquaintance’s opinion. For some couples, the unity candle is a desirable feature. Others may find it to be anticlimactic after the declaration of marriage. The local pastor will work with couples to determine what makes the most sense in each setting.4

Emotional Impact

The way that symbolism communicates engages our emotions far more than words alone. Words especially speak to our heads—the logical side of our being. But symbolism in beautiful art, music, rituals, or poetry has a way of speaking to our hearts—the emotional side of our being.5 And that emotional message is powerful—sometimes overwhelmingly so!

At my first congregation, I introduced the custom of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. I also inherited that as an established custom at my present congregation. What I didn’t sense as a younger pastor is just how powerful the emotional impact of that symbolic ceremony can be—not just for the worshiper, but especially for the minister! What goes through the pastor’s mind when the octogenarian widow comes forward to receive the sign of ashes? What does the pastor think to himself as the cancer patient stands before him? “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Can we speak these words without a lump in our throats?6

The imposition of ashes is akin to sticking your finger in a liturgical light socket! We stand inside one another’s personal space. The ashes are physical; the application is personal. “Remember that you are dust” bluntly means “Someday you will die.” Not everyone will be comfortable with its strong emotional impact, and that’s okay. My parish makes it clear that participation is optional. It’s fine if a person doesn’t want to “go there” due to the impact of the rite or for any other reason.

The emotional impact of symbolism can be a great blessing that worshipers deeply appreciate. At the same time, be aware that some symbols and ceremonies can impact people so strongly that it leaves them uncomfortable. The careful, caring parish pastor can be a good judge of what symbolic customs work best for his people and how to carry them out. Encourage your people to appreciate the emotional impact, but give them the space they need if the impact is too uncomfortable.

Reassessing Symbols

Do some of the symbols and ceremonies of worship need to be reassessed? Have they lost their meaning and impact? Is the “Aha!” moment missing because the symbol itself is murky or unclear? As with anything, a reassessment of why we do what we do can be a valuable exercise, in this case, to make sure that worship symbolism communicates clearly.

As the hymnal project neared completion, a small group from the Rites Committee met to finalize special occasion services. One of those services was the Good Friday Service of Seven Words, also known as the Service of Darkness, or Tenebrae. An issue that the group wrestled with for this service was its ending conclusion. Should a single lit candle be returned to the chancel before people exit, symbolizing the glimmer of resurrection hope that we possess on Good Friday? Should the service end with the strepitus, the loud “bang!” sounded in the darkness that some interpret as the sealing of Jesus’ tomb and others as foreshadowing the rending of Christ’s tomb on Easter morning?

Many found the strepitus symbol confusing and unclear.

The group did not agree on a single approach, and so the rubrics of this service in Christian Worship: Service Builder are intentionally flexible. I originally advocated for retaining the strepitus, but I changed my opinion after my own informal survey of brother pastors and parishioners. A personal email survey is hardly scientific, but it did reveal that many found the symbol confusing and unclear. Still others appreciated these symbols and would regret to see them disappear. My perspective on these symbols changed from, “Let’s encourage this,” to “It’s not always effective, so perhaps it should be optional”—which is reflected in the service’s rubrics.

Another symbol that deserves reassessment is the Advent wreath—particularly its arrangement of candles. As a recent Forward in Christ devotional article7 indicated, many people wonder about the origin of the pink (technically: rose) candle for the third Sunday in Advent.

The story of the Advent wreath is uncertain; there are at least three theories about its origins.8 When the Advent wreath made its way from the home into the church in the early twentieth century, Roman Catholics used colors for the wreath’s candles that echoed their liturgical colors—purple for most Sundays in Advent, but rose for the third. While purple is understood as a symbol of repentance, rose symbolizes joy. The traditional Introit for Advent 3 from Philippians 4:4 begins with Gaudete—“Rejoice!” Now several of the appointed readings for the Third Sunday in Advent in the three-year lectionary also contain thoughts about joy.

There seems to be good reason to believe that the use of rose is connected to the medieval Roman Catholic Church’s lessening of Advent (and Lent) fasting restrictions9—a bit of joy and reprieve injected into a somber season, hence the color rose (joy) injected into the otherwise purple (repentance) season. But these practices are not part of Lutheran history and need not affect our own Lutheran liturgical practices. In recent decades, blue, understood as a symbol of hope, has been replacing purple in many parishes during Advent. These realities suggest a different approach to our Advent wreath candles—blue to match the liturgical color or white to reflect the more original Lutheran custom10, in either case without a rose candle for the third week of Advent.

The rose candle is a well-established custom in many minds and parishes. It is not likely to disappear, so understanding it as a symbol of joy is a devotionally appropriate way of handling this custom and symbol.11 But since its origins don’t necessarily reflect Lutheran history, the rose candle may be worth reassessment and, ultimately, replacement.

The placement of the flag in the chancel can be a touchy subject!

A symbol that stirs up passionate feelings is the American flag. The placement of the flag in the chancel can be a touchy subject! But the flag is a good example of the way symbolism works. No one sees the American flag and thinks only about our nation’s 13 original colonies and the present 50 states. The flag conjures up memories of American history. The flag is viewed as a symbol of the sacrifice of our servicemen, a symbol of freedom, pride, and patriotism. In our current tense political climate, some also consider the flag to be a symbol of oppression.

So let’s broach that touchy subject: Does this symbol belong in the chancel? Many people have argued that the freedom of religion we enjoy as a nation is a reason for displaying the flag in the front of the church. It is absolutely true that our congregations have been blessed through that freedom! But other factors also affect our decision. Does a symbol of laudable national sacrifice belong in a setting that is meant to communicate Christ’s sacrifice? Does a symbol with such diverse political interpretations belong in a space where we communicate our unity in Christ? Does a symbol of our nation confuse the truth that the kingdom of God is found within the hearts of people from “every nation, tribe, people, and language”?

Like the other examples in this article, we do not want to be dogmatic about the flag. The debates and battles that might ensue in a congregation might lead worship leaders to rightly conclude, “Let’s not take this up at this time.” At my own congregation, we recently resolved that issue by placing the flags in a visible place in our lobby. We certainly are not against the flag and what it stands for, but we didn’t want the American flag’s message to compete with all the other gospel symbols in our chancel.12

Final Thoughts

Symbolic communication is not like a doctrinal subscription. We must agree on the teachings of Scripture! We don’t have to agree on what constitutes the best symbolic practices in worship. There is room for differing opinions, especially due to differing circumstances from setting to setting. But an honest discussion will prayerfully lead us to look at the symbolic communication that happens in worship with an eye toward the gospel.

Can our art, music, ceremonies, and texts help people to apply gospel truths in a personal way? Can we help our people sense what cannot be seen? Can we touch their emotions as well as their intellect without falling into emotionalism? Can we assess our current practices to make sure that the message perceived is the message we want to proclaim? When we approach symbolism with these questions in mind, the rites and rituals of worship will not fall into ceremonialism but will be a beautiful depiction of the beautiful gospel that proclaims our beautiful Savior.

By Johnold J. Strey

Pastor Strey served congregations in California for 15 years and as the Arizona-California District’s worship coordinator for a decade before coming to Crown of Life in Hubertus, Wisconsin in 2016. He earned a master’s degree in worship and church music from Santa Clara University in 2009. He has served on the School of Worship Enrichment team and on the hymnal’s Rites Committee and is the author of Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts (NPH).


1 The best resource for a succinct yet thorough summary of WELS worship history is James Tiefel’s “The Formation and Flow of Worship Attitudes in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” in Not unto Us: A Celebration of the Ministry of Kurt J. Eggert (NPH, 2001). See also two presentations at this summer’s worship conference Prof. Joel Otto’s “175 Years of Change in WELS Worship” and my “The Story of The Service in CW21” – welsworshipconference.net.
2 See “Proclaiming the Gospel in Worship” in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 105 No. 4 (Fall 2008), particularly part 2, “Proclaiming the Gospel—in Symbol,” pp. 256-269; “Worship and the Right Brain” in Worship the Lord, No. 79 (July 2016); and Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts (NPH, 2021), particularly chapter 11, “Symbolism,” pp. 199-217.
3 Christian Worship: Foundations (NPH, 2023) is one of several supporting volumes for the new hymnal; see chapter 16, “Worship Symbols.”
4 A simple symbolic action that can be used with the new marriage rite in Christian Worship (2021) is for the minister to place his hand on the joined hands of the couple after the exchange of rings as he prays, “Lord, pour out your blessing…” (p. 272). While subtle and simple, this visualizes the marriage truth that we cannot see, that God (represented by his called servant) is the One who joins husband and wife together as one.
5 For a fuller discussion, see Worship the Lord, No. 79 (July 2016), especially page 2: worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-practical-ideas-worship. See also Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts, pp. 202-203.
6 I am blessed to serve a church with a few retired pastors, seminary professors, and seminary students in the congregation. One of them assists me with the imposition at each Ash Wednesday service. After one year when I choked up while imposing ashes on my wife and children, my family knows that they need to go in the other minister’s line on Ash Wednesday.
7 December 2023, pp. 17-20
8 Frank Senn, Introduction to Christian Liturgy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), pp. 211-212
9 Rose is the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical color for Advent 3 and Lent 4.
10 Senn, ibid.
11 It is with this understanding that I wrote the devotional articles based on the Advent wreath for the December 2023 edition of Forward in Christ. My personal preference is for blue paraments and four blue candles around the Advent wreath. But like many liturgical customs, there is no “one right way.”
12 See “Flags in the Worship Space,” at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-more-worship-words-to-wrestle-with.


 

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.

 

Preach the Word – The New Homiletic

Themes in Current Homiletical Theory

The New Homiletic

As Fred Craddock looked out at the American mainline church around 1970, he saw some major problems. People were not listening or attending church. People did not care about an inspired, authoritative Bible or about societal institutions—especially after the countercultural movements in the tumultuous 1960s. All this could not help but affect the American pulpit. This was the time when, according to the homiletical historian Hughes Oliphant Old, the great era of American preaching simply was coming to an end.1 The American pulpit needed something new. So Craddock helped launch this grand movement away from deductive, authoritative preaching. He was convinced preaching needed to be done in an inductive way much more sensitive to the hearer—as one without authority.

So began the New Homiletic.2 As with any movement, it is oversimplistic to credit one person or book with starting everything, but Craddock’s As One Without Authority—first published in 1971 and now in its fourth edition—was certainly formative. Craddock is critical of the deductive, theme-and-subparts style of preaching that was based on classical rhetoric and had long been part of Christian preaching. He laments that preachers have used this form for too long, “The sermons of our time have, with few exceptions, kept the same form. … Either preachers have access to a world that is neat, orderly, and unified, which gives their sermons their form, or they are out of date and out of touch with the way it is. In either case, they do not communicate.”3 Not only does deductive preaching not conform to the messy complexities of our modern world, but it also does not conform to educational theory, which is based on discussion and participation—not lectures.4 Expository preaching is “guilty of archaism,” the Scriptures “shackle the minister,” and the sermon still has the traditional view of “clearly discernible authoritarianism.”5 However, once preachers abandon the three-point, Aristotelian deductive method, they will stand “at the threshold of new pulpit power.”6 As with many New Homileticians, Craddock often does a good job of identifying problems. His proposed solutions could be questioned. No matter what you make of him, Craddock’s influence is indelible. As William Bronsend said when Craddock recently died, he “changed everything about preaching at a time when nothing less would do.”7

Basic Features of the New Homiletic

While the New Homiletic is a broad movement with differences within it, here are some basic features:

  1. the turn to the hearer
  2. the shift from deductive to inductive/narrative
  3. the sermon as an existential word event8

Now this might seem that all the New Homiletic is trying to accomplish is a better job of application. That is not the case. Much more is at work here. The New Homiletic arose from the New Hermeneutic and twentieth-century existential theology. That means the turn to the hearer is not so much meant to apply the text to the congregation but to allow the congregation to participate in the meaning of the text, as the text is recreated through the church’s continual experience and revelation. Craddock justifies this on the important role of the hearer in communication theory, in Luther’s theology of the priesthood of all believers, in the church’s role in canonizing Scripture, and in his own synergistic theology.9 Simply put, Craddock does not believe in forcing preconceived conclusions onto the text but in allowing the hearers to come to their own conclusions.10

I am concerned that confessional preachers will overreact to the New Homiletic.

So certainly, for us who are committed to the inspiration of Scriptures, who emphasize the Spirit’s work in creating and strengthening faith through the proclamation of the Word, who believe preaching comes with authority (Jer 23:29), I am by no means giving the New Homiletic a full endorsement. Even Craddock himself wondered later in his life if he moved too far away from textual content.11 So what to make of the New Homiletic? I am not concerned that confessional pastors will not be able to spot these considerable doctrinal differences. I am concerned that confessional pastors will overreact to the New Homiletic, throw the baby out with the bathwater, and miss out on some current homiletical insights that could really aid them in preaching to a culture that distrusts authority.

Inductive Preaching

To go back to the historical background of the origin of the New Homiletic, Craddock and others were on to something when they recognized two things: twentieth-century American culture had become resistant to deductive, authoritarian, propositional truth statements, and inductive or narrative communication is uniquely situated to bypass the barriers a tuned-out (or hardened) culture puts up to scriptural proclamation. (To allay the fears of confessional preachers, we will see in this series’ next article that narrative and inductive communication is affirmed in Scripture itself.) Many people within America’s diverse culture hear classic, deductive preaching and retort, “Who are you to assume that the norm for your truth claims is normative for everyone else?” If confessional preachers are not sensitive to this and their thunderous claim, “Thus says the Word of the Lord,” becomes perceived not just as an authoritative message but authoritarianism, then their audience is tuned out from the very beginning, and any hope they will actually pay attention is lost. Confessional preachers are rightfully concerned about preaching the text, but at the end of the day, we also want the text to be heard. Maybe the issue is not so much the message but the way in which the message is delivered. Here the New Homiletic has much to teach us, especially for those who use deductive preaching so much that we routinely say what we will say (introduction), say it (body), and say what we just said (conclusion). If that’s all people hear all the time, they rightfully start to get tired of it—and we preachers need to look in the mirror. To solve this problem, we need to find a way to pair an infallible Bible with the homiletical approaches of Craddock and Lowry.

Inductive or narrative communication is uniquely situated to bypass the barriers a tuned-out (or hardened) culture puts up to scriptural proclamation.

Fred Craddock’s Narrative Preaching

Fred Craddock goes down as the father of narrative preaching. This movement, so central to the New Homiletic, has now taken over the homiletical world. And that is, largely so, a good thing. As Old says, “There is something obviously true about this movement. One of the basic responsibilities of the preacher is to recount the story, the Heilsgeschichte, the history of salvation. … Narrative preaching does not exhaust the preaching vocation … but storytelling is of the essence of preaching.”12 It is not too much of an exaggeration to say a preacher is as good as his storytelling. Not to mention, the vast majority of Scripture is narrative. In particular, the entire OT is essentially a narrative of God’s action from creation up until he was about to send the Savior into the world. On Thanksgiving Eve in 2019, I custom designed the service around five psalms of thanksgiving. I preached on Psalm 136, which is unique in two ways: the antiphonal refrain (“His love endures forever”) repeats over and over, and the whole psalm is a narrative recounting Israel’s history. So my sermon employed Craddock’s concept of overhearing13 to layer the sermon with multiple communicative aspects:

  1. The introduction artfully sketched the scene as the Israelites gather for Passover and sing this psalm antiphonally in the temple (as we sung it in church).
  2. The exposition is framed from the perspective of an Israelite head of household, who tells his family the story of God’s love over the table.
  3. The application is framed from the perspective of an Israelite head of household, who shares what he would say to the people of America today.
  4. The conclusion alludes back to the introduction and sketches the scene as my congregation gathers with their families for Thanksgiving and then closes by asking them which stories they will tell.14

Now notice exactly what I’m doing. I’m crafting the sermon as if we were all a fly on the wall during the Jewish holiday of Passover thousands of years ago. For the majority of the sermon, I’m acting like I’m not even talking to my own congregation. I’m just talking in first person like an Israelite head of household. Everyone else is just listening in. I do not address them until the very end. That’s the whole point. I’m purposely inviting them to take their barriers down, but all along, they are indirectly hearing the gospel in story form.

Eugene Lowry’s Loop

Eugene Lowry studied under Craddock and is another New Homiletician. Since his approach is now part of senior homiletics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, I will focus on his book. Lowry’s approach is a five-part inductive form, often called a “Lowry Loop:”

  1. Upsetting the Equilibrium
  2. Analyzing the Discrepancy
  3. Disclosing the Key to Resolution
  4. Experiencing the Gospel
  5. Anticipating the Consequences15

At first glance, it might seem Lowry’s approach goes like this: problems–PROBLEM–SOLUTION–solutions. Or it might seem it is a classic Lutheran evangelistic presentation—a “God’s Great Exchange” of sorts—that goes from sin, to grace, to faith, to fruits of faith. That is an oversimplification of Lowry. Lowry’s loop is a highly disciplined, yet highly artful, communicative form that first embraces the hearers’ natural objections to the text, leads them to eventually see how their own assumptions will lead to dead ends, then exposes the hearers to something they had never considered before, then leads them to see how this something new is a richer and fuller understanding, and finally explores how all this will impact their lives.

There are two make-or-break parts of a Lowry Loop that are absolutely crucial: the first and the third. The opening is not meant to create interest in the subject matter in the audience, as in traditional forms of oratory. The congregation immediately needs to sense, “Oh, there’s a problem here.” More specifically, they need to sense, “There’s a problem with the text.” A Lowry Loop goes much more quickly to the text than traditional preaching, which may not quote the Bible until much later in the exposition/body. For example, here is the opening of my Thanksgiving Eve sermon from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, preached as a Lowry Loop in 2020 in the height of COVID:

These unbearable words from Scripture seem so trite in their brevity and so offensive in their simplicity. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Seriously? Nothing more said than that? No caveats, no nuances, no exceptions? Always thankful? Even in the worst year ever? People are sick and dying, yet again. Hospitals are on the brink, yet again. PPP is running low, yet again. Students have been sent home, yet again. Churches are going virtual, yet again. A stay-at-home order has been issued, yet again. Restaurants are shuttered, yet again. Twelve million are set to lose unemployment benefits after Christmas unless another relief package somehow gets passed in a lame duck session. People don’t know where they’ll live, what they’ll eat, or how they’ll stay sane. Families are torn apart in an emotional back-and-forth between CDC guidelines and precious holiday traditions. … And God wants us to be thankful in a year like this? The only thing to be thankful for is New Year’s Eve, when we can kick the worst year ever to the curb and kiss it goodbye!

Now notice exactly what I’m doing. I’m embracing the hearer’s natural objection to the text and saying (at least for now), “You’re right. You’re right to be mad about this text. I agree with you, and I’m going to go along with you to see where this takes us.” So I find a Lowry Loop particularly useful, not only in preaching NT texts that are obviously inductive in form (like 1 Corinthians 15:12-22), but especially in preaching offensive OT texts that grind against Western sensibilities (like Isaiah 45:18-25).16 You need to nail a Lowry Loop in the opening few sentences, or else it’s doomed from the start.

We need to find a way to pair an infallible Bible with the homiletical approaches of Craddock and Lowry.

Another absolutely crucial part of a Lowry Loop is the third part. This is where the entire sermon, rhetorically speaking, turns. After embracing the hearer’s natural objections to the text, and then getting deeper and deeper into the mess along with them, this is the grand “aha!” moment. Here is where you say, “If A (your objection) is true, why is not B (what you sense is right) also true? Maybe your assumptions have been flawed from the get-go. Maybe you haven’t considered all the options. What about this?” Here is how my Thanksgiving Eve sermon continued:

Here’s the ultimate issue. This year it’s easy to create a long list of things we aren’t thankful for: death, sickness, unemployment, stress, virtual learning, curtailed freedom. If you take that approach, there’s always things you can find to not be thankful for. For argument’s sake, let’s even envision a normal year. The college graduate, instead of focusing on a diploma from a great university, focuses on how she doesn’t have a house. The busy parent, instead of focusing on the blessing of children, focuses on how they can’t behave. The successful person, instead of focusing on a very sufficient paycheck, focuses on how he doesn’t earn six figures. That’s the perpetual problem: focusing on things we don’t have, instead of focusing on what we do have. So if we can’t be thankful in difficult situations, we actually won’t be thankful in any situation! We’ll always find more things we don’t have, more things to complain about. You’ll be digging yourself a vicious hole that will result in stress, envy, and discontentment in the worst year ever and in the best year ever. What’s the one thing that can get us out of this hole? What is the one unchanging constant you can be thankful for—no matter what? That would make all the difference!17

This is the grand “aha!” moment—where the lightbulb goes off and the epiphany occurs. The exclamation point in your manuscript needs to be reflected in some drama and excitement in your delivery. You need to absolutely nail this part of a Lowry Loop, or else the sermon will just fizzle.

Inductive preaching does not give the preacher more freedom. It forces the preacher to be more constrained—to only give away certain things at certain times.

To be clear, inductive preaching is a nuanced facet of current homiletics. You have to know what you are doing. Inductive preaching does not give the preacher more freedom, as if he can just take the sermon in whatever direction he wants, because he’s bringing the hearers along for the ride, and the ride is what counts. Inductive preaching forces the preacher to be more constrained—to only give away certain things at certain times. If you are going to attempt a Lowry Loop, you need to follow it precisely and do it the way it is intended. Done poorly, a Lowry Loop becomes an incoherent mess that leaves hearers completely confused. Done well, a Lowry Loop becomes some of the most powerful preaching you will ever hear.

The New Homiletic has profoundly shaped homiletics in the last fifty years. To be conversant with current homiletical theory, one has to be familiar with the New Homiletic.18 This requires preachers to read widely and get outside the comfortable parameters of theologians who have a commitment to scriptural infallibility. If preachers in our circles can do the hard work of reading with discernment and sift the wheat from the chaff, they will come away with greater flexibility in preaching an authoritative Word in an intriguing, inductive way to a skeptical world.

Written by Jacob Haag

Rev. Dr. Haag serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor, MI. His doctorate is from Westminster Theological Seminary with research in New Testament and preaching. His research project was entitled “Evangelical Exhortation: Paraenesis in the Epistles as Rhetorical Model for Preaching Sanctification.” He also serves on the Michigan District Commission on Worship.


1 Hughes Oliphant Old, Our Own Time, vol. 7 of The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 1-2.
2 The term was coined in 1965 by David Randolph at the first meeting of the Academy of Homiletics.
3 Craddock, As One Without Authority, 4th ed. (St. Louis: Chalice, 2001), 13.
4 Craddock, As One Without Authority, 15.
5 Craddock, As One Without Authority, 17.
6 Craddock, As One Without Authority, 38.
7 William Brosend, “Something Else Is Lacking: Remembering Fred B. Craddock,” Anglican Theological Review 101, no. 1 (2019): 129.
8 O. Wesley Allen, “Introduction: The Pillars of the New Homiletic,” in The Renewed Homiletic, ed. O. Wesley Allen and David Buttrick (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 7-9.
9 Fred Craddock, Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), 28, 39, 86; Craddock, As One Without Authority, 18, 51, 96-97; Fred Craddock, “The Sermon and the Uses of Scripture,” Theology Today 42, no. 1 (April 1985): 9.
10 Craddock, “Inductive Preaching Renewed,” in The Renewed Homiletic, 44-45.
11 Craddock, “Inductive Preaching Renewed,” 50.
12 Old, Our Own Time, 30.
13 See Craddock, Overhearing the Gospel (St. Louis: Chalice, 2002).
14 The entire sermon is available on the Commission on Worship website: worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/preach-the-word-volume-28
15 Eugene L. Lowry, The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form, Expanded ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000).
16 See my example sermons on the Commission on Worship website, endnote 14.
17 See my example sermon on the Commission on Worship website, endnote 14. (The two midweek Thanksgiving Eve sermons above are significantly shorter than my normal Sunday sermons.)
18 Bryan Chapell has a section on the New Homiletic in Christ-Centered Preaching, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 162–168.


For Further Study
  • For more on Fred Craddock and the theology of the New Homiletic, see my article in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly (117:3), “A New Look at the New Homiletic: An Evaluation of Fred Craddock’s Bibliology”
  • For more on alternate sermon styles, consider Prof. Jon Micheel’s Summer Quarter course, “Survey of Sermon Structures”

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.

 

CAMM helps address healthcare challenges in Africa

The need for affordable and adequate healthcare is a hot topic for all countries. The Central Africa Medical Mission helps alleviate the need in Malawi, Zambia, and most recently, Kenya. Why is this need so great? Is the healthcare need the same in every country?

Kenya

There is minimal free healthcare in Kenya. If you are sick, the cost for a general consultation is about $14. If surgery or more treatment is needed, and the patient cannot pay, then they may go without care or try and raise funds from their community and family. Recently, CAMM held a four-day medical clinic just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, to do basic health screenings including blood pressure, blood sugars, cervical and breast cancer screenings. We saw many chronic conditions that patients had been suffering through due to the expensive healthcare in the country. With CAMM’s help, the care we provided was free and the cost to CAMM and our Lutheran partners during our short-term medical was about $17 per patient. We pray that those afflicted with illness and disease can find some healing with the therapy and medications received.

Malawi

Thunga Clinic in Malawi

CAMM has been operating the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi since 1970. Staff travel to four rural villages for a day of clinic each week. The clinics focus on providing Christian counseling and education, HIV testing and treatment, malaria treatment, wellness checks, immunizations for children, prenatal care, and treatment of other minor injuries or illnesses. The cost to each patient is about 60 cents, and the cost to CAMM to provide care is about $2.92 per patient. A huge challenge for Malawian patients is medications. One of the main reasons patients visit the CAMM clinics is that they have the medications readily available. Most medications, including antibiotics and blood pressure meds, cannot be found at government run pharmacies. What a blessing that God has provided CAMM with the care and medications the Malawian patients need at an affordable cost.

Zambia

Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre

The CAMM Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre, a permanent clinic in Zambia, has been in existence since 1961. It provides preventive health services and outpatient care as in Malawi. In addition to those services, the clinic staff deliver babies, treat patients for HIV and tuberculosis, and do home visits. CAMM is also able to provide the care for the many diabetic patients in the region who cannot receive treatment at the government clinics. The care CAMM offers to each patient arriving at Mwembezhi is free, costing CAMM about $4.94 per patient.

With God’s blessing and healing hand, the clinics in Zambia and Malawi saw over 70,000 patients in 2023 and saw over 1,400 patients in Kenya during the four-day medical camp in February 2024.

Written by Angela Sievert, Central Africa Medical Mission chair.

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Registration now open – Taste of Missions 2024

We are thrilled to announce that registration for Taste of Missions 2024 is now open! Whether you join us in person or virtually, we invite you to be part of this special day as we celebrate the spread of the gospel of Christ throughout the world.

Date: Saturday, June 15, 2024
Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Location: Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. OR online!

The day kicks off with a worship service, as we commission new home and world missionaries to their important work. It’s an inspiring occasion that sets the tone for the day ahead. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, you’ll have the opportunity to explore displays, hear missionaries share their stories and answer your questions, and sample ethnic dishes. Bring the entire family to learn about the diverse mission fields where WELS is making a difference and get a glimpse into the lives touched by Jesus.

For those joining us virtually, you can still be part of the experience! Tune in to our livestreamed sessions, including the commissioning worship service and insightful talks from speakers across our home and world mission fields. Plus, we’ll be sharing mouthwatering recipes for you to try at home.

View the full list of activities for the day and register at tasteofmissions.com. Registration is $15 per person, with children 13 and under attending for free. Those attending in person will receive food tickets to sample ethnic cuisine and can purchase additional food from the food trucks. Or attend virtually for free! Sign up today at tasteofmissions.com/register.

We can’t wait to welcome you to Taste of Missions, where together, we’ll celebrate our Savior’s mission and the incredible work being done around the world.

 




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A reason to celebrate

February 10 seemed like any other Saturday in Birmingham, England, but it was a special day for Allie and Kelly. It was Lunar New Year in East Asia. Allie is in England on a work visa, and Kelly, a former volunteer in that area, is taking a few months off from work to assist the WELS mission in Europe. They came to our Airbnb to celebrate and make dumplings, a special Lunar New Year dish in some parts of East Asia. It turns out they had many shared acquaintances who participated in Christian churches in East Asia, and that Allie had even stayed at Kelly’s apartment.

The next day, they joined us for a special small-group worship service followed by yet another meal, this time provided by Zarah and her family. The Pakistani meal featured chicken tikka, a popular dish in Pakistan, as well as rice, dal, and lamb kebabs. Zarah and her husband, as well as her sister and her husband, are medical doctors who immigrated from their South Asian homeland.

These are some of the people serving the WELS mission in Europe. Immigrants from Zambia to Colombia and from Asia to continental Europe, as well as the United States, have been connected to the mission through our churches and missions around the world. Together with native-born British citizens, the church is starting outreach to both a rapidly growing immigrant population and millions of citizens who do not know the good news about Jesus Christ.

Among Lunar New Year celebrations, one such practice included taping red paper on the sides and top of an outside door frame to keep out a monster who would kill the firstborn. The custom seemed eerily familiar to the Passover when the Israelites in Egypt painted blood of a lamb on their doorposts and lintels so that the angel of the Lord would pass over their homes and spare their firstborn sons. Possibly, Christians from Persia brought the Old Testament story to East Asia many centuries ago. Even in other countries, some stories and practices seem to echo God’s Word, like this particular Lunar New Year tradition.

Very few people in England, as well as other parts of the world, know what the Bible teaches. The goal of the Europe One Team is to continue to teach God’s Word, in it’s truth and purity, to every nation, tribe, people and language.

Written by Paul and Carol Hartman, long-term volunteers in London, England

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Is your church a success?

How do you measure the success of the church? Do you base it on the membership, weekly service attendance, weekly Bible study attendance, or stewardship?

Since Grace Hmong was established as a mission congregation in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) in Kansas City, the leaders of Grace Hmong have contemplated this question. “Is Grace Hmong a successful church or not?” In the end, only God knows the answer. But it’s an answer that God shares in His Word. “…My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent” (Isaiah 55:11).

This is exactly what the pastors and members of Grace Hmong strive to do every day, and God has blessed Grace Hmong and its ministry work abundantly.

Even though Grace Hmong is a small mission church with small membership in an area where many of the Hmong people already call themselves Christians, every Sunday the Word of Christ is still preached to its members and new souls are regularly brought to our services. Many Hmong people around the community come to the services at Christmas and New Year’s to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. Here the seed of the gospel is planted inside their hearts waiting to sprout sooner or later. Each year, babies are baptized into faith, and adults are baptized and confirmed into the family of God. Every Sunday morning, no matter how many people attend the service, the gospel is preached. Through the word of Christ that is preached every Sunday morning, the members have grown so much in their faith. In the past, they were not sure about their salvation because they based their salvation on good works. But now, they are confident of their salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

As Jesus told his disciples to go out to the world to be his witnesses and teach what he has taught them to the world, so the members of Grace Hmong go out to the world. They go out to the Hmong community with a helping hand while sharing the good news of Christ. For some, this is the first time they’ve heard about Jesus. Others call themselves Christians yet sill base their salvation on good works. We get to share the Word in its truth and purity with them.

By God’s grace and blessings, the word of Christ has not only been preached in Kansas City, but in Vietnam too. When Pastor Bounkeo Lor was still the pastor of Grace Hmong, God used him to extend the word of Christ to another corner of the world – to the country of Vietnam, where Christians are often persecuted in the rural areas. Grace Hmong and its members knew that God wanted Pastor Lor to travel to Vietnam to share the love of God to both the Hmong brothers and sisters in Vietnam who called themselves Christians and to the unbelievers. When WELS called Pastor Bounkeo Lor to be the Hmong Asia coordinator, he accepted the call. And when the time came for Pastor Bounkeo Lor to be the Hmong Asia coordinator, Grace Hmong still continued to be part of the Vietnam mission. The ministry of the church is to nurture and equip the members of the church to be ready to share the gospel.

Even though Grace Hmong is a small mission church, it continues to partner with the Vietnam mission. Through the ministry work in Vietnam, God has blessed the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) with grace upon grace. The HFC has grown from 55,000 to 145,000 members in the last 9 years. More than 350 pastors and leaders are seeking training from WELS. Currently, WELS pastors and professors are conducting training to 120 church leaders quarterly. The 55 students that graduated from the theological education program in Vietnam are also training more than 1,400 members twice a month in the rural areas. More and more church leaders are seeking WELS training. Since receiving training from WELS, their faith has grown so much in the Word of God. Many thousands of children have also been baptized in the last several years. They are confident in their salvation through faith in Christ. The power of the gospel has done great things in Vietnam, and a lot of people have put their hope in Christ.

“Is Grace Hmong a successful church or not?” In the end, only God knows the answer. But it’s an answer that God shares in his Word. “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” (Matthew 28:19-20).

As the church fully embraces Jesus’ command, we will understand that this is what it should be all about—being faithful to God by sharing the gospel in Word and sacrament.

Written by Rev. Ger Lor, missionary at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kan.

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Latin America Mission – Winter 2024 Quarterly Update

During the last months of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, our Lord of the Harvest continued to bless the work of the One Latin America Team and Academia Cristo. The team focused on the transition from using a mobile app to WhatsApp for its first tier of study. New groups were started in the United States and Latin America. Steps were taken to further reshape Grupo Sembrador en la Ruta Cristo, Academia Cristo’s church planting program and materials. A podcast on a Christ-centered life was implemented. The instruction function took steps to ensure the Academia Cristo curriculum is aligned around the team’s church planting goals. Missionaries continued to make visits to key students, leaders, and groups.

A Few Quick Stats:

  • 2.2 million average weekly social media reach (user looks at the material for over 3 seconds)
  • 2,767 finished the four self-study courses either through the mobile app or WhatsApp
  • 764 completed one Discipulado Uno course
  • 95 completed Discipulado Uno
  • 35 completed Discipulado Dos
  • 32 Grupos Sembrador

A snapshot of blessings during the past quarter:

1. Self-study through WhatsApp
Learning from TELL and taking MLP’s recommendation, Academia Cristo transitioned from the use of a mobile app to WhatsApp for its self-study courses. By delivering the four self-study courses through WhatsApp instead of a mobile app, Academia Cristo was able to reach more people for less money. At the end of January 2023, there were over 9,500 people in the self-study workflow (taking one of the four self-study courses). Approximately 50 people are finishing the self-study courses each week. Upon completion of the four self-study courses, students are invited to enroll in live courses with Academia Cristo professors.

For more information on the switch from the mobile app to WhatsApp, please reference this video available in Spanish.

2. New Grupos Sembrador
Three new groups became Grupos Sembrador. Grupos Sembrador are led by an Academia Cristo student. They meet weekly, have studied Los cuatro conceptos (a course on sin, grace, faith, and works), and have studied at least three lessons of Aprendan de mí (a course similar to a Bible Information Course). These groups are in Deltona, Fla., United States; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Lima, Peru.

3. Ministry Certification
Elise Gross completed her ministry certification, and her call was made permanent. Luis Herrera took a course towards his ministry certification.

4. Meeting with 1LA, BWM, BHM, CICR, WLS, PSI, and COP
A meeting was held with representatives from the One Latin America team, the Board for World Missions (BWM), the Board for Home Missions (BHM), the Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR), Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), and the Conference of Presidents (COP) on Oct. 25, 2023, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. The group discussed a paper written by Professor emeritus Paul Wendland on mission and ministry in Latin America. The One Latin America Team visionary and leader, Andrew Johnston, wrote a follow-up paper on the missiology of Academia Cristo.

5. Grupo Sembarador en la Ruta Cristo
Plans to overhaul the Grupo Sembrador en la Ruta Cristo program continued. A temporary plan for providing sermons to groups was developed and an outline for a Bible study program was drafted. This program will include Bible history lessons, doctrine lessons, and practical lessons. Plans are in place to write these lessons during the next quarter.

6. El Sembrador de Hoy es el Consejero de Mañana
The team began preliminary work on creating a plan for today’s group gatherer to become tomorrow’s mission counselor. This is in anticipation of exponential growth of students and church planters in the Academia Cristo program.




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Taste of Missions school challenge and poster contest

The 2024 Taste of Missions School Challenge is now open! This year brings two different opportunities for students of all ages to learn about WELS mission work:

School challenge for grades K-8

All Lutheran grade schools are invited to participate in our annual Taste of Missions School Challenge! Visit tasteofmissions.com/schools to view Missions-themed activities that grade school teachers can use to help students in their classroom learn about WELS Home and World Missions and get involved with WELS Missions’ annual Taste of Missions event. Two classes (one from grades K-4 and one from grades 5-8) will be randomly selected to win a Taste of Missions party for their classroom, tickets to the event, and additional surprises. Get involved and submit the form on the Taste of Missions website by Fri., April 12, for your chance to win.

High school poster contest

Calling all WELS and ELS high school artists! Encourage high school students to participate in the first ever Taste of Missions high school poster contest. Students can express their creativity and learn about WELS mission work by crafting an 11” x 17” masterpiece capturing the heart of WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions. An overall winner will receive a $250 Amazon gift card, Taste of Missions swag bag, and their artwork will be displayed at the Taste of Missions event on June 15, 2024, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis. All other submissions will be eligible to be voted Fan Favorite by attendees at Taste of Missions for another chance to win.

The deadline for students to submit their poster is Fri., April 26, 2024. Digital or mailed/dropped off submissions are accepted. Find official rules and specifications as well as submission information at tasteofmissions.com/postercontest.

 

 




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A community of digital disciples

The screens slowly appear one by one. Some cameras are focused on faces, some cameras remain off. Living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, stools, couches, bare walls, windows, the backdrops vary. I count nine screens. Nine people who clicked an ad on their phone. Nine people who entered their names and phone numbers. Nine people who watched a few hours of video lessons and learned about Jesus. Nine people who clicked to learn more. Nine people in whom the Holy Spirit is hard at work.

It is my first night teaching a TELL class to a group of students throughout Asia. I offer a prayer of thanksgiving that God has given me the opportunity to learn the Bible with these nine people.

These students have completed the first level of TELL self-study courses. The course I am teaching is “Work of the Savior.” It is their first live class as well as mine. Two of my students are new to faith. One young man from Pakistan lets me know that he has been reading the Bible for a month and is excited to learn more and grow in his faith. Four men introduce themselves as Pastors: two from India, two from Pakistan. They too share the excitement of having found an opportunity to learn and grow so that they can better lead their small congregations. One camera remains off, the microphone remains silent. Another young man from Pakistan lets me know that he has been a Christian his whole life. He is currently working on a master’s degree but believes God might be leading him to study at a seminary instead. The final picture is a young woman. Although she is the only female in the group, she confidently shares her faith throughout the night, proclaiming God’s power to heal our sin sick souls as we learn about Jesus healing the paralyzed man.

We talk, we listen, and we learn. I can see the joy in people’s faces as they relish the opportunity to study the Bible with fellow believers. I can see the light in their eyes as they hear about God’s plan of salvation. As we close our evening class, the screens disappear one by one. Nine screens, nine strangers, nine brothers and sisters were able to meet together in God’s Word. I am humbled to have had this incredible opportunity. I can’t wait until the next night where I will turn my computer on and find nine of God’s children ready to hear his Word.

Written by Mr. Jeremy Seeger, missionary on the Asia One Team and TELL teacher in Asia. 

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God allows for wonderful plans to unfold

Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho, is a Vietnamese congregation in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. We are thankful that the Lord allowed myself and Trung Le to study to be pastors through the Pastoral Study Institute (PSI) program. Pastor Daniel Kramer was the active pastor of the congregation while we were in training to be the pastors. Pastor Kramer was also a Vietnamese-speaking pastor, and he led the worship services, preached and taught in Vietnamese.

The congregation was always wondering what would happen to Peace in Jesus as well as the Vietnamese outreach ministry after Trung Le and I graduated from the PSI program. Everyone was excited for the work of the Lord, but the congregation was curious, “What would happen next for Peace in Jesus?” They didn’t know the answer at that time, and they prayed to God for direction.

Finally, that day came and God allowed for a wonderful plan to unfold. In 2023 there were a lot of blessings that happened at Peace in Jesus. Two Pastoral Studies Institute students, Trung Le and I, graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in May 2023.

That same month, Pastor Trung received a divine call to serve as a Vietnamese outreach pastor at King of Kings in Garden Grove, Calif., where there are a lot of Vietnamese living in the area. Pastor Trung accepted the call and moved to Garden Grove  in early October 2023.

L to R: Pastor Tao Nguyen, Pastor Daniel Kramer, Pastor Trung Le

Shortly after Pastor Trung received the divine call, Pastor Kramer also received three different divine calls. He accepted to serve at Crown of Life in New Orleans, La. Crown of Life is about one mile away from the Vietnamese community in New Orleans. He and his wife, Karis, made their move to New Orleans in early October 2023. We pray that if it is God’s will, many more Vietnamese in New Orleans will hear the gospel.

With Pastor Trung and Pastor Kramer leaving to serve God at other locations, Peace in Jesus extended the divine call to me to serve at as their pastor, and I accepted the call in August 2023. We thank God for all these transitions and that they have gone smoothly.

During the transition, many members have stepped up, served, and become more involved in church activities. Most of the members had mixed feelings. They didn’t want to see any of the pastors leave Peace in Jesus because of the strong bond developed by being a part of Christ’s family. Nevertheless, all of us also recognized that the Kingdom of God is way larger than any of us can imagine, and no one can measure his love for humankind. Matthew 28:19-20 says, “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.” God not only allowed for a wonderful plan for Peace in Jesus to unfold, but God also has a plan for everyone who believes in him.

We thank God for his wonderful plan for Peace in Jesus in Boise, Idaho. We pray that his kingdom continues growing in Vietnamese communities, not only in Idaho and in the States, but also abroad.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

Written by Rev. Tao Nguyen, missionary at Peace in Jesus Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho

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Save the date! Taste of Missions 2024

Taste of Missions is back, and we couldn’t be more excited! Last year nearly 500 WELS members gathered in Mequon, Wis., to send off nine new home and world missionaries to spread the gospel in the far corners of the world. Even more celebrated with us online. It was a remarkable day, filled with engaging conversations with home and world missionary families, insightful Q&A panels, ethnic eats, and uplifting worship alongside brothers and sisters from across the globe. See what it was all about by exploring our Flickr album.

We want YOU to come join the fun again at this year’s Taste of Missions on Sat., June 15, 2024. Bring your family to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., to send off new missionaries in our special commissioning service, enjoy delicious offerings from food trucks, and connect with some of your synod’s current missionaries. Can’t make it in person? Virtual attendees can watch all the events via livestream, view exclusive video updates from missionaries, and even try their hand at cooking up some ethnic recipes from our website.

Mark your calendars—registration opens on March 11! While you’re waiting, visit tasteofmissions.com for some additional event details and catch up on any videos you may have missed from last year’s gathering.

We can’t wait to see you there!

P.S. The fourth annual Taste of Missions School Challenge and NEW poster contest for WELS/ELS high school students will open on February 19! View photos and activities from last year’s challenge and keep an eye out for future announcements at tasteofmissions.com/schools.

 




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So I am sending you

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ ” (John 20:21)

When was the last time you paused for a moment to reflect on how your life has changed? Consider where you are at now in life compared to one year ago, five years ago, or even further back. As Christians, we benefit from a time of reflection when we recognize God’s guidance of our lives through various experiences and encounters.

Years ago, the parents of Dan Kingsbury sought out a church whose teaching was faithful to scripture. After becoming WELS members, Dan was enrolled at St. Croix Lutheran High School. It was at St. Croix where Dan enjoyed interacting with international students from Asia. Over 50 percent of the world’s population resides in Asia, and it was on Dan’s heart to learn more about Asian people and their culture. While attending Wisconsin Lutheran College, Dan enrolled in Chinese Mandarin language classes with the hope of better connecting with others. While Dan had been encouraged to consider serving in full-time ministry before, it was a presentation from a Friends Network teacher that opened a new door. As Dan prayerfully considered his options, he reflected on the words of John 20:21 where Jesus speaks peace to his disciples’ hearts and sends his disciples to do the Father’s will.

Pastor Dan and his family

When Dan joined the Friends Network team and relocated to Asia in 2013, there were opportunities to help lead worship and Bible study. It was through serving both his mission team and the local believers that Dan grew as a leader. With the support of his team and his wife, whom he met in Asia, Dan eventually enrolled in Asia Lutheran Seminary. While his goal of wanting to be a better Bible teacher remained simple, the blessing of reflection reveals God’s incredible plan for Dan and through Dan’s work.

While attending Seminary classes, Dan helped with recruitment for the seminary and even taught pre-seminary courses. Following his graduation, Dan was called by Asia Lutheran Seminary to serve as Professor of New Testament and is one of several professors who can teach his courses completely in Mandarin.

God has guided Dan into a position where he now equips and helps to send others. As God guided and previously sent Dan, so God is now guiding and sending Dan’s students to further carry out The Great Commission. In January 2024, over a dozen students from various parts of Asia gathered with Dan to study the New Testament using only the Greek language. These Christian leaders take the gospel home to places where our mission teams cannot go.

Another large group of Asian Christians have identified four candidates from within their membership for future spiritual leadership. Dan and Asia Lutheran Seminary have the privilege to prepare this next generation. As a result, the older generation can apply the words of Jesus in John 20:21 to their own home mission field. As our Heavenly Father had previously sent them to share the Good News, so this new generation of spiritual leaders will one day be sent to serve their people.

When you look back over the last year or even ten years, how has God guided you?

Where do you see yourself when you read John 20:21?

Over the last decade, God has used the interests and abilities of Dan Kingsbury to reach the lost and encourage fellow believers. As Asia Lutheran Seminary continues to equip the Asian world with the Good News of Jesus, remember these professors, missionaries, and students in your prayers. Pray that they would enjoy the peace that only Jesus can bring. Pray that they would enjoy the courage to serve that only God can inspire.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, Diaspora Ministry Facilitator for the Asia One Team. 

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Mission Journeys opportunities in London

The new world mission field in London has partnered with WELS Mission Journeys to establish a volunteer program in London. Through volunteering, you have the exciting opportunity to experience life and share the gospel in a global city rich with history and culture. London is filled with people from numerous nationalities and backgrounds, many of whom are in desperate need of hearing the gospel message. You will learn about new cultures, meet people from all over the world, and share the truth of God’s Word with those who are lost.

Short-term opportunities
We are looking for groups of eight to ten people to come volunteer for eight to ten days in London. Your time will be spent attending two Sunday church services at our WELS church, volunteering at various charities throughout the week, and exploring the city. You have the humble opportunity to serve your neighbor and let your light shine by helping others. You will also be a positive representation of what our Lutheran church teaches. When you’re not volunteering, enjoy spending time in London! Go to a pub, eat fish and chips, watch the changing of the guard, drink tea, and soak in the beauty of a city that has been around for almost two thousand years. You will leave London with a greater appreciation for the world we live in, the millions of people God has created, and a renewed fire to share the gospel with others.

Long-term opportunities
If you are interested in taking some time off of school, work, or you have time to spare, consider serving as a long-term volunteer in London. In this role, you will spend up to six months working one-on-one with the missionaries, serving at local charities, and growing in your understanding of a new place and culture. You will be able to encourage others in their faith as well as grow in your own faith. Spending extended time in a foreign country is a valuable experience that will leave a lasting impact on your heart and mind.

Interested in either opportunity? Contact WELS Mission Journeys for more information at [email protected] or call Mr. Shannon Bohme, Mission Journeys coordinator, at 651-324-4218.




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Impact of TELL teaching

Where will my mission field be? As I sit in class in my last year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, sometimes my thoughts drift toward the end of the year. A place. Faces waiting. People who need to hear about Jesus. But for now, waiting.

Or at least that’s how I thought I would feel.

As my wife, Grace, and I made the move back to Mequon after my vicar year, I learned that the TELL Network was looking for teachers for their live courses. I decided to sign up, thinking it might be a good way to practice teaching while I wait for parish ministry.

I underestimated the impact teaching for TELL would have on me.

Logging on for my first lesson, I was greeted by 25 names, faces, and voices. Separated by half a world, here were a couple dozen people who wanted to gather, learn, and grow in the word of God. An instant mission field. Bingo. I was excited to teach these eager students from South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, and even Pakistan.

Once again, I underestimated the way this would impact me.

As we studied the stories of persecuted prophets and God’s faithfulness to the exiles, my faith was strengthened as I learned about God’s hand working through the lives of these ambassadors for Christ Jesus.

Like Isaac, a student who faced considerable danger. As we studied Daniel in the lion’s den, he boldly shared, “Even if Daniel had died, God wins. That is comfort for me.” Isaac and his classmates were committed to the study of the word in mission fields filled with danger. They live like modern Daniels, committing themselves to prayer and witnessing despite the obstacles.

Or Emmanuel, who would find a shady place under a tree to park his truck in the heat of the day. Taking a break from his commute to join live class. He is like that “tree planted by streams of water” as he thirsts for the Word of God.

Or Joseph, who recently gave me a reminder about witnessing to any mission field. As the class discussed the fears and apprehensions we have when sharing the Word of God, I reflected on failed opportunities and fears that I’ve had. I couldn’t help but think ahead, knowing that those fears will be there in the future. That’s when Joseph spoke up, sharing the verse he recalls whenever he has a witnessing opportunity: Luke 12:12, “The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

I pray that this is my confidence and yours, too. That wherever the mission field might be, that God the Holy Spirit gives us the words to speak through his Holy Word.

Written by Seminarian Jacob Ungemach, senior at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. 

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Technology changes but the gospel message remains

486 million people speak Spanish. Could it be possible to reach all of them with an invitation to hear the gospel?

Technology allows us to do just that. From the jungle of Ecuador to the bustling city of Buenos Aires in Argentina, we can reach almost anyone right where they are with a simple click of a button.

Academia Cristo reached over a million people through an app that brought many blessings. Currently ten missionaries in Latin America travel to guide and encourage over 30 church plants. Missionaries and church planters teach Bible instruction courses almost every day of the week to hundreds of people eager to learn more about God’s Word.

The app was great, but we have now found an even better way to reach 486 million people.

Technology is all about ease of use. The platforms we use must be easy and user friendly. In Latin America and many other places around the world, the way to talk with people is through something called WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a messenger service that is completely free and easy to use. 92 percent of Spanish speaking people already use WhatsApp so why not build our Academia Cristo app on WhatsApp?

Six months ago, our team ensured that the entire Academia Cristo app was re-built for WhatsApp. Now, anyone can simply send a message to Academia Cristo and with a simple click get started studying the Word of God with us. Through an automated messenger system, anyone throughout the world can complete the four self-study courses. There is no need to download an app, just send us a message and complete 40 lessons to start a live class.

Working through WhatsApp is changing Academia Cristo in a good way. The previous application would have an average of 12 new live students every week. With our new messenger system, we expect 50 new live students every week. The quality of student is the same and the chances of finding more people who want to bring the gospel to their community increases exponentially.

Technology changes but the gospel message remains the same. Reaching four million people every week through social media and with an expectation of filling online live classrooms with 60 new students every week, Academia Cristo seeks to reach millions and to start churches throughout Latin America beginning with a simple messenger system that almost everyone already has.

May God bless this new way of reaching more people starving to hear the gospel.

Written by Mr. Jon Gross, Multi-Language Productions Producer for the Latin America Mission Team

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Seminary students assist home mission churches

Over the winter break, three groups of students from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary traveled to various home mission churches to learn first-hand what it’s like serving as a home missionary and assist in local outreach efforts.

Mount Calvary –  Redding/Anderson, Calif.

Mt. Calvary in Redding/Anderson, Calif., after “grocery canvasing”

Mount Calvary in Redding/Anderson, Calif., hosted 12 seminary students for 7 days. They spent this time exploring and studying the neighboring communities while helping with “grocery canvasing” to assist local nonprofits collect food. While gathering groceries, they also gathered information about the surrounding community and people.

Divine Savior – North Collin County, Tex.

Divine Savior Church in North Collin County, Tex., had the assistance of students from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary as it participated in a food drive to serve the surrounding community and learn more about the needs of their neighbors in Celina, Tex. The food drive was a success; by the end of the day they had collected and donated 1,864 pounds of food to fight hunger in the community! One student shared, “It’s been encouraging to see the community open up their doors to not only give to a good cause, but also help us reach more people with Jesus.”

Divine Savior Church Bible and Brews outreach event

The Way – Fredericksburg, Va.

The third group of 12 senior Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students visited The Way in Fredericksburg, Va., to attend a special church planting course. This course was led by WELS mission counselor, Rev. Mark Birkholz, and a few experienced church planters—Rev. Matt Rothe, home missionary at The Way, and Rev. Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown in Atlanta, Ga.

Training the next generation of church planters is critical to the success of the 100 Missions in 10 Years initiative. Learn more about this ambitious goal at wels100in10.net.

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A little “hope for everyday” goes a long way

We live by the phrase “hope for everyday” here at Living Hope in Chattanooga, Tenn. The hope our Savior gives us is all encompassing. It’s eternal. And that hope for eternal life filters down to our everyday lives too. There’s hope for everyday life, everyday problems, and everyday people. So, that’s our mission: bring “hope for everyday” to people around us so they come to see the big-picture hope they have with Jesus. We’ve found that just a little “hope for everyday” can go a long way.

Jeanette would agree. Jeanette has been through some very dark and hopeless looking days in her life. As a child she grew up in the foster care system. Later, she got married and had two sons. But Jeanette’s husband became abusive and for 16 years she suffered severe physical and emotional abuse. Child Protective Services even had to step in and take her sons away from a home that had become dangerous.

After that incident, Jeanette left her husband but soon had another scary encounter. She was randomly attacked by a gang outside of a bar and may have been beaten to death if it hadn’t been for a kind stranger who confronted the gang with his shotgun and ran them off.

Jeanette continued to fall on hard times after this due to a back injury that left her disabled. She ended up homeless for more than seven years. She usually stayed on friends’ couches but had nights of sleeping outside in the cold, too. Jeanette’s life seemed broken and full of hardship. Hope seemed like a far-off thing. Definitely not an everyday thing.

Eventually, Jeanette got into affordable housing. Then one day hope showed up at her door. One of the ways Living Hope has tried bringing hope for everyday into people’s lives has been through an effort called grocery canvassing. We pack up bags of essential groceries and knock on doors in nearby neighborhoods that could use some love. The food is just one little way of spreading everyday hope, with the aim that we’ll be able to talk about our eternal hope in Jesus with people too.

When a Living Hope member knocked on Jeanette’s door with a bag of free groceries, she already knew who we were. She’d been saving a Living Hope Christmas flyer on her fridge the last few months. She didn’t know much about the Bible or her relationship with God but she wanted some answers and was willing to learn. Right at the door, Jeanette asked if she could come to church tomorrow. She just needed a ride. Some Living Hope members brought Jeanette to church the next morning and she’s been coming back ever since.

Jeanette took a Bible information class, got baptized, and joined as a member at Living Hope this past June with her sons there to share her big day.

Jeanette says that walking into Living Hope “felt like joining a whole ‘nother family.” A void in her life had been filled by Christ. She’d always wanted to make sure she was doing the right thing and finally, through studying the Bible and being at church, she knows Jesus has made her right. In Jeanette’s words, “It’s a feeling of freedom.”

A free bag of groceries may seem like a small thing. But it’s the little things, the little actions of spreading everyday hope, that can turn someone’s life around when they get connected to their eternal hope in Christ. A little “hope for everyday” can go a long way for lost and hurting souls.

Written by Rev. Eric Melso, serving Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Teach with TELL

TELL Network’s exponential growth has resulted in an immediate need for male instructors to teach TELL classes in English. What is TELL Network? TELL Network is an online leader training program of Multi-Language Productions, providing an in-depth Bible study curriculum in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Tagalog to students in places where WELS does not have a presence. Learn more about the program at wels.net/tell.

TELL offers a unique chance to connect with believers around the world and support them as they begin sharing the gospel with their community.

What to Expect

  1. TWO 1-hour Zoom classes per week for 4 weeks.
  2. 2 weeks to review Final Projects.
  3. WhatsApp communication with students (sending class materials, sharing Zoom recordings, answering questions).
  4. An honorarium of $300 per course taught.

Course materials, including slides and teacher guides, are already made for you!

Requirements

  1. A male called worker in fellowship with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod OR a current Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Student in their Middler or Senior year.
  2. Strong organizational and administrative skills.
  3. Above-average digital literacy (or a willingness to learn).
  4. A WhatsApp account (free and easy to set up).
  5. A passion and excitement for training future church leaders around the globe!

If you or someone you know might be interested in this opportunity, learn more and apply at teach.tellnetwork.org.




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CAMM January 2024 Newsletter

Originally appears on the Central Africa Medical Mission website. Learn more and follow updates at camm.us.

As I write this letter, it is late December and it’s amazing how it feels just like yesterday that we were celebrating the beginning of 2023. Now that we are just a few days away from ending 2023, there is so much to be grateful for—especially the gift of life that the Lord has granted us throughout the year.

Here in Malawi, December always comes with heavy rains. It’s the time when all the farmers plant their fields knowing that the rainy season has arrived. However, this December was different because a lot of districts had not received any rain until mid-month. This brought so many worries to farmers as they had no hope on when the rains would start. But because our Lord is good, by December 20, Lilongwe and other districts received heavy rains. People were happy and ready to work in their fields.

Despite being happy about the rains, during this rainy season the clinic faced challenges in so many ways. December 20 was a clinic day at Suzi, and because it had rained heavily we had difficulty traveling to the clinic site. The road was bumpy and very muddy making it hard for driving. Despite all these difficulties, we still made it to the clinic as our land cruisers are good, even on bad roads.

Upon reaching the clinic, we found a large crowd of people—men, women, and children—sheltering under the roof of the clinic and some under the trees as it was still raining. The people were happy seeing us as they thought we wouldn’t make it due to the bad road. When our staff were setting up the clinic, our clinicians had already started seeing the patients that were triaged by the village staff before we arrived. These people were very sick and the complaint that presented the most was malaria.

Malaria is a condition that worsens during the rainy season and is one of the leading causes of death in Malawi. From the month of October on, our clinic started registering an increase in malaria cases that worsened in November and December. Not only has this malaria affected children under five, but it is also affecting adults. As a clinic, we are always prepared for this as we carry enough malaria testing kits and medication for uncomplicated malaria. Not only that, but we also carry with us medication for complicated malaria, which we give to patients before we refer them to hospitals for continued management. As always, our staff, who are hardworking and team players, did an outstanding job in dealing with the large number of patients we saw that day. When a staff member sees that a colleague needs help, they can be relied on to jump in and assist without being told to do so. We thank God for this and may he continue blessing all of the staff.

Written by Violet Chikwatu, nurse in charge at the Central Africa Medical Mission Lutheran Mobile clinic in Malawi. 

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A picture is worth a thousand words

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog. Subscribe to future updates from Africa at oneafricateam.com.

A picture is worth a thousand words – in any language. Members of the Obadiah Lutheran Synod (OLS) in Uganda speak English, Luganda, Lusoga, and many other Bantu dialects. It is a challenge to communicate Scriptural truths across linguistic and educational barriers. It’s even more challenging to explain abstract concepts like justification, redemption, and Christ’s humiliation and exaltation to students in confirmation class. But a well drawn picture can tie timeless truth to a tangible target.

Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz is an experienced WELS missionary who creates print and music materials for WELS Multi-Language Productions. Schultz supports WELS mission work around the globe. OLS President Maksimu Musa requested One Africa Team’s assistance in training Sunday school teachers. One Africa Team turned to Schultz, who has graphically portrayed the Apostles’ Creed with full color illustrations. He and Missionary John Roebke engaged 35 Sunday school teachers and OLS pastors with the task of translating these illustrations into lessons.

The pictures

The 1531 edition of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism contained 23 pictures printed from woodcut images. Like these images, Schultz’s drawings help a teacher tell a simple story to explain a complex teaching. A courtroom scene depicts a young man standing before a judge with his accuser to one side and his attorney at the other. The next scene shows him standing before God, flanked by Satan and Jesus.

Another picture unfolds the drama of a kidnapping and payment of ransom. The next scene represents the divine story of Christ’s redemption – not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood. A comic book panel of pictures illustrates each of the stages of Christ’s humiliation.

A composite illustration presents the stages of his exaltation. Schultz carefully crafted each picture to maximize understanding and teaching. A teacher’s manual with minimal text supplements each picture, bearing in mind the target audience’s literacy level. WELS Multi-Language Productions has produced three booklets to date – one for each of the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Schultz is finalizing the illustrations for the Sacrament of Baptism, with the other chief parts of the Catechism to follow.

The teachers

Attendees began each day of the workshop with animated singing and dancing. In addition to performing local melodies, the group learned a few African American spirituals from Schultz. OLS pastors delivered inspiring devotional messages in English. Schultz infused his own energy into the workshop as he introduced each picture to the participants.

After this, the Sunday school teachers broke into smaller groups of three to five people. In each group, an OLS pastor walked through the concepts behind the picture. Thirty minutes later, each small group took turns teaching the lesson to the larger audience. Some teachers appeared more confident than others, but by the week’s end all of them had made significant improvement.

Next steps

Unfortunately, time did not allow for Schultz to present all 45 teaching posters the group. The teaching posters and manuals remain with the OLS in Uganda. We encouraged the pastors to work through these materials with their Sunday school teachers. The pastors have a much better grasp on both Lutheran teachings and local culture.

Regardless if Schultz returns to Uganda, the OLS now has a powerful instrument for instructing youth and adults. Can you picture their faces gathered around Jesus’ throne some day?

Please pray for those working in fields that are ripe for harvest. Share their story, engage with future news, and receive updates. Learn more about our mission fields in Africa and how the Holy Spirit is working faith in people’s hearts.

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

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It’s just sand, you can’t grow anything there

The story goes that the farmers of Alabama and panhandle Florida weren’t interested in the lands now known as Panama City Beach – an area across the Hathaway Bridge from Panama City, Fla. They referred to it as worthless property because you “can’t grow anything there.” Looking back, I wish I had lived back then and bought up a lot of the worthless sand. With foresight, Gideon Thomas purchased land right on the water in the 1930s. In 1936 he had a formal opening to what is now titled “Panama City Beach” – complete with his beach hotel and 1,000-foot pier. The rest is history for this bustling community.

A lot has changed from those times when it was fondly dubbed “the Redneck Riviera.” The latest growth spurts means more stores, support services, and construction crews that draw in more workers. A main driver behind many of the new planned communities is the St. Joe Company. The development that gets the most attention is Latitude Margaritaville Watersound 55 – an affordable retirement community a bit like “The Villages” of mid-Florida. Presently 3,500 homes have been built and pre-purchased by people from 49 of the 50 states. They anticipate 160,000 new homes in the next 40 years. A new airport was built a few years ago to accommodate growth and now a new hospital and medical facility are in the process of construction. A recent news article wrote, “There’s no sign of Bay County slowing down when it comes to people moving to our area.” They recognize the unchanging asset here – the beautiful beaches. We would like to see a new solid gospel community in the middle of it built on our unchanging asset – the good news of Jesus.

Besides Panama City, the closest other WELS church is two hours away. But Amazing Grace in Panama City has some very active core members living in the middle of the growth areas such as families like Andrew and Tian with their four primary school children. Or Keisha, with her two teenagers and two preschoolers, who drives at least an hour to church (depending on traffic) from Santa Rosa Beach area. These families find it difficult to convince others in the area to make the long drive to “the City” over the Hathaway Bridge. For the last year we have been offering weekly a Bible class that swells to 30 in attendance when the snowbirds arrive. It has attracted new people like Jevone from Jamaica or Susie, a retired school music teacher. To provide even more points of contact, we volunteer as mentors at the West Bay Elementary School and provide occasional lunches or treats for the teachers and staff.

We are thankful the South Atlantic District Mission Board saw something special in our proposal to begin an outreach mission there and included it in the first round of picks for the “100 missions in 10 years.” Now comes the waiting portion as calls go out to pastors to lead the mission endeavor.

In the early 1930’s there was little use for what some referred to as “the ugly white sand.” Today it is often referred to as one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” What will the future be like for WELS gospel outreach there? Pray for it (and if you are looking for a warm place to retire and be a part of the outreach, join us). We pray this effort develops a church home for many others to enjoy the world’s most beautiful message.

Written by Rev. David Kehl, serving Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Panama City, Fla. 

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Where city and country and college meet!

As you enter town, you cannot help but notice the sign welcoming its guests, “Morgan – where city and country meet.”

It does not say anything on the sign about college. There is no university there. There is no community college there. But what is there, is a congregation that cares about college students! As some of their families were out in the harvest fields surrounding this community of under 1,000, they did not lose sight of their Lord’s harvest field. Zion Lutheran Church held a mission festival. Specifically, they were thinking of those harvest fields on college campuses. The area of focus that they wanted to both explore and support was our WELS Campus Ministry.

As they made plans for this special weekend, the Women’s Guild got together and talked about ways they could specifically support campus ministry. In those conversations they wanted to support both the work of our synod and the work right before their eyes there at Zion Lutheran Church. They included these young adults and the ministries that point them to Christ in their prayers. They supported our synod with a special gift for WELS ministry. And they decided to assemble care packages to greet their own members in college when they came home for Thanksgiving. What a welcome! What a way to encourage young adults to stay faithful to their Savior! What a way to assist our ministries to college students as they also look to point those on those mission fields to their Savior! Zion Lutheran Church, where city, country, and college meet!

Pastor Andrew Schmidt from Zion stated “The congregation has done well this year with intentionally trying to stay connected to our members off working on undergraduate degrees at different colleges. And what has been the best part of this blessing for the Zion family is that the handful of college students who are members are remaining connected! I have received calls from students asking that when they are back home, even though it may not be a communion Sunday, if they could come in and receive private communion. During the current semester, a student has sent a text stating they were worshiping with us that morning online from a dorm room. Because of this connection, two of our college students came back to read for the annual Advent by Candlelight event. How awesome is that?”

Zion Lutheran Church is not alone. We thank God for the many partnerships in the gospel that we have across our church body. These special mission festivals are opportunities to learn about, explore, and reach out to many harvest fields that the Lord puts before. College campuses are one of these fields. What they did at Zion Lutheran Church is what our WELS Campus Ministry under our WELS Board for Home Missions encourages. We ask that you keep this demographic in your prayers. If you are in a town or city with a college or university campus, include them in your outreach and evangelism plans. With your own college students, welcome them home, ask them about ways that you can stay in contact with them, and make sure that they/you have shared their names and contact information with our synod so that contact pastors and congregations can reach out to them while they are away from home.

If you’d like to learn more about what Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod does to serve college students, please reach out at [email protected] and visit our Campus Ministry page. If you’re interested in hosting mission festival, you can request a mission festival speaker.

Written by Rev. Daniel Lindner, serving as the Campus Ministry Mission Counselor. 

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Participation

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Participation

Is participation in public worship a breaking of the Fourth Wall?

All the World’s a Stage

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”1 While Jaques’ soliloquy is considered some of William Shakespeare’s finest poetry and is one of many Shakespearean quotations that remain in common usage, it has become an oft-used modern idiom for a broad range of applications. Seen positively or negatively, collectively or parochially, it speaks to the way in which each of us must temporarily “tread the boards” of this thing called life.

Because the idiom is so encompassing, many aspects of theater have been applied to all sorts and conditions in life. One aspect in particular has found broad application: the concept of the fourth wall. The fourth wall is really a metaphor, completing the “four walls” of a theater—the stage mise-en-scène bordered by three “solid” walls. The proscenium and arch are an invisible “fourth wall,” creating a barrier between actors and audience. The audience can see through it while the actors pretend that they cannot.

In many ways, the fourth wall didn’t exist until the 16th century. Ancient performances, medieval morality plays, even Elizabethan theater, were mostly in the round, or otherwise in the midst of the people, with narrators and characters engaging the audience through winks, nods, soliloquies, questioning, and active participation. (Think Peter Pan inviting the audience to clap for Tinker Bell.)

But by the 19th century, there were strict rules throughout much of Western theater, making the so-called Fourth Wall inviolate. It would be another century before writers, directors, and actors would break through the “wall” and once again engage the audience. Actors will acknowledge within the script that they are fictional characters. They will speak directly to the audience to set the scene or explain a situation. They will bravely step out into the auditorium, making use of public doors and aisles. They will even sometimes let the audience change the course of the script. In such ways, the Fourth Wall isn’t merely broken or shattered, it is obliterated.

The Church’s Four Walls

The “breaking of the Fourth Wall” concept is not confined to theater. It can readily be found as a literary device, even in Scripture. A few striking examples include Moses’ “humble” side comment in Numbers 12:32, the many narrator-type Old Testament connections of Matthew’s gospel, and Jesus’ direct address “let the reader understand” in Mark 13.3 One could argue that the Epistles, by their very nature and the expressed directive that they be passed from congregation to congregation, shows an intent that there be no Fourth Wall between the 1st century world of the early Christian church and every generation to come.

Not surprisingly, the Fourth Wall metaphor has often been applied to the church of today. Discipleship, evangelism, elders’ work—nearly every area of ministry has some aspect of breaking down real or perceived barriers to the words and works of Jesus. Author Wes Vander Lugt summarizes the application this way:

Overall, I am suggesting that interactive theatre provides a compelling model by which to re-imagine Christian mission, not as a mission to unbelievers through an impenetrable fourth wall or a mission with others where no fourth wall exists, but a mission among and in interaction with unbelieving guests in the context of our everyday lives. In order to participate in God’s mission, we need to take church beyond the fourth wall.4

Nearly every area of ministry has some aspect of breaking down real or perceived barriers.

What Wall?

While Vander Lugt’s point has some validity as applied to congregational life—we do tend to hide behind church walls where it is warm and comfortable—are there Fourth Wall implications or parallels for a congregation’s public worship life?

Though there are plenty of descriptions of public worship in both Old and New Testaments, there is no prescription for what New Testament age worship should look like. This is not to say that the New Testament does not have anything to say about public worship. Though it does not dictate the forms for public worship, it does say that public worship should not be formless.

As the apostles proclaimed the words and work of Jesus, they connected the Old Testament to its fulfillment in him. As they heard the life of Christ proclaimed, believers naturally responded with thanksgiving, praising God for the great things he had done and was continuing to do. As the message of Christ dwelled in them richly, the Holy Spirit continued to work in them both the will and the ability to love others as they were first loved by Christ.

And so it continues today, from generation to generation. Paul’s declaration to the Galatians is yours and mine, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”5 The life of Christ is our life. By grace, through faith, we are not viewers but participants in God’s plan for redemption, renewal, and resurrection to eternal life. As the gospel is proclaimed in Word and sacrament, as we gather around these means of grace to our eternal good, and as we respond with gospel proclamation in praise and thanksgiving, we worship.

The congregation’s Spirit-effected response to the gift of salvation, conveyed in Word and sacrament, is itself Word… This responding, confessing, thanking, and glorifying word of the congregation will always recall the great and saving deeds of God’s might; it will acknowledge, laud, and glorify them prayerfully, and in this manner also proclaim and present them to others.6

This is our calling, our right, our responsibility, our joy. In other words, in public worship, the audience can no more be separated from the action than the action “for us and our salvation” can be separated from us. There is no Fourth Wall. In fact, there are no “walls” at all!

In public worship, the audience cannot be separated from the action.

Walled Off

And yet, nearly throughout the history of public worship in the New Testament Age, there are those who would construct a wall between Jesus Christ and the people he has saved. From the Gnostics to the monastics to the Arminian Evangelicals there has been a determined effort to shift the emphasis from Christ’s sacrifice for you to the by me of self-wisdom, self-sacrifice, and self-prove-ment. By the end of the first millennium A.D., the sacrifice of the Mass was firmly entrenched in the Western Church, replacing the Christ’s sacrifice for us with its own so-called sacrifice, but also removing, to varying degrees, participation in the sacrament by the people. Screens were built to literally wall the people off from the message and actions of public worship, the Life of Christ only to be glimpsed in stained glass or meted out in small doses, lest the people have no need for the church.

Even after Luther’s reforms, Calvinism deemphasized the grace of God for the almighty rule of God and robbed the people of the efficacy of the sacraments. Within Lutheranism, the Pietists sought to emphasize Christ in us, not in balance with, but at the expense of Christ for us. Methodism and Arminianism determinedly pulled the spotlight from the Life of Christ to shine on proving oneself and a personal decision for Christ. Nearly across the landscape of public worship in America was a pervasive attitude to “do what works,” an attitude that continues to color public worship decisions today.

Finally, one thing that all these abuses of public worship (not to mention abuses of the Word and sacraments) have in common, is a moving away from, or at the very least an obscuring of, what one could call Life-of-Christ worship.7

Peruse the website and watch a few online services from your local Evangelical mega-church and you will readily see the shift. Christmas is observed and celebrated, but what of the preparatory and anticipatory weeks of Advent? Though not always the case, Easter is observed and celebrated, but Good Friday is rare (perhaps only every few years!). The rest of Holy Week, Palm Sunday in particular, is lost to the ages. The sovereignty of Christ is often emphasized, but the humble King riding into Jerusalem is dismissed as an archaic reference to some by-gone tradition of waving palms.

The rest of the year is filled with preaching series on self-improvement, congregational visions, and situational ethics in which the Life of Christ is relegated to an occasional reference, hidden behind walls of “relevance,” and instrumentalized for personal purposes.8 If observed at all, Baptism and Holy Communion are embarrassingly dismissed with a wink and nod that “some people need this sort of thing.”

The apostle John was inspired to conclude his Gospel account with these words: “Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”9 The apostle Peter declared that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”10 As such, the purpose of Christian worship is to praise God by proclaiming the gospel in Word and sacrament.

A determined effort to shift the emphasis from Christ’s sacrifice for you to the by me of self-wisdom, self-sacrifice, and self-prove-ment.

Can public worship fully honor the Word of the Lord when the Life of Christ, the story of him who is our light and life, is reduced to occasional glimpses, disjointed references, and whimsical illustrations seemingly on par with the ever-loved personal story?

God wants to call human beings to eternal salvation, to draw them to himself, to convert them, to give them new birth, and to sanctify them through these means, and in no other way than through his holy Word (which people hear proclaimed or read) and the through the sacraments (which they use according to his Word).11

A lack or even diminished role of the Life of Christ in public worship contributes to construction of not just a Fourth Wall, but the whole theater. Worshipers become audience, engaged through “winks and nods,” creative preaching, and musical selections—perhaps glimpsing occasional nuggets in Christ’s story, but nuggets primarily for private insight and application. This loss of Christo-centricity, deemphasized gospel proclamation, and preference for a rationalized subjectivity in worship slowly and tragically distances attendees from the true heart of worship, transforming them from participants to at best outside-the-box enthusiastic appreciators and at worst shadowed cheap-seaters, slipping out the nearest exit.

Tearing Down the Walls

But as all Christians have the right and responsibility to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, we do well to encourage such declaration through Word and sacrament as the gospel message is proclaimed in the Life of Christ. To encourage such participation, public worship acknowledges what is already true, Christ is in us because he has been, and is, for us. We prioritize gospel predominance, we strive to faithfully use God’s gifts, we honor the historical experiences of the church, and we encourage the participation of God’s people in freedom and love.

Consider the many-layered ways in which the Life of Christ is proclaimed in public worship through ritual, calendar, readings, preaching, music, art, architecture, and language. All of these combine to create an invitational environment in which those sweet words, “Your sins are forgiven,” provide the counter-intuitive and counter-cultural message that releases and transitions lost souls from the grip of sin and the strictures of society to the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Oh, that this message of forgiveness and grace would not be reduced to merely a weekly reference in absolution and a monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but generously offered again and again through Word, sacrament, liturgy, and song! Frank Senn explains in Christian Liturgy:

It is something else to obediently proclaim the word and administer the sacraments and to be surprised by the work of God, to see how the Holy Spirit works in, with, and through the means of grace to produce a faith response. What finally makes worship authentic is not human design but the presence of Christ in the proclamation of the gospel and in the celebration of the sacraments, whose Spirit works through these means to create, sustain, and awaken faith.12

As the totality of our being is found in Christ, our public worship is the mirror image of his life lived for us, sacrificed for us, and raised for us. Participation in the actions of public worship brings us together, strengthens our bond as a family of believers, gives expression to our unity of faith, and prepares us for returning to the outside world. It is the actions of public worship that move us from the liminality of self to the unity of us as we participate in standing together, sitting together, reading together, praying together, confessing together, singing together, and communing together. As the apostle Paul declared:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.13

By grace, through faith, in Christ alone, this is our calling, our right, our responsibility, our joy.

The actions of public worship move us from the liminality of self to the unity of us as we participate.

All In

It’s good for the pastor not only to rightly understand participation but also to teach it. Here are some idea-starters for verbal or printed explanations:

  • Ritual: See a section in Foundations, Ritual and Ceremony (page 212ff) for “several teaching angles.” Our Worth to Him: Devotions for Christian Worship, Unit 1: The Story of Worship, offers the perspective of a participant in worship as one among many worshipers spanning space and time and eternity.
  • Calendar: The Church Year isn’t merely a way for pastors to organize worship themes. It’s also something that forms us together as Lutheran Christians, something that you can echo in your homes by means of devotions (cf. the link in today’s worship folder for free options from The Foundation: welscongregationalservices.net/foundation-yr-b).
  • Preaching: How does preaching involve participation if only one person is talking? Several possible ways: active and focused listening, the “work” of concentration, taking notes on key points both to aid attention and for later reinforcement, intentionally applying some point in a personal way even if the pastor doesn’t make that specific application. A great resource is the new “My Christian Worship” journal and accompanying Bible study: online.nph.net/my-christian-worship.html
  • Music: Singing hymns is obvious participation. But how does one participate when listening to instrumental music? Include an occasional note in the worship folder regarding service music. Here’s an example.
    Suo Gan Reverie, by Franklin Ashdown [from The Eventide Collection, CPH 2006]
    The Welsh title for this music translates as “Soothing Song.” It was used in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Empire of the Sun. Our new hymnal uses it for two new texts: 647 and 669. While neither is sung in today’s service, 669 may serve for preservice meditation on Holy Communion.
  • How do we participate in art? By consciously taking it in as message and not merely decoration. Explain the Christian symbols by printing explanations in your worship folder. Example: Carved into our altar is the symbol AΩ. These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega. They symbolize the eternal nature of Jesus Christ. “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (See Foundations, chapter 16, for deeper understanding and quotable quotes to share.)
  • Architecture: Worship does not take place ideally from a stage (presentation to the people) but rather in a chancel and a nave, or a wide seating layout focused on the chancel. With a visual focus on the means of grace, with pastor and people participating in proclamation and praise, the form of the worship space encourages the actions of public worship. Use Foundations, chapter 15, Worship Space, to enrich understanding and appreciation.

By Joel Gawrisch

Pastor Gawrisch served for 14 years at Christ Lutheran before taking a call to New Life in Shoreview, Minnesota. He is the Minnesota District Worship Coordinator. He has also served on the Schools of Worship Enrichment team, the Rites Committee for the WELS Hymnal Project, and with the Commission on Congregational Counseling’s Self-Assessment and Adjustment Program.


1 From “As You Like It” Act 2, Scene 7 (line 139), by William Shakespeare
2 Numbers 12:3: Now the man Moses was very humble, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.
3 Mark 13:14; also recorded in Matthew 24:15.
4 itiablog.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/church-beyond-the-fourth-wall/.
5 Galatians 2:20
6 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, tr. by M. H. Bertram (CPH, 1968) pp. 122-124 as quoted in Christian Worship: Foundations (NPH, 2023) pp. 30-31.
7 For an exposition on Life-of-Christ pubic worship, see Michael Berg’s On Any Given Sunday: The Story of Christ in the Divine Service available from 1517 Publishing: shop.1517.org/products/on-any-given-sunday-the-story-of-christ-in-the-divine-service.
8 See Caleb Bassett’s comments on instrumentalizing Jesus in Preach the Word Vol. 27, No. 1.
9 John 20:30,31
10 1 Peter 2:9
11 Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II, 49-50 as quoted in Worship, Gottesdienst, Cultus Dei: What the Lutheran Confessions Say About Worship (CPH, 2005) p. 90.
12 Senn, Frank C. Christian Liturgy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997) p. 565.
13 1 Corinthians 10:16,17


 

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