There Is Room in the Choir

There Is Room in the Choir

Hymn selection criteria and variety

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

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

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

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

Comprehensive in scope, Christ-centered in content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By Aaron Christie

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


More New Hymnal Information

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

The following chart shows the new items available.

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

 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Preach the Word – Joy and Confidence from the Basics – Part 2

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

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

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

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

Is my sermon truly textual?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does my text stand behind some touchstone of Lutheran theology?

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

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

“Master, should we pull up the weeds?”

“No. You’ll only get it wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the law in my hands disturb?

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

I am implicated, unmasked, revealed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Lord, what a relief!

Did I gain a fresh hearing for the gospel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is my sermon coherent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a good place to be.

Written by Mark Paustian

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


 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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How long does it take to build a church?

How long does it take to build a church?

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

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

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

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

Mission core group in 1993

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

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

But how?

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

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

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

To Him alone be glory!

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


 

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Pandemic proclamation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Christ-centered wedding blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Eight years of blessings in Lafayette, Indiana

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

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

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

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

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


 

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I could not find Jesus, but he found me

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

*Names changed for security reasons*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia


 

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Good bones

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

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

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

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

Outdoor worship at their new location

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

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

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

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


 

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A lifeless body, a life-giving opportunity

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

Friends carrying the casket

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

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

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

Friends and neighbors helping bury their friend

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

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

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


 

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Update – Hmong outreach in Vietnam

But God’s word is not chained.

2 Timothy 2:9b

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

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

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

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

Written by Rev. Joel Nitz, Hmong Asia missionary


 

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Upside down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Meet the Mohlkes

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

The Mohlke family in Zambia in the late 1990s

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

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

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

Missionary Mohlke and his wife Leslie

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

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

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

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


 

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Faces of Faith – Katherine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Anticipating a New Hymnal

Anticipating a New Hymnal

During a Pandemic

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

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

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

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

No other parish ministry has the reach of public worship.

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

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

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

Treasures old

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

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

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

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

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

Treasures new

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

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

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

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

Treasures in the home

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

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

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

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

Treasures for leaders

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

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

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

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

Technology levels the playing field for churches of different sizes.

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

Putting tools to work

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

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

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

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

By Adam Mueller

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


Evaluating, budgeting, and special gifts

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

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

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


C20 – Christmas 2020 resources

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


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

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Preach the Word – Joy and Confidence from the Basics

What a thing it is to be someone’s pastor. A young woman lies in her hospital bed lost in a fog of bad news. You walk in the door. And so associated are you with the gospel, so married in her mind with this one essential thing, that it is as if the gospel itself has just walked in the door.

You are her personal Good News Man. They said no one could understand a single thought of Martin Luther unless they understood it first as a thought about the forgiveness of sins. This is your obsession, too, Lutheran pastor. Forgiveness is the only sun in your sky.

Forgiveness is the only sun in your sky.

Yours is the simple eloquence that is born of love for the gospel. And this love for the gospel is born in desperate need. This explains you. And it explains the wonderful, warm thing I see come over you as you arrive, in the moment of preaching, at your true subject. In a certain sense, it is the only thing you really know. You portray Jesus, the Son of God, on his cross. Then, with a Word from God, you unleash a power like none other in the world.

“Take this,” you say. “This is for you.”

You never forget that the man in the back, looking just fine, may be barely holding it together for want of an unambiguous Word of Christ-for-us. You need no reminder—no “note to self”—to fix your spotlight on Christ crucified and raised. Every. Single. Time. You know no other way.

To borrow from Tim Keller, there’s something rare and special about preaching that combines such warmth with such force, such transparent humility with such borrowed, towering authority. It is good and right that we know—we can just tell—that the preacher is himself put back together by the things he is saying.

My Jesus does not squander men like this. They do not just come along. They do not make themselves. Praise God, my pastors have more than 45-seconds of things to say about the cross. They live in the Spirit’s hard school. Translating the theology of grace and redemption into real life is what they are about.

That’s why they are “gospel predominant” preachers, but “gospel predominance” doesn’t necessarily reduce to word count. It is even more about the way the preacher handles with words the mystery of God’s grace revealed in Jesus. He exercises at this spot, as no other, all eloquence, vividness, provocation, and creativity that already reside in the Scriptures he holds in trembling hands. And why? If only to gain a fresh hearing for the gospel, this thing Jesus has done, and to have it be, in the Spirit, as though his listeners had never really heard it before.

“Gospel predominance” doesn’t necessarily reduce to word count.

And as he takes all the risen Christ is and all he has won and pours it freely out, let him take his time. If he needs a moment to regain his composure, we’ll wait. Because when this man speaks, he speaks for Jesus. The Lord Christ is intervening all over again in the affairs of people.

It is a good day whenever it happens.

Planning to Teach the Basics

In my thirtieth year in public ministry, I was sent back to the basics of preaching in a quite decisive way. I was privileged to create and champion an introduction to preaching as half of a capstone course in the pastor track at Martin Luther College. This subject shares the stage in the class with Christian Apologetics. The bulk of our time has young men on their feet.

But along the way, of course, I do have opportunity to articulate one man’s opinion about what preaching ought to be. You can imagine that when I take my turn in the morning chapel rotation, I know the boys are watching closely. The pressure I feel to get it right, so to speak, is the good kind. Yes, I think it has been good to immerse myself in the basics of preaching. I pray it will be good for you, brothers, to be reminded of these things.

Let’s get to it. Are there other criteria, besides explicit gospel content, that characterizes good preaching? Are there other things that, although they may appear in different proportions week by week, should happen virtually every single time?

In my exploratory mission, when preaching dominated my weekly schedule, I had created a list for myself. I didn’t use it to guide my writing in cookie-cutter fashion. Instead, I turned to my list (with a silly acronym you don’t want to know) just to ask myself, is this sermon ready? Or is some vital element missing or under-developed?

Here’s that list. Next, we’ll draw things out by way of an extended example.

Faithfulness to the Text
Crucifying Law
Fresh, Explicit Gospel
Impactful Illustration
“Aha” Application
Clarity & Coherence
Warmth & Force in Delivery

In this issue of Preach the Word, we’ll expand on the first two issues listed here. We’ll take up the rest in the issues to follow. Before we do, let’s load up our minds with a text from John chapter 10 and use it to put flesh on the criteria we will be considering.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Faithfulness to the Text

There’s something special I hope to do with the particular Scripture that I expound for God’s people. I want it to be for them never the same—in the better stories they have to tell themselves, the better images to linger over, or what human stuff they share with a Joseph or a John.

Will my listeners, in the course of my preaching, gain an affection for this particular spot in Holy Scriptures? If I were to read my text again at the end of the sermon, would it feel awkward because, well, that wasn’t what the thing was about at all? Or will it resound with, “Yes, yes. I know this place well. I see that it has everything to do with Jesus. And now that I see that, I will never unsee it.”

To that end, was my study of the text in the “pastor’s private study” the true starting point of all my thinking as I imagined my way deep into that wide world of the Old and New Testaments and took in its horizon? Was this particular Word the true star of the moment rather than my own precious thoughts? Did the Spirit set the agenda?

Tim Keller has a useful analogy in Preaching. A sermon text is like a town in England. Every town has a Main Street, the flow of the inspired writer’s thought. Can I walk that Main Street in my sleep? Do I understand how one element follows on another? Likewise, there is a “road to London” from every sermon text to the preaching of Christ crucified, a path that is natural and unforced.

I’ll be calling it the “road to Oxford”—it’s a much more beautiful city than London. The point is that if I can’t see clearly from one end of Main Street to the other, or find that broader highway, I’m not ready to preach.

It’s an axiom in communication that context always matters. If I walk by the front desk at MLC and say to the receptionist, “You look hot today!” would it matter if you noticed that the air conditioner blew out? Better, would it matter if you knew that she is my bride?

Or say I stood up beside a man on the stage and announced, “This man is my friend!” How does the communication event change if the man is being celebrated for a lifetime of achievement, or if he is, instead, being universally vilified?

Context always matters. Asking, “Where do I stand in this text?” can be just the trigger we need for illustrations that are organically connected with the Word of God and applications that shine with the ways life can now be lived in our text’s special light. Also, when a particular text lacks law or gospel, the immediate context is the first place we might look.

How might John 10 (above) be “never the same” for those who hear me preach? It might happen if they’ve never heard how ferocious are the words, “I am the Good Shepherd,” when taken in context. They are fighting words addressed to spiritual tyrants. They are fiercely protective of the once-blind man who is there in the same room. My Jesus stirs the blood! I know where I stand in the story. It is with the one who can only say, “I was blind. Now I see.”

In the end, being textual is precisely what helps me paint the unforgettable gospel, my true subject, in the fresh colors of a particular Scripture.

Being textual is precisely what helps me paint the unforgettable gospel.

Crucifying Law

It is possible, as David Schmitt writes1, to see only Law and Gospel in a text to the neglect of its unique atmosphere. Preaching can, as we all know, become something far more formulaic and predictable than the thing itself, the gospel, as it animates the Bible. We have more ways to interrogate a text than to only ask, “Where is the law?” and “Where is the gospel?”

Yet, we would all agree that neglecting Law and Gospel would be the graver problem. I will save some thunder to keep Law and Gospel in front of us in subsequent articles. I only introduce here the familiar matter of preaching Law as if there were no Gospel, and Gospel as if there were no Law. Questions of interest include: what is the range of ways the Law can perform its function, from the brutal to the tender? How can the familiar gospel be, as the mercies of God are, “new every morning?” None of us tire of these age-old challenges.

I often find my young students over-writing a Law portion of their chapel devotions. They can create a lot of inches of text filled with “How many times don’t we…?” My boredom tells me something is wrong. Yes, probably with me. Yet it remains that I am not well served. But I remember a gifted student who had, essentially, one condemning sentence followed by a dreadfully long pause. “Brothers, you come to me and show me my sin, and I will kill you in my heart.” In that case, less is more…and devastating.

I use the example from John 10 with my students and find my heart pounding as I do. It is not easy. I remind them that they know of dangers their own younger brothers are in—the way some play with fire—and they may think, “What is that to me? What would I gain by making this my problem? Being a pastor will make you hip and cool. It will get you admired. You can be someone.” So, I raise my voice quite uncharacteristically, and I look them in the eye and shout, “Hired hands!”

Preaching cannot heal deeply enough if it does not wound deeply enough.

It’s brutal. And the compassion it comes with is not, in that moment, self-evident. Preaching cannot heal deeply enough if it does not wound deeply enough. We cannot have people saying, “Yes, yes. We know already. Next comes the Gospel so get on with it.” We need to crucify and kill the flesh. We need, as good Lutheran theologians, to call things as they are.

Fresh, Explicit Gospel

“The reason my father loves me . . .”—strange to hear Jesus start a sentence that way. We think, “What? He needs a reason?” The reason is that Jesus lays down his life voluntarily. There was no coercion in it to spoil the unspeakable beauty of the act. The Father prizes the act. And he prizes all those who prize with him—all who see it, too—by Word and Spirit.

This is the answer to the one who howls at me in bed. “Satan, when you can find something here that is not perfect, exquisite, and complete, Christ’s free laying down his life only to take it up again, then you can come to me. Until that day, this is the act I prize. This is the reason I love him.”

We add nothing to the power to the Word of God, naked and unadorned by our own personalities or rhetorical prowess. But we do love to speak the eternal Gospel in the unique terms of a particular text for which no other text can substitute. For this we endure our private birth pains, the sweet agony of writing another sermon.

What’s Coming Next Time?

Our sweep of the basics is only begun. By Impactful Illustration I mean that we want to put a human face on, or bring into now, whatever became the most significant burden of the sermon. We would like it to pack a wallop and not leave the heart unaffected.

By an “Aha” Application I mean that we search out the implications of the text before us for our changed situation as grace opens it up. Life is different “in view of God’s mercy.” It’s what we see in a way we hadn’t seen it before that makes the difference.

By Clarity & Coherence I mean that we have an instinct for when in our writing we may be taxing our listener’s comprehension by our own lack of clarity or their attention by the density of our content.

By Warmth & Force in Delivery I mean that we work within our own personalities at the same time as we display the version of ourselves that is captivated by the cross. Our preaching flows from our own faith. We have learned and translate into life what the gospel means, and we long to love it much better than we do.

Who Is Competent?

I look at the faces of the boys in Preaching 101 after laying out these criteria. They look back at me overwhelmed. I always say, “Then my work here is done.” “Who is competent for such a task?” If that’s how Paul felt, then we are in good company in the way we make our resort to Christ from down here on our knees.

The answer to the “who is competent” question was not “Well, no one.” The answer was that Jesus is our competence by the means of grace and by the Spirit who lets his power rest on the nothingness of the man and the apparent nothingness of his messages. His grace is sufficient for our need. When we are weak, we are strong.

Kierkegaard wrote about the beautiful tapestry of Christian theology, “What good would it do me to construct a world in which I did not live but only held up to the view of others?” I borrow from him to remind you, brothers, to live in that world of grace, the real one, that you display it to others week after week. I remind you of what can come as a surprise to the pastor. The Good News you are so eager to bring to the broken is first for you. We “comfort with the comfort we have received.”

The prerequisite is a full heart. You are forgiven. This is not information for you to store up for some future day’s use. This is Now. You are forgiven. What would Jesus have you do, preacher? He would have you be glad.

(By the way, I’ll be quoting diverse voices in the year of articles ahead. I do not quote them as authorities. It will be because I like what a certain writer caught in skillful or compelling words. Craddock can be dangerous. Keller can be “close but not quite.” Such as I am, I have tested everything and have prayerfully kept what is good.)

Bottom line: if our job as preachers were to promote ourselves, then we had better be all about that. No chinks in the armor, please. But if our high and holy task is to elevate Christ—who he is and what he has done—then we can dare to be sinners. We can dare to be ourselves. We can be, as J. P. Koehler wrote, “ever more deeply absorbed in the gospel—not letting go until it blesses.”

We can be Good News Men.

Written by Mark Paustian

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


1 “Law and Gospel in Sermon and Service” from Liturgical Preaching. Paul Grime and Dean Nadasdy, eds. CPH 2001. Reissued in 2011 with the title Preaching is Worship: The Sermon in Context. Schmitt teaches practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Campus Ministry: My second family

Do you remember how you felt your very first week of college? Maybe you were excited about starting, making lots of friends, and feeling confident about all your classes. For me, I was the exact opposite. I was nervous, lonely, and honestly a little scared about the prospect of being on my own. It didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone at all on campus, and I was going to a non-Christian school for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel any better as I left my dorm room for the campus ministry Bible study for the first time. Several times I considered running back to my room and taking a nap, but I pushed myself to go because I knew I needed to be surrounded by believers during this challenging time.

Two years later, I’m no longer nervous to go to Bible study. Instead, I look forward to it. Bible study is the perfect break from school, work, and all the other distractions in life. The people in my Bible study are more than acquaintances I see once a week; they are my friends, confidants, and second family. They have helped me through roommate concerns and relationship problems, sickness, and the loss of loved ones. The relationship status of “second family” didn’t come quickly, but it did come naturally. We made an effort to spend time together outside of Bible study by playing games, conversing in our campus center, and preparing Lenten/Advent meals together. We also made a habit of preparing a meal or having a potluck together off campus in order to help relieve the stress that school can bring. Another way we have built our friendships is by going to church together. Several members of the group will plan to go to church together on Sunday mornings and during Lenten/Advent season. We have unofficially claimed a pew near the front of Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, which we call the “MSOE pew”.

Rebekah and her friend Katie in the “MSOE pew” at Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wis

Not even a pandemic was able to stop our campus ministry group from getting together and continuing to grow our community. We used Zoom to meet once a week for Bible study, refreshing our hearts and souls. Just like before, this time was used not only for spiritual purposes, but also to play games and talk after Bible study was over. The games especially were a source of endless laughter as we learned, for people who already can’t really draw, playing Pictionary is much harder when you play it with a computer mouse.

This campus ministry program means the world to me. I am so thankful that I am a part of such a wonderful group and that God has placed these people in my life. It is so refreshing to be in the habit of meeting together and encouraging one another to show God and his love in our lives, as Paul urges us in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.” I praise God every day for The Point of Grace campus ministry group at MSOE, and for the entire family of believers all around the world.

Written by Rebekah Bartels, a junior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee, Wis., and member of The Point of Grace campus ministry


 

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TELL: Truth brings peace

In 2018, WELS World Mission’s Multi-Language Productions had a vision to reach the world with the gospel in a new way. Their vision was to equip people with the truth of God’s word using digital resources in English. Like the Latin America mission field’s Academia Cristo in Spanish, TELL would use English to reach people through social media, self-led Bible lessons, and live video classrooms.

Live classes with TELL Missionary, Dan Laitinen

Three years later, God has blessed that vision. The TELL Network has 1.2 million followers and likes on its main Facebook page. Across the globe there are 7,000 active users working on self-led Bible lessons on the TELL app and website. Currently I am the only full-time TELL missionary. I meet several times a week with students from Africa, India, and Philippines.

One student, Samuel, is from Guinea, Africa. He is a school teacher with a wife and children. “My greatest desire is to be well-equipped for mission work,” says Samuel, “I won’t miss this opportunity by God’s grace.”

Samuel and his family

Like thousands of others, Samuel found TELL on Facebook. TELL’s Facebook team posts daily Bible passages and short devotional videos by national pastors from WELS world mission fields called #TELLtalks. The team answers questions online and invites people to start free Bible training on the TELL app or website.

Samuel downloaded the TELL app, and within seconds began the first self-learning course. He completed three self-learning courses: Spiritual Healing, Truth Brings Peace, and Introduction to the Bible. Each course has nine lessons that include a Bible reading, teaching video and quiz.

When Samuel completed the self-learning courses (TELL Tier 1), he received his first certificate. Then a TELL missionary contacted Samuel. He congratulated him and invited Samuel to join him in the live online classes (TELL Tier 2).

Today Samuel is meeting twice a week in a video classroom with a TELL instructor and other students. Students go in-depth learning about the work of Jesus, Old and New Testament history, and Law and Gospel. Each course takes about a month. There are eleven courses in TELL tier 2.

Samuel’s radio broadcast

TELL tier 3 are live courses too. They focus on how to share the gospel in your community: gathering, teaching and discipling. God-willing, some day the TELL instructor, along with a missionary in Africa, will visit Samuel to grow the relationship and support Samuel as he starts a small group.

When Samuel began TELL, he had been praying for just that: an opportunity to share the gospel. Since then, God opened a door! A friend gave Samuel air-time on the local radio station. Every Sunday evening Samuel takes the Bible lesson he has learned with TELL and reuses them on-air to an audience of up to half-a-million people. Many of whom haven’t heard the gospel before.

By God’s grace, Samuel has found a place where he receives real gospel training right from God’s word. “I used to believe in a gospel that was preaching prosperity and miracles mostly,” Samuel says, “But I discovered this misleads believers. It focuses on earthly things and makes us forget heavenly things. Now I’m mission-minded.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, Multi-Language Productions missionary for TELL (Think, Evaluate, Learn, Lead) 


 

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His message always finds a way

In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11

A year ago in July of 2019, I was installed as the first pastor of a new home mission in Mansfield, Ohio: Risen Savior Lutheran Church.

Interior remodeling at Risen Savior

Getting situated with my family, planning for the remodeling of our church building (purchased from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod for $1), getting to know my new members, and taking a tour of the Ohio State Reformatory (a right of passage for Mansfieldians who appreciate the city’s claim to fame as the filming location for The Shawshank Redemption) filled up the first few months.

Planning began that would help the congregation spread the gospel message out to the community.  There were so many great plans and new ideas for reaching new potential members. Community events in March, a big Easter celebration, and the grand opening of the newly remodeled church. Postcards were mailed out and a big weekend planned for knocking on doors to introduce ourselves and meet the locals. The core members (10 families) were filled with excitement.

Unfortunately, our efforts came to an unexpected standstill when Covid-19 led to community-wide shutdowns and isolation for many individuals and families. It was time to switch gears. We had to find new avenues to share the gospel message.

Risen Savior’s church set-up

Now, I’m not a computer guy. In fact, I am—for all intents and purposes—technologically illiterate. Videos and social media became the avenue for the foreseeable future, which was certainly not in my wheelhouse. Recording and downloading services for the current members, creating digital devotions for both members and prospects, reaching out to members and prospects via phone, email, and social media, while trying to forge ahead with our building remodel. All of these skills had to be learned, and learned quickly. It was overwhelming and quite the challenge to say the least.

Knocking on doors, inviting friends to church, helping with community events, and simply chatting with people met in everyday life vanished. This is where the Risen Savior members took over.

Our mission outreach tools became Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Zoom, instead of our typical in-person approach. While sharing simple devotions and Sunday services with the members, I quickly realized that these weekly messages were not simply for them. The digital resources were being shared on members’ social media platforms to their family and friends. Even our members who were stuck at home could still be involved with hearing and sharing the message!

On any given pre-pandemic Sunday, an average of 15 people heard the word of God in our building.  Once technology took over and the members began sharing, the weekly number  rose to over 500 different people hearing the gospel message. In the days and months ahead, we will continue to see how God blesses these efforts.

Over the past few months, the world has changed and along with it our outreach ministry, but the word of our God is still strong and powerful. His message always finds a way, and it does so through every member of his church in small, seemingly insignificant acts every single day. We are reminded of this fact in Isaiah 55:11, “In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.”

I look forward to a future of serving this community. I am excited to witness our Savior’s message spread through the continued efforts of Risen Savior members. And I can forge ahead trusting that our Lord’s Word will not return to him empty, no matter the challenges placed before us. To God be the Glory!

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


 

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Outreach to the not so lost

Kaitlin was an energetic young freshman. I was a brand-new campus pastor. Both of us were trying to find our place. She had come to Wisconsin Lutheran College from the east coast, not really knowing anyone, but she made some good friends pretty quickly. I was still trying to figure out what campus ministry at a Lutheran college meant. I knew that it meant chapel and Bible studies, but I’m not sure that I anticipated how much it meant outreach.

Kaitlin (left)

It was only a couple weeks into school when Kaitlin came to my office and said, “I don’t really know what confirmation is but I think I want that.” Doesn’t outreach usually mean that I have to go reaching out? Knocking on doors? Sending mass mailings? My first prospect in my new ministry just showed up. I was floored!

We proceeded to spend the next several weeks going through Bible Information Class at the same time that she was in theology class, attending chapel everyday, and attending every single Bible class that she was offered. She was on fire! Our one-on-one time together was awesome. She had a religious background, but it perhaps wasn’t as formal as she would have liked it to be. She knew she had faith in Jesus, but it seemed to me that she wasn’t quite sure what that even meant. But she sure wanted to know!

When it came time to wrap up our class, the question of confirmation came up. She and I drove to a few WELS churches in the area, and she got connected with a local church and was formally confirmed.

Fast forward a few years, and she was eager to connect with WELS Women’s Ministry to organize an event where the women could discuss different ministry options. She continued to attend every Bible study she could and regularly attended chapel. She went through some tough times and was there for her friends when they went through tough times. She worked through the challenging decisions around choosing a major and then deciding what to do after graduation. But through it all, she kept Christ at the center. She never lost sight of the big picture that God is love and that God loved her first, so she was good no matter what.

Sometimes students come to college with a faith background that is rock solid. Sometimes it just looks rock solid on the outside. College is a time when students start asking some big time life questions, and those questions aren’t limited to career choices. Sometimes those questions center around faith. “What do I believe? Why do I say that I believe that if I don’t really get that?” There are plenty of voices out there that would be more than willing to answer those questions in a way that would drive a wedge between that students and their Savior.

But isn’t this the value of Campus Ministry in the WELS? God-willing, campus ministry is a place where students can wrestle with things that they wrestle with every day regardless of where they are. God-willing, campus ministry is a place where that wrestling happens in the context of Jesus Christ and him crucified and that students are led to struggle under the cross of Christ and guided by his word! Outreach in campus ministry isn’t just about reaching the lost (although it is), it’s about being there with God’s comforting grace for the found in the good days and the bad. God grant us 100 more years of reaching with the cross of Christ.

Written by Greg Lyon, campus ministry pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wis. 


 

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Here I am Lord, send me

Everyone has a dream job. From traveling the world to being a billionaire, we all desire a unique outcome for our lives. My dream job is to do mission work. . . travel to developing countries to help people physically and spiritually. Coming into public college at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, I expected to push that dream back until after graduation.

UW-River Falls Mission Journeys team at Divine Peace in Rockwall, Tex.

By the end of my freshman year, my expectation was proven wrong by a simple video. After a Sunday service in May of 2019, a video explaining the WELS Mission Journeys program was shown. These few minutes of information inspired some of our campus ministry students to go on a mission trip. Almost immediately, I took the opportunity to fulfill my dream and worked tirelessly to give myself and some of my fellow campus ministry students the opportunity to do mission work. Come January 2020, four campus ministry members and our pastor were trained and ready to serve as missionaries. Once packed, we set our van on the 17-hour drive to Divine Peace Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation in Rockwall, Texas.

Getting to know the members of Divine Peace

This week long mission trip proved to be beneficial for all involved. We canvassed for hours, painted the offices, redid the parking spaces in the parking lot, and experienced God’s love in many ways. Our host families gave us a chance to get to know the hands and feet of God’s kingdom in Rockwall, Texas.

Through these connections we were able to gain insight into what living as a WELS Lutheran is like when outside the Midwest. We got to listen to live music, drove a 1916 Model T, learned to two-step at a honkytonk, and went to a Bible study called “The Bible on Tap”. This trip taught each of us that getting the physical work done is important, but taking the opportunity for fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ is far more important.

Fun at the Fort Worth Stockyards

My lifelong dream is to be a missionary. Maybe I will never make it to another country, but I know now that even a small mission trip like this can change someone’s life. Here I am, a junior in college, and now president of the WELS Campus Ministry Club at UW-River Falls. Here I am, a 20-year-old, on the committee working to merge two congregations in my hometown. These roles only happened because I followed my passion for the gospel when I saw a video about WELS Mission Journeys and went on a short-term mission trip. As I walk towards this dream job, I say with a full heart, “Here am I Lord, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

Written by Miriam Zarling, campus ministry student leader at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls and alumna of Shoreland Lutheran High School in Somers, Wis. UW-River Falls is served through the campus ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in River Falls, Wis. 


 

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Pandemic blessings and challenges in Russia

So, how are you handling the pandemic? Let me share just a little bit about how God led us through the past six months in Russia.

Challenges

Stress and loneliness

My wife Jennifer had barely completed her 14-day quarantine after the World Missionary Wives Conference in Spain when the Novosibirsk governor declared strict self-isolation requirements for our region. People were allowed to leave their apartments only to go to the nearest grocery store or pharmacy, walk their dogs, and carry out trash. For six weeks people adopted stray dogs and fought for the privilege of taking out garbage!

On a more serious note, many worried about their health and the well-being of their extended families. People lost their jobs as normal routines ground to a halt. Worst of all, after March 29, we could not gather with our brothers and sisters at church. I’m guessing that many of our struggles in Russia were similar to challenges you faced in the United States.

8th grade distance learning

At first the quarantine seemed like good news for our youngest son, Peter. The governor’s declaration called for an extra week of spring vacation. So of course, Peter put off doing his homework. But then we got word that the order had changed and that distance learning would begin the next day! Peter had to scramble to get his homework done. Meanwhile, teachers and schools scrambled to teach online classes – a completely new experience for everyone. The next three weeks were chaotic because each teacher chose a different platform for teaching and collecting homework. Jennifer and Peter spent many hours figuring out computer logistics so they could get lectures, readings, and homework assignments. Our whole family celebrated May 27th when the school year finally came to an end.

Travel restrictions

Our Russian pastors wanted to comfort their people, especially older members. But the fear of spreading a dangerous disease prevented us from travelling. Instead they led devotions and prayers by telephone. Special legal documents allowed us to travel for work, but even these papers only permitted us to travel within city limits. Police cars sat at the edge of the city to enforce travel restrictions. I could not visit Iskitim or Tomsk. National borders were closed, so trips to Albania and Bulgaria to visit our sister churches were cancelled.

Tamara appreciates online worship services and devotions

Personal issues

Because of closed borders, we decided at first to postpone our furlough until next year. There was just one problem: Peter was planning to start high school in Wisconsin. We started searching for ways to send Peter to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor. We are grateful that WELS World Missions convinced us to find a way to travel back to the U.S. as a family. Jennifer and I spent many hours in June and July searching for a way to travel to the U.S. Most years planning the trip is half the fun, but this year all routes were closed.

I confess that our family struggled with stress and worry, fears and feelings of helplessness. But God was near! “Do you really trust me? Do you really believe I’m almighty and loving – that I haven’t forgotten you? You know who I am. Take another look at my Son’s cross. I am with you, even when you can’t feel my warm smile!” It’s true! Even now. Especially now. God is pouring out blessings.

Blessings

Sharing Jesus online

The Russian church had a website before COVID-19, but the quarantine pushed us to enhance the way we share the gospel online. We began streaming Sunday morning worship services with better audio/video. We posted mid-week devotions on Christ’s resurrection, David the Man of God, and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Our members started sharing digital comfort with their isolated friends and relatives. WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided funding so we could purchase modest cell phones for shut-in members. Our Iskitim grandmas were delighted with the opportunity to see worship services and devotions from their own homes. Our most technologically savvy granny made sure that our members in Iskitim were able to connect online to each other and to the gospel.

Luke and Andre

Local seminary

Travel restrictions allowed me more time to work with our seminary student, Andre Gydkov. The two of us spent many hours studying Biblical doctrine. . . everything from the Trinity to the person of Christ, from God’s creation and the fall into sin to the High Priest who reconciled us with God. We also discussed a wide range of topics that fall outside of formal seminary curriculum, but which are vital for soul-ministry.

Peter’s Confirmation

My son Peter and I had ample opportunity to work our way through catechism classes. We discussed the chief parts of our faith and explored practical ways for Peter to dive into his adult life of faith. At the very end of July, we organized an at-home confirmation. We invited Andre and his daughter and set up a video call so that our stateside family could witness Peter’s vows and encourage him on his special day.

God provides an open door

Peter’s Confirmation

After weeks of struggle and prayer, we saw God’s answer. At just the right time, Russia opened her borders to Great Britain so that we could travel to the U.S. through London. We spent two weeks self-isolating near Jennifer’s side of the family in Nebraska. And now just this week we traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, and met with Peter’s faculty advisor at Fox Valley Lutheran High School. We’re grateful that God allowed us to travel together so that we can help Peter get ready for a completely new and exciting chapter in his life. We’re also looking forward to spending time with our older daughters and offering them our love and encouragement.

God is in control

Without a doubt, the past six months have been a time of testing. God is asking, “What is most important to you? Do you really believe in my power, in my love? Will you trust me?” This season is providing us with special opportunity to remember God’s great promises and share his rock-solid comfort with others. We know Jesus is with us. We know he will give us joy and strength so that we can be his lights in a dark world longing for hope.

Please keep us in your prayers. Please pray that God would bless our time here in the States. We have much that needs to be done! Please pray that God finds a way for us to return to our mission field in his good time.

Written by Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Russia


 

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Campus ministry is in my blood

I wouldn’t trade the past 17-years of ministry for anything. Working with college students has gotten under my skin in a good way. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s in my blood. More about that later.

That’s not to say that campus ministry was what I always wanted to do. I was more like Moses than Isaiah on the day I was assigned to Beautiful Savior in College Station, Texas. When I heard I would be working with college students, my heart said, “Send someone else to the campus. Here am I. . . just a little more comfortable in the parish.”

Robinson family – Former campus ministry students Austin and Diane with their children, Flint and Olive

It wasn’t a good thing that I was intimidated by the public university, but it maybe wasn’t unexpected. I am a WELS boy through and through. I attended WELS school for 22 years—from my second year of preschool to my final year of grad school. My own college experience was at Martin Luther College (MLC) in the farm fields of New Ulm. Minn. I loved my time there. But, even though I was a kid who grew up in the big city of Seattle, I still had culture shock when I heard Texas A&M University had more students than half of the entire city of Green Bay. As if that were not enough, the entire MLC campus could fit inside the A&M football stadium and parking lot.

I was excited to return to the Lone Star State, but I was not excited about campus ministry. This is kind of embarrassing, but even though I lived in Austin for a year, I didn’t know where College Station was, and I hadn’t really heard of Texas A&M. I was intimidated and a little ignorant. So, what changed?

It turns out that sharing the good news of Jesus with college students just gets in your blood. Of course, when it comes to sharing the gospel, that is not really a surprise. The Apostle Paul said, “We were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Our hearts beat for one another not because we bleed the same school colors, but because we are forgiven and Christ’s own blood courses through our veins.

The first baptism at the Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota in 1950.

While I believe that campus ministry gets in your blood, for me it runs a little deeper. In the dark of winter in 1950, the collegiate romance of my grandparents gave birth to a baby girl. God not only blessed their marriage with a child, but one weekend in between classes at the University of Minnesota, they took hold of the blessings of baptism and my mother was baptized at the campus ministry.

I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of that until I began to see the years pass in College Station. My own children were baptized here in College Station (and our college students were often the first non-family members to hold them). But, even greater than that, the gospel has brought many college students to be baptized, and in the course of time their children too. This year is the 100th anniversary of WELS campus ministry. And, based on God’s promises connected to baptism, it is going to be in our WELS blood for generations to come.

Written by Caleb Schoeneck, home missionary and campus ministry pastor at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in College Station, Texas. Beautiful Savior ministers to college students at Texas A&M University—the second largest university in the United States with a total of 69,465 students (54,476 undergraduate).


 

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Christ’s love compels us

What do you see when you look at this picture? A brick building with no glass in the windows? Perhaps. A structure that needs some landscaping around it? Maybe. Or perhaps you see the few people in the picture and wonder about them.

To me, this picture is the representation of how God’s people work together. In 1970, members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa who had moved from Zambia to Malawi wanted to bring in WELS missionaries from America. While the Malawian government welcomed our gospel outreach, they also wondered if we could help their people physically. These government members were familiar with the Mwembezhi, Zambia, medical mission operated by the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) since 1961. They approached CAMM and asked if we would be willing to come to Malawi and start a medical mission there. This way, our WELS missionaries could come into the country as well. CAMM subsequently brought nurses to Malawi to operate a mobile clinic that would go out to a village during the day to offer basic Christ-centered healthcare to the villagers. We still operate the mobile clinic today.

This is the basic history of how CAMM started in Malawi. If you have been a member of WELS for a long time, you probably have heard this story before. But even after 50 years, it’s not the end of the story. As the Bible passage above says, “Christ’s love compels us.” Christ’s love compelled us to work with the Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi to build the churches that could also serve as our clinic building, such as the one in the picture. Christ’s love compels us to offer scholarships to members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi so they can work for the mobile clinic and have opportunities to pray with patients and offer the reason for the hope that they have. Christ’s love compels us to know we aren’t done in Africa. Christ’s love compels our hearts to pray for more grace, mercy and his generosity so we can continue our work there and potentially start this work in other places.

Through God’s people coming together over the last 50 years, we have enjoyed the opportunity to work with tens of thousands of people each year. They are exposed to the Word and God’s love when they come to clinic when we start each day with a devotion. They see where the Lutheran church is and are encouraged to come back for worship. Christ’s love compels us to offer physical help with the hope that it could open the door to someone’s heart and soul to hear the gospel. Can you imagine what heaven will sound like when we hear the voices of the African choirs raised up in harmony? I can’t wait to hear it!

May Christ’s love continue to compel us to do his work for another 50 years or more!

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations Coordinator for the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) 

 

 

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All creatures great and small

We are just like you. We know the mental load these past few months have had on everyone—especially you. We know you are hurting. We know you are sick of everything feeling so muted and bland with this pandemic nowhere close to being over. We are right there with you. We get it.

But you know who doesn’t? Korra. Who’s Korra? She’s my dog. Well, one of my dogs. I have 3 dogs, and 2 cats. (All thanks to my wife, Laura. . . more about her later.) Korra is the nicest, sweetest, wiggliest dog you could ever meet. It’s amazing how happy she gets when I walk in the door. It’s literally the best part of my day. Sometimes I just come home for a few minutes when I’m having a bad day to have Korra cheer me up.

Wouldn’t it be great if during this pandemic you could have your own little ray of sunshine to cheer you up when you’re feeling blue?

That’s why we at Good Shepherd decided to start a branch of the Living Creatures Ministry (LCM) Therapy Animal program at our church. LCM is a therapy animal training and placement program that supports compassionate outreach and encouragement at churches throughout the WELS/ELS. Laura (that wonderful wife of mine that I mentioned earlier) is a LCM’s lead trainer, so she spends her free time providing free training to therapy animals across the WELS (when there isn’t a pandemic going on).

Assisting in Midland, Mich.

We’re taking this time during the pandemic to train up a new therapy dog, Stella the Australian Shepherd. When it’s safe to start visiting people again, Stella and Korra can help us show Christian love and compassion to people in our community.

Korra had a unique opportunity to do that this May when she and Laura volunteered with Christian Aid and Relief in Midland, Mich., to help with flood relief efforts. Korra was able to comfort those that had lost their homes and belongings as well as bolster the spirits of the hard-working volunteers.

When it is safe to do so, Korra and Stella will be visiting the high school next door to our Cedar Rapids campus, volunteering with us at events at the North Liberty Community Center, visiting nursing homes and shut-ins, serving as Sunday morning greeters at church, helping at our annual Trunk-or-Treat, and whatever else we can find for them to do! Until then, they are still spreading love, happiness, and God’s Word through their Facebook pages: facebook.com/korratherapydog and facebook.com/StellaLCMTherapyDog.

The therapy dogs serve as an easy way to strike up a conversation with people in our community and give us a chance to explain why we want to show love to others around us—because Christ first loved us! While we might not see someone that interacts with one of the therapy dogs in church next Sunday, we know we are still fulfilling our calling to show love and compassion to our neighbors. We’re still laying the foundation in our community to foster love and trust between the members of Good Shepherd and the members of our community—and we’re doing that with two wiggly, happy dogs that are certain to put a smile on the face of anyone they greet. These days, that’s something we all need!

Written by Billy King, home missionary at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids and North Liberty, Iowa

 

 

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Love is the answer

Haris (named changed due to the sensitive nature of his work) spearheaded an effort in a large Midwest city to distribute food and face masks in the midst of COVID-19. Haris is originally from a Muslim nation in South Asia and now lives in America. He is enrolled in our WELS Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Haris shares:

When the coronavirus started, I was thinking. . . how can we reach out to the large Muslim population in our community to show the love of Christ? I was talking to my friend, and he said, “I know of WELS churches that are making face masks! They will make masks for you to share with the Muslims.” So we started distributing food to our Muslim neighborhood along with the face masks. People in the community donated groceries and money to buy food. We delivered food and masks on more than 20 different occasions. People drove up in their cars, and we put the groceries in their vehicles. We also dropped off food on people’s porches. Counting only the early drive-thrus, we helped 504 families and assisted 64 families who had a family member with coronavirus.

We made so many friends, and received a lot of feedback from the community. They said, “You risked your life and distributed food and masks even in the rain and snow.” Everyone knows I am a Christian, and they know this help comes because of the love of Jesus for all people. I told the mayor of this community, “These Christians made these masks. They did this because they care for these people. The people who live hundreds of miles away don’t know who will be getting it. It is impossible. Only the love of Christ causes them to do this.”

One WELS District President wrote to the churches in his district about this opportunity. Several churches and many individuals responded. One family made 2,000+ masks for relatives, neighbors, and for Muslims in this large city. Some of the face masks had Bible verses inside the plastic bags. A pastor at one of our rural WELS churches said, “Our people understood that this was an opportunity to reach out to others in a time of crisis. They wanted to serve their fellow man and to serve Christ as he served them.”

During the pandemic, four close friends of mine (not involved in the distribution effort) died from the coronavirus. All four had converted from Islam to Christianity in the last few years and were assisting me in ministry to the Muslim community. One was a former economics professor from Asia, another was a young father with a wife and two children, another was a young man at a nearby university who assisted with apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith), and the last was a very close friend who had lost everything when she converted to Christianity. Her new family was my family. My wife and this woman were as close as sisters. While sorrow grips our hearts, we have the assurance that our friends are now with Jesus.

Love was the answer for reaching out to our community–and love was the answer for conquering death and hatred. “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35).

 

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Known as Christ’s disciples

How do other people know that you are a Christian? What makes you different from those who worship a different god, or many gods, or no god at all? On the night before he went to the cross, Jesus told his disciples: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

The self-sacrificing love of Jesus reflected in the lives of his believers is a sign to everyone of who they are. In a world full of selfishness, greed, and apathy, the love that Christians show to others serves as a beacon for the gospel. Where that love is on display, you are likely to find its source, the one who gave his life so that we might not die. The good news of free forgiveness through faith in Jesus moves us to love one another as he loved us.

Even in places like India, where Christians are a small minority, that light continues to shine in the darkness. And this year’s pandemic has given Christ’s followers many opportunities to share his love with those who need it. Although the COVID-19 virus was slow to begin its spread on the subcontinent, the Indian government saw that drastic measures were needed to keep it in check. On March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Modi ordered a nationwide lock down for the entire population of 1.3 billion people. Millions of villagers who had gone to work in the large metropolitan areas were suddenly stranded hundreds of kilometers from their families. Many more millions of migrant workers and day laborers lost all income and had no way to support their families. People throughout the country were in danger of starving.

The pastors and gospel workers of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries (CELM) did what they could to support their members and others in their villages. They themselves had little, but they shared what they could. Some made masks to distribute to their neighbors. Practicing social distancing, the pastors stood outside on the street and shared God’s word and prayer with the people standing in their doorways.

Then WELS Christian Aid and Relief sent welcome assistance. A grant of around $22,000 was given to the CELM for food distribution. The church leaders sprang into action, organizing the aid to help as many people as possible. Movement between villages in some districts was restricted because of the lock down, but the gospel workers paired up with each other and with local village elders to purchase food for distribution. They bought items like rice, lentils, cooking oil, and a few other essentials. In total, around 3,500 families in over 100 different villages received enough supplies to last nearly a month.

Many of those helped by this aid were fellow believers. The Christian church would have received a bad name in the Hindu and Muslim communities if they had neglected to take care of their own. As Jesus said, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The apostle Paul also wrote: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). But the CELM pastors rejoiced at the many opportunities they also had to let the light of Jesus shine to others outside the faith. They are looking to follow up with these families and hopefully see them in worship when lock down restrictions ease up.

The leaders of our sister church in India send their heart-felt thanks to their WELS brothers and sisters. They are grateful for your generosity, but they also see in the news that the U.S. has many challenges of its own. Every one of the 80 pastors, gospel workers, and seminary students of the CELM assures me that the people of WELS are in their daily prayers. They know that you are fellow disciples of Jesus because of the love you have shown them.

Written by Guy Marquardt, friendly counselor to India

 

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God opens another door

The proclamation of the gospel is a commission that applies to all of God’s churches. As a new mission start up, opportunities for evangelism are always on our mind. We trust that the Lord will produce occasions for the good news to be shared. We do everything that we can to build bridges for outreach opportunities. We pray for them and we excitedly wait for them day after day. When those opportunities arise, it’s hard to contain the excitement.

God has offered many moments for the gospel to be shared in Joplin. Some of those doors were opened as people literally opened their doors during group canvassing. This happened on one occasion during our November group canvass when one of our members came into contact with a woman who had been out of church for some time but looking to get back into the Word. When the member brought up the opportunity to join a Bible Basics class, the new contact was super excited. We planned to meet late Monday nights for class to accommodate her busy work schedule. Everything was going great! The excitement was overwhelming! But just as quickly as it began, it started to dwindle.

It wasn’t long before it became evident that this contact wasn’t planning to attend class. Calls went straight to voicemail. Texts were never answered. Her communication with myself and our member stopped. Things went completely silent the weekend before we were supposed to get class started on Monday. Instead of canceling class, we decided to invite as many people as we could and see if anyone would show up. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting much.

On Monday night I got in the car and drove over to a member’s house who was hosting the Bible Basics class. When I arrived, I walked downstairs expecting an empty room. To my surprise, the room was completely full. There was excitement and conversation. The room was full of members and non-members that were eager and ready to grow together in God’s Word.

Kannika

One of the first non-members that I met that night was a woman named Kannika Killion. As we introduced ourselves, Kannika asked me two questions: “What’s your name, and what do you do for work?” I said, “My name is Jordan, and I’m actually a pastor. I’m going to attempt to teach this class.” We had a good laugh about it and we knew we were off to a good start.

Kannika approached Bible Basics with a unique perspective. Kannika was not born in Joplin. She is from Thailand. She met her husband, Dana, as he was traveling through. The two moved to the U.S. and now live right outside Joplin. But her uniqueness does not end there. When Kannika entered the class, the Bible and its message were totally foreign to her. She heard about Jesus but had no idea who he was or what he has done. But from the very start, Kannika had such a passion to learn more about the Bible. She never missed a class and was always the first one to show up. She now knows where all the books of the Bible are and can call out page numbers for the rest of class very quickly. She is one class away from completing Bible Basics. Once COVID cases begin to go down in our area, she wants to be baptized! I also sat down with Kannika to talk about Bible Basics in order to see what she liked, didn’t like, or what she would change. She immediately said, “The only thing that I would change is longer lessons and more lessons. I want to know more.” This is after Kannika has been meeting for six months of class. She can’t get enough of the beautiful gospel.

COVID has changed ministry for all churches in a number of ways. It has closed many doors and presented a number of challenges in regard to sharing the gospel. We know that long after COVID is gone, other challenges and obstacles will arise. So, what can we do? Trust. Trust that the Lord will overcome. Trust that God will continue to open doors that we didn’t know existed. Trust that the gospel will continue to spread to the ends of the earth.

Written by Jordan Bence, home missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Joplin, Missouri

 

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Faces of faith on the Apache reservations in Arizona

I love the inspiring Faces of Faith articles that are done by WELS Mission Promotions. The trouble these days is that faces are all I get to see. I don’t know how it is for all of you in the rest of the world, but the COVID-19 virus has locked our Apache reservations up tightly.

Some of our reservation communities have high rates of infection, and in other communities, there is fear that the virus will spread quickly because the average home is crowded and multi-generational. There have been no church services or Bible Classes since March. Gatherings of more than 10 and now 5 are prohibited. Stay at home orders have taken away the ability to go fishing or walk along the road for exercise. Checkpoints are set up at community entrance points to keep visitors out and restrict residents from leaving except on certain days of the week. So, we’re left with faces. Faces on Zoom meetings or video calls from home, and halves of faces behind a mask from six feet away at the grocery store.

Devastation from the wildfires

But those faces still show us faith. Or at least the evidence of it. Several weeks ago, there was a wildfire in one of our reservation communities. Several families lost everything. Houses, vehicles, personal possessions, and irreplaceable family mementos went up in smoke on one terrible afternoon. And guess what happened? Before the smoke even cleared, our church members were offering to help. Over the next days, truckloads of clothes, personal hygiene supplies, blankets, and food came from Native Christians expressing their faith through their actions. Others brought money to help the families. Their generosity was astounding! They gave freely and willingly from what they had without holding back. They couldn’t hug, couldn’t gather at the same time, and couldn’t even get closer than six feet. Their faces were masked, but their faith was visible.

It could be a while on our Apache reservations before we can see more than faces on a video screen. But the faith of our Native Christian people remains very visible in new ways.

As Native Christians we have donated more than 1,900 masks to local hospitals, and our members are working hard sewing hundreds more. While our pastors and teachers work hard to share Jesus without church services or classrooms full of students, our members are also being bold in sharing God’s Word and showing Christian concern with words and actions. May God bless you too as you find new and creative ways to share the ancient and unchanging story of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!

Written by Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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Adapt

Adapt. That’s a word that you will not find in Scripture. When you look for sections about spiritual gifts, you will not find the word “adaptability.” Yet, even though you will not find this word in Scripture, this is a word that has a direct application in people’s lives.

Sure Foundation, the new mission in Brandon, South Dakota, decided to take a year to plan, to organize, and to reach out to the community before launching worship every week. We met regularly to talk about how to accomplish these things and to put a plan in motion. A verse that we held close was Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

We had a plan, a good plan. Enter Covid-19. So many of our plans changed. Our ideas to reach the community were not doable anymore. The rental space that we secured was now unavailable. The people that we had were unable to meet together in person. Everything changed.

We planned our course, but the Lord was determining our steps. We knew that God was in control, we knew that God is the one who builds the church, and we knew that God’s plans are higher than our plans, but change is still difficult.

Pastor Wilke with Jayme from Anytime Fitness

What we as a church have learned is to hold our plans loosely and adapt, because we don’t determine our steps—God does.

Allow me an example. Sure Foundation was planning to partner with a local gym, Anytime Fitness, in a program called “The 21-Day Transformation.” In this program, the gym puts people through workouts with a personal trainer and gives them diet plans to follow for 21 days. It is a well-thought-out program with accomplished leaders. Sure Foundation was added to the program as the spiritual component for the event. It was an exciting opportunity to partner with a community member and to reach people with the Word. Covid-19 changed our plans, but it didn’t stop our ability to reach people. We recorded videos and put together devotional materials to help people grow in their spiritual lives. Participants learned how to read the Bible correctly and devotionally, and participants read through an entire book of the Bible while answering questions along the way. By God’s grace, Sure Foundation was able to get 32 new people involved in this program and many of our own members too. The 21-Day Transformation didn’t result in just physical transformation, but spiritual ones.

We planned. Things changed. We adapted. God blessed. There are going to be more changes and challenges ahead that have nothing to do with Covid-19, but we can always trust that the Lord will determine our steps—he is in control, he does build his church, and his ways are higher than ours. So, we will continue to trust our God and to hold our plans loosely, always prepared to adapt.

Written by Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, South Dakota

 

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Hope is alive!

Just like every other church, plans for our Holy Week and Easter services were well underway when our economy, schools, and society shut down in mid-March. We had picked out all the songs and lined up the musicians. We had ordered the invitation postcards and started to plan the social media posts.

But then the pandemic made all of those plans more or less pointless. So what’s a church to do as the most important week and most important day on the Christian calendar quickly approaches? It might as well be the word of the year for 2020: Pivot!

I was amazed as I watched churches of all types, including those in our church body, look for ways to spread the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection during circumstances that none of us would have ever expected. As Holy Week and Easter approached, we decided to focus our gospel proclamation on one word. It was a word that seemed especially powerful as the number of new cases and deaths from COVID-19 continued to rise each day. It was the word hope.

Working with a local print shop, we designed and ordered yard signs that conveyed a clear simple message: “Hope Is Alive!” Through social media, we invited anyone in the community to order a sign and put it in their yard as a way of encouraging their neighbors at a very difficult time. We asked for a small donation with each sign order to cover some of the expenses (a grant from the Board of Home Missions helped too!). We promised to give half of what people donated to a local non-profit program that was providing free meals for families in need.

We could tell that the message resonated with people right away. All told, nearly 200 signs were ordered. In a smaller town like ours, that means you couldn’t drive far without seeing one in someone’s yard. We were also able to pass along over $900 to the non-profit free meal program. Finally, the effort was a great opportunity for our members to be involved in Easter outreach, even during the shutdown. They helped deliver the signs and place them in people’s yards.

The message on the signs was then the focus for our online services, not only on Easter but on the Sundays that followed: Hope Is Alive! The signs definitely drew more attention to our website and social media pages and brought lots of new eyeballs to our online virtual services. The effort created new avenues for us to share the gospel with people we may not have seen had our doors been open on Easter.

Just like every other church, we would have loved for all of our initial Easter planning to have paid off. This year was a good reminder that, even when all of our plans turn out to be pointless, the message of Easter can be contained no more than Jesus could be kept in his grave. Because Jesus is alive, our hope is too.

Written by Jonathan Bauer, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wis.

 

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