Latin America Mission – Spring 2024 Quarterly Update

During the last quarter, Latin America missionaries engaged in several projects beyond their usual teaching duties and visits to church planters (sembradores) and the groups they are leading (Grupos Sembrador).

Plans were set in motion for mission counselor (consejero) residencies, a program designed for missionaries to work in-person with church planters over an extended period. The “guía de metas”, a resource that facilitates goal-setting sessions between mission counselors and church planters, underwent an update to align with the five habits of a church planting group. Concerted efforts were made to provide extra support to students taking the Discipleship One capstone course, including the introduction of a capstone course specialist role. Calls were extended to new church planters and Academia Cristo professors. A system was established to announce all acceptances via video to the student body. A pilot program was launched to provide weekly sermons to church planters. A proposed revision to the Discipleship Two curriculum has been drafted and is set for development. The team experimented with strategies to offer support and encouragement to non-group gatherers who do not have churches nearby.

Most importantly, God’s Word was taught to thousands of students, students received training in church planting, and two new church plants were formed. Below, find a summary of key statistics and a snapshot of specific blessings from the quarter.

A Few Quick Stats:

  • 2.2M average weekly social media reach (user looks at the material for over three seconds)
  • 16,369 students are enrolled in self-study courses
  • 3,259 students have finished the four self-study courses
  • 232 students are enrolled in self-study courses in the U.S.
  • 911 students have completed one live course in Discipleship One with an Academia Cristo professor
  • 104 students have completed Discipleship One (13 live courses)
  • 39 students have completed Discipleship Two (8 live courses)
  • 34 church plants (Grupos Sembrador)

A snapshot of blessings during the past quarter:

1. New student orientation
Missionary Luke Beilke, in his role as Dean of Students, implemented a new student orientation program. All new students participate in a welcome session where they learn more about Academia Cristo. For their first course, they are enrolled in a course with other new students. This allows the instructor to ensure they have a positive experience. At the end of their first course, the students participate in a wrap up session which is intended to ensure clarity on how to continue their studies. Jenny Proeber, the Academia Cristo Admissions Coordinator, helps welcome the new students. She also helps coordinate and carry out these sessions. In the past quarter, three courses had over 60 finishers.

2. Open doors in Venezuela

The transition from the mobile app to self-study courses through WhatsApp has produced a high number of new students from Venezuela. Missionary Luis Acosta, who has American, Colombian, and Venezuelan citizenship, was able to make a visit to the country with Colombian Pastor Henry Herrera. They visited congregations from past work as well as new Academia Cristo students.

3. Teach n’ Go

New software called Teach n’ Go has been implemented to manage student records. It allows missionaries to track student progress, determine what courses a student has taken and needs to take, and has features to track which students are interested in doctrinal agreement and starting a group/planting a church. Lucho Herrera took the lead in setting up this software. He also helped all missionaries become trained in how to use it in instructional and multiplication work.

4. All-team, mid-quarter meetings

Last quarter, the Latin America mission team started having all-team, mid-quarter meetings. With expanded team size and multiple functions, several missionaries don’t interact with each other in a weekly L10 meeting. These all-team, mid-quarter meetings provide an opportunity for all missionaries to interact, share updates, review rocks, and discuss cross-functional issues.

5. 50th anniversary in Medellin, Colombia

The church in Medellín, Colombia, celebrated 50 years of worship services on Sunday, February 25. Retired Latin America Missionary Larry W. Schlomer and Latin America Missionaries Andrew Johnston and Matt Behmer attended the celebration, shared greetings, and participated in a question-and-answer session with the congregation. There was a worship service with record attendance, a meal, and fellowship time. There were also visitors from other congregations in Colombia.




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The impact of fellowship

As a new mission start, you ought to be focused on outreach, right? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.

In our first few years as a mission, we focused heavily on outreach. We held kids’ events, we organized other events, we piggy-backed off of community events, we canvassed, and I went to just about every community networking event that I could find. And this was good. It was extremely beneficial because we met a lot of people and had opportunities to invite someone to come hear the gospel and even opportunities to share the gospel then and there.

Before I write the rest of this, I want to say that we will continue to keep doing this outreach. It is important.

But, outreach is not the only thing that a mission church should be paying attention too and, as we would come to find out, our in-reach directly impacted our outreach.

Between 2020-2022, Sure Foundation grew relatively fast. Adding roughly 50 people within those years that came from a variety of backgrounds. Some of these additions were WELS transfers (people moving to South Dakota from other places of the country); some of these additions were adult confirmands; and a few of these additions were new births.

This was an amazing blessing and exciting times, especially for a new church. However, there was a struggle that came along with this growth. The core group of people that started this church, that had gotten to know each other really well, didn’t have the same sort of friendships with this mass of new people that had come into the church. What were we to do?

Well, we continued to do outreach, but we started to make a focused effort on in-reach. Lots of fellowship opportunities were offered – many, many potlucks. New members were slowly integrated into volunteering efforts. And do you know what happened? Relationships began to form. People knew each other’s’ names. They had shared experiences and familiarity with each other. The overall vibe (to use young person’s slang) of the congregation improved and prospects/visitors could feel this.

Here’s an example. . . Bob and Virginia started visiting worship sometime in the spring of 2023. Later that Fall, they took our Faith Builders Class and became members. At one point I asked them, what was it about Sure Foundation that they valued? They responded quickly saying two things: 1) they know that what they are receiving on Sundays is the Word of God and they didn’t have to doubt that, and 2) they felt like they were welcomed into a family, that people of this church genuinely enjoyed being together.

That warms a pastor’s heart, but it’s one thing to say that, it’s another thing altogether to mean it. Bob and Virginia meant it. They invited their family to come too. They loved their church and they couldn’t imagine not inviting their loved ones to come and hear the Word of God and experience the fellowship of a body of believers. Their invite led to two teenagers being baptized and two adults being confirmed. Praise be to God!

Their story has taught me something and that is that outreach is important, friendship evangelism is crucial, and also, that the love expressed in fellowship within a congregation has a bigger impact than you may ever realize.

Written by Rev. Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, S.D.

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Flyover country

When I was assigned to serve in South Dakota back in 2007, the first images that floated through my mind as I sat in the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary gymnasium were from the TV series Little House on the Prairie. Cue the theme song and little Laura Ingalls running through the grasses. That’s where I was about to go . . . somewhere in South Dakota. People came up to me afterward and said, “Oh, you are going to love it there!” Little did they know how much their words were fighting with the stereotype in my head. But, I do love it here! I love serving God’s people here, raising my family here, and reaching the lost here. I love seeing the people he continues to send here from all over the country.

I am blessed to serve on the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board, and when I travel for meetings and visits, I can’t help but stare out the window during take off and landing and think of my old silly stereotype.

Many people consider this district flyover country. How much mission work is there really to do in Montana and the Dakotas? There are rural areas that are losing population. But I have only seen the population of towns and cities grow in my 17 years here, and I don’t see any end to the mission work that needs to be done. What seems like rural America is growing. Families are moving here from all over the country looking for something better. Praise God that he would include the gospel among those better things to be found! Praise God that he would not just fly over “flyover” country, but use his people here to know the names of those living and moving here. There is just as much sin-brokenness and need for the gospel here as anywhere else. People moving here are coming along with the same hurts and burdens that weighed heavily on their hearts while living on either coast. If they were worth reaching there, they are most certainly worth reaching here.

Maybe the biggest difference is that you can see more of the sky while talking with someone about the God who created it for them. You can feel more grass under your feet when you talk with someone about the one who took on human flesh and felt the grass under his feet as he made his way to the cross for them. And you probably hear more wind while the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith through the same means of grace that are needed everywhere.

Who knows, maybe you and your family might even consider moving to Montana or the Dakotas to reach these people, too.

We are excited to welcome Joshua Schroeder as our missionary to Kalispell, Mont., this year. Our new mission in Williston, N.D., will begin calling from the field this summer, too.

We are so thankful to be a part of a synod that sees the value in reaching the lost, wherever they may be!

Written by Rev. Mark Schutz, District Mission Board (DMB) chairman of the Dakota-Montana district and pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Spearfish, S.D. 

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An update from the Ukrainian Lutheran Church

God has not forgotten or forsaken his faithful in Ukraine in the midst of war. The work of the pastors of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) is an inspiration to many. There are many new opportunities to pray with people, read portions of Scripture, have devotions, and even hold services in new mission stations. Since the beginning of the war, four new missions have begun. The Word of God comforts people in times of sadness and despair, and this is evidenced in large measure to the pastors and those lay people who have remained in their homes.

With support from WELS and WELS sister churches around the world, Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) pastors have been able to buy and distribute needed food, medicines, fuel, and clothing to help those desperate for these daily needs. Many times these are distributed after a worship service. This way the people receive spiritual food as well as physical provisions. Bishop Horpynchuk, who serves Resurrection Lutheran Church in Kiev, said, “We thank the Lord for our brothers and sisters in WELS, and sister church bodies, for your aid that helps so many people to survive physically. Thousands of the needy around all of Ukraine have received and continue to receive food, clothes, and basic medicine. But you rescue not only bodies. All these people hear also the Word, the law and the gospel. And the Word does its work! Hundreds of people became communicant members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and attend the worship services faithfully.”

Resurrection Lutheran in Kiev has had many visitors and has now gone to two Sunday morning worship services, averaging nearly 150 worshipers each Sunday. On Pentecost Sunday in 2023, more than 70 people were confirmed in the Christian faith and now commune with their fellow members. Of those 70, nearly all of them continue to worship regularly each week.

Another example of how God can use even the worst of times to bring about wonderful blessings is told by Pastor Yuri Tytski who serves in Bereznehuvate. Due to the Russian invasion, Pastor Tytski relocated with his family to the city of Kremenets, about 500 miles away. While helping distribute aid in Kremenets, Pastor Tytski met two families who were from Snihurivka, a town very close to Bereznehuvate. He met with them, prayed with them, and began having devotions with them. After some time, when it was safe to return, Pastor Tytski went home to Bereznehuvate and the two families to their homes in Snihurivka. Pastor Tytski then continued to meet with them and have Bible studies; some of their neighbors even came. A few months ago, 30 of these people were instructed and are now members of a mission church where services are held once a month. How can one not see the hand of God at work? God caused these people to travel 500 miles where a pastor was led to them, and now they are redeemed children of God, through the blood of Jesus their Savior. It’s safe to say that the war brought them together. We don’t always know how or why God allows the things that he does, but we rejoice in how God continues to grow his church here on earth during what we would consider the worst of times.

All the ULC Pastors are providing an invaluable service to the people of Ukraine by comforting those who they meet with God’s Word and prayer. It reminds us that the kingdom often grows one person at a time. There continue to be so many people who are hurting; those who have lost loved ones, are not certain where their loved ones are, or if they are even alive. Prayers offered by pastors bring these hurting and grieving people true comfort and hope. It also reminds them that there are people who care about them, that they are not alone. Bishop summarized the attitude of the pastors and people of the ULC this way, “The war brought so much suffering, ruin, and death into our country; yet they cannot separate us from Christ’s love and life eternal he has won for us by his holy suffering, death, and resurrection. He lives and we live in him.”

Thank you for your love and concern for the people of Ukraine, the pastors, and Bishop Horpynchuk, their spiritual leader and guide. Your prayers are being heard and God has been protecting his people. May God, in his mercy, bring this war to an end soon.

Written by Rev. Roger Neumann, WELS Liaison to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church




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Native Strength Network

If you previously have not heard of Native Strength Network (NSN), well, it’s because it never was.

Now it is. It’s a newborn nonprofit organization. The Native Christians Network is seeing an opportunity to reach Native American tribes across the country with the gospel and provide other help.

But isn’t our synod doing that already? Doesn’t the WELS Native American Mission already have a long history of bringing the good news of Jesus – and other help – to tribal lands?

Good question. Answer: Indeed, so. Currently, there are nine congregations, two elementary schools, and an Apache Christian Training School on two reservations, Fort Apache and San Carlos. There are worship services, Sunday Schools, youth groups, ladies’ groups, men’s groups, Bible studies, and sermon studies already going on. Builders for Christ, Kingdom Workers, Lutheran Women’s Mission Society, and so many others have contributed manpower, prayer support, and financial help in various ways at various times.

Then why are we partnering with the Native Strength Network?

Missionary Daniel Rautenberg explains:

“Oftentimes when we’re going through a difficult time someone will tell us, ‘Be strong.’ That’s not always comforting. The truth is we don’t have enough strength on our own. But God does. He is our strength. And when we connect to him and connect with each other in a network we are stronger together.”

Ah, yes…connection. God connects with us through Word and sacrament. At that very same time – through those very same means – we connect with one another. Native Strength Network aspires to see more connections made as Native community members emerge as leaders, service providers, and helpers. Stronger together.

Through a generous grant, the vision of a nonprofit became a reality. In 2023, the Native Strength Network was able to hire an executive director, Andrea Semmann. With her enthusiasm, experience, and especially her love for the Lord driving her, she hit the ground running; she’s been plowing the sticky ground of red tape to meet government requirements and obtain such things as an Employment Identification Number (EIN), a National Provider Identifier Standard (NPI), the Articles of Incorporation, a 501(c)3 tax exempt status, and a community service agency (CSA) status.

Whew.

But that’s not all. The logo that they use? The name that it is? The board of directors? The website? All these things didn’t simply come into existence with a brief four-word command like, “Let there be light.” (Oh, that it could be that easy!) It has taken lots of work, teamwork, to brainstorm and “create” Native Strength Network for what it is. And for what it will become.

And what is that?

Native Strength Network exists to serve Native American communities across the country in a holistic, peer-led approach to wellness, meeting an individual’s identified needs with love and compassion.

Andrea adds these thoughts:

“Every community has its own strengths that can be used to help and support fellow community members. The communities that Native Strength Network intends to serve are no different. With training and support, members of these communities can bring needed care in the areas of mental health, substance use, and overall wellness and resilience. Trained peers and mentors from the community offer support and help navigating the healthcare system to ensure that proper care is received for those struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder. By seeing every individual as a physical, emotional, and spiritual being, Native Strength Network will care for the whole person. This whole person approach is one that creates lasting change throughout a community that is caring for one another. I would love to talk to more community members about opportunities.”

What fuels her passion for Native Strength Network? Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. 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.”

Ah, yes. Love. Easy to talk about it. Not always easy to show. Especially when it comes to challenging and complicated life situations. So it’s important to keep in mind Martin Luther’s insightful comment:

God doesn’t need your good works…but your neighbor does.

What good works might our Native American brothers and sisters in Christ appreciate? Maybe these following statistics and information give us a hint as to what needs are there and how we, together, can reach out to love one another . . .

Native communities in the U.S. face challenges:

• 300% higher drug addiction rate than the national average.
• Suicide rate over 3.5 times higher, especially in youth aged 10-24.
• 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than white adults.
• The unemployment rate frequently exceeds 70%.
• Numerous Native communities are situated in Health Provider Shortage Areas (HPSAs).
• Most Native Americans do have access to healthcare but may need assistance to navigate benefits.

Wow. Where does one even begin?

Hmmm… How about on one’s knees in prayer for Native Strength Network?

Written by Rev. John Holtz, world missionary on the Native American Mission. 

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Praying dangerously in Africa

Have you ever heard people use the phrase, “Pray dangerously?” It means to ask God for things that he will almost certainly grant, but that will also probably mean challenging times for the person praying.

For example, you could pray each day that God would bring challenges into your life so that you would be drawn closer to him. You could pray each day that God would you give an opportunity to witness about Jesus with somebody. These could be considered “dangerous” requests because God will likely grant those requests, but it might mean hard or uncomfortable times for us.

In the outreach group for the One Africa Team, we often pray the prayer, “Lord, present us with more opportunities to reach more people with your gospel in Africa.” You could call that a dangerous prayer. What if God actually granted that request? What would we do with all the opportunities?

By God’s grace, that’s exactly the position we are finding ourselves in. We find ourselves high in opportunities and low in the ability to take advantage of them all in the way we would like. In addition to the eight partners we’re already in fellowship with in Africa, we are currently actively working towards fellowship with another eight church bodies! These are located in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (two church bodies there), Liberia, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia (two church bodies here, different from the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia). We are also offering support to two of our sister churches as they reach out to establish fellowship with other churches in their areas. In addition, at any given time we usually have around 40 individuals who come into contact with us online that we are trying to get to know better to see if we can work together in gospel ministry. Finally, many of the churches and contacts we are beginning to work with are in countries where the predominant language is French, so we find ourselves in need of more people who are capable in this language.

Admittedly, these are great challenges for us to have to face! We thank God for his grace in leading us to all these opportunities. Now we ask that he also give us the capacity to overcome the challenges facing us. Please join your prayers to ours about these things! Pray that God would send us more workers to fill the three empty positions on our team. Pray that we can excel in language learning so that we can better communicate the truths of the gospel in different countries. Pray that these new groups would have a love for the pure word of God and that we would find ourselves in agreement with them on doctrine so that we can work together for the sake of the gospel. And yes, pray that we would have even more opportunities for gospel outreach in the future! It may be a “dangerous” prayer, but is one filled with God’s blessing!

Written by Rev. Ben Foxen, world missionary in Lusaka, Zambia.

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Vicars and graduates assigned to home and world mission fields

Martin Luther College graduates to world mission fields

  • Borgwardt, Matthias P. – Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School – Grade 6
  • Vilhauer, Jake L. – Lusaka, Zambia – One Africa Team Outreach Missionary

Seminary pastoral assignments to home mission congregations

Six pastoral graduates from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary were assigned to serve WELS home mission congregations.

  • Bitter, Benjamin D. – Peace, Trinity, FL
  • Fury, Clayton J. – New Start, Conway, AR
  • Pankow, Tristan J. – Living Shepherd, Laramie, WY
  • Schroeder, Joshua M. – New Start, Kalispell, MT
  • Steinbrenner, Eli E. – Good Shepherd, Plymouth, WI
  • Ungemach, Jacob D. – New Start, Cincinnati (Oakley), OH

Vicar in a Mission Settings program assignments

29 Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students were assigned to serve as vicars through the Vicars in a Mission Setting program, and one additional vicar was assigned to serve a WELS World Missions partner in Colombia. The Vicar in a Mission Settings program allows third-year seminary students experience ministry in a mission-minded congregation thanks to financial support from WELS Home Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. *Denotes home mission congregation

Backus, Jonah A. – Apostles, Billings, MT
Bain, Abel B. – Christ, Denver, CO*
Balge, Philip R. – Beautiful Savior, Marietta, GA
Boulden, Nathan B. – Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach, SC*
Brauer, Nathaniel A. – Living Savior, Asheville, NC
Dimke, Alexander M. – Faith, Anchorage, AK
Fix, Jon P. – Beautiful Savior, College Station, TX
Fluegge, Eric M. – Immanuel, Findlay, OH
Friesenegger, Michael F. – Abiding Grace, Covington, GA
Gensemer, Daniel R. – Tree of Life, Cary, NC
Heichelbech, Gregory J. – Zion, Denver, CO
Helmer, Eric. M – St. Peter, Schofield, WI
Lewis, Jacob H. – Trinity, Kiel, WI
Lindemann, Kyle D. – Christ Alone – Keller, TX*
Loersch, Josiah L. – Light of the Valleys, Reno, NV*
Melso, Noah J. – Gethsemane, Omaha, NE
Mittelstadt, Josiah S. – Our Savior, San Antonio, TX
Neumann, Micah C. – Carbon Valley, Firestone, CO*
Nguyen, Minh T. – Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, WI*
Nordlie, Noah P. – Grace, Sahuarita, AZ*
Prins, Ethan D. – Resurrection, Verona, WI
Rugen, Matthew A. – Santísima Trinidad, Medellín, Colombia (World)
Schroeder, Justin M. – Good News, Mt. Horeb, WI*
Schulz, Jonah W. – Sure Foundation, Woodside, NY*
Sims, Marcus J. – Hope, Toronto, ON, Canada*
Vogt, Noah J. – Abiding Faith, Smyrna, TN
Westra, Caleb L. – Foundation, Peyton, CO*
Zabell, Jacob D. – Risen Savior, Chula Vista, CA

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Faith beyond four walls

As a mission congregation with no permanent facility, Peace Lutheran in Gilbert, Ariz., has had to adapt.  We have worshiped in a number of different locations—member’s homes, school cafeterias, classrooms, etc.  In 2022, our Sunday morning services were being held in a high school auditorium.  But that Fall, we were notified that some renovations were going to be taking place and we would have to find another place to hold our services.  Our leadership came up with the idea of setting up a tent on the land we had purchased for our future church home.  The property already had an older barn structure on site.  We poured a concrete pad, extending off of the barn and set the tent up for services, with the barn acting as our “fellowship hall.”  The members instantly loved it!  Despite the fact we had heavy rain the first few Sundays, God’s people gathered around Word and Sacrament.  Despite the fact at times it got windy and chilly, God’s people invited their families and friends.  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1).

By the Spring of 2023, the renovations in the high school auditorium had been completed and we moved back inside due the Arizona heat.  However, it didn’t take long before people started to ask, “When are we going back to the tent?”  So in the Fall of 2023, we did just that—we went back to our church home.  And it has been a wonderfully blessed experience!

Over the course of the past two years we have been working on the building project for our permanent church home.  Our building plans have been completed and submitted to the county for approval.  God’s people have been incredibly generous. We’ve raised enough money to put a shovel in the ground.  We are excited to finally have a permanent church home and during this planning process we have decided that we will incorporate outdoor services as a regular part of our Sunday services because people loved them so much.

This entire experience has highlighted for all of us at Peace that church isn’t just a building or a structure. Church is God’s people gathering around his means of grace. Church is God’s people celebrating and sharing the news of Christ’s empty cross and tomb. Church is God’s people proclaiming the forgiveness Jesus brings to souls aching for peace. And that’s something we can do, wherever we are.

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

Written by Rev. Mark Schroeder, home missionary at Peace Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Ariz. 

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CAMM May 2024 Newsletter

Greetings in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is April and people have started harvesting their maize fields. The harvest has happened a little bit earlier this year as people are trying to protect their crops from theft. These theft cases have risen because a lot of people have empty fields due to the prolonged dry spell that Malawi experienced in January and February. This dry spell has really affected this country and the harvest is worrisome to the point that the Malawian President declared Malawi in a state of disaster.

Newa Amos

The Lord has been faithful to the Lutheran Mobile Clinic and all its staff. He is keeping us healthy so that we can continue serving his people. However, we are still experiencing a huge number of patients in all the clinic sites. The top diagnosis at all these sites remains malaria. For the past weeks, our Mwalaulomwe Clinic has seen a huge turnout of patients. So much so that we ran out of medication during clinic hours and had to send our ambulance back to our pharmacy in Lilongwe for restocking. This is happening because the government hospitals have a low supply of malaria commodities, includes malaria testing kits and medication. We hope that the supplies will be available soon and that God brings healing upon his people.

I would like to tell you about our disabled kids at Msambo Clinic; the Lord has been so faithful in their lives. Newa Amos is a four-year-old little boy. In 2022, at two years old, Newa suffered cerebral malaria and was admitted to Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe. This malaria affected him such that he lost developmental milestones. He could not sit, stand, or walk. He lost speech and started drooling. After he was cured of malaria, the boy was discharged through the physiotherapy department and the mother was told to visit three times a week. Due to transportation problems, the mother was unable to visit the hospital as required and was just staying at home with the little boy. After a few weeks, this mother together and her boy came to our clinic at Msambo to find out if we could help in any way. Our clinic was able to help with money for transport and the boy started getting physiotherapy sessions at Children of Blessings Hospital which is a little bit closer to her home.

2024 marks two years since Newa started his physiotherapy sessions at Children of Blessings. He visits the hospital two times a week. The mother was taught how to do the physiotherapy at home. Both the physiotherapists and the mother play a great role in making sure that Newa gets back on his feet. Today, Newa is four years old, and he can sit, stand and walk alone without support. He is now in a speech class, and he can utter a few inaudible words, but there is hope that he will be able to talk.

Currently, our clinic supports five kids with transportation money so that they get their physiotherapy at Children of Blessings. There is a great improvement in all four kids, and there is hope that they will be able to live normally. The mothers and the kids’ families are very happy and thankful for the help they receive.

The medical mission’s work in fighting disease and malnutrition in children, especially the disabled ones, helps to prolong their lives and gives them and their parents a chance to hear the gospel and be saved. We are so very thankful for all who give to the Central Africa Medical Mission to make it possible. May God continue blessing you.

Written by Violet Chikwatu, Nurse in Charge for the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi

 




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From information to experience

There’s a difference between knowing something and truly experiencing it. During my time at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, we learned the Greek terms “oida” (possessing information) and “ginosko” (understanding through experience). As the saying goes, “hearing is not the same as living it.” This truth struck me during a recent visit to Nicaragua.

Julio Vargas, one of our church planters, arranged a visit with Amy, a woman he ministers to in the village of San Benito, 40 miles from Managua. I had met Amy and her family seven months prior. She was a hardworking mother of five and had recently taken in a five-year-old boy abandoned by his mother as she was seeking work abroad. Despite her limited income and heavy responsibilities, Amy said, “I couldn’t say no. I knew this child was brought to me so he could learn about Jesus.” Her heart reminded me of the widow of Zarephath, who had almost nothing but offered what she had to God first.

L to R: Missionary Luis Acosta and Mr. Julio Vargas

Amy seemed more subdued than before. When I asked if something was wrong, she tearfully said, “Thank you for visiting. You’re the answer to my prayers. I’ve been battling depression, questioning if God has abandoned me. Only my responsibility to God’s children keeps me going. I’ve been praying for a sign, a reminder that he’s with me.”

This was a powerful and emotive moment. I went from having “oida” knowledge of Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,” to experiencing its truth firsthand. Amy’s gratitude for my visit, the timing of it, solidified my understanding. When I said to her this is what the Lord says, “Never will I leave you, never will forsake you,” I knew I was not just repeating a Bible verse, the Lord was talking to her.

To comfort Amy, I pointed to the ultimate symbol of God’s love: Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection. I assured her this promise guaranteed God will never abandon her.

I told Amy that sharing the gospel with her was a true privilege, but it wasn’t a solo act. Our ministry at Academia Cristo thrives and is possible thanks to the prayers and support of countless believers who share our same faith and pray and care about her and her family.

Thanks for walking alongside us; your feet are quite beautiful. Please keep Amy, her family, and our ministry at Academia Cristo in your prayers.

Written by Rev. Luis Acosta, world missionary on the Latin America mission team based in Doral, Fla. 

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CAMM April 2024 Newsletter

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) mobile clinic in Malawi depends on having reliable ambulances for our daily trips to our clinics. While the Toyota Land Cruisers we use are rugged and tough, after a few years they start to require more and more maintenance. So, if we are going to use them on a daily basis, we cannot have them sitting in the shop waiting for repairs. For that reason, we replace them every five years.

Unfortunately, if we want to buy a new ambulance in Malawi, we cannot go down to the local dealer, pick one off the lot, pay for it, sign the paperwork, and drive it home that day.

Instead, we use a company called Toyota Gibraltar. They are named after where they are located, on the rock of Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory and city located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula in Spain. Toyota Gibraltar specializes in providing vehicles to non-governmental organizations, such as ours, who operate in third world countries within South America, Africa, and Asia. The advantage of using them is we see significant cost savings over the local Malawian Toyota dealer. The bad news is that it takes a while for the vehicle to arrive, and we (CAMM) must deal with all the local customs and vehicle registration issues instead of the dealer. As clinic administrator, Lusungu Mwambeye handles these challenging details with help and guidance from me.

We ordered and paid for the vehicle in September of 2023. It arrived in Lilongwe on March 30, 2024. To get here, the vehicle traveled from Japan to Gibraltar. There, it was put in a container where it left Gibraltar by ship in late December enroute to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, via Oman and Jakarta. Once in Dar es Salaam the container was put on a truck for the 1,000-mile overland trip to Lilongwe. The ambulance is now at the clinic house/office in Lilongwe, but it will be a while before we can put it on the
road. Lusungu still needs to get final customs clearance before we can begin the registration process. As we use the vehicle as an ambulance, we can import it duty free. A savings of $35,000, but duty-free status requires a lot more paperwork.

For registration, the vehicle first needs to be checked by Interpol to make sure it is not stolen. Then it must be inspected by Malawi Road Traffic to check the engine and chassis numbers match the paperwork, then it can be registered. Visits to the road traffic office are not for the faint-hearted; your local DMV is a haven of efficiency and serenity by comparison. Once registered it will go to Toyota Malawi to complete the delivery inspection and installation of the roof rack and any other remaining parts. Finally, it needs a government safety inspection called a Certificate of Fitness, throw in some insurance and we are ready to go. I’m praying that it will be ready for the road by late April. Then we can worry about selling the old ambulance.

It is getting toward the end of the rainy season in Malawi and Zambia. Malawi had a period of three weeks with no rain in the middle of their growing season, but rains had returned to the central region by early March. Unfortunately, a little too late. People are not expecting a good harvest. In Zambia this year, rains have been very sparse. The government has already declared a state of emergency and began scheduling power cuts because of low water levels in the Zambezi River – the country depends heavily on hydroelectric generation for its power needs. Normally by this time of year the fields are lush with freshly grown maize. I am no farmer but much of the maize I saw when I visited Zambia in March looked brown, stunted, and poor. Very likely, this is not going to be a good harvest, and hunger could be a very real possibility.

Thank you to everyone who made our new ambulance a reality and please pray for our brothers and sisters in Malawi and Zambia. They are going to need a lot of prayer and support this year.

Written by Gary Evans, CAMM Field Director

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A new city, the same gospel

“Here in Bread of Life: the Church of the Lord, members of his body, by God it was formed. Reunited family, branches of the Vine, reconciled people, declare his love divine.” On November 19th, 2023, over 80 individuals gathered to celebrate the reality of these beautiful words, an English translation from the hymn “Aquí en Pan de Vida” adapted and translated by Pan de Vida’s longtime worship coordinator and staff minister, Amy Reede Nuñez. Pan de Vida Iglesia Luterana in Garden Grove, Calif., celebrated its 20th anniversary on that night with a special worship service followed by a meal and a mariachi band.

All Nations Sunday at King of Kings Lutheran Church.

Although this Spanish outreach mission currently calls Garden Grove its home, most of its rich history occurred about five miles east of its current facility. Pan de Vida launched in Santa Ana, Calif., back in 2003 under the leadership of Pastors Brian Doebler and Chris Schroeder, recent Seminary graduates who did six months of language training in Mexico. English classes and Bible studies blossomed into Spanish worship services, first in the pastors’ homes, then in local elementary schools, and finally in Pan de Vida’s own building that they purchased and renovated in 2008.

In all of these different locations, the Holy Spirit quietly worked through the means of grace as his church proclaimed Christ’s message of reconciliation. Individuals who came to learn English stayed after class to hear about God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit planted and grew faith in their hearts. Families invited their friends, and their friends kept coming back to hear about their heavenly Father’s infinite love for them in Christ. A couple walked across the street from their apartment one Sunday morning to inquire about this new church and kept coming Sunday after Sunday to hear the good news of the gospel. To this day, the highlight of their week is when their pastor comes to their home to feed them with Word and Sacrament, and then they get to feed him with home-cooked food that is way too spicy for him to handle. One of my favorite parts of my first nine months as pastor at Pan de Vida has been getting to hear everyone’s story of how God worked through the faithful proclamation of his Word to connect them to this body of believers. He blessed so many people through the ministry that took place in Santa Ana.

In 2021, due to a number of factors, Pan de Vida had to sell their longtime home. However, God provided for his people once again, this time through the brothers and sisters at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Garden Grove, who graciously opened their facility for Pan de Vida’s use. Although many changes have occurred for Pan de Vida in the last couple of years, the celebration of its 20th anniversary reminded us of one thing that will never change. The same gospel that called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified this family of believers in Santa Ana is the gospel it continues to proclaim in Garden Grove. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. May the Lord of the Church bless his people as we strive to faithfully carry out his ministry and declare his love divine to those around us.

Written by Rev. Grant Hagen, home missionary at Pan de Vida in Garden Grove, Calif.

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Preach the Word – Genre-Specific Preaching

Themes in Current Homiletical Theory

Genre-Specific Preaching

When James Muilenburg addressed the Society for Biblical Literature in 1968, he raised issues with the dominant way of analyzing biblical texts in scholarly circles for years. So he pleaded with scholars to move away from form criticism to rhetorical criticism.1 In layman’s terms, treat the Bible as a unified piece of literature. Slicing and dicing the text into numerous strands of redactional theology does not necessarily help us understand the text as we now have it. Muilenburg began a profound shift in reading the Bible that would impact biblical studies for the next fifty years. Any pastor who uses a recently published commentary can note how biblical studies is now keenly interested in treating the Bible in a literary and rhetorical way. This seismic shift in biblical studies has now cascaded into the other disciplines of theology, including homiletics. Preaching is now all about preaching the genres of the Bible in a literary and rhetorical way.

Genre-specific preaching originally began with the New Homiletic. Not only was Fred Craddock critical of authoritarian, deductive, theme-and-subparts preaching that had been the standard in Christian oratory for centuries, but he was also critical of preaching that did not appreciate the diverse genres of the Bible:

The Bible is rich in forms of expression: poetry, saga, historical narrative, proverb, hymn, diary, biography, parable, personal correspondence, drama, myth, dialogue, and gospel, whereas most sermons, which seek to communicate the messages of that treasury of materials, are all in essentially the same form. Why should the multitude of forms and moods within biblical literature and the multitude of needs in the congregation be brought together in one unvarying mold, and that copied from Greek rhetoricians of centuries ago?2

Instead Craddock contends the “forms of preaching should be as varied as the forms of rhetoric in the New Testament.”3

Genre-specific preaching is not only the concern of mainline preaching. It is also the concern of confessional preaching, and in fact, there is a solid argument that preachers who believe in inspiration should be very interested in preaching the genres of Scripture. In a very recent book on genre-specific preaching, Doug O’Donnell makes this exact point:

Did God inspire the forms of the Bible, or only the content? Both! God led some biblical authors to write stories, others to write poems, others to write satire and proverbs and epistles. The Holy Spirit superintended the process of composition undertaken by biblical authors and also the resulting products of that composition (see 2 Pet. 1:21). Thus, whenever a biblical author expressed the content of a passage in a literary form, we can safely conclude that he intended that the preacher interpret the passage using ordinary literary methods of analysis. Put differently, whenever a biblical author embodies his message in a literary genre and by means of literary techniques, he intends that pastors engage in literary analysis.4

Preachers who believe in inspiration should be very interested in preaching the genres of Scripture.

In context, O’Donnell is giving seven reasons to convince preachers to preach biblical genres in a literary way:

  1. It appreciates the Bible as literature.
  2. It helps avoid reductionistic preaching.
  3. It recognizes biblical meaning is communicated through literary forms.
  4. It helps the congregation relive the text and appreciate the human experience in the text.
  5. It appreciates the artistry of God’s Word.
  6. It opens up the entire Bible for preaching.
  7. It adds freshness to preaching and prevents misunderstanding.5

O‘Donnell has been profoundly influenced by Leland Ryken, the renowned professor emeritus of English at Wheaton. In case Lutheran preachers are suspicious of this approach, both O’Donnell and Ryken quote Luther and his conviction that preachers of the Word need to be students of rhetoric and literature.6 In his Festschrift in honor of Kent Hughes, Ryken shares Hughes’ contention that “all biblical exposition is literary analysis.” Ryken goes on to argue for the great promise of literary analysis for expository preaching, “Although good expository preachers intuitively practice an incipient literary criticism, they could enhance their expository sermons significantly if they would add even a modicum of self-conscious literary analysis to their methodology.”7 His lament is incisive, “Many Bible expositors would assent to all that I have said about the literary nature of the Bible, only to ignore it when they stand in the pulpit.”8 That means the study of genre does not simply take place in a pastor’s office; it also needs to come through when he actually preaches on Sunday.

Basic Features of Genre-Specific Preaching

Traditional homiletics views the preacher’s task as distilling the content of the text and then faithfully transmitting that to the congregation. When he has preached what the text is saying, his job is done. Craddock, in particular, has argued that preaching is far more. Preachers need to capture both the “what” and the “how” of the text (and if they don’t, they are actually preaching an unbiblical sermon).9 I take it a step further. Holistic preaching needs to preach (1) what the text is saying (2) how the text is saying it and (3) why the text is saying it. Preachers need to be proficient exegetes, but they also need to be proficient in literary and rhetorical analysis. Genre-specific preaching addresses a deficient view that preaching is only concerned with transmitting biblical content or knowledge.

Genre-specific preaching means a preacher models the literary forms of the Bible in his sermon.

What exactly is genre-specific preaching? Peter Adam says it the simplest and best, “If this is the style of Scripture, perhaps it ought also to be the style of our preaching.”10 Genre-specific preaching means that preaching is specific to the genre of the text. It does not mean that a preacher simply appreciates the Bible as literature. It does not mean that a preacher merely comments on the literary forms of the Bible in his sermon. I cannot emphasize this enough: genre-specific preaching means a preacher models the literary forms of the Bible in his sermon. In other words, the preacher actually changes how he writes his sermon, so that his sermon is communicating, as much as possible, in the same way the text is communicating. Current homiletics speaks of narrative preaching, prophetic preaching, epistolary preaching, apocalyptic preaching, and so forth. Each genre of Scripture offers a unique way of preaching.

Narrative Preaching

I will begin with narrative preaching, not only because the majority of the Bible is narrative, but because narrative preaching is now all the rage in homiletics, especially as it applies to preaching in a postmodern world. Unfortunately, narrative preaching is itself a large label, and there are various ways to accomplish it.

Narrative preaching is now all the rage in homiletics.

To begin with, narrative preaching can be done by simply telling the biblical story in a compelling way. Walter Wangerin is a master of this.11 Narrative preaching emphasizes the holistic nature of a story, and so it is usually not subdivided into parts.12 As Mark Paustian says, “Let the story be the story.”13 The preacher needs to place himself (and his hearers) in the text, use the present tense, and belabor the details and emotion of the story. For example, here are selections from my Lent 1B sermon on Genesis 22:1-18, with the theme, “The Greatest Sacrifice of All:”

The emotion builds with each of the four descriptions—your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac. After all, this is the child he never thought he would have, the son he held in his arms, the miracle baby he received in his old age, the only hope for continuing his family line into the future. … Just imagine looking at these two heading off into the distance. This is just excruciatingly painful at this point! Every step of the journey Abraham has to think about making the greatest sacrifice of all, sacrificing his only son who’s walking right next to him. For three days in a row! … Once Abraham starts to hike up the mountain, Isaac asks where the lamb for the sacrifice is. I mean, this is just unbearable at this point! We have the wood and the fire, Dad, but where’s the sacrifice? Well, Isaac, you’re it! You’re the one being led like a lamb to the slaughter! This must have felt like five thousand darts fired right into the heart of Abraham. … Once they arrive at their final destination, everything goes into slow motion, as time seems to stretch out for eternity. First, build an altar. Then put wood on top of it. Then bind Isaac. Then put him on top of the altar. Then reach out your hand. Then grab the knife. I mean, you just got to cover your eyes and turn away. Abraham, are you really going to go through with this? Abraham, are you really going to kill your own son? Abraham, are you really going to offer up the greatest sacrifice of all? No! Don’t do it!

To take this a step further, narrative preaching can also be done in a first-person style. In first-person narrative preaching, the preacher speaks in first person throughout the sermon from the perspective of one of the characters in the story. For example, I preached on Transfiguration from the perspective of Peter (Mark 9:2-9), with the theme, “Lord, Teach Me Your True Glory”—beginning with Peter interacting with the crowds in Galilee, then confronting Jesus, then ascending the mountain to see his true glory, then addressing the people of my congregation with what he learned that day, and finally ending with what he told Mark as he began to write his Gospel. For a more complex example of this technique, consider the emotional impact from my Lent 2B sermon on Job 1:13-22, with the theme, “Praise God for Pain.” I preached in first-person narrative style, except that I manipulated the “I” to be six people’s different perspectives from which I was speaking throughout:

  1. The introduction is from Alexander’s perspective in the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
  2. The body is from Job’s perspective as he lives through his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (losing his possessions and children).
  3. The transition is from the congregation’s perspective, as they imagine what it would be like to live through their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (house burning down, laid off from work, car stolen, children killed in a car accident).
  4. The gospel is from Christ’s perspective, as he goes through his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (suffering and dying on the cross).
  5. The application is from my own perspective, as I recount my own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (my mother dying in the hospital while I was deliberating a call right before Holy Week).
  6. The conclusion is from Kristyn Getty’s perspective, as she recounts her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (her cousin’s death and the Nashville school shooting, which inspired the hymn “God of Every Grace”—which our choir sang right before the sermon).

Prophetic, Apocalyptic, and Epistolary Preaching

After narrative preaching, we can briefly explore some more nuanced genres. First, prophetic preaching is not only about direct prophecies that can get easily traced to Christ. The Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah endured profound suffering, and so my sermon on Jeremiah 20:7-13 (Proper 7A), with the theme, “Lord, Why Is It So Hard?” modeled the jeremiads throughout the book. The introduction to my sermon was ten complaints, all of which began with, “Lord, why is it so hard …?” Notice that I am not only saying what the text is saying; I am doing what the text is doing. I am lamenting, just as Jeremiah is lamenting. Second, apocalyptic preaching is not just about the end of the world. It needs to capture the drama of an epic, crushing defeat of the forces of evil, and it also needs to provide profound encouragement for Christians to persevere in their faith until then. That is why I captured the intense drama of apocalyptic literature with my theme, “Christ Crushes the Competition,” for Revelation 20:1-6 (Proper 5B) and the exhortatory nature of apocalyptic literature with my theme, “Here’s What You Need to Keep Going,” for Revelation 7:9-17 (All Saints’ Day A). Finally, epistolary preaching is both personal and practical. Epistles were modeled after Greco-Roman features of letter writing, and so my sermon on Romans 1:1-7 (Advent 4A) was framed from the perspective of writing Christmas letters to family and friends.14 My theme was, “A Christmas Letter Filled with Good News,” but I am intrigued with the thought of writing an epistolary sermon as a letter itself.15 Epistles also include large sections of ethical exhortation, and so one way to structure these sermons is by merging exposition and application together.16 Much more could be said, but recent homiletical books will have entire chapters on how to preach each of these genres.17

A Closing Encouragement

As I talk to pastors around our synod, sometimes I hear comments like, “I don’t preach two-part sermons anymore. That was the way we had to do it at the seminary.” Or “I don’t develop parts at all.” Then I read Sermon Studies or listen to the Preacher Podcast or hear pastors who seem to always use two parts. All this has led me to conclude that many preach in the same way—whether that’s the way you’ve always done it since the seminary, or it’s a new way you’ve developed yourself. To which I usually think, “Well, what is the text doing? Does the text have two parts? Three parts? One part? Is it a narrative? Parable? Prophecy? Epistle? That should inform how you outline, structure, and write your sermon.”

If your sermons are all the same form, go back and look at the genre and literary features of the text again.

My simple test for preachers is this. Look at your sermon theme and parts over the past year. If your sermons are all the same form, go back and look at the genre and literary features of the text again. The Bible is not all the same form, and neither should your preaching be. I have preached deductive sermons with one part, two parts, three parts, four parts, and even five parts. I have preached inductive sermons with numerous narrative components. I have utilized the New Homiletic. I have preached apocalyptic sermons with drama, prophetic sermons with laments, and epistolary sermons with warmth and practicality. There’s no one way I preach, because there’s no one way the Bible communicates. Genre-specific preaching, well done, employs diversity and intrigue. It moves us beyond our comfort zones and helps us model diverse ways of preaching biblical genres. When we do so, no one will be able to complain that our sermons are boring.

No one will be able to complain that our sermons are boring.

It moves us beyond our comfort zones and helps us model diverse ways of preaching biblical genres.

Written by Jacob Haag

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


1 James Muilenburg, “Form Criticism and Beyond,” Journal of Biblical Literature 88, no. 1 (March 1969): 1-18. It should be noted, however, that Muilenburg is not rejecting form criticism; he is saying it needs to be supplemented.
2 Fred Craddock, As One Without Authority, 4th ed. (St. Louis: Chalice, 2001), 113.
3 Craddock, As One Without Authority, 45.
4 Douglas Sean O’Donnell and Leland Ryken, The Beauty and Power of Biblical Exposition: Preaching the Literary Artistry and Genres of the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 19, ft. 10.
5 O’Donnell and Ryken, The Beauty and Power of Biblical Exposition, 15-22.
6 Luther wrote, “I am persuaded that without knowledge of literature pure theology cannot at all endure … Certainly it is my desire that there shall be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible, because I see that by these studies, as by no other means, people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and happily.” Quoted in O’Donnell and Ryken, The Beauty and Power of Biblical Exposition, 15-16; Leland Ryken, “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching,” in Preach the Word: Essays on Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes, ed. Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway: 2007), 38. On pages 45-46, Ryken goes on to provide further reasons to defend a literary approach to confessional pastors who question it as modernistic or theologically precarious.
7 Ryken, “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching,” 39.
8 Ryken, “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching,” 44.
9 Craddock, As One Without Authority, 5, 44; Fred Craddock, Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985), 28, 122-123, 178.
10 Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching (Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College Publishing, 2004), 94.
11 Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996).
12 If you do, one way is to divide the story based on the characters in the story.
13 Mark Paustian, “Joy and Confidence from the Basics—Part 3,” Preach the Word 24, no. 3 (January/February 2021), 3. Or as he says elsewhere about Hebrew narrative, “The story will not be rushed.” Mark Paustian, “The Beauty with the Veil: Validating the Strategies of Kierkegaardian Indirect Communication Through a Close Christological Reading of the Hebrew Old Testament” (PhD diss., Regent University, 2016), 3
14 The sermons mentioned above are available on the Commission on Worship website: worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/preach-the-word-volume-28
15 Those of my generation will fondly remember Pres. Mark Zarling’s “letters from home” chapel sermons that employed this approach.
16 For more on preaching sanctification in line with NT epistles, see my first article in this series.
17 I’d suggest starting with O’Donnell and Ryken’s book cited above. Then move on to The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text by Sidney Greidanus or Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible by Thomas Long.


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Understanding and Embracing Good Worship Patterns

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Understanding and Embracing Good Worship Patterns

In public worship, the topic of patterns is unavoidable. Once a family of believers takes to heart the exhortation let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), there will eventually emerge a regular and repeated way in which something happens or is done.1

How should we deal with these inevitable patterns? Some may view them as a necessary evil. Whether from a desire for creativity or from wariness of getting stuck in a rut, planners may feel compelled to vary the path of worship wherever possible to keep people awake, on their toes, and, presumably, more engaged.

In this article we’ll explore the topic from a different angle. We’ll consider some reasons to embrace the patterns of worship, and we’ll talk about the beneficial effect good patterns can have on the various people who gather in God’s house. The goal? That we worshipers may be even more poised to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2).

An aside: this is not specifically a conversation about ritual and ceremony, though what we say here may also apply there. Here we’re looking through a broader lens. We’re viewing the whole service, the context of that service in a year and even in the life of a congregation.

In an oft-quoted passage from his Letters to Malcom, C.S. Lewis writes:

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling.

The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping.

Lewis is not suggesting that each service must replicate the one that preceded it. He does not renounce creative use of art, poetry, and music. Rather, he points out that a good path for worship is one that doesn’t call attention to itself. He encourages us not to be afraid to let that path be a repeating pattern from week to week.

Of course, no pattern for worship can by itself stop us by-nature-sinful worshipers from being distracted. We have Old Testament apostate Israel as an example of that, and their worship patterns were divinely ordained. We have the same flesh they had. The spiritual OCD we’ve inherited can lead us to focus on getting things done right and in the right order, while the message about Christ dwells richly somewhere else. Ex opere operato is alive and well in the flesh of even the staunchest Lutheran.

The problem of going through the motions is a problem that can’t be solved either by a pattern or the absence of one.

The problem of going through the motions is a problem that can’t be solved either by a pattern or the absence of one. Only a trip to the cross can do it. Only through Spirit-worked contrition and repentance can we be freed, whether from an unhealthy obsession with novelty or from the grip of spiritual OCD. Only then can we be renewed in our desire to worship our Savior God. Then, as Lewis might say, when we are eager to dance, we’ll be grateful not to have to think about the steps.

A Good Worship Pattern

So then, what constitutes a good worship pattern? If the goal is to enable worshipers to fix their eyes on Jesus, it may be helpful if the pattern itself is Christocentric. And if the goal is to avoid patterns familiar only in one congregation, it may help to choose an order for worship that is already in broad use in other places. And it’s worth noting that some repeating patterns may not be optimal for Lutheran worship if they represent a significant departure from what Lutheran worshipers typically do.

Believers who are interested in Christ-centered worship week after week, year after year, don’t need to shy away from using the patterned environment of the liturgy. It’s a weekly pattern that rehearses and reinforces the daily devotional rhythm of a healthy Christian soul: contrition, repentance, means of grace, prayer, praise. The liturgy’s key repeating elements from week to week are the canticles of the ordinary, each of which engages hearts and voices with the saving work of Jesus. The liturgy also offers an annual pattern of holidays and seasons. Together, we celebrate the key events in the life of our Savior. Together, we consider various applications for our Christian life. And since the liturgy is already in broad use, any beneficial improvements tend to happen slowly and with careful consideration by the church at large, just what the doctor ordered for anyone looking to embrace a consistently good pattern for worship.

This is not to say the liturgy is the only worship pattern that can benefit worshipers. But since it is so familiar to us and so commonly used in our circles, and especially since it offers the saving gospel of our crucified and risen Savior in rich supply, the liturgy can serve well for the purpose of this present discussion. Whether the liturgy’s texts are of themselves beneficial in worship is not in question. We are trying to determine to what degree we might want to embrace worship patterns, and the liturgy is a good example of a good pattern.

It may be helpful if the pattern is Christocentric and already in broad use.

For children

Consider how this pattern called liturgy may benefit children. It’s no secret that children thrive in a patterned environment. Do you want your child to have healthy sleep habits? Establish a nightly routine with them, and see how they start yawning and settling in even before the routine is finished. It’s not a stretch to suggest that a good worship routine can help children to find their rest in Jesus.

Children thrive in a patterned environment.

At bedtime, children say: “‘Tell me again,’ … as we repeat a familiar story for the hundredth time. ‘Tell me again!’ Some stories they know so well that they can say them right along with us. Changing even a word or two brings the instant response, ‘That’s not how it goes.’”2 So also in worship we tell them “the most important story they will ever hear or learn. And we tell it in the same way—again, and again, and again.”3

We might think children won’t be interested in a liturgical pattern that seems designed for adults, but:

Young children like to pretend they are adults. When they think no one is watching, girls dress up in their mother’s grown-up clothes… Boys like to hop into the driver’s seat of the family car, grab the steering wheel, and pretend to drive. Children are eager to show they are growing up and can do grown-up things…

More congregations are helping children to participate [in worship] by teaching them the simple melodies of the liturgy, helping them to learn the songs of God’s family in which they, too, can participate.4

When a congregation embraces this pattern, children can learn to worship in much the same way that they learned how to understand language, from simple words to complex sentences, by watching and listening to the adults around them. So also in worship. Early on they can grasp: Lord, have mercy. Give it time and they can learn to know: incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Without the pattern, they struggle to participate. Without the challenges, there’s little encouragement to grow. Add some worship education along the way, and the liturgy can help children grow into a pattern that will continue to serve them well for years into the future and in places far away from the place where they grew up.

(For more perspectives, see the Children in Worship series of this newsletter, authored by Phil Huebner: worship.welsrc.net/archived-resources/#worship-the-lord/36.)

For guests

But what about our guests? Won’t the liturgy seem strange to someone who has never experienced it? The goal of Christian worship is to fix worshipers’ eyes on Jesus. Won’t our patterns distract them? To use Lewis’s illustration, how can someone dance when they have to focus on the steps?

Of course, there’s no avoiding this hurdle. Where any group of worshipers has been regularly meeting, patterns of worship are indeed unavoidable, and those patterns will always seem strange to a first-time visitor. But that’s only the beginning of the strangeness. The symbol in the front of church represents a barbaric form of torture from two millennia ago. We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

So we welcome a first-time guest with open arms and genuine hospitality. We can’t expect him to feel welcomed by a message he doesn’t yet believe or to appreciate a path of worship he can’t yet understand. What we can do is let him know that we care about him. We can welcome him, tell him we’re glad he stopped in. We can offer further conversation about the Savior we proclaim. As the gospel is proclaimed, we can trust the Spirit to work the miracle of faith when and where he chooses.

It is becoming less and less common for a guest to walk into a place of worship all on his own, without an invitation from a family member or friend. When it happens, he may well expect to find the unexpected when he arrives. Indeed, for him to find no surprises would seem incongruous. But while he may not understand everything he experiences, he may find our engagement in worship to be compelling. Clearly what’s happening is important to us. Especially when we invite him to attend again, he may decide to take us up on it.

The first-time visitor may well expect to find the unexpected.

It is for the second-time visitor that we begin to see the value of a good pattern of worship. Now he’s beginning to resemble a young man visiting his fiancée’s parents. He’s looking for patterns, something to help him get to know this unfamiliar family, something he can do with us, something that gives him a sense of belonging. It will be of great benefit if his second experience in worship isn’t completely different from his first. He’s learning to dance, and repetition is the mother of learning. And when the worship pattern he experiences proclaims Christ throughout, it won’t take long for him to know that the cross in the center of our building is also the central message of worship.

(For more perspectives on guests in worship, see Christian Worship Foundations, chapter 19 (NPH 2023), “Worship and Outreach,” authored by Jon Bauer.)

For longtime members

We can see how good worship patterns can benefit those who are new to worship, our children and our guests. They need consistency and growth. Can the same be said of lifelong members? What happens when the weekly and annual patterns of the liturgy are stretched out over a lifetime? Is there value in embracing a good worship pattern from cradle to grave?

It’s not children or guests but rather long-time members who most often feel the need to break the worship patterns and change things up. They’ve had more time to sin by going through the motions, and it may seem as though our worship patterns are to blame. They may also point to worship patterns as the reason why they’ve seen young people drift away from church. To give up the worship patterns they’ve used their whole life feels like sacrificial love.

The problem was never with the patterns of worship.

But the problem was never with the patterns of worship. Just the opposite, those patterns have been a great blessing for God’s people. We’ve all witnessed or heard stories of the grandfather who can’t remember what happened the day previous but still prays the Lord’s Prayer by heart. Of wayward teens who came back to church again because it felt like home. Of married couples, newly reconciled, who have renewed their vows before the Lord. Spread out over a lifetime, good patterns in worship have a way of shaping and molding us in our habits and our focus, keeping our eyes on Christ.

Rather than setting aside those familiar patterns, longtime members are better served by leaning in and learning more.

Understanding why we worship helps worshipers review the enduring necessity of the gospel for faith, causes them to appreciate the gospel message communicated to head and heart, leads them to gospel gems they may not have noticed before, and enables them to present a clearer gospel witness to those worshiping with them. When they understand worship’s primary purpose, believers arrive at church with intention: they know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and thus the church is edified and God is adored.5

In times of trouble

The better we know and understand the liturgy, the more readily we can use it in times of trouble. In her book Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren references a dark time in her life when she suffered a miscarriage. During those difficult days when she struggled to find words for her own prayers, she found herself turning again and again to the patterns handed down to us in the liturgy, which she calls “other people’s prayers.”

Over a lifetime the ardor of our belief will wax and wane. This is a normal part of the Christian life. Inherited prayers and practices of the church tether us to belief far more securely than our own vacillating perspective or self-expression.6

When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints, the Lord’s Prayer, the Daily Office—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, or drum up in ourselves. “Other people’s prayers” discipled me; they taught me how to believe again… When my strength waned and my words ran dry, I needed to fall into a way of belief that carried me. I needed other people’s prayers.7

When gathered in church

Christian Worship Hymnal (2021) encourages the use of the liturgy in public worship. There are three musical settings for this good pattern for worship (and even more in Service Builder), and while there is some minor textual variation between each setting, the flow of each service, its pattern, is the same. If the creed follows the sermon in Setting 1, the same is true in other settings.8 The idea was to establish a rhythm that worshipers will recognize from week to week. The goal is that they not get caught up in the services themselves. The hope is that their focus may be on the key focal point of all true worship, Christ crucified.

One more encouragement toward embracing good patterns: In WELS Congregational Services’ online resource The Foundation9, worship planners are invited to choose a musical setting for three or more weeks in a row, to provide space for worshipers to embrace that musical pattern before moving to the next one.

There are all kinds of ways to engage people, to keep them awake and interested. It’s wise for us to continue examining our practices. We need to keep asking ourselves: Is what I’m doing in worship from week to week drawing attention to worship itself, or to me, the presider/preacher10, in a way that lessens the attention that might be fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith? By God’s grace—whatever we may in freedom decide to do—let us resolve both in our preaching and in our worship to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

By Jon Zabell

Pastor Zabell chaired the executive committee of the WELS Hymnal Project and served as managing editor for Christian Worship: Foundations. From 2011–2023 he chaired the WELS Commission on Worship. He serves as pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, Wis., and as first vice president of the Northern Wisconsin District.


1 Brittanica, “Pattern, noun, 2a”, www.britannica.com/dictionary/pattern
2 Carl Schalk, First Person Singular: Reflections on Worship, Liturgy, and Children (St. Louis: MorningStar, 1998), 13.
3 ibid, 14.
4 ibid, 45.
5 James Tiefel, The Purpose of Christian Worship in Christian Worship Foundations (NPH, 2023), 10-11.
6 Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021), 16.
7 ibid, 17
8 See history and rationale for a consistent pattern in Christian Worship Foundations, 118ff.
9 welscongregationalservices.net
10 See the discussion of the presider’s demeanor in Christian Worship Foundations, 228ff.


 

WORSHIP

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

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Building trust in the heart of Japan

In the heart of Japan, gospel outreach is blossoming through the power of building relationships and serving the community.

Kanon, the son of Pastor Haga of Megumi church in Mito, spearheaded an impactful English camp. With meticulous planning and heartfelt efforts, Kanon orchestrated an enriching experience for 15 children. From engaging geography and science classes taught by Sam of Kingdom Workers and Annalisa from Friends Network, to fun-filled activities like kickball and board games, the camp was a hit! The kids enjoyed a scrumptious pizza lunch that allowed them to creatively construct their own pizza. This camp not only provided a refreshing break for parents but also played a pivotal role in building trust within the community. The experience mirrors the experiences Kanon had as a child as well, learning about the church through these community activities where people can see Christians as loving and generous people right in their own town—not a strange and mysterious western religion.

Further strengthening the bond among Christians, a recent BBQ event by the members of the Tokyo church took place at Koganei. Here’s what one member, Yuki, said: “We had a BBQ event at Koganei Park. There were 12 brothers and sisters present. We brought all the ingredients ourselves. Takahashi-san bought and cut all the meat and vegetables for us! We are very thankful to her! It was a little windy that day, making it hard to start a fire; however, we still enjoyed cooking because everyone helped each other and seemed so happy! The meal was delicious!”

One attendee suggested we play some sports after the meal, so he went back to his house to gather equipment. We had our meal for around an hour and a half, then started singing hymns. One had the same melody as “It’s a Small World,” but the lyrics were about praising God. The other was “Jesus Loves Me.” Takahashi-san prepared the lyrics for us. She accompanied us with her guitar, making our singing even more amazing!

After singing, we all joined in playing frisbee with one another. We tried to make a game out of it and see how many times we could catch a frisbee in one minute. It felt like we had returned to our childhood.

Thank you, God, for giving us this gracious time with our brothers and sisters!

These stories are not just about the events; they are about the transformative power of relationships, community service, and faith. Whether it’s through educational camps or fellowship over BBQ and hymns, the gospel is being shared and relationships are deepening. The Lutheran church in Japan is actively and creatively reaching out to build trust within the community. Since the camp, two of the children attended the Easter service in Mito, and after finding belonging and purpose among the brothers and sisters in Tokyo, one of the East Asia members was recently baptized. Join me in continuing to pray for the spread of the gospel in Japan and thank God with me for all he has done in Japan.

Written by Rev. Peter Janke, world missionary for the Asia One Team.

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A growing faith leads to a growing group for TELL student

On a recent trip to Africa, Joel Hoff, TELL Missionary to Africa and I were visiting many TELL students in Kenya. One remarkable student is John Omondi. “I built a patio onto my house so we would have room for my group to meet, worship, and study the Bible,” says Omondi. Omondi is already leading a group and preparing to plant a church, following the TELL multiplication plan.

It is in the heart of Kenya, amidst the bustling city life in Kisumu, that Omondi is leading a Bible study group in his home. There is no WELS presence in his neighborhood – yet. But, by way of TELL Network, for the first time, Omondi is getting real gospel training online with the goal of sharing the saving message of the gospel with others. Omondi found TELL’s unique online training platform through Facebook during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. His story is a testament to the power of Christian faith and the impact of TELL around the world.

John Omondi and Rev. Nathan Seiltz

“It was during the pandemic that we first started to meet, and I had to get permission from the local leaders so we could gather together,” says Omondi. Despite some challenges, he gathers 50 to 70 people together weekly, all eager for deeper study of God’s Word and fellowship. Imagine colorful matatus (minibuses) whirring by with graffiti painted on the sides, loud music from all directions, and sidewalks lined with vendors selling street food. Omondi’s home is more than an escape from the clamor; it’s become a sanctuary where people gather every Sunday to worship and learn from the Bible.

But Omondi’s ministry is not limited to Sundays. Every Thursday, spiritual life is breathed into various homes among his group members. These get togethers are intimate—a blend of worship, prayer, and sharing the Word of God, culminating in a shared meal. Teaching his brothers and sisters in Christ is all part of Omondi’s journey to grow closer to the Lord and encourage others to do the same. His path, however, is not without obstacles.

John Omondi with Rev. Joel Hoff, TELL Missionary to Africa

The transient nature of new Christians, the lack of resources like cell phones and internet access in rural areas, and the language barrier with materials that require translation from English into Kiswahili and Masai present significant hurdles. Yet, Omondi remains undeterred, committed to continuing study and leading his group.

As an advanced student, Omondi was paired with Missionary Joel Hoff as his personal TELL Counselor. Based in Lusaka, Zambia, some of Hoff’s time is spent mentoring TELL students who complete at least eight courses and making personal visits throughout Africa to continue guiding students as they organize groups of their own. Hoff says, “I was John’s teacher for several of his online TELL courses, and I finally got to meet him in person last month in Nairobi, Kenya. It was such a pleasure to see him and hear about his ministry and how TELL has motivated and impacted his life and his ministry.”

“TELL has been such a blessing to me and my ministry. I know the Bible so much better, and I know how to teach the Bible to others. TELL is different because it focuses on the Bible, not on people’s opinions,” says Omondi. Omondi has now come into doctrinal agreement and has met leaders of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), one of the national church partners of WELS.

Please pray for our brother John Omondi. That he continues to grow in his faith and in his leadership, that his group may grow in number and in faith, and that it may multiply to plant a new church to serve his community. And, pray that many will hear and be inspired by the precious gospel message he shares.

TELL instructors continue to teach and encourage students like Omondi in Africa, Europe, Asia and places in-between. If you’re a trained WELS pastor, or teacher, and would like to become an online TELL instructor, visit, teach.tellnetwork.org

Written by Rev. Nate Seiltz, director of Multi-Language Productions and TELL Network. 

Rev. Nate Seiltz and Rev. Joel Hoff took time during their travel to visit with Rev. Davison, the national pastor and president of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa -Zambia. His choir performed a few of their songs at Malembo Onse in Chongwe, Zambia.

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CAMM March 2024 Newsletter

Almost three years ago, Pastor Mark Anariko Onunda from Lutheran Congregations in Missions for Christ—Kenya approached the One Africa Team (OAT) and the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) with a proposal to hold a week-long medical camp at a Lutheran congregation near the town of Sagana, Kenya. These medical camps are common in Kenya, and the government approves of them to reach people in rural areas with free screenings and medical care.

The CAMM committee prayerfully considered and agreed to this, knowing that nothing should be done that would detract from the work we are doing at the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi or the Lutheran Mission Rural Health Center in Zambia. OAT was in favor, because Pastor Onunda’s main goal was to bring patients to the church by providing evangelists to lead devotions and share the gospel of Christ with people coming to the camp. With a generous grant from WELS Christian Aid and Relief, the cost was covered. After almost a year of preparations by our Field Director Gary Evans, Pastor Mwangi, John Michoro, and other leaders of the congregation at Karima Lutheran Church, together with the Kirinyaga County Health Department, the four-day camp became a reality from February 26-29.

Six volunteers from the CAMM committee arrived four days early to complete the work of sorting and organizing supplies and medications in the storage room and setting up the camp in a large field near the church, joining Gary and Pastor John Roebke. They met with key government staff to confirm what supplies were still needed and which services would be provided. Tents and toilets had already been installed. Volunteers from the congregation were available to help set up chairs, tables, handwashing stations, and rope lines. Everyone worshiped together under one of the tents on Sunday prior to the start of camp. There was a sense of unity of faith and joy in the mission ahead.

The government staff included clinical officers, nurses, nutritionists, laboratory technicians, a pharmacist, pharmacy techs, and record keepers. There was a truck in which women could be screened and even treated for cervical cancer. American volunteers assisted wherever they could, whether taking blood pressures, checking blood sugars, doing triage, weighing patients, finding equipment, running to the storeroom to bring medications to the pharmacy, placing garbage and sharps containers, and monitoring the overall workflow. The church volunteers registered and numbered patients, directed them where to go, answered questions, emptied garbage, cleaned, translated the Kikuyu language, spent time talking with patients, and led Bible studies, and hard-working women made traditional African food lunches for 70 people each day!

All patients were screened for hypertension and diabetes and received nutrition advice, health education, and medications as needed. Over the four days, 1,400 patients were seen. One 12-year-old girl with a very painful ulcerated rash on her ankles for two years was finally treated with the correct antifungal and antibiotic medication, and follow-up was arranged. A woman who had dangerously high blood sugar but had not been taking medication for diabetes was treated with IV fluids and insulin. She could go home with oral medication and was taught how to change her diet to help keep her glucose levels down and to follow up at a local clinic. “Asante sana” (thank you very much) was heard often. We were told the community had benefited greatly from the camp, and the church leaders knew that there would be many new visitors to church the next Sunday.

Although the volunteers were tired, dirty, and sensory overloaded at the end of each day, it was gratifying to know that it was mainly the Kenyan peoples’ initiative and efforts that made the camp happen. We were watching God’s plan unfold for people to hear about their Savior as well as have their health needs met. Will there be more Lutheran medical camps in Kenya? God willing, yes. Meanwhile, our clinics in Zambia and Malawi continue to thrive.

Thanks be to God!

Written by Beth Evans, CAMM Nurse Advisor

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Small in number, mighty in love

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

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

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

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

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Multiple home missions under one roof

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

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

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

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

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

Hispanic Services in St. Paul, Minn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Daryl Schultz, Minnesota District Mission Board member.

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Resilient in the face of rejection

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

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

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

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

But some people responded quite differently to our ad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pastoral Studies Institute: Winterim 2024

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

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

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

Written by Harland Goetzinger, Pastoral Studies Institute director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating God’s goodness forever

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

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

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

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

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

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Sowing seeds in urban soil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Fresh Look at Symbolism

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

A Fresh Look at Symbolism

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

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

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

Symbolism Requires Participation

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

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

Symbols require worshipers to “fill in the blanks.”

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

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

Depicting What Cannot Be Seen

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

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

Emotional Impact

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

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

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

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

Reassessing Symbols

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

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

Many found the strepitus symbol confusing and unclear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

By Johnold J. Strey

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


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


 

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Preach the Word – The New Homiletic

Themes in Current Homiletical Theory

The New Homiletic

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

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

Basic Features of the New Homiletic

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

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

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

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

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

Inductive Preaching

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

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

Fred Craddock’s Narrative Preaching

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

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

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

Eugene Lowry’s Loop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jacob Haag

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


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


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

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

 

CAMM helps address healthcare challenges in Africa

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

Kenya

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

Malawi

Thunga Clinic in Malawi

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

Zambia

Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre

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

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

Written by Angela Sievert, Central Africa Medical Mission chair.

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Registration now open – Taste of Missions 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




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A reason to celebrate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is your church a success?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is Grace Hmong a successful church or not?” In the end, only God knows the answer. But it’s an answer that God shares in his Word. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

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

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

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