Adapt

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

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

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

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

Pastor Wilke with Jayme from Anytime Fitness

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

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

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

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

 

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Hope is alive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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NPH Is Your Partner

NPH Is Your Partner

I have enjoyed a partnership between WELS Congregational Services (CS) and Northwestern Publishing House as we have rolled out synod-wide initiatives in recent years, like C19 for Christmas. Feedback from pastors says these programs have been highly appreciated.

I’ve especially enjoyed partnership with NPH’s Jeremy Bakken. He composed a new gathering rite for C18. He stocked a choral arrangement of Getty Music’s “Oh, How Good It Is” for Welcome Home. After that program had passed, I asked for sales data on that piece. “260 copies sold to 21 purchasers, about 3% of WELS congregations with an active adult choir. And that was a good performer compared to other pieces in their first sales run.”

Now I certainly don’t suggest that every choir director should pick a recommended piece. The worship plans for CS programs aim to give many flexible options. And not every congregation participated in Welcome Home. But this anecdote and others suggest that our churches could improve their walking together partnership with NPH. This article shows why and how one church musician partners with NPH.

This article is … a call to action to strengthen a ministry partnership that serves us all.

This article is not a NPH ad masquerading as a WTL article. It’s a call to action to strengthen a ministry partnership that serves us all. My prayer is that this article will build understanding and awareness so that congregations will intentionally partner with NPH.

Bryan Gerlach
Director, Commission on Worship


From Jeremy

Why Northwestern Publishing House? Hopefully that question piques your curiosity. “Why NPH?” could be qualified in many ways. Why that name? Why that ministry? Why shop there? Which one will this article address? Read on.

Buy American

In today’s consumer culture, what, where, and why we buy are topics on the minds of marketing researchers, retailers, and consumers. “You need this,” expressed in any number of ways, identifies the what and the why according to the marketer or retailer. Once that seed is planted and accepted by consumers, where we buy it is the last step in the process. And that fact is not lost on marketers and retailers either. Once they’ve convinced us to buy, they hope that we will buy from them. Where we buy has its own why.

Amazon has wired us to believe that we should buy from them because we don’t have to leave home and they deliver “free” in two days. (It’s not free; it comes out of your Prime fee). Many a company has used guilt, pride, or patriotism to convince us to “Buy American.” The customer gains an advantage or does some good by purchasing from said company. We neglect a greater good or meaningful identity if we don’t. What and why we buy may be first on our minds, but where we buy isn’t far behind.

The Bottom Line

What does this have to do with worship and gospel ministry? WELS has “a subsidiary corporation named Northwestern Publishing House.” This publishing ministry must “function as a self-supporting, self-funded operation” (WELS Constitution and Bylaws, 7.00f). WELS’ ministry of the Word includes a ministry of the published Word. But NPH is not funded like other ministries of the synod, by gifts and offerings distributed from the synod’s operating budget. Rather, it has a business bottom line. Consider that again: the publishing ministry of WELS is funded on a business model.

The synod has a publishing ministry only if people buy materials from their synod publisher.

Here enters an interesting conundrum. The what, why, and where of NPH are of two natures: ministry and business. The what and why of ministry are not hard to understand: publishing biblically sound materials. The what and why of business are also not hard to understand; they are the same as the what and why of ministry. But where . . . where is the key. And it is the key to both facets of the nature of NPH. From a ministry standpoint, NPH is where you find biblically sound materials. That’s so important; every resource, every time—biblically sound. But from a business standpoint, NPH will continue to be the place for biblically sound resources only if WELS people purchase resources from NPH. Yes, NPH has a business bottom line. But the bottom line—the most important reality—is that the synod has a publishing ministry only if people buy materials from their synod publisher. Often. Consistently. Intentionally.

A Different Ballpark

NPH has a ministry partnership with WELS members but also a business-consumer relationship. Which one is more important—for NPH and for the members of WELS? When the only relationship is one of business-consumer, where we buy is based on factors like price, brand, and loyalty earned from the consumer. Where you buy groceries, clothes, cars, lightbulbs is based largely on a business-consumer relationship. “Give me the best price and high quality. Woo me into giving you my business. Make me the center of your universe, and I will patronize you.”

A business lives or dies on customer purchases. From a business standpoint, this is important to NPH as well. Your synod’s publisher wants to give you the best price it can. It wants to offer you quality. And because this publishing ministry is funded on a business model, the ministry lives or dies on ministry partners’ purchases.

But do you notice something about that last statement? We’re in a different ballpark. Though funded on a business model, NPH is a ministry. Though funded by sales, our customers are also ministry partners. And that casts a very different light on purchases from NPH. Now the “consumer” isn’t supporting a business so that its employees stay employed and its owners make a profit; the ministry partner “consumers” are ensuring that the ministry of the printed Word flourishes. Additionally, customer ministry partners are not just benefiting their own world; profits from their purchases go back into producing more resources that benefit others throughout the world. And this benefit is spiritual; it’s eternal. Yes, we’re definitely in a different ballpark when we view NPH not only as a business but more so as a ministry; when we view ourselves not as consumers, but as ministry partners.

Though funded by sales, NPH customers are also ministry partners.

What Does This Mean?

It’s the Lutheran question, right? Let’s get to nuts and bolts . . . everyday purchase decisions about music and worship resources (and other ministry resources).

One of the best commissions from the 2017 WELS worship conference was “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” by John Behnke. It’s masterfully crafted, combining original but highly complementary material (both music and biblical text) with a cherished Luther hymn. It is accessible without being simplistic, artful without being esoteric. And it was published by Concordia Publishing House. Solely from a business-consumer standpoint, a WELS choir director could order directly from CPH—the order might arrive faster. Or they could order this and music from other publishers through a one-stop-shop reseller like J. W. Pepper—it’s convenient.

Or they could order from NPH. The price is the same, but it might take longer. And it might require placing multiple orders during the year. So if some of the business-consumer benefits don’t seem to be there, why purchase this title from NPH? Enter the ministry partner aspect. A portion of your purchase through NPH remains with NPH, supporting its publishing ministry. It helps NPH publish more of its own music titles, composed by our own WELS composers, designed with WELS worship doctrine and practice in mind. It helps NPH publish other worship materials, like hymnals and seasonal kits. It even helps publish broader ministry materials—devotionals; Bible commentaries; personal evangelism growth books; focused ministry resources for dealing with addiction, cancer, pornography, challenges to the Christian worldview. Wider selection and one-stop shopping at J. W. Pepper is a nice consumer benefit; supporting the work of your synod’s publishing ministry is of great spiritual benefit.

Consider a more intentional ministry partnership with your synod’s publisher. NPH is a reseller. We carry and are able to order music from the following publishers:

  • Alfred Music
  • Augsburg Fortress
  • Beckenhorst Press
  • Choristers Guild
  • Concordia Publishing House
  • Floeter Music
  • GIA Publications
  • Hal Leonard (and subsidiaries, like Shawnee Press)
  • Hope Publishing
  • Kjos
  • Lorenz (and subsidiaries, like Word Music, Sacred Music Press)
  • MorningStar Music

Whenever you find something from one of these publishers that you wish to purchase, order through NPH! It doesn’t even have to be listed on the NPH website. Simply call us (800.662.6022) or email us (orders@nph.wels.net), and we can special order the titles you want. Our retail price is the same as the source publisher. Planning ahead ensures that you can compensate for any extra delivery time. Most importantly, a portion of your purchase supports the NPH publishing ministry—your publishing ministry as a member of WELS.

Some statistics may help to drive home this point. Regardless of whether the music was published by NPH or elsewhere, two statistics are striking. A 2018 survey conducted by NPH revealed that about 70% of WELS churches have an active church choir. But a review of five years of purchasing activity by WELS churches revealed that only about 20% purchased choral music from NPH. Again, what does this mean? To be sure, it is unreasonable to expect lock-step loyalty, to expect that every church will purchase their worship resources only and always from NPH. But is it reasonable to expect that a majority will? Think of how much more sacred music publishing ministry could be done if 60% of WELS churches with active choirs intentionally partnered with NPH for their choral music ministry by making their music purchases through NPH.

Is the business-consumer experience at NPH as good as elsewhere? Perhaps not. But here is a reality: When your synod publisher is first and foremost dedicated to materials built on sound doctrine, that means your denomination constitutes your primary supporters. Running a top-notch publishing house costs the same whether for 100 people or a million people. Historically, the WELS “customer base” has supported the baseline funding needed for its publishing ministry to be a premier publishing house. But there are some realties to be aware of. WELS is shrinking, which means fewer people partnering with NPH. The digital age has affected NPH, making it much easier for WELSers to compare NPH to other publishers, and at times, to be disappointed with NPH or envious of what other publishers offer. Some have even become content with using other publishers’ materials, requiring vigilance for doctrinal error or (hopefully not) being content with “I guess it can be understood correctly.” These factors mean fewer people partnering with NPH.

Why do I share all this? Because I want you to know how deeply your publisher cares about our ministry relationship. We don’t want your business. We want your support, even as we exist to support you. We want your partnership, even as we exist to partner with you. We want ministry to flourish—your personal ministry, your local ministry, your synod’s publishing ministry. And we do that together—ministry partners via a business-consumer relationship.

What does this mean? NPH will continue to make available music and worship resources that are biblically sound, excellently produced, and carefully curated. Your synod publisher does this so that you have resources to use with confidence, ease, and joy. Joy not because you got the best deal or the fastest service (though we will strive for these), but joy because together we’re bringing the Word of God to a world that so desperately needs it.


My Ministry Partnership with NPH

From David

In my early years at Pilgrim, I worked with church leadership to establish a sufficient budget to support a growing and vibrant music ministry. I was very conscious about getting the most “bang for my buck,” so I’m definitely guilty of trying to shop smart by ordering directly from some other publisher or heading over to J.W. Pepper for the one-stop-shop experience that Jeremy referenced.

Fast forward a few years. Our congregation now has a supportive music budget. This, combined with a few members who work for NPH, got me thinking, “Why don’t I order all this music through NPH and support our synod’s publishing arm?” NPH and Pilgrim are ministry partners, so why not support NPH for providing excellent resources to use in both church and school?

I plan all my choral music during the summer months, so I am in no rush to receive it unless a last-minute change arises. Thus began a relationship with Jeremy and NPH. The “slower part” of the church year is ideal for advance planning. Work with your pastor(s) and other musicians to develop some sort of worship grid that allows everyone to be on the same page. The best worship takes place when planning is done in advance; not at the last second.1

Jeremy and I have worked on various music projects for WELS which have led me to order both junior and adult choir music directly from NPH. Our choirs sing regularly for worship, so we need a healthy music library each year. NPH has always been extremely reliable and professional. Once the order has been fulfilled, I am able to go directly to CMM to pick up the music or have Jeremy bring it to Pilgrim when we have a recording session for the hymnology curriculum.

This article includes a link to a simple order form (worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-hymnal-introduction-series/) that I have sent to Jeremy. Some choir directors might see this as extra work. It really isn’t. You are already taking time to explore various websites to find music that you need. Why not take a few extra minutes to support NPH? The benefits of walking together certainly go far beyond a dollar amount.

Most of our congregations average less than 100 people in worship each weekend. This often means limited musical resources. So how does this article apply to small congregations? In addition to serving as choir director, I am also one of the congregation’s organists. I keep up with new releases from various publishers. NPH does a marvelous job of filling orders for my personal keyboard library. A similar order form like the one mentioned earlier could be used for adding new music to your personal or church collections. Note the list of publishers below and order new music from these publishers through NPH. Minimal effort and planning can allow any church musician to walk together with NPH.

If you serve in a setting where you play organ or piano for no compensation or honorarium, this article can serve as an encouragement for your congregation to provide a line item in the budget for purchasing new keyboard music. All too often I hear from church musicians who feel that their church doesn’t support their work. My encouragement to fellow musicians is to practice patience when working with church leadership. A congregation’s budget is pulled in many valuable directions. A healthy music budget is not going to happen overnight or during one or two budget meetings. Congregations need to know why a healthy music budget is important and how this budget is vital for ministry. Church leaders need to be educated by their musicians on the cost of choral octavos and piano/organ/instrumental resources. Solid communication will alleviate frustration and confusion when budget time comes.

May God continue to bless our congregations as we walk together in all aspects of ministry.


Pastors, I encourage you to have a meeting with the musicians who serve your church. Send them a link to this article in advance. Then discuss the article—leading, we hope, to agreement: “This makes perfect sense. I’ll order as much as possible from NPH in the future.” David Porth is happy to answer questions from pastors or musicians: dporth@pilgrimcares.org. He can walk musicians through the process of developing a music budget.

Musicians, when you purchase musical resources from NPH—both items published by NPH and items from other publishers via special order—your walking together with others from over a thousand congregations will increase NPH’s ability to provide supporting products for everything from synodwide initiatives to resources that support a new hymnal. – BG


By Jeremy Bakken and David Porth

Jeremy is Director of Worship and Sacred Music, Curricula at NPH. He is a published composer and founding member of Branches Band. He holds music degrees from Wisconsin Lutheran College and the University of New Mexico and is a dissertation away from a DMA in choral music from the University of Southern California. He serves Trinity, Waukesha, as choir director and plays piano or bass in their modern liturgical ensemble, Trinitas, for which he has contributed many arrangements. For the WELS hymnal project he is a member of the Hymnody Committee and chairs the Musician’s Resource Committee.

David teaches Grades 7-8 and is Music Director at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Menomonee Falls, WI. A graduate of Martin Luther College, he also holds the Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University, Wisconsin. He has been ordering all choral and personal music through NPH for the last few years.


1 Find help for worship planning here https://worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-planning/

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Preach the Word – Delivery Matters

Delivery Matters

I can still remember my first real “preaching” opportunity—evening chapel at MLC during my senior year. I triumphantly finished writing my manuscript. It felt so good to be done! I even told my dad that I had my chapel ready. Do you know what he asked? “So have you memorized it?”

Huh. Memorizing that devotion hadn’t crossed my mind for even a second. In fact, I remember being a little flustered. “Memorize it? What do you mean? I’ve got it all written out!” I hadn’t given the slightest thought about how to deliver my message. I had finished writing. I was ready! I wonder if that’s why attendance at evening chapel was often light at MLC. Delivery matters!

I’ve seen that in a powerful way during the coronavirus pandemic. I bet you have too. I’ve gotten to watch myself preach more in the past two months than I had in all the rest of my ministry combined. Have you liked that? For me, it’s been eye-opening. My kids can ask me right on the couch, “Is it over yet?” I can see how my sermons seem to drag on. And all the little things…

Why am I waving my one arm all the time?
Why am I grinning with only half my face?
Why am I not smiling as I say those words?
Why am I talking so fast?
Why am I talking so slow?
Why am I looking up at the ceiling?

For me, it’s been painful to watch. It’s made me think, “How do people put up with this?” It’s not just what you say that’s important, it’s how you say it. Delivery matters!

That’s a very biblical idea. In his Word, our God doesn’t just focus on the what. He also focuses a lot of attention on how his Word is shared. Remember how God delivered his Law to his people on Mt. Sinai? He didn’t just rattle off ten commands. Listen:

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. (Ex 19:16-19)

Thunder and lightning and smoke… The delivery mattered!

But remember how Jesus delivered God’s Word to the woman caught in adultery? The Pharisees wanted fire and smoke! All they got was a finger drawing on the ground and a gentle voice:

Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:6-11)

The delivery mattered! It wasn’t just what Jesus said. It was how he said it.

Think of John the Baptist. The Gospels go into detail to describe his delivery of God’s message:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”… John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Mt 3:1-2,4)

What a sight—and delivery! Now compare that with the apostle John in his epistles: “My dear children” (1 Jn 2:1), “Dear friends” (1 Jn 2:7), “Dear children” (1 Jn 2:12). Not quite the same delivery, huh? For each, the way they delivered God’s message mattered. In God’s inspired Word, it’s amazing to see how God chose lots of different ways for his Word to be delivered.

So, delivery matters. As I say that, here’s one caution: I’m not trying to tell you exactly how you should preach. I don’t know you. I don’t know your people. I’m also not telling you to preach like me. In fact, please don’t preach like me. Don’t preach like your neighboring pastor either. Please preach with the gifts God’s given you. Here’s what I am saying: As you preach, don’t just think about what you say. Think about how you say it. How you deliver God’s Word matters.

Let’s start with this: Every sermon has a form or structure. Long before you deliver your sermon, you decide what pattern it will follow. So here’s my question: Does each of your sermons follow the same pattern? Does each message follow the same template? Maybe you start with a story, dive into the text, share law, share gospel, then end with an illustration. Maybe you start with an introduction, state your theme and parts, explain part one (usually law), explain part two (usually gospel), and end by restating your theme and parts. That’s your template. It’s basically the same week to week. Your hearers expect it. In fact, it’s predictable. They know what’s coming next.

God’s Word isn’t predictable.

Here’s the problem: God’s Word isn’t predictable. Not every text has the same form. In fact, biblical texts have very different forms and structures. How often do you find yourself jumping around in the text? Sharing the message in a very different order than how it’s laid out in Scripture? Could it be we’re determined to make God’s Word fit our neat templates? It doesn’t.

God sent Nathan to preach his Word to David. So Nathan told a story—a parable—that initially seemed to have nothing to do with the sin in David’s life (2 Sam 12). God enabled Stephen to preach his Word to the Sanhedrin. Stephen retold the history of God’s people, from Abraham to Moses to Joshua (Ac 7). God sent Paul to preach his Word to the Athenians. Paul didn’t tell stories. He pointed to the natural knowledge of God (Ac 17). Three very different forms. Three different sermons. Three powerful calls to repentance (2 Sam 12:7; Ac 7:52; Ac 17:30).

If divinely inspired texts come in different forms, shouldn’t our sermons come in a variety of forms and formats too? In some texts, there is clear law followed by clear gospel with a very clear division between the two. In other texts, the author carefully weaves back and forth from law to gospel to law to gospel. In some texts, a story dominates, with a short, powerful summary at the end. In other texts, Christian doctrine is expounded point by point. Our wise God chose to share his Word in an incredible variety of ways. There’s nothing predictable about God’s Word!

Does the form of your sermons reflect that? I was blessed by a WLS summer quarter class called “Imitating Scriptural Variety in Sermonic Form and Structure.” Professor Rich Gurgel opened our eyes to the different genres of Scripture. There’s historical narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, prophecy, parables, epistles, apocalyptic… Far from following one template, wouldn’t it make sense that sermons written on different genres of Scripture will sound different?

Think of it like this: Each genre of Scripture is a little like a different musical instrument. There are low and somber texts. There are bright and joyful texts. There are deep and profound texts. There are light and repetitive texts. Let the genre of Scripture guide not just the words, but also the form of your sermon. Are you preaching on a story? Tell the story! Are you preaching on a deep doctrine from the epistles? Explain it point by point. Are you preaching on a psalm? Speak beautifully with metaphors and similes. What form is suggested by the text? What instrument?

My first sermon after taking that class was on 1 Corinthians 10: “Be careful that you don’t fall!” There’s gospel in that text—“God is faithful!”—but the somber warnings from Israel’s history sound like the low tones of a trombone. I told my people, “This isn’t a joyful section of God’s Word. Today’s sermon is going to sound like a somber trombone. But it’s what we need!” On another occasion, I preached on Jeremiah 31:31-34. What beautiful words! I told my associate that I was struggling to find more law to bring into the sermon. He said, “Why? This is gospel! Preach the gospel!” Forcing God’s text into my template isn’t biblical preaching. Preach the text!

I encourage you to think about the form of your sermons. Predictable sermons tempt our hearers to tune out. May our sermons reflect the richness and variety of God’s inspired Word! Whatever form your sermon takes, don’t give it all away at the start. Nathan didn’t walk in and say to David, “Today I’m going to tell you how guilty you are…” Not at all! He started with a story. Peter didn’t stand up on Pentecost and start with: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” No, that’s how he finished! Don’t give it all away at the start. Help me see my sin as if there were no Savior. Then amaze me with God’s unexpected grace in Jesus.

But even after you’ve thoughtfully decided on the form of your sermon, even after it’s been carefully written, remember you’re still not done. Delivery matters! I know you’re a busy pastor. I know that practicing a sermon feels like an extra burden after you’ve spent so much time preparing it. But a sermon read off the page isn’t the same as a sermon preached to the eyes. Beautiful words written on a page benefit no one when our wandering minds forget them.

A sermon read off the page isn’t the same as a sermon preached to the eyes.

So memorization is key. After my debacle as an MLC senior, I’m grateful that my homiletics professor at the Seminary insisted we preach our first sermons without a manuscript. I bet I spent at least 10 hours memorizing that first sermon, but it was worth it! Thankfully, memorization has gotten quicker with practice. People appreciate it when their pastor looks them in the eyes. The time you spend memorizing your manuscript or rehearsing your outline is well worth it.

Here’s an added encouragement: Don’t just memorize your words. Memorize God’s words too. At first, I would look down and read the Bible passages in my sermons. One day, a man asked me, “How come you memorize your words, but you don’t bother to memorize God’s words?” He had a point! Since that day, I’ve memorized God’s words too. It’s been a blessing to have more Bible passages memorized, and it’s a joy to look people in the eyes when I share God’s Word.

But as you look them in the eye, what’s the expression on your face? Do you know? My 5-year-old son is at the age when he loves to have his parents watch him do everything. Recently, he climbed up the slide all by himself. When he made it to the top, he proudly turned to me and said, “Did you see that?” I said, “Yes, I saw you!” He said, “How come you don’t have a happy face? Make your happy face!” People notice what’s on your face. Does it match your message?

“How come you don’t have a happy face?”

I know a kind pastor who preached very Christ-centered sermons. Do you know what his wife often told him? “You look angry when you preach.” He did! Do you? He had to keep one thing on his mind: Smile! Is that you? Maybe the opposite’s true. A brother took notes on a sermon I preached at a pastor’s conference. One of his comments was, “Why do you smile when you preach the law?” Huh. I didn’t know that. Does your face match your message? People notice!

But it’s not just your face. Preaching involves your whole body. Are you communicating distance or intimacy? Excitement or boredom? Urgency or monotony? All I ask is that you think about it. Are you going to stand or sit? Pulpit or not? These are important decisions! We can’t be dogmatic about this. Jesus preached reclining at a table (Mt 26:20), sitting in a synagogue (Lk 4:20), sitting on a mountain (Mt 5:1), and from a boat (Lk 5:3). Why do you do what you do? Have you thought it through? Is your body communicating what you want to communicate?

There are so many elements of delivery. Do you ask rhetorical questions in your sermons? If not, try it. Asking questions draws people in. When you ask a rhetorical question, however, make sure you pause. Give time for people to ponder. I know it’s awkward, but it’s okay for there to be empty space in your sermons. Often, nothing recaptures people’s attention more than a well-timed pause. If people were daydreaming, they will wonder what they missed!

All of this emphasizes the need to practice before we preach. When you know your sermon well, you can to control the speed at which you preach. Slow down to draw people’s attention to an important phrase. At other times, purposefully speak quickly and build to a climax. Think of Romans 8:38-39. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers…” Paul builds and builds and builds!

But “if you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus; you can say he died for all.” In everything, exude Christ’s love and concern for your people. They notice! They want you to preach like you as you tell them about the love of Jesus.

This means that all WELS pastors aren’t going to preach the same way. That’s okay! The how is going to be different, because we’re each in different settings. I have the unique opportunity to preach to two large services of 100+ people in English, one small service of 10-15 people in Spanish, and another service of 20 people in English. That’s three totally different settings. The message is the same, but it can’t be delivered in the same way. Different settings call for a different delivery, because delivery matters!

Our God has shared his Word in so many ways: thunder and lightning, a burning bush, a gentle whisper, a Man who had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. God’s focused a lot of attention on how his Word is shared. We can too. So even when the pandemic ends, don’t stop watching yourself preach. Keep growing in how you share God’s message.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for Preach the Word over this past year. I pray these articles have encouraged you to preach simply. As Luther said,

Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another. When I preach here I adapt myself to the circumstances of the common people. I don’t look at the doctors and masters, of whom scarcely forty are present, but at the hundred or the thousand young people and children. It’s to them that I preach, to them that I devote myself, for they, too, need to understand.1

Simple preaching is Lutheran preaching!

In my research, I came across an interesting comment about Luther. One blogger wrote, “Many think of Martin Luther primarily as a reformer. However, he thought of himself first and foremost, as a preacher.”2 It is a blessing to preach the Word of God, isn’t it? By God’s grace, you are a preacher, like Luther was, and I am too. Love it. Practice it. Grow in it!

Your identity isn’t tied to any sermon. It’s tied to Jesus.

But that quote isn’t right. Luther wasn’t first and foremost a preacher. You aren’t either. Luther was a redeemed child of God bought with Jesus’ blood. That’s who you are too! Your identity isn’t tied to any sermon. It’s tied to Jesus. Whether people listen or fail to listen, Jesus is your comfort, and Jesus is your strength. You are a forgiven child of God who can’t keep the grace of God to yourself, who can’t hold the love of Jesus inside. That’s who you are! It’s that simple. Don’t make it complicated. Show people Jesus! May Jesus bless you as you do.

Written by Nathan Nass

Nathan Nass serves as pastor at St. Paul / San Pablo Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI. You can read his sermons and daily devotions on his blog at upsidedownsavior.home.blog.


1 LW 54:235-236
2 Ingino, Steven. “Six Lessons from Luther’s preaching.” https://thecripplegate.com/six-lessons-from-luthers-preaching/

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I have been a sojourner in a foreign land

Ndine Mlendo M’dziko Lachildendo – “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22)

In 1968, a young graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary joined his father and a small team of missionaries in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to lend a hand teaching students in the Lutheran Bible Institute. That young man’s name was Ernst Richard Wendland, and 52 years later he is still serving WELS as a missionary in Africa.

In 1955 WELS missionaries first arrived in what was then called Northern Rhodesia. The next decade saw slow, painstaking gains for the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA), as the missionaries preached sermons, performed baptisms, and instructed new members, often with the help of African evangelists. By the mid-1960s, the LCCA had established its worker training program in a Lusaka suburb under the direction of Missionary Ernst H. Wendland. This development coincided with the expansion of WELS mission work to the neighboring country of Malawi. The 1960s also saw the construction of a Lutheran health clinic in the rural district of Mwembezhi, staffed by nurses from the United States. One of them (in 1969) was a young nurse named Margaret Westendorf, who became Ernst’s wife in 1971.

The LCCA is now an independent church body of over 10,000 souls. Zambian national pastors and lay leaders serve all 113 of the congregations situated in many different areas of the country. As for the Wendlands, God blessed them with four children–Rob, Joel, Stephen, and Naomi.

Missionary Wendland has had a front row seat to all of these changes and many more. “The aims of the early WELS missionaries have been achieved and valued by most nationals—namely, to establish a confessional, evangelical, Lutheran church body in an area of Africa where none existed before, and to partner with national leaders and trained pastors so that they would progressively take over the work that missionaries had done before.” The backbone of that mission strategy was, and still is, the training of men who will serve as pastors. Candidates for the program first receive training through a program called Theological Education by Extension, then enter a two-tiered school of the Lutheran Bible Institute in Malawi and Lutheran Seminary in Zambia. Missionary Wendland has taught various classes at both the Bible Institute and Seminary level.

Upon graduation and ordination, pastors continue to benefit from ongoing educational programs. Missionary Wendland helped originate and facilitate the original Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute (GRATSI), a program of post-graduate studies offering both Bachelors of Divinity and Masters of Theology degrees. These post-seminary programs have now been incorporated into the Confessional Lutheran Institute (CLI), which will help coordinate all of the pastoral enrichment programs that WELS has to offer its partners in Africa. What is truly exciting is that some of the Zambian nationals are now co-teachers with their former instructors at the Lutheran Seminary. God deserves the glory for development of the LCCA into a mature church body, and we thank God for using Missionary Wendland and many other faithful missionaries to realize this goal.

Wendland says, “This has always been a mutually educative and supportive relationship with the LCCA. There are certain things that I could teach my fellow pastors and teachers, while there are many things that they have taught me over the years—right up to the present day, especially in the area of language, culture, and a different world-view perspective on the Scriptures. I could not have carried out, let alone prospered, in my various mission-related endeavors without the essential guidance, correction, and encouragement provided by my national brothers in Christ.”

Missionary Wendland’s linguistic talents have served him well in his duties as the Language Coordinator for LCCA Publications, a post he has held since 1972. In addition, he has served the United Bible Societies as a language consultant for 40 years working in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Wendland’s goal has always been “to identify and train national pastors who have the double gift of understanding English well coupled with the ability of translating our publications competently in the natural style of a local Bantu language.” In addition to teaching students at the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Missionary Wendland has shared his extensive experience in translation work with students in South Africa, Israel, and Hong Kong.

The Wendlands have followed a very different path through life than their fellow WELS members, as God has blessed them with the opportunity to spend two-thirds of their lifetime in Africa. Missionary Wendland expresses his gratitude to WELS for their generous support for so many years. He also underscores his admiration for “the friendly, helpful nature of the various African peoples in this part of the world—their desire to learn more about God’s Word and how to apply it in their lives, including certain social settings that present many challenges and tests of faith like warfare, disease, droughts, and economic downturns.” As we continue to be tested by the COVID-19 outbreak, may God also help us to cling to his promises and apply his Word to our lives.

Written by John Roebke, Communications Coordinator for the WELS One Africa Team

 

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We kept meeting, more people kept coming

Mark and Sonya are wonderful neighbors. The crackle of evening fires in their yard invites friends to stroll over for conversation. Sonya takes morning walks with several people from their street. Mark helps in the community with yard work and snow removal. They are terrific neighbors and great friends. Their friendliness combined with their openness about their faith in Jesus and belief in his Word creates amazing evangelism opportunities.

Church basement Bible study – a tiny home can only fit so many people!

Sonya asked about a Bible study with one of her friends: “One of my neighbors has some questions about creation. Pastor, will you lead a Bible study at our house about how God created the world?” About a week later, three of us sat in the yard on lawn chairs studying Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit explained through the Word how God made all things out of nothing in six days. The Holy Spirit revealed in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the Word and that all things were made through him. That first study answered some questions, but also brought up more questions. We decided to meet again next week for more Bible study.

As we kept meeting, more people kept coming. Other neighbors, family members, co-workers, friends – they had questions too, and the answers were in the Bible. Mark and Sonya were inviting everyone they met to Bible study at their house. Their daughter Michelle joked, “Whenever Mom meets someone new, she says, ‘Hi, I’m Sonya. I have a Bible study at my house, would you like to come?’”  As fall got cold, we moved inside Mark and Sonya’s tiny house (about 400 square feet). Almost 30 people were meeting for weekly Bible study. Children sat in the loft and on the stairs up to it. Adults cozied up on couches and folding chairs. We had a box of Bibles and a group of people growing in their understanding of the Word and their love for Jesus.

Worship in Stockbridge, Wis.

We continued meeting for Bible study in Mark and Sonya’s house for about 2 years. They live about 20 minutes from church, and we discussed the possibility of starting worship services in their town of Stockbridge. On paper, Stockbridge doesn’t seem like a great place to start a church. Stockbridge has a population of about 630 people, many who’ve lived in that area their whole life. But the folks of Stockbridge needed Jesus. Mark and Sonya and their children had filled their home for weekly Bible study. We wanted to share God’s Word with as many people as we could. When another small church in town allowed us to use their building on Sunday evenings, we excitedly planned to begin worship services there. On September 22, 2019, we held our first worship service in Stockbridge. We thank Jesus for every one of the people with whom we’ve been able to share God’s Word, and we look forward to continuing to share the gospel with as many people as Jesus brings us!

Written by Jesse Johnston, home missionary at Mt. Calvary in Menasha and Stockbridge, Wis. 

 

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I’ll miss the mission, but will she miss me?

I’ll miss the mission. . . but I am so thankful to God that I didn’t miss the mission. Almost 37 years ago, I was given a chance to do something that most Christians can only dream of doing. God called me to leave my fork and spoon behind so I could learn to use chopsticks. God asked me to lay aside English to learn one of the most complicated languages Babel ever produced.

I’ll miss the mission. When my wife and I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, we were met by a family with whom I have now served 36 years. No one could have prepared me for the exhilaration of being able to sing “Jesus loves me” in another tongue. No one could have gotten me ready for the deep thankfulness to God I would feel over the first convert in my work that he allowed me to see. God used me to help nurture a national church that is now a sister church with WELS.

Seventeen years ago God called us to Hong Kong. I have had the chance to live in a Chinese culture which was stir fried with British colonialism. I followed up on work done by great men who had gone before. The part of the city where we live and work is called Kowloon—literally “nine dragons”. These dragons may be a symbol of power, but one Lord is greater in power than them all—and filled with a grace found only in him. South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), your sister church in Hong Kong, stands with us in proclaiming this truth.

I’ll miss the mission. I’ve had the chance to help nurture church leaders in East Asia. They’ve endured much pressure from the outside, and challenges from within. Like most of the world these past few months, they have had to temporarily suspend their face-to-face gatherings. Yet online worship and classes continue. While Christianity is gradually on the wane in much of the world, seeds planted by many faithful workers continue to expand.

When COVID-19 was starting to ravage the U.S., these churches got together and sent thousands of face masks to their brothers and sisters in the states. I won’t miss SARS or COVID-19, but I will miss seeing up close the worldwide body of Christ at work.

But will the mission miss me? We’re getting ready to retire soon. Retiring makes me wonder, will they miss me? Will the work go on without a hitch? Deep down my  human nature wants to believe things will slow down without me. I want to believe in my importance. But God doesn’t see things that way. And thankfully he doesn’t see me that way.

It has been so humbling to realize how little you can actually accomplish in several decades. It’s also awe-inspiring how much God can do through the people he has chosen to use. To whichever continent God leads them, your missionaries share in this kind of experience. This is the shared experience of all who follow God wherever he leads them.

God makes sure that the mission won’t be lacking when one man retires. When God raises up a leader, he already has in mind the servant who will follow. We sow the seed. We water the new life that sprouts. We harvest as God pleases. And then another follows. Moses and Joshua. Paul and Timothy. Your retired missionaries are followed by new men with new gifts for a new age. And we all serve one Lord.

I’ll miss the mission, but she will go with me wherever I go. And God’s Kingdom will come.

Written by Rob Siirila, missionary in Hong Kong

 

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The sleeping shrimp

“Camarón que se duerme…” I said. Immediately a chorus of 20 voices responded, unprompted and unscripted, “Se lo lleva la corriente.”

Many had broad smiles—either joy at a shared knowledge of the common saying or, maybe, they were laughing at a familiar Spanish phrase spoken with a gringo accent. (I, personally, prefer to think of them as “knowing smiles.”)

“The shrimp that falls asleep gets carried away by the current” is the meaning of the common Spanish phrase. It turns out that the phrase is so well known that students in my online class from Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Puerto Rico all instinctively finished my sentence.

People are swept up in the coronavirus current right now. If you think it’s bad where you live, you should see Latin America. In Paraguay, our missionaries are allowed to go out of their homes only to buy groceries. In Ecuador, you need to elect one member from your household who is the only one allowed to go out for food. In Colombia, many members of a sister congregation have red flags outside their home as a signal that their household has no food and no way to get it.

The coronavirus current has swept the globe. Many are carried away, consumed with fear for their physical and financial well-being.

It was into this current that our WELS Latin America Missions team, together with Multi-Language Productions (the artists formally known as Multi-Language Publications), launched a new app. The purpose of the app was to deliver basic law-gospel, biblical instruction in Spanish to the masses. The plan was that those who finish the classes offered in the app proceed to live, online classes from members of our team. At that second level, then, we would further instruct in sound doctrine and train people to share what they learn while also identifying those who want to plant churches and welcoming those who stand with us to confess a oneness of faith.

The app originally was to be released in September of 2019. It was the first of its kind, so production didn’t go as quickly as we had hoped. September turned to December and then to February of this year. After a soft start, finally, in March, a half year after we originally had hoped, we were ready to go full tilt.

About the same time the app was set to release, the coronavirus and associated shut-downs made their way around the globe.

It turns out, at least for our work, the timing hasn’t been bad at all. We were prepared to do online instruction, so we were ready to handle the “shelter in place” aspect of the pandemic. Also, it seems that people whose way of life was tumbling in the fast-flowing waters of quarantines and shut-downs were looking for something to hold onto.

Since the launch of the app, through the end of April 124,000 people from every Spanish-speaking country have downloaded the app. They have begun to flow through the courses presented on that platform—38 videos, each about 7 minutes long, followed by a short quiz. To date, 248 people have watched every single video and taken a corresponding quiz and, after finishing, have signed up for live classes with our missionaries. We hope to see that trickle of app course finishers change to a flood in the weeks and months to come.

It is hard to say how much, if any, of these numbers are due to a release that coincided with a global pandemic. This much we can say for sure: the one who blesses beyond all that we can ask or imagine worked things out precisely the way HE had planned.

It was with a group of those students who had “graduated” from the app that I met live and online, and with whom I talked about the shrimp. From across the Americas we shared a laugh about a common phrase. More importantly, we marveled together at a seemingly common Galilean who lived and died and then rose again and whose resurrection guarantees peace, forgiveness, and life eternal to all who believe in every place, time and circumstance. That’s something for “any shrimp” to hold onto no matter how fast the current flows.

Written by Andrew Johnston, world missionary on the Latin America missions team

 

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Starting a church during a pandemic

Folsom is in northern California, between Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s a beautiful place to live and an exciting place to start a church. I arrived in Folsom in in the fall of 2019, with an energetic family ready to meet a fantastic core group. We had a year before we were scheduled to launch public worship. The next twelve months would be spent doing the important foundational work of starting a church.

The first phase would focus primarily on building strength and trust within the core group. The second phase was to unleash the group on the community. Invitations, canvassing, community service projects, etc. would all lead up to a grand worship launch with many new faces from the community.

Things were moving right along. We met regularly to plan. A logo was chosen, and we ordered all kinds of swag. The website was coming along and God provided a great place of worship to rent for our launch. We even had several prospects in Bible information class. Momentum was building. We were all set for phase 2, and then it happened. . . COVID-19.

How do you canvass when you can’t leave the house? Can you publish a launch date when your rented worship facility is indefinitely closed? How do you volunteer at community events when they’ve all been cancelled? Are we losing momentum? Questions were mounting. Frustration was building. Discouragement was a daily companion. How do you start a church during a pandemic?

Zoom calls with the core group

Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah who was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The work was going great at first, and then there were obstacles. Zerubbabel was no doubt frustrated.

Here’s what God had to say to his frustrated servant, “‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord Almighty.” Zerubbabel’s task would not get done by inner courage or fortitude, nor would it get done by the power of a huge army or a well-coordinated core group. No, to do the Lord’s work, human strength and wisdom alone would fail. God says, “My Spirit must do it; my Spirit is able to overcome all hurdles no matter how large they loom. By my Spirit’s power, any obstacle will become an opportunity.” And of course, that’s exactly what happened. God’s Spirit, molding and moving human hearts, got the work done.

There was the answer to my question. The Lord will get his work done no matter what the obstacle. His Spirit works through the Word read in e-mailed devotions, just as well as spoken in person. His Spirit builds the church through Zoom bible studies, just like he does in a classroom. Words of comfort carry the same Spirit over the phone, as they do spoken face-to-face. The Spirit can get work done through “shares” and “likes” on Facebook, just as well as knocking on doors. Serving our community with the love of Christ from six feet away is still serving our community with the love of Christ. God’s Spirit molds and moves human hearts, and he’ll get the work done.

How do you start a church during a pandemic? The same way you start a church when there isn’t one. “Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”

Written by Dave Koelpin, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif.

 

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Bad things with good purposes

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

In January 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak in China was terrible news for Hong Kong citizens. When we read the news of a new, deadly virus, we all recalled the memories of SARs in 2003.

The Spring Festival in China has been called the largest annual human migration in the world. People travel back to their hometown to celebrate the Spring Festival. In early 2020, it was expected that three billion Chinese citizens would take trips home during the Spring Festival. We were afraid that the Spring Festival traveling would make the COVID-19 pandemic worse. Hong Kong citizens have almost daily interactions with China. Students and the working class travel across borders every day. We all remembered that the SARs virus in 2003 was brought across the border, and the outbreak in Hong Kong caused huge loss of life. But due to that experience, we took immediate action and started wearing face masks in public areas. God uses our painful experience to prepare us for today.

Learning Greek online!

When we read the headlines, the number of cases increased every day. People ran to supermarket bought toilet papers, rice, canned food, etc. Schools, libraries, parks, and government offices were closed. Our city became so quiet! The busy downtown area had very few pedestrians, restaurants had a lot of empty tables, and you could even get a seat in buses and trains. That is very abnormal in Hong Kong! No classes, no social gatherings! We were encouraged to stay home to save lives. Our busy life was slowed down. Was it bad?

God turns bad things to good! We had plenty of time at home with quality time to read books and devotions. Parents had time to talk to their children. We had time to think about our friends, relatives, and neighbors. I wrote emails and messages to friends in Hong Kong and overseas. We live far away, but God connects us together with His good news.

The COVID-19 virus is teaching us to be humble! The headlines reported even celebrities tested positive. Despite their wealth and fame, no one was safe from this virus. People are busy running businesses, earning money, hoping to buy a big house, and find different ways to climb up the social hierarchy. All those things can’t help us: only God helps! Only God is more powerful than the COVID-19! Seek God’s mercy!

Bible classes and worships are stopped physically, but we put classes and worship online. We realize that people need to keep the physical distance, but God gives technology to draw us close to him. We need to be thankful to have social media and technology to broadcast God’s messages. Can you imagine if we didn’t have Facebook, Zoom, Instagram, and WeChat in our daily life? God teaches us gratitude.

We can’t stop the pandemic, but God controls it! No matter how fast the high-speed trains and air jets are, we are all stuck at home and can’t travel. We’re thankful to medical professionals that save many lives through their innovations, but we don’t have a method to cure COVID-19.

We are mortal, but God gives us eternal life. God uses the bad things for good purposes! Even in your worst-case scenario, God is still with you. We have time to have come close to God and to have quality spiritual life with family and friends. Don’t wait! Tell your friends about God’s good news: God is greater than COVID-19!

Written by Yvonne Yeung, senior editor for Multi-Language Productions in Hong Kong

 

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God’s been training you to do his work

Remember going to school and taking classes that you assumed you’d never use again in your life? Remember that summer job you hated, but it was at least some income to pay for school the next year? Remember that random encounter you had with a stranger asking you some very pointed questions about your faith that you felt you didn’t answer well? Remember that tragedy you went through as a young person and how hard it was to process and understand?

There are many times in our lives that we have wondered why this happened or how is God going to use this for good. I’m guessing this might be hitting home right now as we ponder how COVID-19 is for good. Especially in a mission field it is hard to make connections with people to spread the gospel, when “stay at home” orders are extended across the country. We are used to sharing the gospel in a personal way with people and connecting them to the Word through worship. Events that bring the community together and outreach to show our community we care are all difficult to host at this time. While we might be trying to expand our digital reach, that can be hard too. The members we have are struggling and finances might be difficult during these times.

Trust me, God has been training you this whole time to do his work. I never envisioned the mission work I’ve been privileged to lead in Sahuarita, Arizona, to look like this. Accepting the call four years ago to lead mission efforts at a multi-site congregation at Grace in Southern Arizona looked very different on paper than in reality. But the way that God has used my past training and experiences to further his kingdom, even in such difficult times, is amazing.

Our community research led our congregation to buy new property and build a church and child learning center to serve our neighbors with the gospel. The process was slow and tedious, the delays were many, and just when things were really moving forward, COVID-19 hit. What appeared to (potentially) be a major set-back has been a blessing. Builders for Christ was pulled from our project, but previous experience in the construction industry has allowed my time to be used as a project manager to lead our local volunteer crew. I’d already learned many lessons on patience at the start of the mission work here, and the delays aren’t causing extreme stress. The pandemic came just soon enough that we aren’t open yet and don’t have to navigate a very difficult situation with children under our care. In all of this we’ve still been able to connect to our community through the workers on the job site. We are grateful that construction work is considered an “essential” business so the delays haven’t been drastic. We look forward to serving the child care needs of our community once our building project is completed this summer. We are hopeful that we can invite guests to our new worship space to hear the gospel once the buildings are completed.

Sure it isn’t what we might expect as “normal” mission work at this time, but God has been training us our whole lives for this moment to take his gospel to our community. We can even rejoice in our past sufferings because they have trained us for this moment. We put our hope in Christ during these difficult times as the Lord of the Church. God’s been training you this whole time to do his work.

Written by Rev. Ryan Heiman, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church and Child Learning Center in Sahuarita, Ariz.

 

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God’s kingdom is still coming

“Your kingdom come.” We used to pray that every Sunday in church together. When we did, we were asking God to rule our hearts and to send his Spirit to the hearts of others in the world. But we probably prayed those words thinking that, as congregations, we had God’s kingdom work pretty well under control. Not anymore!

Once upon a time, we had ways to measure our—I mean God’s—kingdom work. We tracked worship attendance. We counted kids in Lutheran school desks. We measured offerings. We quantified volunteer hours. Pastors mapped out hospital and shut-in visits. And if we liked the way things look on paper, we assumed God’s kingdom had certainly come! At least we had a good system in place for tracking kingdom work! When we prayed, “Your kingdom come,” we meant, “Just give my kingdom a little boost, God. But we mostly have our—I mean your—kingdom going strong.”

But now our people aren’t in pews. Our students aren’t in desks. Our offerings are not in plates. Our hospital visits are not even allowed! Is God’s kingdom still coming? How can it, if we can’t track it?

It’s a terrifying thing for a congregation to realize suddenly, the kingdom work we’ve gotten used to is no longer within our control. And yet, has it ever been? Did God’s kingdom ever fit within our church’s budget and calendar? Or does God’s kingdom belong to. . . God? The Alpha and the Omega, the Creator, Sustainer, and Light of the world?

Thank God he’s running his kingdom! Because who could have imagined that this was the way he would kick us out of our churches and into the world? I’m amazed by just how powerfully God’s kingdom is pouring into the world in these dark days! He’s hammering through once hardened hearts. He’s uprooting deeply ingrained grudges. He’s tilling up straight paths through the baked desert floor.

And the gospel! It’s been incredible to watch newly emboldened Christians scatter the gospel seed in public in ways I have never seen. Parking lots packed with cars and pastors with megaphones. Facebook exploding with worship service views, shares, and engagements. People talking about death and resurrection in their homes, with their children. Easter Sunday resurrection hope pouring through every media and social media into homes where unbelievers and believers alike are listening. Christians serving in their communities as fearless light and salt when others cower. WELS members across the country becoming stronger together, forming a gospel-seed tidal wave, as they engage with one another through social media!

Is God’s kingdom still coming? Oh, yes! And thank God he has let us be on the front lines bringing that kingdom to more people, in new ways, with renewed zeal. Yes, Lord, yes! “Your kingdom come!”

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

 

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A COVID-19 Baptism blessing

“That’s awesome!”

That’s all I could say as I watched the couple sit at their kitchen table.

Jeff was confirmed on December 22, 2019. Having completed his “Starting Point” course, he was so thrilled to be part of our young congregation. His volunteer spirit—whether it’s making homemade salsa or taking beautiful landscape photographs to decorate our rented walls—is contagious. And so is his positivity. But there was one thing that bothered him—his wife didn’t really know Jesus and didn’t come to church with him. He wasn’t going to push. Partly because of his personality, but mostly because he trusted God’s timing. Then, on December 22, Deedee came to support Jeff. Then she came again on December 24. Even though Christmas Eve worship was interrupted by an armed robbery at the liquor store that shares a wall with our facility (perhaps another Missions Blog story!), Deedee was not deterred. She kept coming to worship every Sunday.

In late February, she asked if she could talk to me after church. Deedee wanted to be baptized. After going through the meaning and blessings of baptism at a Starbucks meeting in early March, we picked the date—April 5, Palm Sunday. And then, coronavirus came. After explaining that it wasn’t absolutely necessary for her to be baptized on that date, both Jeff and Deedee agreed they’d like to explore the options. Zoom to the rescue!

I set up my laptop six feet away from the church baptismal font (not for social distancing purposes, but only for the camera angle).

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor: “We all have a deep need for baptism. . . this is for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not even the gates of Hades can prevent the gospel from going out. Be confident as you are now baptized in the name of the Triune God.”

CAMERA 2 –

Jeff (pouring water on Deedee’s head): “Denise, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor:  “That’s awesome!”

It was a highlight of my ministry. I’m not sure who I was more excited for—Jeff, Deedee, or myself! But the joy wasn’t over. Unbeknownst to Deedee, congregation members were filmed offering their support, “We will, and we ask God to help us.” What a surprise for Deedee to watch the recorded service on Sunday, not just to see herself, but her brothers and sisters in Christ welcoming her into our church family. Jeff’s follow-up email, “We really enjoyed the Baptism section with everyone in support.”

That’s awesome!

Written by Rev. Joel Heckendorf, home missionary at Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev. 

 

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Faces of Faith – Hany Guzmán

As the morning mist mixed with the bright beams of the sun’s first rays over Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, ten-year-old Hany Guzmán would stand out on her earthen porch to greet the day. With a mug of atol de elote in her hand, she watched the cool fog slowly dissipate and the shadows silently disperse as they gave way to the scorching heat and piercing light of a Sunday morning. The sweet, corn beverage brought warmth to her body and strength for the day as she helped get her family ready for church. Slipping through the front door, she would wake her three younger siblings with whom she shared a single bed. They would march off together to attend their local congregation’s misa. Sometimes her parents would accompany them and other times they went alone, but Hany wouldn’t miss a mass for the world.

Hany and her siblings in Guatemala

Once they found their customary spot in the back of church, although the sun still shone brightly through the stained-glass windows of the cathedral, it seemed as though an even denser fog settled in. Hany and her siblings heard the priest read the Bible and give short talks about how they were to pray to the right saints to find fame and fortune, but it just didn’t seem to make sense. There was a spiritual haze that never seemed to lift, a darkness that just wouldn’t disappear. Hany wondered to herself, “Is there any way I can go to heaven?”

Five years later, darkness defined the day as Hany woke up on a frigid December morning in Anchorage, Alaska. A glance outside at the thermometer showed twenty-five degrees below zero as the first hints of daylight slowly revealed the silhouette of the mountains beneath a cloudless sky. It was Sunday morning and it was still her job to wake her younger siblings for church, but they could wait a while to brave the cold. The short trip to church was less than a block. She started to make some hot chocolate as she waited for the sun to creep over the Chugach Mountains. In a few short hours, she and her siblings would be on their way to Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. She still wouldn’t miss a service for the world.

Hany at Camp Luther in Anchorage, Alaska

Although the sun barely skimmed the tops of the peaks outside, inside her church one thing was clear—the light of the gospel had changed her life. The same sun that warmed her face in Guatemala now shone through the stained-glass windows of her new church, but here the mystery of salvation had been revealed. Here she heard the unobscured gospel that brought clarity to her mind and comfort to her soul. Hany and her sisters and brother—Brianna, Alegría, and David—found their spots in the back pew. From her vantage point, Hany could see many people she had invited to church herself. In fact, she was personally responsible for seeing her church’s catechism class grow from a dozen kids to over thirty. Later in the service, the congregation would confess its faith together using the familiar words of the explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just has he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.” There was no longer any doubt; the darkness had dissipated and the fog had lifted. Wiping away a tear, Hany chimed in with confidence and conviction: ¡Esto es ciertamente la verdad! This is most certainly true!

Written by Rev. Christopher Ewings, home missionary at Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo (Faith Lutheran Church) in Anchorage, Alaska

 

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Preach the Word – Go Deep

Go Deep

As you know by now, I’m a fan of simple preaching. I love Luther’s assessment of a good preacher: “He’s the best preacher who can teach in a plain, childlike, popular, and simple way” (AE 54:384). A good preacher refuses to talk in secret pastor code language. He understands the reality of biblical illiteracy and meets his people where they are in their life of faith. He focuses his hearers on a central truth in his sermons, instead of wandering all over the map. Above all, he points people to Jesus with clear law and gospel again and again. I’m a fan of simple preaching!

But I’m afraid that phrase—“simple preaching”—can be easily misunderstood. It might sound like “simple preaching” means preaching simplistic sermons without much meat or depth. It might sound like “simple preaching” means sticking to easy sections of Scripture and simply rehashing the plan of salvation week after week. It might sound like “simple preaching” means avoiding anything that challenges our hearers’ understanding. If I’ve given you that impression, Jesus has other ideas. Jesus sends us out to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20). Jesus wants us to preach and teach everything in his Word.

“Simple preaching”—can be easily misunderstood.

A brother pastor asked me this perceptive question: “What about the sections of Scripture that are not simple? It’s good that you began here with Jesus’ parables and Paul’s simple preaching. But Peter noted that Paul is often difficult to understand…. What if the text is not so simple?”

Here’s the reality in Scripture: Some texts aren’t so simple! As our brother mentioned, Peter noted that Paul can be difficult to understand: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pt 3:16). So here’s how Peter ended his letter just two verses later: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Pt 3:18). It’s true that some sections of Scripture are hard to understand. So what does God want? He wants every Christian—from a new convert to a long-time pastor—to keep growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. God wants us to go deep!

Paul—who wrote things that are hard to understand—emphasized that same truth: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” (1 Cor 3:1-2). Paul longed for his hearers to grow spiritually. In fact, Christ has given pastors and teachers to his church so that “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph 4:14-15). Jesus wants his people to grow!

The book of Hebrews includes a striking lament. “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hb 5:11-12). Can you sense the frustration in the author’s voice? “I want to say more, but I can’t because of your spiritual immaturity.” Wow! Strong words. Every pastor can relate to the feeling of having to teach the same basic truths over and over again to people who ought to have matured further in their faith. “I want to say so much more, but…”

Here is the author of Hebrews’ encouragement: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so” (Hb 6:1-3). The author certainly wasn’t encouraging his hearers to abandon core teachings about Christ. But he was challenging them to take their understanding of Christ to a deeper level. Isn’t that also our goal as preachers? We want to challenge our hearers to grow. We want to go deep!

It sounds counterintuitive, but simple preachers lead people to go deep.

But here’s a caution: This encouragement to “go deep” doesn’t nullify anything I’ve written about “simple preaching.” Don’t challenge your people with your theological vocabulary or stuffy grammar. Don’t challenge your people with a convoluted outline or a myriad of disconnected biblical references. That’s not “going deep.” Do challenge your people with the deep truths of God. “From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps 90:2). Simple words. Deep thoughts! “He chose us in him before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Simple words. Deep thoughts! It sounds counterintuitive, but simple preachers lead people to go deep.

These Bible verses have led me to examine my own preaching. I want it to be simple and clear. But I also want to go deep! Am I? Every one of us has had the experience of sitting through a disappointing conference presentation. The topic had excited you. You had eagerly anticipated impacts on your life and ministry. But then the presenter spent an hour saying the same thing over and over again. You left deflated—maybe even angry! No depth. No value. How often is that me? Do people walk away from my sermons thinking, “I was expecting a whole lot more…”

There’s evidence that I haven’t been challenging my people as much as I think I have. How often am I surprised that my members don’t know what God says about important teachings? I moan, “How do they not get that sex before marriage is wrong? They act like it’s normal!” But then I realize that I hardly ever preach about sexuality. What else? Unfortunately, I can think of lots of examples. “How come they are not concerned about homosexuality?” “Why do they keep bringing up millennialism?” “How do they not know what the Bible says about predestination?” Well, have I preached about any of those doctrines lately—or ever? Maybe I need to go deeper!

Lazy mouths can lead to lazy ears.

There’s an interesting phrase in the Hebrews passage I quoted above. “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (Hb 5:11). The phrase “slow to learn” is literally “lazy in respect to ears” (νωθροὶ γεγόνατε ταῖς ἀκοαῖς). Isn’t that a clever phrase? How often are our people “lazy in respect to ears”? But now here’s the catch: How often aren’t we preachers “lazy in respect to mouths”? Do you think there’s a connection? If my people sense that I’m preaching the same thing every week, that I haven’t gone deep, that I’m not willing to challenge them…. Do you think lazy mouths can lead to lazy ears?

Often our reasoning—or excuse—is to say, “That topic is better for Bible class.” Sure, it’s easier to explain something with an hour in a class. It’s much more challenging to craft a sermon on the same topic. But you know the problem. In my congregation, less than 15% of adults attend Bible class. How about yours? If diving deep is reserved for Bible class, we shouldn’t be surprised when 85% of our members think that Lutherans and Catholics believe the same thing. We need to preach—not just teach—on the deep truths of the Bible. I wonder if our people don’t have a greater desire to go deeper into God’s Word than we give them credit for. That’s why they bring up predestination and muse about the Trinity and ask for more Revelation… People want meat!

People want meat!

This means that you, preacher, have a big job! To challenge and motivate the 75-year-old elder who’s been a member his whole life. To convict and forgive the 44-year-old straying member who happened to show up for the first time in years. To connect with the 27-year-old who hasn’t ever stepped in a church before. To keep the attention of the 13-year-old who is supposed to be filling out a sermon summary. All while keeping the central focus on Jesus’ work of redemption.

Does this mean that every word of your sermon is going to be understood by every person there? No. Does it mean that every application should hit home for every person? Impossible. But if I’m preaching on the deep truth of predestination, I want the 13-year-old to walk away knowing that she is loved. I want the 27-year-old to go home trusting that his life has purpose. I want the 44-year-old to be amazed at God’s grace. I want the 75-year-old to have peace when he thinks of death. Going deep into doctrines has practical applications for every one of God’s people.

Here’s where to start: Give yourself time to pray and mature for yourself. Luther wrote, “You should completely despair of your own sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal…. Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God through his dear Son, graciously to grant you his Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding.”1 When was the last time you “went deep” into a biblical doctrine apart from your sermon prep? In our circuit, a brother recently suggested we read the recent translation of Walther’s “Church and Ministry.” It’s deep. And long! It’s made me realize how rarely I go deep into God’s Word to grow personally in my knowledge and understanding.

Give yourself time to pray and mature for yourself.

Then, think carefully about how you go about choosing which text to preach on each week. As you choose a text, there are lots of factors to consider. What texts have I preached on before? Which has the clearest message for me to communicate? Which hits at a particular need in our congregation right now? Add these to the list of things to consider: Which text presents the greatest challenge to my sinful nature? Which text pushes my biblical understanding to a deeper level? Which has truths from God that my people probably haven’t heard for a while—or ever?

As you consciously look to challenge your people to grow in their spiritual maturity, here’s a caution: We’re not talking about randomly mentioning hot-button issues from the pulpit. In a recent devotion for a group of non-members studying English at our church, I mentioned abortion in passing as an example of sin in our world. The shaken looks on many of the women’s faces immediately convicted me of a serious pastoral mistake. If you’re going to go deep, go deep. Preach a whole sermon—or two or three—on abortion: why it’s sinful, what hope and forgiveness Christ offers, what godly options exist for those with unplanned pregnancies.

This might be a place for a sermon series at an appropriate time of year. In my previous congregation, we took a survey of our membership. We had a huge response—over 175 completed surveys. One unexpected blessing was the opportunity to see which biblical teachings our members were struggling with, including some deep doctrines like the roles of men and women, hell, fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper. In response, we designed a summer sermon series called “Clearing the Roadblocks.”2 We dove into each of those doctrines. Our people genuinely enjoyed “going deep.” Members asked, “I’m going to be gone next week, but I really want to hear what the Bible has to say about _________. Can you share your sermon with me?”

I remember one particular Thursday evening worship service. In a very liberal, ELCA-dominated small town in Minnesota, I got to preach on the roles of men and women. That evening, one of our faithful male members finally convinced his wife—a very committed ELCA member—to join him for worship. I saw her and thought, “Oh, boy.” The idea flashed through my mind to preach on something totally different. Thankfully, I didn’t. After the service, she said she had never heard what the Bible actually says. Going deep into a challenging doctrine was a blessing for her—and me too! I had nothing to fear, because God’s Word is true. People need all of it!

Into what areas of Christian doctrine would it be beneficial for your people to go deep? In an election year, God has a lot to say about government. Are your people going to hear it? Identity—it’s on everybody’s minds. Will you dive deep into what it really means to be a child of God? The Trinity: “Are all gods really the same?” Church fellowship: “Why are there so many Christian churches?” Nobody gets it, but the Bible explains it. Go deep!

As you do, remember the deepest, most challenging doctrine of Scripture. Do you know what it is? Here’s how Luther explained Peter’s words about the difficult teachings in Paul’s writings: “He saw that many frivolous spirits were jumbling and twisting St. Paul’s words and teaching, because some things in the latter’s epistles are difficult to understand, as, for example, when he says that ‘man is justified by faith apart from works’ (Rom. 3:28)” (AE 30:198). What’s the most challenging doctrine of all for our sinful natures? Justification by faith. We better make sure we clearly teach that difficult, deep doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus!

As I write this, concern over the coronavirus is spreading. This week, WELS churches were forced to suspend in-person worship services. I pray that by the time you read this, those fears have subsided. Here’s what I’ve learned from the pandemic so far: Each time you preach, you are preparing your people for the day when you and your church will no longer be there. Preach the gospel in every sermon like it’s the last time your people will be in a church, and go deep into God’s Word to prepare your people to study the Bible on their own when you and your worship services are no longer available. Give them the gospel and challenge them to go deep.

That’s what Paul did. While he didn’t face a pandemic, he was often forced to leave the churches he served on a moment’s notice. A notable example is his stay in Thessalonica. A mob forced Paul to flee after a short stay. Yet, his letters to the Thessalonians reveal a depth of teaching on matters like the end of the world and the antichrist. Paul got deep with those people quickly. Even Paul’s long stay in Ephesus only amounted to two and a half years. Yet, Paul could confidently say, “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27).

In every sermon, consciously or not, you are teaching your people how to read and understand God’s Word. In other words, every sermon is a sermon on hermeneutics. Only please don’t use that word in your sermons! Every sermon you preach is an opportunity to teach your people how to search for answers in the Scriptures, how to use context to aid understanding, how to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Every sermon you preach is an opportunity to teach your people how to dive deeply into God’s Word, so that when the day comes that their preacher is gone or their church is shuttered, God’s people are equipped to continue digging deep into his truth.

Brothers, in your simple preaching, go deep.

Isn’t this exciting? Week after week we preachers get to open up God’s Word for God’s people, “like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Mt 13:53). There’s urgency for us preachers. Each week, we look at a portion of God’s Word and realize, “This is so important. This is so applicable. This is just what my hearers need to hear!” Then, the very next week, we look at a completely different portion of God’s Word and realize, “This is so important. This is so applicable. This is just what my hearers need to hear!” That joy and urgency is what led Luther to say, “If I today could become king or emperor, I would not give up my office as preacher.”3 Brothers, in your simple preaching, go deep.

Written by Nathan Nass

Nathan Nass serves as pastor at St. Paul / San Pablo Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI. You can read his sermons and daily devotions on his blog at upsidedownsavior.home.blog.


1 What Luther Says (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), Volume 3, p. 1359.
2 If you’re interested, you can find an overview of our “Clearing the Roadblocks” sermon series at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/preach-the-word-volume-23/
3 Meuser, F. W. Luther the Preacher. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983, p. 39.

 

WORSHIP

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

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Filled to overflowing in Barcelona

In February 2017, 24 missionary wives met together in Athens, Greece, for the first ever World Missionary Wives Conference. What an amazing experience! I arrived in Athens barely knowing only four other missionary wives. I left the conference just a few short days later with two dozen sisters! Sisters with whom I share my joys and sorrows, blessings and challenges, laughter and tears. Our first World Missionary Wives Conference set the stage for more contact through a WhatsApp group, summer gatherings, Missionary Family Reunions, phone calls – more opportunities for encouragement.

On March 5-9, 2020, the long-awaited and much anticipated second World Missionary Wives Conference was held in Barcelona, Spain. Picture a room of 25 women who have been waiting three years to see each other face-to-face. Add in a heaping portion of hugs, a healthy dose of sharing, and a pinch of silliness (from jet lag, of course), and there you have the second World Missionary Wives Conference.

We based our conference on the theme “Filled to Overflowing”, taken from Psalm 23:5 “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” In Barcelona we filled our cups with encouragement, peace and joy for service around the world. God’s word served as our primary source of encouragement. We spent time together worshiping our Savior and studying what God says about various topics. One of our own missionary wives shared a keynote address, “Filling up throughout Life’s Transitions,” and facilitated a panel discussion entitled “Filling Your Cup.” World Missions Administrator Larry Schlomer led us in worship. Other ladies led us in small group Bible studies and devotions.

Fellowship provided more encouragement. Missionary wives so very rarely see each other face-to-face! The conference gave us a number of opportunities for fellowship. We enjoyed tours and tapas, churros and chocolate, Gaudí and games. Each activity laid a platform for sharing and encouraging, for cultivating friendships old and new.

The timing for the conference was providential. Just a few days later, and we would have had significant difficulties in Spain because of the coronavirus. But God kept us safe. After our delightful conference, everyone made it home safely and just about everyone sat in self-quarantine for 14 days, but no one got sick. We thank God for His mercy in getting us all to Barcelona and back safely and for keeping us healthy.

We’re back home with our families on our mission fields. Our cups have been filled with blessings of encouragement, peace and joy. Now what? Now comes the next stage–sharing those blessings with others. First of all, we share our blessings with our husbands. An extra dose of encouragement for a missionary is never misplaced. Next, we pour out blessings on our children, both those with us and those far from us. And then we turn to our mission fields.

For me, that means the Russian ladies I love so dearly. They are quite a group–old and young, scientists and gardeners, grandmothers and young women, feisty and meek, confident and insecure. But they all need encouragement. They hunger for God’s peace, especially in these uncertain times. They crave the joy that comes from God’s forgiveness. I have all those qualities to share, because my cup was filled to overflowing in Barcelona. How can I serve you? It’s my turn to pour! Funny thing. . . the more I pour, the more I want to bask in God’s precious word myself, and my cup just stays brimming.

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, missionary wife in Russia

 

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Crises, Hymns, and Faith

Crises, Hymns, and Faith

This article covers several themes and purposes. It shares thoughts and resources related to the COVID-19 crisis. It calls attention to the power of hymns—especially in a time of national crisis and private anxiety. It shares some resources planned for Christian Worship: Hymnal (CW21). It points to two new Congregational Services video resources.

By the time this article reaches readers, the crisis may be resolving. But that’s not how it feels while writing on April 5. And even if we are on the downside of the infection rate when you read this, the spiritual themes covered by hymns mentioned below will continue to strengthen and comfort God’s people and witness God’s truth to a broken world even as it returns to normal.

All Is Well

A well-received new song at the WELS leadership conference last January was All Is Well, by Steve and Vikki Cook. The final verse affirms “…with newborn eyes we will behold the glory of the risen Lord.”1 Consider how this song might fit in a (streamed) service during the Easter season. If a soloist or small group sings this song after the sermon and the preacher has intentionally referenced it’s meaning during the sermon (All is well—in spite of global pandemic and personal anxiety—because of God’s promises and Jesus’ resurrection), it will be a powerful synergy of sermon, song, and context.

A powerful synergy of sermon, song, and context

This song is featured in a new video resource: Worship Led by a Modern Ensemble. This video features the Trinitas ensemble from Trinity, Waukesha, WI. It demonstrates leading worship with an ensemble of piano, guitar, and other instruments. The focus is on songs of the liturgy, psalms, and hymns. Some settings of the liturgy, slated for CW21, are crafted to work either with organ (and other instruments) or with a modern ensemble; the melodies remain the same while the musical accompaniment varies.

The video, available at welscongregationalservices.net/download/w014/, includes interviews that can help parish musicians and leaders to think through rationale and best practices. All Is Well begins at 16:28.

By special arrangement, a melody/text graphic for All Is Well along with an organ accompaniment is available at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-hymnal-introduction-series/. The song works best with piano,2 but not every church has a good piano for leading the entire congregation. If a soloist sings the song with piano accompaniment, the organ version can serve as preservice music.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

The hymnal supplement (CWS) includes David Haas’ hymn by this name. It will also be in CW21. The text gives valuable comfort in time of crisis and echoes the Gospel for Easter 5, Year A. The first verse points to something far better than “safer at home”: “In God’s [eternal] house there are many places for you alone to dwell in safety.”

In the cantor/responsorial tradition from which this hymn comes, verses are sung by a cantor with the congregation singing the refrain. This custom grew out of reforms in the Roman Catholic church instigated by the Second Vatican Council in an attempt to encourage more participation.3 But Lutherans, accustomed to being “the singing church,” often want to sing the whole song, whether Gloria or hymn. A challenge for some, then, is that the CWS accompaniment doesn’t support congregational singing of the verses in the usual way—by placing the melody in the top voice of the accompaniment. That’s because the original intent was to accompany a cantor.

A congregation very familiar with the verses or with stronger than usual music reading skill can certainly sing the verses to the original accompaniment. To make it easier to sing this song in other congregations (and in those without a good piano), the accompaniment edition for CW21 will include an organ accompaniment that clearly states the melody. By special permission, this arrangement is available for free download at the previous link. The organ version can also be used as service music, perhaps with a gentle registration during the offering or communion distribution.

Vital hymn singing—and playing

While it’s no secret that the Getty movement has popularized modern hymns, some might not realize that the Gettys are champions of old hymns as well. I attended the 2019 Getty Sing! conference in Nashville and was struck by the frequent use of old, traditional hymns often in old, traditional arrangements—even a cappella. I’ll never forget hearing 10,000 people singing Holy, Holy, Holy unaccompanied and in harmony without printed music! And the same for O Sacred Head, Now Wounded about which one wag has said that American Evangelicals, who so love this old German hymn, think it’s an early American tune. Hans Leo Hassler (d. 1612), composer of the tune, might be amused.

10,000 people singing O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

The Trinitas video champions a “both/and” approach to musical variety for the congregation. An entire service led by an ensemble is for the entire congregation, not a niche audience with a musical taste preference. It’s not “contemporary worship”; it’s just worship for the united body of believers in a given place that Sunday. Same for services led by an organ.

If organ accompaniment feels draggy or lacking in pulse, an organist can gain insights and improve skills from another new video resource: Effective Service Playing: The Partnership between Organist and Congregation, presented by David Kriewall (welscongregationalservices.net/download/w013/). This is an online masterclass for organists, delivered by a video and a PowerPoint file or PDF. This masterclass seeks to improve performers’ ability to play in a way that best supports congregational singing. This video serves both for those who have had years of lessons and those who are self-taught. It’s not a video to view quickly in one sitting. It’s something to study and ponder with hymnal in hand and trying out some of the performance examples during a practice session.

A draft for the preface to one of the new hymnal accompaniment volumes discusses the musician’s privilege in worship.

Our worship this side of heaven is a foretaste of the feast to come, a highpoint in every Christian’s week, the “event” that drives congregational health and vitality because here God again delivers salvation to his people. It is a high calling and privilege for musicians to assist worshipers in this most central and important activity—to help them sing out about salvation that comes from our God. That’s why attention to hymns and liturgy is always more important than preservice music and postludes. In hymns and liturgy God’s people actively participate in proclaiming his salvation.

We hope that Effective Service Playing will help organists to improve, whatever their current skill level.

Theologia crucis

“All is well because of God’s great love.” Is it easier to trust the truth of Romans 8:28—“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”—in hindsight? Perhaps. But the ability to “validate” God’s promise in this way is not necessary to trust his promise even when we can imagine no reason for hardship or disappointment. “The sun beams on behind the clouds, and in the dark still grace abounds” (from All Is Well).

“Don’t let worship be wiped out.”

As theologians of the cross, it’s good to ask “What shall we sing about?” What is the content of songs during a crisis? There are many themes, but a particular Lutheran emphasis flows from the theologia crucis. We can gain insight from Lutheran choral music during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). American Christian perspective on life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness knows that God doesn’t promise health and prosperity. These are not inalienable rights. If they vanish, we don’t blame God but rather trust his working “for the good” in a world broken by sin and its consequences. One song from that three-decade war prays in part: “O God, we thank you that you have alleviated our pains through your dear Son, the pains brought to us by filthy sins.” This doesn’t mean that a specific sin caused a war or any other crisis, only that we live in a sin-damaged world. Another song makes us thankful for streamed worship when it prays: “Grant us again your heavenly peace; don’t let churches and schools be destroyed, don’t let worship [Gottesdienst] and good order be wiped out.4

It’s probably true that many people prefer to sing happy songs. But note the frequency of lament and penitential themes in the psalms, the hymnal of the Old Testament. Even in our culture there are “popular” examples of musical lament, whether the Blues or sad Country-Western songs. So it’s valuable now and then to give a rationale for the sad and serious hymns we sing, whether by verbal or printed comment.

It’s valuable to give a rationale for the sad and serious hymns we sing.

For not a few of us a Thirty Years War perspective on the fragility of life has been reinforced. It is good to speak in both sermon and song to the temptations faced by us who live in a comfortable “first world” context. Am I really worried that I’ll get the virus? Or that the market and my 403b won’t rebound, if not this year then certainly within my retirement horizon? God’s promises in Christ are our ultimate confidence, not the wonders of pharmaceutical rescue and economic recovery. One of the new Getty/Townend hymns begins: “Still, my soul, be still and do not fear though winds of change may rage tomorrow. God is at your side; no longer dread the fires of unexpected sorrow.”

One day we will face death, but not in despair or defeat. Rather, with the confidence found in All Men Living Are but Mortal. This hymn from TLH, updated by Hymnal Project director, Michael Schultz, is included in CW21 with the tune to which the text was originally sung, JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN (CW 114). The author, Johann Albinus (1624-1679), was born during the war. He lost his father at age 11 and his stepfather at age 19, five years before war’s end. Consider these stanzas in light of our current crisis:

All men living are but mortal
and will surely fade as grass;
only through death’s gloomy portal
to eternal life we pass.
When this body here has perished,
then will heav’nly joys be cherished
where the saints, in glorious dress,
live and reign in righteousness.

Therefore, when my God shall choose it,
willingly I’ll yield my life,
nor will grieve that I should lose it,
with its sorrow, pain, and strife.
In my dear Redeemer’s merit
peace has found my troubled spirit,
and in death my comfort this:
Jesus’ death my source of bliss.

Jesus for my sake descended
my salvation to obtain:
death and hell for me are ended,
peace and hope are now my gain.
With great joy I leave earth’s sadness
for the home of heav’nly gladness,
where I shall forever see
God, the Holy Trinity.

This hymn is posted for free download along with other resources mentioned in this article. The text most people associate with JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN, is Christ, the Life of All the Living, which will also appear in CW21. Not a bad association! “All men living are but mortal,” but in faith we affirm: “Christ, the Life of all the living, Christ, the Death of death, our foe.”

Funeral

A “new to us” funeral hymn is Now Calm Your Heart. One hymnal committee reviewer commented, “Time to beef up the Death and Burial section with quality hymnody.” This comment referred to the text. But pairing with the tune HAMBURG (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross) caused other reviewers to rate it low, even a blunt “no” as in “forget it!” Then WELS composer Jeremy Bakken, moved by the text, submitted a new tune that easily gained approval. Thus we have a very old hymn with Latin and German roots paired with a 21st century tune. If there are COVID-19 funerals in your church, familiar hymns are the first choice. But this hymn is available for free download (along with an mp3 audio file), perhaps best rendered by a soloist for now.

And this peek into the editing process: The original first line, from other hymnals, was “Now hush your cries and shed no tear.” Really? A health-care professional in your church has died, and you say to grieving friends, “Stop crying, no tears”?5 The revised first line is not only more pastoral, it’s also faithful to the original ancient hymn by Prudentius (d. c.413), Jam moesta quiesce querela, which comes to us via a German translation by Nikolaus Herman of Joachimsthal fame.6

Gerhardt

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) became an adult during the Thirty Years War. Some details of the war’s impact on his life are in CW:Handbook. His difficult life was aptly described by an inscription on a portrait, which reads, “Theologus in cribro Satanae versatus”—“a theologian strained in the sieve of Satan” (CWH, p717). His hymns help us to sing God’s promises in the face of tragedy and disruption.

Someone recently asked me about the new hymnal Web site’s emphasis on hymns from Getty Music: “I hope we’re not giving up Gerhardt to make room for Getty.” No, we aren’t. There are more Gerhardt hymns than Getty. In fact there are more Gerhardt hymns in CW21 than in CW93. One new Gerhardt translation with a “new to us” tune is Entrust Your Fears and Doubting. Like so many Gerhardt texts and others from his era, this text speaks powerfully to our current crisis. It is paired with the tune originally associated with Gerhardt’s text and bearing the name of his hymn in German: BEFIEHL DU DEINE WEGE. This hymn is also available for free download, along with an mp3 audio file.

Now and then one hears the objection that old German hymns can’t speak to our modern world. It’s certainly true that complex poetry and archaic language can be a barrier. So this hymn allows Gerhardt to speak in a 21st century idiom.7 Some also wonder about old music connecting with modern people, but so much depends on presentation and familiarity. Who would say that Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel, from the 12th century, doesn’t connect? To gain an impression of how adaptable BEFIEHL DU DEINE WEGE is, search YouTube to find a remarkable variety of settings in various styles.

So much depends on presentation and familiarity.

The Trinitas video mentioned above starts with God Himself Is Present (CW 224). At 22:40 you can also hear We All Believe in One True God (CW 270) with just one voice, piano, and guitar. This is immediately followed by mention of sources for arrangements. Gerhardt gets a 21st century boost from the Hymnal Project in another way beyond fresh translation. The Musician’s Resource will include arrangements for modern ensemble similar to those featured in the Trinitas video. Some were used at the January national leadership conference, including arrangements for Gerhardt’s Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me (CW 428) and My God Will Never Leave Me (CW 418) with text by Ludwig Helmbold. CW:Handbook points out that Helmbold wrote this hymn to comfort friends who were fleeing Erfurt in 1563 to escape a plague.

Since so much depends on presentation and familiarity, how might you introduce Gerhardt’s hymn? I can hear a certain female vocalist at my church singing the first two stanzas. I know that most people would find this first exposure to a new tune to be utterly compelling as an expressive soprano sings words of comfort and prepares the congregation to join in on stanza 3, maybe with a clarinet or other instrument doubling the melody. Then back to soprano for stanza 4 and congregation for 5. You don’t have a capable soloist in your congregation? Then use three people singing unison.

This article has focused on a present crisis and a future hymnal. In closing, some words from Hymnal Project chair, Jon Zabell, from his plenary address to the 2008 WELS worship conference, introducing CWS.

“The early Christians faced persecution to the point of death for their faith. Martin Luther had a weight of responsibility on his shoulders I can’t even begin to imagine, and he had powerful enemies and a tender conscience besides. Paul Gerhardt lived through war and poverty and buried his wife and four of his five children. Open your hymnal. Open your supplement. You can sing what they sang. You can trust what they trusted.”

By Bryan Gerlach

New at ChristianWorship.com

Under Frequently Asked Questions

  • Replacement for HymnSoft
  • Why Service Builder and pew hymnals?
  • Rationale for Service Builder pricing

A spreadsheet for calculating costs is now available. “Budgeting for Christian Worship” links from two pages: Resources (top of homepage) and Looking Ahead (bottom).

 

1 Full lyrics are available online. Some online performances of this and some of the more upbeat modern songs are often “too much” for typical Lutheran worship. But as the Trinitas video demonstrates, an ambiance suitable for Lutheran worship is easily achieved. Note also that this song, like so much of the Getty Music repertoire, is eminently singable by a congregation—in contrast to the soloistic and rhythmically complicated style of much “contemporary Christian music.”
2 Purchase the piano or ensemble accompaniment if you want to use these options before the new hymnal is published.
3 More participation in contrast to the deficit implied by the title of Thomas Day’s book, Why Catholics Can’t Sing (Crossroad, 1990; updated version 2017).
4 CD 2, tracks 6 & 17 from Friedens-Seufftzer und Jubel-Geschrey / Music for the Peace of Westphalia 1648. CPO, 1998.
5 To be fair, the original text can be understood as “you will be able to find comfort….”
6 Brown, Christopher Boyd. Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation. Harvard, 2005. He spoke on this topic at the 2008 WELS worship conference.
7 Compare a 19th century translation at hymnary.org; search for “Thy Way and All Thy Sorrows.”

 

WORSHIP

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

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April cancelled

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS

 

There’s an unusual quiet on the campus.

The Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi, is normally in session; there’s usually a beehive of activity that makes the campus hum: Classes, homework, study hours, work detail, classroom learning and break out group discussions.

But now?

No power point presentations, no lectures nor recitations, no storytelling, no professor jokes nor student laughter. No opening day devotions or communicative Greek dialogue. No break-time chatting, checkers, or chess. Student houses stand menacingly vacant. The campus church building stands eerily quiet. No one is kicking up dust on the football pitch. No one tending to the maize in the fields. No students or their families to be seen. Gone without a trace. It’s as if they all vanished. Disappeared.

Well, in a way they have. In fact, I might add, rather quickly. Due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the Lutheran Bible Institute has also been affected. Just like every other school in Malawi, and most in the world. On March 20, Malawian President Mutharika declared Malawi a State of Disaster and ordered that all schools be closed as of March 23.

That mandate turned into a mad scramble for the faculty to quickly get the students back to their home villages. It wasn’t an easy doing, especially for the Zambian students. It first meant countless hours in the immigration office to sort out remaining issues with passports, student permits, and for some, birth certificates for kids recently born in Malawi.

And to think…

This was the final year for the Lutheran Bible Institute students. The three-year program was coming to a close at June’s end. The fourteen students and their families and the Lutheran Bible Institute faculty had anticipated a joyful–and eventful–graduation service. How things can change and change quickly! There was just no time for a special “cap and gown” service; there was no class speaker, no class song, no diplomas received, no gifts given. It wasn’t that there were COVID-19 cases in Lilongwe. In fact, at that time, there were no officially confirmed cases even in all of Malawi! This comparatively tiny country stood with few others as having zero infected people. So why cancel the classes if the virus wasn’t evident?

Because the fear was.

Maybe you’re seeing–or experiencing–something similar. Panic buying. Anxious thoughts. Worrisome nights and troublesome days. Some are struggling with lost jobs and new-found questions: Do I wear a mask or not? Quarantine or not? Do I have it? Did I give it to someone else? Do I get tested? Can I get tested?

The fear and the questions spread as quickly as the virus itself. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Price hikes, long queues, and empty shelves. And it’s not just schools that have been cancelled. Flights? Cancelled. Hotel bookings? Cancelled. Long-awaited vacations? Cancelled. Cruise? Rally? Convention? Even an election? Cancelled with a CAPITAL C.

A red-letter disappointment.

But despite the cancelled classes and graduation service, this class will still proceed onto the Lutheran Seminary in Zambia in September 2020. Each of the 14 students have met the qualifications and the faculty recommends them. And so there were still hopeful smiles on the campus. Before the 14 students parted ways, with a hoe they parted the earth and made time to do one last class activity:

They planted a tree.

With a lighthearted touch they hung a sign on the tree. More than a sign, it was the name that they gave the tree; a name that you could probably guess considering these times:

Corona.

Did you know that corona means “crown”? The virus, presumably so named, because in a way it resembles one. The coronavirus has brought a lot of sickness and death to our world. But it looks like we are adjusting to the situation: masks, social distancing, hand washing, working from home, and studying at home.

What a golden opportunity we also have been given: to fix our eyes on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Stop and pause this week. What a week it is!

Whom do we see?

  • A Palm Sunday donkey-riding servant king making triumphal entries, not just into cities like Jerusalem, but into hearts like ours.
  • A Maundy Thursday Passover lamb that offers, not just bread and wine, but body and blood.
  • A Good Friday center-cross “criminal” who, even as people taunted and mocked, still was breathing out forgiveness.
  • A Devil Destroyer who went to hell to proclaim his victory.
  • An Easter morning Death Defeater who came out of the tomb fully alive and victorious, guaranteeing our own resurrection and life. And victory!
  • A Powerful Ruler sitting at the right hand of God controlling all things.

And by faith, what Paul the Apostle knows is also what we know: “in ALL those things (even in a State of Disaster) God is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

THAT you know. What you maybe didn’t know was where on the campus the Lutheran Bible Institute students planted the tree. They dug the hole and placed the tree right next to the campus church where they worshiped most every morning and every evening. The place where law and the gospel was preached. The house of God in which name of Jesus was held high. The location where forgiveness was proclaimed and where the sacraments were administered. Where they learned to preach devotions and lead the service with liturgy.

Perhaps what you also didn’t know was the name of the church: Crown of Life.

What a paradox! A tree of death. A Crown of Life. Or is it a Crown of Death and a Tree of Life? As you’re thinking about that, think about this: There is another tree that comes with the same paradox. The tree on Golgotha. A tree of life or a tree of death? A crown of life or a crown of death?

Actually, both. It’s the place where law and gospel meet. The epicenter of God’s full wrath and full love. A converging torrent of anger over sin and love for the sinner. So, when God gives you the opportunities this Holy Week and beyond, sing your hosannas! Feast at the Lord’s table! Answer the hymn writer’s question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” (CW #119)

Remind yourself that Satan has been defeated. Peer into the tomb and find it for what it is: empty.

And the next time your sins trouble you and you wonder if God has forgiven you, remember that the written code was nailed to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

And the debt you owe because of your sins?

Cancelled.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, One Africa Team missionary

 

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Partnership in a new reality

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1: 3-6

How do we bring the gospel message to a billion people living in East Asia? This a question on the hearts of many in our synod as we look beyond our American borders.

God heard our prayers and for over a decade allowed WELS pastors and their families to live and serve in East Asia. This approach, however, has been adjusted as our WELS missionaries and families have been relocated out of East Asia for security reasons. But a change in a home address does not mean we change our mission.

Christian churches around the world are developing and enhancing their online approach to sharing Jesus. Our East Asia team is no different. We are revamping how we train, disciple, and mentor the national leaders who can take the gospel to places where we cannot go. By God’s grace our WELS seminary in Hong Kong has adapted to adversity and continues to serve their students and support national congregations.

The security risks that WELS missionaries faced also caused local East Asian leadership to reevaluate their approach for worship and Bible study. God has not been surprised by any of the issues facing our mission field and is blessing these new and innovative efforts. Each week our brothers and sisters in the faith are meeting in small groups or joining together online to hear the same message of God’s truth and God’s love for his beloved creation.

Baptism at Reformation in San Diego, Calif.

Our East Asia team is making every effort to build up the church leadership in East Asia. But with certain doors closed, we are exploring how God might use us to build up the church in East Asia from within our American borders. Every year a large number of students from East Asia attend our WELS high schools or are involved in our campus ministries. As God blesses their hearing and study of the Word, how might we equip them for sharing the gospel when they return to their home country?

As our WELS congregations continue being God’s salt and light in their local neighborhoods, visitors from East Asia come into our churches, admire the quality of our schools, and are looking for community and relationships. The WELS Joint Missions is very eager to offer support to any school or congregation that have these opportunities. How can we meet the spiritual needs of these visitors where they are at right now in their walk with God? And if they do call on Jesus as Lord, how can we support and equip them to reach others in East Asia?

These are not just theories and hopeful planning. God is blessing our WELS churches right now in these areas. WELS members are making contact with people from East Asia and inviting them to study God’s Word in our homes and churches. God is revealing new partnerships for us, both locally and worldwide, to carry out our gospel mission to East Asia.

Written by a missionary from East Asia

 

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When are you going to visit us?

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. – Romans 1: 8-10

How many people do you know have been born in their native country, but war forced them to escape their homeland? More than a decade ago, a member of Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., reached out to a congregation in the far east of Thailand. The leader of this Hmong congregation contacted me, and we became friends. Soon after that, a couple of young men came to study at our training center in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Once I met them, a question was often raised, “When are you going to visit us?” I reassured them that when the right time comes, the Lord will lead me to visit. However, that vivid picture was long gone and a decade passed. Almost two years ago, this congregation approached us for financial support. We didn’t know what to expect because none of our Christian brothers in Thailand, whom we have fellowship with, have been into this new country. We also understood that there were security reasons and restrictions that prohibited us from visiting.

For us to have a better handle on this situation, we knew we needed to make a visit. In reality, you shouldn’t listen to stories or words without boots on the ground. Ears are for hearing, and eyes are for seeing towards better evaluations. And so we went.

My heart was always yearning to see and walk the dusty roads my parents once lived. I wondered how the fresh air of the village smelled, what the green mountains looked like, and what an organic banana tasted like. I questioned how lifestyles and living standards had changed since I left more than four decades ago.

I heard all the good and horrible stories as I grew up. I vividly remember when my family ran from jungle to jungle for survival during the Vietnam War. It grieves me to think of all the defenseless people when I think of this war-torn country. Deep inside of me, no words can describe the pain many of my people once faced. I’m disappointed that I was born during the war; this country robbed me of my childhood and education. Toys and school never once crossed my mind as a child. Only fear, hunger, and endurance provided me with experiences and stories to tell my children.

I was sitting in a plane flying from Bangkok, Thailand, crossing into my destination country, when the flight attendant announced that we would be landing soon. The plane started descending lower and lower to the ground I longed to see. I felt a chill down my spine amidst my mixed emotions. How was I going to get through this trip?

When I arrived, the congregation I was visiting still required a whole day’s journey by land. In this country, freedom of speech and the use of the Bible, or as some people called it “The New Way,” is not allowed in public. I realized how much we must treasure the gospel. When a group of people does not have the privilege to speak or share what they firmly believe, it is like having eyes but no vision. As a visiting missionary, I observed everything from start to finish without saying anything. It created a different yet pleasant experience. When I speak, I only return what I already know. When I listened, I discovered something new. I will never take the gospel for granted and the liberty of the United States, which I live.

Although the country I visited restricts Christianity, there is always hope. Some people have the opportunity to worship and conduct Bible study privately. We pray that as the country is beginning to develop along with chasing after economic prosperity, that the Lord opens doors for the gospel. One thing we can be sure this country needs most is the promise of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

As Isaiah said, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40: 31

Written by a visiting missionary from St. Paul, Minn. 

 

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Mission work in Venezuela

Henry and Tony, pastors of Most Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Medellín, Colombia, made a second visit to Venezuela last month. The primary purpose for their visit was to carry out face-to-face training and encouragement with four Venezuelan Academia Cristo students working to plant churches in two Venezuelan cities.

Rafael, Luis, Egar, and Jackson are Academia Cristo students working to plant confessional Lutheran churches in Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela has been in the news quite a bit in recent years. A Washington Post article published during Henry and Tony’s visit states that “Some five million Venezuelans have left the country. [This] has refugees in an exodus that mirrors the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.” The same article states that one-third of the remaining nine million people in Venezuela are struggling to feed themselves.

The realities in neighboring Venezuela are very real to the members a Most Holy Trinity. Venezuelan immigrants are a common sight on the streets of their Colombian city. Some come to stay. Others are just passing through as they look for work and a new life. Most Holy Trinity members gather and give away clothing to Venezuelan refugees passing through. “The Venezuelan immigrants are traveling by foot. Many times their belongings are robbed. We provide them with food and help them obtain free medical attention from a number of nurses,” explains Pastor Henry.

It is encouraging to see how WELS and the Colombian church have been able to partner in this new and growing ministry to Venezuelans. WELS offerings have enabled travel to Venezuela and provided humanitarian relief to people inside the country of Venezuela. The Colombian church sends their leaders on trips to Venezuela (a country currently closed to U.S. citizens) and also completely funds the Medellín ministry to local Venezuelan immigrants.

Pastor Tony of Colombia studying the Bible with Academia Cristo student Rafael in Venezuela

There are real needs in Venezuela and WELS World Missions is working with our Colombian brothers to show Christian love to those who need it. The biggest need we see, however, is the spiritual one. We know that God often uses earthly crisis to draw us to him. Nearly a quarter million Venezuelans follow Academia Cristo on Facebook. This is more than any other country. In the past few weeks, 500 Venezuelans have downloaded the new Academia Cristo mobile app and begun studying in Academia Cristo’s Bible institute training program. Another trip to Venezuela is planned for this summer.

Written by Rev. Mike Hartman, missionary and field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

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Live Web Streaming Guidance for Churches

livestream imageThe recent guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to limit public gatherings to no more than fifty people certainly has ramifications for our churches. For many it means that alternate worship strategies will need to be considered…most notably live streaming. Some churches do this already, so it is a relatively small step to make this the primary way our members can take part in worship. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind. More on that later. However, many of our churches do not currently stream their services at all. Here are some guidelines and resources for those looking at ways to get started:

  • Read through this excellent article by Phil Thompson entitled “How to Livestream Your Church Service: A Practical Guide.” There are great suggestions and links to more technical how-to articles.
  • A couple of things to keep in mind both from the article and my experiences… one includes a decision by your leadership if you want to try to livestream a typical worship service complete with a small group of people in attendance, or a shorter format worship or devotional experience provided by the pastor or worship leader in a more intimate setting? The article referenced above tends to lean more toward the latter, and I would agree with that. It is difficult to provide an engaging experience based on the traditional corporate worship experience. The viewer quickly becomes a passive spectator. Some of the suggestions in the article for “engaging” the audience are good ones including building in questions with time for reflection and responses, having a Q&A slot, or some other feedback mechanism once the stream has ended. Personally I would be more engaged by a video session streamed by my pastor from his office with chances for interaction.
  • Two suggestions for technologies to consider are Facebook Live and YouTube. While I have no preference for either technology, Facebook would require people to be on that platform, and there might be some reticent to join. I do think Facebook Live has better “personal interaction” options available however. YouTube, while a little more technically challenging to set up would not have the same issue with people needing to login or get an app to participate. Another option mentioned in the article is the use of a camera called Mevo. We’ve used this in the past and works rather well. It requires a Vimeo Livestream account, and the current camera costs about $400, but it allows multiple camera perspectives, records and streams at the same time, can be controlled via a smartphone, and can be viewed on YouTube and Facebook Live at the same time. With the rush for livestreaming solutions, I’m not sure about the availability of these cameras as of this writing.
  • Whatever platform you choose, put a premium on capturing good audio. People can live with substandard video, but if the audio isn’t clear, you will quickly lose their attention and ultimately, participation.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Take some time to both get yourself comfortable with delivery, but also use your leadership team as guinea pigs beforehand and take suggestions before you stream your first service “for real.”
  • You may also want to consider whether you want to offer a live experience or a more on-demand model. How important is it that your people “gather” at the same exact time. There are advantages to having people gather around God’s word at the same time, but there are also technical challenges that some congregations can’t quickly overcome. There is nothing wrong with posting a recorded sermon or devotion or worship experience of some kind for people to view when they can. Of course, try to make that as engaging as possible with some way to provide feedback or invite a “conversation” about the content asynchronously.
  • Once you’ve got the hang of streaming some kind of worship or devotional experience, it’s a short hop to doing the same for other things like Bible Class, which is many respects might lend itself even better to this format. You could have a small group gathered for some in-person interactivity, but then augmented with a larger online group. Be creative. Use the technology resources available to you.
  • Other considerations should be made for those who don’t have internet access or may need technical assistance to get online and gain access to your resources. It might be a nice gesture to make a staff person or tech-savvy member or two available willing to take phone calls and help people along. If people don’t have access to the internet, perhaps delivering a recorded DVD of some type might be your only option. Of course, don’t forget about your shut-ins, but keep in mind the guidance provided by health experts as well.
  • Be sure to consider copyright issues when streaming content. Many of you probably have OneLicense or CCLI licenses already but these licenses typically don’t cover livestreaming. Each also offers “podcasting” licenses that can be added that covers the streaming of any copyrighted content. Christian Copyright Solutions both offers licenses, but also excellent Fact Sheets on all things related to streaming copyrighted content over the internet. Of course remember about typical privacy concerns related to broadcasting members (adults or children). You will want to make sure they are both aware and comfortable with what you are doing. (Note: Until April 30, CCS is offering 10% off with the code STREAM10. OneLicense is offering a free license until April 15.)
  • As always, please feel free to reach out to me directly if you’d like to discuss any of the items in this post or general issues related to streaming. I can be reached at martin.spriggs@WELS.net or 414.256.3250.

May God bless our efforts to share His Gospel in all circumstances, regardless of any earthly barriers we encounter. Truly technology is a blessing God provides for our use to take His message of peace and comfort to our members and the world. The apostle Paul once shared “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Martin A. Spriggs
WELS Chief Technology Officer

Preach the Word – What’s the Point?

What’s the Point?

I have a confession to make. I once attended Joel Osteen’s church. Okay, twice. I went twice. My wife and I lived in Houston, TX for a year, and we went to Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church twice. I can tell you firsthand that much of what you hear about Osteen and his messages is true. In the first sermon, Osteen didn’t mention God a single time. In the second, Osteen brazenly twisted Scripture to support his prosperity gospel. Don’t do that! Don’t preach like Joel Osteen.

But I have another confession to make. It’s been nine years since I heard them, but I can still remember each of those two sermons almost word for word. The first had the theme, “Who’s Packing Your Parachute?” Osteen told the story of a U.S. Navy pilot in Vietnam whose plane was shot out of the sky. He ejected from his plane and was saved by his parachute. Years later, he unexpectedly met the man who had packed his parachute on that fateful morning. Like him, we can be eternally grateful for all the people behind the scenes who are packing our parachutes.

The second sermon had the theme, “It’s Under Your Feet!” Osteen took the verse, “He has put everything under his feet” (1 Cor 15:27) and applied it to you and me instead of to Christ. Everything is under your feet! No matter what you face in life—from cancer to bad bosses to financial struggles—you can look that struggle in the eye and say, “It’s under my feet!” Heresy!

A central theme is vital for a memorable message.

I heard each sermon over nine years ago, but I can still precisely remember each one. Why? Each message had a carefully crafted point. There was a central theme that connected the entire message together. It stuck. No one walked away from those sermons asking, “What’s the point?” I remember thinking to myself: “What if this man with such obvious public speaking gifts were to actually preach the truth of God’s Word?” Can I admit I learned something from Joel Osteen? A central theme is vital for a memorable message. When you preach, ask, “What’s the point?”

Compare that with some feedback I received from my first article on “Simple Preaching.” I got a kind letter from a retired WELS pastor. He described his concerns about preaching in the WELS. He wrote, “I sat next to my friend at a lecture given by one of our profs a couple years ago. When he was done, I leaned over to him and said: ‘I didn’t get a thing out of that.’ He replied: ‘Neither did I.’ Well, it just so happened that this past Sunday our new pastor was installed and he had a friend of his preach the sermon. My friend was sitting next to me for this event, and I said to him: ‘I didn’t get anything out of his sermon.’ His response: ‘Neither did I.’” Ouch.

“I didn’t get it.” Aren’t those the most painful words a preacher can hear? If the retired pastor in our pews doesn’t get it when we preach, how many others are asking, “What’s the point?”

Let’s be honest. How many times have you preached a sermon, sat back down in your chair, and wondered to yourself, “What was the point?” I have! How often have you written a sermon because you had to write a sermon? God’s Word was there. True! God uses stumbling, fumbling sermons to accomplish his will. Praise be to God for that! But God’s Word is not pointless. If you and I struggle to know what our point was, our people probably don’t know it either.

That’s a problem. Perhaps there was a time when people went to church simply to hear God’s Word. They felt they needed to. That’s often not the mindset today. If people are going to come, there’s got to be a reason for them to be there. How many people sit in our pews, asking, “What’s the point?” How many people sit at home, asking, “What’s the point?” Pointless preaching makes it seem pointless to attend. Are you willing to ask with me, “What’s the point?”

God’s Word is not pointless.

Because God’s Word isn’t pointless. You know that. There is one, central theme to all of God’s Word. The Bible is one, united story of God’s grace to us in Jesus. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible doesn’t just ramble on and on. It isn’t a disconnected mishmash of stories and songs and proverbs. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31). Jesus is our Savior. That’s the point!

Beyond that central theme of justification, there are many other clear truths that God preaches to his people over and over again. When God speaks, he always has a point!

  • A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5; Mk 10:7-8; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31).
  • Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One” (Dt 6:4; Dt 4:35; Neh 9:6; Ps 86:10; Is 43:11; Is 44:6; Zec 14:9; Mk 12:29; 1 Cor 8:4; Eph 4:6).
  • The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; Ps 103:8; Ps 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

Many biblical books have clear themes that resonate throughout the book. Luke builds his beautiful narrative of lost and found until Jesus finally declares: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk 19:10). What a point! No one who reads Galatians could possibly miss the central truth: “We … know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:15-16). Why is Psalm 23 so beloved? It’s so clear! “The LORD is my shepherd.” There’s no doubt about the point! God’s Word is not pointless.

It’s our joy as preachers to share that “point” with God’s people. Note how Ezra’s preaching is described: “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read” (Neh 8:8). Here’s the result: “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (Neh 8:12).

Contrary to the mindless chatter we hear around us, God’s Word really matters.

There is great joy in getting the point of God’s Word! Contrary to the mindless chatter we hear around us, God’s Word really matters. It’s really written for you and me. It has a message that’s truly a matter of life and death. Like Ezra, we strive to make God’s Word clear and give the meaning so that God’s people can understand. A clear central theme in our sermons is important for that to happen. There is a very powerful, applicable point to every section of God’s Word.

Luther would agree. Here’s an example from his Table Talk:

“Only a fool thinks he should say everything that occurs to him. A preacher should see to it that he sticks to the subject and performs his task in such a way that people understand what he says. Preachers who try to say everything that occurs to them remind me of the maidservant who is on her way to market. When she meets another maid she stops to chat with her for a while. Then she meets another maid and talks with her. She does the same with a third and a fourth and so gets to market very slowly. This is what preachers do who wander too far from their subject. They try to say everything all at once, but it won’t do.”1

Luther once simply said, “In my preaching I take pains to treat a verse [of the Scriptures], to stick to it, and so to instruct the people that they can say, ‘That’s what the sermon was about.’”2

Another author puts it like this:

“One common sermonic flaw is the preacher’s failure clearly to define the thrust of the message. Without some definition, some clarity on the issue tackled, the sermon rambles from one idea to the next like a bumper car with an eight-year-old behind the wheel.”

“Try this test: If you can’t identify what you’re saying in one, clear sentence, it means that you probably aren’t clear yourself. You may say some good things, but don’t be surprised when no one seems to grasp the thrust of your message. Think about it: When you’re uncertain as to what you’re saying, you don’t know when to stop, do you? How many times have you heard a message like a plane circling the airport, trying to find a place to land? Just when you think the plane is finally making its descent, the pilot takes it back up again for some more circling. A word to the wise: Know what you want to say and say just enough for your listeners to want more.”3

“… like a bumper car with an eight-year-old behind the wheel.”

I bet you get the point. People need to know, “What’s the point?” But here’s the challenge: How do you find the point?

Let’s remember this first: Having a strong central theme isn’t a matter of sermon style. Maybe you preach deductively. You have your theme and parts printed out in the bulletin. Good! But then you hardly mention them in the sermon. You share lots of doctrinal knowledge, but your people may still walk away saying, “What’s the point?” Maybe you preach inductively. You build suspense through the sermon. You take your hearers on a journey. Great! But then you stop before you reach a clear destination. Your people may still walk away saying, “What’s the point?

A brother pastor put it like this: “What if the listeners come away scratching their heads? I think this is rude! … If a deductive form or inductive form or if a narrative style or non-narrative style leaves listeners without a clear, ‘Ah! God has spoken to me today through his Word and his messenger and has drawn me closer to his love and empowered me on my path,’ then 1 Cor 13:1 and 14:8-9,16-17 come to mind.”4 No matter your style, you’ve got to have a point!

So how do you find the point? I know this isn’t easy. We’re sinful, flawed preachers attempting to communicate perfect truths. God help us! He does! Start with a prayer. “Dear Holy Spirit, as I study your Word, lead me to see the truth that you want me and your people to hear this week.”

Then, commit yourself to finding your central truth in the text itself. Far too often, I’ve been guilty of deciding what my theme is before actually studying the text. What audacity! I see the assigned text. Ideas flow. This… That… It’s going to be a great sermon! Then I actually study the text. I almost always realize my initial thoughts were not what the text is about. You too? What should we do? Throw away our thoughts and preach God’s central truth from the text!

But what’s that truth? On the one hand, it’s reassuring to know that each text of God’s Word contains many applications for God’s people. As I search for the main point, I sometimes put far too much pressure on myself. “I’ve got to find just the right thing to preach. I’ve got to phrase it in just the right way. I… I… I…” Relax. Finding a main point in a text from the Bible is not like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s like finding a Super Bowl trophy at Lambeau Field. They are all over the place! In a mine full of jewels, you get to ask, “Which gem is best for my people?”

On the other hand, we guard against making a text say what we want it to say. As you study, ask what question the text is addressing and what answer God is giving. Often, Jesus’ teachings—like the writings of the prophets and apostles—were in response to very specific situations. There was a very specific point. Sometimes that main point is salvation by faith in Jesus. Sometimes it’s God’s truth about marriage, money, or Christian living. While every sermon will contain law and gospel, justification won’t be the main point of every sermon, because not every text focuses on justification. As you constantly point people to the big picture truth of salvation in Jesus, let the main point of the sermon be the main point of the text.

Do you still do text studies in the original languages? Use your Greek and Hebrew skills. Distinguish between main clauses and subordinate clauses, indicative verbs and supporting participles. Greek and Hebrew grammar often highlights the main point in ways that aren’t reflected in English translations. Let the Spirit-given languages guide you to the central truth.

This is why sermon prep is so important. When I feel rushed in my sermon preparation, it’s tempting to begin writing before I know where I’m going. That leads to a stressful writing process and a meandering sermon that loses my hearers along the way. God’s truths don’t come intuitively to us. They are gifts of God’s Spirit through the Word. We often miss a lot on our first glance at a text. It takes time to understand God’s truth and what it means for us.

Once you decide on the point of your text, express it in two different ways. First, write a one-sentence proposition statement that captures your central truth. Then think of a short, memorable theme that can help your hearers remember God’s message. Here’s a simple example:

Luke 1:46-55
Proposition Statement: While I foolishly magnify myself and other people, Mary found joy in magnifying the great things her God had done for her.
Theme: “My Soul Magnifies the Lord”

I know this all takes time, but it’s worth it! Haddon Robinson remarked, “Someone suffers every time you preach. Either you suffer in preparing it or the listener suffers in hearing it.”5

This is something I appreciated about the chance to do children’s devotions in my previous congregation. You talk about honing in on the point! There were Sundays when I lamented, “It’s too hard to condense my sermon into something kids can understand.” Huh. That’s a problem, isn’t it? It was good to learn to share my sermon in a concise way with little kids.

When you’ve arrived at your central truth from God’s Word, here’s my last bit of advice: Use it! I’ve seen sermon themes listed in the bulletin but never actually mentioned in the sermon itself. If the Spirit has convinced you of the central truth of your text, say it. Repeat it. Preach that truth into your people’s hearts. A member recently had an interesting request. He said, “When you have a sermon theme, could you repeat it more than once during the sermon? Sometimes I miss it.” This is what John does over and over again, isn’t it? He comes back to the same themes. In easy Greek. So we can remember them. The Word. I am…. I guess Jesus preached like that!

I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for every preacher who has pointedly preached God’s Word into my heart. One spring at the Seminary, Professor Brug preached a sermon on Annunciation Day. I could still tell it all back to you, after just hearing it one time. The theme was, “When did the devil know it was over?” The devil knew it was over when the Son of God became the Son of Man inside Mary’s womb. That was the dagger for the devil! That’s when he knew it was over. I walked into chapel that day wondering why we were having a special service for Annunciation Day. What’s the point? I walked out rejoicing in our victory through our God made flesh.

One Ash Wednesday at the Seminary, Professor Cherney preached about David’s sin with Bathsheba. He looked us in the eye and said, “You are the man! Let’s be honest, the reason you and I haven’t committed adultery like David did was because nobody’s wanted to commit adultery with us.” That cut. Then he healed us with God’s grace. Nobody walked out saying, “What’s the point?” I walked into that service focused on classes and deadlines. I walked out convicted and restored by God’s grace. I was blessed. Because God’s Word has a point.

Written by Nathan Nass

Nathan Nass serves as pastor at St. Paul / San Pablo Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.


1 LW 54:428.
2 LW 54:160.
3 Johnston, Graham. Preaching to a Postmodern World: A Guide to Reaching Twenty-first-Century Listeners. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001, p. 172.
4 Pastor James Huebner posted this comment in an online class, “Preaching in a Postmodern World.”
5 Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 172.

 

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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 4

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 4: Hearing Assistance

Welcome back once again! Let’s review where we have been thus far:

  • Room acoustics and the sound system are forever intertwined in what we call the electro-acoustic system.
  • The room’s acoustics must be held in check—no excessive reverberation, no slap or flutter echo—in order for the room to sound right for speech or for acoustic music.
  • The sound system must be designed and implemented properly in order to have a chance at working well to communicate speech and, when needed, to properly support music.
  • Microphones and loudspeakers must be carefully selected and applied properly in order to pick up the voice properly and to “spread the word” so to speak, evenly, clearly, and naturally to every worshiper.

Okay. Let’s assume that we have done all of the above. Most people report that they can hear very clearly at worship. However, there are a few people who report that although the sound is much better now than in the past, they still have trouble hearing. For them, both volume and clarity are lacking.

Uh-oh! What did we miss? We have gotten everything right up to this point, but one important system design element needs to be accounted for. You see, Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie can hear just fine now. They are very happy. The friends they sit next to at worship, on the other hand, are not so happy … yet.

Rose and Harry are getting up in years, and for both of them hearing is more difficult than it used to be. Rose has hearing aids. Harry will be getting them soon. They have also heard that some folks younger than they need help as well. They are not complaining about the new sound system; they just realize that they need some more help than others to hear well. For them, the ambient noise in the reverberant space is too much. The sound from the loudspeakers seems distant. Again, not the fault of the speaker system. These folks just need some more help bringing the sound directly into their ears.

How do we provide assistance for these people—young and not so young—so that they, too, can hear clearly at worship? The answer is to provide a hearing assistance system for them.

There are two prominent methods of delivering the needed assistance: the FM-based system and the inductive loop system. Many pastors and others already know the FM-based method well and have it in their churches. The loop system is becoming well-known and popular. Let’s take a look at both and see how they fit into sound system designs.

But first, a hearing assistance “gotcha.” Folks complain that they cannot hear well at worship. The pastor and church leadership approve the purchase of an FM-based hearing assistance system. It works well. A number of folks who use the system are quite satisfied with the improvement. But other people still complain that they cannot hear well. Turns out, the problem is with the sound system itself. The church leadership fell into the trap of buying the hearing assistance system as a cheap “band-aid” which in reality did not solve the root problem: a bad overall sound system.

Implementation of a good sound system meant that some with mild hearing loss no longer needed special assistance.

I have been in several situations where implementation of a good sound system meant that some with mild hearing loss no longer needed special assistance. Here’s an anecdote to illustrate the point.

The first installation that I was involved with was 35 years ago: St. Paul’s in New Ulm, MN. Our company was under contract to install a new sound system at the church. It was for its day (1986) a very good system (though admittedly not visually attractive by today’s standards)—a central horn cluster designed to cover the space evenly, which it did well. An elderly gentleman in the congregation donated the funds for the addition of an FM-based hearing assistance system. He said that he and others needed the help.

We completed the installation enough to where we could debut it—including the hearing assistance—for Thursday evening worship. The donor gentleman came to worship and was met at the door with a hearing assistance receiver. After worship, he returned the receiver and said, “I don’t need the help. This is the first time in 30 years I’ve been able to hear the sermon.”

The moral of the story: Make sure that your sound system is up to par first, and then implement the hearing assistance system for those that really need it!

Who really needs the help? As stated above, Harry, Rose, and some younger folks are experiencing hearing issues at worship. Younger folks? Really? Are they just not paying attention?

I’ve attended a number of seminars dealing with hearing loss, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and sound system design. Presenters throw around statistics without referencing anything. But a quick Google search leads to the World Health Organization Web site with a wealth of up-to-date information. A few highlights and another anecdote:

  • Specific to the United States, over 36 million people (more than 17% of the population) experience measurable hearing loss, or the inability to hear sounds of 25 dB or less in the speech range (referenced to 0 dB as the threshold of human hearing and 70 dB as normal speech from about two feet from the talker). The numbers balloon when expanding to a worldwide view. This compares to about 1.4% of the U.S. population with physical disabilities and 0.14% with visual disabilities.
  • Hearing loss results from a number of causes: genetics, infectious disease, use of drugs, chronic ear infections, exposure to excessive noise, and aging.
  • Hearing loss affects not just older people. Worldwide, 1.1 billion young people age 12-35 either suffer from or are at risk of measurable to debilitating hearing loss due to noise exposure in recreational settings (concerts and listening devices with earphones top the list of causes).
  • It is reported that 60% of hearing loss in children is preventable.
  • Over the past 30 years I have had to bring bad news to more than a few teenagers who were willing to help run sound at church or at the high school. I could not allow them to operate the mixing console. The simple reason: those kids could not hear feedback above 2000 Hz. The admitted cause: hours of listening to their devices with earphones. 30 years ago it was the Walkman cassette player; today it’s the smartphone or iPod). The constant pressure on the ear’s mechanics had severely impacted their ability to hear high sounds such as consonants, ‘s’ sounds, and even feedback in a sound system.

Hearing loss issues are real, and they are not exclusive to older people.

So yes, hearing loss issues are real, and they are not exclusive to older people. It is critical that we a) get the sound system right, and b) add hearing assistance for those who need it, because they do need it. And the number who need it grows by the day.

How does the hearing assistance system work? In simple schematic form, we route a feed directly from the mixer or signal processor to the “driver” of the assistance system (see below).

Diagram of a hearing assistance system

That direct connection is critical to the success of any hearing assistance system. Let’s now get into the FM-based and the loop type systems. How do they work? Is one “better” than the other?

First, the FM-based system. “FM-based” means exactly what it says. The system “driver” is a transmitter that operates on a single FM radio frequency. It’s a single-channel radio station. The sound signal is transmitted through the air to a pocket-sized receiver used by the worshiper. There are several types of antennas to attach to the transmitter based on the size of the space to be transmitted into. On the receiver end, the user can choose from several types of earphones based on preference and health concerns—ear buds, headphones, etc.

The advantages with the FM system are ease of setup, potential broadcast range, relative convenience, and cost-effectiveness. In terms of setup, the FM system is basically plug-and-play. You turn up volume and position the antenna properly. Depending on the physical structure of the building and the presence of interference-causing electrical devices, the FM system may not be limited to just the church proper. Going back to the church in New Ulm, the pastor’s mother was in town for Christmas but was limited in terms of mobility. The FM system “reached” across the street to the parsonage so she could hear the Christmas service. That scenario is not typical, but radio is radio. The FM system is generally very cost-effective, ranging from $1,800-$2,500, including professional installation.

The downsides to the FM system are interference and inherent misuse by the user. First, the FM system is a very small, limited-range radio station and radio receiver system. As such it is subject to all of the things that annoy us when listening to the car radio. If the “air” is not “clean,” interference may be problematic. Reflections of radio waves off metal support structure can cause distortion and dropouts. And since this is simple radio, the FM system at your church may at inconvenient times receive from a similar FM system at the church down the street, and vice versa.

Second, many FM assistance users with hearing aids actually misuse the system. The proper use is to remove the hearing aid and “plug” the ear bud or earphone into the bad ear. Many folks, however, plug the earphone into the good ear and then turn it up. Since the hearing aid has a microphone built into it, the sound from the earphone creates a feedback loop with the hearing aid which is often audible throughout the church nave. There are “loop” type necklace accessories that will plug into an FM receiver, effectively turning the FM system into a loop system for that user. However, keep in mind that the interference and other issues that arise with FM are transmitted through that necklace device.

A third downside to FM is that it transmits sound that is not colored or tonally equalized. The user has hearing aid(s) that have been tuned for that person’s ear(s) to compensate for hearing loss at specific frequencies. Without the hearing aid to “tune” the sound, the sound quality may not be adequate to significantly improve clarity for the user.

Lastly, people have become very conscious of how the earbud looks. The fear with many users is that they will stick out in the crowd because they have this earphone or earbud with its cord hanging out for all to see. That aesthetic stigma prevents many from using the FM system.

There are variations on the FM theme today in which wi-fi adjuncts to the system are utilized. Using wi-fi and Bluetooth with a smartphone, the user can receive very good sound quality without the wires. For older users who have difficulty with smartphones and wi-fi technology, this may be cumbersome. For younger users who embrace technology, this may be a cost-effective option.

Let’s move to the inductive loop system. While still fairly simple in concept, there is a bit more going on here than with the FM system. We still directly connect a sound system mixer output to a “driver.” But in this case it is not a transmitter. We are actually using wire to create an electro-magnetic field to transmit the sound signal. The photos to the right show a church re-carpeting project of which a hearing loop is system is a part. The white strips on the floor are tape covering the loop wire.

The wire is routed in either one or multiple loop circuits around the seating area. The electro-magnetic field is picked up by the telecoil in one’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. The signal is then converted back into acoustic energy by the telecoil, tuned by the micro-electronics in the hearing aid, and transmitted into the user’s ear. Hence, one advantage with the loop system: the user wears nothing extra. He or she simply switches on the telecoil in the hearing aid, making use extremely convenient and inconspicuous, while delivering sound to the ear that is “tuned” for that ear.

But…the loop system is not plug-and-play like the FM system. Because we are dealing with electro-magnetics, we must study the space. What is in the floor structure: concrete, rebar, metal ducts, electrical wire and conduit, large water or gas pipes? These metal objects in the floor will actually “compete” with the loop wire by generating their own current fields. The “competition” manifests itself in buzz and hum that is audible to someone using a hearing aid. We can measure and hear that using an app with a telecoil adapter, which enables us to see and hear any noise before laying out a loop system. The photo below shows the app screen. If the needle goes into the green range, we are good—very little or no noise/hum. When we get into the yellow and then red, then the hum would be significant and render a loop system unusable. That’s the benefit of testing before installing the loop.

A reading of background noise heard as a buzz on a hearing aid

The loop may be a simple single-loop system or it may be a figure-eight loop, or many smaller loops overlapping in what is called a “phased array” to create one field. The complexity of the loop is dictated by noise/hum in the floor, and by the presence of electronic instruments such as guitars and keyboards that might be used within close proximity of the loop. These instruments will generate significant amounts of noise/hum, which only a more complex loop will overcome.

Measuring the hearing assistance system after installation

If I or another loop designer has done the job properly, then the result will be an “invisible” system that allows the user to walk in, flip a switch on the hearing aid, and hear the service clearly with sound tuned for the user’s own ears. The “after” measurement of a completed system is shown in the photo to the right. Green on the meter is always very good!

The advantages are as stated above: invisible equipment, no wires or extra “stuff” that could create an aesthetic stigma for the user, and the ability to pick up sound tuned for their ears. By the way, pocket-sized telecoil receivers are available for those who need assistance but do not have hearing aids. Additionally, the range of the loop system is limited to the area within the loop. We will not be able to transmit to the parsonage across the street. But on the other hand, we will not be susceptible to interference from the church down the block.

The downsides to the loop system are cost and labor. The best time to lay a loop system is during a construction or a renovation project. Otherwise, cutting of existing floor tile or carpet is necessary. (Some loop installers have installed systems to floors with tape, but this is unsightly to say the least.) Necessary testing and the loop layout/design must be carried out by a professional. The installation requires trained technicians. In some areas, certified audiologists may wish to certify the installation. This all comes at a cost. A well-designed and installed loop system will cost $7,000-$20,000, depending on room size and the required loop complexity.

My job here is not to pick a best option for you. I am simply laying out the two most prominent options for your consideration. For performance and aesthetic reasons, I believe that the loop system holds the advantage over the FM system. But the loop may not work in some churches. (We just completed a major sound renovation at the Basilica at the University of Notre Dame; the loop system was not an option due to the floor structure.) The congregation must ultimately decide which is best for its purposes.

For performance and aesthetic reasons, the loop system holds the advantage over the FM system.

My strong opinion, however, is that to not provide hearing assistance is not an option for churches. While technically the ADA does not apply to churches for this purpose as they are still considered private spaces, the real issue of hearing impairment is here to stay. And it is growing. It is our duty to enable Harry, Rose, and all those who need help to hear the Word clearly, just as we provide good sound systems with good loudspeakers for Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie.

I have seen “happy tears” in the eyes of people who finally can again hear the liturgies and sermons that were becoming more and more unintelligible. I look forward to seeing many more of those kinds of tears!

 

 

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A journalist converts

We were providing relief to landslide victims in one of the most remote areas of this country. A journalist came to report on the relief effort. He stayed with our contact in a small hut for four days. They slept in the same room and ate meals together. They had many opportunities to talk about Christianity.

Then news came that our contact’s three-year old daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was torn over what to do. Should he go back to be with his wife and comfort her? Or should he stay to help with the relief effort the next day and tell tomorrow’s gathering of 350 people about Jesus? I advised him to go back and be with his wife, though the journey to his home required 2-3 days of travel and he would miss the funeral. He appreciated my advice, but he decided to stay.

People were surprised when they saw him the next day. One man told him to his face, “You are a bad father.” The question on everyone’s mind was: “Why are you here?” “Because of Christ,” he said. “I know where my daughter is. She is in heaven. And I want you to have the comfort I have when you or your loved one dies.” He then told them the gospel—how Christ died and rose again to forgive our sins and to give us an eternal home in heaven. The people listened with unusual attentiveness. Two days later he shared the same message with a group of 300 people who had gathered for another relief effort.

He and his wife grieved deeply over the sudden death of their daughter—a grief only other parents who have lost children know. But he says, “The greatest peace I have known in the year after my daughter’s death is when I told the people at the two relief projects about Jesus.” For 8 months he had trouble sleeping through the night, always getting up to check on his daughter, as he did when she was alive. But they have great comfort in their loss and God is slowly bringing peace to their hearts.

The reporter was surprised when our contact stayed with the crowds of people and did not return home for nearly a week. As they rode in the car together, he asked him why he did not go back. Again he shared the gospel. Then the reporter told him about his sister who was sick. They prayed for her. By the grace of God and according to his will, his sister is now feeling better.

The reporter still goes with our contact to various relief projects. At Christmastime the reporter called and said, “I am a Christian! I don’t want to do any idol-worshipping.” So now he is a believer. Our contact warned him about the many who call themselves Christians in this country and teach doctrines contrary to the Bible. He joined our fellowship and last Saturday he began a house church in his home. He invited his relatives. He told them, “I am a Christian.”

Written by the WELS Friendly Counselor to South Asia

 

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Kingdom work

Saying goodbye is a part of our ministry. Our congregation ministers to members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and saying goodbye is a part of military life. I’ve had to do it 59 times over the past six years. 59 individuals have come to Redemption and have departed. Families come, stay for two to four years, and then they go to their next duty station. They come to be fed with the Word, and in the process I learn to love them, to rejoice with them, and to carry hardships along side them. Though saying goodbye is a part of this ministry, it hasn’t become any easier in the past six years. It still hurts every time.

As much as it hurts to say goodbye, I have to also remember that the transient nature of military life has also granted me some of the sweetest moments in my ministry. It was a military family who came to us while we were still worshiping in a conference center. They had been looking for a church online and came across our website and watched two separate videos on David and Ruth. They liked what they heard, so they came.

In spite of the fluorescent lighting inside and in spite of the portable worship space, in spite of the odd location of the conference center and in spite of the family passing multiple churches on their way, the gospel did its work on them and they kept coming. One Sunday I baptized four of their children. Another Sunday we celebrated two adult confirmations.

These are the moments when I have to remember that ministry is not about me. It is not about what I feel, rather it is about the work of the kingdom. Our congregation has to keep the work of the greater kingdom in view. While families are here we work to equip them for service as best as we can with the gospel of salvation. We strive to make our congregation a nexus for equipping individuals for wherever military life may take them.

The military family who came when we were worshiping in the conference center doesn’t live here anymore. They are over 1,500 miles away doing the work of the kingdom. In their new congregation, the husband stepped into the position of church president. He gave me a call a while back, “We want to run some outreach events,” he said, “I just wanted to pick your brain.” That’s the work of the kingdom.

When they lived here I confirmed two of their children that I had baptized. One of those young men would faithfully usher while he was here. He even spent one of his school breaks to build some book shelves for our church. This coming fall that young man will attend Martin Luther College to begin his studies for the pastoral ministry. That’s the work of the kingdom.

The work in Watertown is not about me, and it’s not even really about Redemption Lutheran Church. It’s about the kingdom of God. It’s about equipping the Saints for works of service wherever the Lord may take them. It’s about preaching the Word and planting it in the home so that families can be assured of God’s love for them wherever they find themselves. It’s about raising a new generation of missionaries who take on the work of the kingdom.

In a sense, saying goodbye is a good thing. Families come, but they leave equipped with the Word. That means that our work here is being multiplied across the country as families take the Word planted in them wherever they go.

Written by Pastor Aaron Goetzinger, Redemption Lutheran Church in Watertown, N.Y.

 

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Another church in Milwaukee

Another church in Milwaukee?!

“Really?”

That’s often the initial response that I get when I tell a WELS member that I lead a new second-site ministry in Milwaukee, Wis. Right in the middle of the “WELS bubble.” One mile away from a well-established, large, thriving congregation that has been around for 170-plus years. The site of the initial conversations to start the Wisconsin Synod and home of the first WELS president, Pastor Johannes Muehlhauser. This is where we started a new home mission church. I get it. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?!

It does sound crazy until you realize that there is a mission field right in our own backyard and the harvest is ripe!

Grace Downtown has prided itself on striving for excellence in worship and preaching. Worshipers gather in a beautiful neo-gothic style church with stunning stain-glassed windows and intricately carved wood furnishings full of Christian symbolism. There is history and tradition but also an eye on keeping worship fresh and moving the gospel forward. Many people love and appreciate this, and it is one of the reasons Grace continues to thrive. But not everyone gets it. Not everyone comes to it.

Grace leaders determined that the time was right to expand the reach of the gospel in downtown Milwaukee and try to connect with the unchurched in a new way. Let’s go to an area whose population is growing and there aren’t any churches serving them. That led us to the Historic Third Ward on the south end of downtown Milwaukee. It’s an area that has changed dramatically over the last decade, going from empty warehouses to high-end boutiques and housing. Young professionals and empty-nesters flock to this neighborhood where they can live, work, and play while walking between everything. Now they can walk to church too!

Renting a room right in the middle of the neighborhood at the Broadway Theatre Center, Grace in the Ward meets on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. for a service that looks more like a mix of worship and Bible study than the traditional liturgical service. There are definitely preaching moments, but they are mixed in with opportunities to reflect upon and discuss Bible truths with neighbors. Throw in a couple of hymns led by a small ensemble and some time in prayer and you have our service. While it looks different than what you might be familiar with, there is one thing that is strikingly the same–the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in all of its beauty.

Through these gospel efforts at Grace in the Ward, the Lord has led new people to come into contact with his grace and promises for the first time. Members of Grace are bringing their friends to come and see Jesus in a more relaxed and intimate setting. Some who got lost in the big church have found a home in a smaller gathering. Others who have wandered from church have found the new church within blocks of their homes to be a blessing to their lives. Forty-two percent of the Third Ward neighborhood isn’t involved with their faith. Through God’s blessings, that percentage will shrink as life-saving and life-changing relationships are made!

Another church in Milwaukee? That’s exactly the thing that a lost and hurting soul needs to hear. A church that gathers around the means of grace is right in their neighborhood to show them Jesus, their Savior, and his tremendous grace. That’s not crazy at all!

Written by Pastor Aaron Strong, Grace in the Ward in Milwaukee, Wis. 

 

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A flight with Jesus

A few weeks ago during family worship we read and discussed Matthew 2 and the flight to Egypt. As we began, one of the kids remembered that Annibale Carracci had painted The Flight to Egypt in 1604. She ran and located a print among our piles of books which were being sorted and packed for our imminent relocation to Thailand. Like a lot of art from this period, it looks very European (that’s all the artists knew), but still evokes so much thought and emotion by pulling you into the scene.

As we looked at the painting and read the account from Matthew, our children pointed out the range of feelings at having to leave so suddenly. Joseph looks grumpy in the picture. Maybe he’s thinking, “I can’t believe we have to move. . . again!” Mary looks sad, but she also seems concerned for her husband as she looks back at him. And Jesus, he just looks like a content baby as he clings to mom—but maybe there is a hint of distress as well. Our 8-year-old wondered if the expression on Mary’s face in the painting was disappointment at all the things they had to leave behind. After all, they left in such a hurry. Our youngest pointed out, “Babies are too little to be sad about moving.” But then he added that Jesus could be sad if he had to leave his Transformers behind. The older kids were more aware of the reason they had to leave. . . a bad leader didn’t like Jesus, and he didn’t want anyone to take away his power.

But the Lord provided a way to keep the holy family (and the Magi) safe. All the kids pointed out that even though there were a lot of difficult, surprising, and stressful things happening, everything was okay because God was with them. No one missed the divine irony that God was literally with them as Mary carried him in her arms (or in an ancient baby stroller as one child imagined). God was literally and physically with them, but at the same time watching over them from on high.

No one missed the similarities between the flight to Egypt and our flight out of one Asian country to Thailand (even if one flight was much more intense than the other). One big difference, however, is that although God is still with us, this time Jesus is the one carrying us in his arms. Of course, we still hold Christ in our own way—in worship, adoration, thanks, and praise. But how much greater is the peace in our journey knowing who holds who with an everlasting love.

Even though we don’t always know the way in which our Shepherd leads us, what a comfort it is to know that our guide and protector is Christ Jesus. And while we groan with the burdens of major transition, what a comfort too that when we pour out our feelings and concerns to Jesus, he can look back at us with understanding eyes and say, “I know what you mean. I’ve been there too. My Father got me through it though. And he and I will get you through this.”

As missionaries take flights (literally) to new countries, or perhaps wait a little longer in some in-between-land, or stay put in Herod’s land for a while longer—the Prince of Peace will be with us. Whatever transition, trial, or trauma you face, Jesus will still be Immanuel, God with us, no matter what.

Amen.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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Davante’s favorite place

For the sake of this blog, his name is Davante. He started attending Wisconsin Lutheran School last year, when he was in first grade. It was a challenge for him to be in a structured setting that has boundaries. When something wouldn’t go his way, he’d start throwing and kicking things in the classroom and cry. When Davante’s mom was told of his behavior issues, she would often explain how chaotic things were at home, and that it was difficult to control because she often worked late and left her teenage children in charge. One time when Davante and several of his siblings were having behavior issues, she explained that she was not surprised because her new boyfriend had just moved in with his three children, resulting in ten children from an assortment of parents living under one roof. Another time when Davante was acting up in class, his mother explained that his father had recently been released from jail, showed up at the house intoxicated, caused a scene, and was dragged out by the police. Davante, after seeing the entire situation unfold, cried the whole night.

Although Davante struggles through a rough environment at home and continues to have behavioral issues, he has come to know Jesus as his Savior and wants to be baptized. He is assured on a daily basis of the love Jesus in his classes, in chapel, and when working with him on his behavior, as I remind him we love him and Jesus loves him most of all.

One day his class was asked, “If you could go to one place, where would you like to go?” Davante responded by asking, “What is that place that has all of the song books and Bibles?”

“You mean church?” his teacher replied.

“Yeah. I want to go there.”

I have a lot of pictures that he has drawn and given to me. I’m not sure if he gives them to me because he feels bad after his behavioral episodes, because he sees me as a positive male role model in his life, or simply out of his love for Jesus.

Ernest with his daughters Arianna and Mariyah at their baptism

Although Davante has come to know Jesus and grow in his faith in his brief time in our school, his mom has been resistant to invitations to church and opportunities for discussions about Jesus. As I talk to her, it is very obvious that she knows that she needs Jesus. She is very frustrated with how things are going with her life. Yet she resists the call to the hope we have in Jesus. She knows she’s made poor choices in her life and is burdened by the consequences that have resulted from past decisions. Yet she continues to resist the invitations to forgiveness and the peace we have in Jesus and to walk in the light of Christ. We continue to press on, looking for opportunities to share the love of our Savior and pray that the Holy Spirit breaks through her hard heart and bring her into his family. This past week she gave birth to another child. This is her eighth that I know of, from at least five different fathers. She is overwhelmed, needs help, and is very prideful. We will continue to share God’s Word with patient persistence.

While there are many stories in our school of parents who are resisting the work of the Holy Spirit, there are also success stories. A great example is Ernest. Two weeks ago, he was baptized along with his daughters Arianna and Mariyah. Not only was it really cool to see a grown man become born again along with his two little girls, but to see that they really understood what it meant as they purposely came to church dressed completely in white, just like being robed in the righteousness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Please continue to pray for our outreach efforts here at Wisconsin Lutheran School!

Written by Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis. 

 

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The Confessional Lutheran Institute

We rightly expect that our pastors are well-prepared servants of God, because we are entrusting our eternal souls to their care. Accordingly, we have the highest expectations for our worker training programs and seminaries, that graduates may present themselves for service in God’s kingdom as “workmen approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). We do not cut corners or take shortcuts or make exceptions. This is as true in Asia and Africa as it is in North America.

In 1964, the WELS mission in Lusaka founded the Lutheran Bible Institute, the first formal worker training program in Central Africa. One American missionary began training half a dozen Zambian students to serve as Evangelists. Since then, 119 men have graduated from the worker training program held jointly in Malawi and Zambia–a blessing from God!

In addition to the six African national professors and four American missionaries who teach in Central Africa, our partner synods in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Kenya are all actively involved in training pastors for service in their respective church bodies. Some of the programs are still being fine-tuned, others are operating in spite of local political conflicts. Professors from the United States make periodic short-term visits to teach in some of the programs.

WELS has also worked hard to serve our sister church bodies in Africa by helping active pastors retain vital skills and motivation for ministry. 112 national pastors are actively serving our partner church bodies in Africa. Over the years national pastors have benefited greatly from continuing education programs offered by WELS missionaries and visiting professors from the United States. The Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute has been offering pastors advanced graduate studies since 2010.

Recently, One Africa Team has brought all of these various aspects of worker training and enrichment together under one umbrella, in order to better coordinate our efforts across the continent of Africa. The Confessional Lutheran Institute (CLI) consists of three main branches: formal continuing education, professional development, and seminary consultation.

We remain committed to offering quality theological education to and with our gospel partners in Africa. We recognize that one size does not fit all, and what works in one country may not work elsewhere. We are not unaware of the devil’s schemes to turn the blessings of advanced education into a source of sinful pride. We seek to equip local African leaders and teachers as they prepare pastors. In all of this, we are committed to a lasting partnership.

CLI has partnered with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, to provide three levels of for-credit certification and degree programs: Pre-Bachelor of Divinity Certification, Bachelor of Divinity Program, and Master of Theology Program for qualified pastors throughout Africa.

CLI will coordinate the work of One Africa Team missionaries to offer informal professional development courses to groups of local pastors throughout the continent at various times throughout the year, depending on the needs and requests of pastors and church bodies. So far such courses have been offered to pastors in Malawi, but in the future we hope to bring these workshops to other countries.

The third branch of CLI will be seminary consultation. Since the Lord has blessed our sister church bodies with national instructors and boards of control, in many cases the CLI can best serve our partners by offering consultation services in the running, development, and enhancement of their programs. In Kenya, the CLI will assist our partners design a program to train eight Evangelists who will serve the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya, as well as further training for South Sudanese refugees who currently serve congregations in refugee camps. In Ethiopia, the CLI will continue to support the worker training efforts of the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia, which runs Maor Theological College through visiting instructors. Although the current political situation in West Africa does not allow WELS missionaries to make personal visits, CLI will continue to consult on curriculum, provide training for instructors, and offer materials for courses. In central Africa, CLI will periodically evaluate the need for resident American professors in local worker training programs and also offer ongoing training for local faculty members.

WELS’ role in Africa has changed significantly over the last 65 years, as God has raised up local leaders who are capable of and excited about training future workers in their church bodies. Nevertheless, our commitment to prepare men who are “approved workmen” for service in the church remains firm. It is our prayer that the CLI will serve this role for many years to come.

Written by Missionary John Roebke, Communications Director for the One Africa Team

 

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