Sharing the Precious Message in Albania

I have a feeling we’re not in Novosibirsk anymore . . .

“You have palm trees!”

It’s such a touristy thing to say, but I can’t help it. We don’t have palm trees in Novosibirsk, Russia. I’ve just landed at the airport in Tirana, Albania. (Albania lies on the Mediterranean Sea, directly east of Italy’s heel.) Seminarian Nikolla Bishka is picking me up in his Ford Focus for the thirty minute drive to his hometown of Durres.

Albanian Pastors (L to R) – Niko, Agron, and Mikel

For the next two weeks “Niko” and I will study Paul’s letter to the Galatians and talk about what it means to serve as a pastor. I’m excited for the new challenge. For the past twenty-one years I have served as a missionary in Siberia. Now I have been asked to do some traveling in order to mentor pastors and seminary students in Russia, Bulgaria, and Albania.

Niko is twenty-six years old, quiet, but friendly. He lives with his parents, Pastor Mikel and Pavlena, and his younger brother Viktor. As we drive along the country’s main highway, Niko tells me how things have changed. The old dictator is gone. Life is better . . . but wages are low and prices are high. Gasoline costs $6.25 a gallon! Students are protesting peacefully in the streets of Tirana demanding improved living conditions. Many people are leaving the country to search for work in Italy or Germany. Religion is allowed. There was a time when all religion was banned. In the 1960s, Christians were imprisoned and even executed for their faith. Now about seventy percent of the population claim to be Muslim, and the rest are nominally Christian. Most of Albanian’s three million souls live in spiritual darkness.

Downtown Durres

Niko drops me off at my hotel which he carefully chose for its low price and beautiful view overlooking the ruins of an ancient Roman theater. We agree to start our studies the next day at the congregation’s rented facilities. I’m grateful for the chance to rest! The trip from Novosibirsk to Tirana takes a full day – three flights, six time zones, and nine hours in the air.

The Durres church is a storefront located right on the city’s main road. Immediately upon entrance, neatly labeled photographs of church members greet me. Niko points out his picture. Then he points out a picture of the congregation’s first pastor, Missionary Richard Russow, with the church’s founding members (2006). The church is decorated for Advent and Christmas.

Mikel (left) and Niko (right) leading worship

With a prayer for God’s blessing, Niko and I dive into our study of Galatians. What a joy! No wonder Martin Luther called this little book his “Katherine von Bora.” Luther loved this letter for its clear comfort: God has saved us by His mercy. There is nothing, NOTHING, we need to add to Christ’s perfect work of rescuing us for life. This freedom lets us love God and people with all our hearts. The people of Albania need to hear this precious message! Something else strikes us as we read Paul’s letter: the apostle dearly loved the people he served. He writes with such emotion as he urges his people to believe God’s truth and to reject Satan’s lies.

May God give Niko and all of us that same love for God’s word and God’s people! Please pray that God would give Niko many years of gospel service. Pray that God will lead many Albanian people to freedom in Christ!

Written by: Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Missionary in Russia

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Preach The Word – A Claim on Reality

Apologetics in Preaching

A Claim on Reality

I teach freshman, a lot of freshman. As I become acquainted with the spiritual lives of these brand-new college students, it is apparent that there is often a separation between their spiritual lives and their lives of reality. These two separate realms don’t often meet. When they do meet, it is not necessary that they correspond. Students might have a truth in their spiritual lives and a truth in their day-to-day lives, and it doesn’t bother them if they do not match…as freshmen anyway.

A student might believe in guardian angels but be incredulous at the idea of demon possession. A student might believe that God has authored a life plan for him but is not the author of mathematical constants. A student might believe that she has a soul but that there is no non-physical entity at play in biology or physics.

It all depends on the historicity of the resurrection.

This should not surprise us since a very clear message has been sent to our society: Christianity is not a claim on reality. St. Peter would differ. “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pt 1:16). Christianity is a claim on reality. Peter saw with his own eyes the real Jesus performing real acts in a real place in real time. St. Paul takes the argument to a further level when he says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead the whole Christian faith is useless. It all depends on the historicity of the resurrection. If Jesus remained in the grave, Christianity loses its power and you are being duped by such preaching. Spiritual truth needs to match reality.

Here is where some of the “New Atheists” are often the most honest ones in a conversation. It is one thing to tell your children a fairytale which they know (or eventually will figure out) is only a myth. It is quite another thing to indoctrinate your children into a worldview that is based on a falsity, especially one that has been the source of exclusion, violence, and even war. Some “New Atheists” even accuse religious parents of child abuse. Their line of thought is not off the mark. We might say the same thing about a cult leader who has convinced his followers that he is Christ returned. It’s wrong, and there is no neutral ground in the matter.

So there really is no room for a demythologized Christianity which denies the resurrection of Christ. It’s not intellectually viable. Nor is this demythologized Christianity redeemable as a moral code, not considering the scandals of the church. Christianity is not benign. It is either the way to salvation or it is a lie that has led to exclusion and even worse. There is no spiritual truth and real truth, just truth. On this we and the “New Atheists” can agree. It is becoming less and less acceptable in our culture to believe in a moralistic Christianity especially without a salvific resurrection. St. Paul was right all along.

While it is true that faith is believing in what we cannot see, it is not a blind faith based on myth. My faith is only as good as the object of that faith. Yet some have left the impression that faith is separated from fact. Again, a clear message has been sent: Christianity is not a claim on reality. Some of the blame is to be laid at the feet of the academy. The 19th century brought clarity to college campuses on an issue that had been incubating since the Enlightenment: Which discipline is the Queen of the Sciences? It started with a separation between the so-called hard sciences and soft-sciences. Chemistry is a claim on reality; theology is not. Physics deals in reality; philosophy does not. The hard sciences do truth; the humanities do opinion. And if there is a disagreement between the two, the hard sciences will win (and get the funding too).

American preachers have helped to solidify a false division between fact and opinion.

Yet some of the blame belongs at the foot of the pulpit. American preachers have helped to solidify a false division between hard and soft, fact and opinion. Some have left the impression that science is out to get theology, and Christians should be wary of intellectual inquiry. Perhaps too many words have been spoken about topics better left to the psychologist (matters that are, rightly or wrongly, called “soft”), and not enough words have been spoken on Christianity’s claim on truth and the robust worldview it offers (matters based on “hard” facts). Perhaps we have unwittingly accepted the division of hard and soft, admitting our place in the latter. After all, we just do faith.

Remaining in the arena of the soft is problematic because there is no way to prove a soft truth other then, perhaps, a personal experience. And even then we are left with a faith detached from an object. The strength of that subjective faith becomes the ultimate determining factor for Christian conviction instead of the facts of Christianity. A person can believe in anything, but that doesn’t make it true. This is not to dismiss emotional and passionate reactions to God’s saving actions or grief at losing a loved one which is comforted with a promised resurrection. It is just that those emotions and passionate reactions should be grounded in the reality of Christ.

Too many freshman come to college with the mindset that their faith is mere opinion, tradition, or a psychological aid. Faith is, at best, a virtue. It can be valuable. It is good, but it is soft. Real truth, reality itself, is to be discovered in the laboratory. Religion might be useful for psychological well-being but has little, if any, purpose in the real world. But we can’t remain freshmen forever. Eventually we are confronted with this thought: Do I turn my brain off in the spiritual realm and just accept my faith as a soft truth that does not necessarily correspond with hard truth (i.e. reality), or do I simply leave behind such childish things?

She told me that I had given her permission to think.

When serving as a parish pastor I experienced a memorable moment on this topic: a young adult woman told me that I had given her permission to think. She had the impression that thinking was antithetical to her Christian faith—even that it was wrong. In humility she did not want to question what she had been taught, but this only made her doubt more. She was at an existential crossroads. Do I keep turning my brain off in this spiritual realm, or do I finally succumb to reality and reject the whole thing as myth, a useful myth maybe, but just a myth? It was a false dichotomy. She only needed to see that Christianity is a legitimate claim on reality, that it offers an intellectually satisfying worldview. She needed permission to think.

Our faith is a simple faith but not a simpleton faith. So we preachers should ask ourselves some questions: Does my preaching inspire a simpleton faith or a robust worldview emerging from the simple truths of scripture? Have any listeners been intellectually turned off by my preaching? Have I, as a preacher, concentrated on the method of preaching confident that I had the right message, but not plumbing the depths of that message? Have I conflated the simple and unchangeable message of the gospel with a simpleton message? We preachers are in an office that demands asking such humbling and penetrating questions.

Preaching becomes more robust, dismantling the idea that Christianity is an unintellectual crutch for the weak.

Preachers should be careful not to leave the impression that the Christian faith cannot compete with other worldviews. Christianity can and has. One of the tasks of the apologist is to create a level playing field on which he can make the claims of Christianity over against other claims. The apologist wants the skeptic to use the same reason and logic which he or she uses with every other fact in life. From there a presentation of Christ may be made through which the Spirit may do his saving work of faith. A satisfying Christian worldview can then be developed. In turn preaching becomes more robust, dismantling the idea that Christianity is an unintellectual crutch for the weak.

Christianity has a lot to offer. The most important thing is salvation, of course, but it does not end there. Springing from the love of God in Christ comes a worldview that deals with all the big questions in life. It is a complete worldview, the only one on the market. For far too long the secular world has lived off the borrowed capital of the Judeo-Christian worldview. While the preacher is a proclaimer of grace and not a salesman, this does not mean that he should ignore the completeness of the Christian message. This is important when dealing with the skeptic who has yet to believe that salvation is in Christ. All she sees is what Christianity offers in a broad sense. And if all she sees is a shallow ideology, she is less likely to give the gospel a hearing.

Christianity deals with all of the big questions of life. Who are we? Where are we going? What is our purpose? What is the point of suffering? What is the good life? How should we act? Not every worldview offers satisfactory answers to these questions. A materialist has no answer to suffering other than that it is something to be eradicated. Christianity has the theology of the cross. The Buddhist scrambles to find a purpose in day-to-day life other than the Eightfold Path to eliminate Dukkha (suffering or mental dysfunction). Christianity offers a divine purpose in vocation (love of neighbor as God’s coworker or mask).

Christianity has also been significant in its contributions to many endeavors: the university, hospitals, human rights, modern science, just war theory, ethics, law, education, and music. No doubt misguided Christians have fought against the good in some of these, but abuses in the name of the Christian faith do not negate the true message of Christianity. It is to our shame that atrocities have happened in the name of Christ. Yet Christianity has an answer even for that: forgiveness for even the most misguided people.

The task of the apologetically-minded preacher is to promote the robust worldview of Christianity without arrogance, all the while making sure the gospel predominates. The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany offers an opportunity on February 17, 2019. The assigned texts offer a clear distinction between the person who trusts God and the person who trusts man. In the First Reading (Jr 17:5-8), Jeremiah promises blessings to the faithful and predicts doom for the unfaithful. Psalm 1 continues this contrast between the one who walks in the counsel of the wicked and the one who does not.

Then, as usual, Jesus flips everything upside down. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (Lk 6:17-26) tell us that the poor are blessed and that the hungry will be satisfied. Those who trust in God will have all of these beautiful benefits, but they might have to wait until the Promised Land of heaven much like the faithful in Jeremiah’s day had to wait until after the exile for their Promised Land.

But Christ did rise from the dead, and this fact changes the world.

Then consider the Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 15, part of a lectio continua during the Epiphany season, year C. Here St. Paul lays out for believers a clear apologetic message: If Christ did not rise, then Christianity is a fraud. But Christ did rise from the dead, and this fact changes the world. A sermon on these readings could tackle the issue of Christianity as a claim on reality. Maybe something like this….

Paul is pretty confident in his faith, isn’t he? It is not a false confidence. The distinction between a false confidence and a confidence based in fact is hugely important for us. If we are to judge a person’s religious claims by his or her confidence, then the suicide-bomber wins out. Who is more confident than he? No, Paul is confident that Jesus rose from the dead because Jesus actually rose from the dead and Paul investigated the matter. Not only did Jesus appear to him on the road to Damascus and teach him in Arabia, but Paul also knew of eye-witness accounts of the resurrection. So Paul defended himself before Agrippa and Festus with this statement: “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Ac 26:25-26). These things were not done in a corner but out in the open for all to see. You can investigate these facts.

Armed with both the facts and the Spirit’s gift of faith, Paul is confident enough to say that everything depends on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the whole thing falls apart and Christianity is a fraud. Paul puts everything on the line. Not with a bomb strapped to his chest but armed with reasonable truth and Spirit-given faith.

So Christianity is not neutral, is it? It’s not a self-help program that is valuable whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. It’s not a moral code with a nice fable about a man who overcame great evil but indifferent to the claim that he is God Almighty. It’s not an inspiring story that encourages us but is divorced from the facts of Christ’s life. It is a claim on reality. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is a lie and we should not be Christian.

And quite frankly, a lot of other things fall apart too. Do we have the same concept of human rights without the concept that mankind is created in the image of God and loved enough to be redeemed by God? If I am just a pile of molecules like everything else, do I really have value? Do we have the same amount of scientific progress without the concept of an ordered universe that is given to us to for exploration? If the physical world is divine, as many ancients thought, should we even carry out scientific experiments since it would be playing with the divine? Do we have the same sense of morality without an absolute being? What gives anybody the right to say “This is right” or “This is wrong” if it is just my opinion versus yours? I would argue that we wouldn’t have the same world that we live in without God and the resurrection of his Son. We would have something far worse.

Of course none of that really matters unless we have internal peace and eternal hope. And we can’t have peace and hope without a resurrection from the dead. So this is the question that Christianity answers above all else: Where am I going after this life? Well, here is your peace and hope: the resurrection of Christ. And it isn’t a myth; it really happened. This gives you internal peace: You know that you stand righteous before God on account of Christ. This gives you eternal hope: No matter what happens, eternal bliss belongs to you.

But there is more. Along with this peace and hope comes a full life, a life of value, rights, exploration, purpose, and joy. It answers all the questions mentioned above. Christ really is the answer to all of life’s questions. This is the difference between the man who walks is the counsel of the wicked and the man who does not as we sang in the psalm. This is the difference between the person who trusts God and the person who trusts man as Jeremiah contrasted for us today. Trusting in man over God forces us to put a disordered world into order and answer the great questions of life by ourselves. On the other hand, trusting in God means that we have an ordered world given back to us in gospel freedom—a world full of meaning, purpose, and opportunity.

And even better, we have a God who forgives us and will resurrect us despite the fact that we have and will fail in this life. This claim is true. The apostles witnessed his resurrection and have reported it to us. Through their words the Spirit grants us faith and even confidence, a Paul-like confidence. With this we live free, free to explore, think, learn, take chances, all with internal peace and an eternal hope.

Written by Michael Berg


Books for further study:

Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target by John Lennox
How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmidt
Human Rights and Human Dignity by John Warwick Montgomery
Postmodern Times by Gene Edward Veith
The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism? by Frederic Baue
Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl
Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements by Thomas Oden
Solomon among the Postmoderns by Peter Leithart


 

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What do you do with children in worship? Historical and scientific perspectives

What do you do with children in worship?

Historical and scientific perspectives

Why? It’s a question so beautiful yet so horrifying. Parents know. It can be equal parts inquisitive and annoying. It can cause a parent joy or frustration. “Why is the sky blue? Why do cows have spots but zebras have stripes? Why does it take so long to get to grandma’s? Why did that man just make a hand gesture at your driving?” Oh, to be a child again with such an inquisitive mind!

For all the times that parents hear an equally dear and dreaded question, God forbid they ever stifle curious minds when it comes to Christ and his kingdom! Children want to know so much about Jesus. “Why was he so loving? Why did he have to die? Why did he ascend into heaven?” They want to know so much about worship, too! “Why do we say ‘Amen’ so often? Why does the pastor make the cross with his fingers? Why did he say that you’re eating his body and drinking his blood?” How precious and how special that little children are asking giant questions!

God’s design is for children to be curious and for parents to be the ideal teachers. In the previous article we noted how Scripture testifies that it is God’s will for parents to train children in “the way that they should go.” Before exploring this further, consider support from church history and science.

History on Children in Worship

Last time we considered key principles from Scripture. To summarize:

  • Worship is for all people of all ages.
  • Parents have primary responsibility for training their children in the faith.
  • Parents in Scripture taught their children to worship.
  • Parents in Scripture brought their children to public worship events—no matter how great, grand, or gruesome.
  • Children were expected to be present at worship. (Paul addressed them in his epistles.)

Children joining their parents for worship is not a fad or phase of the past. This has always been the case. We can go back to Abraham and God’s encouragement to train his children in the ways of the Lord (Genesis 18), or to Moses and his encouragement to teach children anywhere and everywhere the commands of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6 et al.). Claire R. Matthew McGinnis notes in an essay on children that expression of the Jewish faith involved much interaction with children in worship.1

McGinnis reminds us that Passover (Exodus 12:25-27), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:7-8), firstborn rituals (Exodus 13:14-16), and the promised land monument (Joshua 4:6-7, 21-24) all had intended opportunities for children to ask “What does this mean?” God had designed worship for his people in such a way that the children would ask the giant “Why?” questions! The parents would then have occasion to teach and explain how these rites and rituals of worship connected to God’s grace in the past. Alfred Edersheim similarly describes in detail how from early on children would know the sights, sounds, and songs of temple life and worship.2 This was simply what the Jewish people always did. This was their way of life with their children—going to worship with their children and then teaching and training them.

As the Christian church then emerged from the Jewish people, the first Christians carried forward the attitude of Christ who welcomed little children and the rich history of families worshiping together. Marcia Bunge notes that while descriptions of early worship practices aren’t common, the evidence is strong enough to suggest that children were present at worship.3 Many of the early fathers also discussed children in their writings and sermons, and especially the importance of teaching and training children. John Chrysostom in particular wrote much about parenting and children.4 In every era of church history children were always included in worship, and parents were thought of as the critical influence in a child’s life.

In every era of church history children were always included in worship.

Thus, as we sweep across history and observe the evil of this world’s people using and abusing children, we witness the stark contrast of God’s people who treasured their children. They treasured them so much that they brought them again and again to Jesus’ feet as they carefully taught them the faith and trained them to worship, answering so often their “Why?” questions about worship.

Contributions from Science

As Lutherans, the solid foundation of our faith is the living Word of God alone. The Scriptures alone dictate our doctrine. However, it is a blessing from God when other sources of information give us wisdom and insight into what we know from the Word. We have seen how church history gives us additional information about children in worship. Science has much to offer as well.

Lisa Miller is a New York Times bestselling author who has spent more than two decades studying the spirituality of children.5 Her discoveries are conclusive that children are spiritual. We may smile at that since we know the Scriptures have testified for millennia about the soul and conscience that all people possess. However, her studies are still fascinating and useful.

In her work, Miller continually observed the child’s keen perception for the big, grand, and divine. Consider how children “Ooh” and “Aah” at the ocean or the Grand Canyon, or how they draw incredibly profound pictures about Jesus and heaven. It’s as if children were made for awe and reverence. Surely this is part of a simple child-like faith. This is the divinely-designed science behind the “Why?” questions children often ask.

Science also provides much information for us to ponder on the topic of child development—volumes of facts and figures about the developing body and brain of children. Consider a few key pertinent points:

  • Children learn best when they follow examples (mimic, imitate, repeat after me).
  • Children learn best when there is repetition (doing something over and over again).
  • Children learn best when examples and repetition come from their own parents.
  • Children learn best when they use all their senses (sight, sound, touch, etc.).

The church has been richly blessed with a liturgy that is centuries ahead of the sciences.

Clearly, science offers support for the importance of parents taking the lead in teaching their children the faith and training them to worship. But another thought occurs: what a precious gift God has given to us in the divine service! The church has been richly blessed with a liturgy that is centuries ahead of the sciences.

In worship the entire body of Christ gathers together—young and old alike. In the service children mimic and imitate the examples of their parents. They repeat songs, psalms, confessions, creeds, and prayers over and over.6 And while doing this, all their senses are engaged:

  • Eyes that see colors of the church year, robes, movements of the congregation
  • Ears that hear music, songs, psalms, words, prayers, and sermon
  • Mouths that join in those songs, words, and prayers
  • Noses that smell candles, flowers, perhaps incense, or a familiar “churchy smell”
  • Bodies that move by sitting and standing, bowing, folding hands, kneeling

Science contributes to our topic by emphasizing the importance of parents teaching and training. Experience teaches the same. I think of my daughter who from little on has sung hymns by herself in bed, or my son at age four wandering the living room with a piece of paper because he was “memorizing his sermon.” Both of them (now 8 and 11) just a week ago recalled my father’s Easter sermon theme from last year: Christ is Risen! No Foolin!

I think of a host of children who would belt out, “Glory to God in the highest” because they sang it in chapel during the week. I think of little Audrey setting a great example for the whole congregation with every hearty “Amen!” and fervently loud rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. I think of the preschoolers who watched with silent awe as their parents received the Lord’s Supper or ashes on Ash Wednesday. I think of kindergarteners enamored with the flickering candle flames of a Compline service, first graders who pondered the import of a pitch-black sanctuary as the seventh candle was extinguished on Good Friday, and even the littlest tykes who know when to respond, “He is risen indeed!”

Children have … a great aptitude for awe and reverence.

Children have been designed by God in such a way that as they develop—cognitively, emotionally, spiritually—they have a great aptitude for awe and reverence. Children are built for the “Why?” you could say. And God has given parents the great privilege of teaching and training in order to explain the “Why?” This is true for their faith lives and their worship lives.

History Repeats Itself?

What a mess it was! Few knew anything about the Bible. Few understood or even attended worship. Most abused their Christian freedoms. And regrettably, the pastors were leading the people astray. Luther could hardly believe it was actually that bad. Luther reported to Nicholas von Amsdorf on his horrifying visit to the Saxon churches, a letter that is now part of the enchiridion to the Small Catechism. Luther wrote:

The deplorable, wretched deprivation that I recently encountered while I was a visitor has constrained and compelled me to prepare this catechism, or Christian instruction, in such a brief, plain, and simple version. Dear God, what misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows absolutely nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers. Yet supposedly they all bear the name Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments! As a result they live like simple cattle or irrational pigs and, despite the fact that the gospel has returned, have mastered the fine art of misusing all their freedom. Now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all freedom like experts.

Considering the massive influence of a messy American culture along with the abuses of freedom seeping from Evangelical churches, perhaps we could say history is repeating itself. What was Luther’s solution to the problem? Teaching! Parents needed to be taught and they in turn needed to teach their children. Hence, the Large and Small Catechisms. If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, history should repeat itself here, too: more teaching and training about worship.

The solution to any challenges is teaching and training parents.

Regarding the question of what to do with children in church, the answer from Scripture and other historical sources seems clear: the best practice is children worshiping with their parents among the full body of Christ. The solution to any challenges then is teaching and training parents and they in turn teaching and training their children. Statistics suggest that we haven’t been doing a great job with this.

In a survey of nearly 600 WELS pastors across the US and Canada, 92% reported that they do not offer formal training to parents about how to engage their children in worship. Confirming this, a survey of 200 WELS parents reported that 93% have not received any worship education.

Similarly, a survey of pastors reported that 78% of churches do not offer training to children about worship. However, it is suspected that those that do train children do so only through their Lutheran school. Why this assumption? Because a survey of parents found 95% reporting that their congregation has not offered any training to their children to help them understand or participate in worship.

It would seem as though a wise first step in our congregations would be to follow in Luther’s steps (again!) and double down on families. Surveys strongly indicate that parents and children would benefit from more teaching and training regarding worship. But when presented with some test materials that could help in this matter, more than 75% of focus group parents indicated they would like more materials to help their family engage in worship. Our congregations seem to want help, too. The survey of WELS pastors indicated that 78% of them would be highly interested in materials that help teach and train parents to teach and train their children.

An Example of a Solution

Recently, WELS Congregational Services created a booklet of daily devotions with accompanying prayers, rites, and rituals for Advent and Christmas. The intention was for the family to spend time together at dinner or bedtime to meditate on the Word, discuss some common worship practices (like the Advent wreath), and prepare for the coming of the Savior.

These materials are brilliant—precisely what is needed to help train children in worship. Consider the benefits of making use of such materials:

  • Families are growing together in the Word.
  • Children have opportunities to ask their “Why?” questions and get answers from parents.
  • Families are following scriptural directives and precedent, reflecting historical and scientific support, for parents taking the lead in teaching and training their children.
  • Families are reflecting on the Scripture readings heard in worship, subtly training children to listen carefully in church so that they can be prepared for these daily devotions.
  • Parents are training children for worship as they teach them about various aspects of worship (in this case the wreath, the tree, candles, etc.).

In my reading and research on the question of what to do with children in church—in Scripture, church history, science, survey work, and more—it is quite clear that the number one solution lies with the parents. God tells us that he wants all his people to worship him. God tells us that he has charged parents first with the responsibility of teaching and training children. Thus, if we want to make improvements on the topic of children in church, we must work hard to teach and train the parents.

Conclusion

The long history of this world is filled with darkness, evils, and atrocities, especially toward children. From Molek to medieval or modern times, from varying abuses to millions of abortions, sin has gripped the hearts of many cultures and children have sadly experienced far too much evil. But through every era the light of Christ has shined on and through his people who act distinctly different. God’s people treasure the blessings that are their children. Thus, throughout the ages Christian parents have been careful to answer the “Why?” faith questions of their children. It is the distinct privilege of parents to teach their children how and why we worship a gracious Savior God who shepherds us to a paradise much different than this world of sin.

As leaders of churches, schools, and synod, pastors would do well to follow the directives of Scripture, the support of history and science, and the saints who have gone before us. We must find more and new ways to continue the critical work of supporting parents in the teaching and training of their children. May our actions support the prayer of the hymn Gracious Savior, Gentle Shepherd:

By your holy Word instruct them;
Fill their minds with heav’nly light.
By your pow’rful grace convince them
Always to approve what’s right.
Let them feel your yoke is easy;
Let them find your burden light.

Taught to love the holy praises
Which on earth your children sing,
With their lips and hearts, sincerely,
Glad thankoff’rings may they bring,
Then with all the saints in glory
Join to praise their Lord and King.

This article has focused in a general way on a vitally important strategy: teaching and training parents so that they can do the same for their children. In the next and final article on children in worship, we will explore specific ways that congregations and parents can partner together to teach and train children to worship.

Written by Phil Huebner


1 Bunge, Marcia J., Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, eds. The Child in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.
2 Edersheim, Alfred. Sketches of Jewish Social Life. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003, p. 103-104.
3 Bunge, op. cit.
4 See especially his major work, An Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, also known by a more concise title, On Vainglory and the Raising of Children.
5 Miller, Lisa. The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving. New York: St. Martin’s, 2015, p. 10.
6 Is there a risk of encouraging thoughtless auto-pilot worship? Not when pastors, parents, worship planners, and musicians focus on the depth, richness, and variety available in Lutheran worship. Helpful content is at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-education; e.g. for pastors (Theology of the Ordinary) for congregations (Worship Service Notations) and for parents: (The ABCs of Worship and Meaningful Worship).


 

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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Faces of Faith – Simon the Translator

An exciting ray of hope continues to shine among the growing number of Lutheran congregations of South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. As the camp has extremely limited internet access, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) has provided hundreds of pounds of printed materials, from catechisms to seminary resources, to serve these vibrant congregations.

PSI training in Kakuma Refugee Camp (Simon pictured in green)

Very few of our Nuer brothers and sisters speak English. Enter student pastor Simon, early 30s in age, who speaks fluent English and was my translator for a week of Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) sponsored classes for 17 men at Kakuma last October.

The relationship one builds with a translator over a short period of time is often amazing, but none have ever compared to working beside Simon, with his passion and exuberance for the message of Christ. Simon’s method of translating included walking closely beside me and mimicking my every hand gesture. It often felt like we were in some kind of choreographed dance together. I found myself motivated to be more demonstrative in my movements, with Simon immediately responding. At the same time, Simon began punctuating the points I made in class with an exuberant “Alleluia,” which was echoed back by the students. Seeing Simon get more excited got me more excited! It was an exhilarating experience as we fed off each other in a class on the life of Christ.

Simon preaching

On the last day of classes, Simon was asked to preach at our camp-wide, combined church service. Simon however, did not restrict himself to simply preaching. Grabbing a large, goat-skin covered drum in one hand and wielding a strip of rubber truck tire tread for a drumstick in the other, Simon just wailed on that drum from the opening song. Stalking the congregation to root out the timid, Simon urged the assembly on to greater and greater heights of joyous praise. The room became an ocean of music, rhythm, drums, and movement.

Needless to say, Simon preached with the exuberance he displayed in his music and his translating. I videotaped over an hour of Simon preaching. Rarely have I seen a man preach with such intensity and passion.

Two days later our visit to Kakuma was over, and we needed to say goodbye until next year. I couldn’t wait to work again with this amazingly gifted brother.

Simon (on the right) plays his drum for worship

Less than two weeks after we left Kakuma Refugee Camp, I got the news from Pastor Peter Bur, our U.S.-based South Sudanese pastor who serves as South Sudanese ministry coordinator. Peter told me that Simon and a few others were walking home late at night after an evening church gathering and decided to take a shortcut outside of the parameters of the camp. As they walked through a deep, unlit valley, they were attacked by robbers (not of the Nuer tribe) looking for a little cash or a cell phone. Simon was shot in the chest and died a short while later.

I miss Simon more than I can put into words. Although the only word I ever understood him say when he preached was “Alleluia,” that one word said it all. We both believed in the same Savior Jesus. We both knew we were on the road to Paradise. And during those classes, we both knew there was nothing more important and exciting we could be doing than preparing men to take the message of Jesus to the ends of that camp.

Simon got to Paradise way before anyone expected. Kakuma will never be quite the same. Neither I suspect will the heavenly choir, with Simon no doubt shouting his “Alleluias” the moment he arrived. I will see you again, Simon, when we will sing and play drums together to our Savior King forever!

Written by: Rev. Terry Schultz, Consultant for Multi-Language Publications 

P.S. – To learn more about WELS Joint Missions outreach to the South Sudanese, visit wels.net/sudanese.

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Listen to WELS Daily Devotion on Alexa

The audio version of WELS Daily Devotion can now be added to Amazon Alexa’s “Flash Briefing” function. If you have an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc. you can set up a “flash briefing” that plays through a list of available items, or “skills” of your choosing. You can hear news from NPR, the local weather forecast, a daily joke, and almost anything else you can imagine. Once you have it set up you can just ask Alexa to “play my flash briefing” or “what’s in the news?”. There are other commands you can use as well. CNET put together a nice article on how to enable this feature.

As of today, you can now add WELS Daily Devotion to that lineup. Each day WELS provides a 3 to 5-minute devotion based on a Bible passage. These devotions are written by WELS pastors across the country and globe. They are then “read” by a few individuals within the WELS Congregational Services team. What a great way to put technology to work for you as you sit over your morning coffee or get ready for work. In your Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone (or https://alexa.amazon.com on your computer) go to settings, then Flash Briefing, then “add content.” You can then search for “WELS Daily Devotion.”

If you do have an Echo (perhaps there was one in your stocking) and decide to use this “skill”, be sure to leave a review in the app. This will increase the likelihood of it being found by others, who can then also hear the Good News! Look for more skills in the near future including our “Verse of the Day” and “Through The Bible” readings.

Thanksgiving Evangelism

What is thanksgiving? Why does this country celebrate Thanksgiving in November each year? Many Hmong in the Kansas City community celebrate Thanksgiving each year, but do they really understand the meaning of Thanksgiving?

The answer is no!

Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Hmong people celebrate Thanksgiving by preparing a big meal to enjoy with family members and friends like other American people do. In the non-Christian Hmong community, Thanksgiving is just a holiday for eating and drinking. They only enjoy the abundant foods and drinks on their table, but they don’t know the true meaning of Thanksgiving – the appreciation and thanks for the saving grace and blessings God provides to mankind.

Thanksgiving is one of the most effective events Grace Hmong uses to attract Hmong people in the community to hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a huge piece of our evangelism calendar. Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, Grace spends a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to host a successful event. Grace prays and hopes to bring the Hmong community to attend the event and to hear the message of God.

Grace Hmong Lutheran Church – Kansas City, Kans.

At our 2018 Thanksgiving service, the members of Grace again had the opportunity to share with our guests why we say thank you for the blessings and love we receive from God. We shared the message of why we find ourselves having a reason to celebrate. There’s never a time NOT to express our gratitude to God for what he has done for mankind! Psalm 140:13 declares, “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name.” Giving thanks is what Christians do. We were so happy to share that message with our community during the service and meal time.

I was blessed and amazed to see all of the attendees enjoying their time eating up God’s Word during the service. And again during meal time, everyone enjoyed the tasty foods Grace provided. As I looked at their smiling faces, nothing was more enjoyable than spiritual feeding with God’s word and physical feeding with well-prepared Thanksgiving food.

All of the effort, time, and money Grace Hmong put into the event was well worth it. All of our guests enjoyed the message and food. The overall turnout of the event was around 102 people, many of whom were visitors from the community and nearby neighborhood.  From this event, there were two families who were interested in joining the church. The sweetness of the gospel warms their hearts and compels them to join us and come back next time.

The congregation’s outreach efforts are focused on our evangelism program, a Facebook advertising campaign for the weekly sermon series, and events such as thanksgiving with a potluck meal to follow.

Grace’s outreach to the Hmong community is not easy, and we have been experiencing many challenges. However, God continues to remind us that the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel for the Holy Spirit to win the lost souls.

We are very excited about the gospel outreach opportunities within our community and we hope to share that excitement with the Lord’s people who are supporting that work with their prayers and with their offerings. Let’s keep on sharing the message of saving grace in Jesus!

Written by: Rev. Ger Lor, Pastor at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kans. 

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Swords and Selfies

Less than thirty years after Martin Luther’s death, in the town of Riobamba in the Spanish territory known as the viceroyalty of Peru, and at the foot of what was then considered the world’s highest mountain, a man simply known as “the Lutheran” arrived. The story goes that he was suspected of being Lutheran because he talked about being saved by Jesus without a word about the Virgin Mary or any of the saints.

Coat of Arms in Riobamba

“The Lutheran” didn’t last long in Riobamba. The townspeople’s suspicions quickly turned into hate, and then into action. With the fervor that accompanied the festival of Saint Peter, the man who represented salvation by grace alone was dragged into the town square in front of the cathedral and hacked to death with swords. When word of the action reached Philip the IV of Spain, the king he was so impressed with the enthusiastic execution carried out by the people of Riobamba that he granted them the great honor of a royal coat of arms for their town. The year was 1575.

443 years later, fellow Lutheran missionary Nathan Schulte and I walked into the town square of the same village (now in the country of Ecuador). We saw the same facade of the church in front of which “the Lutheran” had been executed (the rest of the building was destroyed in an earthquake, but the ornately carved stone facade that presided over the martyrdom in 1575 still stands today). High on the municipal building at the center of the town’s coat of arms, a Lutheran face looks out over the square with two swords pointed towards it.

And we took selfies.

But I didn’t go all the way to Ecuador for a selfie. I made the trip (I live with my family in Mexico) to take part in a little of the work there in Ecuador and join Nathan and Phil Strackbein (the other missionary who lives in Ecuador) in a full day of planning of how the precious message of salvation by grace alone would be taken to the people of Ecuador. Our missionaries have only been in Ecuador for six months, but, so far, they are being met with more open doors than swords.

Carlos Fernandez and his wife Graciela study the catechism with Missionary Johnston in Argentina

My trip last month not only took me to Ecuador, but also to Paraguay, Argentina, and southern Mexico. At those stops I met people who, as they take classes online or in-person, were sharing it with others. I spent two entire days studying with a man in northern Argentina who, at the end of my last day, showed me the lot he owns where he plans to build a church and where the pure gospel will be shared. I visited the humble home of a man in southern Mexico who filled his small living room with family and friends so that we could talk about Jesus.

As I had the privilege to move freely and study the Bible with people in Latin America, I couldn’t help but think of “the Lutheran” of Riobamba, perhaps the first Lutheran in this part of the world. How could I complain about staying in an accurately-priced $13-a-night hotel room or spending half a day in a Paraguayan bus station when I compared what I had to go through to those who have gone before? By God’s grace, 501 years after the Reformation, we have an open door for the gospel in places where once we did not. Through online classes, on-the-ground missionaries, occasional visits and, above all else, by the power of the life-changing gospel, people are telling people, disciples are making disciples who make disciples, and the name of Jesus is being shared in Latin America.

Written by: Rev. Andrew Johnston, Missionary in Latin America

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The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest

When you work with people of another culture and another language, those people handle your linguistic shortcomings in a few different ways. First, you have “the Simplifier,” who slows the conversation with you way down and only uses simple words, immediately rephrasing sentences that may be too complex. Next, you have the “the Louder.” This is the person who speaks extra slow to make sure you understand, making big gestures as sign language to help you along. And, for some reason, they think it will help if they speak louder and louder until they are nearly shouting at you . . . but in a very eager and friendly way. Finally, you have the “the Firehoser.” That’s the person who forgets almost immediately that they are speaking with someone who is just learning their language. They are so excited to speak with a foreigner who understands their language that you are soon swimming in complex vocabulary and grammar you’ve never studied, at speeds faster than a 747.

My friend YuTong is definitely a “Firehoser.” I invited him to a local restaurant to eat lunch with me. Since his father is a chef, Yutong knows a lot about food preparation. He began to explain to me in his language why many local restaurants fail to make foreign food correctly. Within seconds, he was using all sorts of jargon I didn’t understand. I smiled and nodded in agreement. I really wish I had understood what he was talking about. It sounded so interesting, and he was so excited about it.

Most of our conversations go that way: him excitedly telling me things, me straining my little brain to understand while looking up words in the dictionary as fast as I can. Thankfully, Yutong is also a “Simplifier” when he remembers to be, so he slows down and makes sure that he doesn’t lose me.

It was during one of these “Simplifier” moments that he told me about his imminent divorce. He and his wife have not been communicating. In fact, it got so bad that she became pregnant twice and had an abortion both times without even informing him of the situation. Since he wants to have children, he was devastated when he found out. Tears require little language to communicate volumes. So, when his eyes watered up in a way that is very rare for men in that culture, I knew he was hurting badly.

When I told him that I would pray for him, he asked how God could help him. What an opening for the gospel!

Whenever I have these sorts of opportunities, I am immediately reminded how my grasp of the local language falls short. How can I communicate law and gospel effectively in another, very difficult language? Even if I am a “Simplifier” in my communication and use exaggerated gestures like the “Louder,” how do I express the wonders of our God is a way that the local people will really understand? It is difficult enough for people to believe in Christ when the gospel presentation is clearly spoken. How will they believe when I am stumbling over every other word? But I am also reminded of this passage from the Scriptures:

Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I am reminded that, even when I am using my own heart language to share the gospel, my ability to argue eloquently, turn a phrase, or expound on the Greek of a certain Bible passage will never, ever bring someone to faith in Jesus aside from the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Our job is to expose them regularly to the marvelous grace of Jesus. He will take care of the rest.

Maybe you are frightened to share your faith with that neighbor or coworker—not because they have no interest, but because you are afraid of messing up the message. Hey, at least you are not trying to share in another language (At least, not usually)! But the real comfort is that the Holy Spirit puts his power and authority behind those simple, stumbling words to change hearts—forever! Praise God!

Written by: A missionary in East Asia

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Ashley’s persistent witness

Jeremy (pictured far left) with Ashley standing right behind him

This story begins with Ashley. Ashley will be the first to tell you that she did not have an easy childhood. So when she heard about Jesus for the first time, about his love for sinners like her, she was all in. She went to church, witnessed in the streets, and memorized Scripture. She would scrap and scrounge to get to church — even in the cold Detroit winters!

However, Ashley eventually lost that spark and entered what she calls her “slip and slide” period with God. She started dating, eventually had a child, and when her second was about to be born, she decided it was time to get them baptized. That’s when she came to Palabra de Vida. She got married, and by God’s grace, her husband, son, and daughter were all baptized. Then, Ashley started her mission.

Jeffry

In January of 2017, she got me access to her sister’s house where her nephew and two nieces were living. I got to teach them all about how baptism is God’s way of adopting us into his family. Jeremy (pictured above)— whose parents are both dead and who has bounced around from home to home — perked up, and asked with tears in his eyes, “So, I get to be in God’s family?” The three were baptized that month.

Then in December of 2017, Ashley and her husband Andrew’s friend, Jeffry (upon insistence from Ashley), approached me about getting baptized. After pouring over the Catechism, Jeffry couldn’t believe how good God was, and finally blurted out in excitement, “Wait, so God saves me through baptism? Wow! I gotta get baptized!” He was baptized in January of 2018.

Hollie holding her daughter Kaelie

Jeffry and Ashley both started encouraging their friend and cousin Hollie to baptize her little daughter, Kaelie. Kaelie was baptized in April of 2018.

The lesson? Don’t underestimate the power of your gospel persistence! God worked through Ashley to bring eight people into his family, with more to come! Many people have heard the gospel in worship or Bible study or their own homes because of Ashley’s witness. Just look at this group of people (pictured in the cover photo) so affected by her gospel witness — nearly half of them have come to faith through her persistent gospel witness!

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Romans 2:7

Written by: Pastor Ryan Kolander, Palabra De Vida Lutheran Church – Detroit, MI

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Every member a missionary

At Spirit of Life, our mission statement is “Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus.” It’s a statement designed to say that all of our members will reach out with Jesus to everyone. God has blessed Spirit of Life over the last few months to live that mission statement to the full.

When we hear the word “missionary,” we often think of a pastor in some far distant land. We might even think of a pastor inviting people to worship right here in the United States. But for Spirit of Life, God used a pastor AND a ladies group to bring about two amazing adult baptisms.

It was a normal office day for me. I spent my day preparing for my sermon that week as well as confirmation class. And then I heard the phone ring. On the phone was a grandmother named Pat. Pat was calling Spirit of Life hoping to find a church that might serve her grandson who has learning disabilities.

It was a large burden for Pat to carry . . . taking care of her husband who has Parkinson’s, her middle-aged daughter, and her 15-year-old grandson Kenny while she herself is in her 70’s. I agreed to meet the young man and speak to him once a week. He had never set foot in a church before, and for Pat it had been many years.

Kenny on his baptism day

Through my many conversations with Kenny, I had the opportunity to teach him about Jesus through the new stained glass windows in the church. I talked about sin and grace and saw some amazing changes in Kenny. Kenny and I talked about baptism, and I had the awesome opportunity to baptize this young man at worship.

But the blessings didn’t stop there. I would regularly talk with Pat and say, “Pat, you carry so many people, but who is going to carry Pat?” And that is where our church’s ladies group went to work.

At Spirit of Life, we have a small group called Wise Women’s Coffee group. It’s a group of about eight ladies that get together once a month for prayer and fellowship. It’s different than our Sisters in Service group. It’s a group where ladies rely on each other and talk about things they share in common. Pat attended those coffee sessions for months.

During my visits with Kenny, I discovered that Grandma Pat wasn’t baptized. Though I spoke to Pat about baptism, she was hesitant to join the church. She would worship. She would come to groups – but baptism and membership was still seemingly far off. Until I approached the leader of this small group, Judy Clifton. I asked her, “Would you talk to Pat about baptism for me?” That connection the ladies developed, by God’s grace, accomplished something that I was struggling to find.

Pat agreed to be baptized and join the church – so long as her baptism could happen during the small group coffee hour. A group of these wise women assembled the next month ready to celebrate this special day for Pat. It’s not every day that I get to baptize a 76-year-old woman. What an experience! Tears were shed along with many smiles. God worked through a very difficult situation to bring about two adult baptisms and two of Spirit of Life’s most excited new members.

Spirit of Life is a growing home mission congregation that could write a bunch of blog posts about God’s exciting work in Michigan. We do Easter for Kids. We have young professionals. We do awesome community work, all by God’s hand actively working through us. However, the most amazing things in our home mission church is when our members carry out the Great Commission all by themselves. A pastor and one of his small groups of ladies receiving this privilege together: this might not be the first thing someone thinks of when we think of  “missions.” But taking an unchurched family through the means of grace is the reason we are all here – no matter which group does it, or for what age. Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus. Now Spirit of Life has a new member of its youth group and a new wise woman that share Jesus everywhere they go.

Written by: Pastor Allen Kirschbaum, Spirit of Life Lutheran Church – Caledonia, MI

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Preach The Word – Prophecies Fulfilled in Real History

Apologetics in Preaching

Prophecies Fulfilled in Real History

To some apologetics is a dirty word. The obvious objection to apologetics is “What about faith?” This concern is not unique to sola fide Lutherans by the way. This objection is found in all denominations. Of course, we Lutherans have a specific objection to the misuse of reason because of Paul’s clear teaching on the bound will. We also are well aware of theologians who rely on reason and give unsatisfactory answers to the logical problem of the bound will, human responsibility, and undeserved grace. Is reason a whore or God’s greatest gift? Nimble theologians answer “Yes” to both without comprising grace or falling into determinism. Reason should be used in a ministerial manner but not in a magisterial manner. This we know.

When apologetics stays in the correct realm, it is not only permissible but is beneficial.

Apologetics does not have to be a dirty word nor something to be avoided. It is helpful to think of the three aspects of faith notitia, assensus, and fiducia.1 The apologist can point to the verifiable facts of the Christian faith (notitia). By the use of reason he can defend these verifiable events of the New Testament and counter the false claims on reality made by other religions and the secular world. He points to Christ (the true notitia of faith). The apologist can even convince people of this truth, an assent to the facts (assensus). But this is where the apologist’s work ends. He cannot produce fiducia, that is, trust. This is left to the Spirit. After all, even the demons believe that there is one God and shudder (Jm 2:19). Certainly Satan knows Christ (notitia) and agrees (assensus) that he is the Savior of the world (otherwise he wouldn’t work so hard to stop the church) but he does not trust Christ (fiducia). When apologetics stays in the correct realm, it is not only permissible but is beneficial.

Perhaps two more preliminary notes are in order before we move on. First, we are all apologists. In a similar way we are all philosophers. Everybody has a philosophy of life even if that philosophy is “Philosophy is stupid.” We all have a view of the world. We cannot escape it. Nor can we escape reason. Declaring “Reason is always antithetical to faith and therefore bad” is a logically reasonable thing to assert! The proposition simply lacks a true premise. We cannot escape apologetics either. It is only a matter of how we carry out our apologetic task, with thoughtfulness or sloppiness. We are constantly making the case for our claims on truth using reason, anecdotes, and empirical evidence. It is how we operate.

The truth of the matter is that Lutheran preachers frequently carry out the apologetic task. When we point out that Luke did not begin his historical narrative on the nativity of Christ with “Once upon a time” but rather “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree,” we are carrying out apologetics. When we insist that New Testament scholars treat the Gospel manuscripts with the same objectivity they do with any other document of the era, we are doing apologetics. When we state that Islam and Christianity are not the same, if for no other reason than one claims Jesus is God and the other does not and both cannot be right, we are speaking apologetically.

We are also in good company. Not only do we have Peter’s command to carry out apologetics (1 Pt 3:15-16), we also have plenty of apologetic examples in Scripture. Luke’s history. Paul in Athens. Prophecies fulfilled. Miracles performed. All these are examples of biblical apologetics. We can have the same confidence as did Paul when he said to Agrippa “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Ac 26:25-26). The events of the New Testament are verifiable facts of history. This is real. In fact, as Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God” (1 Co 15:13-15a). It is as if Paul said, “Show me the dead body and I’ll stop being a Christian!” This Christian faith is not a blind faith or a faith in faith; it is a faith based on facts.

This Christian faith is not a blind faith or a faith in faith; it is a faith based on facts.

Second, preaching with apologetics in mind has a beneficial ripple effect. First the Christian becomes firmer in the faith.2 Even if she cannot articulate why, for example, the teleological argument (fine-tuning of the universe) is a problem for the atheist, she knows that someone out there has thought about this. She knows that her pastor cares enough to have thought it through. She is not left alone in her doubts. She can find an answer. This, in turn, boosts her confidence to share her faith. It also gives her confidence in her pastor to whom she is willing to send her skeptical friend. She knows that her friend will encounter a patient and caring man willing to work through skeptical doubts instead of simply thumping his bible. Apologetics is a ministry of caring.

While Lutherans desire to uphold the doctrine of the bound will, we are also careful not to fall into fideism. By fideism we mean here a reliance on faith alone as the arbiter of truth, a faith in faith. The apostles did not speak this way. Faith always has an object and is only as good as that object. If Christ is only an idea or myth, then faith in Christ is foolish as St. Paul makes very clear in 1 Corinthians 15. However, if Christ is real, then faith is grounded in that reality. The concern of souls is paramount here. Our assertions may be true, but making a case for them might be necessary for the sake of the skeptical mind. We never describe faith as a prerequisite for forgiveness: first someone dead in sin musters up faith and then God will love him. Rather we preach the gospel and are prepared to make a case for what we believe. It is through this proclamation that the Spirit will do his work.

We are careful not to fall into fideism—faith in faith.

One of the greatest biblical treasures God has bestowed on us in this regard is prophecy, the focus of our present issue. A fulfilled prediction is a powerful thing. Who knows how many have come to faith because of prophecies fulfilled? Yet there are natural objections. Was this prophecy manipulated? Was the prediction so vague that any event could be described as fulfilling the prophecy? Was this so-called prediction actually made after the fact? Was this just by chance? These are legitimate questions Christians might ask about, for example, the Book of Mormon’s so-called prophecies. They are also legitimate questions for the skeptic to ask the Christian. We should not shy away from answering such questions under the guise of “We just believe because the Bible said so!”

A fulfilled prediction is a powerful thing…. Yet there are natural objections.

So let’s ask, in a general way, questions about the many Old Testament prophecies claimed to be fulfilled in the New. Were these manipulated? I suppose, logically, some could have been. It is possible, for example, that Jesus rode a donkey because he was aware of Zechariah (Ze 9:9-10). However, how could he manipulate his birth in Bethlehem? Who chooses where he is born?

Were these predictions so vague that any event could be described as fulfilling the prophecy? I suppose Isaiah’s prophecy that many in Israel would be calloused towards the mission of Christ could be counted as vague (Is 6:9-10). There will always be some who will go against any message, religious or not. But what about the thirty pieces of silver, the unbroken bones of Christ, his pierced side, his burial with the rich? Those are highly specific.

Was this so-called prediction actually made after the fact? This is the default position of many. We are well aware of the mental gymnastics higher critics perform to maintain their a priori bias against prophecy. A two-Isaiah theory comes to mind. Notice the near acquiescence to the fact that the predictions actually came true. Many do not bother disputing the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, died on a cross with a pierced side after being sold for thirty pieces of silver. This is not their primary concern. They attack the texts instead. They must have been written after the fact. Yet textual and archeological evidence counter this claim. Consider the Great Isaiah scroll which is believed to be written around 125 B.C. Of course, some would claim that Isaiah said nothing about Christ, but the prophetic chapters 52 and 53 have convinced many to reconsider the claims of Christianity.

Was this just by chance? Could it be that many of the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Christ are simply a result of randomness? In an age of powerful algorithms that market seemingly every known product to our personal devices with disturbing accuracy, in an age where metrics, in my opinion, are ruining the game of baseball, a mathematical argument of prophecy is a powerful one. We live by statistics. So let’s take just a handful of events in the life of Christ prophesied in the Old Testament. Eliminate the ones about his divinity for argument’s sake. We can also dispatch the ones that could have been (logically) manipulated or could be accused of having a Nostradamus-like vagueness. You can pick any you like: the flight to Egypt, gambling for his clothes, receiving wine vinegar at the cross, etc. Let’s say that we find twenty-five prophecies. Let’s place the odds of each of these happening or not happening at one in four (overly generous odds by the way). The chances of these twenty-five occurring in one person is one in a thousand trillion. Could it be by chance? “I suppose,” we might say to the skeptic, “but you don’t live your life taking chances like that.”

By the time we get to the fourth Sunday in Advent, Lutheran preachers will be in full incarnation mode. We are eager to expound on that great mystery and the great grace of God becoming man with a special pastoral emphasis on the for you. He did it all for you! By the fourth Sunday in Advent we are no longer delving into obscure themes that apply both to Jesus first and second comings. As Christmas approaches we are preaching on Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy (Mi 5:2-5). We are pondering with the Hebrew Christians that this incarnate body was prepared for perfect sacrifice unlike our imperfect gifts (Hb 10:5-10). We sing with Mary and are wowed like Elizabeth that the world’s Redeemer resides for a time in Mary’s womb (Lk 1:39-55). We agree with the psalmist that the Lord’s “salvation is near” and beg of him to show us his “unfailing love” (Ps 85).3

So does apologetics have a place in Advent Four? Yes, but it needs to take a secondary seat (as always) to the proclamation of the incarnation for us. This is a special time. Yet we are always mindful of the skeptic and the doubter. A small portion of a sermon could easily touch on the fact that these Christmas events are fulfilled prophecies legitimizing Christ and granting confidence to the listener that God’s promise to him or her will also be kept.

Perhaps something like this.

So the local news reports on a lottery winner. Nothing new here. Someone has to win. A big billion dollar jackpot, that’s a bit rarer. “Good for him,” you might think as you turn off the light and go to sleep to dream about what you might do with all that cash. A year later the news reports that the same person won again. Another billion. Now that’s newsworthy. “Must be nice,” you think as you turn off the light and go to sleep to dream jealous dreams of this unbelievable lucky person. “Why does he keep playing the lottery after he already won a billion dollars, anyway?” A year later: same guy, same result. Now the news story is about a fraud investigation because there is no way anybody is that lucky.

We live by odds. We really do. Something’s fishy about this three-time jackpot winner. It just can’t be. We use the same reasoning in everyday life. When you start your car in the morning to go to work, you are not afraid that it will blow up. Otherwise you wouldn’t turn the ignition. I mean what are the odds, right? What are the odds when you drive over a bridge that it will collapse? What are the odds when you walk in a field that a sink hole will open up as your left foot hits the ground? We live by probability. It could happen. But what are the odds? And if we really insisted on absolute certainty about everything we would never get out of bed in the morning, too afraid to venture out into a world full of bad possibilities.

Well, what are the odds that one man, in one time, in one place fulfilled hundreds of predictions prophesied hundreds of years before? And not just vague prophecies but specific ones: born in Bethlehem, born of a virgin, sold for thirty pieces of silver, buried among the rich, rose three days later, and ascended into heaven, just to mention a few? The odds are astronomical, certainly far greater than a three-time lottery winner.

I suppose someone could still remain skeptical. But honesty must conclude that fulfilled prophecies are solid evidence. So ask yourself the question, “What are the odds of that?” Better yet, ask yourself this, “If I use the same reason and logic I do in everyday life about thousands of things, why would I doubt the prophecies fulfilled in Christ?”

Honesty must conclude that fulfilled prophecies are solid evidence.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is not how faith works, as if it were only a statistical formula. No, faith is a pure gift of God. But if I doubt these claims by use of my reason, should not my doubts also be under the same rule of logic? So, let’s ask ourselves the question, “What are the odds of that?” The words we heard today do both. They both prove the case, and they work to give and strengthen faith. They show us the actual prophecy. We then see the beginning of fulfillment as pregnant Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth. We will, of course, celebrate its fulfillment come Christmas. Then these words of Scripture serve as the means by which the Spirit grants and strengthens faith. It is finally through the Spirit’s work that we are certain.

This is all for you.

The ultimate purpose of both the fulfillment of prophecy and the giving of faith is you. This is all for you. This is not simply a newsworthy event like the three-time lottery winner. “Wow, that Christ is a unique character,” we would say as we shut off the light and go to sleep. No, this was done with a purpose beyond a good story or even beyond showing off God’s power and glory. This was accomplished for you. Micah promises a Savior from Bethlehem so that he can shepherd his flock and they will “live securely” (Mi 5:4). Elizabeth asks, “But why I am so favored” (Lk 1:43) for this upcoming Christmas event was for her too. The writer to the Hebrews points out that this is the body meant for sacrifice, to pay for the sins of the world, yours included (Hb 10:10). Salvation is near you, as we sang in the psalm (Ps 85:9). How near? He became one of us. And he comes to us again in Word and meal to strengthen our faith in him until he fulfills another prophecy, his return.

And why doubt his return? Why doubt any promise he has made to you? He hasn’t let us down yet. He hasn’t missed a prophecy yet. Of course, he will come back for you and me and take us to heaven. Would a God who has been so faithful to us and done so much work for our salvation—becoming man, suffering, dying, rising, and ascending—then, all of a sudden, not bring his gracious work to heavenly conclusion for us? I mean…what are the odds of that?

Written by Michael Berg


1 I use these three terms in a broad sense and not necessarily in the sense that notitia and assensus are parts of saving faith. For a short but more nuanced discussion see Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 2, pp. 426-430.
2 This is fides quae, not fides qua.
3 The readings are for Advent 4-C in Christian Worship.


Books for further study:

Tractatus Logico-Theologicus by John Warwick Montgomery
Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh & Sean McDowell
Evidence for God: 50 Arguments from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science ed by William Dembski & Michael Licona
Isaiah 52 Explained by Mitch Glaser
The New Testament Documents by FF Bruce
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimonies by Richard Bauckham (2nd ed, 2017)
Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis


 

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What do you do with children in worship? Biblical perspectives

What do you do with children in worship?

Biblical perspectives

“If that happens, I’m leaving.” If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, this threat has launched a thousand conversations.

It happened so fast that I hardly knew how to react. One older council member was frustrated by the noise and activity of children during worship. He strongly suggested, “I think every child should be out of the sanctuary in a separate children’s service or Sunday school program.” With that Satan didn’t just put a foot in the door—he slammed it down and burst in SWAT-style. Sure enough, a younger parent councilman launched a return mortar: “If that happens, I’m leaving the church.”

And so our conundrum began. Satan found opportunity to push us toward obsession over the topic of children in church to the extent of some leaving the flock and other sheep wandering with wounds from the crossfire. Older members were angry, younger parents were hurt, and I was left in the middle trying to figure out, “What do you do with children in worship? What’s the best solution?”

Adults have been influenced by culture to segregate children to “age-appropriate” experiences.

Previous articles1 have painted a picture of America today, a Pollack-ian abstraction that is hard to make sense of. Confusing problems are evident at the intersection of children, parents, and worship. Generational corrosion, the decline of the nuclear home, the struggle of parents to discipline their children, the post-Christian environment, and more contribute to the problems. Adults have been influenced by culture to segregate children to “age-appropriate” experiences as parents learn to have “others” care for their children. All these cultural complexities create vastly mixed experiences for many families in the pews on Sunday.

Following these philosophical meanderings, we considered how pragmatic Americans often look for solutions to problems. So too with this one. The second article reviewed current strategies and then shared a concluding thought from Paul’s wise words: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” We may have Christian freedom to make such choices. We may feel that these various solutions are ways to serve families better. But…what if some of these choices aren’t actually beneficial or constructive? What if some of these choices are actually detrimental or destructive, and we don’t realize it? What if some of these choices are contradictory to Scripture and to the history of the Church and even to recent insights into “best practice” nurturing of children in worship?

Back to the question: What do you do with children in church? This article, starting with Scripture, moves toward a clear and concrete answer.

Scripture on Children and Parents

As we trace through Scripture, we see throughout history that children were considered to be blessings. From God’s first command to be fruitful and multiply, the careful naming of children, to Psalms 127 and 139, to the women who lamented not being able to conceive—we clearly observe that children are blessed gifts from God.

However, with these little sinner-saints running around the house, parents have quite the job to do! And surely, God has charged them to embrace this high calling. Proverbs is replete with memorable quotes about parents disciplining children and children obeying parents. Perhaps the most famous parenting proverb is 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The greatest responsibility of parents is to bring their children up in the ways of the Lord. Much of Scripture echoes this. We consider Moses’ parting words at the doorstep of the Promised Land, encouraging the people to teach the commands of God to their children and talk about them at home and on the road and at all times of the day. And Joshua’s charge to follow his example: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Similarly, Psalm 78 poetically proclaims the importance of telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Then there’s Jesus. It is not at all surprising that the compassionate Good Shepherd took time for even the littlest of lambs. We see Jesus bring a child to the center of the discussion as a living object lesson about greatness in the kingdom. We see Jesus welcome children joyfully as he indignantly rebukes his ignorant disciples. “Let the little children come to me!” he says, supporting parents who bring their children to him at any and every time. And who can forget Jesus’ sharp words about training children in the way they should go? So serious is the task of caring for the souls of children that a millstone around the neck in the middle of the sea is better than doing spiritual damage to a child.

This duty of disciplining and discipling children first and foremost is the responsibility of parents, and not someone else.

In summary then, Scripture is clear: a family consisting of two parents2 with children is a foundational design of God for humanity. Those children are precious blessings—rich rewards from the God of grace. However, the vocation of parent is one to be taken seriously. There are many scriptural charges to all adults to help in raising children, especially in telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of our Savior God. Yet particularly clear is that this duty of disciplining and discipling children first and foremost is the responsibility of parents, and not someone else—contrary to current American practices.

Scripture on Children and Worship

Now that we have taken a flyover on children and parenting, we can circle the runway to land on Scripture’s guidance about children in worship.

No specific Bible story explicitly answers our main question about children in church. Unfortunately, we cannot open to Acts 29 (which doesn’t exist!) and find that as the early church was established, great discipline prevailed among Christian families who controlled their children and kept them silent for an hour of public worship.3 We don’t have a transcription of Epaphras’ dynamic children’s sermon. Nor do we hear that Paul warns the foolish Galatians to send their crazy kids to Sunday school during worship so they can listen better to the gospel they were so quick to abandon.

We don’t hear these things. But we can learn much from what Scripture tells us. The more we ponder the topic of children and worship, the more we find insights in God’s Word. The Lord inspired a lot for us to think about regarding children.

Start in the beginning with Cain and Abel. They were born in the image of their newly-sinning parents, separated from God and dead in sin. So how would they know about giving offerings to God? How did they know offerings would give him glory? How did they know what was a pleasing and acceptable (Abel) and what was not (Cain)? Since they were born sinners separated from God, they must have been taught by Adam and Eve how to worship in this way! So also today: parents teach and model worship for their children.

So also today: children internalize worship from years of sitting with their parents.

Jump ahead to Abraham and his terrifying test of faith. As they walked up Mt. Moriah, Isaac noted that he was carrying wood while his father carried the fire and knife. But where was the lamb for the burnt offering? Similar questions could be asked. Isaac didn’t ask Abraham why they were carrying wood, knife, and fire. Isaac knew what they were going to do. How did he know the elements of sacrifice? How did he know a lamb was needed? How did he attain such a thorough knowledge of what was necessary for proper worship? Just as with Cain and Abel, this sinful boy was taught about worship. Theoretical instruction about sacrifices in a Sabbath school classroom down the hall wouldn’t have cut it though. Isaac must have participated in sacrifices in the past to understand this form of worship so well. So also today: children internalize worship from years of sitting with their parents.

We can find many such stories where we would ask many such questions and likely come to many such conclusions. When God’s people would “call on the name of the Lord” and offer sacrifices in worship, children always seemed to be present as they participated and were taught by their parents.

Children always seemed to be present as they participated and were taught by their parents.

Note also the time of a more formal worship—a style that God himself commanded. Consider the dedication service for Solomon’s temple. When the ark arrived, when Solomon blessed the people, when he spoke his beautiful prayer, we hear the repeated note that those in attendance consisted of “the entire assembly of Israel.”

All Israel was at this dedication service. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to be there for such a momentous event? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to see the house of God they had desired for ages? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to see the glory of the Lord seeping out of the temple? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to see and smell 120,000 sheep slaughtered in a you’ll-never-forget-this moment pointing toward the paschal Lamb to come? So also today: children can benefit from being with adults in worship.

The Old Testament reports several similar examples. Consider the reforms of Josiah. When he rediscovered the Book of the Covenant, he read it in the presence of “the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest.” While that common phrase “least to greatest” could refer to status or importance rather than age, it is worth considering whether hearts renewed by the Word of God would want to bring their children to such a rededication. It seems most likely the people would.

“While Ezra was praying…, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him.”

Another time of reform came many years later. When God’s people returned from exile, their New Man was ultra-sensitive to God’s Law. Recognizing their sins, Ezra the priest prayed and confessed sin on behalf of all the people. We receive this specific information about the event: “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly” (10:1). It is interesting to note that children were participants in this repentant worship—something our culture might not consider “age appropriate” for children.

Would this mean that preschoolers, toddlers, and infants were left behind with servants or siblings? Was it too grand or too grave an event for the youngest children? And if so, was this always the practice among the Israelites? This confession of Ezra event would seem to suggest otherwise. So would verses from Joel. As Joel encourages the people to “rend your heart and not your garments” in repentance, he gives this command:

Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast (2:15ff).

We gain similar insights from the New Testament. We know the most famous instances of parents letting their children come to Jesus. Though we won’t equate such events with Sunday worship, we can certainly compare bringing children to the physical feet of Jesus back then to bringing children to the feet of Jesus who is present where two or three gather in his name. Clearly, parents saw the importance of having their children with Jesus.

Consider events like the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5,000, the feeding of the 4,000, or others. Would we assume that men and women would leave behind their children to listen to that great hillside homily? Of course not! It’s more obvious with the other two events as Scripture clearly tells us that children were present at the two famous feedings. Again, not corporate worship, but this point: when it came to being around Jesus, parents considered it important to have children with them.

The New Testament doesn’t describe much about public, corporate worship. We gather principles about worship from the New Testament, but we don’t see descriptions of worship as we do at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. But consider the story of Jesus in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4). Jesus unrolled the scroll, the Word of God, and proclaimed the Gospel—himself. Were children present? We don’t know for sure. It doesn’t specifically say. Yet it would be hard to imagine children not present considering how seriously and literally the Israelites took the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6.

The first Christians also teach us about children and worship. Peter sets the tone in his Pentecost sermon. He instructs that the promise of the Holy Spirit creating faith and granting forgiveness is a promise for adults and their children. Every time they gathered to worship, to confess and absolve, to baptize, they could be confident that the Holy Spirit would bless anyone of any age. Immediately after the record of this Pentecost sermon we hear in a description of everyday life in those early days that “all the believers” were devoted to the Word, to gathering, and to each other.

These men and women had hearts that burned within them. They followed daily rituals of private and public worship. They actively used the means of grace in private and in public. It would be absurd to assume that children were never present. When parents went to the temple courts or gathered in their homes, surely children were present—just as surely as God added children to the number of those who were being saved.

Finally, it is fascinating to consider how Paul indicates his letters are to be read in the corporate gatherings of early Christians (e.g., Colossians 4:16). What makes this interesting is that the same letter addresses children about obeying their parents. It seems safe to deductively assume then that if A) the letters were read in worship much like Epistle readings today, and if B) Paul addresses children in his letters, then C) Paul was expecting children to be present at worship.

Concluding and Summary Thoughts

What have we gathered then from Scripture regarding parents, children, and children in worship? Parents have been given primary responsibility among all adults in the disciplining and discipling of children. Of utmost priority is training children in the ways of the Lord. Surveying Scripture, it appears that parents took up this responsibility of spiritual training in every aspect of life—both at home and in corporate worship. So we gather from Scripture that children have always been present for public worship. No matter how long the event, how gruesome (sacrifices), how big or small, children were with their parents in worship as they observed, learned, and participated.

We gain insights from biblical descriptions even when they are not prescriptions. We certainly have been given freedom in many matters by our Lord Jesus. But consider some questions. Is it a matter of freedom for children to be worshiping? Is it optimal for children to be trained to worship by someone other than their parents? Is it really the best strategy to usher down the hallway those Jesus brings to the center as examples of faith when other strategies can assist their parents to train them for worship with the entire congregation?

Some contexts will require patient instruction and training before “best practices” can be implemented.

It is understood that there are many ways to answer such questions with evangelical hearts and Christian freedom. It is understood that some contexts will require patient instruction and training before “best practices” can be implemented. However, it seems clear in Scripture that children were regularly with parents in worship. While granting freedom for a variety of practices, we can also affirm that the biblical and historical pattern of children with parents in worship is not obsolete—children, parents, and all other adults worshiping together as one body of Christ.

The next issue will focus on practical ways to carry this out. How can we help parents and their children? How can churches facilitate children’s participation and engagement in worship? We will focus on a variety of ways so that the body of Christ can work together to train children in the way they should go as we tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Written by Phil Huebner


1 Available online https://worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-practical-series/ (PDF) and https://wels.net/news-media/blogs/worship-blogs/ (blog).
2 Granting the foundational ideal, we recognize that many single parent families have faithfully raised Christian children.
3 If you missed it, see the second article for anecdotes about quiet and well-behaved children in other cultures.


 

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Pastor Ham

Pastor Tsavxwm Ham is 50 years old and serves in Son La province of Vietnam. He comes by motorcycle and bus (a 9-hour trip) to the training seminars in Hanoi. He is the chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). 

I’ve been a pastor in Kon Tong village since 2006. Before that, I served as an elder in the church from 1996 to 2003. In 2003, I began studying to be a pastor through the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC). I passed that program in 2006 and became a pastor. In 2007, I was appointed as Chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church.

My story of how I became a Christian is important to me. Before I became a Christian, I was one of the men in my village who was educated in the Hmong traditions and customs. I was also the director for Hmong funerals and a funeral musician. During that time, I felt very sad. I wanted to help the people. They would always give me a lot of meat when I would do a funeral for them. They treated me very well – and I really wanted to help them. But I had nothing to help them with. The funeral could only leave them sad and empty. At that time, I also worked as a Shaman and a fortune teller for the people. In my heart, I knew that all of this was wrong and a lie, and I couldn’t keep on deceiving my people by acting as a fortune teller and a Shaman.

All of this time, instead of helping the poor families, I took money from them as the Shaman. I felt very bad about that. I thought about how I could change my life and do something to help the community. Around that same time, I heard a pastor preaching through a radio broadcast. A village near me had already become Christian, so I contacted the leaders from that village to get materials from them. Through the radio broadcast and the Christian materials, I also became a Christian and left my former life behind.

One year after I became a Christian, in 1997, I was arrested and tortured by the local government. The persecution of Christians was heavy at that time. Since I was appointed as the Chief of my village, I had some authority to be able to defend my faith and the new faith of my village against the persecution. But the attack against our faith was very harsh. In 1998, I was recommended by the local government to receive special training – ‘re-educating’ me because of my faith. The goal of this training was that I would renounce my Christian faith. But at the beginning of the training, they talked about what Christians believe about God and creation. It was meant to show me the foolishness of Christianity, but it motivated me to learn even more about God and the creation of the world. And when I came back from the training, I was even more motivated to serve my congregation.

After I returned from the seminar, the local government sent officers to follow me to my village. They ask me to renounce my faith. I said I would not. The officials told me that I must – and I told them, “you taught me to have more faith in God because your introduction of the seminar talked about God.” I confronted them because they were saying that I needed a license to have a church. But they hadn’t had a license to carry out the education seminar. So I told them that I didn’t need a license to serve a church in this area either. In the end, they couldn’t get me to renounce my faith and they went home.

But still, I received a lot of persecution and pressure. After the officers left, they sent 8 higher officers to arrest me. They arrested me and my wife and separated us. They questioned us both and threatened us. They wanted us to renounce our faith. But I asked them, “Why can the people in the city have a church, and the minority in the mountains cannot have a church?” They answered: “In the city, we don’t have laws to control this, but in the rural area we can’t allow there to be churches.” I asked, “who made these rules?” They wouldn’t answer. At that point, they said, “Why don’t we call a Hmong officer to talk to you in Hmong – we aren’t getting anywhere in Vietnamese.”

So they sent the Hmong officer to talk to me. I asked him the same question. He explained that this was not from the central government, but that these rules were added for the local government. I pushed on. “If it isn’t from the central government, how can you arrest me?” After a time, they delivered their response: We will not do anything to you, we will let you go home. Just don’t spread the news that we persecuted your family. They sent another three soldiers to watch me for three weeks. They wanted to make sure I don’t cause any problem for the government.

After this time, I met with the first believer in my area. I asked him to come to Hanoi with me. We would go to talk to the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church. We went and met with the president, but he didn’t help us. He just sent us back and said all sorts of bad things about the Hmong people. We were so disappointed. I was so angry. I resigned from my post as the chief of the village, and traveled by foot for three days through the jungle villages around my home to try to help out Christians who were being persecuted by the government and to try to get them released from prison. All the while, I tried to convince the local government officials that the persecution didn’t come from the central government, but from local government.

I took members from the churches into the jungle and we talked in secret about our faith. We talked about what the best way would be to avoid persecution. We wanted to make sure that we were able to have a good foundation for the Christians in the Hmong community. At one point, we went back to the CMA again, but they wouldn’t protect us – and they wouldn’t provide us with anything. They only gave us a few Bibles and sent us back home. The warned us not to say that we received the Bibles from the CMA. So, we went home, and I continued to meet with my members and the other Christians in our area. And we would pray together.

Another time when we were being persecuted and Christians were being arrested, I tried to debate with the officers. I told them, “Since I was 15, I was an officer in the government.” They sent a top general to come and talk to me. His goal was to convince me to recant my faith. He told me, “If any war comes to this country, it will come from the Christians.” But I said, ‘Christians won’t bring war. But if you will bring war against the church, that is your choice. We won’t deny our faith. If you want, I will call together all of the Christians in our province – and you can kill us all. But we won’t wage war.” I continued, “We have fought for this country. Their families have shed blood to protect this country.” The general sat silently. “I’ve never seen anyone speak as boldly as you,” he said.

Again, the general attacked: “Christians are bad people. Every Sunday they come to church and they are engaging in sexual immorality. The men and the leaders seduce the women.” I told the officers, “You come and stay with me for three days. I will feed you and you can stay at my house. We will go around and find Christian leaders who do this. If we catch any of them, I will be the first to hand them over to be executed. If not, you will need to apologize to this community.”

I continued, “You aren’t here to protect the people, but accuse them of wrongdoings – things that they aren’t doing.” I told them that if they didn’t stop persecuting us I would write down all of their names and would go directly to the United States Embassy and submit their names.

I remember – the general got so mad. He threw his documents in my face. But in the end, the general just left. They sent word: “We apologize, and we will leave you.” Since then, the persecution in my area has reduced. That was the local government at that time – but at this time the government has changed and there is very little persecution in our region.

Even though our region was one of the most persecuted in all of Vietnam, the Christians multiplied quickly. We worked hard to spread the gospel. I also ran a clinic in my house. Whenever we would admit sick people into our house, we would give them the gospel.

In 2004, I heard that the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) was welcoming churches into their fellowship. So I called the VFC to see if we could be part of that. At that time, I started to receive some theological training from them. In 2007 they appointed me to oversee 16 districts and the towns in them in my area. Then, in 2010, they appointed a few more pastors to help me oversee those congregations and then they called me to oversee all the congregations in the Songla province. In 2012, we were invited to the VFC’s annual meeting in Hochimin. There I was called to be the chairman of the HFC.

Currently, in the HFC, we have 240 senior pastors and 330 additional pastors. Many of our churches don’t have pastors and are served by local elders who have been appointed. In total, we have more than 100,000 members. In the congregation that I pastor, we have 58 families that are members. Some of the people who come to worship with us aren’t members yet. In total, we have an average of 380 in attendance every week.

In addition to serving the local congregation, I also personally oversee 30 pastors and around 18,000 members in my area. Our goal is to continue to share the gospel with the families and villages around our church and in our district who don’t yet know Christ. We have some goals for our congregation – our current church building and location is too small to provide for the growing church. We hope to build another church building on the hill in the village – a bigger church so we can have more people come to worship. We also hope to build a small park in the area around the church to attract tourists from other villages to our town and provide an opportunity for our members to do outreach to them.

The training we are receiving is key – the leaders and members in my church need more training in the word of God so that they are well equipped. We want to train leaders in our church to spread the gospel to the surrounding villages. When we receive the training from WELS in Hanoi, we take it back and train the local leaders with what we have received.

The pastors in my area have received training from a variety of churches in the past – the Vietnamese churches, Korean missionaries, and even Hmong pastors who have come from the United States. But each of these groups and individuals came and did the training based on what they wanted to accomplish. And all we learned were rules to follow, good works that must be done, and how to live good lives to please God. We would go to training from these churches, but among our churches, there was no stability, no peace, and no gospel. We had no unity among our churches because we all just interpreted the Bible based on our own ideas or the various things we had learned.

That all started to change in 2013 when Pastor Lor started doing training for us in Hanoi. Now we have both physical and spiritual unity. The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the people in the villages – and as a result, our members are sharing their faith and our churches are multiplying.

Personally, since I have been receiving training from the WELS, I see a change in myself as well. Before this, I taught and used my own authority in the church. At that time, I thought, “I’m the smart one – I’m the one with training, and I am the one with the authority. I can force my members to do the right thing.” But since I have been studying with the Lutheran Church, I have changed. I have reevaluated myself and how I taught in the past – and know that I have taught false teachings. The training made me value my members more – and know that they need the gospel. I used to use the law to motivate my members. That was how I showed my authority. But since receiving this training, I now understand that the law won’t help the members. I started to share the gospel and taught them to understand that the gospel will motivate you to love and show care for each other. What I have noticed is that now my members respect me even more than they ever did when I only used the law, rules, and traditions to lead them.

On May 29th, 2018, I gathered together 129 local church leaders at my congregation. I retrained them in Lutheran theology as we have learned it from WELS. I assured them and demonstrated to them that this teaching was the true Biblical teaching. After that training, they encouraged me to keep on receiving training so that in the future the local leaders can continue to receive training from me. It is their dream that they can all receive formal training as well. At that meeting, I also invited local government officers to attend. When I finished the training, they applauded my teaching. The head officer said that this was one of the best teachings that they had ever heard. They encouraged me to continue my training and bring it back to the villages so that the people can continue to learn the Bible and grow in their understanding.

We’re not done yet. We need more training – for this generation and the next generations of pastors. I’m 50 years old right now – I hope we can continue to partner in training until I am 60 or even 80 – until we can carry on this ministry by ourselves and be confident to train our own pastors and leaders. The HFC is scattered across 14 provinces of Vietnam.  It is our goal as HFC to be the ‘big brother’ and standard for solid Christian Hmong churches in all of Vietnam.

Finally, I don’t have anything to send to my WELS brothers and sisters in the U.S. to even begin to show our gratitude or appreciation. All we can send is our ‘empty’ words of Thank You to you.  But we are thankful. We trust that in the future the training will continue to equip leaders so that the gospel will spread to many more throughout Vietnam. Pray for us. Pray for our religious freedom in this country, especially for the Hmong in the rural areas. And pray that the many minority people will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and believe it.

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Pastor Vue

Pastor Vue is 44 years old. He serves the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village of Munyue district in Dien Bien province, Vietnam. He travels one day by motorcycle to the closest large city and then one more day by bus to get to Hanoi for training. 

I’ve been serving in my current location since 2008. It is a relatively new village for us. I served in another city from 1999 to 2008 and then was called to serve in Galapa village in 2008.

I became a Christian in 1997 in the village of Kuangtao in the southern part of Song La province. At that time there weren’t any Christians in that entire village. I was the first one to become a Christian. I had heard the gospel from Pastor Ham, who is now the chairman of Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), and from radio broadcasts.

I had known Pastor Ham from the past – from before he was a Christian. I was always a person who was really afraid of death. Passing away really frightened me. When Pastor Ham shared about a new hope for people in death, that changed me. That’s really how I became a Christian.

After I converted, I found that there were many people in my village who were also interested in the Good News. Many people became Christians and we started a small congregation and worshiped in a house. In 1998, we built a small church building and I was elected to be an elder in the church. Around that time, the persecution from the local government against Christians became very heavy. In 2001, I was arrested and put in prison, tortured, and persecuted.

In 2008, I relocated from Son La province and was made pastor of the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village. My church is made up of 114 families and a total of 583 members. Three additional pastors were appointed by the church body to assist me. I was given an oversight role over all of the congregations in Dien Bien province. I have a total of 8 pastors under my oversight. In the southern part of the province there are 19 congregations and in the northern part of the provinces, there are 19 congregations. In total, I serve 2,640 members.

Before I became a pastor, I started to receive some training from the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) – very simple doctrine. We received training three times a year. They taught us the basics of Bible doctrine, but one of the largest challenges was that they did not teach us how to train our members. That training continued until 2014. During the final year of that training, I had already started to receive training from Pastor Lor in 2013.

After I began coming to this training, we all realized that we didn’t really understand law and gospel. The previous training we had just combined everything together. I know I used a lot of law with my members and I was very confused by what I was learning.

Today I thank and praise God that the Lutheran church sent Pastor Lor to train us. First, I see very clearly – the training has clearly shown us the Word of God. Each training session is divided into clear small portions we can understand. Second, the training is conducted in Hmong. Even when Anglo pastors come and teach us, it is translated into Hmong. And no matter who is teaching us, the message is always very clear.

Before, we used the law to force our members to do good works. As an example, we prohibited our members from drinking alcohol. At that time a group separated from our church because of this. Now I have gone back to them and apologized for our false teaching in the past and invited them back to our congregation.

Because we are teaching the Bible clearly and are properly using the gospel, and not just the law, we have more in attendance every Sunday. And our offerings have increased as well – ever since we removed the law that demanded offerings. There has been a tremendous increase in giving in our congregation.

Personally, I see now that I am living in Grace, and not under the law. This has meant a huge change for me and my understanding of God. I still am struggling to bring this same clarity to all of my members – but I see they are slowly growing as well. When I come back from training, they have seen a big difference in how I teach and preach. They see that the teaching that I bring back to them is the real Word of God. The Truth. That it is based on Biblical principles. And so they want me to continue to be trained so I can bring back more of God’s word.

As we continue to receive the training from WELS, I trust that we will continue to see our lives change for the better. I ask that WELS pray for the HFC. Pray that we will have a place to do the training – that we won’t have to continue to rent out another church and training space, but have our own space. This training is not just for our generation, but for many to come – until we are ready to handle the training for ministry by ourselves.

There are so many people who don’t believe in Jesus in my village and in my area. This is a big Hmong village – more than 400 families. Currently, our church building is small, we are already full when all the members come to worship. If we grow more in the future, we will have to expand – please pray for that as well. Also, there is currently some pressure on our congregation from the Hmong community – there are some in our community who want to cause problems for us. They accuse us of doing illegal things or create conflicts over our property. They accuse us of harboring illegal foreigners. None of this is true – they just want to cause us problems in the community. Please pray about this as well.

Personally, I also have a prayer request. I have already sacrificed my life for the Word of God. My family has been lacking so many things – I don’t get paid a salary from the congregation. I am happy to serve as I can. I support myself by farming. Please pray for me that I have the strength to carry the Word of God to the people. Pray that God would strengthen my life that I am giving to Him for service in His Kingdom. And pray that God would strengthen my family.

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Pastor Vang

Pastor Vang is 36 years old. He serves in Lao Cai province as pastor of Shan Zhou Fu congregation. He travels an hour by motorcycle and 4-5 hours by bus to get to the training in Hanoi. 

When I was 8 years old, my parents became Christian. That was in 1990. I became a Christian when my parents shared the Good News with me. In the early years, some of my brothers came to Hanoi and received training from the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church – our congregation was established by the CMA and was under them at that time. That was around 1991-1993. In 1998-1999, I served as the secretary for the congregation and began to serve in the church.

In 2001 and 2002, the persecution from the local government became intense against the churches in our area. As a result, we divided our church into smaller congregations and worshiped inside houses. At that time, we reached out to the CMA for assistance, but they did nothing to help. From then on, we didn’t have any connection with the CMA. In 2003, our pastor contacted the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC), and in 2004 we registered our congregation under the VFC.

I received training from the VFC from 2004 to 2006. Then in 2006, I was called by the church to be a pastor. At that time, I was still unclear about so many things in the Bible. Looking back, I see that while we talked about Jesus as our Savior, we didn’t understand law and gospel and we promoted a lot of work righteousness. That was the church that I had grown up with – if you don’t do good, or live according to the rules, you don’t count as a Christian. We always had a lot of legalism in the church. The pastors promoted many traditions to control the members.

There are currently 140 members in my local congregation. I also oversee 12 additional congregations in three different districts of Lao Cai. Those churches have a total of 1400 members. Those 12 congregations are led by elders – I am the only pastor. In our whole province, there are only 12 pastors, but we have a total of 65 congregations and more than 9,000 members.

All of us pastors are so very thankful for the training – and for WELS opening the door for us to receive this training. Every time I go back home, I conduct a training session for the elders that I oversee. Every time we focus on law and gospel and how to interpret the Bible. Even though I have received much training ever since 2003, I was always really confused by the training. I didn’t understand the scripture well. Since 2015, I started to receive training from the pastors here – Lutheran training. This opened my eyes. The first year, I was still trying to understand it all, but since 2016, I see the message is really clear. This made me really happy and now I enjoy my studies. I really enjoy our training here. We see Christ at the center of the Bible and the center of everything that is taught. We truly believe that salvation comes through faith alone, through Christ alone, through Scripture alone. This foundation has made me confident as a Christian and confident in my salvation.

This training has changed me a lot as a pastor as well. Before the training I just preached the law – I treated people with contempt. If I saw a member committing sin, I hated them. If they had addictions, I hated them. Now, as I look back, I see that I was a Pharisee at that time. Now, I hate that time of my life. But since I received the training from Pastor Lor and Professor Bare and the other pastors, I have learned to show compassion to the sinner. I have learned to show Christ to the sinner.

Thanks be to God – thanks to all the professors and teachers who have come to teach. One thing I am certain of – the students coming are now certain of their salvation in Jesus Christ. They are confident that Jesus did everything for them. This is a special thing. And this is something they didn’t have before. Before the training, so many others were just like me. My members were also just like me. But now we have compassion and love. And now we have joy.

The Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) is a very big church body. We have more than 340 pastors and more than 100,000 members. It is my dream that WELS and the HFC can hold hands together to do the ministry for the people in this country. I want to see the training continue – not only for myself – but for many people, for the younger generation. We will need much more training in the future. In my local congregations, we need more evangelists so we can send them to the villages around us and other places where people have not heard or believed in Jesus.

I pray for the training – that through this training our pastors can be united in the same faith and the same doctrine. And I pray that this training will continue into the future. That’s what I pray for. I also pray that in the future we will have our own facility for us to go and receive full-time training.

I also ask for you to pray for me and my family. I pray one day that I will be able to reduce my farming work so that I can have more time to do the ministry of leading the church.

Finally, I want to thank the Lutheran church for supporting the training. We don’t actually deserve to receive anything from the WELS – but they just give and support the training by sending professors and providing the financial ability for the training to take place. For that – I thank you.

Thank you so much. I will never forget you. You helped us to see the Word of God clearly. You have brought us the truth – and that has changed our lives.

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Open Doors

“…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you … Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:7

Ascension Lutheran Church is the newest polling place in Macomb Township. On November 6, 2018, we had the wonderful opportunity to serve our community, to get to know our closest neighbors better, and to share information about our mission and ministry! A chocolate chip cookie is always more well received than that little “I Voted” sticker… Our sanctuary was open for those who wished to take a moment to pray before or after voting, and we even supplied a suggested “Prayer for the Nation.” We had so many nice conversations as our preschool director, Rachel Frost, and I greeted people as they arrived and left.

Pastor Simons and Early Childhood Director Rachel Frost greet voters

We’ve also gotten very favorable comments from the poll workers about how hospitable Ascension has been. Election officials have stopped by, found everything running smoothly, and have enjoyed some of our cookies. One of the poll workers who served in April’s primary election told us that she’s been pitching Ascension to all the unchurched people she knows – even though she is life-long Roman Catholic. On election day she took one of our informational packets with her to share with someone who’s looking for a church.

To think that Macomb Township approached us with the request that we be a polling place, in effect asking if they might be allowed to send several hundred of our neighbors to our campus at each election. That was a very easy “Yes!” Team Ascension has embraced this as a community service effort that has huge potential to help our neighbors see Ascension as a vital part of the community.

When we open our doors to the community, God can use that to open doors for the gospel, too!

Written by: Pastor Dan Simons, Ascension Lutheran Church – Macomb, MI


Pastor Dan Simons also reports: 

New members at Ascension

Jesus did not call his church to be big; he called us to be faithful. He will decide how big it is. It is ours to faithfully proclaim the Word and be thankful for his blessings on it. And those blessings do come! What a remarkable day at Ascension as we received into membership the 15 souls who came to us over the past quarter on October 28. We had five new first-time visitors too: Tara and her two children and Jacky & Vince. What an awesome way to wrap up our October sermon series: Four Really Important Reformation Treasures That Changed Our Lives!

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… and because I love you.

125 years ago God said something to the people of the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations in eastern Arizona. He said to them what caused him to do for them what he did for these past 125 years, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4) He said those words first to his people Israel who were facing deep water crossings and hot blazing fire. But he also said those words most certainly to the people of the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations in eastern Arizona who faced floods of regret and hopelessness and fear, and who faced fires of bitterness, anger, and hate. Because these people were precious and honored in the Father’s sight, he sent them his Son Jesus. And it all came to be for that one reason: because he loved them.

Camp Dress Show

It was just like our God was saying the very words, “And because I love you… I am sending spokesmen to you from me who will tell you about my Son Jesus.” It was so and the first missionaries came in 1893 to the mountain shadows of the Triplets there by the Gila River. The people living there had been banned to live in that place that one of the officials of General George Crook called “stinking malarial flats.” A most remarkable and miraculous thing happened too because God loved these people: he caused them not only to be loved by those who spoke of Jesus to them, but to love those people back. It was love that saw past skin color. Right from the beginning it was so. Pastor Harders in Globe, Arizona, described the feeling he had for his people on these reservations as greater and stronger than the love a man has for a brother.

And the people realized it was true too. There were not many of the dominant culture in 1893 who loved those who lived on the Gila River flats, but Apache people quickly came to know that they were loved. They were loved by the One who made the sun go by the Triplet mountains every day, and by this same One who sent his Son to be with them there. They were also loved by those who came to serve them and live with them, and in many cases, be buried with them. The list that started with John Plocher and George Adascheck is long. Over 125 years, literally hundreds of men and women worked and lived there on the reservations of eastern Arizona.

Rev. Eric Hartzell’s presentation

So the day of celebration came after the clock had ticked for 125 years. It was Saturday, October 27, 2018. Busloads of connected and interested people came. There were presentations of historical interest and pictures and displays looking to the future. Under some friendly mesquite trees, ladies were making frybread in the way that only they can make it. Local artisans and workers displayed their talents and their wares. Choirs came. Cars came cautiously into the parking lot in front of the church (the same place where the foundation blocks of the first school are still visible), and then the cars were directed up the hill to the baseball field to park. That parking field was the same field where Pastor Henry Rosin and other missionaries played baseball on Sunday afternoons with worthy opponents.

And so many times during the day someone would say hesitantly to someone else, “Do you remember me? I used to teach school here at Peridot.” And probably as many times someone would say, “Do you remember me? I was your student in second grade when you taught school here.” Those who had given of their time and talent to upgrade buildings and church and had done so elsewhere on the mission stations came to see those who had helped them and benefited from their work.

There were back to back historical presentations. There were attempts made to encapsulate and explain what had happened and was still happening during the 125 years. Dr. William Kessel presented Apache Christian voices from the past. He did so from his grandfather Edgar Guenther’s missionary diary and recollections…and from his own. The presentations were made in the Peridot church, and it was full for close to five hours of presenting.

Peridot and East Fork Lutheran Schools sing at the Apache 125th Anniversary joint worship service

The crowning joy of the day came at 4:30 p.m. to see everyone packed into the big high school gymnasium that had been rented for the occasion. The choirs came to sing for the service, stationed at strategic positions in the bleachers. There were more Apache believers than white believers, and that was as it should have been. Pastor Gary Lupe spoke carefully and well to everyone about Jesus being his Savior, that he was proud and happy to say that he was a Christian, and that he believed in Jesus and followed Jesus and stood with Jesus. It was wonderful to hear! President Mark Schroeder was last to speak after two hours of service and many speakers. How is it possible for speakers to limit themselves to their recommended five minutes? (It wasn’t possible!)

And when it all came to an end in the early evening, there was one thing that stood as the reason why there were 125 years to celebrate and be thankful for. This one thing that occasioned and caused it all was what had happened 125 years earlier when God himself had spoken to his people on the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations, and said, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4)

Should this world continue on for another 125 years, this Lord of ours will be true and faithful. It is our prayer, and it is our hope that he will…. because he loves us!

Written by: Pastor Eric Hartzell, Globe, Arizona

Pastor Eric Hartzell grew up on the Fort Apache Reservation and graduated from East Fork Lutheran grade school and high school. He went on to become a pastor, and in 1982 he received a call to East Fork and Canyon Day Lutheran Churches. He served there for 14 years. 

To read or download Pastor Hartzell’s or Dr. William Kessel’s presentations from the 125th anniversary celebration, visit www.nativechristians.org/125th-historical-presentations.

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Back to Africa – The Felgenhauer’s in Zambia

Written by Kathy (nee Uhlhorn) Felgenhauer, whose husband Stefan is the new Director of Africa Missions Operations for the One Africa Team. 

My husband and I visited the continent of Africa for the very first time 20 years ago. Four years later, we moved here for our first tour of duty. Most of the missionary families currently living in Africa have lived here for more than two decades. They hardly consider their overseas service as “foreign” anymore. Their lives tell the story of WELS mission work in Africa.

Our family has a unique perspective. We have transitioned back and forth between North American culture and African culture several times. We have a well-rounded view of both developed countries and developing countries. The readjustments we’ve made have been a trial, but they have also give us valuable insight into both worlds.

The Felgenhauer family back in Africa (Zambia)

So now we’ve been here in Zambia for just over a week. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? And how is the adjustment going this time?

First impressions can be useful tools. Stefan and I find it interesting that in our time of moving between cultures, we have short-lived first impressions upon returning to a place we used to live. It’s fascinating to take note of those first impressions, before our previous experience takes over and we settle into our routine once again. I keenly remember my first impressions when we moved to Africa the second time. Even though we had lived six years in Africa and still had keen memories of that time stuck in our minds, we had forgotten about the challenges of day-to-day living in a developing country.

In general, the first impressions we have had this time are of moving to a somewhat familiar African country (Zambia) but also the added dimension of leaving our oldest child back “home” for schooling. Listen to what each member of our family has taken notice of thus far…

Anna (age 12 – born in Malawi): I was looking forward to seeing the Seminary campus because we never lived close to any of those before. It’s different than I thought, but I was amazed at how big it was and happy to see the kids there. I can’t wait to get my bike so I can ride it there. A lot of things seem the same, like the gates on doors and the geckos and skinks on the walls, but I forgot how hot it is. I’m looking forward to visiting Malawi and seeing some of my friends. It’s fun to order Fanta at restaurants again and hopefully soon we can go swimming somewhere.

Benjamin and Anna

Benjamin (age 14 – born in Malawi, will return to the USA for school in 10 months): Africa is like I remember it, but Zambia is a bit more modern (than Malawi) with a lot more shopping centers. I was looking forward to being outside and barefoot, and I am doing that again. It’s really dusty though. Being in Africa feels like being back home. It’s kinda hard getting used to slower Internet. I look forward to finding soft drinks in glass bottles like I remember and visiting game parks to see the animals. It seems weird to think that the next 10 months will be the longest amount of time I spend here.

Louisa (age 16 – born in Germany, attending high school stateside): I am loving all the photos they’ve sent mostly of foods I remember, such as Blackcat peanut butter and Parmalat yogurt and the mango juice. I was happy to see some jacaranda flowers. Finding time to facetime my family when it is still daylight so I can see outside has been tricky with a 7-hour time difference, and I can’t talk to them during my evening because they are sleeping. I can’t wait to visit at Christmas.

Kathy (not as young as I once was – born in the USA): As the plane was descending I saw purple jacaranda trees, and exiting the plane we saw bright flame trees. That alone put a smile on my face. Climbing into a car for the first time again was an odd feeling, sitting in the passenger seat on the left. It actually made me feel a bit dizzy, and I’m a bit nervous about driving again with the deep ditches on the sides of the roads. I had forgotten how dry and red the earth looks this time of year. The streets seemed less congested on our drive, but the style of the house we are currently staying in was so familiar. Tiled floors throughout, locked gates on doors, a limited water supply in the reserve tanks, and candles at the ready for the electricity outages. “I know how to do this”, I told myself. The trill and song of the birds that first morning was unbelievable. I knew I had been missing it. It is a new place with much that is familiar. I long to settle into our life, getting our own kitchen items, our own bed, and our own daily routine. That’s going to take quite some time yet. It’s already been 5 months of transition since Stefan was hired, and it could be several more. I am praying for patience. I keep checking the time to see what Louisa must be doing back in the US. I am so thankful for the technology that lets us keep in touch.

Stefan (a little more grey – born in East Germany): I’m so happy to be back in a warm climate again. I did forget how warm it is this time of year and how dusty everything gets. I knew I was back in Africa when we stepped off the plane, and I had to walk quite a ways on foot to get into the airport. The wait to get through immigration tested my German patience. The woodsmoke-filled air is strong too, but I do know the rains are coming and that will bring relief. I am enjoying the African scenery, and it makes me excited to explore and learn this new area. Visiting the other countries where One Africa Team is active is a priority for me and one I look forward to. In some ways Zambia is more modern than I would have thought, but the Internet is still slower than I got used to in the US. Overall, I am thankful for the opportunity to be here and to serve the Lord in this way. It’s the work I love to do. It’s good to be back.

The Felgenhauers lived in Malawi from 2002-2008 and from 2012-2015 and are currently based in Lusaka, Zambia.

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Never Forget

Never Forget.

A widely seen and regularly used slogan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, those words are usually reserved now for the anniversary of the attacks.

The first WELS world mission – Peridot, AZ

Perhaps that is the nature of anniversaries: we set a date to remember the past, because we so easily forget the big events (bad or good) that changed the course of history and forever affected so many lives.

Our God knows his people so well. He knows our propensity to forget, and he knows the importance of taking time to remember the things that should not be forgotten. A quick overview of the Old Testament will reveal the Lord, time and time again, setting anniversary dates for his people to remember the important events of their past. Time and time again, he reminded them through his leaders of his love and providence. Time and time again, he reminded them to heed the warnings of tragedies in the past and celebrate their miraculous deliverance. Time and time again, he reminded them of his impeccable record of faithfulness in spite of their repeated unfaithfulness. Those anniversaries were set so they would never forget.

This month everyone in our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has a chance to mark an important anniversary. Our first world mission effort to the Apache people of the Arizona Territory began in October of 1893. 125 years ago our WELS ancestors would not be deterred or denied in their quest to share Jesus. They could not forget the great things God had done for them, and they could not forget about those who did not yet know. Thousands today give thanks that they do know!

But we do not remember the past simply to live in the past. We remember so we can learn. We remember so we can be inspired. We remember so we can move forward with new strength, new resolve, and new purpose.

Remembering the past to move forward with new strength, new resolve, and new purpose.

In WELS Native American Missions, we are resolved to recapture the missionary spirit which prompted brave men and women to come to the unknown and share Jesus. We are inspired by the Christian love that prompted so many to save, sacrifice, and give generously to support the work among the Apache people. And we know our purpose: the gospel has been given to us to hold, yes; but also to pass on! There are other Tribes and other reservations to reach. 125 year later we remember so we can share the unforgettable.

Will you join us in remembering? Never forget how grace changed your life and future forever. Never forget the sweetness of the word forgiven in your ears and on your tongue at the Lord’s Table.  And never forget that your mission field begins at your front door.

Written by: Pastor Dan Rautenberg, Native American Missions Field Coordinator

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I’m really glad to be here

“I got baptized on Friday… and I’m really glad to be here.”

Those were the words Ed spoke after his confirmation in August. I wasn’t sure I would ever hear them.

I met Ed, his wife Lis, and their daughter Michelle on Christmas Eve. They had received our Christmas postcard invitation that we sent to every home in our community, and they came to worship with us.

Over the following weeks, Lis and Michelle came back on Sunday mornings – but Ed wasn’t with them. After a couple of months, Lis and Michelle started our FaithBuilders (Bible Basics) class. Lis had grown up in the Lutheran faith in Germany and Michelle had been confirmed in another Lutheran church body after they moved to the U.S. But Ed had never joined.

I began meeting with Lis and Michelle. The first week we met, Ed hung around the table where we were sitting. The second week, I brought an extra copy of the class and invited him to follow along.

He did.

After a few more weeks, he slowly started to chime in with answers and some questions. The one that was the most difficult for him had to do with worship, “I know lots of people who go to church on Sunday. They don’t act any different than anyone else the rest of the week. Why should I give up my day off?” He asked that several times. We continued to study how God works through his Word to create and strengthen faith. And as we studied God’s Word, he did just that for Ed.

Michelle, Lis, and Ed on their confirmation day

When we got to the lesson on baptism, I asked Ed if he had been baptized. He said that he didn’t think so because his parents didn’t go to church when he was a kid. And while he had attended a church with Lis and Michelle when they moved to the States, he had never actually been part of a church. I asked if he wanted to be baptized, and he said he needed some time to study it a little more.

In the following weeks, we completed the class and Ed expressed interest in being confirmed, but again, he wanted to think it over. Lis and Michelle chose to temporarily wait so that they could encourage Ed and, hopefully, be confirmed and join our church with him.

Six weeks later, Ed walked through the doors on Sunday morning. “I want to be baptized,” he said. He requested a private baptism, so we set a date for the following Friday afternoon. Friday came and God worked through the water connected to his Word in the sacrament of Holy Baptism for Ed.

Two days later, Ed, Lis, Michelle and several others were confirmed and became members of Foundation Lutheran Church. And Ed said with a smile, “I was baptized on Friday… and I’m really glad to be here.” Since then, Ed has been in worship with his family every Sunday (except when his job takes him across the globe). He often has a thoughtful comment or question after worship. And he doesn’t even miss his day off.

Instead, he’s “really glad to be here.”

Written by: Rev. Steve Prahl, Foundation Lutheran Church, Falcon, Colo. 

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25 Years of Grace Renewal

The public history of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession was interrupted in 1939 when World War II had begun and the Red Army occupied western Ukrainian lands. Some pastors, like Rev. Theodor Yarchuk, became martyrs at the hands of communists. Other faithful men, like Deacon Stepan Chermkhivka, were persecuted and finished in GULAG concentration camps in Siberia. The sheep were scattered among the fields stained by the red blood of Ukrainian Christians, pastors, deacons, and teachers. Some Ukrainian Lutherans were able to escape to the west. The pure gospel voice of the Lutheran church has been silenced in Ukraine for almost 50 years and two generations of people. Other Protestant churches like Baptists and Pentecostals were allowed in the Soviet Ukraine. The Lutheran church, on the other hand, was under the strictest ban.

But “the Lord is gracious and compassionate” (Psalm 145:8). On Easter of 1993, two public Lutheran worship services took place in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Ternopil. Pastors from WELS  (Melvin Schwark, Roger Kovaciny) and ELS (John Shep, Jay Webber) were first preachers and teachers of theology of the newly organized Lutheran congregations in Ukraine. The Lord has promised, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not returns to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My Word that goes out of My mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10, 11).

The Word of the Lord accomplished what the Lord has desired. The Lutheran Church in Ukraine has been raised by the gospel of Christ back to life. In two years the Lord has blessed his church with faithful seminary students and deacons who also became missionaries to other parts of Ukraine. Soon Lutheran congregations were founded in Kremenets, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Lviv, Zaporizhia, Radomyshl, and Kharkiv. Old Ukrainian Lutheran churches in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lazarivka in western Ukraine, as well as an old German Lutheran church in Ivanivka (former Johannestahl) in southern Ukraine were reborn.

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church has been blessed to be reborn as a confessional Lutheran church body. Fellowship with WELS and ELS has been very fruitful in establishing good, solid, pure Lutheran doctrine in Ukraine. Not all churches have this blessing. Even among those who call themselves Lutherans we find very little Lutheran doctrine and practice. Often we can find none! We are so privileged to be in fellowship with those Lutherans who are Lutherans not only by name, but also by their teaching, their confession, and their practice. We have still a lot to learn. And we are willing to share our knowledge of the Lutheran doctrine with others.

Luther’s Small Catechism has proven to be a true gem that has brought to light of the gospel a former Baptist congregation in Tokmak, a city in southeastern Ukraine. When a young deacon of the congregation had read Luther’s Small Catechism and then shared it members of the congregation, they realized the teaching was Biblical and they wanted to know more about Lutheran doctrine. Now the Grace of the Christ Church is a member of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and shares the precious Gospel with people in that area of the country.

2018 marks the 25 anniversary of the renewal of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.

The ULC has decided to give this year a special title – 25 Years of Grace Renewal. “Because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved… By grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”, writes St. Paul in his letter to Ephesians (2:4, 5, 8). With joy we proclaim this message to Ukrainians. It’s true – the history of Ukrainian Christianity is long and reaches back to the 10th century. But as in times prior to the Lutheran Reformation, the pure gospel doctrine of justification by grace through faith is darkened by many different false teachings. But now the light of grace is shining more brightly in the country of Ukraine.

It is a joy to see children and adults baptized. It is a joy to see both children and adults in our Catechism classes. It is a joy to hear the pure gospel preached at our congregations and see how Ukrainian Lutherans share the message about Christ crucified. It is so refreshing to commune with other brothers and sisters the true body and blood of our Savior in his Holy Supper. The ULC Vacation Bible School, in partnership with WELS pastors and members, attracts several hundred Ukrainian kids. Our annual Youth Forums unites our teenagers, young Christians around the word of God and the mission of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, to reach out to as many people with the gospel as possible.

We do have challenges. We are a small church body, and we live in a country engaged in war. Some of our churches were left in the occupied territories. Our economy is weak. So often it is difficult to make ends meet. We have only five church buildings throughout Ukraine. The majority of our congregations have to rent their worship facilities… and because of this they are limited in many of their activities. Yet we are optimistic because we have the Lord’s promise that he will always will be with us and he will take care of his church. He does take care of us through his means of grace. We are optimistic because we have faithful and supportive brothers and sisters from WELS. Most of all, we are optimistic because we have God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory in Christ. He himself will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:10, 11).

Written by: Bishop Slavik Horpynchuk, Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) 

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Concordia’s Church 360 Product Price Increase

At the end of the year Concordia Technology Solutions will be increasing their price for their Church360 membership management solution. If you subscribe before the end of the year you will lock in the current WELS rate of $37.50/month or $450/year regardless of church size. This is a special rate worked out exclusively for WELS churches. Effective 2019 the price increases to $40/month or $475/year. Here is a link to the WELS Discount page for Church 360: https://www.concordiatechnology.org/church360/members/pricing/wels and their finance package Ledger 360: https://www.concordiatechnology.org/church360/ledger/pricing/wels.

Many of our churches use the Church360 product and have found it to be a blessing to their membership, attendance and offering management activities. It is web-based, fairly straightforward to use and works the way many of our churches work. I’ve also found their customer service to be excellent, not just for addressing issues, but helping folks along with basic functions and reports.

Changing community, unchanging grace

Change.

There is a large billboard on Interstate 15 that says, “Change is good. Especially when it’s in your pocket.” In the midst of one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, I suppose they would know a bit about change.

Good News was blessed with 64 people in grand opening worship

In the short time we have lived in Lehi, Utah, very little has remained the same. City planners can barely keep up with the booming needs and extreme growing pains of Lehi. New construction is so common, nobody bothers to wonder what the new buildings are anymore. And in the midst of all the change and chaos, God has called a few of his faithful servants to start Good News Lutheran Church.

We are a small group that occupies a small space in the middle of a predominately LDS (Latter-Day Saints) community. In many ways we are praying for our quickly-changing community to be a vehicle through which God grows this new mission. Each day we are reminded of constant change, all of which is completely out of our control. In the midst of all the change around us, we change and try new ways to let people know about us and the good news of peace and forgiveness. There are the sidewalk signs, Internet advertising, door-hangers, and activities with the nearby schools. And yes, there are days when we wonder, “How will our church ever thrive in such an area?”

The sun over the mountains on the morning of our first service

Less than a month ago we had our first official worship service. We now meet every Sunday for regular worship services and Bible study. Every week at 9 a.m., we are reminded not of change, but of our Constant. Our Eternal. We offer our thanks and praise to the One who is steadfast and unchanging. We are given Jesus and his unwavering plan for each of us: eternal life through Him. While everything else around us rages with the questions and doubts that come with worldly shifts and plans, we know Jesus remains the same. This is the message we all need.

Yes, we are most certainly a small group, in a small space, in a big, fast-changing city. It seems at times like we will never be noticed in our community, and we will surely get lost in the crowd. However, our constant prayer is the Light who shines brighter than any mountain sun, the one who is our Rock, will soon be the constant, solid foundation our community needs.

Please join us in prayer as we give thanks to our gracious God for the group of faithful saints he has given us at Good News Lutheran, Lehi. Thank our loving Savior along with us for His patience, love, and unchanging grace!

Written by: Rev. Dan Heiderich, Good News Lutheran Church, Lehi, Utah. 

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God used the church to save Grandma

Grandma Barb started worshiping with us at Epiphany in Racine about two years ago. When Barb came for Wednesday night worship, she brought her son, Keith; her daughter-in-law, Chrissy; and their three children, Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn. The three children had been baptized in 2014. That’s when Chrissy took our adult instruction classes to join Epiphany. Her husband, Keith, had no interest in church, though.

Then, God in his grace and providence got Grandma involved.

Barb was ecstatic that her grandchildren had been brought into God’s family through Holy Baptism. She was very disheartened, though, that her son did not want to be a part of that same family of God.

So, Barb started worshiping at Epiphany. She picked her family up on the way to church, to ensure they would all be there. Then, she sent Chrissy and the kids home in her car, while she and Keith stayed for adult instruction classes. Chrissy came to pick them up when class was over. Barb and Keith stood before the Lord’s altar in January 2017 to profess their faith in and their faithfulness to the Lord of the Church.

Then, God in his grace and providence called Barb home to himself this past May.

Michael, the oldest grandchild, was very close to his grandmother. Yet he found comfort in God’s timing. As he told his mom, “I’m so grateful that God used the church to save Grandma Barb.” He then added, “And I’m also grateful that God used Grandma Barb to save Dad.”

Pastor Zarling installs staff minister Mark Blauert

God also used the Racine Parental Choice Program to bring Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn to our Wisconsin Lutheran School, which is jointly operated by Epiphany and First Evangelical Lutheran Church. God used the Choice Program to bring this family into our school, and then into our church, and then to bring their grandma into the Church Triumphant. Forty percent of the 171 students at Wisconsin Lutheran School are unchurched. The mission of our churches and school is to reach the lost and teach the found with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

This spring, Epiphany, First Evangelical, and Wisconsin Lutheran School were granted funding from the WELS Board for Home Missions to call a school chaplain to reach these unchurched families within our school. Staff Minister Mark Blauert was installed on Aug. 19, to serve as that school chaplain.

We pray for God’s grace and providence to bless our school chaplain’s ministry in our school and churches so that more of our children can be grateful that God used the church to save Grandma, and then God used Grandma to save more of their family members.

Written by: Rev. Michael Zarling, Epiphany Lutheran Church, Racine, Wis. 

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Gospel Networking in Latin America

Sorry, I know “networking” went from being a trendy word to cliché a while ago… but we’re not talking social networking or business networking. We’re talking about GOSPEL networkingIt’s connecting people to the gospel and to each other as much as possible. These partnerships mean we can get more done together than we could as isolated, separate ministries.

Yes, it’s true that many of the connections start online here in Latin America. Academia Cristo has 1.1 million Facebook followers. 1,800 people have asked to receive Bible-based training to share Jesus in the past three months (June-August 2018)… but the end goal is not a virtual, online church. The goal is to see more people trained to share Jesus wherever they’re living. This social and digital networking leads to on-the-ground ministry – aka local gospel networking.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

Ideally, that eventually means new churches are planted with Seminary-trained pastors in worship buildings that serve as tremendous blessings. We pray that gospel networking leads to that.

But in many cases, it doesn’t start like that. A guy finds himself the de facto spiritual leader of a few families. He works a full-time job. They meet wherever they can to study the Bible, pray, praise, and enjoy a meal together as Christian brothers and sisters. No budget, no church building, no ordained pastor. Is that a church? Trained by Academia Cristo, he then passes this gospel message and training on to his group. They take that message of Jesus’ sweet love out to their ‘colonias’ (neighborhoods). The gospel is being proclaimed, taught, and connections are being made for the kingdom. Is it okay if gospel networking leads to that?

From L to R – Jackson, Henry, and Tonny

In August, two Lutheran missionaries traveled to Venezuela for ten days to assist and advise Venezuelan pastor Jackson on the mission opportunities there. Only this time the missionaries are not American WELS missionaries – they’re Colombian: Tonny and Henry. Venezuela is a complicated place right now… There are stores with no food. Want a taxi ride?  You need a suitcase full of cash, since the money there is almost worthless (if you can find money at all). Most ATM’s in Venezuela are empty right now. Transporting ten pounds of food or more is considered “drug-trafficking.” Missionaries saw state police rob people of basic necessities – flour, food, etc… The three-man mission team went almost two days without eating. Pastor Jackson tries to break up a dispute and a guy draws a pistol. Why would Jackson, Henry, and Tonny get in the middle of that hot mess?

Gospel networking. The gospel of Jesus Christ.

People are hungry for something solid. When they meet Bible-based, Confessional Lutheran teaching, they want to connect their own network of people to that treasure. The chain of disciples continues. Pastor Jackson has a gospel network now, consisting of several groups that he is training and influencing via the internet and visiting in-person whenever possible.

This week in Academia Cristo ¡En Vivo! (Christ Academy Live), our online leadership training program, we have over 200 people participating in live online courses from 21 different countries.  With many of them, we say, “Who knows where this will lead?” But we trust that God’s Word will not return to him empty.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

In Guanajuato, a small city in central Mexico, Academia Cristo Facebook publicity grabs people’s attention to find those who want to be part of a church plant that only studies the Bible. Two families turns into seven families pretty quickly in Mexico. Why? People hear the gospel of eternal life in Jesus and want their family and friends to know about it – gospel networking on a local level.

In Quito, Ecuador, missionaries partnered with WELS members through short-term mission groups (WELS Mission Journeys) to launch a Christian Training Center and make initial on-the-ground gospel connections in the area.

Latino leaders meet to talk international Seminary-training. Can we do this work better together across borders in Latin America?

Gospel networking.

Gospel networking, both digital and local, leads to more people to heaven and the eternal network where we will be forever connected to our Savior and to each other. That’s what we’re doing in Latin America. Thank you for your prayers and support, brothers and sisters in WELS.

So just a thought for you… It’s pretty great, the clear gospel message we have as Christians and as Lutherans. Wouldn’t it be awesome to try something like Academia Cristo to reach the almost two billion English-speakers on the planet, most of whom live outside the U.S.?

Jesus said he would be lifted up, and he would draw people in to himself. It’s fun to see Jesus keep his promises.

Written by: Rev. Joel Sutton, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

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Technology Partners

Important Note: The ShopWELS program is being discontinued effective January 1, 2019. However, we still retain strong relationships with select technology partners listed here. Some other non-technology vendor relationships also exist and can be accessed through different areas of ministry. For instance, Enterprise and Church Mutual information can be obtained through the Finance office.

AT&T Wireless

AT&T has designed an exclusive wireless program just for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. WELS’ organizations and members can get great discounts on AT&T products and services as well. Discounts also exist for residential or commercial internet and phone options including AT&T Uverse, Wireless Home Phone, and Fiber Optics. Please reach out to our account representative on their product page for more information or to sign up.

AT&T Wireless Benefits:

  • 25% discount on eligible services (i.e. primary line, most features of $25 value or higher). NOT eligible: features under $25 value, family messaging, additional lines i.e. $9.99, and unlimited talk plans.
  • Devices are much cheaper than the retail environment. (Order devices through the AT&T WELS website link and get devices starting as low as FREE on smartphones and other data and messaging devices.)

Concordia Technology Solutions

Concordia Technology Solutions (CTS) offers web and Windows-based church management software options for churches. They provide the tools they need and the flexibility they want to manage membership and financial information.

CTS believes technology should not transform ministry but rather do the things people don’t have to do so church workers can focus on the things only they can and should do. They believe church management software should help churches be efficient in the office and effective in the mission field—being a “high-touch” ministry in a “high-tech, low-touch” world.

Three of Concordia Technology Solutions’ products recommended are Shepherd’s Staff, Church360° Members, and Church360° Ledger. Find more information about each of these solutions on their product page.

FinalWeb

WELS has partnered with FinalWeb to provide a web hosting and content management solution. The relationship provides a low-cost service that allows your organization to quickly and easily produce a professional looking website. Perhaps the greatest advantage that this solution provides, however, is your ability to use the content management tools that come with your monthly subscription. These tools allow users of all levels to add, edit, and manage your website content all from a web browser. No programming experience or HTML knowledge is required. This concept will allow more people within your organization to get involved with keeping your website’s content fresh and relevant. For more information on web hosting and their other online solutions, visit their product page.

Troxell Solutions

Troxell Solutions has solutions for every room in a church or school. Whether updating one room or standardizing an entire building, Troxell Solutions partners with churches and schools to ensure the best quality technology at prices to fit your budget, backed by outstanding service and support. To find out more about their solutions and to contact them, visit their product page.

Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless offers exclusive savings for Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod organizations. This means you’ll get access to a reliable wireless network, plus great deals on calling plans and the latest phones and accessories.

To be eligible for the discounts provided by Verizon Wireless you must currently be employed at a WELS congregation, school, affiliate, or entity.

Benefits:

  • Save up to 22% off your Verizon Wireless monthly access fees (excluding the Verizon Unlimited plan).
  • Device payment agreement on eligible calling plans $34.99 or higher required.
  • Get 25% off eligible Verizon Wireless accessories.
  • Waived activation fee on a device payment agreement.

To find out more about their solutions and to contact them, visit their product page.

The Fields are Ripe for Harvest

“I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” – John 4:35

Maybe you’ve experienced it before: sometimes God graciously brings the harvest field right to us. Through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, we are blessed with a harvest field to share the Gospel with every single day. This school year, 129 of our 246 students do not have a church home. 110 of our students have not yet been baptized. You add up those students plus their parents and siblings, and we have a harvest field of 500-600 souls that God brings to us to labor in every day!

And, only by God’s grace and the power of his Gospel, he is building his Kingdom through our efforts. Over the last several years, 160 of our students and their family members have received the gift of rebirth and renewal through Baptism. In the last three years, 19 of our current students became members as their parents were confirmed. And one of these students who has been baptized and became a member is 5th grader, Miracle Stewart, along with her father Vincent, and her older sister, Ashley.

Miracle and Vincent

Miracle started school at Mt Lebanon in 2nd grade. Her father, Vincent, was looking for a new school for his daughter. A family member recommended Mt Lebanon because of our academics, but more importantly, because we are a Lutheran school. Miracle immediately was drawn to God’s Word and loved ChristLight lessons, devotions, and chapels. Miracle, Vincent, and Ashley quickly started attending church. Vincent says it was the family atmosphere and the preaching and teaching of the pure truths of God’s Word that connected them, and kept them coming back.  Vincent and Ashley soon began Confirmation class.

On February 29, 2016, Miracle and Ashley were baptized and on March 6, 2016, Vincent and Ashley were confirmed into the Lutheran faith. The family is regular in worship and Sunday School classes, and Vincent serves on our School Board, as an usher, and helps with lawn care.

Even though God might sometimes bring the harvest field right to us and allow us to see the fruits of our labors, like the work his Word did with Miracle, Vincent, and Ashley, sometimes it’s not so visible.  Sometimes “success” is hard to see and it’s easy to get discouraged and wonder if it’s worth all the effort. But in the end, it’s God who knows and works, and he desires for us to have an eternal perspective on our work. We are not called to fill our churches, we are called to do everything we can to fill heaven, as we share the saving Gospel faithfully, boldly, tirelessly, and with great urgency.

And, as God’s tools, when we do get to witness some visible fruit of our labors, we have to simply stand back in awe at the power of his Word that works in hearts and homes. We have reason to thank God that the results do not depend on us, but we simply get to share the good news of hope, peace, joy, and purpose we have in Christ. We work hard, we desire to be faithful, and we strive to do our best to God’s glory.

Please remember Miracle, Ashley, and Vincent in your prayers as they continue to grow in their faith and live their faith. Please also pray for the many students and families whom we have the opportunity to serve every day with the Gospel. And please pray for the many churches and schools throughout our church body that God is using to share his Gospel faithfully, boldly, tirelessly, and with great urgency!

Written By: School Pastor Aaron Bublitz, Mt. Lebanon Lutheran Church & School

In 2017, Mt. Lebanon was blessed to receive support from the Board for Home Missions to call a second pastor, Pastor Nate Bourman, so that Pastor Bublitz could focus full-time on ministering to the unchurched families of their school.

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The Sun Came Out at Midnight

On Monday, August 13, 2018 the crescent moon – thin and red – hung low in the night sky as I drove up to the church. It reminded me of the same crescent moon I saw the first night I was in Pakistan in March 2009. That day my hosts arranged a visit to a Sunday School upon my arrival. The children threw petals of flowers, sang hymns, recited Bible verses and put on a play. As I walked back to the car, there in the western sky (now dark) was a white crescent moon. In my first hours of being in the country I was surprised to see this well-known symbol on the flag of Pakistan displayed so marvelously. And tonight, there it was again.

I was nervous. We had been preparing for this event for more than a year. I took a nap at 7 p.m., woke up at 8 p.m., and shaved and put on a suit and tie. My translator told me to wear a suit since in the Pakistani mind this shows greater respect to the students and to the event itself.

As I drove up to the church an hour early, my nervousness gave way to excitement. I was going to see men whom I had come to know during my visits to Pakistan, men whom I had not been able to converse with except through written reports – men who were my dear brothers in Jesus.

Then the moment came. Our contact and I stood before the camera. We saw the eleven men and four wives gathered in the classroom. All of the students introduced themselves. We exchanged pleasantries and then we began our study of Luke’s Gospel. The men will teach what they learn from Luke’s Gospel to the 58 house churches in Pakistan. Each man will visit 4-5 house churches a week. The ladies will minister to women and teach children in our Sunday Schools.

Our 10-day Bible Institute ran from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, which is the same as 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Pakistan. The “day” was broken up into four, two hour sessions with breaks in between.

Our contact and I have found that standing while teaching keeps us alert… The first two nights we stayed up the entire night. Now we take a nap while the students have lunch. We wake up half an hour before the third session to make sure our brains are in gear. We also eat snacks to keep our energy level up – granola bars, honey on bread, apples, peanuts, and decaf coffee. We sleep as best as we can during the day.

I was not used to so many filters in teaching – the filter of culture (the Pakistani mindset, the American mindset), the filter of language (translation from English to Urdu and back again), and then the filter of technology (cameras, microphones, picture quality, sound quality, being unable to move around while teaching). I wish I could be physically present, but that was not possible due to security concerns. In spite of these filters, and because of them, God in his great mercy supplied what I was lacking and enabled us to connect head-to-head and heart-to-heart.

There have been four surprises:

  1. The amount of interaction. It was our goal to have a lot of interaction, but we didn’t know if we would be able to achieve it. We wanted to avoid “the sage on the stage” where everyone sits quietly and listens to a man talk for a long time. Every day we taught there was more interaction.
  2. How much the students know. Their knowledge of the Bible is deeper than we had expected.
  3. The camaraderie and good will. There is a joy and a closeness among us. Many times the students spontaneously wanted to sing a hymn after learning a Bible lesson. With the accompaniment of drums, they stood and sang an Easter hymn after learning about Jesus raising to life the only son of the Widow of Nain.
  4. The formation of a team. We spent several sessions talking honestly about the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in our churches in Pakistan. Talking back and forth – listening to the students thoughts and concerns – makes them feel they are respected. This shows them that we consider them to be valuable members of our team.

The first three days we were without the use of a live video transmission for only 45 minutes during 15 total hours of teaching. We had high hopes, but we did not expect the video signal to work so well. This was a great gift from God. When the video transmission stopped, we used the phone. We, of course, have plans to repeat and enlarge our Bible Institute; but we will not mention them here for security reasons. I thank everyone who worked so hard – in Pakistan and in America – to make this happen.

The Old Testament prophet Zechariah said, “When evening comes, there will be light” (14:7). On the evening of August 13, 2018, a crescent moon was setting in the western sky and the sun came out at midnight.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to Pakistan

 

To learn more about WELS mission work in Pakistan, visit wels.net/Pakistan.

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“Go Into All the World”… More Efficiently

Trinity Lutheran Church in the town of Liberty, on the outskirts of Manitowoc, Wis., recently held an event called Summer Spectacular. The Home Missions Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Pastor Timothy Flunker, was a great help to us in the planning. This event was to reach out to the unchurched, including Hispanics, so we could promote our upcoming English classes. The Northern Wisconsin Home Mission District gave us a generous grant. Pastor Samuel Degner kindly served as our interpreter, as I am still trying to learn Spanish little by little on a computer program. In an answer to our prayers, God blessed our Summer Spectacular! Two Hispanic families plan to take our English classes, and one spouse wants to take membership classes. A big feat for a small, rural congregation like ours.

The pinata was a “hit” at our Summer Spectacular

Technology was such a blessing to our efforts. Throughout the process, we found out that the most successful event advertising we did was on Facebook. Several guest families who attended said they learned of the event from our Facebook advertisement. We also tried some other advertising methods… weeks before Summer Spectacular, I visited local farms and asked them to share some of our posters. Many local farms employ Hispanic workers. But out of the all the outreach activities that our congregation does, door-to-door visits have been the most impactful. No other method has led to guests visiting our church or an outreach event the way that a face-to-face invitation has. Our church is surrounded by farm fields, so in many cases the local unchurched do not learn of our church unless we seek them out. Even in our face-to-face visits, technology has made “Going Into All the World” (aka the town of Liberty) more effective and efficient.

Let me assure you, I am not a Salesforce or Geopointe salesman, but the rest of this blog might make you think that I am.

Salesforce is a prospect management system that is free to non-profits (a very generous offer by the company). Geopointe is a geo-mapping application that integrates with Salesforce. It is greatly discounted for non-profits, and serves as a great tool for tracking church prospects and visits. I went into the Manitowoc County Real Estate website and was able to import all of the addresses and property owner names in our outreach area into Salesforce.

Through this useful tool, I was able to create labels for “Unvisited Residents,” “Already Churched or Uninterested,” and “Prospects.”

Not just marks on a map… but people who need to hear the gospel

Geopointe helped me create a route to visit residents and invite them to our event. I was able to Check In, Check Out, and write notes about my visit. Later on, on my computer, I would run a report to see the notes I made on prospect visits. From there I was able to label all of of the households I visited. The “Prospects” account has a great tool that lets me print address labels for sending WELS outreach newsletters to these households.

Salesforce and Goepointe have been extremely helpful in organizing our outreach efforts. It also makes creating a new route for outreach visits much easier. I have just begun using this program, and I’m not that computer savvy, but the Salesforce and Geopointe tech people were very responsive in helping me tailor the program to my preferences. The next step is to equip more church members to make visits so that a discovered prospect is not neglected but, rather, a relationship in the Lord is cultivated. Pray for blessings on our efforts, and thank the Lord for providing the technology to make “Going Into All the World” more efficient!

Written By: Pastor Greg Pope, Trinity Lutheran Church – Manitowoc, WI

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What do you do with children in worship? Cultural perspective / strategies

What do you do with children in worship?

Cultural perspective / strategies

Side by side the children sat. Old kids. Young kids. Big kids. Small kids. They sat together with zero problems. No pinching or poking. No goofing or giggling. No whining or weeping. Not even any parental prodding! They just sat there—looking around from time to time, but otherwise completely focused on message and music.

“How can this be?” you wonder. What enchanted chocolates did they eat? Is the choir director’s baton actually Harry Potter’s wand? How could children of all ages sit together without parents and quietly participate in worship without one Cheerio being launched or tear being shed? Surely this is a myth or fairytale!

How could children of all ages sit together without parents and quietly participate in worship?

I assure you, this is no utopian fantasy. This was a reality, and I saw it with my own eyes. Sadly, it wasn’t anywhere in the U.S. though. It was in Zambia.

I recently returned from a mission trip in Africa filled with joyful experiences and one unexpected revelation. I’ve spent so much time pondering children in worship, and then I learn an incredible lesson on the other side of the world when I wasn’t expecting it!

The deafening silence from Zambian children in those oxymoronic moments of worship preached a message of magnitude. Children of all ages can sit quietly in worship and can fully participate—even without threats of time-outs or promises of stickers and screen time!

Children are expected to be quiet and respectful when required.

I came to learn that Zambian family culture is starkly different from American family culture. From the earliest moments children are expected to go with the flow, to be obedient, to be quiet and respectful when required. All over children are found cuddled in kangas on their mothers’ backs during daily work. Children are allowed to play near streets and by themselves. Yet they are expected to make good choices, to be safe, and to participate in the chores that support and sustain life. And amazingly, everywhere we went we saw children respectful to all elders in authority—parent, pastor, teacher, or even visiting Americans.1

Such a cultural context provided moments that would go unnoticed if not so glaringly different than American culture. I saw those children sitting quietly together for worship (and it was uncomfortable on the dusty ground in a handmade hut-sanctuary). Another day I saw more than two dozen children sit together without any parents, joyfully joining in a one-day VBS of exchanging stories and songs between cultures. Those children ranged in age from two to 14, and there was not one behavior issue for four hours. I even saw twin three-year-olds sitting cramped on their parents’ laps for a nine-hour bus ride. They had no games, toys, or screens, and yet I wouldn’t have known they were there had I not been sitting across from them!

There was not one behavior issue for four hours.

Now let’s go back to the U.S. again (thankfully without the 23 hours of flying). Here we see children at the epicenter of life. They have painted rooms and hundreds of dollars of toys and accessories waiting for them before they are even born. Parents flinch at their child’s every movement from birth on, eager to please Paul and pacify Payton and hopeful to record every moment on their iPhones and boast about it on Facebook. Children learn quickly that it doesn’t take much to make mom or dad jump. Appropriately timed tears or tantrums make parents cave-in to buy the toy, to drop important work midstream, and yes, even to take them out of church to the “fun room” down the hall.

Appropriately timed tears or tantrums make parents cave-in…

Consider also the surge of stimulants in America. Within months of birth children are plopped in front of Baby Einstein with its flashing lights and colors. They’re handed tablets and phones not long after—either to get them ahead in learning or to keep them occupied when noise is inconvenient, like at a restaurant. (I’ve often seen parents hand their kids screens in worship, too). Are we surprised at attention and focus issues when Americans average more than 70 hours per week on screens2 where images change every few seconds? Add these thoughts to those shared in the previous article on this topic: Americans also have parenting problems due to generational issues, information overload on how to parent, a post-Christian culture, and constant age segregation where others are expected to take care of my children.

So take a breath and a step back to peer at the portrait of parenting in America. For me the picture became crystal clear when I was immersed in a different culture. We have cultivated a culture of parenting in America that is often inappropriate at best and inept at worst. Unfortunately, we’re so lost in our American trees that we don’t usually realize the problems until we have opportunity to frolic in a different forest…like in Africa.

“I Have a Solution!”

Here we are then, steeped in the American parenting culture, and churches are feeling the hurt in worship. Some older members look in disdain at disruptive children during worship. Parents wrestle in the pews, praying for a quick and quiet finish to the service—“Please, can we just once make it through the whole service? Just once, please!” Meanwhile, churches have children who are lost in the mix while the adults are wondering, “What do we do about this?”

Well, typical to Western civilization and pragmatic American thought, when you have a perceived problem you need a solution. Over the years God’s people have attempted various solutions. One might wonder aloud: Do the solutions and services for children in churches come from an American mindset of “please the customer”? Or do the solutions come from genuine evangelical, pastoral, and missiological care for people to hear the Word of God? In other words, do our solutions show we’re trying to keep people happy about children—so no one complains about noise and so parents don’t have excuses? Or do our solutions show we’re searching for every possible way for the Word of truth to be proclaimed to all people? I’m not sure there’s always a clear-cut answer.

What follows then is a review of some strategies and solutions churches have adopted to serve children and families in worship. This is not a comprehensive list, but it does touch on the most popular solutions. Each is reviewed by considering some of the positives and negatives they offer.

Foolish, Frivolous, and Forced

Liturgical clowns. Yes, they actually do exist. Please don’t google it (though I’m sure you will now). This is one of several “solutions” for serving children in worship that would fit into this category. Many creative minds have concocted many “creative” ways to involve children in worship, e.g. liturgical clowns. Another is a suggestion to have children come forward to the chancel and enact letters and words from the Lord’s Prayer, much like Y.M.C.A by the Village People. Yet another suggestion is to have children lead the entire service via hand puppets they created. You can buy books filled with such ideas. Might it be safe to say that we can agree these are foolish and frivolous ideas, unwise for the sanctity of God’s house and the dignity of gospel ministry?

Other solutions spring from a buzzword in children’s ministry today—intergenerational worship. For many authors, this does not mean simply having old and young people worshiping together. Rather, some force contrived ideas into worship to create intergenerational moments. For example, a grandparent and a grandchild take turns reading the Scripture lessons together.

Not to be misunderstood, intergenerational worship is good and God-pleasing. God wants all of his people to worship together. There are good ways to plan for involving children in worship (children’s choirs, children passing out friendship registers, child acolytes, etc.). But we would do well to think carefully about intergenerational moments that might be forced or contrived.

Nursery / Cry Room

In a recent survey sent to pastors, 84% of WELS churches reported have a dedicated space that functions as a nursery or cry room.

Pros: It’s a fact of life that every parent knows: some days are just bad days for tots and tykes. Anything from earaches to bellyaches cause a youngin’ to be yearnin’ for the exit during worship. A nursery can be a great blessing for parents to nurse, to discipline, or to let a child catch a breath and regroup. Additionally, in this post-Christian era many parents may not be familiar with proper decorum for children in church. A nursery could be helpful to visitors as they (and their children) gradually learn more about worship.

Cons: Perhaps the biggest consideration is this: What purpose does the nursery or cry room serve? Is it a quiet place for parents to do what is described above? Or is it simply a safe zone for kids to play and let loose? Children learn quickly. Babies know if they cry they’ll be fed, held, or changed. Little ones know if they throw the sippy cup off the high chair and you pick it up, they can play that game all day long with you. Children can quickly be trained that if they cry enough they can go to the “fun room” with all the toys. Children should go to the nursery because they need to not because they want to.

Similarly, caution should be observed if the nursery functions as a drop off zone, as if it’s day care during worship. It may be convenient for parents during worship. It may allow them to pay attention more. It may even be a blessing for those newer to the faith and still learning about the Word and worship. However, God has given the directive first to parents to train their child in the way to go.

Perhaps the best scenario is a nursery that is used on a needs basis, not a convenience basis.

Considerations: A nursery or cry room can be a great blessing. Perhaps the best scenario is a nursery that is used on a needs basis, not a convenience basis. It is probably best to have a room that looks into the sanctuary or that has an audio and video stream of the service. If such a room is staffed by volunteers, it would be wise to have a large rotation so that the same people do not continually miss worship.

Children’s Sermons

In a recent survey sent to pastors, 22% of WELS churches reported having a children’s sermon every Sunday, 27% fairly regularly, and 18% on occasion. Others may be considering adding them to worship.

Pros: A children’s sermon is a fantastic way to show pastoral heart and care. There’s something friendly and heartwarming about the Lord’s called minister welcoming children as the Lord himself did. A children’s sermon provides specific opportunities to preach Law and Gospel on a level that children might understand better. Additionally, they may be great ways to teach about the worship theme of the day or other aspects of worship (liturgy, symbols, rites, rituals, etc.).

Cons: One of the biggest considerations for children’s sermons is how they are carried out. Far too often this time during worship turns into a pause from the sanctity of divine service for moments of trite and trivial hilarity. I’ve seen garbage cans, balloons popped by lighters, puppets and more appear in the chancel before the holy altar of God Almighty. And inevitably, there are also the awkward moments—Johnny revealing a little too much about home life, or Susie hiking up her dress to reveal Elmo undies. Yes, these could be considered cute moments of “kids being kids,” but what are we subtly teaching the congregation about reverence and awe? What does this “time out” do to the ebb and flow of worship, the back and forth interaction between God and man that is the liturgy?

Careful planning should be exercised so that we not give children a cartoon version of Jesus.

Considerations: A children’s sermon can provide great personal time with the pastor for children as they have opportunity to hear a clear and concise point about the Gospel, the worship theme, or some other liturgical lesson. However, caution and careful planning should be exercised so that we not give children a cartoon version of Jesus instead of the true Alpha and Omega, King of kings Jesus.

Children’s Church

In a recent survey sent to pastors, 4% of WELS churches reported having a Children’s Church service that runs in a separate location from the sanctuary during part or all of the regular service. However, anecdotal evidence suggests this is a growing trend in our circles.

Pros: In theory, a Children’s Church service could serve good purposes. This service could be used to directly and specifically apply the Law and Gospel from that Sunday to children. It could be used to teach children about the liturgy as well as the words and songs of the liturgy. Children’s Church could provide parents an opportunity to focus more during worship. In some settings this may be a greater need than others. For example, on one Easter Sunday at my previous parish we had over 300 people in worship. Nearly half of those were visitors, and over 75 children were under age 12. It was so loud you could barely hear me read the Easter Gospel! Could a Children’s Church service have provided an opportunity for more focused Easter worship so that all the visitors could clearly hear about resurrection hope and joy?

Cons: You note how I stated that Children’s Church could be good in theory. It is my estimation that the possible pros are far outweighed by the cons. Is it wise to separate the body of Christ during worship? Is it wise for others to usurp the parents’ responsibility for training children in the way they should go in a society where parents are already so accustomed to others raising their children (see the previous article)? If children, especially young children, learn best from watching and mimicking, when will they see dad sing or mom confess her sins or both with tears in their eyes after receiving the body and blood of our Lord? And finally, what are we subtly teaching children about their value and abilities in worship when we send them down the hall?

Considerations: While there are potential blessings from offering a Children’s Church service, there should be great caution here. Too often Children’s Church becomes play time or song and craft time in a “more fun” room down the hall. More importantly, Children’s Church potentially communicates subtle messages of great gravity that we ought to consider carefully.

Concurrent Sunday School

In a recent survey sent to pastors, 7% of WELS churches reported having Sunday School or a children’s program running concurrently with worship that children could go to instead of the regular service.

For the sake of brevity, most of the pros and cons for this are the same as for Children’s Church. However, this question must also be asked, “If children go to Sunday School during worship, when will they worship?” Worshiping the Lord of Hosts is considered neither optional nor age-specific in Scripture. God wants everything that has breath to praise the Lord in worship.

Parents may make strong comments about Children’s Church or concurrent Sunday School such as, “I was finally able to concentrate. I get so much more out of church now.” However, though these comments are well-intentioned, we must recognize that parents are the ones God has given the task of training their children to do the very thing God wants all people to do—worship.

What is Beneficial?

When considering a few of the solutions that have been offered for serving children in church, we do well to heed the words of Paul: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.3 We surely have Christian freedom to do many things, but not everything is beneficial or constructive for children.

Some may be noticing that I have been burying the lede a bit with this article and the previous. The topic is What to Do with Children in Church? But no answer has clearly been given yet. This is done purposefully. The intention was that we first ponder the struggles many congregations and parents have with children in worship and then consider what many are offering as solutions. With these thoughts in mind, in the next article we will turn to the Scriptures for both prescription and description regarding children in church.

May the Word of truth guide us clearly as we serve all who worship the Lord!

Written by Phil Huebner


1 Some in the broader secular culture—not only Christians—recognize the issues. See: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-overprotected-american-child-1527865038 and https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/07/02/spoiled-rotten.
2 https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/19/health/children-smartphone-tablet-use-report/index.html
3 1 Corinthians 10:23


 

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