Sharing light . . . and s’mores

Zion had been thinking about starting a new site for gospel ministry for about a decade. Lord willing, in the summer of 2022 we will be starting worship in the city of Lodi, about 13 minutes away from our country church in the Arlington/Leeds, Wis. area. It has been quite a journey! Jesus says, “Let your light shine in people’s presence, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In 2021, an opportunity came along to do just that.

In 2021, we started a Lodi Ministry Team focusing on ways to be involved in the community. For the last few years, we had a float in their Christmas Lights Parade on the second Saturday in December. The idea came up to have a community s’mores party after the Christmas Lights Parade. There was a park nearby and if we could get a few fire pits and a crew of people to help, we might be able to pull it off. We asked the city officials if we would be able to do this and a problem arose. There was no one to organize and lead the Christmas Lights Parade this year. If a group didn’t get a permit within 24 hours, then it wouldn’t be happening. The chairman of our committee sent out an email, and we decided to do it. We put $25 toward the permit, and our Lodi Ministry Team of about 20 went to work. Our congregation helped out in so many ways. We blanketed the community with fliers about the event and asked people in the community to sign up and build a float to have it in the parade. Information about the event made it into the local paper a couple of times talking about “Zion Lutheran Church of Lodi,” and we didn’t even have a worship site there yet! The Facebook event reached 31,115 people. There were 1,226 responses. Twelve floats were in the parade, including ours. Over 500 people from Lodi lined the streets for the parade. Over 200 people stayed afterwards to hear the Lodi High School Chamber Choir sing carols and gather around one of our three fire pits to make s’mores with us. It was a great honor to not only be a part of it, but to plan it and make sure this community event continued for Lodi.

During the parade we handed out small bags to the spectators. Inside were two marshmallows, a fun-sized Hershey’s bar, and two graham crackers to make s’mores at the park after the parade. Also included in each bag was a sticker that said, “Need S’more Jesus?” and had our website listed. At the park we had a few hundred sticks for making s’mores on hand and a table with Zion members handing out wipes for people who wanted clean hands or another s’more.

This community need for a parade organizer was a gift from God. It allowed us to share not just pretty Christmas lights but Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. We thank God for the opportunity.

On Christmas Eve of 2021, we signed the lease to hold worship in Lodi in 2022.

Written by Rev. Scott Schwertfeger, home missionary at Zion Lutheran Church, Lodi, Wis.

Lodi was recently approved as an unsubsidized home mission at the spring Board for Home Missions meeting. Learn more at wels.net/newstarts.

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New evangelism resources in Vietnam

I’m sitting at a laptop in a government hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ten days of quarantine ahead. I’m ready to teach a class to Hmong student pastors. Due to COVID, the pastor students are unable to attend classes in person. Instead, they must Zoom in. What a joy to watch that little number at the bottom corner of the screen grow as more and more students connect. We end up with 60 student pastors eager to learn about Jesus! And the topic for the course: How to make an evangelism presentation, using a set of thirty illustrative posters! How did we arrive at this exciting project?

Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, knows that it is very economical to print full color posters in Vietnam. One day, the request came in from the Vietnam pastors: “Please create an evangelism presentation that includes a set of posters!” The pastors would use the evangelism presentation throughout the hundreds of Hmong villages in Vietnam.

A script for the evangelism presentation was developed under the direction of Pastor Boun. I visited him at his home in Kansas City to review my prototype drawings. He suggested many revisions that would make the pictures more compatible with the Hmong culture. Months later Pastor Boun approved a final script and drawings. He then placed an order for 650 sets of the thirty posters to be printed in Hanoi. Each of the student pastors will teach another three or four church leaders how to make the evangelism presentation. Those church leaders would in turn teach more leaders in the remote villages.

The evangelism presentation describes the lost condition of all humanity and God’s marvelous way of saving the world from sin. A three-panel poster on infant baptism is very graphic. The baby, born with a sinful nature, has been swallowed by the Serpent! The baby is pictured in the belly of the Beast! But the third panel of the poster depicts what happens through the waters of baptism: Jesus reaches down—right through the Serpent’s mouth—and rescues the baby!

Three posters are used to explain the doctrine of Justification. In his inspired words in Romans 3:19-31, Paul uses a forensic or “courtroom” analogy to explain how we are declared “not guilty” before God. Our first poster depicts a secular courtroom scene, complete with a boy on trial, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a judge. The next poster depicts the “spiritual courtroom,” where we see Satan accusing the boy before God, demanding that the boy be sentenced to eternal punishment. But Jesus, our mediator, our defender, declares that he has already taken the punishment the boy deserves. God declares the boy “not guilty!”

It would be exciting to describe all the posters, because they illustrate the amazing love of God for once-lost sinners, But I will mention one more, the final poster in the set of thirty. In the picture, Jesus stands in his white robe behind a white-robed boy. The hands of Jesus rest on the boy’s shoulders. The picture explains what it means to be God’s own child in a constant state of grace under the loving hands of our Savior. As Paul explains in Galatians 3:26-27: “In fact you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Indeed, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (EHV).

Our Vietnam student pastors ponder with excitement that last picture. Is this truly how we appear before God—all the time—clothed in a white robe of Christ’s righteousness? The answer for all of us through faith in Christ is a resounding “yes!” God says it many times and in many ways throughout his Word, and succinctly in these words: “I will remember your sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12).

Written by Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for Multi-Language Productions.

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What’s a Missionary? You are a Missionary!

Picture Philip being called by God and told to go visit the Ethiopian Eunuch in a chariot in the middle of the desert. God basically teleports Philip to the scene and uses Philip to witness Jesus to the Eunuch by starting with the scroll of Isaiah that the Eunuch did not understand.

Starting a new mission church has many similarities to this account as recorded in the book of Acts 8:26-40. God didn’t tell Philip how to witness. He just says, “Go” and where to go. That is in essence what the call to a missionary is. A missionary is called by God to “Go” and is sent to a place that has been researched and approved as a great opportunity for mission work. This missionary then is to reach the people in that setting with the great news of Jesus applying God’s Word and using the resources that are right in front of them to reach the people where they are at in life.

We are excited to be a part of that mission work at The Shore Lutheran Church in Parrish, Fla. We came up with that name because we are near the shore of the Gulf Coast, but also just on the north shore of the Manatee River. It is at the shore where many wonderful events take place in the Bible. Events that reveal the powerful mission work and setting that God has before us. Jesus went to where people were at, the shore. Fishermen gathered there along with many other people as Jesus shared with them that he came to save them. Jesus called many of his disciples right there on the shore. It was on the shore where Jesus fed the disciples with a miraculous meal and served them. It is on the shore where God’s people witnessed his power to save them as the Red Sea parted for them to walk through on dry ground, but then also on the other shore to watch the water crash down and save them from the pursuing Egyptian army. One of the infant stages of a mission is to choose a name that will resonate with your mission field. We pray that our name, The Shore, will inspire in us to reach out to the people where they are at, but also build a wonderful safe place for all people to gather to praise the power of God and be calmed from the storms of life by their Savior.

It is our prayer at The Shore that we all hear God’s call for us all to be his missionaries. That is exactly what we are. God places us in all different areas of work, life circumstances, neighborhoods, everywhere, all of these places so that we may witness Jesus right then and there to this so quickly dying world. We have a living Savior which means we too will live. May we all join in sharing Jesus so that many others will live forever in heaven too.

Written by Rev. Jeremy Cares, home missionary at The Shore Lutheran Church in Parrish, Fla.

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Little pastor

Forty years ago, his pastor called him “Xiao Mushi” (little pastor). He was planting seeds in this young boy’s heart. Michael was just a second grader. He lived in a village in central Taiwan. It’s 300 year old temple to the goddess Mazu is among the largest on the island. Sometimes while his small church is worshipping, a temple procession a half-mile long makes its way past the country church. She is taken out of the temple once a year to be among her people. Inside the church, worship has to pause as small trucks passed by blaring loud music. Right in the middle of the procession, a statue of Mazu, often called the Holy Heavenly Mother, is carried along by worshippers as “she” sits on a chair. Her expression is calm but wooden eyes can only look forward. Throngs of people bow down and worship along the narrow road, hoping she will grant peace and prosperity.

This is where Michael grew up. In his Lutheran church Sunday School he heard about the Savior who also was born in a small village. This Savior gave his life for the world, rose and then ascended to heaven. He doesn’t need to be carried around on a chair, but rules from a heavenly throne. Michael’s dad, an employee of a local bicycle factory preached this good news to the congregation on the Sundays when the pastor was not there. Michael was watching his dad be a Christian leader. Michael was growing in his faith in Jesus.

Michael’s church

Thirty years later, his pastor – the son of his first pastor! – encouraged him to take Christian leadership training courses offered by the church with help from Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS). Over several years this somewhat shy man started to come into his own. He completed the first phase of his training. The next step was clear. Late in 2021, this “Xiao mushi” was officially installed as a bi-vocational leader for his church! Michael has been given the chance to proclaim Jesus in this part of Taiwan that still has the fewest churches per capita on Taiwan. As his father retires, Michael joins the ranks of many around the world who serve God in their secular jobs as well as in their called gospel ministry. Like his father, Michael designs bike parts and  preaches the Good News to a small congregation of the faithful.  May God bless Michael and all who serve in this way! May God multiply the ranks of “Xiao Mushi” around the world!

Written by Rob Siirila, part-time East Asia missionary

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Mission mysteries

The wick was missing. Five or six weeks in a row. A member would light one of two oil candles on our cafeteria table altar and then discover . . . the other had no wick. Well, it had one, but it had gotten pulled down into the oil below.

If pushing a frayed, charred, oily string back up through a pinhole in front of church two minutes before worship sounds like an easy job, several members of Citrus Grove will assure you – it is not! Our go-to fix-it guy went to his truck for a special tool, and without complaining, operated on the wick until he had it reassembled. Five or six weeks in a row. Why did this keep happening? One time a pastor who shall remain unnamed knocked it over. No mystery there! But all those other times . . .  We wondered if the candle box got bumped during the week as it sat in the school’s storage room. Finally, one Saturday while converting the cafeteria into a sanctuary, a leader of the congregation noticed another leader had set the candles on the altar and was unscrewing the tops to check the oil level. “Stop!” I heard him shout. But it was too late: The wick had pulled through again. But mystery solved! It wasn’t sabotage or carelessness. It was a Christian serving as well as he knew how. It was one of those tiny mission mix-ups best solved by a minute of training with a laugh and a smile.

Your second mission mystery for today is more serious, because it involves coffee. One weekend it was . . . gasp . . . cold. The member who serves as our barista was flustered and apologetic. She followed our regular procedure, but it never heated up. Of course the pastor had just told everyone to grab a cup of coffee and greet each other. Of course there were guests in attendance. And the coffee was cold. The brain trust of faithful coffee drinkers gathered around the machine. “It’s either the outlet, the extension cord, or the machine,” one said. Another said, “No way it’s the cord or the outlet. It’s definitely the machine.” By the next Sunday we had a shiny new machine, which worked flawlessly. Everyone was happy, because they had their coffee! But the following week, the mystery thickened. Our brand new commercial brewer got warm, but definitely not hot. A wise observer noticed a new light on the extension cord. “It looks like between the coffee maker and the hot water boiler, you’re blowing a fuse. Get a new cord. Or use two outlets.” We had already tossed the trusty old machine in the trash, but it served a final purpose: The cold coffee mystery was solved. Another one of those mission mix-ups, handled with a laugh and a smile by some very forgiving souls.

One thing is for sure: More mysteries will pop up as we pack and unpack equipment, rearrange cafeteria tables, and host outreach events in rented spaces. Mix-ups will be traced back to well-meaning Christians doing their best to serve Jesus and his people. Beyond a minute of training, the best reaction is to laugh and smile and thank Jesus for the brothers and sisters working alongside us in his harvest field.

Written by Rev. Phil Hunter, home missionary at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

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If those doors could talk

“Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (Psalm 24:7).

Psalm 24 paints an interesting picture for us. Gates and doors lifting their heads to joyfully welcome the King of Glory passing through them? Amazing! Wouldn’t it be something to hear how they would describe such a tremendous scene?

Rev. Kirk Massey, pastor at Church of the Open Bible, and his family

There’s another set of doors I’d love to hear. What stories they could tell about the people who’ve walked through them and the wonderful things that happened inside! This year marks the 100th year that the doors of the Church of the Open Bible in Whiteriver, Ariz., have swung open and welcomed people inside to hear about the King of Glory.

If those doors could talk . . . maybe they would talk about the first person to ever walk through them. On April 30, 1922, a crowd gathered on the front steps of a brand-new church building in the middle of Whiteriver. Several years of planning and believing and finally building had led up to this moment. The hard work of their hands was finished. A church anchored on a shelf of volcanic lava, thick timbers placed carefully, a cross on the top that had been carried up the steep roof strapped to the back of the missionary. Now, all eyes were on the two men at the doors. The “Inashood ‘Ndaezen” (Tall Missionary) Edgar Guenther, and Chief Alchesay, leader of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. As they watched, Alchesay took the key, turned the lock, and led his people into the church. He strode down the center aisle and told everyone following him that “This was the only church I put my thumbprint on.” Pointing to the Bible and looking at Rev. Guenther he said, “You listen to him when he speaks from this book.” Then he and 100 of his band were baptized.

If those doors could talk, they would talk about Alchesay passing through them one last time, six years later. As he was dying, he had one request: to be buried with the key to the church in his headband, since that key had opened God’s house for him, and opened heaven for him.

If those doors could lift up their heads and talk . . . oh the stories they could tell from the last 100 years! Seeing babies brought in by proud parents to have their names written in the Book of Life at the baptismal font, hearing the sounds of children singing songs about their Savior Jesus, rejoicing in the adults who came in burdened with sins and leaving in the peace of forgiveness. So many people have gone through those doors, some of them finding peace and being changed forever, some walking away in anger, and other leaving in a casket while their footsteps ring in heaven.

The doors of the Church of the Open Bible have been open for 100 years, because about 2,000 years ago, the doors of this world opened up to welcome the King of Glory into it to save us, the gates of Jerusalem opened up for Him to pay for the sins of all people, and the Holy Spirit has continued to open the hearts of people like Alchesay for the King of Glory to enter in.

Pray that those doors continue to open and say, “Come in! You’ll find the King of Glory here. And He’s got good news for you!”

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, world missionary on the Native American mission team.

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Prayers for a church

In 2010, Caroline McCatty prayed that God would help her and her husband Lawrence to find a really good church. At the time, the couple was in the process of moving from England to the United States. Caroline knew the transition would take them to a new place, and she didn’t have any connections in the area to which she could reach out and ask for a church recommendation. As they settled in the East Coast of the United States, God led the McCattys to a small WELS church. The pastor there taught from the Bible, and focused on Jesus as the Savior of the world. Previously, the McCattys had attended a church in England, but not one that clearly preached the truths of Scripture. At the WELS church in the United States, they learned messages from the Bible that they had never heard before–and quickly grew to love.

Five years later, the McCattys returned to their home country as WELS members. Upon their return, they lifted up a different prayer – one that requested Scripture-based worship and instruction. The couple observed a different scene in England than what they had witnessed at the WELS church in the United States. They asked for that same Christ-centered gospel message to come to England: they wanted the solid meat that WELS offers, rather than a watered-down version of Scripture they saw throughout England. They prayed for six years; then God led WELS to start up mission work in England. Missionary Michael Hartman is leading the effort and is working with the McCattys and others in England to coordinate services and ministry.

The McCattys serve as an example to us of an existing core group of WELS and CELC members living in England. Thus far, members of the CELC church bodies on four continents are known to live in England. The goal is that this core group serve as a starting place for gospel outreach to the country. If you know a member or contact currently living in England, please contact Missionary Hartman. (Email: Michael.Hartman@wels.net / WhatsApp: +13058900560 or +447360712166.)

Read the rest of the McCatty’s story in their Forward in Christ article.

Written by Rev. Michael Hartman, world missionary in London, England.

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Opportunities for Hispanic outreach

More than 2,000 WELS members in North America report that Spanish is their first language. They worship in well over 100 congregations, with almost 20 of those having regular services in Spanish. There are a dozen congregations that do not have Spanish services but still have Spanish Bible classes every week. Every year Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduates men who are fluent in both Spanish and English. Over 30 WELS pastors in North America engage their communities in Spanish every day.

There is so much activity in this area that the Board for Home Missions has called a full-time Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Pastor Timothy Flunker. He has plenty to do, including the goal of assisting at least ten new congregations each year to reach out to Hispanic people in their communities.

At the same time, our mission team in Central and South America (the One Latin America Team) has developed an outreach strategy called Christ Academy (Academia Cristo in Spanish). It begins with a mobile app that offers four self-led courses at the Bible Information Class level of study. Over 500,000 people have downloaded the mobile app. The last course in this tier focuses on training students to share what they’ve learned with others. Students must complete all four courses before they are able to sign up for live classes. Over 1,300 people have signed up for live classes.

In the first level of live classes, students work through 13 Bible Institute level classes that are taught live online by a WELS missionary or national partner. At this level, a large emphasis is placed on gathering a group of people to share the gospel message. Over 400 people have completed at least one of the live classes, and about 75 of them have indicated that they have gathered a group.

The Joint Mission Council recently wondered how the Christ Academy model would work in the United States and Canada. They asked the One Latin America (1LA) Team to devise a pilot project using the Christ Academy app in a dozen existing WELS congregations in North America. Rather than adding to Pastor Flunker’s duties, they encouraged the 1LA Team to call a pilot project director from the group of men who were already involved in the Christ Academy program in Central and South America. We are happy to announce that Pastor Carl Leyrer, a veteran in the Christ Academy work, has accepted that call and is beginning his work.

We ask God’s blessings on the work of both Pastor Flunker and Pastor Leyrer.

“A la verdad la mies es mucha, pero los obreros pocos. Rogad, pues, al Señor de la mies, que envíe obreros a su mies” (Matthew 9:37-38).

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'”

Written by Paul Prange, Joint Mission Council Chairman.

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One day makes an eternal difference

Although our first encounter took place over six months ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. Last year was The Vine’s first time hosting a booth at Joplin, Mo.’s, downtown block party called Third Thursday. This once-a-month event gets crowds in the thousands, but God’s watchful eye coordinated the events of that day so that two of his children in particular would come in contact with us. Throughout the event we greeted attendees and offered Vine-branded gear along with plants, snacks, and water bottles to anyone that would take them. The entire day was constant communication from one person to the next.

I had just got done speaking with a younger couple when I turned around and saw them. Coming towards me was an elderly couple riding their scooters, slowly making their way down the road observing vendors as they went. They were accompanied by their rescued yellow lab showing them around with a slobbery smile at their side. As they approached our booth I asked them, “May I interest either of you in a free plant, coffee mug, or cupcake?” Their shock made me realize they probably thought I was trying to convince them to buy something. I believe after some convincing they took a free plant and a mug. Before they left, they asked who we were and where we were located. I let them know that we were a new Lutheran mission church in town that had been worshiping for about six months right on Main Street.

Two of my favorite things in life are evangelism and dogs, so it was easy for me to talk about our beliefs with them all while petting their pup. As I was listening to their story, they let me know that they were Christians that had been trying to find a church home for quite some time. After some wonderful discussion, they let me know that they would check us out on Sunday. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think much of it. Over the course of a Third Thursday, you might converse with a couple hundred people and dozens of them say, “See you Sunday” with a smile. But then I would show up for worship and see that was not the case. That Sunday came, and as I was talking to a visitor before worship started one of our members tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Pastor, someone is here to see you.” I looked to the door and saw them. Harry was in his wheel chair and Mary was standing right next to him with a big smile on her face. I quickly greeted them and let them know how happy I was to have them join us for worship. After the service they said that they very much enjoyed it and would see us again.

Fast forward about a month later and they had not missed a service. At the end of every service, I offer an open invite to anyone interested in going through a Bible Basics course with me. These classes teach the fundamental teachings of the Scriptures and upon completion allow one to become a member of our church if they desire. As I was greeting people after the service that day, Harry let me know that the two of them were interested in membership. The very next day we started class at their house. Although their homemade fajitas, apple cobbler, and chocolate chip cookies were incredibly delicious, the greatest joy for all of us was diving into the Word and hearing about our wonderful Savior. The two enjoyed asking questions they had held in before and finding many answers in the Word. After completing the course, the two gladly joined our membership right before Christmas. Their company is truly a blessing to everyone around them.

We might ask ourselves, “What can be accomplished in one day?” Well, we as blood-bought souls and former wretches that are now redeemed know firsthand that the Lord can do a great deal in 24 hours. On a cross at Calvary, the Lamb of God died to pay for the sins of the world. God reconciled the entire world to himself, not counting our sins against us but against his Son. On that one day we were saved. On that day, heaven was won for all of the Lord’s people. The Lord blesses our days in light of that one great day. In one day, life for Harry and Mary completely changed. In one day at a booth in Joplin they met brothers and sisters in Christ that wanted to welcome them in as family; that wanted to rejoice with them, mourn with them, and worship the one true God with them.

As Harry put it when he commented on our Facebook page: “It is so good to find a church home after so many years. I no longer feel as if I’m skating on thin ice . . . thank you so much!” The Lord has and will continue to do so much each day. Every one of us is proof of that.

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

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Strawberry fields forever in Vietnam

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey (strawberries?) to my mouth!

Despite COVID-19 restrictions and obstacles, our mission to the Hmong people in Vietnam moves forward. We continued in our second year of online instruction for our Hmong students.

Recently I taught a course on the book of Psalms to our 57 students. My partner Bounkeo Lor taught a class on Christian Stewardship. His brother Ger Lor taught the Augsburg Confession.

About half an hour before each class began, I opened the Zoom classroom. Students like to check in early, talk to each other, catch up on news, and say prayers. I get to practice my limited Hmong vocabulary by greeting the students and asking them questions.

On the day of the final session of our Psalms class, one student showed us a blessing from her garden. Ntshuab showed us a basket of strawberries. I quickly consulted my Hmong-English dictionary to find the Hmong word for strawberry. “Kuv nyiam txiv pos nphuab,” (I like the strawberry) I said to Ntshuab.

Then I decided to change my Zoom background to show a basket of strawberries. The students smiled and chatted about strawberries. More students entered the classroom and probably wondered why I featured a picture of strawberries.

The class continued for two hours. We reviewed and celebrated the message of the Psalms. One student remarked, “I never realized before how much the Psalms talk about Jesus.” He had learned the chief message of Scripture and the Psalms.

When we concluded, the students regretted that we couldn’t study more of the Psalms. We focused our ten sessions on just 12 of the 150 Psalms. I also regretted that we could not study more of the Psalms but promised we would do so in the future.

I said, “Each Psalm we studied is like a sweet strawberry. They are delicious and we want to eat more of them.” “Yes,” said one student, “I wish we could have eaten more strawberries in this class.”

Our Hmong students remain eager to learn God’s Word. We finish one class. They want another class. We study one book of the Bible. They want to study the next book. We cover one topic. They want to hear all the topics.

Our brothers and sisters in the Hmong Fellowship have the desire of the psalmist who wrote, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey (strawberries?) to my mouth!”

Written by Joel Nitz, world missionary in Vietnam.

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Mission exploration in an unlikely place

When you think of places that are ripe for the harvest and logical locations to begin mission exploration, you probably start thinking big cities and highly populated suburban areas, right? It seems like a natural place to start. I mean, there are lots of people in those areas to connect to God’s Word and a seemingly endless potential of opportunities to do so . . .

But what about a place like the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan)? It’s a huge area of land—larger than a lot of states, in fact. But yet the total population is less than 300,000. And even the largest city—Marquette—is only a little over 20,000.

It might seem illogical to do mission exploration in such a sparsely populated part of the country—a land where wild animals and trees far outnumber people! But yet the people who do live here are equally loved by God and just as desperately in need of salvation as people in the big cities. And in many ways, it’s actually easier to establish yourself and connect with people in towns of 3,000-5,000, as opposed even to suburbs of, say, 30,000-50,000.

This past October, I had the privilege of leading Pastors Ben Enstad and Wayne Uhlhorn on a little tour of several of the “larger” towns in the U.P. (and I use that word “larger” very loosely)—and in doing so, they, too, agreed that the U.P. certainly is a mission field worth exploring. We already have small congregations in a number of the larger towns—so in those places, we already have the benefit of some established connections. But the problem is that it’s also been hard to gain any sort of traction in those communities—because, due to financial limitations, the majority of those established congregations have to share one pastor between two or even three parishes.

Two examples: Iron River and Marquette. Iron River—the hometown of recent Olympic gold-medalist snowboarder, Nick Baumgartner—is a town of about 3,000 people, with a good percentage of those being unchurched. But yet the congregation that we currently have there barely has a presence, because the pastor lives 45 minutes away and is asked to spend his time also tending to two other parishes. Likewise, Marquette—which again is by far the largest “metropolitan” area in the U.P.—has a small, but long-established WELS congregation in the area, dating back to the mid 1800s. But yet the existing congregation is 10 miles east of town where hardly anyone lives; and furthermore, the pastor is pulled further in the opposite direction by the fact that he also serves another congregation 45 minutes southeast of his rural Marquette congregation.

So like I say, there’s certainly potential to be tapped. But a lack of financial resources, and therefore a lack of sufficient pastoral presence, has really been a hindrance to doing any sort of major outreach in recent years.

And this is where WELS Home Missions can come in and offer a much needed hand. Working together in collaboration with our already established congregations in Iron River and/or Marquette, Home Missions has the ability to provide financial resources that currently aren’t available to those congregations; and those extra financial resources could enable them to call an additional pastor. Such a pastor could focus his attention where that attention is needed, directing his efforts primarily toward outreach and really getting into the community. And with the blessing of our gracious Lord, I believe such work would bear much fruit—even in a place that otherwise seems rather unlikely.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to show Ben and Wayne the U.P., and I’m happy that they, too, saw the potential. It’s not where your mind might immediately jump to when you think about our Synod’s goal of 100 new missions and mission enhancements in the next 10 years. But God’s not limited to only being successful in big cities! And neither are those who live in small towns and remote areas any less worthy of hearing the precious, saving truth of the gospel!

Written by Stephen Lehmann, pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Iron Mountain, Mich.

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Preach the Word – Taking Up the Challenge

Preaching on the First or Second Reading with the Day’s Gospel in Mind

4 – Taking Up the Challenge

Many Cultures, One Lord is Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s annual effort to observe the Martin Luther King holiday. I preached at the service in 2015 just as the Black Lives Matter movement was exploding. There is no official Proper for that service so I could choose my text without considering the other readings. I chose Acts 10 and 11 because I felt the early church’s prejudice over against Cornelius and the Gentiles and the Spirit’s response addressed the issue on our campus. I quoted passages from the entire event; the sermon had no formal theme. I concluded with this:

The story of planet earth since the fall is filled with battles between races and cultures and lifestyles. Today our nation stops for a moment to ponder solutions to these conflicts. In the end, only God’s solution works. The encounter with Cornelius was a critical moment in Peter’s life, and it is critical for us as well. As you remember this story, note the struggle in God’s men and note the power of God’s grace. Note the struggle and confess your sins. Note the power and trust the absolution. Right there is the solution for prejudice, there is the key to outreach and evangelism, and there is the path for your life and your ministry.

Four years later, in 2019, I encountered the Peter/Cornelius event again. Acts 11:1-18 is the First Reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year C (May 15 this year). Both this reading and the Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, are new to the lectionary. It’s instantly obvious that the Second Reading was selected to match the theme of the Gospel, John 13:31-35.

As I thought about which text to preach on, I hesitated to let the Gospel go since Jesus’ command to love one another is so critical to the Christian life. The Acts 11 reading was intriguing because it addresses the issue of prejudice at a time when this is a contentious issue in our world. So I asked the question: Can I preach on the First Reading with the day’s Gospel in mind? It seemed that Peter’s defense to the Jerusalem congregation was a legitimate application of the principle Jesus set down on the night he was betrayed.

I began with Thursday and set the stage that existed at vs. 35. Then…

And then Jesus said this: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

With these words Jesus is giving us our mission and our task for life: Love one another. He invites us to see his love for us and believe his love for us—love so deep that he died for us—and then he invites us to imitate his love as we live for others. Loving one another is the greatest and the grandest and most glorious task that we believers have—and we love because he first loved us.

Easier said than done, right? Knowing Jesus’ command is one thing; we all know it. Doing Jesus’ command is another; we haven’t done what Jesus calls us to do, not nearly as often as we should. We admit it, we confess it, we ask for forgiveness, we try to do better. Sometimes. Maybe most of the time. But if we think a little, we might be willing to admit that there have been times when we aren’t so convinced we need to love one another. We’ve been wounded, slighted, ignored, insulted. Must we love those who did it? We’re better, superior, higher up on the morality chart. Must we love those below us? We’re Christian, conservative, Bible-believing, Lutheran. Must we love those who aren’t?

Those are exactly the questions a lot of first-century believers were asking in the First Reading for today from Acts chapter 11. Their struggle isn’t so different from ours. They knew what Jesus said and so do we: Love One Another! What they wanted to know and we what we want to know is this: Are There Exceptions?

I explained the standard Jewish mind set and concluded:

God commanded his people that they must have nothing to do with Gentiles. Don’t marry them, don’t visit them, don’t eat with them. Bottom line: Stay clear of Gentiles.

Of course, the Jews understood that Gentiles could be saved. The Old Testament was filled with promises that the nations would come to see the light of the gospel. Plenty of Gentiles living in Israel heard Jesus preach and believed his message. The Jewish Christians were happy to accept the Gentile Christians. But here’s where the problem came in. The Jews who followed Jesus were convinced that the Gentiles who followed Jesus had to obey the Old Testament laws. That’s the way it had always been, but it wasn’t going to be that way anymore. God had to set the Jewish Christians straight.

In two lengthy paragraphs I shared the main points of Peter’s explanation in Jerusalem. Then came the application.

This was a big hurdle for the Jewish Christians. They got it right this time, but the struggle didn’t end here. We have our own hurdles with this issue. We all know whom we love. But there are some people we have trouble loving. I love my family, but I have trouble loving my nephew who’s into drugs and punk rock. I love my neighbors, but I have trouble loving the ones who have trash all over their front yards and junk cars in the back yard. How about you? Who are the people you find hard to love, the people you might consider exceptions to Jesus’ command? The co-worker who insulted you or took advantage of you? The relative who abused his wife and made her life miserable? The parent who was always gone and never had time for you or the child who never checks in? The homeless man who won’t work, the black woman who has children with a variety of fathers, the addict who spends his welfare check on booze and pills, the Hispanics who try to enter America illegally? How about the acquaintance who brags that he’s an atheist, your neighbor’s gay son or lesbian daughter, the Catholic or the Baptist or the Mormon you were taught to dislike already when you were young? How about people in Vietnam who long to know Christian truth, the same people who tried to kill you 50 years ago? Yes, yes, yes, love one another, we say, but there have to be exceptions! Jesus says, Love one another—no exceptions.

How can we solve this problem that we all share? We solve it by looking to Jesus. As I have loved you, Jesus said. As I have loved you. The disciples had seen Jesus’ love for three years, love for them and love for others. They were about to see the pinnacle of his love, the love that proclaimed his glory and that brought glory to his Father. I quoted Philippians 2:5-8 …he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Because he did, we have no conscience plagued by sin, no guilt over past mistakes, no weakness facing temptation, no worry about the future, no fear in sickness, no uncertainty at death. He did this all because he loves us.

Don’t look for flowers and candy. We’re not talking about that kind of love. We’re talking about the kind of love Peter had for Cornelius and his household, the kind of love Peter explained to the congregation in Jerusalem, the kind of love that led them to put away their objections, to praise God and say: So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life. So now? Forgive and forget what’s in the past. Understand and sympathize with those who struggle in poverty or sin. Feel compassion and concern for those who have fallen into temptation and error. Open your eyes, open your hearts, and open your wallets to help people longing for the gospel. You can’t show your love to all, but you can show your love to all you can, and you can love them all in Christ—no exceptions!

The sermon I preached on Epiphany 6 was based on 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10, Paul’s struggle with and solution to his thorn in the flesh. In the former Christian Worship lectionary this text concludes a lectio continua from 2 Corinthians (Pentecost 7B, paired with Mark 6:1-6, Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth). So this is a new selection for Epiphany 6C to accompany Luke 6:17-26, Jesus’ words about blessings and woes. I was intrigued by the new selection and wondered about the connection to the day’s Gospel.

I didn’t work alone this time. Before the new CW lectionary was introduced in Advent 2021, I had access to Jonathan Bauer’s Commentary on the Propers Year C. This volume has provided all kinds of interesting insights. (Some of this work is adduced in the Year C Worship Plan from Congregational Services, but the commentary has a wider scope and is wisely purchased.) The commentary doesn’t directly promote the preaching approach I’ve taken in this series of articles, but its efforts to theme the day’s Proper and to demonstrate the connection between the three readings are helpful. For example, comments on 2 Corinthians 12 include this: “Thus Paul had learned the paradoxical principle on which life in Christ’s kingdom operates: strength is found in weakness. Paul knew that as he boasted in that weakness, he was seeking shelter in the tent of Christ’s power” (Commentary, p. 96).

Commentary on the Propers Year C … has provided all kinds of interesting insights.

I had to work at finding connections between the Gospel and the Second Reading. Paul’s thorn seemed to match the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated noted in the Gospel: difficult and challenging aspects of life (does Matthew 5 explain Luke 6 more completely?). The strength and power of Christ which rest on Paul and τελεῖται in weakness seemed to match life in the kingdom of God, the satisfaction and joy that come with salvation, and the reward in heaven. Paul’s ability to boast and delight in his weaknesses seemed to reflect the blessedness that believers experience in their upside-down relationship with Christ. I themed the sermon: “Here’s to the Good Life.” I explored two truths: 1) the good life needs to be redefined and 2) the good life needs to be sought.

My introduction offered a few examples of the good life. I went on:

In one way or another we all want a slice of the good life. Good health, money in the bank, a close family—whatever. The slice I want might be different from the slice you want, but whatever makes us happy is the good life we want. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. Nothing wrong from God’s perspective, either. Truth is, God provides the good life in many ways. God loves to bless us, and he loves to make us happy.

The trouble comes when the good life doesn’t show up. And the trouble gets worse when the good life is the only life that makes us happy. That’s the problem Jesus was talking about in the Gospel today. Jesus was becoming a sensation in Israel. What he said was powerful and convincing. What he did was amazing; he healed diseases and exorcized demons again and again. People from all over the Holy Land were following him. They all wanted a slice of the good life, just as we do.

Jesus saw the hopeful faces of his followers. He looked into the eager eyes of his new apostles. He knew they wouldn’t find the good life they were hoping for, not if they stayed with him. The cross was coming for him and eventually for them. There would be no beaches, no cruises, and no job of their dreams. There would be suffering and persecution and death. The good life gone, vanished? No, not at all. Just different. And that’s what Jesus taught in today’s Gospel.

St. Paul wasn’t there when Jesus spoke to his followers that day, and he certainly wasn’t one of Jesus’ followers, not then. Decades passed before Paul wrote the words of the Second Reading for today. But what he wrote gives us a concrete example of what Jesus was saying in the Gospel. Despite all his troubles, Paul was enjoying the good life to the max. And so can we. So we’ll listen to Paul this morning, and we’ll all say be able to say: Here’s to the Good Life!

In exposition I summarized Paul’s experience with suffering and examined his thorn in the flesh. I concluded:

Paul certainly realized the good life was probably beyond him, but he was praying at least for a better life, a life that would let him work and sleep and live without this pain or this distraction.

Jesus said no. Paul wrote, But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So the thorn wasn’t going away; no good life, not even a better life. But Jesus didn’t really take the good life away; he just redefined it, he gave it a different meaning. The key to the good life, the key to completeness and contentment and happiness wasn’t to pull out Paul’s thorn but to fill Paul with Christ. The grace that covered Paul’s sins and the power that moved Paul’s ministry was better than being thornless. The Savior’s grace and the Savior’s power—that was the good life. And that’s the good life that Jesus gave to Paul. And so Paul wrote: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…

Application came naturally:

Does life disappoint and frustrate and sour us then? Is the joy of living gone? Life doesn’t have to be like that. No way! We still have the good life, but we have to redefine it, we have to explain it as Jesus did in the Gospel. The good life is to live in the kingdom of God where Jesus’ grace forgives our sins and where his power guides our lives. The good life is to be filled and overfilled with Jesus’ love. When Jesus serves us, we’re always satisfied. The good life is to anticipate the laughter of heaven where we’ll grin from ear to ear and giggle in grace forever. With Jesus, we sit back and smile and we say, “Here’s to the good life.” Happy, content, at peace with God. In the Gospel today, Jesus says that people who have this good life are blessed. He said, Blessed are you.

The second point of the sermon was to encourage the faith-filled euphoria Paul felt (I will boast… I delight) when he realized the purpose of his weaknesses. After explaining Paul, I summarized Jesus:

poor—not poverty stricken or destitute but… being hungry—not fasting or starving but… weeping—not with forced tears or fake tears but… insults: People who live in their own good life can’t stand people who live in the good life of Christ.

The conclusion followed:

This good life in Christ—this is the good life we want. If the Lord sees fit to remove our thorns or if he spares us the insults or the difficulties, great. We’ll be happy. But the happiness we really want, that inner joy, that deeper contentment, that lasting peace is a happiness that comes only with the good life in Christ. Only there do we find grace and power. So we seek the good life and we pursue it, and we find it by boasting and delighting in our weaknesses. We confess our sins, we long for forgiveness, we sorrow over our failings, we endure the insults. Like Paul, we live with our thorns—the pain, the humility, the regret, the enemies. But also like Paul, we believe that we are strong when we are weak and Christ’s power rests on us. So here’s to the good life, the good life in Christ.

The new Christian Worship lectionary presents an interesting and intriguing challenge.

The concept of preaching on the First and Second Readings with the day’s Gospel in mind isn’t for every text or every preacher. Gospel texts, of course, and other texts, too, beg for an independent approach. Some preachers love the challenge of finding every sparkling gem in a single text. The new Christian Worship lectionary, however, unlike any lectionary before it, presents an interesting and intriguing challenge: to preach on texts which have been specifically and thoughtfully chosen to match the focus of the day’s Gospel in a way that proclaims the unique truth of the text in light of the words and works of Jesus. I’ve enjoyed the challenge; perhaps you will as well.

 

Written by James Tiefel

Prof. Tiefel, now Pastor Tiefel, serves two small congregations in Mequon, WI, in semi-retirement. Over a 35-year career at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary he taught classes in worship and preaching. As an every-Sunday preacher once again, he is able to combine many of the concepts he taught in the classroom with practical experience.

 


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Sunday of the Passion

An option for worship on Palm Sunday, used by some churches even before the new hymnal, is to read the passion history. Here’s what some brother pastors say about this custom.

Jonathan E. Schroeder (Sharpsburg, GA): We do an opening procession of palms. Then the entire service is dedicated to the responsive passion reading broken up by hymns. We have done this for five years. The benefits are: 1) more congregants hear the passion history, which is not appointed for Sundays in the lectionary, and 2) one less sermon during Holy Week. I was convinced that having a larger percentage of our congregation hear the passion history was important. For many of our members who didn’t attend midweek services, their Sunday worship path took them from waving palm branches to shouting, “Christ is risen!” without seeing the cross in between. Passion Sunday was a completely positive experience. I had worried that the members who attended every midweek service would find such a practice repetitive. I shouldn’t have worried. Those were the folks who commented most often and most positively. I love to tell the story for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest. (CW 746)

Earle Treptow (Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary): We used this option for my last Palm Sunday in Denver. We began with a procession of palms, followed by a shorter sermon on a Palm Sunday text. Then the passion history. I expected that it would be appreciated by those who did not attend the midweek Lenten services. I heard positive feedback from them. They liked the different feel to the service and appreciated how it set the stage for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

What I didn’t expect was the very positive feedback from those who had attended all the midweek services. They thought it was helpful to hear the passion history in one service instead of piecemeal over several weeks. They also felt it tied the entrance into Jerusalem a little more tightly to why Jesus entered Jerusalem. While I can’t imagine preaching a Palm Sunday sermon without speaking of that, the service made the connection for them powerfully.

The forthcoming Christian Worship: Foundations1 offers the following.

As God’s people arrive at the Sixth Sunday in Lent, their attention is drawn to two sets of related yet contrasting events. The first events are those that took place on the Sunday before Jesus died. On that day, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds covered the road with palm branches and shouted “Hosanna!” Our congregations have long commemorated these joyous events in their celebration of Palm Sunday. Many congregations have incorporated into their Palm Sunday services a re-creation of sorts of that first Palm Sunday procession. Just as the crowds surrounding Jesus on that first Palm Sunday processed into Jerusalem waving palms and singing Jesus’s praises, so God’s people today process into the church sanctuary waving palms and singing Jesus’s praises. Such a procession is a meaningful commemoration and celebration of our Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

But the events of that first Palm Sunday are not the only events that grab the worshiper’s attention on this day. Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem had a purpose far beyond receiving the praise of those who accompanied him. As we sing in one of our Palm Sunday hymns, “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die” (CW 411). On the day on which the people of Israel selected their lambs for the upcoming Passover, Jesus entered Jerusalem as God’s chosen Passover Lamb. In a matter of days, he would pour out his blood to rescue the world from its slavery to sin. Our Lord’s upcoming passion also demands our attention on this day, for it was to suffer and die that he rode into Jerusalem on that donkey.

Since Pope Paul VI’s revision of the Roman calendar in 1969, many Christian churches have combined these two emphases into their worship on the Sixth Sunday in Lent, which also is known as Passion Sunday. Two Gospel readings are in effect appointed for this day. The first is the account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which is read in connection with the procession at the beginning of the service. The second is the entire passion history as recorded in one of the synoptic Gospels. (John’s history of Jesus’ passion is reserved for Good Friday.) This Gospel is read during the Service of the Word. The juxtaposition of these two readings emphasizes for the worshiper that Palm Sunday led directly to Good Friday. Both days were part of our Savior’s saving work. While their tone could not have been more different, their purpose was the same: the salvation of all people.

The calendar and lectionary included in this hymnal provide options for congregations to observe the Sixth Sunday in Lent as either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Full propers for both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are provided. Congregations are encouraged, however, to incorporate elements of both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday into their worship on the Sixth Sunday in Lent. In many of our congregations, it has been customary to read the history of our Lord’s passion during the midweek Lenten services. Attendance at those services has unfortunately waned over the years. As a result, it has become common for many of our people to proceed through an entire Lenten season without hearing the history of Jesus’s passion in its entirety. Including the reading of the passion history on the Sixth Sunday in Lent helps address that concern.

Celebrating Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday together can easily be done (without significantly lengthening the service) by following the pattern that is used in many other Christian churches. The service begins with the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel, which leads into the procession with palms. The Service of the Word then takes place, during which the appointed history of Jesus’s passion is read. The reading can be read by multiple readers and can be broken up with interspersed hymn stanzas. The sermon can be shortened to accommodate the longer reading. In this way, God’s people have the opportunity not only to celebrate their Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem but also to see the purpose for which he rode on in such majesty. In lowly pomp he rode on to die.

To assist with planning Passion Sunday, a Service Builder document is available here: builder.christianworship.com/share/cynJfAb6.2 This allows quick customization within the Service Builder program. The same document in RTF format is available here worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/service-folders-palm-sunday/ with two copyrighted hymns omitted. Those with the digital editions of CW93 and CWS can easily insert them. Additional sample Palm/Passion Sunday worship folders plus ideas for using multiple readers for the passion history are available at the second link.

Will your congregation observe Passion Sunday this year? It’s usually best to give longer lead time for planning something new than allowed by the timing of this article, especially if discussion with leaders seems best. So, if not this year, then maybe next. Either way, the rest of this article offers comments from those who have been observing Passion Sunday for a number of years. Names are attached to these comments in case anyone wants to seek further guidance.

Douglas Van Sice (Huntersville, NC): Many people here are either first-generation Christians or come from a non-liturgical church. So, when we first started doing this, almost none of them had seen anything like it. And now, it is one of the best-loved services we do. People like the Palm Procession (processionals don’t happen regularly here due to the odd configuration of our worship space). They like the flow of the service. One person told me last year, “Pastor, I had heard the passion history before. I grew up hearing it at mid-week services. But I had never heard it read all in one sitting like this. Please keep doing this service every year.” Another person (a relatively new Christian) said, “I knew Jesus suffered on the cross, but I didn’t really know everything that led up to it. Thank you for sharing this service and helping me understand it better.”

We do a Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday combination. We begin outside our worship space3 where everyone is handed a palm and a service folder. The service itself begins with the Procession of Palms (dialogue and the Triumphal Entry according to John’s Gospel). After the procession of palms, we move into Passion Sunday. We use the passion history according to the liturgical year we are in. Between each reading, there is a hymn or solo sung.

The benefits are great. Due to limitations put on us by our rental space, we cannot do all five mid-week Lenten services. So, Passion Sunday allows my people to hear the passion history in its entirety. The second benefit is closely related to the first. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. Having the entirety of the passion history read on the first day of Holy Week sets the tone for what is coming in the days ahead. While the tone of Passion Sunday retains the celebratory notes of Palm Sunday (“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”), it also begins to move us into the quiet of the Upper Room on Holy Thursday and the solemnity of Golgotha on Good Friday.

“Please keep doing this service every year.”

Steven Lange (Louisville, KY): We had been observing the Palm Sunday Procession with Palms before we started observing Passion Sunday in 2015, so our congregation already was used to having a different kind of service on Palm Sunday. This made the transition to Passion Sunday rather easy since it wasn’t hard to connect Palm Sunday with a reading of the history of Jesus’ passion. I have received only positive comments about this from my congregation.

The congregation gathers in the fellowship hall and each participant is given a palm frond. We begin the service there with an opening dialog. We read the Palm Sunday Gospel and then process into the sanctuary while singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” After the Prayer of the Day, we read the passion history from the Gospel appointed for that year, broken into sections with hymn stanzas interspersed. Then follows a sermon (shorter than usual). We omit the speaking of the Creed on this day. We conclude the service with the Prayer of the Church and celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We are able to keep the service to a little over an hour in length.

This practice gives everyone in our congregation an opportunity to hear the history of Jesus’ passion, regardless of whether they have attended the midweek Lenten services. It seems odd that our people could go through Lent and not hear the history of Jesus’ passion. And for those who did attend the midweek Lenten services and have already heard the passion history, I have heard no complaints from any of them that they did not appreciate hearing it again.

Johnold Strey (Hubertus, WI): We used the Passion Sunday concept for the first time in 2019 and then again in 2021, though modified for ongoing Covid concerns. Our choirs hadn’t resumed rehearsing and singing for worship yet. But that modification might give ideas for churches with fewer musical resources who still want to try the concept.

Our service begins with the Palm Sunday entrance rite. We don’t have people gather outside the nave. Rather, the assembly is seated like usual before the service starts. After the bell peal, I invite the assembly to stand and face the entrance of the nave. We begin with the Palm Sunday rite which includes the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel. We then process to the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” with school kids carrying palm branches behind the ministers and making a “lap” around the congregation in some way. After the hymn is the Prayer of the Day and then a Palm Sunday anthem that the school kids sing from the chancel.

We use the Philippians 2 reading. It’s a nice transition from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday. Then we sing the Palm Sunday Hymn of the Day, “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty.” If it’s a Sunday with the Sacrament, these two items may be omitted for the sake of time.

For the reading of the passion history, we use the appropriate synoptic for the year, broken into about 12 segments. Each segment is followed by a musical response—either 1-2 hymn stanzas by the congregation or a solo or choir anthem. The school kids and adult choir can repeat a Lenten anthem sung earlier in the year, often at midweek Lent services, so they don’t have to learn all new music for this service. For 2021, we relied on soloists. We used several of the old NPH Verse of the Day compositions for Lent as anthems woven into the passion history, along with two unison anthems from the old CPH Morning Star choir books. Most of these solo anthems were Scripture verses. For smaller churches with limited resources, this is a simple and practical approach.

We used four different readers for the passion history, which involves more members in the service.

Presenting the full passion history with anthems and hymns gives it a new dimension—not just listening to the text but pondering it more deeply with contemplative anthems and hymns.

Just as we don’t have enough Christmas services to sing all the great Christmas carols, so also even with midweek Lent services we still don’t have opportunity for all the great Lenten and Passion hymns. But hymn stanzas woven into the passion history help us to get more of those hymns on the lips of the worshipers.

One caveat: If a church uses the Passion Sunday concept, then they probably shouldn’t read the full John 18-19 account on Good Friday. Rather, go with the three appointed readings with the shorter John excerpt for the Gospel. Otherwise, two full Passion readings in the same week might feel redundant.

John Bortulin (Mukwonago, WI): We start with Palm Sunday and move to the passion. Without communion we break up the passion with an appropriate Lenten hymn verse between sections. With communion we read it straight through. The day’s sermon is just a commentary, 8-10 minutes. It comes right after Palm Sunday and before the reading of the passion.

We make a big deal out this Sunday. We do palm branches and get as many SS/LES to sing as we can. It’s a full, festive church, and it sets the scene for what’s coming. Our people enjoy the different flow and the “big picture.” After years of doing this, I can’t imagine this Sunday differently.

Jason Hacker (Waukesha, WI): We’ve observed Sunday of the Passion for six years. The benefit I have sensed is that since only about half of the weekend worshipers attend midweek services, many miss out on hearing the passion. The pastor and worship planners might feel that by Good Friday the passion “horse” has been beaten to death. But it does not seem to be that way to the worshiper. Passion Sunday sets the stage well for the celebration of Holy Week. We begin with the Introduction to Holy Week, the Palm Sunday Gospel, and procession with palms. The sermon is likely based on a Palm Sunday reading, but shorter, more devotional. We celebrate the Sacrament each week of Lent, so it’s always included.


“A Service of the Seven Words from the Cross” is another Service Builder item to note. This is found under Occasional/Seasonal Services. (Unlike the Passion Sunday service, it is available only in Service Builder.) It features the new hymn “The Seven Words” (CW 436) that WELS social media videos are highlighting during Lent. Note that one can access Service Builder content on a free trial basis (but without the ability to export content) at builder.christianworship.com.


1 At the time of writing, this pastor’s manual from the Christian Worship suite is not yet available. Don’t confuse it with “The Foundation,” the website from Congregational Services that delivers content to amplify worship as the foundation of the week and of the congregation’s entire ministry: welscongregationalservices.net.
2 This file illustrates the potential for sharing worship resources within Service Builder but including content from beyond Service Builder.
3 Beginning outside the worship space might be a more viable option in smaller congregations or in warmer climes!


 

 

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

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

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Our first church

Often mission churches start out by meeting in their pastor’s living room. That’s how The Vine, in Coeur d’Alene got started. A small number of us met for Bible study and then worship in my living room for over a year. It was cozy. It was comfortable. It was relaxing. It was our “church.”

But, after a year, our “church” was too small. The Lord had blessed us with enough people that we needed to find a new location.

Our next “church” was in a conference room at a local hotel. Again, it was a small room with a low ceiling. It required us to unload our equipment, set it all up, take it all down, and load it back into the trailer every Sunday (i.e. “church in a box”), but it served our needs well for two more years.

Then we found a store front rental unit that became our “church.” This made it possible for us keep our equipment set up from week to week. But it was still tight at times and had limited space for classrooms and extra outreach events and activities.

Certainly, we were grateful to the Lord for always giving us a place to call “church,” but we knew that we needed to look for something more permanent if we were going to grow and reach more of our community for Jesus.

So, one of our original members, Don, drove around the city on almost a daily basis looking for buildings or property that could potentially become our first “church,” but most of them were either out of our price range or out of our target area.

But Don was relentless. He never gave up. He said to me one time, “Pastor, we will find our church someday. The Lord already knows which one it is. We just need to trust him, and he will make it clear to us which one will be ours.”

A few months ago, the Lord did just that. He made it possible for us to find a church building that was owned by another church which was also looking for a new church building. Through a series of miraculous circumstances and events that only the Lord could have been behind, this church building recently became ours. We now have our first “church.” Thank you, Lord.

Even though we have our first church building which we can call “home,” we’ve always known that our identity as a “church” was not in a building; our identity was in Christ. That is the Church. A group of believers in Christ who gather together around God’s Word and Sacraments, regardless of whether they meet in a pastor’s living room, in a hotel conference room, in a store front, or in a church building.

Don never got to see our new church. He passed away just a few months beforehand. But Don got to see the “Church” triumphant in heaven with his Savior Jesus. That’s the Church that we all look forward to worshiping in someday.

Written by Pastor Kevin Schultz, home missionary at The Vine in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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Reflection in the water

It was a long year of online learning for Brenda. The plans to attend a university in San Diego in person were altered by the pandemic. Brenda chose to return home to East Asia and attend classes online. This meant that she was often awake in the middle of the night for live classes that were taking place in California. Even with the scheduling challenges, Brenda found blessings in her situation. She was granted extra time at home with family that she would have otherwise missed. She also found time to reflect on the “family” she had grown to appreciate during her high school years at St. Croix Lutheran High School. Many of the teachers, staff, and fellow students at St. Croix had shown Christian love that left a meaningful impact on her. She recognized what a blessing it was to regularly study God’s Word at St. Croix. Brenda’s plan had been to ask to be baptized around graduation time of her senior year. But during that year the pandemic shifted her interactions with her St. Croix family to be online and she never inquired about baptism. The long, first year of university study online made Brenda eager to connect with Christians when she was finally able to travel to California.

Brenda reached out to Pastor Dave Huebner from St. Croix and asked if he knew of any WELS churches in the San Diego area. Pastor Huebner was able to connect Brenda with Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, where it just so happens that a number of the members are originally from East Asia. One of those members is Mark, who is currently enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in hopes of one day serving as a pastor. Mark and Brenda discussed the teachings of our church and eventually Brenda asked if she could be baptized. As I listened to their conversation and later walked Brenda through the process of baptism in our church’s sanctuary, it was clear that the Holy Spirit was at work. From the early years of her high school career to that moment, God had been working through his messengers and message to plant faith in Brenda’s heart. As we looked at the water in the baptismal font, Brenda and I reflected on her story and the way God had worked in her life to make His love known to her.

As the Apostle Paul gave thanks for his gospel partnership with the Philippians (Phil. 1:5) so we also give thanks for the partnership we have in our synod, specifically the partnership between our schools, WELS Campus Ministry, and our congregations.

Rejoice with us that Brenda has found a church family in San Diego where she can continue to grow in the Word. Pray for the partnership between Brenda, Reformation, and WELS Campus Ministry to bring the gospel to more students at Brenda’s university. Finally, take time to reflect in the waters of your own baptism and be reminded once again of the forgiveness and love your God has for you.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, North American Asian ministry consultant.

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World missionary commissioned to London

Missionary Michael Hartman was commissioned as a new missionary to London, and Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bare and Rev. David Bivens were installed as part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team at the opening worship service of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Mission & Ministry event on February 8. Missionary Hartman and two other World Missions representatives left for his second exploratory trip to London the day after the service.

Plans are being made for ministry, and details such as visa applications, school details, etc. are being sorted out for the family’s eventual move to the country. You can view photos from the service on the Flickr album.

Please keep these missionaries in your prayers as they continue to serve God’s people in their new positions.

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It felt like home

It had been over a year since we first invited this family to join us for one of our community events and worship. It was over a year before they came. We were thrilled when they walked through the doors to join us for worship the first time!

In a follow-up visit, the mom shared, “To be honest, we were terrified to go to a church. We were really just scared of being judged or not fitting in. But we finally decided we needed to have God in our lives and didn’t know where to turn. We remembered you guys and saw that you meet at a restaurant. We came and everyone was so welcoming. The whole service—it was just what we needed. It felt like home.”

They’re now one week away from finishing our basic instruction course and talking about membership.

As with many building projects over the last couple of years, we at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho, have had our project schedules pushed back for months. However, permits are in place and most materials have been delivered or are on their way. That means we’re now seeing significant progress on our first permanent building for our multi-site mission in Nampa.

While we’ve had to wait, God has been teaching us patience. And there are some other great lessons that have come along with it. A new building will be a tremendous blessing for our church! Once we stop worshipping at the restaurant, though, and move to the new building, we’ll be in the official church building. Which is great but can still be sometimes scary for a first-time visitor. We want our new church home to still feel like home because there are many more of our neighbors who have been getting our invitations for years. They really need God in their lives, but they’re terrified to walk through the doors of a church.

So, we’re going to keep going to them. Our doors will be open, showing a comfortable place with coffee shop tables and chairs that feels like home. We’re going to be welcoming. And we’re going to keep making connections for the gospel.

It’s fun to make plans like this. Offering morning coffee to our neighbors in the apartments across the parking lot. And to the parents dropping off their kids at daycare on the other side of the parking lot. Opening our doors to college students from the university across the street as a place to study and get a hot meal. Inviting our community to find Christ-centered hope and comfort after the loss of a loved one.

So that when they come to our church, they can settle in. Settle in with Jesus and his family. So it can feel like home.

Written by Rev. Kurt Wetzel, home missionary at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho.

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Opportunities for women’s ministry in Latin America

We praise God for blessing the work of Academia Cristo! Currently, more than a million people have liked the Academia Cristo Facebook page, more than 500,000 people have downloaded the app for biblical instruction, more than a thousand people have signed up for live biblical classes, and there is potential for church planting in every country in Latin America. The fields are ripe, and technology is allowing Academia Cristo to take uncut grace to grace-starved Latin America where many still rely on works to earn their salvation and do not know their Savior.

As Academia Cristo has grown, the mission team quickly realized that many of those studying God’s Word with them were women. Seeing this need, a call was issued for a new position, a Dean of Women, to encourage these women to carry out the Great Commission in their homes and respective communities while embracing biblical principles and Christian freedom.

The primary focus of the Dean of Women is the same focus of the Academia Cristo mission team:

  1. Make disciples in Latin America by sharing the message of God’s grace with as many people as possible.
  2. Identify and train potential leaders.
  3. Encourage those leaders to make disciples who plant churches.

There are many women in the Academia Cristo Program who support the mission, desire to reach others with the gospel, and who are capable of sharing the Word. They have distinct roles and unique opportunities, and the Dean of Women position was created to help them to take advantage of these opportunities.

Meet Marli (in blue) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. After intensive study with Academia Cristo, Marli now participates in the advanced classes of the program and is personally guided by a missionary as she shares the Word of God with her Grupo Sembrador or small group in her community. Her group meets regularly, digging into the Word of God, sharing Sunday school lessons with youth, and even doing periodic humanitarian services in the area.

Amelia is a teacher who lives in Pucallpa in the river-jungle region of Perú. Like Marli, Amelia is also in the advanced courses of Academia Cristo and is being guided by a missionary to share Jesus with others in her hometown. With much prayer, Amelia is slowly transforming her home into a place for others to come and to gather in the Word. She is especially passionate about the children in her community and is currently using her summer vacation time to teach about 30 children how to read using the Bible – a special project that she began once she realized that some of the children could not read in her Bible studies with them.

Join us in praying for the ministry of Academia Cristo and specifically for the newly developing Women’s Ministry that will prayerfully support and guide many more women like Marli and Amelia to use their God-given gifts to share Jesus with others.

Written by Elise Gross, Director of Women’s Ministries for Academia Cristo, on the Latin America mission team.

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African outreach trips – Fall 2021

During 2021, missionaries from the One Africa Team were able to make several trips to visit various church groups throughout Africa. Many of these trips were originally delayed due to COVID travel restrictions. Missionaries and other national church partners traveled to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. Here’s a recap of each visit:

Tanzania

The One Africa Team looks to partner with various churches in Africa to ensure unity in doctrine and practice, and to combine resources to continue reaching the lost.

The African Mission Evangelical Church (AMEC) formed in 1993 after they split with the main group of Tanzanian Lutherans. In April 2021, Missionary John Hartmann made a preliminary visit to Tanzania to meet with a dozen AMEC pastors to learn more about their history and introduce them to WELS doctrine and beliefs. In November, Missionary John Roebke and Missionary Hartmann returned with Kenyan national pastor Mark Anariko Onunda to continue potential fellowship discussion. It is the prayer of AMEC to partner with WELS to provide solid confessional Lutheran training for their pastors. The One Africa Team will return in 2022 to continue their discussions. We thank God for this opportunity for a potential ministry partnership in Tanzania! Read more about their visit in this article from the One Africa Team blog.


Kenya

Missionary Dan Witte and three LCMC – Kenya pastors

In 2019, the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) – Kenya joined in fellowship with WELS. Because of the pandemic, no One Africa Team members were able to visit. Finally, after months of video conferencing and e-mails, Missionaries Howard Mohlke and John Roebke were able to travel to Kenya in August 2021 and meet with the members and leadership of the LCMC – Kenya. On this trip, the two missionaries traveled to various LCMC – Kenya congregations to see some of the buildings WELS helped build and share messages and encouragement from the Bible.

The attendees listening to the Bible and watching the Jesus film

They held leaders’ workshops where they gave presentations on the Bible, principles of stewardship, and Church and Ministry. The attendees also received microSD cards with audio Bibles and a Jesus film in both English and Swahili; immediately the SD cards were put to use. Read more about their trip in this article from the One Africa Team blog.

Then, in October 2021, One Africa Team Missionary Dan Witte traveled to Kenya to teach a course on African Church History to three pastors of the LCMC – Kenya. He was also able to participate in the dedication of St. Peter’s Kindu Church in Eastern Kenya. Read Missionary Witte’s reflections from his trip.


Uganda

Missionaries John Holtz and Dan Kroll visited Obadiah Lutheran Synod in Uganda in early October 2021 . They were evaluating and preparing the last steps needed before recommending that Obadiah Lutheran Synod be brought into fellowship with WELS and visited some of their churches. Missionary Holtz was also able to meet with seven students who gathered online to study Luther’s Small Catechism during the pandemic. Read more about their trip from Missionary John Holtz.


Cameroon

One Africa Team missionaries Howard Mohlke, Dan Kroll, John Holtz, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Cameroon in October to meet with a group of pastors and laymen of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). After not meeting in-person for two years, this gathering was appreciated. The group discussed the partnership in the ministry that these groups share, the future of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon seminary, ministry training opportunities, and other ministry topics.


Ethiopia

In October 2021, One Africa Team missionaries Mark Panning, John Holtz, Howard Mohlke, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Ethiopia to visit WELS’ sister church, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). God greatly blessed mission work in Ethiopia through a Lutheran elementary school. The original plan was for the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE) to start a nursery school in Bishoftu, but God had other plans. Read how God’s bigger plan ultimately brought more blessings than they could ever imagine in this One Africa Team blog article.


God is truly blessing mission work in Africa! Please keep the One Africa Team missionaries and the family of believers in Africa in your prayers. We thank God for all the blessings poured out on mission work in Africa, and we pray he continues to bless this work in the years to come.

 

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Working together for future results

Events like our Trunk and Treat in October can be wonderful team-building/fellowship events. Ours was clearly that. Our volunteer participation grew from a mere handful when we first launched the idea to thirty-six by the time our event was held. A positive attitude and a spirit of fun are infectious. It is always a good thing when God’s people work together – and have fun doing it! Here’s something that was truly awesome about our event: at least six of the volunteers were not members of the congregation. Two of them were folks who were invited by other members of Ascension to participate. Four were regular attenders but not yet members (we like to call them RABNYM’s). Two of our volunteers were a young couple we just received by adult confirmation/profession of faith in October. It was really good for all of them to be rubbing shoulders with our members (and visa versa) and to invest themselves in our ministry in this way. In this picture, the two women serving up free cider and donuts are Paoletta and Laura. Paoletta is currently in our Bible information class; Laura is a long-time member. We intentionally invite our RABNYM’s (Regular Attenders But Not Yet Members) to participate in our ministry where appropriate because we have found that this helps people make the personal connections and engages them in purposeful activity that matter to seekers these days.

Here’s another benefit worth sharing. Back at the beginning of 2016, Diana and Adrian were an unmarried couple who had just had a baby. After approaching a couple of non-WELS churches about baptizing their little baby and being turned down, they contacted me. We met, planned a baptism, and talked a bit about the plans they had to marry. Kaylee was baptized on April 26, 2016. In January of 2017 I joined Diana and Adrian in marriage. Within a few months, we lost touch as they went through some relocations and various other family challenges. We kept Kaylee and her family on our email list and continued to reach out to them and invite them to events. This family showed up at our Trunk and Treat.

Diana, Adrian, Kaylee, and Madelyn

Kaylee was looking for the man who had “bap-a-tiz-ed” her. It was great catching up with Diana and Adrian and my little friend Kaylee. It was even better to initiate a conversation about baptizing their new little one, Madelyn. God used this fun little seasonal event to reconnect us with a family he clearly wants us to serve.

Did I mention that we were pet-friendly? We did not advertise that, but it ended up being the case. I and a few of our volunteers brought their pooches. It’s amazing how a cute, friendly dog can generate smiles and conversations! In addition, a dinosaur made an appearance and delighted our young visitors. A few games, a bounce house, and free refreshments helped make it a fun even for families.

Events such as this are a great way to connect with the community, meet new people, get them on our campus, and plant some gospel seeds. Immediate results are not always obvious, but results always come.

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

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Getting to Know the Hymnal Really Well

By Bryan Gerlach (Director, Commission on Worship)

It was an unusual couple that inquired about getting married at the church I served—St. Mark, Citrus Heights, CA, a beautiful newer church large enough for their guest list and conveniently located in suburban Sacramento. Farhad was Iranian. He had left the country for grad school before the 1978 revolution and could not return. Samira was the daughter of an Iranian woman and an American Air Force officer. One reason they picked my church was because she thought she had a Lutheran uncle somewhere in North Dakota.

Farhad was a theist without a religion since he had abandoned Islam. I offered the standard encouragement: we’re eager to serve your spiritual needs not only on your wedding day but also before and after. That appealed to them. They signed up for the Bible Information Class and began attending worship. After they had been in worship two weeks in a row, I offered to meet with them to help them understand the logic and flow of worship. Farhad replied that it wouldn’t be necessary because the service was clear enough.

That reply surprised me. I’m sure that there was much he needed to learn—especially the spiritual truths. But I believed him when he said the logic and flow were clear enough.

While there is benefit in making it effortless to follow liturgical worship, there’s also benefit in helping people get to know the hymnal really well. A little effort toward this goal is a good thing. When I saw comments by Kirk Lahmann in the January Forward in Christ (p. 24), I asked him to expand on his thinking and rationale. If two Iranians could comfortably follow the order of service from the hymnal, longer-term Lutherans can as well.

Of course, many congregations will already have introduced the new hymnal by the time you read this article. Still, there are times when the Burlington strategy might serve such congregations: 1) when introducing a new setting of the communion service, or 2) on occasions when there is such little variety planned for the service (like an alternate psalm from the psalter) that the order of service is followed in a fairly straightforward manner.

If two Iranians could comfortably follow the order of service from the hymnal, longer-term Lutherans can as well.

The viability of worshiping “just from the hymnal” is also a useful reminder for those congregations that do not want to obtain Service Builder. With changes in the copyright and permissions landscape over the last decade, the new hymnal project is not able to provide TIFF files as with CW93 and CWS apart from Service Builder. And it is not legal for someone to create their own graphics by scanning something in the hymnal. See more detailed comments in “Service Builder, personal scans, and copyrights” available under Resources at christianworship.com.

Navigating the Book

By Kirk Lahmann (Pastor at St. John, Burlington, WI)

Late 1993. Time for Sunday morning worship, using the brand-new Christian Worship hymnal. Sing the opening hymn. Now find page 12 for the baptism. When that’s done, flip ahead to page 16 and merge into the Common Service at the “Gloria.” Find the First Lesson (and all the lessons) printed on the back of the simple “bulletin” handout. (Think letter paper, folded into a booklet: front page, pretty picture; back page, Scripture readings; middle pages, church announcements, and maybe hymn numbers.) Next, find Psalm 25 on page 74. Back to the bulletin for the Second Lesson; then return to page 18 for the Alleluias. Now things start to feel a little more familiar for a while, until after the Lord’s Prayer. There’s no Communion, so turn to page 25. But wait, there’s a hymn. Sing that, now turn back to page 25 for the concluding liturgy. Finally, page ahead to the closing hymn.

Confusing? A little like one of those choose-your-own ending books? That’s what it was like when the “new hymnal” came out in 1993.

At 10 years old, it didn’t take me very long to figure out how to navigate the book.

Actually, I didn’t think it was all that hard. At 10 years old, it didn’t take me very long to figure out how to navigate the book. I thought it was exciting for our church to be getting a new hymnal. But I remember some adults complaining about how confusing it was to navigate the book. Most of that was probably just a personal aversion to change. And plenty of people dearly loved the old blue hymnal. (Or was yours black? Or red? Our church had red.)

At almost 40 years old now, I’m young enough to have never led worship as a pastor with The Lutheran Hymnal, but I am old enough to remember the transition to Christian Worship. And I remember it well. Before the service started, my pastors would actually practice using the new hymnal with the congregation. Five minutes before the bells would ring, they would teach worshipers how to find and how to sing the psalm. Or the organist would play through “O Lord, Our Lord” or some other new liturgical music, and the congregation would practice singing it before worship. As a student in our Lutheran elementary school, I remember our teachers helping us learn the new hymnal. My class introduced the new “Magnificat” (pages 57-58) in a children’s Christmas service. In school we often used the general and morning devotions (pages 150-152), as well as the personal prayers (pages 134-139). In catechism class our pastors walked us through the Communion preparation page (page 156).

We learned how to navigate the book. We learned that the hymnal is not just a book of hymns, but a collection of devotional resources. Yes, there were some growing pains, and even some complaints. But we learned how to navigate the book.

Now it’s time to learn how to navigate another new book. With the new Christian Worship recently released, and congregations replacing the old red CWs with the new blue ones, it’s time for pastors to teach worshipers how to utilize all the resources the new hymnal provides, so that, whether in the sanctuary or in the home, we know how to navigate the book.

But how? What’s the best way to learn how to make use of this new resource? Should we just print the entire order of worship in a service folder, like we’ve done for several years? That would keep things simple and would eliminate the need to flip back and forth through the book: from this page, to that hymn, back to this page. And should we keep printing all the hymns in the service folder, as our church has done since COVID started? That would basically eliminate the use of the hymnal in worship altogether. And if we don’t even use the hymnal for worship, then why spend $12,000 to stock the sanctuary with almost 500 books? And, most importantly, how will we ever learn how to navigate the book?

Certainly there are lots of good ways to introduce the new Christian Worship hymnal to WELS worshipers. But here’s what my congregation is planning to do, with the goal of learning how to navigate the book.

Instead of printing full service folders, we will produce a simple worship outline. This outline will include the focus for the day, page references for the order of service, Scripture readings printed in full, and hymn numbers. It will be a simple, double-sided worship card, printed on cardstock, that will double as a bookmark, so that when you flip from the order of service to a hymn or psalm, you don’t lose your place. Instead of a large service folder being the primary worship guide with the hymnal as only an assistant, now the hymnal will once again be the primary worship guide, and the worship card will be the assistant.

… so that, whether in the sanctuary or in the home, we know how to navigate the book.

There are, admittedly, down sides to this approach. Full service folders are awfully convenient! And they weigh less in frail hands. And they are customizable. And it sounds like there are many digital resources in the Service Builder app, like additional service settings and many psalm settings from the new psalter, that we won’t be able to use when we print these worship cards.

But the main advantage to producing a simple worship outline, rather than using a full service folder, is this: we will learn how to navigate the book. We will hold the hymnal in our hands as we sing the opening hymn. Together we will turn to page 154 and walk through Setting One of The Service. The Scriptures will be right in front of us on the worship card. After the First Reading we will bookmark page 160, then flip back a few pages to the Psalm of the Day, then easily return for the Gospel Acclamation. Bookmarking will continue for the rest of the service’s hymns. And we will learn how to navigate the book.

We will be patient with one another as we learn the new book. The pastors will give more thorough explanations on which page to turn to next and will give people more time to get there. Maybe before (or during) worship, we will practice singing a new psalm or liturgical music setting. We will listen carefully and follow along with the notes in the hymnal as the organist plays (or the choir sings) the melody before we join to sing. But we will learn how to navigate the book.

We will give copies of the new hymnal to the children in our Lutheran school—many of whom have only ever known service folders for worship—and their teachers will help them learn the book. Maybe the students will sing the new “Magnificat” (page 219) for a children’s Christmas service. Maybe the teachers will lead their students in the Daily Devotions (pages 236-243) throughout the school day. In catechism class the pastors will direct their students to the Christian Questions (pages 295-296), walk them through the church year, and explain the lectionary (pages VII-XXVIII). And they will learn how to navigate the book.

And there may be some growing pains, even complaints. Change is hard, and many people have come to dearly love the red Christian Worship. The new hymnal is new to all of us, and it will take some time to get used to it. So we want to learn it together. We want to page through it together, follow the liturgy from it together, sing the hymns and the psalms from it together. We want to learn how to navigate the book.

For now, it’s time to embrace the wealth of devotional resources that the hardcover hymnal offers.

And we won’t use those worship cards forever. I’m sure we will return to printed service folders eventually. We don’t want to miss out on all the digital psalm settings from the psalter and the additional service settings that Service Builder offers. But we can grow into those over time. For now, it’s time to embrace the wealth of devotional resources that the hardcover hymnal offers. It’s time to teach our young children, our newer members, and our seasoned parishioners how to follow the liturgy in the hymnal. It’s time to learn how to use the new Christian Worship in our homes and in our public worship. It’s time to learn how to navigate the book.

Comfortably introducing new material

In the weeks when this article was being drafted and edited, a new hymn was sung for the first time. The accompaniment didn’t make it clear when to start. There was no soloist for stanza 1. An instrumental descant made it even more difficult for the non-music-reader to discern the melody. It went okay, but it could have gone even better.

A good principle to follow is not “What can I get away with?” but “How many people can I bring along?” Even in a congregation with higher-than-average musical literacy (more people can quickly learn a new tune), it’s best to use a soloist or choir on “stanzas one and three” or when first introducing a new liturgical canticle. Our concern is not only for the fast learners but also for those less able to enjoy their first exposure to something new.

The more we can diminish discomfort, the more every worshiper can concentrate on worship and benefit from the new music and the message proclaimed by new texts.

Pastor Adam Mueller, chair of the hymnal introduction committee comments: “Don’t eat the elephant in one bite, introduce carefully and with patience, use choirs and soloists, preview a new hymn in Bible class where you can also highlight some great thoughts in the text. Our excitement over shiny new materials needs to be tempered by pastoral concern for the person in the pew. We want to minimize frustrating people or leaving them behind.”

The Year C Planner was provided with careful pacing in mind, calling attention to hymns or canticles that benefit from extra introductory effort. It’s available at welscongregationalservices.net/the-foundation.

Avoiding a generic tempo

What is a generic tempo? Stated a bit simplistically, it’s treating quarter notes in every hymn as if they should be played at the same pace. But the pulse of a short common meter English hymn tune like ST. ANNE (820) is much slower than a 17th century German chorale like its neighbor, VALET WILL ICH DIR GEBEN (819). Their half notes are at 45 and 55 respectively.

This problem of singing some tunes too fast has been exacerbated by the idea that a hymn will be more appealing if played faster—more upbeat. It depends. Often the affect isn’t more upbeat but rather rushed or flippant. Hymn singing has been helped in this regard by modern hymn writers. While many modern hymns have an upbeat tempo, some have a slow and meditative tempo: “The Power of the Cross” (423), “Jesus, Ever-Abiding Friend” (536), “Lord, Have Mercy” (652), “Beneath the Cross” (710), “My Worth Is Not in What I Own” (753), “All Is Well” (802), “Now Calm Your Heart” (851). All of these might risk being played too fast without knowing the song or consulting the tempo indication. The same is true for the “Agnus Dei” in both Setting Two and Setting Three.

Organists and pianists can gain a sense of the intended tempo from two sources.

  1. The accompaniment editions for services, hymns, and psalms include metronome markings. Use them! While it is true that a personal preference for a different tempo might be musically legitimate, it’s also good to follow the composer’s intent or a tempo that is somewhat standard.
  2. Recorded examples can help musicians to become comfortable with the intended tempo. Many are available on YouTube. Recordings of the main songs from The Service, Setting Three are posted at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources.

Recorded examples can also help pastors who desire help with singing the “Kyrie” and Preface. See the following from Grace Milwaukee’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/c/gracedowntownorg/featured. Find “Worship Services” halfway down the page under “Created Playlists.”

  • Setting Two, Nov. 28: “Kyrie” at 22:15, Preface at 58:30.
  • Setting Three, Oct. 24: “Kyrie” at 16:30, Preface at 59:15.
Out of the Book

By Jon Zabell (Pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, WI and chair of hymnal committee)

We began introducing the new hymnal on the first Sunday of Advent, 2021. It made our job of introduction easier to make use of our synod’s suggested plan and introductory scripts for worship. Our usual practice at St. Paul is to print the whole service out in the bulletin each week except for the hymns and psalm. But we decided that for introductory purposes we would invite worshipers to follow the order of service out of the book, just for the first few weeks. Since it’s a new hymnal, we wanted people paging through it, becoming familiar with everything between the covers. And it was a tangible way to demonstrate that we’re connected. Bulletins vary from congregation to congregation, but the same new hymnal is being introduced around the synod.

How did it go? Judging by the volume of congregational speaking and singing, people followed along just fine. It helped that we used Setting One of The Service for four weeks in a row. Most of the music from that setting is a known quantity from The Common Service. Worshiping out of the book did mean a few minutes more preparation for the presider. Each week I needed to have my pages marked and ready ahead of time, and I tried to anticipate where people who were accustomed to having everything laid out for them might need a brief verbal cue, especially when moving from first reading to psalm and back to second reading. After the services, a number of people expressed their appreciation for the new book—its look, its pagination system, its content—the book they’d all been paging through together, from invocation through blessing. More important is what we were able to do together that is anything but new. Sins were confessed, the gospel was proclaimed, and prayers were offered in the name of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

A number of people expressed their appreciation for the new book they’d all been paging through together.

 

By Bryan Gerlach

Pastor Gerlach is Director of the Commission on Worship and a member of the WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee and Hymnal Introduction Committee. He previously served churches in El Paso, TX and Citrus Hts, CA. He enjoys introducing new hymnal content from the organ bench in two Milwaukee-area churches.


 

 

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Preach the Word – Preparing the Sermon

Preaching on the First or Second Reading with the Day’s Gospel in Mind

3 – Preparing the Sermon

When my dad died in 2008, I decided to contact the four congregations he had served during his ministry. I asked the local pastors if they might announce his passing in case someone remembered. At least one did. A member in her 90s walked out of church and told her pastor, “I remember Pastor Tiefel’s first sermon.” The young pastor was eager to know what she remembered. “I don’t remember much of anything,” she said, “except the text. He preached on the draught of fishes.” I’ve retold that story many times over the years and invariably end the same way: That’s the highest compliment a pastor can receive.

“Preach the text” is the imperative the homiletics professor lays before student preachers—and then obligates them to do it in class sermons. The sermon, as we learned it and as we teach it, exposits a text, it explains and applies a passage of Scripture. On the basis of that exposition, the sermon proposes a truth. The sermon can take on a variety of forms—didactic, inductive, homily, narrative, or expositional1—but the best Lutheran preaching in all cases exposits a text and proposes a truth as it proclaims law and gospel.

Is the writer backing away from this “preach the text” allegiance?

Those who have read the first two articles in this series may have wondered if the writer is backing away from this “preach the text” allegiance. If the preacher preaches on the First or Second Reading with the day’s Gospel in mind, does the new imperative actually become “preach the texts”? Does the preacher end up preaching on two texts instead of one? Does such a sermon compromise the unique setting and message of the alternate reading?

Those are legitimate questions, especially when asked by men with our homiletical training and exegetical sensitivities. Rest easy. The preacher who takes on this idea must still preach the text. He lets the text say what the Spirit wants it to say and does not manipulate the Spirit’s intention. He preaches the text in its historical context and allows the text’s proposal to guide the sermon. The goal of this kind of preaching is to maintain textual independence even as we understand the preeminence of the day’s Gospel and the inter-dependency of the Sunday Proper.

At the same time we realize that preaching styles are not static. We preach the same truths (often based on the same texts) our grandfathers preached, but we preach them in different ways. Sermons today are less oratorical and more conversational. They often contain inductive approaches even if they announce a theme and several parts. Our fathers would not have dreamed of leaving the pulpit to preach (nor would some of their sons), but this is common in our circles. As someone who has observed the evolution of the lectionary and its propers over the span of almost 50 years, I sense the Christian Worship resources provide an excellent opportunity to place both the chosen text and the day’s Gospel in clear view in the sermon.

The preacher can expect that this approach takes a little additional work and time. Following are some steps which can make the effort manageable and rewarding. Illustrations are based on the Proper for Advent 4C scheduled for December 19, 2021.

Choose the Text

Preachers select their sermon text in a variety of ways. Some follow a specific pattern; some simply choose the text they want to preach on. I belong to the latter group, but there is a reason for my choice. During this past Advent season I had preached on three Luke texts in a row; it seemed time for a prophetic or epistle text on Advent 4. I copied the Prayer of the Day and the three readings and spent some time reading and thinking about them: Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, and Luke 1:39-55. A phrase in the Prayer of the Day caught my eye: “Take away the burden of our sins” and that phrase made me look more carefully at the Hebrews reading. I had never preached on that text before and preaching on Hebrews on Advent 4 seemed intriguing.

Veteran preachers who have preached through the ILCW/CW lectionary will notice many new texts in the new lectionary especially during the Epiphany and Pentecost seasons. While the Gospel selections remain very much the same, the First and Second Readings are often new.

Begin with the Gospel

I begin with a study of the day’s Gospel, obviously if that’s my chosen text but also if I’ve decided to preach on one of the other readings. I know these Gospels pretty well, but a new look is important. In our new resources the Gospel invariably guides the theme or focus for the day and sets the course for the rest of the Proper.

The Gospel for Advent 4 in Year C is Luke 1:39-55 and relates two themes: Elizabeth’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy (the Visitation) and Mary’s Magnificat. Neither Luke 1:39-45 nor Luke 1:46-55 appeared in the historic series nor in CW’s One Year Series. The Roman Lectionary selected the Visitation but not the Magnificat for Advent 4. The ILCW lectionary selected both accounts for the Gospel reading on Advent 4C but placed 46-55 in parentheses suggesting it to be optional. All the other Lutheran lectionaries since then follow that pattern. Only the Christian Worship resources, past and present, select the entire pericope for Advent 4. I’m glad both sections are there.

The Song of Mary can’t be ignored, of course. It’s one of the four great Lukan Christmas canticles. It puts into picture language the work of Christ and includes Mary’s wonderful confession, “My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”

The proposal of the text might be: Two believing women, both chosen for their mothering roles by the Lord, confess the blessings of the coming King.

With a solid understanding of the day’s Gospel, the preacher moves ahead to his text.

Study the Text

It’s not necessary to review all the points of a Hebrews 10 text study here; a few points are enough. The proposal of the text is that Christ identifies himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin and as the one pointed to by the Old Testament temple sacrifices. It was important to notice vv. 1-4 and especially v. 4: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” If not the blood of bulls and goats, then what will take away sins?

The answer is in the text. In vv. 5-7 the writer places the words of David in Psalm 40 into the mouth of Christ. In vv. 8-10 the writer comments on the words of Christ. In both sections we note the truth that God does not accept the temple sacrifices as the final payment for sin. Christ through David makes three points concerning what does serve as the final payment for sin:

The body you have given me

My status as the one chosen and promised one (written about in the scroll)

I have come to do your will, my God

The writer’s comments review the statements of Christ and then he concludes: “By that will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

What is striking here is the Savior’s coming to do God’s will by sacrificing his body cannot be limited to the Incarnation. His work is completed at the cross. I wondered how I could get Good Friday into a sermon preached six days before Christmas!

Observe the Points of Comparison

With both the Gospel and the Second Reading in front of me, I began to look for links and comparisons.

The most obvious was that Mary was carrying the body to be sacrificed. Another was that both Mary and Elizabeth were aware of the will of God and of the child’s place in the Old Testament Scriptures. The third was that both women understood this child to be bringing relief from sin and shame. I was not sure, however, that either woman understood at this point that the birth and body they were rejoicing in would eventually end up in a bloody death on a cruel cross. Finally, I considered that I could hardly overlook the Magnificat in this sermon.

It all happened, not just with a baby’s cry in a manger but with the Savior’s cry from the cross: It is finished.

Create the Structure and Write the Sermon

I decided to lead off with Mary and focus on the little body that was alive and growing inside her. I made the point that the incarnation needed to lead to the crucifixion. The theme is “Sing Your Christmas Carols at the Cross.”

You can’t ask a man what it’s like to be pregnant. He can tell you what his wife tells him about being pregnant, but that’s not the same. So I can’t tell you what Mary was thinking or feeling those first weeks after Gabriel’s visit. It seems like she needed to talk. The Gospel for today tells us that she went to see Elizabeth. It seems to have been a good choice. Elizabeth was an older relative, probably a confidant, and the news was that Elizabeth was pregnant too. So Mary headed south a hundred miles to spend time with Elizabeth. Was she more tired than usual? Did she have morning sickness? Feel a heartbeat? Was she showing? We don’t know. We do know this: This baby inside her was her baby, but he was also God’s baby, God’s Son. So we can be pretty sure that this baby was the center of Mary’s world.

Right now, this baby is the center of our world too. We’re six days from Christmas and Christmas is about a baby. Page through the Christmas hymns in the hymnal, new one or old one. The baby is everywhere. Look at the manger scenes in churches; the baby is always in the middle. You come to church on Christmas Eve and the focus is on a baby lying in a manger. This is the way it needs to be. We need to remember who the baby Jesus is. At the instant of his conception in Mary’s womb this baby already was God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. And from exactly the same instant he was also truly and fully human. On Christmas Day St. John will remind us that the divine Word became flesh—incarnate: in the flesh—and made his dwelling among us. And that’s why this baby is the center of Christmas.

So Mary went to see Elizabeth and sang a song about her baby. We call it the Magnificat, a word that means to magnify or to glorify. Mary sang, My soul glorifies the Lord. But she didn’t stop there; she kept singing, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. To Mary, there was more here than a pregnancy, more than a birth, more than a baby. Mary understood that the incarnation wouldn’t end in Bethlehem. In her body Mary felt a baby; with her faith Mary saw a Savior. And that’s why this baby was the center of her world. And that’s why this baby is also the center of our faith.

Just like Mary, we sing Christmas songs at this time of the year and we all have our favorites. The Second Reading for today, from the letter to the Hebrews, reminds us that there is more to Christmas than the birth of a baby. We are all looking ahead to Christmas today, but we also need to look beyond Christmas. So I say:

“Sing Your Christmas Carols at the Cross.”

The first part of the sermon was a pretty standard exposition of the Hebrews text. I explained the context of the letter, the problems which caused the author to write it, and the remedy to the problem he put forward. I explained the text verse by verse. I concluded: Whether you’re an Old Testament believer or a New Testament believer, obeying God’s law never solves the problem of sin. Obedience can’t earn you forgiveness. Neither animal sacrifices nor personal sacrifices ever get rid of hell.

So what did get rid of sin and hell? Christ speaking through David again: A body you prepared for me. That’s what would do it. So here’s the baby Jesus! The Son of God who was in the beginning, who was with God, who was God, this divine being wrapped himself in a human body: First a fertilized egg, then an embryo, then blood and veins and bones and skin. Then emotions and intelligence, then the sense of pleasure and pain. This is the baby born in Bethlehem. This is the incarnation: God took on flesh and blood. God became a baby. And his parents named him Jesus.

But he didn’t stay a baby or a boy or teenager. Then I said—Christ speaking again—Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll. The Old Testament scrolls were filled with promises that a Messiah would come from God. This boy named Jesus was God’s choice. Then I said, I have come to do your will, my God. The writer repeats this to make the point: Then he said, Here I am. I have come to do your will.

I explained that the will of God is to save the world from sin. I said, The Son of God took on a body to do what God willed and what God wanted. I detailed the need for Jesus to be a human being and then repeated the point: Jesus did what God wanted; he carried out God’s will. And so his incarnation led to his crucifixion. And now the writer concludes: And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Application followed. This body came for each of you sitting in these pews. This body for each child, each grandchild, each neighbor, each friend. This body stood in place of all bodies everywhere on the globe. Holy? Yes, holy! Your sins cleansed, your slate clean, your guilt abolished, your condemnation dismissed, the devil defeated, and his hell destroyed. Holy? Yes, holy! Your prayers heard, your sadness lifted, your sickness explained, your lives empowered, your future secure, your heaven guaranteed. And all because the Son of God became a baby in a body. And now you know why Mary sang: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, she didn’t know the details. She couldn’t have foreseen the shepherds at the stable or the gifts of the magi. She probably wondered what old Simeon meant when he told her that a sword would pierce her soul. She couldn’t have imagined a crucifixion; she couldn’t have handled the thought of seeing her baby die. But she certainly saw the victory. And so Mary sang with a mother’s heart, but she also sang with a believer’s heart. (Here I quoted vv. 50-54.) The baby she was carrying would be the central figure of history and what he would do would be the turning of history. Nothing would ever be the same. And it all happened, not just with a baby’s cry in a manger but with the Savior’s cry from the cross: It is finished.

And that’s why we sing our Christmas carols at the cross. The crucifixion comes along with the incarnation. The Son of God took on a human body to become the Savior of the world. And so, he took away your sins, too. The man who wrote to the Hebrews had to remind them of this. And he needs to remind us, too. So when we sing sweet carols like “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night” or “Angels We Have Heard on High,” we must see the whole story. We must look beyond the ox and the ass and the swaddling clothes; we must see the cross and the nails and crown of thorns. We must see the life he lived for us and the death he died for us. And then we will see what Mary is seeing now: Her son as the risen and reigning Savior who hears her sing with all the saints and angels of heaven. And those songs sound forever.

If the reader is interested in trying this concept, look ahead to the Proper for Easter 5 in Year C. The sermon is based on Acts 11:1-18. The Gospel for that day is John 13:31-34. That’s the Proper I’ll be writing about in the next article of this series.

 

Written by James Tiefel

Prof. Tiefel, now Pastor Tiefel, serves two small congregations in Mequon, WI, in semi-retirement. Over a 35-year career at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary he taught classes in worship and preaching. As an every-Sunday preacher once again, he is able to combine many of the concepts he taught in the classroom with practical experience.


1 Expositional preaching, as I use the term in this group of preaching styles, has a more specific definition than I use in this paragraph. It is popular among conservative Evangelicals whose worship patterns do not include the guidance of the church year, the Proper, and the lectionary. The usual approach is to take a longer section of Scripture (perhaps even an entire book in a series of sermons) and work through it verse by verse as one might in a Bible class. Expositional preaching certainly can exposit a text and propose a theme. How well it fits in the liturgical rite is another question. I did not add topical preaching to my list. While it may propose a truth, it does not exposit a text.

 


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Open windows, open doors

One night, a few of us were playing board games with some new Bible study friends. It was a beautiful spring night in East Asia, and we had all the windows of the eighth floor, one bedroom apartment open. At the time some of us were probably getting a little too into our game of “Dutch Blitz,” shouting and laughing. We were loud (much to our chagrin, we later realized our voices were echoing off the building across from us . . . ).

Around 10 P.M. or so, we heard an indignant knock on the door. I peered through the peephole and glimpsed a large man with a large frown. In half decent English, he politely asked us to keep it down as his two year-old was asleep in an apartment across from us. I apologized profusely from behind the door. Appeased, the large man thanked us and left. Thus our party ended.

Then on Sunday about a dozen of us were praising and praying to God. Again, with the windows open. After worship, we got ready to head downstairs for lunch. I was first out of the apartment. As I turned my head down the long hallway, again I saw a large man. This time he was stomping towards me. He didn’t look happy. “Oh, no.” I thought, “That’s the guy from the other night. We’re probably singing too loudly!” He stopped in front of me panting and asked if we were the ones singing the “Christian songs.” I said yes. Then his face lit up.

He told me he’d been searching for us for the past two months. Every Sunday morning, he heard our hymns and wanted to join us, but because of the echo off the buildings, he could never tell which apartment we were in. Every Sunday he’d walk up and down the stairwell searching for which floor we were on. But it turns out, if we hadn’t been so loud a few nights before, he never would have found us!

Leo joined us for lunch and later joined our local Lutheran church. Now he helps lead his own confessional Lutheran church in his city.

We sometimes cannot even imagine how God is going to use us and the preaching of his Word to bless the kingdom, but he reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return 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 from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Please take 30 seconds to pray that windows and doors will stay open for us as we continue sharing the gospel here in East Asia.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

 

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Evolving styles of ministry in Africa

Do you like looking at old photographs? Probably you do. And probably you don’t. On the one hand, how heartwarming it can be to see those happy photos of your children when they were five years old. And imagine . . . now those kids of yours have children of their own! But on the other hand, oh my! That hairstyle! That cheesy mustache! Those silly bell-bottom jeans! Did I really look like that? Is it possible that the ‘me’ of yesterday was not as groovy as I thought I was?

A few days ago, I stumbled upon some old photographs. I thought they were fascinating. The year of the photos was 1981, and the place was Lilongwe, Malawi. One picture showed workers laying the foundation for the classroom of the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI). Another picture showed the construction of Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) student houses. The plan was to build a brand-new boarding school for the training of national pastors. All those buildings are still here, but things look very different today.

It got me thinking about our mission work in Africa. More specifically, it made me think how times have changed. Years ago, the measure of a missionary in Africa was how quickly he could change a tire. In the early days, almost all Africa missionaries drove out to the isolated village churches. They preached the gospel to the people, sometimes in a grass roofed church, sometimes underneath the mango tree. You would get a lot of flats driving those dirt roads, but an experienced missionary could pull off the old tire and pop on a new one faster than a pit crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1981, the very idea of building a fancy brick and mortar classroom for the training of national pastors – wow, that was groundbreaking stuff!

I still teach young Zambian and Malawian pre-seminary students in the very same classroom. And if you want my honest opinion, I still think it’s pretty ‘groovy.’ But things look different today. More and more, the missionaries of today are teaching in a Google Classroom, not a brick-and-mortar classroom. More and more, the measure of a missionary is not how quickly he can change a tire, but how quickly he can reboot his laptop to get the Zoom meeting up and running. Boarding schools? Today it’s ‘keyboarding’ schools. Today, missionaries are not just driving cars to the isolated villages of Zambia and Malawi. They’re flying on commercial airlines to train pastoral students in places like Cameroon and Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

So what should we say? Are old ways bad? Certainly not. You carefully groomed that cheesy mustache because that was the best thing for the time and place. That mustache and that hairstyle and the bell-bottom jeans are the things that got you noticed. Maybe they even caught the eye of that pretty, young lady who later became your wife. Certainly, it’s true that styles of ministry in Africa are constantly evolving, but our sister-churches in Africa number more than 60,000 baptized souls. God has blessed our efforts.

The old pictures remind us how quickly this world changes. But one thing never changes: Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. As we enter into the year 2022, let’s double our efforts to preach the unchanging word of God, by whatever methods possible, because time is marching on, and “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).

Written by Rev. Mark Panning, world missionary on the One Africa Team.

 

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A unique outreach approach

Last Spring, a representative of American Legion Post 4 in Clinton Township reached out to me with a request. He asked if I would be willing and able to lead the post’s first ever Blessing of the Bikes. There would be no restrictions on what I could say, and this presented us with the opportunity to say it to people from around the area we might not be able to reach with the good news about Jesus in any other way.

Our Evangelism Committee came up with a novel approach to inviting attendees to visit us and learn more about Jesus: motorcycle kickstand coasters. The hard, plastic discs slide under the kickstand when parking on soft dirt or hot asphalt to prevent the kickstand from sinking into the ground. They are extremely practical, much appreciated, and used over and over again. They are bright enough to be noticed, strong enough to hold up the biggest bikes, and small enough to fit neatly into the back pocket of jeans or a jacket pocket. So for $373 we had 270 of them printed up in Harley orange and black with our logo, location and website address. We planned to hand them out to everyone we can at the event scheduled for Sunday afternoon, April 25th. Members of our Evangelism Committee were quick to volunteer to be at the event to hand them out. Thank you to Gloria, Sharon, Ken, Gary, and Jerry! There’s a great little riding group that I and another member of Team Ascension ride with, and I invited them to help hand them out, too. After all, one way to do outreach is to get some of those to whom you are reaching out involved in helping you reach out to still others. Thank you to Skoal. Big Scoops, Jackrabbit, and others! A plan was in place!

On the Sunday prior, the congregation surprised me with a celebration of my 40 years in the ministry. My presentation gift was a new black leather riding jacket. On the back – big and bold – was an orange and black disc with a cross and stylized Luther Rose in the center and the five “solas” around the edge: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. On rockers above and below that disc were banners proclaiming: “Let’s evangelize them all and let God sort it out.” The congregation has obviously bought into the sentiment of those patches: we recklessly share the gospel as much as we can, trusting that God will make of that what he alone can and will. They wanted to be sure that I would be well-attired for the Blessing of the Bikes event. That jacket is sure to spark conversations about our Savior in the years to come.

The organizer of that Bike Blessing event visited worship twice. Once he brought a friend and once he brought his wife. He has also asked me to be involved in this event again this coming Spring. Keep this in your prayers, asking the Holy Spirit to open doors for the gospel. What he does with this opportunity is up to him. We will just keep twisting the throttle on outreach.

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

 

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New Latin America mission team member

Elise Gross, the newest member of the Latin America mission team, was commissioned as the new Dean of Women for Academia Cristo at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. In this newly created role, she will be teaching and mentoring women enrolled in Academia Cristo classes who are also looking for ways to share the pure gospel message with others. Her husband, Jon, recently accepted a position as a Video Producer with WELS Multi-Language Productions. He will also be assisting with Latin America outreach efforts as he produces video content used in Academia Cristo training courses and beyond.

The Gross family currently resides in Linares, Chile. Please keep them in your prayers as they share Christ’s love in Latin America!

Learn more about mission work in Latin America at wels.net/latinamerica.

Elise’s brother, Rev. Scott Henrich from Shepherd of the Hills in Knoxville, TN, led worship

Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator, and Rev. Nate Seiltz, Multi-Language Productions director, share some words of encouragement from the Bible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Planting seeds of the gospel through Joint Missions

Tom Metzger is a member at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Livonia, Mich., and serves on the Michigan District Mission Board and the WELS Joint Mission Council. In this week’s Missions Blog, he discusses his experience with the Joint Mission Council, how it has improved his understanding of mission work, and how he is encouraged through it. 

When I began my service on the Joint Mission Council, I noticed some similarities to my work in Livonia and in the Michigan District. For example, the message of the law and gospel is the same. By God’s grace, this is at the front of every meeting, program, decision, and direction of everything that we do as a synod. Because we have that special blessing, we can jump at opportunities at the Joint Mission Council level.

We are especially interested in opportunities that present themselves when immigrants become WELS members and want to take that clear message of law and gospel back to their countries of origin. There is a willingness to look at every outreach opportunity as a chance to further the message of the gospel. Every request or inquiry is treated with exhaustive study. There is always more than one way to approach an opportunity. We use the term one-off many times, signaling that there are fresh approaches and open minds. Every mission opportunity comes with unique circumstances that might not be the same with a different people groups or country.

At the Joint Mission Council we have noticed that a new mission opportunity might come from a single person or family. The seeds of the gospel being planted through this is God’s work. Sometimes, an inquiry could be a blessing to both Home and World Missions. We are eager to see what God can do. It is his church, and we are allowed to be a small part of it by his grace.

There is such a need for well-trained gospel voices in all areas of ministry. The extraordinary Pastoral Studies Institute program of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, realizes this and has developed a system of educating these leaders through non-traditional means. Recruiting and training our future pastors and evangelists is important for the health of gospel outreach.

Seeing that the Joint Mission Council is in harmony with the Board for Home Missions and St. Paul’s is a great blessing and comfort for me. I can have confidence that all the ministry I’m a part of at the synod level and my local congregation are all working in the same direction.

God is at work in all the world, preparing us for that day when we will all see Jesus face to face. We give thanks that God is using us to bring more people into his Kingdom.

 

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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ).

Can you hear the excited children’s voices? Can you see the expectation and joy-filled faces of God’s littlest believers as they recite these familiar words? We learn in Isaiah about God’s priceless treasure given in perfect love to his children. In a world that is often filled with pain, confusion, anger, and sadness we, as believers, can hold strong to the promises of God. He sent his Son to be perfection for us and to suffer for our sins, and we thank him for this priceless gift.

Our WELS home and world missionaries and those in their mission fields wanted to share a message of thanks for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support in this special video. It is because of God working through people like YOU that we are able to share this priceless gift in 64 different countries and 132 home mission congregations across North America. We are so grateful.

Let’s raise our voices together in song as we worship the Christ child this Christmas season and thank our Heavenly Father for fulfilling the promises of old.

Together with you, we sing with joy and gratitude celebrating our Prince of Peace!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions


 

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Comfort food of the gospel

Most people think of barbecue as comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. It could be that I was born in Texas, but I think it’s more than that. At my baptism, we had brisket. At my confirmation, we had brisket. At my graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, we had pork shoulder. (Student loans put brisket just outside our budget.) Barbecue has always marked spiritual milestones in my life.

There is something about the smell of barbecue that gets people’s attention. Men and women, young and old, just about everyone can appreciate a good piece of barbecue. A number of men in our congregation enjoy the process of barbecuing, too. So it was natural to include that in our fall outreach effort. Now each year, early in November, our congregation hosts a community barbecue meal. We call it “Holy Smoq” and it has become a fan favorite.

We have many of the same things that most of our sister congregations have for a fall festival Sunday—a bounce house, games, piñatas, and a photo opportunity for the whole family. Each of these is fun and brings something meaningful to the day. But the brisket is what brings people together.

A plate full of smoked meat and sides is food you can’t hurry. It creates the space for conversation. Brisket gives strangers the moments they need to become fast friends. Each year, I marvel at the conversations I have had and I get to see at our annual “Holy Smoq” event.

And that is our first goal, to give God’s people a chance to connect with our community. So many folks in our congregation get intimidated by knocking on a stranger’s door. But sitting down and enjoying someone’s company over a plate of brisket? That isn’t intimidating. It’s delicious. It’s delightful. The backyard barbecue feel gives people a chance to chew the fat together. And when Christians do that, they can’t stop themselves from letting their light shine. They can’t help themselves but introduce people to the Jesus who loves the world.

That is our real goal. Yes, we want lots of people to enjoy the slow-smoked goodness.  That’s why we make the best brisket in town and give it away. But more than that, we want to give them the food that money cannot buy. The kind of food that lasts unto eternity. Someday, we want this barbecue to mark a spiritual milestone in their life. People need more than a plate of comfort food. We want them to enjoy the comforts of the gospel—knowing that Christ has paid for their sins in full.

Many come to our “Holy Smoq” event looking for a plate full of comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. And God willing, it will continue to be, to many more souls.

Written by Pastor Lincoln Albrecht, home missionary at River of Life in Goodyear, Ariz.


 

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Where there is no boom

“There is no boom,” said a Lutheran pastor recently in East Asia. We were talking about the challenges of mission work in East Asia. Between culture, religions, hostile governments, pestilence, warfare, and centuries of tradition that are all deeply ingrained and intertwined into the lives and minds of the people, there are no quick and easy approaches to teaching God’s word and making new disciples. There are no flashy shortcuts that lead to “booms” or surges in new believers. If you are looking for “the boom” in Asia, you will probably be disappointed. The Word doesn’t return empty. That is still true. But in Asia it takes so much time, so much effort, so much pouring into relationships. It takes so much patient teaching, teaching, and more teaching. Seeds are scattered abundantly, but by the time the birds, weeds, and scorching sun have had their way, not many remain to take root. And sometimes years of faithful labor and precious harvest can be scattered to the winds in an instant.

The town after shelling

In Myanmar, for example, a Lutheran pastor and his congregation have faithfully taught God’s word, shared the gospel, and discipled believers for years. Over the course of about three decades, they have gathered and shepherded about 300 souls. Longing for fellowship with other confessional Lutheran’s and hungering for God’s word, they reached out to a WELS pastor in the U.S. and have been greatly encouraged through his teaching and encouragement. They managed to stay in touch and continue to be in the word together through the pandemic, and the Myanmar church leaders still found ways to connect with their people and strengthen them with gospel (even though they could not gather in person). And then came the boom – the boom of war. Civil war erupted in Myanmar earlier this year. As battles spread across the country, the army shelled the town where many of the church’s members lived. As the town burned, the army shot civilians as they fled. Many of the church’s members fled across the border to India, to other towns in Myanmar, and even into the jungle to hide. The town went up in smoke. The flock was scattered and was mostly unaccounted for. In terms of numbers and an organized church, it looked like their harvest went up in smoke too.

The baptism of two people

In this environment, there is simply no “boom” of flashy programs and fast numbers. There is only the faithful plowing and re-plowing, sowing and re-sowing of God’s word, seeking and re-seeking the lost. Within a few weeks of the shelling, church leaders and the WELS pastor started connecting again online. God’s word continued to be taught, and the gospel (and this pastor’s encouragement) continued to strengthen their weary souls. And soon after that, these Burmese shepherds of souls in this shell-shocked area of Myanmar began to seek out and find what members they could. They managed to find and reconnect with a few families, worship with them in their homes, comfort them with the gospel, share the means of grace, and even baptize. In our correspondence, there was no complaining about lost ground, only rejoicing over souls saved and sins forgiven. There is no flashy evangelism “boom” here. But there is another kind of power at work. It’s the gospel, God’s power of salvation. This power is often a still small voice amongst the cacophony of the world’s booming and bellowing, but it is still God’s power to save. The only program in town right now (in Myanmar) is simply being with people in the worst of times and bringing the good news of Jesus into their lives. These tireless shepherds know this is the only thing that can cut through darkness and gloom and truly refresh downtrodden souls. And it is this same gospel that motivates, strengthens, and refreshes the souls of these weary shepherds of souls. Remaining in the word has kept them strong. But God also helped them through a WELS pastor on the other side of the world who found the time to be with them in their worst of times and bring the good news of Jesus into their lives. No boom. Just the gospel, God’s power, in a still small voice and in an unassuming way – yet still a mighty power to save and strengthen.

In this article, I’m not criticizing the big efforts that sometimes do lead to big harvests or “booms.” We pray for and long for those too. But I am thankful for the quiet and unflashy ways the gospel is having big impacts in ways that are easy to miss. I am also thankful for the army of unassuming shepherds (on both sides of the ocean) as they quietly walk together to equip, encourage, and minister through myriad difficulties and disappointments.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, Asia One Team leader.

 

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