What to do when they’re knocking at your door

Nearly every day, somewhere in the world, a pastor from another denomination contacts a WELS pastor. Usually the pastors from other denominations are looking for some kind of collaboration. You might think that WELS pastors patiently explain to them what the Scriptures say about unity in doctrine before collaboration in fellowship—and they do! But some WELS pastors have added an invitation to their explanation. They have asked, “Would you like more instruction?” When the pastors of other denominations have answered, “yes,” great blessings have resulted.

The WELS Joint Mission Council (JMC) has examined the cases where the Lord has blessed contacts like this and have noticed a pattern. In the most successful cases, the WELS pastor enrolls the other pastor in his WELS Bible Information Class. That way the man finds out how everything we teach comes from the Bible. He is often exposed to clear law and gospel for the first time, with Jesus at the center of everything we teach in the power of the Word and sacraments. The Holy Spirit does his work, and the pastor from the other denomination begins to teach the truths of Scripture to his own flock. At a certain point, that pastor usually becomes a member of a WELS congregation.

A PSI training visit

At that point, the Joint Mission Council recommends that the WELS pastor enlist the aid of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A member of the PSI Team interviews the pastor who was formerly a member of another denomination and determines the best course of studies so that the man can become a fully trained WELS pastor. The PSI team member also arranges appropriate contact with local district officials, Home Mission counselors, or members of World Mission Teams, depending on the background of the new man and his flock. Sometimes the PSI team member helps the WELS pastor see that the relationship should develop in a different way than planned. With their many experiences and contacts, the PSI Team members can be very helpful in planning the best use of our resources.

Because many of the pastors who contact us have networks inside and outside of the United States, the Joint Mission Council takes great interest in new opportunities for outreach that they provide. Because the world is a complicated place, the patterns often diverge here, but one similarity remains: love for the truths of Scripture, as taught by Lutherans, leads men from many diverse places to bring people to Jesus.

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Joint Mission Council chairman

 

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While we were waiting

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7a

Missionaries are doers. We thrive on rolling up the proverbial sleeves and getting stuff done. We like to be “out there” in the field with people. We want to be active and interactive. But when COVID hit last year, borders closed, and travel ceased. Asia was closed for business, and that is still largely the case today. As the usual list of accomplishments (sometimes measured in flights logged, people met, or classes taught) was stripped away, it chipped away at our doer identities. We found ourselves sometimes pacing pensively and pondering, “What do we do now? What will we do if we can’t do mission work?” We found out doers don’t do waiting well.

Driven by necessity and lack of options (sadly, not always driven by expectant faith), we were reduced to waiting – waiting on God. I don’t mean reduced in a diminutive way, but in the way that Psalm 37 reduces all our objects of hope, help, confidence, comfort, and salvation to only the Lord. The drum beat of Psalm 37 is those “he will. . . ” phrases. He will grant. . . He will act. . . He does. We wait. We know this is true. But it still feels frustrating when we really can’t do what we want.

The missed flights, cancelled workshops, and tweaking plans (again) has sometimes been excruciating. But while we were waiting, we have seen God be faithful and active. He has answered prayers. He has helped a time of trouble. Let me tell you some of the things he has done for Asia.

  • While we were waiting, God built a strong, supportive, growing relationships between missionaries, partners old and new, an amazingly supportive Administrative Committee, and national church leaders, even though the Asia One Team has not yet met together in person (not even once). 15 months ago, we wondered how we would grow together as a team. I can point to Zoom and a few other tools, but I prefer to point to God answering daily prayers and doing it while we happened to be on Zoom.
  • While we were waiting, God did open some borders. Our friendly counselor to South Asia and national contact, Haris, have been able to travel to a predominantly Muslim country in South Asia. Asia One Team missionary family Guy and Linda Marquardt made it to Thailand, and newest missionary Mark Zondag and his family are on the way too.
  • While the Wiesenauer family sometimes bemoaned missing a furlough this year, being “stuck” in Thailand built strong local relationships and opened new doors. God worked through everyone else in all the places they were “stuck” too. Just ask any missionary about the doors God opened in their locations.
  • The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam grew by 12,000 members and planted new churches. In Indonesia, our sister church forged stronger relationships, built a seminary, and strengthened worker training programs. In India, the brothers there plowed their way through challenge after challenge – growing together in the process. In a predominantly Hindu nation in South Asia, our national church partner got through travel restrictions to deliver relief items, gain the trust of local officials, and open new doors for the gospel. Go tell it on the mountain happened literally in South Asia, one mountain after another. And in one of the most restrictive parts of Asia, two dozen members were recently confirmed.

A Confirmation class in Asia

  • While we were waiting, the Holy Spirit was faithful to strengthen and work through national Christians – sometimes with and often without WELS missionaries. This is a poignant reminder that God delights in working in all his children.

I could go on. But the point. . . While we were waiting, the Lord did stuff. He was our stronghold in a troubling time. He helped. He acted. He is still on the move. God also continues to prepare good works for us to do and blesses the work of our hands, but how comforting and joyful it is to know that our identity and success is in his hands, no matter what happens to our plans.

Waiting on the Lord is hardly an endorsement for laziness or fatalism. Indeed, none of us ran out of work to do. But someday when we are in a post-covid world, borders are open, and missionaries are flying all over the world again, I hope we will not forget what we have learned. Waiting on the Lord is never a last resort or the thing we do when nothing else works. It is the first and best resort of missionaries and God’s children in any walk of life in every circumstance. It is based on the enduring promise that God will be faithful. We only need to behold the cross of Christ and the empty tomb to be reassured that this is true.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, world missionary on the Asia One Team.

 

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God’s work across the globe

Things are slowly starting to get back to normal. There are less restrictions on social gatherings. There are more opportunities to return to usual activities. This is also true in our world mission fields. In June, Missionary Andrew Johnston got to spend ten days meeting face-to-face with believers throughout central Mexico. The goal of this trip was to encourage Academia Cristo students who are currently gathering groups of people around God’s Word. Check out the timeline below to see what Missionary Johnston did during his trip.

Bible study group with Javier (second from left)

Saturday, June 12. After arriving in Mexico City in the early afternoon, I journeyed to the far southern edge of Mexico City to visit Javier. Javier is a furniture salesman who gathers four different groups of people to study God’s Word. After meeting one group at his home, I was asked to lead a Bible study. This group has already finished an Academia Cristo course called “The Four Concepts.” This course provides an overview of sin, grace, faith, and works.

Sunday, June 13. I traveled to a factory in the northeastern edge of Mexico City where Artemio, an Academia Cristo student and now confirmed Lutheran, gathers a group of about eighty people. I was asked to preach and participate in the confirmation of nine members. In the afternoon, I joined Javier at Ricardo’s house where I got to meet Ricardo’s family and friends. Ricardo owns a small pharmacy. He and his wife had questions about the validity of their baptisms (they were baptized as infants in Catholic churches). We took the opportunity to study baptism as a group and reaffirmed their baptisms by repeating the promises of God. Afterwards, we returned to Javier’s house where we met with another one of his groups who are studying online.

Monday, June 14. Meeting early at the bus station,and I took the five-hour bus ride to Zacapoaxtla, Puebla, a small city in the mountains. At the bus station in Zacapoaxla we were met by Pastor Samuel. He drove us to Huitzitlan, a small town about two hours from Zacapoaxtla. It turns out that Samuel is also a taxi driver. At a church with a big Luther seal outside, Artemio and I met with Samuel and church president Pedro, and we heard their story. Samuel’s father-in-law had been the pastor. When he died, Samuel was named pastor, but had received very little training of any kind. Samuel was interested to hear about Academia Cristo and wants to give it a try. After being invited to eat at Samuel’s house and meeting his wife Rebeka, we headed back to Zacapoaxtla. On the way, we stopped in Huahuastla to visit a man named Floriberto, the pastor of the Lutheran church in that village. Floriberto seemed interested in Lutheran training with Academia Cristo.

Tuesday, June 15. Artemio and I spent the morning with Pablo Tamanis, the pastor at the Lutheran church in Zacapoaxtla. Pablo and his wife kindly received us in their house and made us breakfast. Saying good-bye to Pablo, Artemio and I retraced our steps back to Mexico City having a good conversation on the way.

Arturo, Maricruz, with their daughter, Romina, holding her baptism certificate

Wednesday, June 16. After using some free time in the morning for two online meetings, I visited Arturo (vice principal of a school) and his wife Maricruz (a teacher). We talked late into the night, working through several doctrinal questions. When the discussion of baptism came up, they shared that their 13-year-old daughter Romina hadn’t been baptized. They asked what would stop us from baptizing her. I almost felt like Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch. . . So, we studied baptism with Romina and baptized her that night. We are praying that, God-willing, we will recognize doctrinal agreement with them in September and talk about steps to gather a group.

Thursday, June 17. Today, I headed to visit Javier again. We walked through a goal setting process that we use with advanced students to help them grow in their faith and start a Lutheran group. I also officially presented Javier with a doctrinal agreement certificate.

Friday, June 18. I boarded a bus to San Martin Texmeluchan, Puebla, in the morning. There I met Gabino Sanchez Sanchez (yes, that is a double Sanchez). We enjoyed a couple hours of conversation over coffee and parted ways agreeing that we would spend more time together during my next visit. On this visit, we plan to work through our doctrinal agreement process.

Marli holding her doctrinal certificate

Saturday, June 19. On Saturday, we got to gather several Academia Cristo students together. Pastor Carl Leyer was also present to help with these meetings. It was very encouraging to get to meet with students from different backgrounds and with different stories all in one day. In the evening, Pastor Leyer and I traveled to Cuernavaca to meet with Marli, her husband Luiz, Edna, and Maricela (and their driver Roberto). Marli is a very active Academia Cristo student. We were graciously received by Luiz and Marli in their home.

Sunday, June 20. After breakfast, we went to work on setting goals with Marli. She is working on sharing Jesus with lots of people. She has two children’s groups, she meets with groups of police to share the Word, and other things. Marli is now committed to starting a women’s group.

Monday, June 21. We had an early appointment at a police station near Cuernavaca. The department psychologist has asked Marli to share the Gospel. We met with a group of 16 people, including at-risk kids, moms, and police officers. We led a Bible study on the story of Zacchaeus, It was a great opportunity to share the Gospel with a very engaged audience. After a meal at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to, Carl and I prepared to fly out the next day.

What do a pharmacy owner from Mexico City, a taxicab driver in a rural mountain village of Huitzilan, and a woman from Cuernavaca have in common? They, along with many others throughout Mexico and Latin America, are receiving training through Academia Cristo to gather a group and teach that group the truths of God’s Word. They are being equipped to share the gospel. They are being encouraged to share the peace that only comes from Jesus. We thank God for these students, and we thank God for the opportunity to visit them.

Written by Matt Behmer, world missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador.

 

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Out of your comfort zone

How do you feel about talking with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy of the gospel with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy you have in your heart with a family member or a friend?

I would imagine answers to those questions will vary. One response could certainly be that it would be one of the most frightening conversations to carry out.

Risen Savior in Mansfield, Ohio, was looking for ways to share the gospel in the community, surrounding the church. The church enlisted the help of “Praise and Proclaim” and speaker Mr. Dave Malnes. A weekend was set aside to learn some techniques that might open the door to being able to share the message of our Savior Jesus – with strangers, family, and friends.

A total of 20 people attended the Friday night training and role playing session. Besides those from Risen Savior, members from four other WELS churches made the hour-long drive to be part of the  seminar.

One of the groups that went out to share the gospel

Saturday rolled around and it was time to put the training into practice. Practicing and having fun in the basement of the church is one thing, knocking on a stranger’s door is a whole different ball game. Eight groups, of two people each, were ready to head out Saturday morning (after the rain stopped). Anxiety, fright, sweaty palms, and plain terror filled the room.

A sampling of statements that could be heard before heading out the door:

“I’ll hold the clipboard. You can do the talking.”

“If you need me, I’ll be right behind you.”

“Do I have to talk?”

After an hour or so of walking the neighborhoods, we gathered back at church for a debriefing. The fear and anxiety was replaced with excitement and joy. Now you could hear  phrases like:

“After stumbling through the first couple, it became easier.”

“My heart started beating again after a couple of doors.”

“People were actually nice.” and

“It really wasn’t as bad as I anticipated.”

Excitement was in the air as people shared their stories. The goal was not to simply invite people to church but actually share the  gospel.

Adding up all the groups, the message of our Savior Jesus was shared with over 50 people. Five additional people were interested in getting even more information. Over 300 doors were knocked on during the day and information about the church was handed out or left at the door.

When I look back at the weekend, I know some people were praying for the rain to continue all day so they could stay in the warm confines of the church basement. However, after the event, the thrill of sharing the gospel overruled the previous fear and anxiety. The final phrases spoken that hit home:

“When are we able to go out and do this again?”

“I am able to share this with family and friends.”

Mr. Malnes put it best when he said, “Witnessing is more about God than about us.”  May God continue to bless our efforts.

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

 

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Faces of Faith – Roy

Roy Mendoza was born in Detroit, one of 10 children. From an early age, his parents tried to get rid of him. Twice they took him to Mexico and left him there. They took him to California and other states and purposefully left him behind. He always managed to find his way back, but his distrust and hatred grew.

He soon began to take lives. People in Southwest Detroit called him a vigilante. Neighbors would ask him to take out an abuser, a thief, or some other untouchable, and he would. He became good at killing—he boasted about it—and he didn’t think twice about doing it. He felt no remorse, until he accidentally took the life of his own son.

Shortly after that horrific event, Roy landed in prison. He didn’t want to hear anything about God or forgiveness because he’d killed his own son. But then he heard a verse from Luke where Jesus said, “They will be divided—father against son and son against father.” By the Spirit’s power alone, these words piqued his interest, since he had been wrestling with guilt for the first time in his life. Within months of being in prison, God grabbed hold of his heart through his Word, and Roy cried. Tough guys weren’t supposed to cry, but Roy did. . . and it felt good.

Roy Mendoza

As he reflects on the 25 years he spent behind bars for his life of crime, Roy says, “I didn’t go to prison. I went to school—God’s school.” He hadn’t known how to read, but he somehow started to learn by reading an old King James Bible someone gave him. He poured over Scripture day and night. At one point, he taught 14 men the Bible every day—many of whom had worked to destroy his own family because of things he’d done against their families on the outside. Roy came to know Christ and God’s grace for him, and with a humble, penitent spirit, he brought the gospel to his own enemies.

Since 2017, Roy has been out of prison—by God’s grace, a changed man. One fall day in 2020, after church, a member of Palabra de Vida bumped into him on the sidewalk and told him to check out our church. He did. He walked inside, and I met him. He’s been coming faithfully to worship and Bible study ever since. After studying with me in Bible information class, he was received into membership. Now, Roy is training to be a leader at Palabra de Vida. He encourages others who are just starting out in their faith. He applies the Word to hurting hearts. We pray that God continue to use Roy to give life to others—a big change from a few decades ago! All thanks to the Holy Spirit.

In awe of God’s mercy, Roy sees the famous hymn as his own: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now I see.”

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

Hear more from Missionary Kolander in the presentation he gave as part of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) annual convention that occurred this past weekend: vimeo.com/566224349

 

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Worth the wait

The wait is over! After a long 14 months of the pandemic, we are finally able to enjoy many of our favorite activities again. Whether it’s flying to visit family, going to a baseball game, or simply giving someone a hug … as we finally get to enjoy these activities, we realize that we appreciate them more than ever. They were “worth the wait.”

The same thing holds true at church.

2020 was an unusual year for Intown Lutheran Church. The pandemic forced us to cancel most of our events and limit most of our gatherings. For nearly 6 months straight, we held “online-only” worship. It was all very unusual and unexpected. But as it turned out, something else about 2020 was unusual and unexpected too: the tremendous opportunities for outreach.

You might think that with extremely limited options for either gathering at church or going out and meeting new people in the community, our congregation’s outreach ministry would slow to a crawl. But surprisingly, we saw the exact opposite happen. The year 2020 turned out to be by far the strongest year of outreach that we have ever had, in 4 years of existence as a congregation!

How does something like this happen? Only by God’s guiding hand. It seems that during 2020 God used all the chaos and turmoil in our society brought about by the pandemic, politics, social justice issues, etc. to create a real spiritual hunger in many of our city neighbors who had previously been uninterested in church. Even though we were unable to do any of our normal outreach events, again and again God kept leading people to us “out of nowhere,” searching for spiritual guidance. During 2020 we brought more prospects through Bible Basics Class than ever before, and we confirmed more new members than ever before!

But nearly all of it took place online. The Bible Basics Classes were taught over Zoom.  The “New Member Sundays” took place over Facebook Live. Although many people were studying God’s Word and joining our church, in many cases they had yet to meet a single church member or come to a single in-person worship service. The blessings of Christian fellowship were sorely lacking.

But in the past few months, we’ve been able to gather again. The blessings of fellowship have come flooding back. And it has all been “worth the wait!”

On May 16 and May 23, we held back-to-back New Member Sundays, during which we officially welcomed 6 new members from 2021, as well as 10 of our new members from 2020 (most of whom had only been able to participate “virtually” up to this point.)

New member Sunday at Intown Lutheran Church

As new members stood before their congregation and heard the words “Welcome to the family, and welcome to the team…”

as they shared the Lord’s Supper with their brothers and sisters in Christ for the very first time…

as they experienced the smiles, friendly handshakes, and warm hugs of Christian fellowship…

as they watched excited kids sink their teeth into a celebratory post-church donut…

it was clear that all of this had been “worth the wait.”

So what comes next?

Members at Intown Lutheran

There is no fast-forward button in ministry. We can’t “skip ahead” to the next episode. Only God knows what special friendships will grow between old members and new. . . what growth will occur in the hearts of all the new people who have already enrolled in Bible Basics Class for summer. . . or what additional new people he plans to bring our way this fall, when we can finally start doing outreach at community festivals once again.

There are many things we don’t know, but there is one thing that we do. Wherever God decides to lead our growing congregation next – it will be “worth the wait.”

Written by Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Ga.

 

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A time to celebrate and a time to pray

Luke Wolfgramm, our WELS pastor in Russia, had a chance to talk with Holger Weiss, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany. The ELFK is WELS’ sister church and mission partner.

Let’s celebrate and give thanks with our brothers and sisters in Germany!

This is quite a year for the 1,300 members and 17 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK).

  • Steeden, the oldest congregation in the ELFK, is celebrating its 175th anniversary – that’s four years older than WELS.
  • Four other congregations (in Dresden, Zwickau-Planitz, Altengesees, and Saalfeld) are celebrating 150 or 100 years of God’s grace.
  • The ELFK seminary was founded in 1921, exactly 100 years ago.
  • And this year the Dr. Martin Luther School for elementary children is celebrating its 20th

When interviewed, Holger Weiss, said:

“God has performed miracles for our church. He preserved His truth among us despite two devastating world wars and decades of communist persecution. [Most ELFK congregations are located in former East Germany.]

Student at the ELFK seminary in Leipzig.

At first ELFK pastors were trained in the Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis. [At that time both WELS and the ELFK enjoyed fellowship with the LC-MS.] But when WWI prevented men from traveling to the United States, the ELFK had to find a way to train their own pastors. The church decided to send men to the state seminary in Leipzig. But they also established their own auxiliary institute to battle false teaching presented in that liberal seminary. This was the beginning of the ELFK seminary.

We are so thankful for Dr. Martin Luther School in Zwickau. Every day 120 students attend grades 1-4 and hear about the Savior. Most of these students come from unchurched families. This has been an excellent way to reach out to our community with God’s word.

But I feel sad. I live in the land of Luther and the Reformation. But so many people here have no idea of what Christ did for them. Today we are still suffering from the pandemic. People have gotten sick and died. Businesses have been closed. Many are living in fear. They sought hope from medicine, science and politicians – only to be disappointed. People need to know that our real troubles are spiritual! We need a new awakening!

Please pray that God would move young men to study for ministry in Germany. Pray that we can open new congregations and preaching stations. Pray that we can send out missionaries. Pray that all of us can be lights welcoming souls into God’s happy family. And pray for our seminary. Right now, we are exploring ways that we can serve not only German students, but men from our sister churches. We want people all over Europe to hear about the Savior!

What a special year! We thank God for past blessings. Now it’s time to get busy praying and working to share the Savior – no matter where you live!”

 

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Christian Worship Lectionary

When the Church gathers around Word and sacrament, it does so in the freedom of the Gospel. A congregation can choose worship forms from anywhere on the continuum that lies between what is commanded and what is forbidden in worship.

The commanded elements are: “that the Word be proclaimed; that the Sacraments be administered rightly; that the gatherings be done in Jesus’ name.”1 At the same time any word or action that is inconsistent with the Gospel must be barred from worship. Simple enough, right? “The peculiar problem in the formation of the worship service is posed by the wide area that remains between the two boundary lines of the absolutely forbidden and the absolutely commanded.”2

So while we enjoy great freedom in our worship, we also seek to be wise in our use of that freedom. How can we order our services to provide the best culture of the means of grace? How can we plan our public worship so that the congregation is fed by God, encourages fellow believers, and witnesses to the world in the best way we can?

For many centuries the Church exercised such wisdom by ordering its public worship around a tool we inherited from millions of other Christians across time, culture, and geography: the lectionary. These readings, prayers, and psalms appointed for Sundays and seasons are called the Propers. While the ordinary of the service remains stable, the lectionary provides the moving parts. Along with the Christian calendar, the lectionary provides the basis for the Church’s proclamation and the foundation on which its services, seasons, and songs are built.

When the development work on the new Christian Worship hymnal began, our church body was provided the opportunity to review and revise the lectionary from CW93. While many Christian denominations make use of a three-year lectionary, and while they share many common elements, there is no single three-year lectionary that is shared by a majority of Christians. The three-year lectionaries in use across Christendom often share the same Gospel reading, but after that they have become increasingly divergent.

So without a standard three-year lectionary to follow, the Scripture Committee set out to propose a revision. The goals for the CW lectionary were to be:

  • Historical. We wanted to respect the wisdom of the Church that has gone before us.
  • Ecumenical. Where we could share readings and seasons with the wider church, we would. If we had to choose between faith traditions, we would choose confessional Lutheran traditions.
  • Gospel centered. The Gospel for each day would set the theme for worship.
  • Thematic. All the proper appointments would thematically match the Gospel.

The results that CW offers to the Church are a revised calendar, a historic one-year lectionary, a three-year lectionary, a lectionary for minor festivals and occasions, and three volumes of Commentary on the Propers.

Three-year lectionary

The vast majority of WELS congregations use a three-year lectionary. This provides a set of readings for each liturgical year (A, B, C). Each year presents the Gospel in the voice of a different evangelist. Year A features Matthew; Year B, Mark; Year C, Luke. John’s voice is heard in Year B and in the Time of Easter in all three years. Christian Worship’s publication date means that the first liturgical year of its use will be Year C.

Calendars years divisible by 3 are always the beginning of Year A. So Advent of 2019 was the beginning of Year A; Advent 2020, Year B; and in November of 2021 Advent begins Year C.

Thematic Sundays are a chief feature of the new lectionary. In CW93 continual readings in the epistles meant that often there was no connection between the Second Reading and the theme for the Sunday. In the new lectionary, the second reading was selected to fit the theme for each Sunday. But what about all the other appointments? In the CW93 lectionary, especially in the Season after Pentecost, the Prayer of the Day, the Verse of the Day, and the Psalm of the Day often lacked connections to each other or the appointed readings. In the new lectionary all the following appointments will match theme of the day:

  • Readings 1, 2, Gospel
  • Prayer of the Day
  • Psalm of the Day
  • Gospel Acclamation
  • Hymn of the Day

The new lectionary largely retains the Gospels as they exist in the CW93 lectionary for historical and ecumenical reasons. The readings from the Gospels have the most correspondence to other lectionaries in use in wider Christianity. For example, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year A, the same Good Shepherd Gospel (John 10:1-10) will be read in WELS, LCMS, ELS, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian, and other liturgical churches. Such commonality is a good reminder that while there are proper reasons for denominations to be divided now, all who call on Christ as Lord are united in the Holy Christian Church and will one day worship undivided before the throne.

The Gospel sets the theme for the Sunday, and every other appointment seeks to undergird that theme. The result is a lectionary that uses both the old and the new: While the Gospels didn’t change much, the rest of the appointments did. Of the over 400+ appointments in Year A, 45% differ from CW93.

While the Gospels didn’t change much, the rest of the appointments did. Of the over 400+ appointments in Year A, 45% differ from CW93.

Compared to the current lectionary, the First Reading in CW will offer more narrative in balance with prophecy. Many of the important Old Testament stories provide great preaching texts, and they will be found on Sundays where they support the theme of the Gospel. The First Reading will continue to feature readings from Acts during the Easter Season.

The Second Reading will no longer feature continual readings but will present the important content in a thematic context. While having a set of readings from a single book across several weeks provides an opportunity for preaching sermon series, this lectionary has gone away from that. Instead it seeks to provide a tightly coordinated set of propers for every Sunday. The central point of the Gospel will be reinforced by every appointment, lending a cohesiveness to the appointments that was often lacking in CW93. Of course, the Church is free to continue to use a lectio continua but this effort seeks to have series preaching based on the lectionary’s patterns (see Commentary on the Propers below).

The Prayer of the Day has a long history, and some of those prayers have been used by the Church for fifteen centuries. The new lectionary sought to preserve all the historic prayers, but to arrange them to ensure a thematic agreement with the Sunday. This is most noticeable in the Season after Pentecost. In the CW93 lectionary, the same prayer was appointed for each Sunday in years A, B, and C. Even though the readings were all different, the prayer was the same over all three years. This meant that if there was a connection between the Prayer of the Day and the readings it was serendipitous. The new lectionary features historic prayers, some newly translated ancient prayers, some newly written, but all in line with each Sunday’s theme.

The same is true of the Gospel Acclamation, which we used to call the Verse of the Day. This thematic statement from Scripture is meant to prepare the congregation to hear the reading of the Gospel. It is to be sung with alleluias, except during Lent. The hymnal provides easy to use congregational responses so you can sing a thematic, proper Gospel acclamation on any Sunday.

New items to note

While much of the new lectionary will feel familiar and comfortable, some changes to terminology, practice, and purpose did occur.

Some terminology changes are minor:

  • Readings instead of Lessons
  • Gospel Acclamation instead of Verse of the Day
  • Holy Thursday instead of Maundy Thursday
  • Season after Pentecost instead of Pentecost Season

More significant changes follow.

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

The lectionary retains traditional Palm Sunday readings. However, it reintroduces the 500-year-old practice of appointing the Triumphal Entry as a choice for the Gospel on Advent 1. This corresponds to historic practice, restores the Palm Sunday connection to many Advent hymns, and allows for a new practice called the Sunday of the Passion.

The idea comes from the fact that some of the most significant portions of the Gospels—the parts that tell the sufferings and death of our Lord—are not appointed to be read on Sundays. Certainly, they are read during Lenten midweek and Holy Week services. But what percentage of your congregation attends those? Could it be that for a majority of your worshipers, their Holy Week worship takes them from waving palm branches on Palm Sunday to shouting “Christ is risen,” on Easter without hearing a word about the sufferings and death of Jesus?

The Sunday of the Passion places the entire Passion History in front of God’s people on Palm Sunday. For example, the reading appointed for Year A is Matthew 26:1-27:66. Some congregations preach a sermon; others use a responsive reading of the Gospel in place of the sermon. In our congregation, the service begins with the procession of palms, then the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel, and then the service continues with a responsive reading of the Passion History as appointed. This means that every Sunday worshiper hears the whole account of Holy Week annually in the voice of the evangelist for that year.

Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost

The Christian Church year has three divisions: the Time of Christmas (Advent to Transfiguration), the Time of Easter (Ash Wednesday to Pentecost), and the Time of the Church (Trinity to Last Sunday). The 1993 lectionary ended the Time of Easter with Easter 7 and began the Time of Pentecost with the festival of Pentecost. The new lectionary moves more in line with wider Christianity and puts Pentecost as the end and culmination of the seven weeks of Easter, as the last festival of the festival half of the Church Year.

The Time of the Church begins with the festival of the Holy Trinity on the first Sunday after Pentecost. So the name of the season changes. It’s not called the Pentecost Season, but instead the Season after Pentecost. In the Season after Pentecost there are 27 Sundays and the Last Sunday of the Church Year.

Proper system

The lectionary makes a major change by using the proper system to determine readings for the Sundays after Pentecost. The benefits of using this system include ties to wider Christianity, and the ease of determining the propers for the Sundays after Pentecost simply by their calendar date.

Here’s how it works. After the First Sunday after Pentecost (Holy Trinity), the assigned readings are determined not by a Sunday’s distance from Pentecost but by the calendar date on which it falls. The set of Sunday propers run from Proper 3 to Proper 28. (Propers 1 and 2 are used on weekdays, and so are not appointed in this lectionary.) If there are any propers that are not used because of the date of Easter, they come at the beginning of the season rather than at the end. Often, Propers 3-4 will not be used unless Easter is very early.

Each proper is assigned a range of dates by which it is paired with the Sunday on which it is used. For example, in the year 2021, the date of Pentecost is May 23, the date of Holy Trinity is May 30, so the next Sunday after Pentecost happens on June 6. This date falls in the range for “Proper 5— Sundays on June 5-11.” You would use Proper 5 readings on June 6, and then the Proper 6 readings on June 13, and so on.

Please note: Don’t call the Sunday “Proper 5” in the service folder. That’s just a reference to the set of readings. Definitely save or file your service folders and resources according to their Proper reference. It’s just not the name of the Sunday. In my congregation our service folder simply refers to them by their date in the Season after Pentecost. So next year the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost is July 17, 2022. We’ll list it in the service folder as “Sunday, July 17, in the Season after Pentecost.” But when we save a copy of the service folder it will be named “C-Proper11-2022-07-17.”

If this seems confusing, take heart. We will produce annual lectionary calendars that do all this work for you. It will look like the example shown here.

End times without End Time

The End Time Season was unique to WELS. Introduced in the 1993 hymnal, it was meant to create a fitting end to the Church Year with an eschatological focus. The new lectionary’s goals of historicity and ecumenicity led us to drop that uniquely WELS season. We want our church year to be ecumenical in the best sense of the word.

There is no End Time Season in the new lectionary. We definitely still remember the end times, just in ways that correspond to the wider church. The trajectory of each set of Gospel readings inevitably leads the Church to a focus on the coming judgment during the closing weeks of the Church Year. We recommend observing Reformation on the last Sunday in October and the Festival of All Saints on the first Sunday in November. The last Sunday of the Church year has two options: Last Sunday or Christ the King. The worship planner’s choice on the Last Sunday will dictate the choice of options for the following week on Advent 1. So on Last Sunday if the primary proper is used (Christ’s second coming), the primary proper is also used for Advent 1 (Christ’s triumphal entry). If the alternate proper is used (Christ the King), the alternate proper is also used for Advent 1 (Christ’s second coming).

Historic, Minors, and Occasions

The historic one-year lectionary in Christian Worship restores features that had been removed in our last hymnal. The pre-Lent –gesimas are back. So, too, the Latin Sundays of Easter. Quasimodo Geniti lives again. The Trinity season ends with Trinity 26 and Last Sunday.

Newly appointed occasions include Sanctity of Life, Military Service, Witness, Marriage and Family.

The minor festivals and occasions are fully resourced. The occasions that are frequently celebrated are given three sets of readings (Reformation, All Saints, Christian Education, Confirmation, Father’s Day, Missions, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Stewardship, Thanksgiving) to provide ample variety. Newly appointed occasions include Sanctity of Life, Military Service, Witness, Marriage and Family.

Commentary on the Propers

Worship planners performing long range, seasonal, or weekly planning benefit from having an understanding of the whole lectionary, the liturgical seasons, the direction of upcoming readings, and special features of each of the appointments. The Commentary on the Propers provides the tools needed.

This set of three books provides commentary on the propers assigned to each Sunday or festival. Designed to be the first resource pulled off the shelf when planning worship, each season, Sunday, and festival is treated in terms of its connection to the theme of the day and its place within the Church Year. This resource helps the worship planner know where they are, where they’re going, and what it all means.

Many pastors like to preach sermon series. These commentary volumes show that you don’t need to abandon the lectionary to do it. Special attention is given to the natural series that occur in the lectionary. In fact, there are sermon series provided for the entire Church year.

Logos Bible Software

The new lectionary will be available natively on Logos Bible Software. Simply search for Christian Worship and you will see two new options: Christian Worship One-Year Lectionary and Christian Worship Three-Year Lectionary.

 

By Jonathan E. Schroeder

Pastor Schroeder serves Faith, Sharpsburg, GA, a suburb of Atlanta. His duties beyond the parish are numerous: member of the Synodical Council, moderator of the Institute for Worship and Outreach, consultant for Schools of Outreach and for Schools of Worship Enrichment, and WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee. He chaired the committee that produced the new lectionary.


1 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, 221.
2 Brunner, 225.


See also FIC

See another article by Jon Schroeder in the August Forward in Christ. The FIC article focuses on the benefits of the new lectionary; this WTL article focuses also on understanding the design of the new lectionary and other propers.

Planning Advent through Epiphany

To assist those who do long range planning in summer, the Hymnal Introduction Committee has posted a planning tool for Advent through Epiphany. This tool includes far more than the new lectionary. It also contains:

  • Series themes and themes of the day (with explanations)
  • Hymn suggestions
  • Notes on new hymns that might benefit from advance planning
  • Two plans for introducing new musical settings of various canticles, one “conservative,” the other “ambitious”

Please note that no new canticle settings are suggested until Epiphany, giving musicians ample time to learn new settings.

Find this planning tool, Year C Advent through Epiphany, in the Look Inside section under the Resources tab at christianworship.com. At this location see also comments from Jon Hein about forthcoming resources from WELS Congregational Services that capitalize on this planning tool and new hymnal resources.

Supporting musical arrangements

At NPH (online.nph.net) search on ‘cw21choral’ to find arrangements of new hymns. Future information will assist with finding piano and organ service music settings.


 

 

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Preach the Word – Movements in Sermon Writing

I find that writing isn’t difficult. Sitting down to write—that’s difficult. The good lurking within my procrastination, fueling the fear at the edges of my work, is that it matters to me profoundly, this business of writing Word-saturated, Christ-obsessed sermons.

At last, I dare to step past the basics of preaching1 and to take up the writing task itself. As a message begins to emerge from the scribbles on my legal pad, the essential question becomes one of movement. Where to begin? Where am I heading? How will I get there?

As I take up these questions with you, I find myself entwined in the great homiletical debate between deductive and inductive styles. To tease out the differences, let’s consider two sermons based on Hebrew 5:7-10.

Sermon Introduction #1

What if I told you a story about a young pastor, early in his days of planting a church, carrying the weight of the world? He answers the phone, listens for a few moments, hangs up, walks down the basement stairs, closes the door behind him…and cries. What if I cried a little just telling you about it?

I can imagine two reactions. One: you’re embarrassed for me, put off by the show of weakness, rolling your eyes. You think, “Man, keep it together.”

But I can imagine another reaction. You think, “Of all the times I’ve heard him speak, now he has my attention. Maybe he’s like me. Maybe I could tell him things. I think he’d understand. Maybe he could help.”

The very thing that repels one person draws another. You might even wonder what was going on down there? What do they mean, those sounds coming up through the basement door?

It is just this way with Jesus. He scandalizes many—this weakness of God on display in the lowly Jesus carrying the weight of the world, God the Son crying and crying in the Garden. It is the very thing that has our attention and draws us in.

What’s going on, not down the basement stairs, but a stone’s throw away? What is the meaning of the “loud cries and tears” of Gethsemane.

Answer? The Son of God is being qualified to be the Savior of the world and the saving of you.

Deductive Preaching – Arguing from a Conclusion

A message that starts that way is on the deductive end of the continuum between deductive and inductive movement. I reached a conclusion in solitude about the telic note of Hebrews 5:7-10. My 60-second introduction was designed to prepare a compelling announcement of that day’s whole point. I left no one in suspense about what it was. In the “loud cries and tears” our Jesus is being qualified to be our Savior. I would not have hesitated to announce this theme in advance.

By “arguing from a conclusion” I only mean that it was a joy to spend the remainder and bulk of my time playing on my theme and sharing the rewards of my study, unpacking the big thought and establishing it by means of the assigned Word.

It seemed to me at the time to be the way that particular text was asking to be treated. I elected to offer that sort of clarity right up front given that there was plenty left to challenge my listeners. Our Jesus “learned obedience?” When was he ever not obedient? “Once made perfect?” Was he ever anything but perfect? I pulled out all the homiletical stops I know of in the form of illustration—of willingness made complete in the act—and application—we are being qualified by suffering, too, you know. Lord, we are learning, too.

And I dare to hope, under the blessing of Christ, that people walked away appropriating the deep beauty and consolation of that text.

There is no one who understands you like the lowly Jesus. No one who knows you the way he knows you. No one cares the way he cares. No one who could ever have saved you the way this one has saved you. That’s what you’re hearing from a stone’s throw away.

Sermon Introduction #2

Hebrews 5 has challenged me. I have feared that something is lost on me, whatever it was that caused Psalm 110 to be the most often quoted Psalm in the New Testament. The writer to the Hebrews thrills at the thought of Jesus as “priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” To think that we have a king who is also a priest.

Um. Okay.

I have heard of priests and I know what kings are, but for most of my life I have felt no heart connection. The thrill doesn’t easily reach me.

I find I can’t go directly for the heart when I handle Hebrews 5. I need to drill down toward the heart through the head. There are things to study and grapple with, things to understand though they elude us until the Spirit lights them up.

To begin, let’s imagine the skyline of ancient Jerusalem dominated by two structures. The royal palace where the king sat amidst the trappings of royalty, power, and providence—here is one worthy of all your hopes. The holy temple where the priest serves in the aura of mystery, grace, and sacrifice—when he smiles at you, unworthy though you are, it is the smile of God.

The thing is, a man could be one or the other. Not both.

Was King David reflecting on that as he read the story of father Abraham and Melchizedek in the Torah? Did he think, “I can’t be both…but there was one once. There was a king who was also priest. There was a priest who was also a king.” Then the Spirit fell. Then true inspiration hit: “And there will be again!”

Inductive Preaching – Arguing to a Conclusion

I was, of course, just getting warmed up. There was more work to be done in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. There was further still to go in the “uphill climb of understanding” before we could arrive at the “smooth downhill of revealing.”

That’s one way to think of inductive preaching, simplistic though it may be. Inductive movement may involve communicating both the challenge of the text as it first confronted us, as well as the way that challenge resolves, one way or another, in a fresh view of Christ crucified and raised. We share the part that perplexed or disturbed us on our way to a conclusion in which all that was dark is light, questions find answers, and the restless may rest.

That sense of missing something in the name Melchizedek—something that ought to have me leaping—is absolutely what challenged me about that portion of Hebrews 5. And because it was real, it was what I found most interesting.

It sounds cliché, but inductive preaching is intentional about leading hearers on a journey of discovery. I create an itch that needs scratching. I propose an honest dilemma, and then, well, I write my way out.

Inductive preaching is intentional about leading hearers on a journey of discovery.

Why Not Go Full-on Inductive?

The extreme arguments you encounter for inductive preaching would have us take a risk we are not willing to take, namely, that for all our cleverness, our listeners may not arrive at the truth at all. There is a radical position that smacks of Erasmus in his debate with Luther, namely, in his preferring questions over answers. To this Luther insisted that the Christian heart loves and lives off the assertions of God’s Word and its crystal-clear propositions. The predictableness of preaching that always comes around to Christ and him crucified is a good thing. No, it is the best thing.

Early in my days as a preacher, there is no doubt that when I ditched deductive preaching, I turned instead to a method I must now refer to as the “hot mess.”

Ultimately, the extreme version of the argument that takes inductive preaching to be the only preaching that shows respect for a modern audience does not honestly account for the deductive style of some of the most gifted and influential preachers of our time.

Settle on Deductive Preaching and Call It a Day?

An extreme argument for deductive preaching will be hard pressed to justify why it takes so few cues from the communication in the Bible itself with its absolutely stunning array of communication forms. There is a wildness to biblical revelation that we would only domesticate and diminish when room is not given for its prophets and poets to speak the way they speak—in love song and rescue story, smoky ritual and visions by the river. There is nothing obvious about a Burning Bush.

The exaggerated “deductive-only” rant could cause a preacher to deliver a theological treatise and say contentedly within himself, “I told them, so now they know.” He may give so much away in his published theme and parts that people feel little reason to listen.

He may casually assume that all come hungry to hear what he has to say. That hunger may need to be awakened, such as by that itch that begs for scratching, a puzzle that needs solving, a story that demands an ending, a song that disturbs for the way you hold back the final note.

A radical position prefers questions over answers.

A False Dichotomy

We need not huddle on the two ends of the continuum. Combining deductive and inductive elements keeps preaching fresh. Any time we aren’t saying something in the most straightforward way we possibly could—by penetrating questions, in narratives we don’t immediately explain, through images we hope to hang in the basement gallery of people’s hearts—we are being inductive. We’re leaving room for our listeners to complete the meanings we intend and be part of their own persuasion, making things more fully their own.

There can be entangling moments of induction within a deductive style that has no lack of clarity or authority. There can be resolution at the end of a measured time of disorientation.

None of us want our preaching to be vanilla. There is a sweet spot between numbing ambiguity and spoon-feeding. Perhaps we are not helping people on toward further outposts in Christian thinking and living when they know what we’re going to say before we say it.

The challenge, then, is that audiences are diverse with the need for both straightforwardness and discovery, what is unambiguous blended with what makes for that interesting car ride home.

There is a sweet spot between numbing ambiguity and spoon-feeding.

Genre Can Help

If my sermon text is a gorgeous psalm, I try to write elements of beauty into my message. Like a novel by Flannery O’Connor, my preaching may set grace against the blood and dead bodies of the Old Testament such as to make evil recognizable. If my text is an ancient story, I might bring it into conversation with a story of now. A provocative text asks for a provocative sermon. To say nothing of a visual text. A somber text. An ironic one.

If, on the other hand, my text is theologically dense and tightly constructed, an expository approach has wonderful possibilities. Why deconstruct and then reconstruct a text like that? Instead, set the context. Walk through verse by verse. Draw law and gospel to the surface and Christ into the frame, if he isn’t there already. Insert pictures and encouragements as the moment requires. Why not adhere to the agenda the Spirit has set?

Combining deductive and inductive elements keeps preaching fresh.

Might as Well Preach It

A kind reader of Preach the Word offered me this advice. I was unsure of where to go next on the topic of sermon writing. He suggested I include a longer excerpt of a sermon as a way to communicate indirectly what I’ve been trying to say all along.

So, if you’ll indulge me, where were we? Ah.

Melchizedek.

We were drilling down through the head and toward the heart.

I can be as foolish as the pagans for whom it’s all about the question: what do I have to do to get the deity to care? I can carry the weight of the world, but the Word reaches me again: “Cast all your care on him.” Toss ‘em like a backpack tossed across your dorm room. Throw them on the one with the scars in his palms.

He cares for you.

Or think of Isaiah mocking the pagans for the gods they fashioned from wood and stone and then had to carry around on their own backs—heavy things hunching them over. I can be that foolish and that exhausted, trusting in things I have to carry around myself. But the News reaches me again.

There is one who carries me.

We haven’t seen the last of anxiety and shame. But I can welcome them when I see how strongly they play in my bondedness to Jesus—in the fact that I will always need him.

What I need is a king.

I require a king to adore, a king who can subdue me, carry on his rule of peace in this busy mind and this troubled heart. I need the king who will consummate his kingdom, the new Jerusalem descending from the sky.

What I need is a priest.

I am capable of so much shame, the great self-inflicted wounding. Sometimes I don’t want to show my face. It is just then he shows me his. He smiles on me with the smile of God, honors me, clothes me in beauty, covers my disgrace with a righteousness that is all him and none of me. I see it now.

I need a king who is also a priest. I need my priest to also be my king.

I need to know that wherever I am and whatever I am doing, the one who prays for me is the one at the center of all things, holding all things together by his powerful Word. And when I stand before him on that day, the King of the universe, the Lord of all there is, I will be standing before the one who laid his body down.

(Long pause.)

This will sound strange, but I walked through the cemetery near my house early this morning and threw a rock as far as I could. I actually did that. That was me naively wondering just exactly how far is “a stone’s throw away.” I don’t have a great arm…but it’s pretty far. I wanted to see for myself.

Can you picture it? Have you ever been able to hear someone not only crying from that far away, but you were even able to make out the words? Imagine. The loud cries and tears go on and on. At last it gets quiet. For the moment, he’s all prayed out.

Abba, your will be done.”

Here prays a king for all your fears, a priest for all your shame. A lone cross juts up from the landscape of human history. It dominates our horizon. Here the blood of royalty mingles with the tears of a priest.

Melchizedek! (I say this with a fist against my chest. You see it, right?)

Melchizedek!

Here is the name for the heart’s greatest affection. There is no one who understands you like the lowly Jesus. No one who knows you the way he knows. No one who cares the way he cares. None other could have saved you the way he has saved you. Blessed be the name. Amen.

The Moment the Preacher Dies

Guru of adult education, Jane Vella, steals a thought from Paolo Freire about “the moment the teacher dies.” They disagree only about whether both student and teacher recognize it when it arrives. It’s about what happens when the teacher truly joins those she means to serve in the task of learning, a student among students.

By “the moment the preacher dies,” I mean something else. Someone asked me what I pray for as I bow my head before reading my text. There are several variations on the theme. But whatever else I say to my God in that moment, I always also say what I learned in a garden:

“Not my will but yours be done.”

I know what I want to happen next. What do you want to happen, Abba? Honestly, preaching you still thoroughly humbles me. And so, because ultimately there’s my way and there’s your way, let it go your way.

As for me, let me die in this moment to all self-concern and to every doomed identity. Let me die outright to the hunger to be well thought of. But this—this preaching Christ crucified—it still scares me because of how much it matters.

I am willing to be disturbed, yearning, and unfinished until you, Lord, release the final note.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

As I lift my head, as I stand here, it is enough to take a good long look at the faces turned toward me and love them, even as I am loved. It is enough to be forgiven and to be, even now, on my way home.

Written by Mark Paustian

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

1 The previous five articles in this series were titled “Joy and Confidence from the Basics.”


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Plans A,B,C,D…

We were ready to take Minot by storm with a new, innovative approach for starting a church. It was 2014, childcare was a massive need in a still-booming North Dakota, so we were going to start an early childhood ministry through which we would grow a thriving mission church. What could go wrong?

A failed land deal, a collapsed oil economy, and one year later we were onto “Plan B.” It was the start of a trend. The past seven years have been filled with plan after plan to reach out to our community. During much of that time we were on the lookout for a more suitable location for our ministry than a hotel conference room. Yet, whether it was an appealing land purchase, a building that would lend well to a renovation, or just leased space where we could get our footing, every plan seemed to fall through and result in a change of plans. We met at that hotel far longer than we ever envisioned.

Grace Lutheran’s church service.

Until one day, one of our members was speaking with a friend from a local Baptist church. They were looking to sell their building, we were looking to buy, and finally, that meant we had a plan that would work. We moved into the building right before Christmas and took a couple months to get it ready. We started up a Mornings with Mommy program shortly thereafter. For the first time it felt our ministry had reached a fifth gear, since we were able to engage in ministry programs that the limitations of the hotel had not allowed!

That was a month before COVID.  You can guess what happened next. Fast-forward to 2021 and I couldn’t tell you what “plan” we’re on. (By now, we have probably run out of letters in the English alphabet.) But all the while, God accomplishes his plan. It has taken me a while to see it because it has never quite matched my plans, but when I remember what God told his people through the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11); yet, plans that would somehow endure when the nation was about to get deported to a foreign land and the temple destroyed? If God could still turn that plan into a Savior and life and salvation, he can do the same for us.

Indeed, this is what I have seen in seven years in Minot: the message of a Savior bringing life and salvation to souls who crave it, even when my own plans have fallen apart. Christian baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals that would stop for no one. Grace from God that didn’t care what “plan” we were on.

I never saw myself as a home missionary, but when I started in Minot I set my mind to work hard and took comfort in the fact that the church would either take off in a “couple years” or it wouldn’t, but then I would be on to something else. It has been seven years now, and I have no idea how long it will take to reach that first “couple of years”, but I know that God’s plan will endure. As long as we continue to preach Jesus, nothing can stop it.

This is mission work. It is infuriating, and it is beautiful.

Written by Rev. Nate Walther, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

 

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Member roles from scratch

“My name is _______ and I’m the official _______ at my church.” How easy is it for you to fill in that second blank?

God the Holy Spirit gives gifts, talents, responsibilities, and roles to every believer in Jesus. We’re like parts of a body (Romans 12 and Corinthians 12). We depend on each other’s gifts to build each other up.

Unfortunately, an old phrase echoes around churches: “20% of the members do 80% of the work.” Why? I doubt anyone would say, “I don’t sign up because I’m lazy and afraid of commitment,” or “I don’t think my church’s ministries are worthwhile.”

More likely, a member who isn’t serving in any organized way in his or her church has more sympathetic reasons, like, “No one ever asked me directly,” or, “I think other people are already doing that,” or “I would like to serve, but the roles they offer just aren’t interesting to me.” Rather than thirsting for law or gospel, that Christian might be craving guidance toward a clear ministry role that suits his or her gifts and passions.

We at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Florida, are novices at everything, including member ministry. But as a new mission, we have the opportunity to organize all our ministries from scratch.

We decided to make Member Roles an early priority. They’re one of only four programs we offer (with weekly worship, Bible study groups, and quarterly mission outings). We want to make those roles obvious and official, so that every member with a role, has a title, understands the value of that role, and does it really well.

The “big board” that members put “pen to touchscreen”

On Ascension weekend, we renewed our confirmation vows—all members of all ages. On Pentecost, the members of Citrus Grove chose their ministry roles. These roles are the manpower for our four ministries: Gather, Grow, Give, and Go. Names were already filled in for the Pastor and Ministry Council, but 75 other blanks waited on the Big Board for any confirmed member to claim.

Some people had already found “their thing” during our early months of loosely-organized gatherings. They simply made it official by putting pen to touchscreen: Musician. Coffee Brewer. Women’s Bible Study Host. Others felt torn between two or three possible roles, so friends helped them pick the best one for their gifts.

Be careful if you’re thinking, “One? I serve in a whole bunch of roles at my church!” The right number of roles for each member is somewhere between zero and too many. Wearing too many hats can lead to its own problems: Pride, burnout, or guilt over unfinished or low-quality work.

We also started at one for another reason: None of these roles have job descriptions. (See how brave the members of this mission church are!) Over the next few weeks, members and leaders will work together to clarify the details of each role: Why is mine so valuable? How does mine connect people to Jesus? What exactly do I do, step-by-step? How long is the commitment? What if I run into an issue? What about substitutes? And anything else that will help the next member who serves in that role.

Earlier, I mentioned 75 blanks. Citrus Grove doesn’t have 75 members. That means the unfilled blanks await God’s timing. Those are the talents of people we haven’t met yet, but we’re already praying for them and looking forward to their fruitful service here. Until then, it’s a joy to see current members committing to serve Jesus, his church, and our mission field in roles so clear they can write them on their nametags.

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

 

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From one background to another

This is a world missions story that starts in the good ol’ U.S. of A. In fact, you could say that the mission work is mostly being done there. But at the same time, it’s reaching to people far across the ocean.

Back in the month of April, one of our Lutheran pastors in Arizona reached out to me here in Hong Kong. He said that he was getting to know a Filipina lady – one with a PhD, no less – who was living and teaching, not in the U.S., not in the Philippines, but in a city closer to us in Hong Kong. This lady works there at the overseas campus of an American public university, and she had started attending his online Bible instruction class in Arizona (even though they are separated by nine time zones). She was also bringing two of her local colleagues.

So, what could we do to help this lady and her colleagues? Of course, the pastor in Arizona would continue to teach them in the Bible instruction class. But would there be any chance that we could connect them with Lutheran Christians who live closer to them? By God’s grace and the work of his gospel through WELS World Missions, we do in fact happen to have a small group that worships less than an hour’s drive away from that campus.

This might sound like an amazing coincidence, but we know that nothing is purely happenstance in this world that our Savior holds in his nail-marked hands. It is also a blessing that comes as a direct result of the mission work that God has done through your gifts and offerings, your prayers and preaching. What grace from him that we are connected other Lutherans not only in North America but also around the world! What grace that we can work together to help acquaintances who might not reside in (or even visit) the United States! It takes a global village of Lutheran Christians to do this, and I thank God for all of you.

And that dear Filipina lady and her friends? They’ve finished the first part of the Bible instruction class and are continuing on to the second. Please pray for them that the Holy Spirit would grow them in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pray that they would be encouraged by our Lutheran brothers and sisters. And pray that God would also use them to let his mission story continue on to others.

Written by Rev. Tim Matthies, Professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong.

 

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Becoming Bible teachers

In 2019, I began serving as a full-time online missionary with TELL Network. Much like its sister Spanish ministry, Academia Cristo, TELL’s vision is to reach people online, teach the true gospel and equip men and women to share the good news of Jesus.

Very early in my work, I visited the ministry leaders of Academia Cristo in Doral, Florida. For several days we discussed their strategy of discipleship and multiplication. I learned that online ministry includes building an audience online with daily gospel-centered content.

Interested persons click on a link to download the self-learning Bible app. On the app they watch Bible lesson videos and answer questions. Upon completing the app they are invited to live group class with an instructor. Here teachers begin to equip students to become Bible teachers using the same Bible lessons they are learning but in their own setting.

During the same trip, I was invited to a missionary multiplication meeting. Here online teachers and missionaries from Latin America strategized about who was coming through the live group classes and how to follow up with them. For prospects ready to begin teaching themselves, trips are arranged to equip and train further.

Today, much of what I learned is being duplicated for TELL English. Like Academia Cristo, TELL’s emphasis is creating a large online presence and directing interested people to the TELL app where they start the self-learning courses. God has blessed this work too! Along with 1.5 million followers on its main Facebook page, there are over 10,000 active users on the TELL app and over 150 sign-ups for live group class.

Over 30 countries are represented somewhere along the TELL English process: some beginners, others finishing their ninth or tenth live group class. In the TELL multiplication meeting, world missionaries, and others, strategize about following up with students and how to make TELL more effective in training people who, in turn, teach others the gospel.

Moses Adesina is a TELL student who shares the gospel in Georgetown, Guyana. He found TELL on Facebook, downloaded the app and now is on his sixth live group class. Moses says: “Thank God for the TELL program. Ever since I joined the TELL program I thank God that even my spiritual life has grown. I have grown deeper in the Bible. So have my sermons in church. Studying the Bible is what TELL is all about.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, TELL Missionary.

 

 

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Equipped to welcome

Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis., is a proudly bilingual congregation. Members from all backgrounds are happy to point to their two bilingual pastors as evidence that we are a bilingual family of believers. Whether I speak English, Spanish, or both, as a member of Bethel, I have Christian brothers and sisters who speak English, Spanish, or both. And I, as a member of Bethel, love that.

Now, when that’s a thing to be proud of, and when that’s a thing that brings joy to your membership, and when I love having brothers and sisters from a totally different culture and language, what you have is a place where anyone from any culture feels welcome. That’s what Jenny Chang and her kids found at Bethel.

Jenny is a second-generation Hmong immigrant. Her sister is married to a member at another WELS congregation in our area, but Jenny, herself, has no background in Christianity at all. Still, her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her to get herself and her kids baptized. Where does a person like that go? Where do you go for something your minority culture doesn’t provide, but when you’re not fully a part of the majority culture? Where do you go when you’re a child of Hmong immigrants and all you know that baptism is good?

Bethel Lutheran Church, Menasha, Wis.

Jenny came to Bethel. Her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her, but she took the initiative and spoke to Pastor Raasch and arranged for her baptism and the baptisms of her kids. She came to worship on Maundy Thursday (maybe one of the most intimidating services there is for someone with no background in Christianity) and then came back for the Sundays of the Easter season. She’s working around her and her kids’ schedules to get into Bible Information Class. Jenny found a place that welcomed her, not because they had the specific equipment to welcome second-generation Hmong immigrants, but because they had the equipment to welcome anyone from anywhere. And they learned to have that equipment—to be that welcoming—because they learned to take righteous pride and joy in their diversity as one family of believers from many cultures and two languages.

This pandemic has stripped away a lot of the distractions of Christianity and has left us with little else than our identity as Christians. What a blessing! What a blessing to be forced to celebrate who we are as believers more than what we have materialistically or what we do habitually. What a time to welcome people to celebrate that with us. What a perfect time for Jenny to hear her family’s encouragement and find the Means of Grace at a church that has nice things and does good stuff, but more importantly is proud of who Jesus has made us to be: his family from many cultures and at least two languages.

Written by Rev. Ethan Cherney, home missionary at Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis.

 

 

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Gifts for God’s glory

One of the things you realize very quickly in the new mission process is that no two new mission churches are the same. It makes sense that a new mission in Texas is going to look a little different than a new mission in South Dakota. Your regional context has an effect on what that mission church looks like. But there is another factor to consider besides the location…the people.

God blesses each mission (and every church) with a group of believers that work together to serve their Savior. The Apostle Paul talked about this most memorably when he described the believers in a congregation as a body of which Christ is the head. In this body, there are different parts that serve different functions. The hand is vital, but it serves a different purpose than the ankle, which is also vital. You need both, but you wouldn’t expect the hand to do what the ankle is supposed to do or vice versa.

When we take to heart what Paul wrote, it gives us great comfort that we don’t need to have the same gifts as other people. In fact, we won’t have the same gifts as other people. My gifts are unique and they serve God’s unique purposes. And in this comfort, we find an awesome way that God works among a group of believers (specifically, a new mission) to reach people with the gospel.

The ornaments Sure Foundation gave out at their Christmas service.

We may picture the ideal mission church member as a person who is incredibly outgoing and able to have conversations with just about anyone, anywhere. This kind of person certainly serves a new mission (or any church) well. However, there are tons of ways to serve in a new mission church and reach people with the gospel.

You might be able to use your gifts of woodworking to make guest gifts for all those who attend your Christmas service. At Sure Foundation, we were able to give out nearly 60 Christmas wooden ornaments with our logo on it.

You might be able to use your gifts of craftsmanship to construct a lectern from which the Word will be preached to many, or you might be able to build a cross. A cross that will hold the nails that are put there on Good Friday as a remembrance of what our sins did to Jesus. The nails that are turned to white on Easter to show the forgiveness that Christ won through his resurrection.

The handcrafted cross that holds the red nails that turn white for Easter.

The unique talents and skills that you bring to your mission will shape and form your mission. It will make your mission look like your people, and it will make your mission look like your community. Which means, that every mission will look different and will reach people in different ways.

In this way we can harmonize two beautiful passages from Scripture. Matthew 28 gives us our charge to make disciples of all nations. 1 Corinthians 10 gives us our purpose that everything we do is to the glory of God. We can reach people to the glory of God by using our unique gifts.

Whatever your gifts are, don’t rule them out. Get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to serve the body of Christ. But also get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to reach people with the gospel.

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

 

 

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Looking forward and back

On Saturday, April 17, 2021, my wife, Leslie, and I landed in Lilongwe, Malawi. As we landed and looked forward to our new life living and working in Africa, we also looked back to 1991 when we first landed in Zambia to serve as part of the mission team. Back then we arrived with two daughters ages four and two, and one son who was six months old. Now, it’s just the two of us, and those three (and two more) kids are all grown up. Back then we left behind our parents and “took their grandchildren away,” as they would remind us at times. Now, we are leaving behind our grandchildren.

Missionary Mohlke and his wife, Leslie, with their shipping container as they prepare for the move to Lilongwe, Malawi

Back then, we were a young family, and I had just been assigned from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to serve in Zambia. Now, Leslie and I have been together for over three decades and have been blessed in many ways as we lived in Zambia, Nebraska, Idaho, and Arizona. Now, we look forward to being blessed as we live again in Africa and wonder a bit what the Lord has in store for us. That said, we know for certain that just as the Lord saw us through in the past, he will be with us and bless us this time too.

Many Changes

It is said that you can never go home, meaning that our memories of home remain the same but time changes everything and things are never as we remember. As Leslie and I returned to Africa, we kept reminding ourselves that this would be true, and indeed it was.

Back in 1991, we arrived in a country that had suffered from years of socialism and one-party rule. The consequences were a ruined economy and infrastructure. It was a challenge to procure the most basic of needs. Now, even though there are differences in name brands and price, almost anything can be purchased at a local store. Back then it was big news when certain items were available at the store. Now, one can compare prices and quality of items that you want to buy.

Back in 1991, the only forms of communication with family in the U.S. were airmail and long-distance calls that cost $1.00 per minute, that is, if the phone was working at all. Now, with cellular data, there are multiple means of voice and video communication. That is, if the electricity is on. I guess some things do stay the same.

Missionary Mohlke in Africa in the 1990s

Nothing New

As with water and electricity outages, other things remain the same. The biggest constant is the need to share the Good News of Jesus. People continue to struggle with sin and guilt and need the comfort of Jesus. The work of sharing this comfort is still carried out through Christian congregations who gather to be blessed through Word and sacrament and are willing to share the truth with their neighbors. Nowadays, the congregations are served by locally trained pastors and elders, but the work remains the same.

Something New

Back in 1991, my work was to serve a dozen churches, visiting them every four to six weeks. In between my visits, the work of shepherding the congregations was in the hands of faithful men and women who read sermons on Sunday and taught basic instruction and Sunday school. They visited the sick and managed the affairs of their congregation. When I would visit, I conducted worship and offered encouragement and training to those who were serving so faithfully.

Nowadays, WELS missionaries in Africa are not serving as pastors or overseeing congregations, but are working with the pastors and leadership of church bodies throughout Africa. Back in 1991 there were missionaries doing what I was doing in Malawi and Zambia. Now, the mission team works with partner church bodies in Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, as well as Malawi and Zambia. We also are working with Multi-Language Productions, offering basic biblical and shepherding training to individuals anywhere in the continent. Our prayer is that all these relationships and partnerships would be blessed by the Lord so more people may hear the Good News of Jesus in Africa and beyond.

Always

As Leslie and I begin this new stage of mission life, we know that it is the Lord who has called us here and will bless us. For this we are thankful.

The Lord be with you all.

Written by Missionary Howie Mohlke, leader of the One Africa Team

 

 

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Another day to serve

My alarm rings: another day to serve.

“Dear Lord, give me the heart to share your grace today. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of sin so that I am able to serve you and others.” It’s been 35 years since I was told by my doctor that I would not survive two years due to cancer. “Thank you Lord for calling me to yourself through what the world cannot see as grace and freedom.”

Time to go to the cafeteria here at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and meet up with my fellow volunteer servants to prepare for the day’s work. We have a devotion and prayer, and we are ready for a day of building a staff housing unit that will be a place of rest for the additional teaching staff needed to serve the Apache community with the love of a grace of our Savior. Peridot is part of the WELS’ oldest world mission field to the Apache people on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. This mission is a unique place, and the Apache people are as unique as the region in which they live. What a privilege to be allowed to support this mission!

Building site at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

As a member of Builders for Christ, I have been given the opportunity to help in many church settings as a project manager. The chance to serve a world mission is a rare opportunity for lay volunteers and can be a challenge to work out logistics. Some of the challenges such as funding, timing, materials, and planning onsite are no less difficult in making the puzzle fit. The Lord continues to counter what we call “stumbling blocks”. Oh how small our vision is in comparison to what God’s vision is for us!

Since Arizona has allowed school choice, our Lutheran schools have had a lot of interest from parents that could previously not afford private education, or who would like a Christ-centered curriculum. “Thank you Lord for making our schools a respite from the world. You can have the world, but give me Jesus.” In a time when so many of our churches are shrinking, Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and mission are expanding. What a challenge! What joy and exaltation! We are free in Christ to serve him in so many ways. “But Lord, all I have is a few old tools and old hands to use them. Here am I, send me, send me.” And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The afternoon draws to a close. Let’s straighten that framing a little, install the sheathing, and call it a day.

Today brought some local volunteers, our Apache brothers and sisters, who share the desire to serve God and their community.

Thank you Lord, for allowing us to serve together to assist in raising these little ‘Poppies’.” The “Poppies” are the children served by the loving staff here at the school. They’re referred to as the “Poppies of the desert floor” that erupt in splendid color as spring rains water and nourish the dormant seeds. With the “Poppies” come the parents and families to hear God’s refreshing and freeing word. The peace that transcends human understanding, and the rest the world cannot emulate.

Okay, that’s a wrap. “Thank you for another day of grace and the sharing of your spirit, Oh Lord.” Our hosts thank us for another day of work. They don’t know how blessed we are to help in our small ways. It’s not fair we get more in return than what we came to give. I love God’s economy! “Thank you Lord for another day of grace. Thank you for these missionaries that leave lives of luxury to spread your love among the ‘Poppies’.”

Rest well dear friends. And as the builders say, “I will see you down the road.”

Written by Mr. Randy Baker, project manager of the Builders for Christ project at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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Preach the Word – Joy and Confidence from the Basics – Part 5

You’ve heard that communication is 93% nonverbal. What does this say about sermon delivery? Clearly, we ought to spend way more time than we do in front of our mirrors, and we ought to endure way more agony watching recordings of ourselves. We ought to stop fussing so much over the careful crafting of words.

Why? Because everybody knows that only 7% of communication is verbal, while 38% is vocal, and 55% is facial—this famous breakdown still appears in graduate-level communication textbooks.

Nonsense!

Albert Mehrabian’s study from over fifty years ago was about the interpretation of the emotional state of other people. That’s a crucial distinction. “How are you?” I ask, and in that moment, the language of groans or laughter takes over. If I mean to communicate caring, what I say has to make sense within the total richness of my nonverbal display. Of course.

Our words will not tend to be convincing when our nonverbal cues are pulling in a different direction entirely. Do you believe someone who shouts, “Alright! I’m sorry!” as he slams the door? Not a chance. How about a friend who sighs, “I’m fine,” with her wet eyes glued to the floor?

Somewhere within these commonsense observations hides the fact that sermon delivery is not irrelevant. My preaching is not all it can be if I say that there is joy in knowing Jesus but you never see it in me. Surely, we want to avoid the “performative contradiction” of speaking vital things while the entirety of our person is loudly saying something else. By the help of God, we can do better than that.

Ideals of Sermon Delivery

I once conducted an experiment in which I quoted John 3:16 in six straight sermons. There wasn’t much premeditation. I was just wondering how many Sundays it would take for the words to start to feel tired and overworked. How long before someone would comment, “Really, pastor? Again with John 3:16?” That day never came.

It was something I read in The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee1 and which I have seen since in Kierkegaard’s notion of an “existence communication.” The idea is simply to “be in the words as you say them”—to exist in them. No going on automatic pilot. No having the words just sort of roll off the tongue in a thoughtless recitation. Speak slowly and think deeply about what you are saying.

“For God…so loved…the world…”

This takes a little practice, that is, handling something so familiar in this way. So practice I did.

“…his One and Only Son…that whoever believes in him…will not perish…”

It turns out I overdid it. On Sunday #6, I tried to speak but was completely overwhelmed.

“…but will have eternal life.”

That wasn’t the point. We aren’t going for drama here, nor are we trying to manufacture an affecting display of feeling. All the sincerity in the world adds nothing to the inherent power of the Spirit married to his Word. No, all we are after is simply a genuine communication. I find that being in the words as I say them, for the most part, lets delivery take care of itself.

Being in the words as I say them, for the most part, lets delivery take care of itself.

About sermon delivery in general, Bryan Chapell writes, “Congregations ask no more and expect no less of a preacher than truth expressed in a manner consistent with the personality of the preacher and reflective of the import of the message.”2 Let’s unpack that.

Chapell argues that the “elocution movement,” with its standards for how every speaker should gesture, stand, and sound, has been dead for over a century. The rhetorical style that has long won the day is to “sound like ourselves when we are deeply interested in a subject.”3

I agree. As you deliver your message, work within your own personality—“you do you”—but show us the man who is captivated by the cross. Show us that version of you, the one who is entirely invested in what you are saying, transparently affected by it. It means the world to you. As I wrote earlier, we can tell that you are being put back together by the News you deliver.

“For God…so loved…the world…”

I tell my eager students in their introduction to homiletics: “Show me that guy!” And they do. Brothers, you would be delighted to see it.

I remember one of my favorite preachers, a beloved seminary professor, who would scarcely move a muscle when he preached. He worked within a personality that was both brilliant and unassuming. He quite simply let the words do all the work. There is much to commend that.

However, that may be overstated. Just as you “cannot not communicate,”4 a preacher cannot not have a delivery. The content of his sermons was so rich and pitched so steeply that it required expert inflection to make his meaning transparently clear and the pausing of a seasoned veteran to give his words room to play on our minds. If you knew the man, you would not want him to do it any other way.

The best delivery calls little attention to itself. What we hope for is that, as the power of Christ rests on faithful proclamation, people are hanging on the words. Whatever spell we may cast in our preaching can be broken by a distracting mannerism or unnatural modulation as people wake up to the fact that, “Oh that’s right, I’m listening to a sermon.” Pray God they hardly notice us at all.

The best delivery calls little attention to itself.

“Working within our own personalities” will have as many looks as there are preachers, and I can think of plenty of good men for whom “not moving a muscle” in their delivery would itself be a strange attention-arresting choice.

At any rate, the small attention we are here paying to issues in communication can, I hope, be justified by an observation our fathers made. People don’t only receive the Word of God spiritually, that is, through the ministrations of the Spirit working through his Word. People also receive the Word of God psychologically. That is to say: a whole array of human processes is involved with all communication, and those don’t somehow cease to function because we happen to be communicating God’s Word.5

Our preaching needs to be heard, understood, attended to, and held. And we can certainly stand in the way by violating the expectations of the moment or by contradicting the what of our communication by our how.

People also receive the Word of God psychologically.

After all, the fact that we “cannot not communicate” means that our nonverbal communication flows in a steady, unstoppable stream, one you cannot be thinking about all the time. We make more or less constant commentary on who and what matters, and it is mostly unintentional. This means that “communication leakage” is likely happening. In other words, we may need to do a gut check. What do we actually feel about the people we speak to, about the undeserved privilege of the moment, and about the things that we trying to put into words? Because, so goes the theory, all this will leak out of us.

People will see us. In the long run, people will know.

I hope that one humble article in Preach the Word is not too much emphasis to place on striving to have our delivery pulling in the same direction as our content—“For God so loved the world…”—and to have our whole person contribute a loud “Amen!”

So say my face, my eyes, my voice, my very body:

“This matters! And so, people of God, do you.”

How to Read the Written Word

The Church has a stewardship of the spoken Word. We Christians still attend to sacred words on a page that are allowed to animate a human voice and are given room to charge with holiness the physical spaces in which we gather. It is a seminal moment, this opening of a Bible, this “Hear, now, the Word of the Lord.” It is one of those key features in the life of a congregation when our hard-won means of grace theology becomes actual in our midst.

That happens as we bring our whole selves to the act, and when we linger over the assigned readings for the day. The thought and care we give to the public reading of the Scriptures—or don’t—is revealing us.

If people are pretty sure they are seeing us read a biblical excerpt for the first time as we stand before them, what does that say? What communication would be leaking out of us if we start our sermons by reading our text out of a Bible and then ceremoniously tuck the thing away? Holy Scripture was the prelude; now for the main event? Here’s another gut check: how, in our heart of hearts, do we really feel about the words of God versus our own? Are our words—are we?—the bright star on the homiletical stage? God forbid. What a humble, glorious activity it is:

“Devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture…” (1 Timothy 4:13).

Be in the words as you read them, and you will not say without inflection or pause: “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many people” (Matthew 24:5). Have a downward sentence-ending inflection on the word “Christ” and then a healthy pause, or you risk distorting the meaning entirely.6

Be in the words as you say them, and you will perhaps not emphasize the word “and” when you speak the invocation—“…AND of the Son, AND of the Holy Spirit”—but instead the thrice-holy name of the Triune God.7

Think of what you are saying—here’s a pet peeve—and we won’t suffer the annoyance of, “On the third day, Christ rose AGAIN.”

Let’s return to the positive, better, to the joy. Take a closer look at that gorgeous paragraph from Jesus that begins, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…” (John 14:2) Sense the fresh way it can strike the heart when, on the basis of close reading and a robust understanding, you realize you want to change up the inflection and pace in ways you haven’t heard done before.

Which word or words will you inflect in the phrase, “In my Father’s house?” A weighty question, don’t you think? Can you make a good decision on the fly? I don’t think so. With a little preparation you will know to have Jesus answer the question of Thomas, “How can we follow when we do not know the way?” with a well-inflected “I” as in, “I am the Way (long pause) and the TRUTH (inflect this as a new thought and pause) and the LIFE (inflect and pause)” (John 14:6).

Which words will we inflect? Well, which words are being contrasted, such as “flesh” and “spirit” in Romans 8? What new thought is being introduced? What wordings, such as “and IF I go and prepare a place for you,” are a repetition and therefore can be read more quickly so as to get to the reason for the sentence?

I. Will. Come. Back.

Think about those words as you lock eyes with the weary and the anxious. I dare you.

The Particulars

I mentioned earlier that delivery can, for the most part, take care of itself. When we are in command of our message, preaching can be an authentic communication that is to die for. If the first time we preached we saw before us only that unpleasant phenomenon of a sea of “resting faces,” you have learned with experience how much more than that is going on. Beautiful, honest, urgent things pass between the under-shepherd and his flock if he can only be enough in the moment to receive them.

The reason I say “for the most part” is that a little further study of sermon delivery may reveal areas in which our instincts are not perfectly informed. We can still grow.

I recently had Jason Teteak, author of Rule the Room, in the class in which I introduce homiletics to future pastors. To say the least, he raised the bar. I recommend his book. It emerged out of his analysis of thousands of speeches. Having given little thought to my own delivery for decades, the experience was good for me.

Can you make a good decision on the fly? I don’t think so.

I learned that I need to close my mouth when not speaking. Didn’t know that. I learned that to raise my voice to unnatural levels is not as effective as speaking with quiet intensity (as much as a sound system allows). I learned that inflecting upward conveys excitement, but at the end of a sentence, it can convey far less credibility and conviction than a downward inflection does. I’ve learned that the whole range of vocal variety—thoughtful changes in tone, pace, volume, inflection—can be part of the ways I hold attention or regain it for the highest moments in my sermon. These are non-discursive symbols that do not translate into words but, instead, are felt as qualities. I’m learning not to fill in my pregnant pauses with vocal noises—I’m trying to empty them of “ums” and “ahs.” Again, good things happen in the silent spaces we create.

I learned that there are four rhetorical styles that can characterize a preacher—his sweet spot—and that there are risks involved with emulating someone if it’s just not who we are.8

I’ve learned to ask myself, “What do I want my listeners to feel in this moment?” Rather than merely perform that emotion, the thing is to actually feel and display that very thing on my face. I’ve learned what to do with my hands if I am not a “hand talker.” I’ll find a comfortable default position in which to rest my hands, and then I’ll scour my manuscript to create a few meaningful gestures to go with various wordings and which will enhance a few of my most important thoughts. Less is more.

I’ll scour my manuscript to create a few meaningful gestures to go with various wordings.

I’ve learned about “targeted” movements, gestures, and facial expressions that are an additional way to bring attention to specific words or phrases. I’ve learned about dividing the space into which I’m speaking into a grid of nine quadrants and randomly spread my attention around with a few seconds in each at a time. I try not to leave any part of the room out so that I am not saying, ‘The love of God is for all of you…especially those of you on my right where I am always turned.” I’m learning to meet eyes in a Goldilocks moment of a little under a second—not too little, not too much.

I think about these things a bit as I write and prepare. Then I set them aside.

Lord, help me forget myself.

A Rare Both/And

Some of us are gentle. Some of us are bold. We tend to lean one way or another. In a term from Timothy Keller’s book, Preaching, we strive to preach with “warmth and force” as qualities that combine uniquely in the character of Jesus.

We do not hide that we are weak or decorate our jars of clay. We have taken the disappointing journey inside. This informs our gentle humility and fuels all our compassion. We know what sin is—people can tell that, too. We can dare to be sinners.

And we rise with power and authority on loan from God. We stand up with things to say before which queens and kings ought to bend their knees. We pour our treasure out.

Conclusion

I am fascinated by the way nonverbals cues and channels intersect with spoken words. What if we heard Jesus say, “No servant is greater than his Master,” but never saw him on his knees washing the feet of his friends? Would we understand? John comments, “He now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:2).

He showed them.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me!” (Luke 22:42) What if you only heard the words but did not see him fall. Meanings leak out of him like great drops of blood.

Later on, he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).

My Lord, how you speak with your hands! My God, the body language of the Word made flesh!

The Gospel writers saw significance in dozens of nonverbal cues in the life of Christ: the touching of the leper, the drawing in the sand, the loud cry from the cross, the frying of fish on the shore—all the beautiful ways he delivers his lines. He came to join with us in the full richness of human connection and to fully share in our human stuff.

These cues accumulate in a thing we find convincing, by the grace of God. They accent the words that overwhelm.

“For God so loved the world…”

 

Written by Mark Paustian

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

1 Watchman Nee was a prominent figure in the house-church movement in China.
2 Christ-Centered Preaching. Baker, 2005, 329.
3 ibid.
4 This is a famous contribution from Paul Watzlawick.
5 On this point see Jon Hein, “Treasures in Jars of Clay: The Synergy Between the Instrumental and Ministerial Causes in God’s Plan of Salvation” at essays.wisluthsem.org.
6 See How to Speak the Written Word by Nedra Newkirk Lamar (Revell, 1967) for guidance on pause and inflection as an aid to understanding the spoken Word.
7 This is a soft example. It is not to suggest that the “and” is not meaningful. Try it both ways and see if you don’t agree.
8 See Jason Teteak’s Rule the Room (Morgan James, 2014) for more information.


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Earliest New Hymnal Adopters

As I write this article in the last days of March, at least 50 congregations have already preordered the new hymnal (or decided to do so), sometimes also with a quantity of the psalter. In contrast, a few people have asked how they can be expected to consider purchasing something they haven’t yet had a chance to thoroughly review. I’ll speak to that a bit later. But first some thoughts about my assumptions and some comments from the earliest adopters.

Not every congregation

Pressure and anticipation for a new hymnal in 2021 is simply not as high as it was in 1993. So leaders from both the hymnal project and NPH recognize that adoption will likely be at a different pace than the rapid and almost universal adoption of CW93 in the mid-1990s. And that’s perfectly fine. No one is saying that all good synodical team players should quickly jump on board.

Further complicating decisions is a year of pandemic. So here, again, is a comment from the September 2020 WTL: “Hymnal project leaders recognize that not every congregation will want to or be able to adopt the new hymnal in 2021. Reasons include COVID uncertainties, tightened budgets, and uncertain futures. This article isn’t meant to ignore those realities but only to encourage review and planning in whatever way seems appropriate.”

But as many as possible

Granting that not every congregation will adopt the new hymnal in 2021, there still is benefit in many doing so—benefit to the congregations, not merely to the success of the project.

A few years ago, the Commission on Worship and its consultants were busy with Schools of Worship Enrichment. Over 12 years we served 291 congregations, coast to coast, large and small, young and old, growing and declining. Those who served these weekend events noticed two contrasting challenges to implementing a vision of creative, flexible, and satisfying liturgical worship. The obvious challenge came from some who wondered if we needed to abandon a liturgical format and heritage hymns to reach or retain the people we want to serve. The less obvious challenge came from those who seemed content with varying degrees of uncreative and inflexible implementations of liturgical worship. It’s not surprising that some would want “something more” than that approach to worship.

The resources were always there for enriching Lutheran worship with alternate canticles and new hymns in varied musical styles accompanied by instruments far more diverse than the solo organ that commonly led worship. But many pastors and musicians didn’t have the vision or ability to implement this “enriched Lutheran worship.”1

Now the new hymnal suite richly provides options that can help both of the challenges described above—as well as support congregations without either challenge. The church that prefers an ensemble to an organ (or both in rotation on different weekends) will find the music they need for two musical settings of the primary Sunday service. Same for many hymns. A church that formerly relied mostly on organ, whose musicians lacked time or ability to involve other instruments, will find a wealth of resources.

Such options reinforce a healthy bias that project director Michael Schultz mentioned in the previous article in this series: “I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.”2 In the past such a bias might have been heard to support a narrow musical bandwidth that wouldn’t be labeled flexible and creative. That was never the intent. But now the new hymnal suite makes it far easier to implement goals of flexibility and creativity.

So I urge “as many as possible” with conviction that it’s good for congregations across a synod to share a worship philosophy and core worship resources.

It’s good for congregations across a synod to share a worship philosophy and core worship resources.

NPH and the Commission on Worship

These two synodical entities have different if complementary roles. NPH is a business and a ministry, your ministry partner. From them you have received promotional materials and a preorder option. They sell products at price points that enable them to continue serving in their role.

The Commission on Worship is not a business but only a ministry partner concerned with many aspects of worship enrichment. One of the biggest opportunities for worship enrichment comes along only every 30-40 years: the release of a new hymnal. So communications from the C/W will share introductory resources and urge adoption of the new hymnal. We do this not from a business perspective but purely from a ministry perspective.

Comments from earliest adopters

To assist congregations that have not yet ordered the new hymnal, I polled some that have already ordered and asked three questions. Various answers are included below with the hope that they might be helpful to other congregations. The congregations represented are from all over the country and range in average attendance from 38 to 560. State abbreviations follow most comments.

How did you build consensus to make an early decision, long before able to review the pew edition and other volumes?

We started early singing songs we understood would be included and made a point of telling people the song would be part of the new hymnal. We talked about it in our leadership meetings and with the congregation that this was just what we do: new hymnal comes out, and so we will be using the new hymnal. People were looking forward to new songs and sounds, so it was a fairly easy sell. ~SC

There wasn’t much of a debate as to whether we would adopt the new hymnal. We participated in multiple field tests for the hymnal, plus the congregation was aware of the work I was doing on the Scripture Committee. We already have ordered hymnals and psalters to put in the pew racks (enough to make sure we meet the minimum for the Service Builder discount). We also plan to subscribe to the Service Builder. The only item that caused some discussion was the number of physical hymnals to order, since we have for a long time printed the entire service (hymns included) in the service folder. However, the combination of needing to purchase a certain number for the Service Builder discount and the understanding that having physical hymnals in pews for people to look at and use in addition to the service folder is valuable for members and guests alike made that discussion rather brief. ~KY

How much longer do we need to wait?

Our two pastors and staff minister decided early on they wanted to purchase the whole shebang, and took it to our elders, and it was easily approved. We are paying for it mostly with memorial money that was donated specifically for this purpose. As I’m sure is the case with many congregations, we removed all our old hymnals from the pews for COVID-related reasons, which will make the physical transition even easier! We’re also going to open it up to any members who want to personally purchase anything, and add their orders to our one big church order. I feel everyone at our church has been really open to the switch! ~WI

The process for building a consensus to make an early decision began more than ten years ago. We are liturgical in our worship style but have adopted any number of songs and services over the years to introduce new formats. For Advent and Lenten services, for example, we started with Compline 2, found a version of Psalm 91 that we liked better, and mixed and matched a couple of other elements and/or changed pieces for one year along the way. The people like these services, so it isn’t hard for them to be excited about a new hymnal which will facilitate trying some additional new services. ~MI

Our decision was never really a struggle. The congregation has a long history of making use of the musical resources that the synod makes available. Our people here have embraced many of the hymns and liturgies from the supplement, and are already familiar with many of the Getty tunes that will appear in the new hymnal. For our congregation, it wasn’t ever really a question of “Will we choose to get the new hymnal?” but “How much longer do we need to wait?” ~GA

What was your funding process? Budgetary over two years, plus special gifts, or what?

Purchasing the new hymnal was part of our five-year plan. We had little discussion. 47 out of 100 hymnals are paid for as of early March with the methodology pictured above. Strictly special gifts. Many of the other books have also been purchased for the church. ~IL

We started at least two years in advance by setting aside $2000 in our ministry plan and then made it part of our special projects list. (We share this list with people who want to make a special donation or give a memorial.) We had planned to use a special “buy a hymnal” drive this year, but a member gave a large gift as a memorial and covered the cost. Another member recently contacted me to offer to pay for the new hymnal and other volumes. So in our case, it was just something people were drawn to support. Blessed! ~SC

We were going to do “combination of budget/congregational gifts” over this year. But someone was very blessed in the recent stock market run-up and came in wanting to make a gift and paid for the first batch of hymnals/psalter/resources in one shot. So, I was able to say at elders, “Well, this is the cost I’d ask you to approve…and please know that it is already paid for…” which made the decision easier. They would have said yes anyway, but they also simply assume (as I think our council does) that our synod is putting out a new hymnal and a) we’ve been using some of those resources already and b) we’d of course just go along and adopt it. ~WI

Please know that it is already paid for.

We had talked about “every member buy two,” one for them and one for the pew. Decided not to go that route as we’ve received gifts already of $9,000 for it without it even being advertised outside of Elders/Council. We are all in to the tune of about $12,000. ~WI

A few years ago a member left a gift to the congregation in his estate. He had a deep love for worship music. We used a portion of his estate to purchase a grand piano. When the hymnal’s budget planning worksheet was made available, the council realized that the remaining portion of the gift would cover the cost of the new hymnals. At the same time, we do plan on inviting people to use the offering envelopes to make a special gift to the hymnals in the expectation that we can stretch our worship budget a bit further yet. ~GA

Are you ordering the psalter? If so, for pews or just choir?

We are ordering 25 copies to start for choir and small group use. We plan on purchasing 300 hymnals for the sanctuary and choir. We will subscribe to Service Builder and purchase multiple copies of the hymn and liturgy accompaniment books. We will purchase 30 copies of the psalter for the choir. ~MN

Any other unique stories that would provide interest for the article or quotes from members?

Nothing really unique, except our people are very excited. ~TX

Our worship committee was very excited to see the wealth of materials available at a substantially lower cost than first anticipated. We had committed early on to books in the pews for a number of reasons; the pricing structure made that a no-brainer from an economic standpoint, as well. ~WI

There is a bit of frustration expressed in that there are a number of TBD items and details connected with the new Christian Worship. Yet, I know the project is very ambitious in its scope and timetable for publication.3 ~MN

The pricing structure made books in the pews a no-brainer.

The National Conference on Lutheran Leadership [January 2020] was an incredible help. We were able to bring five members of the congregation, including our office administrator and two council members. We all left the conference deeply impressed with every aspect of the hymnal showcased there: the support volumes, the Service Builder, and above all, the worship services. It allowed those members to be strong early advocates for the hymnal. ~GA

It’s been decided we will gift all our organists/pianists with their own copies of all the accompaniment books (we have six accompanists), which I thought was super generous of the leadership. ~WI

We all left the conference deeply impressed with every aspect of the hymnal showcased there.

We look forward to many instrumental parts already prepared. I play trumpet, we have an occasional violinist, a couple of guitar players, some hand drums, a flute, a penny-whistle player, if you can believe that, and some other people we are trying to get involved with occasionally playing a piece. Pre-transposed pieces and other various options are exciting to the special music people who are looking forward to getting their hands on these resources.4 ~MI

At Trinity, Waukesha, we are at an advantage since we’ve been almost exclusively using new service music, hymns, psalms, etc. for all our services since Advent (Year C, one year ahead of other WELS congregations to help prepare planning resources for other churches next year).5 There have been many positive comments on the new hymns, revised texts, and service music. ~WI

Confidence in the project

Now, back to a question posed in the first paragraph: how can a congregation consider purchasing something they haven’t yet had a chance to thoroughly review? Perhaps the comments above from diverse congregations around the country can help to answer the question.

Another confidence-building factor is the caliber of those serving on the hymnal project’s Executive Committee. It has been a highlight of my almost 40 years in the ministry to work with these men, people with both sound theological grounding and practical parish experience. It is a testimony to the confidence that our synod can rightly have in this committee that one member was a seminary professor, two others accepted calls to the seminary during the project, two others have declined calls to the seminary, and two others have served as professors or administrators at synodical schools. Furthermore, every word in the new hymnal has been scrutinized by a doctrinal review process.

In closing I emphasize again that the hymnal project recognizes that congregations are in different places as far as decisions and timelines. This article doesn’t intend to lobby but to provide perspectives from the congregations cited. Still, whether you preorder soon or don’t even think about the new hymnal this year, we hope that eventually the vast majority of congregations will adopt the new hymnal just as we did in the years following 1993.

By Bryan Gerlach

Pastor Gerlach, a member of the hymnal project Executive Committee, has served as Director of the Commission on Worship since 1996. Previously he served parishes in El Paso, TX, and Citrus Heights, CA. He regularly plays organ and piano in two Milwaukee-area churches.

 


As far as the funding process goes, this is the announcement we’ve been running in our bulletin.

Pass on the Legacy with Our New Hymnal

If you could make an investment that would positively impact someone for at least 30 years, wouldn’t you want to do that? You have that opportunity with the release of our new hymnal. Christian Worship will be released for the fall of 2021. This new hymnal will be the staple of Eastside’s worship for the next generation. Combining the best from past traditions with the best from current resources, Christian Worship keeps the gospel at the heart of our worship, kindling the joy of worship on every page. To fit our congregation’s needs, we need 400 hymnals. That’s a $9600 investment. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of our hymnal for the past 30 years. Wouldn’t you like to be part of this new 30-year investment? Could you prayerfully consider donating one hymnal to Eastside for each member of your family? Think of the impact you can make! If you have any questions, please speak with Pastor Berg.

By early March, we’ve raised over $8000 of $9600. That’s without any special drive. Those are just individual gifts above and beyond regular offerings. As of right now, we are only ordering a few copies of the psalter. But if we receive more than $9600, we will order copies of the psalter for choir use. ~WI


1 This is not a careless and unfounded generalization. Survey data from those 291 SoWE congregations clearly supports the observation.
2 “A Wealth of Accompaniment Options,” March 2021. Back issues are available at worship.welsrc.net.
3 Most of 20 resources are coming out at the same time in the fall of 2021. Compare that to the years following 1993 when only the hymnal and manual were released. The Handbook came out in 1997, the Altar Book in 1999, Occasional Services and Pastor’s Companion in 2004.
4 Instrumental parts with transpositions will be provided by CW: Musician’s Resource.
5 The hymnal project director is a member of this church. The planning resource mentioned will be released in summer. For a detailed analysis of this church’s needs, see “Trinity Hymnals,” a supplemental online doc at the link in note 2.


New at christianworship.com

“Why a New Hymnal?” This bulletin insert is newly added to a ZIP of other bulletin inserts. It came about from a pastor’s request for something very simple as opposed to “visit the website.” It may be useful to share before a decision-making group meets or simply to build interest for the arrival of the new hymnal. Find it in the Publicity Toolkit link under Resources.

The Wedding Rite in the New Christian Worship” – an article by Prof. Jonathan Micheel from the Spring 2021 issue of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.

Coming later this year: a variety of introductory videos useful not only for evaluating and understanding hymnal project choices but also for exploring and using various resources.


 

 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Optimistic outreach

You’ve no doubt experienced it in your congregation. Nearly all of our ministry and outreach events for the last year have been canceled, postponed, or altered. We canceled worship for about six months. Human contact was greatly reduced. All this has certainly threatened our outreach efforts. However, in spite of these setbacks, God has given us many blessings amid the COVID-19 conundrum.

Necessity propelled us deeper into the digital age and further into social media outreach. This has prompted us to continue providing weekly video devotions, sermons, and a children’s message for both preschool and elementary age children. We used the “down” time to upgrade our equipment and video efforts as well as our website in order to help people connect with us and to find the information they were looking for.

Inside Redeemer’s new worship facility

COVID postponed our Jesus Cares Ministry and “Worship at the Cross.” We had hoped to begin this past fall (2020), but our special needs community remains under isolation. So, while they remain in quarantine, we have begun to record our Worship at the Cross service, which we post through our website and social media content once a month. Our contact and leader in this community has shared this information with the people who are members of her group and has encouraged them to check us out. We hope that by mid-summer 2021 or fall 2021, we will be able to “Worship at the Cross” face-to-face.

While our Easter egg hunt and other service events like a food drive were canceled, we were able to offer online worship and weekly Bible study. We kept in contact with our prospects and members, some of whom checked us out online and appreciated the gospel they heard. This past summer we were able to worship face-to-face for about six weeks before we had to close again.  However, this time it was for a good and positive reason.

Inviting people to the Easter for Kids drive-through event

Three and half years ago, we had begun worship and ministry inside a large professional building. While the management staff was friendly and accommodating, the location hindered our efforts. In July 2020 and in answer to our prayers, God provided us a stand-alone building for lease which is located on a major road and near an elementary school and one of the largest grocery stores and retail areas in the city. While the building required about $30,000 to renovate, God blessed our people so that we were able to raise all the money within our multi-site congregation! We did not ask for or need additional synodical or outside support.

Additionally, God blessed our members with many gifts. In addition to their offerings, many of them donated time and energy to make the remodel of our new facility a reality. People both within our congregation and in our community have commented on how nice it looks and how well it functions. This new space with the opportunities it gives us have invigorated our members and we are happy to report that, since we have moved into our new facility, we have seen a notable increase in guest attendance. We prayerfully hope to welcome five new members within the next two months!

There are still more reasons for our optimism. Under some restrictions, we held a drive-through “Trick or Treat” where we handed out bags filled with candy, crafts, Bible lessons, and invitations to our Thanksgiving and Christmas services. We handed out over 300 invitations. We did much the same at Christmas with our drive-through Christmas for Kids, and we did the same for Easter instead of our annual Easter egg hunt.

We recently resumed our door-to-door, face-to-face efforts to invite neighbors to our Easter for Kids drive-through event and our Easter worship. Like so many, we pray by summer of 2021 we will be able to return to more normal social conditions. We remain optimistic that our efforts will continue to see more visible measures of blessing. Thank you for all you do in your words, actions, attitudes, and offerings to support the efforts of WELS Home Missions in WELS! We truly appreciate it.

Written by Rev. Aaron Glaeske, home missionary at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Victoria, Tex. 

WELS Home Missions just approved funding for seven new home mission locations! Read more about these new mission plants in this article from this week’s Together e-newsletter.

 

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Mission Journeys: Back up and running!

“Go and make disciples…”

That phrase has taken on new meaning this past year as individuals and churches adjusted to life during a pandemic. Many of our members will never take worshiping in their church for granted again. We pray that Easter services around our synod were filled with people singing praises to Jesus for his victory over sin, the devil, and death!

Members from Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Doral, Fla., recently visited the church in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

Mission Journeys, the WELS short-term mission trip program, is back up and running again. The first two congregations going out are Zion in Columbus, Wis., (pictured above) and St. Paul’s in Clintonville, Wis. These congregations are heading to a location south of Seattle, Wash., to assist in canvassing an area where a new home mission might be planted. All the precautions are in place, including the wearing of masks, as the teams go door-to-door. Additional teams will be heading to Idaho and Oregon this summer. If you and your congregation are unsure of traveling a long distance, Mission Journeys has domestic mission trip opportunities in the Midwest and beyond as well.

The park in Puerto Rico that Mission Journeys teams would be renovating and conducting outreach events.

International mission trips are still a year away as many countries around the world have strict restrictions upon entering. Fortunately, Puerto Rico is a part of the United States. This makes travel a possibility. Missionary Mike Hartman, team leader of the WELS Latin America missions team, has identified an opportunity to send mission teams to Puerto Rico. The initial plan is to renovate a park near the local church in Guayama and assist them in holding outreach events. Mission Journeys is looking for 12 congregations to commit to sending one mission team a year for three years. The teams will need at least half the members to have Spanish-speaking ability. We want over half of the 12 congregations to have Hispanic members and a Hispanic ministry. This would allow our Hispanic brothers and sisters the opportunity to serve on a mission trip in Latin America. God willing, these trips will begin in November 2021 and be spread out throughout the following months and years. Please add Puerto Rico and the national churches there to your prayer lists as WELS sends mission teams to partner in sharing the message of Jesus, our Savior, in a fertile field, where the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.

Written by Mr. Shannon Bohme, Mission Journeys coordinator

For more information or questions, visit wels.net/missionjourneys or send an e-mail to missionjourneys@wels.net.

 

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Faith and healing for 60 years

When you hear the word “Africa,” what comes to your mind? For WELS Lutherans, perhaps a lot of history comes to your mind. History that is often rooted in the work of the Central Africa Medical Mission.

1963: Barbara Welch and Kay Stuh work at the Zambia Clinic

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) started doing Christ-centered medical work in 1961 for just a handful of people in Mwembezhi, Zambia, which is near Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia. Today, thousands of Zambians come to that same clinic site seeking medical health (healing) for their body as well as spiritual health (faith) for their soul.

In 1970, medical services began in the country of Malawi as a mobile clinic. According to one of our first resident nurses, Edie Schneider Hintz, “For several weeks at three regular clinic stops we saw over 1,900 adults and 700 children in our under-five clinics. Amazing for their first try in the bush with medicine.”

The Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi currently serves four rural villages. Annual attendance varies between 47,000 to 58,000 patients. The people in these villages trust our Lutheran Mobile Clinic to provide them with preventative healthcare and good quality medical care.

This year, CAMM will celebrate its 60th anniversary of showing Christ’s love through our care of very poor and needy people in central Africa who come to our clinics. Every day at our clinics, we get to nourish the faith of patients by sharing God’s Word with them through devotions and praying with them. At the same time, we get to bring healthcare to children in our under-five program, to adults who are suffering from malaria and HIV, and to young mothers in our maternity program.

Devotion at a clinic in Malawi

We also have some exciting news happening in Malawi this year. We have reached the point where we are now able to nationalize our clinic and give more responsibility to the Malawian staff, so that they can run the clinic and make it their own. That’s always been our goal, and God has blessed us at this time to be able to achieve that goal.

There are so many blessings that CAMM has experienced by God’s grace, and there are even more opportunities waiting for us.

Because of the Lord’s great love over the past 60 years, hundreds of thousands of patients have been helped and countless lives have been saved through the work of CAMM. In addition, many adults and children have heard the good news of Jesus and have been baptized as a result. It’s been one blessing after another as we have provided Christ-centered medical and spiritual care for the past 60 years in Africa. “To God be the glory, great things he has done!” (CW 399).

Written by Rev. Kevin Schultz, Central Africa Medical Mission Spiritual advisor

We are featuring the Central Africa Medical Mission during the month of April as they celebrate 60 years of God’s grace in 2021. Visit wels.net/camm to learn more.

 

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Hitting a homerun

Jesus was relational. And he probably would have liked baseball too. I mean, his ultimate goal is getting us home, right?

Harvey helping out around church

I follow Jesus’ example in being relational and loving baseball. My 14-year-old son, Jackson, is quieter; but he shares my love of baseball. He’s played select ball since he was 8 years old with a young man named Gavin. Gavin’s father, Harvey, has coached the boys for 6 years (12 seasons between spring and fall)! About five months ago, Harvey came to check out our new church building as he knew that if I wasn’t at the ballpark, I’d be there. He knew our family very well outside of church and decided he was ready to find out what it was that made us church folks different. Now he only misses an opportunity to be at church if we have an early game on a Sunday morning. He’s known to wear coaching gear to Bible study or service so he can head right to the fields from church so he misses as little as possible. He’s a fixture around Christ the Rock and will soon finish instruction classes and, God-willing, we will welcome him into membership.

Baseball is a team sport. So is mission work. My family and I witness by our behavior and attitude at church and at the ballpark. Now Harvey is really on our team too. Baseball can appear to some as a slow sport. But the good news is, there’s always a new day with plenty of second chances. Jesus is like that too. He sometimes takes six years to work in the heart of a friend we see all the time. But when someone you care about finds that second chance. . . WOW!

In baseball, often times you fail. But you never give up. Not every friend I develop a relationship with will come to church. But I know that if I keep following the example Jesus set, his will is done. Every biblical “hero” struck out at some point. Except Jesus. He’s our ultimate Hall of Famer! I don’t have to hit a home run every time because at the gates of heaven, God will see Jesus’ perfect record instead of my own sad and pathetic failures and stats. And Harvey will be right there too, holding up Jesus’ perfect game as his when we play together for the Bethlehem Braves. Or maybe the Jerusalem Giants? Who knows.

Written by Rev. James Skorzewski (Pastor Ski), home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Hutto, Tex. 

 

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This is Eleanor

If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. (1 Peter 4:11b)

As I would greet people before and after worship, I often heard a phrase that always brought a smile to my face: “This is Eleanor”. Very often that phrase would be used as a group of college students would gather to visit after worship or in the Fellowship Hall for a meal. She is not a college student. She has never attended one of the Bible Studies held on the local college campus. But she was a servant to her Lord and Savior who utilized the strength that God provided her. I would like you to meet Eleanor.

She was a model of the Christian faith in her personal life. She understood our sin and the need for our Savior. She was faithful in her worship and Bible study attendance. She knew her Bible and read it daily. When college students came into the church building, her congregation knew she was a good person to introduce them to. And so the phrase, “This is Eleanor. . .” is one that sticks in my mind as I visit congregations, high schools, and campus ministries. I think of how Eleanor humbly did some things to encourage college students to be faithful to their Savior. Eleanor also encouraged her family this way. She was very thankful for the campus ministry that served her grandson in Texas. She would regularly write to the college-age students from her home congregation of St. John’s in Minneapolis, Minn., who were away at school. When they came home, she was always happy to see them and greeted them with both a welcoming face and encouraging conversations. When St. John’s was deciding whether or not they should be the place that serves college students in the Twin Cities, Eleanor spoke up both publicly and privately, “We have an opportunity to serve young adults at a crucial time in their lives. I think of my grandchildren and our college students here.” As I remember her encouragement, there are more people just like her spread across our synod.

Eleanor with her grandson, Adam, who attended Texas A&M

This is Eleanor. . . She was a model of the Christian faith. She encouraged her family members to stay faithful to their Savior during their college years (and beyond). She did the same with students in her church family. At the age of 85 she encouraged her pastor and congregation to be the place that would serve as the location for campus ministry in the Twin Cities. In the eight years that followed, the Lord continued to provide her with the strength to serve young adults. The Lord Jesus shepherded Eleanor home to heaven in June of 2020 at the age of 93. She was a tremendous blessing to those that knew her. We rejoice that she’s with her Savior in heaven.

Just as COVID has forced individuals and congregations to pivot, the same can be said for college students and our campus ministries. In these last few months, I have been able to visit with various congregations, high schools, and called workers. I have met people who are just like Eleanor. They love their Lord and they love their church and/or school. They show that love with their service. They are individuals who understand that their learning and growing is ongoing as they hear God’s Word and gather around the sacraments. They have family members who have college-aged children and grandchildren. There are young adults in their own congregation who spend some very formative years at locations of higher education. For quite a few places, there is a college, university, or trade school nearby.

The Lord gives you opportunities to serve just as Eleanor did. If you are a current college student, utilize the time God gives you to not only grow in your knowledge and understanding of your course of study but also use this time to grow in God’s Word. For those not in college, continue to be encouragers to your own family members who are either approaching are already in their college years. Encourage the young adults in your own congregation. If your setting is one where there is a college campus nearby, consider ways that the Lord may allow and equip you for serving students with what God has entrusted to you.  God’s blessing to all of you!

Written by Rev. Dan Lindner, WELS Campus Ministry Mission Counselor 

Learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and how you can get involved at wels.net/cm100.

 

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Arriving somewhere new

When was the last time you were in a new situation? Was it attending a new school? Starting a new job? Moving into a new neighborhood?

After accepting the call to serve on the Latin America missions team, my family and I arrived somewhere new. In fact, we arrived sooner than expected! Our original flight from Los Angeles to Quito was cancelled. We had two options: we could wait a few days for a similar flight, or we could head to the airport to catch a redeye that had a few seats left. We were eager to start this new adventure. We scrambled to complete some last-minute errands, went to the airport, and made it to gate as our new flight was boarding.

Beth Behmer and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray

This worked out better than we could have expected. The redeye landed during the day. As the plane made its final descent, our girls gazed out the window. “I see mountains!” “I see a park!” “I see a soccer field!” Those were just a few of the comments. The level of excitement was high.

After landing, we went from seeing to experiencing new things. Our girls visited their new school. They met their new teachers. They started learning a new language. We found our way around a new city. We enjoyed new foods. We started to make new friends.

I also started new work. Previously, I served as a parish pastor. Now I am part of a team that trains and equips people throughout Latin America to share their faith and start churches. This means learning a new style of ministry. I’m learning how to teach classes through Zoom. I’m learning how to conduct one-on-one bible studies with church leaders. I’m learning the best ways to encourage church planters as they work to spread the Good News.

In the first few days, I saw how this new style has had an impact. I met the Guaman family from northern Quito. They learned the truths of the Bible through Academia Cristo classes. Now, they are gathering a group in their home using Academia Cristo resources. I met Jose Cormachi from southern Quito. He, along with other men, gather a group together. They lean on Academia Cristo resources for training. Being in this new environment has given me the opportunity to see new ways that the Holy Spirit is working throughout Latin America.

Guaman family confirmation with Missionary Nathan Schulte

When we find ourselves in new situations, we rely on others. We are thankful for the help of Missionary Nathan Schulte, our teammate on the ground in Quito. We are thankful for insights from friendly Uber drivers and advice from new neighbors. We are thankful for the prayers and support of our brothers and sisters in WELS.

Above all, we are thankful for Jesus, our Savior. One thing that is not new is his presence, protection, love, and grace in our lives. Someday, he will bring us and all believers somewhere new.

What will it be like when we arrive? What will we see? Who will we meet? What conversations will we have? How will we feel? What will be the first songs we sing? Because Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us, we can look forward to learning the answers to these questions together!

Written by Matthew Behmer, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

Want to hear how the Behmer family “landed” in their new mission field? Read more in the Behmer missionary family landing report.

 

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Behmer missionary family landing report

Have you ever wondered what happens during the first couple of weeks after a missionary family arrives in their new field of service? Read more about how the Behmer family (Missionary Matt, his wife Beth, and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray) landed in their new mission field of Quito, Ecuador, this past January: 

Monday, January 4: On Monday morning in San Diego, we found out our original flights to Quito, Ecuador, were canceled. We drove up to Los Angeles and found a flight that left that evening. We had a smooth departure and had a good redeye flight to Panama City. Our daughter Emma thought the breakfast provided on the flight was perfect – a turkey sandwich, yogurt, and juice box.

Missionary Schulte meeting Behmers at the airport

Tuesday, January 5: The connection in Panama City went well. When we arrived in Quito around noon, we were picked up by Missionary Nathan Schulte, who had lined up a small school bus to take us and our many suitcases to the Airbnb. We were very thankful for the space. He also had some groceries waiting for us. In evening, we explored Cumbayá, bought some extra essentials, and got dinner.

Wednesday, January 6: We met Missionary Schulte for lunch. From there, we went to set up our phones to get cell service in Quito. In the afternoon and evening we started an online search for houses.

Thursday, January 7: We met up with Missionary Schulte in Quito and walked to Guaman family restaurant for lunch. They’re contacts made through Academia Cristo, the Latin America mission team’s online outreach program. We took a walking tour of the area and visited a park. In the early evening, we met with the first realtor.

Friday, January 8: We visited the school in Tumbaco where our girls would begin virtual school. We then met Missionary Schulte for our first house showing. We also looked at more houses online and started to line up other showings. We decided that a rental vehicle would make the house and furniture search more efficient. After some headaches at the airport, we were finally able to get a small SUV. In the evening, I returned to the airport to pick up Missionary Andrew Johnston, his wife Cindy, and a few of their kids who were going to help in the landing process.

Saturday, January 9: We toured a total of five homes. One home in Tumbaco checked most of our boxes: It had three bedrooms, a separated area that could serve as an office, a great backyard, and seemed to be move-in ready. There were a couple of concerns with security, but nothing that couldn’t be addressed. It was in a small neighborhood with only three other homes.

Sunday, January 10: Missionary Schulte led us in a wonderful church service. He led the liturgy, lessons, and hymns, and we listened to an edifying sermon by Pastor Jon Schroeder from Sharpsburg, Georgia. After church, we went to see five more homes. That night we grilled out at the Airbnb. We’re thankful to Missionary Schulte and Caleb, a Martin Luther College graduate and volunteer in Quito, for watching the kids all day.

Missionaries Behmer and Schulte meeting to discuss their ministry

Monday, January 11: Beth and I discussed it some more, and we decided that we wanted to pursue the Tumbaco home. It was close to the kid’s school, had the space we felt was needed, and we decided we could find solutions for additional security. We began looking for family vehicles that afternoon. While Missionary Johnston attended some meetings, I began looking at options for furniture and home items.

Tuesday, January 12: We revisited the Tumbaco home with Missionary Johnston and our girls, Emma and Nora. We found out our offer was accepted, and we finalized some of the details. Emma and Nora loved the backyard, and it seemed like a home. That afternoon we attended some meetings, and then began looking for a family vehicle. We found a Toyota Fortuner that fit the bill and began the process of buying it.

Wednesday, January 13: Missionary Johnston took sole responsibility for making sure three kids participated in their respective online classes. That takes some special talent – we are appreciative! My wife Beth and Cindy Johnston went furniture shopping and got all the major things we need for our home. I went with Missionary Schulte and some of our other contacts to officially transfer ownership of the vehicle.

Thursday, January 14: Despite now owning a vehicle, we couldn’t drive it today due to the picos y placas. That stands for peak [hour] and [license] plate, a driving restriction policy aimed to reduce traffic congestion. It can only be driven on certain days. However, this works out great as Missionary Schulte’s car can be driven on the opposite days! The rest of the day was filled with meetings.

Friday, January 15: With a home lined up, a vehicle purchased, and some meetings out of the way, we were able to catch our breath on Friday morning. While the Johnstons watched our kids, Beth and I got lunch and went shopping for some home supplies. In the evening, Missionary Schulte and Caleb came over for some fellowship time. Missionary Schulte treated everyone to pizza and ice cream. It was delicious!

Saturday, January 16: We went to find authentic home furnishings at a good price and didn’t return until 5 p.m. The Johnston’s picked up some delicious empanadas for all.

Sunday, January 17: Cindy Johnston and I did some brief filming of an introduction video for Academia Cristo. Then, we all headed to the Guaman family confirmation. It was a special service, using liturgy and music provided by Academia Cristo. Missionary Schulte led a Bible Study using the Academia Cristo model and performed the rite of confirmation. We celebrated Holy Communion together. Then, the Guaman family provided a delicious lunch. We also enjoyed a cake brought by the Johnston family. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to get to know the Guaman family a little better.

The Johnstons, Behmers, and Missionary Schulte with the newly confirmed Guaman family

Monday, January 18: The Johnstons headed to the airport to return home, and I returned the rental car. After some meetings, we spent the rest of the day packing up to leave the Airbnb the next day.

Tuesday, January 19 and onward: 

We moved out of AirBnb, managing to fit all our suitcases and recent purchases in and on top of our new SUV. After moving into the home in Tumbaco, a few maintenance issues with the house popped up that we’re currently addressing. On Friday, January 22, we met our neighbors. All of them have children, and one also sends their kids to the school in Tumbaco our kids will attend.

Next steps: Beth and I will be digging into language training. Our girls have started their virtual classes and very much enjoy them, and they’re enrolled in Spanish classes.

We are very thankful for the opportunity to live and work in Ecuador! We are also thankful for all the support of WELS. This includes the budget for our housing, the purchase of our vehicle, and funding for the Johnston family to help with the transition. We feel that WELS and the Latin America missions team has helped us have the best landing as possible. We are looking forward to using this strong landing to launch into work and our new life in Ecuador!

Report by Matthew Behmer, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

 

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Linger with me before God’s throne

It is true that our job is to teach students about the Bible. By God’s grace, we have a school through which to accomplish this work. We’ve asked for your prayers: that God continue to provide us students interested in serving people. You’ve walked with us and prayed with us as we’ve watched God pour out his blessing on this work by bringing Asia Lutheran Seminary many people who wish to study God’s Word.

Additionally, God has provided us with plenty of opportunities to share his love with those who aren’t sitting in our classrooms. Where we live, the vast majority of people still do not know their Redeemer. God recently gave me an opportunity to share. Andrew’s mom urgently waved me down as I was walking down the street to go eat. I had never met her. She needed help picking up her 27-year-old son who is wheelchair-bound as a result of cerebral palsy. There was no one else around to help. So, I awkwardly lifted up a grown man while she situated his wheelchair. I told him he was heavier than he looked. He laughed at me for being weak. The irony was not lost on either of us. At that moment, we became friends.

As we rode the subway one day, Andrew asked me, “Are you ashamed of me?”

“No. Why?”

“Because I am disabled. People can’t accept that.”

I asked him, “Are you ashamed of me?” Long pause….

“Dude…? No!” he said with a smile and a laugh. His question shook me though. I almost cried. I thought about shame, the suffering he’s endured, and the importance of face in this culture. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Andrew’s father is completely out of the picture.

God granted me the grace to realize that if my sin were a physical deformity, it would be far worse than the distorted body that sat before me in that wheelchair on the subway. And yet, I have a Father who has not abandoned me, but who has saved me and restored my relationship with him despite my dreadful condition. He is not ashamed of me, his son. This Father has not abandoned Andrew either. How could I not tell him? That his shame has been done away with and that the God of the cosmos has sacrificed everything to restore his soul and body so that they could live together in life everlasting. I imagined what Andrew would look like walking around in heaven untwisted and new. My moment of reflection was interrupted by Andrew who reminded me I was at my stop.

It would be deceptive to give you the impression that this work is all just one success story after another. There are those, but many situations involve an amount of painful growth and waiting. We linger while God does his amazing work in us and the people around us. It involves suffering, prayer, awkward conversations, and more waiting. This story is just one example of that lingering. However, instead of just asking you to rejoice with me when visible harvest comes, I want to invite you to linger with me before God’s throne while I pray for Andrew. If you would, please take 30 seconds to pray for him with me, and for those millions here who do not yet know Christ. The apostle Paul’s prayer request so many years ago is mine as well, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19)

Written by Tony Barthels, instructor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong

 

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Communicating the power of the gospel cross-culturally

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Romans 10:14

When Jesus came to earth, he preached the good news. According to the four gospels, the amazing thing Jesus did during his three years of ministry were not the miracles, but the communicating and ministering done with the power of the gospel. Clear communication of the gospel is a necessity for a minister or an evangelist. When Jesus preaches the good news, he uses a simple and easy to understand way to communicate the gospel to the people to whom he is speaking.

One question we ask ourselves at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church is, “How do we communicate the gospel to the unbelieving Hmong people? Especially people who believe that inanimate objects have souls?” When Paul and Barnabas communicated the gospel in Lystra (Acts 14:8–23), they spoke to people with these beliefs in a clear and understandable way.

It is the power of the gospel that brings wonderful news to the whole world, including the Hmong community! God sent his Son into the world to die for sinners. Our sins are forgiven. That is awesome! That is the good news! That is the powerful message of the gospel God has given us, and we pray that the power of the Holy Spirt will guide us to communicate this message to others clearly and understandably. This is SO important, especially in cross-cultural ministry.

New members at Grace Hmong

This past January, 11 prospects of Grace Hmong completed the membership course and were confirmed into the Christian faith. The members of Grace Hmong or I had no power in converting these people into faith. It only happened by the working of the Spirt through the Word.

But how did we meet them so that we could share the gospel with them? It was a short conversation between one of our members and the head of their family. Then they came to our 2019 Thanksgiving Service. After the service they were invited to join the meal. At mealtime, Grace members and I had the opportunity to talk with these families about their faith and presented the pure gospel to them. They were interested! They told me that they never heard that sinners are saved through faith in Christ – they had been taught that sinners are saved only through good works. A couple weeks later, they came to our Sunday morning service and continued after that. Three months later, they decided to take the membership course.

During the membership course, they learned the theology of the cross. Every time we met, I tried to communicate the gospel in a clear and simple way for them to understand. The power of the gospel slowly penetrated and created faith in their hearts. We cleared up misunderstandings they had from the past. Now they are baptized and confirmed into the faith and are members of WELS!

What changed their hearts and turned them to the saving power of Christ? It was not the wonderful meal Grace prepared for them. It was not the money Grace spent on that day. It was not the power of the members or Pastor Lor that penetrated their hearts. It was the Holy Spirit working through the gospel.

That is why it is important for the church, the members, and the pastor to communicate clearly the simple message of the gospel. In the Great Commission, Jesus declares his authority over all things, and then he commands us to go and communicate the good news to others. Jesus wants us to share the power of the saving gospel with other people the way he taught. To God alone be the glory!

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

Learn more about Hmong ministry at wels.net/hmong.

 

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A Wealth of Accompaniment Options

Church acoustics consultant Scott Riedel is in the habit of saying that an ideal geometric shape for a worship space looks like a shoe box turned on its side. Horizontally it has a definite long and short axis, and vertically it has enough ceiling height to provide a proper reverberation. Carpet is minimal, if not absent. If newer, the floor might be tile or finished concrete; if older, it likely is hardwood planks. I’ve been in a few sanctuaries like that, including the one I first frequented as a young child. Today, when I take a seat in a live acoustic space like that, I look forward to enjoying one thing in particular—you can hear the people sing.

Liturgical ensembles

These days, more often than was the case a decade or longer ago, the seat I take in the worship space is occasionally a 24” high, four-legged stool. A guitar is on my lap and a music stand in front of me. Nearby are an amp, a piano, and a mic stand or two for the cantor(s). I occasionally play with the ensemble at Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha, WI, or I’m on the road for a conference or Bible class, sampling psalms, hymns, and ritual music from the new hymnal resources.

Years ago, it was rare for me to participate from my four-legged stool. While serving as a parish pastor for 24 years, my guitars and amp most often stayed at home. Part of that was for personal reasons. I had no desire to “feature myself” as far as playing guitar for worship. Nor were either of the two congregations I served necessarily ready for that kind of instrumentation. They had been in “organ-only” mode for virtually all of their existence. Piano was not used for congregational singing, and I would still say that, in most cases, a single acoustic guitar, even when amplified, is not well-suited to lead congregational singing.

But there was another issue, one that Don Chapman (hymncharts.com) wrote about: “In 2002, as a new music director at a church plant, people in my congregation were complaining that I wasn’t including hymns in my praise sets. I wasn’t including them because back in those days, there weren’t any! So I started arranging my own.” I don’t have raw data to cite, but anecdotally, I get the impression that two to three decades ago, Lutheran musicians who played instruments other than the organ were in some cases channeled toward commercial Christian arrangements, in great part because those were the only arrangements available for their instruments. There were, of course, a few hymns found in Lutheran hymnals, known by Lutheran worshipers, sung across a broader swath of Christianity, and arranged for ensemble instruments. But twenty years ago, just a few.

The scope of this article does not cover the difference between commercial worship songs and familiar hymns. But if it did, a key point would be the difference between songs that are more suited to trained singers and hymns that can be sung by the whole assembly. I, of course, have a bias, and it’s not just against worship songs that tend to be more soloistic and in favor of hymns that are familiar and were written for group singing. I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.

I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.

In recent decades, that’s where the rub has been. Liturgical ensemble arrangements of “our” materials have not been available in any kind of abundance at all. By no fault of its own, our publishing house has not published individual hymns arranged for a liturgical ensemble. In the past, the few resources in this genre were typically found in collections in which some titles would not be found in our hymnal. Such a small supply of resources can, of course, result in the same kind of overboard repetition that some Lutheran congregations have run into with non-Lutheran arrangements—twenty songs that get repeated every six or seven weeks. I hope that’s not an inaccurate caricature; it’s what I have heard that some of our congregations have discovered. Oddly enough, it’s the very same thing that congregations can run into when using liturgical ensemble arrangements of our curated and published materials—there isn’t enough to go around, i.e., to go around a whole church year’s worth of worship planning.

The new hymnal project will change that. And that’s not just because we think it’s a good idea to balance organ-led services with piano/guitar/ensemble-led services. That’s not just to put to good use the skills of the pianist/guitarist/instrumentalist the Lord has brought into our membership (though we certainly want to be good stewards of such gifts). That’s not just because some think that the ensemble can sound more upbeat or because they subjectively prefer it over the organ (and why wouldn’t we want to keep them happy?). No, our plan to provide a wealth of curated materials for a liturgical ensemble is because God’s grace in Christ has made us want our sacrifice of praise to be the best it can be.

One element of “best” can be objectively defined. Can you hear the people sing?

With organ music, the servant on the bench needs a keen sensitivity toward the interrelated items of organ registration, worship space acoustics, number of people in the sanctuary, intended mood of the service, and worshipers’ familiarity with the materials that are on the musical docket. All of that and more will come under consideration as the organist goes about his or her task of supporting the song of the assembly. It’s no different when the liturgical ensemble is providing the worship music. Sufficient rehearsal, congregational cueing (especially for introductions or inter-stanza turnarounds), dynamics governed by number of worshipers present, attaining the proper mix through the soundboard, mic levels and overall volume level of amplified voices and instruments properly adjusted, small ensemble or large—there are plenty of things to look out for. But one consideration rises to the top of the list: can you hear the people sing? The Lord has good hearing. Be it barely audible or raising the roof, he will always hear the praise of his people. The question to ask is, “Can the people hear each other?”

Can the people hear each other?

Whether you bring together two musicians or ten in an ensemble, share with them that our goal is to let the people’s song be heard, because that’s where the general scripture truths and the specific gospel message reside—in the lyrics of the assembly’s song. Instrumentalists need sensitivity to volume control and willingness to be a team player (aka, trusting the sound tech to get the mix right). Cantors need to understand (and also the congregation by educating them on this point) that they are not singing primarily to the assembly or for the assembly but along with the assembly. Instrumentalists and vocalists serve to strengthen the assembly’s song.

So back to the opening paragraph of this article. I’m in a sacred space where music is going to lift the life-giving gospel around the room, direct it into ears, and anchor it in believing hearts. I look forward to hearing a room full of people singing the gospel. To pull this off with an organ, there are pallets and pallets of music to enliven the pipes and fill the room with the godly music of saints and angels. God be praised for that! Three volumes of our new hymnal products (Accompaniment for Hymns, Accompaniment for the Psalter, Accompaniment for Services) will bring together an abundance of those organ arrangements for the hymns, psalms, and rites we have compiled. By comparison, rather than pallets and pallets, it seems we may have not much more than a partial filing cabinet drawer of arrangements for the liturgical ensemble. Let’s see what we can do to address this situation.

Accompaniment Editions

As you may have noticed from mock-ups at christianworship.com, the accompaniment editions are 8.5×11, portrait orientation, spiral-bound. For the most part, they contain only keyboard arrangements. In a number of cases, however, there are both organ settings and piano settings. For a majority of the hymns that were originally written for piano, an idiomatic organ or general keyboard arrangement was added. For some of the hymns that are regularly played on organ, an idiomatic piano arrangement was added. (See below about many more piano arrangements, along with auxiliary instrument arrangements, available in CW: Musician’s Resource [CW:MR]).

In addition to upscaling and reformatting the pew edition hymns to fit on a letter-sized page (which, incidentally, make the music easier to read for some), many of the hymns in Accompaniment for Hymns have multiple keyboard settings: alternate key; alternate setting; modulation to a festive final stanza; soloed organ setting; alternate piano or organ arrangement. For a total of 683 hymns (656 in the pew edition and 27 appearing only in CW: Service Builder), Accompaniment for Hymns offers an additional 447 auxiliary keyboard settings of the various types just mentioned. Similarly, Christian Worship: Psalter includes 470 musical settings of the 150 psalms. The Accompaniment for the Psalter offers 93 additional keyboard settings. Some of the piano arrangements in these accompaniment editions will have corresponding instrument files in CW:MR.

Besides accompaniments for the lectionary psalms that appear in the front of the hymnal pew edition, Accompaniment for Services includes the keyboard scores for all of the ritual music. This includes The Service: Settings 1-3, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Settings 2 and 3 of The Service and the Compline setting have both a complete organ setting and a complete piano setting. The piano arrangements of Setting 2 (Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen) are simplified piano arrangements, intended to make the piano setting accessible to the vast majority of pianists. More complex arrangements will be available in CW:MR. Auxiliary brass/timpani arrangements for the organ setting and auxiliary ensemble arrangements for the piano versions of Settings 2 and 3 will be available in CW:MR. Additional settings of The Service, available only in Service Builder, will be similarly resourced with organ and piano settings and auxiliary instrument files available in CW:MR.

Accompaniment for Hymns offers an additional 447 auxiliary keyboard settings of various types.

Additionally, a greatly expanded aspect of ritual music in the new hymnal suite of materials is the music of the Gospel Acclamation. (See a sample at christianworship.com/resources in the “look inside” section.) Formerly called the Verse of the Day, the Gospel Acclamation consists of an opening and closing alleluia refrain with a seasonal or proper verse of the day in the middle. Accompaniment for Services provides 230 pages of Gospel Acclamation music. Each of the three settings of The Service has its own Gospel Acclamation setting, and there are an additional 21 Gospel Acclamation settings for the entire church year. All of these acclamations are written for general keyboard (organ or piano). Some acclamations use additional instruments. For example, Irish Alleluia, published by GIA and arranged by Richard Proulx, has a version for organ, brass, and timpani, but it can be performed just as well with piano, guitar, and other instruments. A 7×10 spiral bound edition (Christian Worship: Gospel Acclamations—Cantor’s Edition) will be available for presiding ministers, cantors, choir members, and instrumentalists. (This edition allows users to avoid illegally copying the keyboard edition for singers and other musicians.)

Musician’s Resource

Most of the music for the liturgical ensemble will reside in Christian Worship: Musician’s Resource. The NPH website will add a section dedicated solely to searching for, reviewing, and purchasing auxiliary keyboard and instrumental music that supports the hymnal and psalter. Thousands of pages of music will be available at this location.

For example, the most basic liturgical ensemble is a piano accompaniment with another instrument playing the melody. If that other instrument is a clarinet or trumpet, additional music is needed since these are pitched at B-flat rather than C. To match keyboard music, trumpet music has to be raised a whole step. If the keyboard music is in F Major, the trumpet part must be in in G Major. We have already done the foundational work on over 500 hymns, so that the various instruments which play at different pitches have a musical score to work with the pew edition setting of the hymns. Each SATB hymn ends up with 16 pages of transpositions. That means we already have 8000 pages of instrument transpositions for the pew edition hymn settings.

But most of the Musician’s Resource is comprised of arrangements that go beyond the pew edition settings. Not always but most frequently, the liturgical ensemble is looking for music that has been arranged with other instruments in mind, not just “SATB hymnal versions.” The Musician’s Resource will include a variety of these resources: vocal descants; instrumental descants; lead sheets; alternate choral stanzas; alternate harmonizations; full modern arrangements; modulations (transitioning to a higher key for a festive final stanza; roughly 5% of the hymns in Accompaniment for Hymns have such an optional modulation).

More often than not, the liturgical ensemble is looking for full modern arrangements. One strong advantage of these arrangements is how they can fit almost any size ensemble. These arrangements may have parts for eight different instruments, but they also work if you have only piano and guitar. We are aiming to offer a full modern arrangement for every hymn, and eventually more than one. Since CW:MR will be a living resource, we can continue to add to it long after the hymnal has launched in the fall of 2021.

Christian Worship: Supplement (2008) included Divine Service II, a service that made use of metrical canticles. These are songs of the liturgy where the text has been recast as rhymed verse and the tune is that of a familiar hymn. Christian Worship: Service Builder will include several dozen metrical canticles for those who wish to build such a service. Our goal is to arrange also these metrical canticle hymn tunes for liturgical ensembles. Such arrangements can, of course, serve double duty for both a hymn text and a metrical canticle.

We use the term liturgical ensemble because the ensemble is supporting the congregation as the congregation participates in the liturgy.

Looking forward

Liturgical worship makes use of the church year with its appointed lectionary and propers, it has a regular celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar, and it follows a historic order which includes the ancient texts of several songs that tell the story of our deliverance through Christ. We use the term liturgical ensemble because the ensemble is supporting the congregation as the congregation participates in the liturgy. The ensemble may consist of anywhere from two to ten or more instrumentalists and anywhere from one to four or more cantors. So the term liturgical helps establish some healthy parameters: this is a group that assists the assembly in singing the ritual music (canticles), the Psalm of the Day, the Gospel Acclamation, the Hymn of the Day, and other selected hymns.

It would sadden me if I were writing this article solely because there might seem to be a trend toward piano/guitar/instrument ensembles and away from organ accompaniment. With a fitting registration, the organ does a magnificent job of supporting the song of the assembly. The many organ resources that are queued up for our new hymnal will continue this fine heritage. I wholeheartedly support both organ accompaniment and ensemble accompaniment. I also do not hesitate to say that we need and are preparing more resources for the latter. I look forward to having a six-stringed instrument on my lap and an abundance of music on the stand before me, composed for a liturgical ensemble. I look forward to accompaniment editions and a Musician’s Resource that put those ensemble scores in front of a host of WELS instrumentalists, affording them the high privilege of leading God’s people in song.

And soaring high above all that music, I most look forward to hearing assembled voices clearly singing that Jesus Christ is the LORD, Our Righteousness (Jer. 23:26).

By Michael Schultz

Pastor Schultz has served congregations in Flagstaff, AZ and Lawrenceville, GA. He chaired the hymns subcommittee for Christian Worship: Supplement, compiled its guitar edition, and currently serves as project director for the new WELS Hymnal Project. As a member of Trinity, Waukesha, WI, he plays guitar for worship and occasionally preaches.

A small liturgical ensemble (pictured above) provided music for a COVID-era Easter service recorded in the seminary chapel. That video is still available here: https://wels.net/together-at-the-empty-tomb-this-easter. The socially distanced musicians performed in an empty chapel without a congregation present.

Another excellent companion video to the topic of this issue is at welscongregationalservices.net/worship-led-by-a-modern-ensemble. Some of the new songs and arrangements in both videos are included in the new hymnal project.


Correction

The printed version of the previous issue, Worship and Outreach, was missing its second paragraph. Please reference the online version at worship.welsrc.net if this issue is used for group discussion or in a Bible class setting.


 

 

 

WORSHIP

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

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Preach the Word – Joy and Confidence from the Basics – Part 4

A drill sergeant is giving an order to a cadet.

Sergeant: “There is no talking during drill.”

Cadet: “Yes, sir. The fellas were just explaining that to me.”

Sergeant: “Be quiet, cadet! There is no talking during drill!”

Cadet: “Sergeant. I know all about that. Like I was saying….”1

On it goes. The cadet takes the sergeant’s words as a communication of information. What is he missing? Only what the words have to do with him.

What we have here is a failure of application.

The Scriptures communicate the costliest information that can be thought of: preeminently who Jesus is and what he has done. But the Word is not a communication of information alone, but of capability as well—to repent, to speak, to persevere. As Paul instructed (Titus 2), the grace of God is teaching us how to live as we wait on Jesus’ return.

They hunger not to become walking encyclopedias of religious information.

The people of God daily hunger for the external Word to come to them from the outside, telling them that they are sinners and telling them they are saved. And they hunger for this, too—not to become walking encyclopedias of religious information, but to take up into an actual life even the smallest part of what they know.

Appropriation and Application

Let’s distinguish appropriation and application.

Appropriation is about people not only having the truth, but being had by it. It is about taking to heart the things of God so as to be renewed and transformed by them. We want people to see some essential piece of divine revelation more clearly than when they first walked in the door. We would have them delight in some aspect of the grace of God as it is revealed in Jesus—the glory of his self-sacrifice and his astonishing resurrection. Appropriation grabs hold of the big facts and celebrates those two words Martin Luther held dear: For you.

Appropriation celebrates those two words Martin Luther held dear: For you.

Application depends entirely on appropriation. The “Now what?” follows on the heels of the “So what?” and draws on its strength. Application is about our changed situation—how life can now be lived, now that Christ is revealed to our hearts again by Word and Sacrament. Whether we include explicit directives for life depends on the telos of our text. If we say with John, “Little children, love one another,” but are a little short on the details, it is to leave intact the marvelous freedom of the Christian “to do or not do” (Luther).

An example

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).

I was disciplining one of my daughters in her bedroom. Her spirit was a fist balled up. She was seeing a side of me she hadn’t seen before. I became gradually harsher, needing only to see some glimmer of sorrow over her sin.

I broke her. Contrition poured out in a wail: “I’m sorry! I can’t help it!”

Now I broke, too. I know a thing or two about that. Now everything changes.

“O, sweetheart…” I say and crush her to my chest, searching for words and taking my time, all to overwhelm her with God’s love and with mine.

I talked about this with my grown daughters the other day (to get permission to share). They didn’t remember the episode and demanded to know which of them was in the story. I’m not telling.

I talked to them about how a father’s heart goes out to a child, how it bursts from his chest. How he rushes to her side, chasing all the space away. It happened from the time they were little. It happened at first words and first steps, at sporting events and musical performances, at graduations and weddings, at times my God let them shine. But, as I tried to put into words, none of that can touch that day in my little girl’s bedroom.

Do you think you understand how a father runs to his child in her struggle against sin? How he is with her? How he is for her and on her side in the fight against this thing she hates? She has gotten to him. She is his. He is hers.

Let’s be in no hurry to move on. In your struggle with sin, think about this with me. Think about how a father loves a child.

You live all these decades in a room called grace only to discover that one of the walls is an accordion door. You push it back to discover there is more yet than you had seen. What is it like to be reconciled to God? What have I yet to grasp about this relationship, this love—how wide, how long, how high, how deep? I find that the furniture in my mind is still being rearranged.

“As a father has compassion on his children.”

This is application. We search out the implications of salvation—what it has to do with me and what can be different about today.

What do you notice?

You notice that what we are discussing takes time. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

You notice that my example is heavy on appropriation. It leaves the application mostly unstated. It wouldn’t need to be so. Application of the phrase “those who fear him” would fit nicely in my exposition of the text earlier in the sermon. But I take the accent here to be on something we are supposed to know in our bones about the sort of compassion God-fearers will always find in God.

Notice that this example has a modest goal. This is not “the whole counsel of God” packed into one sermon. I am not trying to do everything. Rather, I have concerned myself with a single thought that a child can know. You learn that to speak with understanding the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer is not so modest a goal after all.

Finally, the example above happens to blend illustration with application (a term that includes appropriation in its broad sense). Those components of preaching play well together, especially if I mean to go beyond conveying the information packed into that single verse, “As a father has compassion on his children,” costly as it is. I am taking pains to close the loop. Everything this magnificent psalm has ever meant—to its original hearers and all those across time—it means for you.

Appropriation in particular

One of the axioms of education is to take people from the known to the unknown. You understand the periodic table in basic chemistry? Good. Let’s see what happens when these elements combine.

Now think about taking people from the appropriated to the unappropriated. We address people who prize the death and resurrection of Jesus. They don’t doubt that they are reconciled to God. This is good. Why, then, are many of them so anxious? How do you close that loop? That’s a good question.

It helps to know our people as well as we can. Audience-centeredness is critical. Take the time to ask good questions, listen well, and reflect deeply on what you’ve heard. Perhaps recycled sermons fall flat not because they were poorly written but because we had entirely different faces before us as we wrote them.

Might we ever be content with appropriation alone and have no application at all? I think so.

The people you preach to are living lives no one has ever lived before or will again, with their particular gifts, confronted by the particular obligations of their vocations and the needs of their particular neighbors. This goes to the freedom of the Christian to look around, and in the peace of forgiveness, to do “whatever comes into their minds to do” (Luther).

The third use of the law slides so easily into the first. The voice of conscience wakes up as cruel as ever.

A colleague has said that “the law is no puppy that only does what you want it to do.” I may intend by the imperatives and cohortatives in my sermon to guide the grateful lives of people. “How can you express this thankfulness you feel, this wonder at so great a Savior? Here’s how.” But as we know, “lex semper accusat” (the law always accuses). The third use of the law slides so easily into the first. The voice of conscience wakes up as cruel as ever, though it was never our intention to leave people there.

With clarity about what the gospel alone does for people and what the law never can, I sometimes elect to emphasize appropriation and take care not to overwrite my applications. This I do to cultivate gospel predominance as C. F. W. Walther taught us.

Good Friday is one day I want “It is finished” to echo through every world there is and ring in every ear. Let this and only this carry them out the door. Not, “I’ve really got to do better!” Not, “I had better get my act together.” Just, “It is finished!”

This is about so much more than sinning less, to put it bluntly. The death and resurrection of Jesus into which we are baptized remains a matter of perpetual appropriation as we learn to daily die and rise with Jesus.

Application in particular

Sermon application takes careful thought.

Until the eternal gospel of our Lord is heard above the sound of a nagging conscience and the complaints of offended reason, we cannot ask in the right way what God would have us do. We risk either tying on burdens or waking up the pharisee if our applications are not built on a robust presentation of law and gospel.

I want my applications to be “aha moments.”

I want my applications to be “aha moments.” In the spirit of the law, we sweat and strain to produce the qualities of heart we know should be there—we should be more compassionate, more patient, more fearless. Good luck with that. Think instead of the good things that come to us simply because we see. Think of the fruit that grow spontaneously on our branches simply because we have taken in the person and work of our Savior with clearer sight. “In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

“In view of God’s mercy.” Aha!

And I hope that deeply rooted Christian optimism characterizes our applications.

When I preached Romans 12 not long ago— “Love must be sincere…” —I told a story of my best friend in high school. During a midnight heart-to-heart he confessed, “I don’t know if I’ve ever really loved anyone.” Next I looked into the faces of hundreds of college students and asked, “Do we love each other? I mean it. Do we?” I let the question hang in the air for some time. (Good things happen in the pauses, don’t you agree?) Students told me they talked about that all through lunch. They didn’t know what I would say next, and they wondered, “How could we not have known?”

Students told me they talked about that all through lunch.

In my message, I reminisced about the quality of the friendship that tenth grader offered me—it still takes my breath away. No, we do not love to our own satisfaction. We are not love’s definition. You don’t look at the likes of us to know what love is. But we do, indeed, love because God, in Christ, loved us first. We love because Jesus did not fail in his quest, not only to rescue us in every way a person can be rescued, but also to teach us brotherly love and to create a people eager to do what is good.

“And in fact, you do love all of God’s family…. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:10). This is how we talk to the bride of Christ.

Given everything we are led to understand about this sinful flesh of ours, as good theology teaches us to call things as they are—given what we are led to expect of fallen people in a fallen world—is it not a wonder when God’s people love? What a few words and a little bit of water can do!

It goes to a question I often raise with my students: how does one properly speak to the bride of Christ? We can preach the law to powerful effect without needing to say things to the Church that are simply not true. For example, her works done in faith are not the “filthy rags” Isaiah spoke about. There are lifelong believers who think that! How refreshing it will be for them to find out that the smallest act of Christian love is the Lord Christ celebrating his victory over sin, death, and devil. The moment came from him, as did the impulse, and the strength. These acts are his even as they are ours, and in them, in grace, he positively delights.

Aha!

There is more we can teach our people as we depict the life of freedom that busts out in good works. For example, I love the picture a brother has offered: a father holds the hand of a toddler as she takes her first steps. She cannot walk a single step apart from his grip on her. But don’t think she is not the one doing the walking. Just watch those little feet go. Now take a look at his face—how a father loves a child.

Just look at his face as the people of God, his masks, offer up their holy vocations in service to their neighbor—a subject we will never tire of, nor will they. There’s an aha moment in the thought that my sanctification is for the people who experience me, those whom God wants loved.

Lastly, when we understand that we are nothing without Christ and can do nothing without him, our references in preaching to the means of grace will not be obligatory. We know no other way of sermonizing than that, in our applications, we perpetually call our people to remain in Christ. How? We drag ourselves in our poor half-heartedness to Word and sacrament in hopeful expectation of being wakened and warmed. We let the Word of Christ live richly within us, as God gives us the strength.

“Thinking must be turned a new direction; Christ must be thought of if you are to say Christ lives in you” (Luther).

The habitus practicus

In the twin arts of appropriation and application, our own credibility is implicated. By the earnestness of our appropriations and the realism of our applications, we demonstrate that we know what we are talking about. We show that we “share in human stuff” with the people in the pew. The pulpit is not our private confessional, but they can tell that we know something about living as sinner and saint in this actual world of simple pleasures and broken shoestrings—that our preaching is an extension of our very lives.

It will be obvious at the end of our lives that we did not become who we so badly wanted to become. Instead, we learned to never let the cross out of our sight. That cross is dear and what we learn through tentatio and Anfechtung (trial and struggle) we will teach to others and call it all blessed. Luther: “For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will inflict you, will make a real theologian of you.”

There is no escaping the struggle of Christian living. Instead, there is the promise of Jesus to meet us there by his Word. We display to our people what we have learned in the Spirit’s school: that God allows us to be battered by devil, world, and flesh so as to learn to hang on for dear life to the gospel. In the end, we wage everything on Jesus.

To grow in “the practical habit of the theologian” is not only the task of the pastor. He will urge on his people that gaining the knowledge of Christ is a way of life. It happens, for example, when some in the body of Christ are offended by others and are making motions of leaving. You plead, “The first time someone hurts you, you want to leave? Really? You will miss it. Now is when theology becomes life. Now is when we find out what all this has been about from the start, when you forgive freely from the heart for Jesus sake.” This is application.

God allows us to be battered by devil, world, and flesh so as to learn to hang on for dear life to the gospel.

We are not drill sergeants whipping cadets into shape. We are pastors seeing to the care of souls. They are not “brains on sticks” (James K. A. Smith), empty receptacles in which to pour Bible trivia (if there is such a thing). In a nod to C. S. Lewis (The Abolition of Man), they are people “with chests,” capable, in Christ, of responding to Christian truth in whole-hearted Christian living.

Their capability is Christ. By the Spirit, his every gospel imperative—to trust and not be troubled, to hope and be glad—will ring true in them.

What a pleasure to guide God’s people in what it means to linger and live in God’s thought—how a father loves a child.

Written by Mark Paustian

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

1 From The Parables of Kierkegaard.


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