Another church in Milwaukee

Another church in Milwaukee?!

“Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A flight with Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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Davante’s favorite place

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

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

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

“You mean church?” his teacher replied.

“Yeah. I want to go there.”

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

Ernest with his daughters Arianna and Mariyah at their baptism

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

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

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

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

 

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The Confessional Lutheran Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Open your eyes

In John 4:35, Jesus tells his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields, they are ripe for harvest!” With these words, Jesus was rebuking his disciples for looking past an evangelism opportunity that was right in front of their eyes. They had dismissed a Samaritan woman with whom Jesus was speaking at a well in Samaria, and now, after doing some evangelism of her own, that woman was returning with a whole crowd of Samaritans eager to see Jesus. “Open your eyes and look at the fields, they are ripe for harvest!”

In October 2019 we hosted a booth at a local family bike ride event. We asked people to fill out a survey, which included picking their favorite church name out of our top 5 finalists. In exchange we handed out drinks, gift cards, and candy.

When I arrived in Houston in July, I had a lot of questions. Probably the biggest question was how I would meet people in a neighborhood four miles from downtown, where people are always busy and often skeptical and slow to open up. I pondered all kinds of evangelism strategies, evaluating different methods to see what would fit our context best. I read books on evangelism and asked for advice from other home missionaries. And over the last six months, we’ve tried a little bit of everything. We hosted a booth at a local festival. We canvassed people on the streets asking them for their input on our logo options. We handed out more than 400 cups of free hot chocolate at a Christmas lights viewing event in our neighborhood. But if you asked me what our best outreach strategy has been, I would probably say that our best outreach hasn’t come from any of those strategies.

While we have made plenty of good connections at our outreach events, the strongest connections have come at times and in places we weren’t necessarily trying to meet people. My wife and I have met people while grocery shopping, going out to dinner, and working out at our gym. Members of our core group have had opportunities to share the gospel at playdates, neighborhood gatherings, and pick-up basketball games. I think it goes to show that evangelism can’t just be limited to a few hours on a Saturday during a church outreach event. It has to be a way of life. Too often we go through life worried about all the things we have to get done, and we miss the people who are right in front of us. But when we open our eyes, we realize that there are opportunities all around us.

In a city of 2.3 million people, those opportunities are endless. In our densely populated neighborhood, almost two thirds of the population is unchurched or de-churched. That is an extremely ripe harvest field! I am thankful that God has blessed me with an incredibly talented and dedicated core group, and that he continues to bless our outreach efforts. After all, whether it’s a planned outreach strategy or a spontaneous conversation at the grocery store, he’s the one who’s really doing the work.

Written by Rev. Andrew Nemmers, home missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Houston, Tex.

 

 

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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 3

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 3: Sound System Layout and Setup

Welcome back! We have talked about acoustic principles that directly impact how successful a sound system will be in the worship space. We have also talked about sound itself and how best to project it for clear hearing within the worship setting.

In this article we go one step further and explore system setup in two ways. First, initial setup: how we lay out the sound system from input (microphone, electronic instrument, or playback device) to output (loudspeaker, recording device, or video feed). Second, we look at what a good sound system designer and tuner strives for when setting up the system after the physical installation is complete.

I will include several “gotcha’s” along the way. And, Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie are still with us. You see, they try to hear the message when they go to worship. But they haven’t been able to hear it clearly. They’ve been following our discussion. They want to know more so that they can talk to their pastor and congregation leaders about improving the situation. Let’s get to it!

Sound System Layout

In its simplest form, the sound system consists of several basic components: the input device, the mixer, the signal processor, the power amplifier, and the loudspeaker. The signal follows a path as shown in the figure to the below.

Diagram of a basic sound system.

How do we “make” sound through the sound system? Think of baking a loaf of bread. The “bread” is our sound. The “ingredients” are the signals we put into the system via the input devices, from microphones to playback devices to electronic instruments. The mixer is just that. This device, which comes in various forms and sizes, takes those sound ingredients and allows us to mix them together in the needed proportion—more vocal than drum in the modern liturgical ensemble, for instance—and produces the signal or “dough” that will eventually be finished.

However, we must do something more with that dough. We must prepare it, or “process” it, so that it comes out right when projected from the loudspeaker. Does the sound need more or less bass or treble? Do some frequencies produce feedback due to reflection off walls, microphone choices, loudspeaker positioning, etc.? The signal processor provides us with all the tools we need to prepare that sound properly so Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie will be pleased. The processor, back in the 1950s, was as simple as a tone control on a car radio. It then became an equalizer in the 1960s and 1970s as engineers such as Charles Boner and Bob Coffeen (a mentor of mine) and companies such as Altec Lansing developed the tools that allow us to break the “dough” or raw sound into many pieces and have finer adjustment control over the signal.

Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie will be pleased.

In the late 1990’s we witnessed the advent of digital tools that now allow for precision far beyond what early pioneers ever thought possible. A digital signal processor is not just a fancy tone control but a virtual toolbox that allows remarkable control over a number of factors:

  • Adjust frequency response (tone).
  • Synchronize multiple speakers in time using time delay.
  • Set limits on the strength of the sound coming out of the device in order to protect the loudspeakers.
  • Internally mix and route the signal to device outputs of choice such as the main loudspeaker, the cry room speaker, the recording device, the audio-for-video feed.
  • Setting memory presets to recall things like system configurations for varying worship settings, differing attendance levels, and speaker zone on/off.
  • Automatic mixing for voice mics to keep levels consistent and to minimize the potential for feedback from excessive volume.
  • Wireless remote control that allows for simple control without the need for a mixing console where one is not required.

Digital tools allow for precision far beyond what early pioneers ever thought possible.

Once we have prepared that sound “dough,” it is sent to the power amplifier. This is the oven that makes the sound level rise like yeast in the bread to the level (volume) we need to deliver a pleasing “loaf of bread” which we call “sound” for Aunt Tilly and her fellow worshipers to hear from the loudspeakers.

The rudimentary schematic diagram above can be simple or complex depending on a number of variables. A good system designer will use information regarding the size of the worship space, the number of loudspeakers required to provide good coverage and clarity, the number of inputs required from microphones and such, and the number of output devices required—such as feeds to video recording, live streaming, audio recording, subsystems such as musicians’ monitor speakers, feeds to fellowship/social halls, etc.

In a simpler system design where there is no modern instrumental ensemble (or only a very small one), with a limited number of microphones, the mixer and signal processor may well be one unit. Coupled with a wireless remote device (some are simply wi-fi based as opposed to a specific Apple or Android app), all the mixing, signal processing, and signal routing can be handled from that one device, saving cost and operational complexity.

On the other hand, a mixing console may be required for a larger liturgical ensemble. In that case you need the ability to mix sound from a much more hands-on perspective. But be prepared! With that console comes the need to have a trained operator who is willing to learn its features and make adjustments on the fly. And that console will need to be located in a place where the operator can hear as the congregation hears. If you stick the operator in the corner of a balcony, then you have placed your control in another room where levels and tone will most likely be different than on the main floor. In that case Aunt Tilly will not be happy.

Going to the output side of the signal flow, notice the colored dotted lines going toward the output devices. These help me to address a common and significant “gotcha.” I get calls from pastors and church system operators complaining that the levels are bad on the audio recording. Sometimes they tell me that the level is low and that turning up the level results in feedback from the loudspeakers in church. From this description I can tell the caller that the system is configured too simply. The issue most likely stems from the fact that the signal to the loudspeakers and the signal to the recording feed come from the same control. The system designer did not build in flexibility to allow for separate control of main loudspeakers and other feeds. A separate mix and master level control are needed for the recording feed (or other feed) apart from the mix for the main loudspeakers.

A design using the “best bargain” method is a waste of money.

Sometimes this “gotcha” is due to a perceived budget limitation. “We can’t spend much on the system.” So the congregation settles for gear that is not flexible or not expandable. The result is that the system will not do what is needed. And the solution is to start over, which means spending the money twice to get the job done right once. The real solution is to be honest about needs and have the system designed to the need rather than to say “This is what we are going to spend.” This doesn’t imply spending a fortune on a sound system. But it does mean that a design using the “best bargain” method is a waste of money and never ends well. Design the system to the need, and make it expandable so that additions can be made without the need to start over. It costs a little more on the front end but saves a great deal in the future.

Another “gotcha:” The pastor calls and reports a hum in the audio going to our video recording. After I complete my groaner joke (“It hums because it doesn’t know the words.”), I ask questions about how the hookup is accomplished, what the devices are, and other qualifiers. The cause and solution are common. Outside of a cable that has gone bad, the most common cause for the hum is that a cable is not right for the situation. Most “off-the-shelf” hi-fi type cables with phono type connectors accept noise from other sources, induced into the line. Or the grounding is not right. The hum is the result. Make sure that you are using high-quality cables that will ground the devices properly, and make the proper connections to prevent outside noise from getting into the line.

One more “gotcha:” The level is strong coming out of the audio device, but is weak or nonexistent going into the recording device (may also be from playback device or electronic instrument going into the mixer). This is almost always an impedance mismatch. Simply put, there is an electronic roadblock that prevents the signal from getting to where it is supposed to go. In such cases, you need a transformer device that will correct for the mismatch. Since there are varying levels of quality, contact your sound professional for advice on which device to use. Make sure that you are using high-quality devices, both audio and video.

Books have been written on the subject of system layout. The brief description provided here will suffice for now, along with this summary: figure out what you need, design to that need (by a professional), build in flexibility and expansion capability, and utilize the right loudspeakers and microphones.

Sound System Setup

I state up front that the following discussion is not a “how-to-guide” so that you can tune your own system. Just as it takes education and experience to be a good pastor or music director, it takes education and experience along with a trained ear to be a good system tuner or “setter-upper.” Below I point out goals to accomplish when tuning a system. Remember: go to a professional for system design and for system setup/tuning!

Recall from our previous installments that there are some fundamental “must-do/must-have” matters when considering sound system design and setup—and ultimately tuning:

  • Good acoustical character that matches the worship setting.
  • Avoid destructive “slap” and “flutter” echo.
  • Balance reflective, absorptive, and diffusive elements in the space.
  • Design loudspeaker system to work in the acoustic space.
  • Use the proper types of microphones for the various applications within the worship setting.
  • Use proper mic technique.

I assume now that we have followed all of these principles of good design. We have good mics in place. The loudspeakers have been carefully selected and located. The mixer and signal processor are appropriate for the situation. We’re ready to tune!

First, what is my goal? Assuming that we will have good loudspeaker coverage, our goal is simply to deliver the most natural sound possible, clearly and without feedback. If there are supplemental speakers, under the balcony for example, then we also must synchronize these speakers in time with the main speakers so that every worshiper perceives the chancel as the source of the sound.

Second, achieving the goal. Clarity will result in part by having a well-behaved acoustic space and in part by selecting the proper loudspeaker. Notice I say nothing about the prettiest loudspeaker or the most invisible. We always work hard to blend the speakers into the architecture and make them as inconspicuous as possible. But if we lean too far toward aesthetic priorities, then clarity will nearly always be compromised.

To achieve natural sound without feedback, we start with a high-quality speaker that is proven to deliver smooth frequency response “out of the box.” Look at the graph below from a recent project where we measured the balcony support speakers. It shows an even frequency response from the lower-midrange frequencies through the upper end of the speech range. Frequency is shown on the bottom/horizontal axis, and level in dB is shown on the left/vertical axis.

Frequency response graph showing natural sound

Notice that there are no jumps or peaks in response across our measurement range. The graph shows me—and my ears heard—that the sound is natural. And since there are no big peaks, feedback will not be an issue.

Why no issue with feedback? Feedback occurs when sound is allowed back into the microphone. It could be from a reflection, or it could be from poor mic placement. If there is a big peak in response (greater than 2 or 3dB above the average), a significant amount of energy will be allowed back into the microphone, creating a loop we hear as a screeching sound—feedback. Since there are no peaks here, we have no issue with feedback.

While in the tuning process, I will check to see how direct the sound is. What is the level of the sound coming to the ear directly from the loudspeaker as compared to reflected sound? The graph below shows a measurement of the direct sound. The left/vertical axis is level, and the bottom/horizontal axis is time in fractions of seconds. I want to see a very strong initial sound arrival, and either no or very little late arrival from reflection.

Graph measuring direct sound – shows no echo

Notice the tall vertical line just to the right of ‘0’. The ‘0’ point is the loudspeaker’s place in time. The tall line is the first sound arrival. There is a second line close to but far down in level. This graph shows me (and again, my ears heard) very clear sound with no audible echo from any other source.

In the last graph below we have an example of how poor things can get when our basic principles are not followed. Notice the initial arrival followed by arrivals that are nearly as strong. This client hears the same syllable distinctly three times. In that case, I had to report to the client that “we have issues” with room acoustics or with loudspeaker layout or type. In this particular case the issues were with both room acoustics and loudspeaker layout.

Graph measuring direct sound – shows and echo

I have included a good deal of information here. It may be difficult to process it all, especially for those not familiar with all this “audio geek” stuff. If I have helped you to think a bit about your goals for sound in worship, what your real needs are, and how to meet your needs and goals, then I have accomplished my goal.

Sound design involves science, art, and experience.

Additionally, I hope it’s clear that far more goes into this sound thing than just going to the local music store (or going online), buying some stuff, and sticking it in the church. The process of sound design involves quite a bit of science (laws of physics that the good Lord gave us and has not yet repealed) as well as art and experience. Yes, it is a process. And knowing just a little about the process, from design to setup to proper operation, can help you to ask the right questions and to budget appropriately. Then you can be confident of achieving the best results, and God’s Word both spoken and sung will be clear to the congregation.

Knowing just a little about the process … can help you to ask the right questions.

A fourth installment will conclude this series. It will focus on assistance for the hearing impaired. We will review a few simple statistics to show that assistance is no longer just for older people. We will study two major methods for providing assistance—how they work and the benefits of each.

If you have something to ask or an issue to deal with, let me know at info@dshaudiovisions.com. I will respond as time allows and might even prepare another WTL article in the future.

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Preach the Word – Preaching to the Biblically Illiterate

Preaching to the Choir Biblically Illiterate

In March 2018, The Wall Street Journal had to issue a correction. The previous day, a journalist had quoted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that Moses had brought water from Iraq. As it turns out, Mr. Netanyahu actually said that Moses brought water from a rock.1 Who’d have thought? That same week, National Public Radio had to make a correction too. An NPR blog on Good Friday stated, “Easter—the day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere at all, but rather arose into heaven—is on Sunday.” As the corrected blog later noted, Easter is actually “the day Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.”2

There’s a term for this lack of Bible knowledge: biblical illiteracy. Less than half of adults can name the four gospels. 60% percent of Americans can’t name five of the Ten Commandments. 81% of born-again Christians think that “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse. Over 50% of high school seniors think that Sodom and Gomorrah were a husband and wife….3

And then a guest walks into your church and hears your sermon…. Would they understand it?

Actually, don’t even think about that guest for a moment. Think about the members of your church choir. Over the past year, I’ve had member visits with spiritually mature members of our congregation—like your typical choir members. For a devotion, I’ve read the story of Zacchaeus. I assumed it would be a familiar story. Everybody knows about the wee little man, right? Wrong! When I’ve asked, “Can you remember anything about Zacchaeus?” less than 50% have had any recollection of Zacchaeus at all. Even if we just “preach to the choir” in our churches, we’re preaching to people who are less familiar with the Bible than we’d like to think.

Far from being comical or simply surprising, biblical illiteracy presents a huge challenge to the preacher. Consider these words from Jesus’ “sermons”: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14). “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37).

What did Jesus assume? That his hearers knew about Moses, Jonah, Abraham, and Noah (and many others!). How can we preach what Jesus preached if our hearers don’t know what Jesus’ hearers knew? Biblical illiteracy isn’t just a matter of Bible trivia. The less our hearers know the people, places, and stories of the Bible, the less they can appreciate God’s plan of salvation in Jesus. Paul reminds us that “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us” (Romans 15:4). We want to lead our people to an ever deeper knowledge of God’s Word.

A caution is needed. Biblical illiteracy certainly can’t be solved by preaching alone. That’s more pressure than any preacher can or should bear. We need the Word in our homes, not just in our churches. But preaching does matter. Our sermons do make a difference. So how can we preach when even preaching to the choir means preaching to people who might be biblically illiterate?

To start, we need to understand what biblical illiteracy is. At its simplest level, biblical illiteracy is a lack of knowledge about biblical names and places, like my members’ ignorance about Zacchaeus. In our small Spanish services, I routinely ask if my hearers have heard of people in our Bible lessons. Moses? Blank stares. Abraham? No clue. The apostle Paul? Nope. I’ve come to assume that every character in every story is unknown to my hearers, except for maybe Jesus. People simply don’t know who people in the Bible are. That’s biblical illiteracy.

But it’s been helpful for me to realize that biblical illiteracy goes much deeper. Biblical illiteracy is also missing the context of the words of Scripture. Albert Molher comments, “Our people can know so much, and yet know nothing, all at the same time. They can have a deep repository of biblical facts and stories, and yet know absolutely nothing about how any of it fits together, or why any of it matters beyond the wee little ‘moral of the story.’”4

How many of our people struggle with that? There is danger in “Facebook-meme Christianity.” How often aren’t single Bible verses pulled out of context and used independently from the rest of Scripture? Think of how misquoted this verse is: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). It’s talking about contentment, not winning the Super Bowl!

To be biblically literate doesn’t just mean knowing that Zacchaeus was a wee little man. Jesus’ love for tax collectors and sinners is at the heart Luke’s gospel, from the Calling of Levi (Luke 5) to the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) to the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16) to the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18). The story of Zacchaeus leads to a marvelous conclusion: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Every text has a context.

So does the Bible itself. Every “little” story like Zacchaeus is part of God’s “big” story. Biblical illiteracy is also failing to grasp how each story of the Bible fits into God’s grand plan of salvation. Professor Paul Wendland likes to quote this phrase from Luther: “If you don’t understand the subject matter, you won’t be able to make sense of the words.” You can learn all sorts of stuff about Zacchaeus, but if you don’t know God’s plan of salvation from creation to the fall to Christ’s cross to God’s promises of heaven, you still won’t get it. How many of our people grasp the little stories (like Zacchaeus) but miss how they fit into the big story of salvation?

That leads us to the deepest, most hidden level of biblical illiteracy. Biblical illiteracy is failing to realize that every text of Scripture points me to my Savior Jesus. “These are the Scriptures that testify about me,” Jesus asserts (John 5:39). It’s all about Jesus! Every part of God’s Word—from Genesis to Revelation—was written to point you to your Savior Jesus. To miss that truth is the worst kind of darkness. You can be a biblical expert and lecture on the grand metanarrative of the Bible, but if you miss the truth that Jesus came to save you, you’re still biblically illiterate.

So where do we start? How do we preach to people struggling with different levels of biblical illiteracy? I know where I need to start: with me. The biblical illiteracy that’s most concerning is my own. Would you agree? I often feel embarrassed to read Luther. He quotes the Bible left and right. In contrast, how many of us have a Google (or a Logos) knowledge of the Bible? I can remember bits and pieces from Bible verses. So, I Google the phrase, and Google tells me where it’s from. Easy! I don’t have to memorize anything. I don’t really have to know anything. Can you relate? Biblical illiteracy in my ministry starts with me.

So I appreciate the encouragement that WELS pastors receive to keep learning and growing. There are lots of conferences. Lots of presentations. Lots of suggestions. “Read Luther. Read current events. Read philosophy and science and history. Read apologetics.” Those are all great suggestions, but do you know what I don’t hear very often? “Read the Bible.” I wonder if our job description as pastors has become so broad that we inadvertently spend less time in the Word than previous generations of pastors. Do we sometimes “run ahead” of the Word (2 John 9)?

Here’s my confession: I don’t know the Word as well as I think I do. I bet you don’t either. So I’m going to give you the encouragement that I need you to give me: Read the Bible! God’s promise is true: “Blessed is the man…whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). Read the Bible. If you read just one thing today, read the Bible. In fact, don’t worry about reading anything else until you’ve spent time in God’s Word.

Let’s be men of the Word. Biblical literacy starts with us.

In a recent seminary satellite course, “Preaching on the Parables,” Professor Paul Wendland shared two Latin phrases that have stuck in my mind. He encouraged us to preach todo in illis—“everything in these things.” Fill yourself so full of God’s Word that your sermon is todo in illis—“everything in the things of God’s Word.” Then he reminded us that we are the vox Dei—the “voice of God.” What a privilege! We stand before God’s people and share his Word as if God himself were speaking through us. Let’s be men of the Word. Biblical literacy starts with us.

But it doesn’t stop there. We want to raise up people who are people of the Word too. To do that, we need to know people. Where are people at? Which level of biblical illiteracy do they struggle with? Dear pastor, have you planned visits in people’s homes on your calendar yet? There’s no substitute for time with people. Listen to the 13-year-old girl cry hysterically because she’s terrified of death. Watch that hard-working man struggle to find Genesis in the Bible. Preaching to a biblically illiterate society starts with knowing the Word and knowing people.

Here are suggestions for preaching the Word to biblically illiterate people. Assume your hearers will be hearing your text for the first time. Before you dive into your text study, read the text in English, just like people will hear it. Ask yourself this question: What biblical knowledge is assumed in this text? Since we can’t assume that our hearers are familiar with any text, be proactive about anticipating their questions.

Asking that question before you dive into your text study is key. You don’t want to forget what it was like to hear the text for the first time. Don’t start your sermon where you are at on Sunday morning. Your people aren’t there yet! You need to start where you were. In your sermon, take people on a journey. Instead of downloading information, lead them to discover God’s truth, just as you did as you studied your text. Start with the questions that popped into your mind. How did God’s Word answer them? In each sermon, take your people on a journey.

Along the way, tell the context of your text. Don’t just jump into Ezekiel or Mark or Romans. Walk your people into the biblical world of the author. When?… Where?… Why?… It doesn’t have to be long. Often a paragraph or two is enough. Show your hearers your text’s biblical context.

One of the best ways to do so is to not be afraid to preach on biblical narratives. Jesus did! He preached on Moses, Noah, Abraham, Jonah, and many others. If we want our people to know the stories of the Bible, let’s preach on them! When was the last time you preached on creation? How about David and Goliath? Sodom and Gomorrah? If we don’t preach on Bible stories, we shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t know them. Consider using Hebrews 11 as a guide to help you see which heroes of faith to include in your preaching.5

Once you decide which text to preach on, don’t jump away from your text. Before referencing biblical stories or verses from outside your text, ask yourself, “Can biblically illiterate people understand this verse without its wider context?” Don’t say, “Just like Noah in the ark,” unless you plan on telling the story of Noah and his ark. You’ll lose your hearers. Proof texts work great in doctrinal essays, but they can make it hard for our hearers to follow. This isn’t “dumbing down” the sermon. Our hearers aren’t stupid. They just haven’t had the opportunity to study the Scriptures like we have. Instead of jumping around the Bible, let’s help our hearers appreciate the rich ways our sermon text plumbs the depth of sin and the fullness of God’s grace.

Our hearers aren’t stupid. They just haven’t had the opportunity to study the Scriptures like we have.

As you do, tell the big story over and over again. Every little story of God’s Word is an intricate part of the big story of God’s plan of salvation. Zacchaeus wasn’t just a wee little man. He’s Exhibit A of how Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Biblical illiteracy clouds the unity of Scripture. This is where a thorough text study comes in. How does this specific text in its specific context connect to God’s plan of salvation? That’s what the Scriptures are meant to do, right? They “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

That means that we want to get to Jesus in every sermon, like Jesus did on the way to Emmaus. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Since the Scriptures from beginning to end testify about Jesus, every text contains its own unique path to Jesus. Charles Spurgeon is known for saying, “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.” Instead of thrusting the same gospel paragraphs into every sermon, mine your text to discover that text’s own connection to Christ.

That’s especially relevant, because our biblically illiterate culture desperately needs to hear law and gospel in every sermon. At the heart of biblical illiteracy is failing to see Jesus as my Savior from sin. Not every text reveals God’s plan of salvation with the same clarity. That’s true. Some texts emphasize Christian living more than justification. That’s true. Yet, in hundreds of texts and in hundreds of ways, Scripture was written to say to us, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Our people won’t hear that anywhere else.

Our biblically illiterate culture desperately needs to hear law and gospel.

Your sermon matters. From the choir in the balcony to the guest in back, there is a great need for biblical preaching. So here’s a final encouragement: Give yourself time to preach. At times, I stand up to preach already 30 minutes into the service, and we still have the offering to collect, prayers to be said, the Lord’s Supper to celebrate. There are many good things that can be included in worship. Make sure there’s time for the preaching of the Word. Our people are not overfed with God’s Word. In a biblically illiterate world, your sermon matters. Sermonettes can make Christianettes. We need to give our preachers time to preach the Word.

Just remember your goal. I once talked with my dad about how little my confirmation students knew about the Bible. I’ve never forgotten how my dad responded about his time teaching confirmation class in the 1980s. He said, “My goal for my confirmation students by the end of the year was to have them believe in Jesus as their Savior.” That’s our goal as Christian preachers, isn’t it? Our ultimate goal is not people who know lots about the Bible. Our goal is people who believe in Jesus as their Savior through the power of God’s Word.

But think of the names the Bible gives to our Savior: Son of David (Matthew 21:9), Lamb of God (John 1:29), the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), and the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10). What’s striking about those names? They intimately connect Jesus with the people and places of the Bible. Biblical knowledge draws me closer to Jesus. The more I know God’s Word, the more I appreciate God’s plan of salvation for me. So to the choir… To the guests… Preach the Word! Don’t give up. Don’t give in. “Know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Written by Nathan Nass


1 For more, read this article from the Washington Post: “You Should Read the Bible” (March 30, 2018) at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/even-atheists-should-read-the-bible/2018/03/30/98a1133c-3444-11e8-94fa-32d48460b955_story.html.
2 To read NPR’s own description of the mistake, check out “NPR Catches Hell Over Easter Mistake” (April 2, 2018) at https://www.npr.org/sections/publiceditor/2018/04/02/598029102/npr-catches-hell-over-easter-mistake.
3 These statistics were compiled by Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. See “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem” (January 20, 2016) at https://albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4.
4 Mohler Jr., R. Albert. He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008.
5 As I wrote this article, I preached on Jacob wrestling with God (https://upsidedownsavior.home.blog/2019/10/20/wrestling-with-god/) and the end of Hebrews 11 (https://upsidedownsavior.home.blog/2019/11/03/the-world-was-not-worthy-of-them/). Here’s also a link to a sermon series that I’ve used on the Heroes of Faith: https://www.dropbox.com/s/2eid4j28jeam0c3/2016%20Series%20Schedule%20-%20OT%20Heroes%20of%20Faith.pdf?dl=0.
Easy click links are at the online version of this article: https://worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/preach-the-word/.

 

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Christmas outreach in the Philippines

In a predominantly Roman Catholic country like the Philippines, is there a “better time” for a community gospel outreach? By “better time,” I mean that time of the year when people are generally more receptive to gospel conversations and church invitations. While Filipinos are generally receptive to gospel conversations, we find that a “better time” to do community gospel outreach is the Christmas season. How did we make use of this opportunity?

Christmas Day worship at Law and Gospel Lutheran Church

One of the Filipino Roman Catholic traditions associated with the Christmas season is holding a nine-day “Simbang Gabi” (evening mass) which begins on December 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. These evening masses (some conduct them on early dawn) are one of the few times when some nominal Roman Catholics would be in attendance. Since most of our current prospects are Roman Catholics (at least by association) we found it a golden opportunity to make use of this tradition to share with them the true meaning and purpose of Christ’s birth. For the very first time since our mission congregation’s inception, we held our own nine-day Simbang Gabi or “evening services.” A few evangelical churches in the country have also been holding their own Simbang Gabi, but only for selected nights–we did it for nine straight nights!

Edmar’s baptism

One of the incorrect thoughts Filipino Roman Catholics attribute to Simbang Gabi is that some form of “novena” needs to be completed so that their personal petitions would be granted. That is to say, their attendance in these nine-day evening masses are works that they must do in order to get something from God. What a contradiction of the Bible’s message that we cannot offer anything to God in exchange of anything! Millions of souls in our country are living with the yoke of the law still on their shoulders. These people need to know the real meaning and purpose of the tradition they have been religiously observing. They need to understand what St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

I would say the highlight of our observance of the Christmas season was bringing four young souls to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at our Christmas Day worship. These four young souls are children of our active prospects in what is known here as Villareal area, an area which is not very close to our base in de Jesus Compound. Nine evening services plus one morning service (Christmas Day) equals ten straight days of preaching! It was physically exhausting, but spiritually refreshing. I wouldn’t mind doing it again next Christmas season. After all, the baby who was born on the first Christmas Day came in order “to seek and to save that which was lost”.

Written by Alvien de Guzman, Pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in the Philippines

To learn more about mission work in the Philippines, visit wels.net/philippines.

 

 

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Spanish Pastors Conference meets in Puerto Rico

The 8th gathering of the Spanish Pastors Conference met in Guayama, Puerto Rico, for four days in January. Fifteen men (plus two wives) gathered for study, worship and fellowship. We tackled Christian Stewardship, focusing on the Biblical truths and the cultural realities that exist. Discussion was lively–and everyone commented that is was a good study. Beside the study, we heard a report of the work of the Latin America missions team and Academia Cristo along with a report from the Board for Home Mission’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant.

God’s power was displayed by the many earthquakes that occurred while we were on the island – several were 5.7 and higher! God’s grace was equally displayed as no damage occurred where we were staying. All the members of the local congregation reported nothing more than frayed nerves. Many of us awoke on Tuesday morning to the second of four large tremors. All of us experienced the last large quake on Wednesday as we traveled to the second largest city on the island, Ponce, to view local culture and take in local cuisine.

Even though the power was out for almost 24 hours (all of Tuesday), we still enjoyed the opening worship, singing everything loudly in A Capella fashion. Cell phones batteries were drained to the last remaining bar of power as news was relayed to family members that everyone was not only okay but also enjoying the quiet night, staring at the stars near the equator with no light pollution!

As the conference drew to a close, someone asked how many of the attendees had worked in Puerto Rico. Five of the 15 men raised their hands! We give thanks to God that this mission has been a vital part not only of sharing God’s Word on the island, but also of preparing men who are sharing the same message in the United States. A big thanks to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico who hosted the conference!

The conference meets every other year (on the even years), and it has been determined that our 2022 conference will be held in Tucson, Ariz. We ask our gracious God to continue to bless the efforts of these men and the many others who are sharing the gospel with the lost in Spanish and English.

Written by Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for the WELS Board for Home Missions

 

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Reaching souls for Jesus in West Texas

In the vast region of the high plains of West Texas lies great promise for the gospel to reach many new souls. Amarillo, Texas, is a growing city of over 200,000 people. Two hours to the south is Lubbock, Texas, an even faster growing city with a bustling 300,000 people. Lubbock is home to the only full-time WELS congregation, Shepherd of the Plains, within a five hour radius. Our ministry area in West Texas is as vast as the beautiful sunsets rest on the horizon.

Due to the far reaches of Shepherd of the Plains, many people from long distances have contacted me to find out if Shepherd of the Plains is the closest WELS church to them. When looking at the membership list, nearly 20% of our members live two hours away in several different directions. It was over five years ago when Shepherd of the Plains had it’s first contacts in Amarillo. Since then, strong relationships have formed and we have now grown to five families. This all without a resident pastor in Amarillo.

Currently our group in Amarillo has a worship service once a month. Because of the distance, we worship at 2:30 to allow my family and I to make the two hour trip after the morning service and Bible study finish in Lubbock. At each of our worship services in Amarillo, we set up worship in a large shop; where we house a makeshift altar, set up twenty chairs, have a digital piano, and have full projection for worship. It was just a year ago when we worshiped in a living room with couches and some folding chairs, until one of the families purchased a new home with the large shop area in mind to be able to use as our worship space.

Since Shepherd of the Plains also has a full-service livestream of every worship service (and now Bible study), the Amarillo group has begun to schedule once a month gatherings to livestream together. Each time the group gets together they have fellowship and bring food for a meal to follow their worship.

The Amarillo team has charged themselves with the goal of reaching many more with the gospel of Jesus, but they also recognize the importance of a full-time pastor to help in that effort. Because of this, they are in the process of researching and filling out a detailed request to call their first home missionary. The process to obtain home mission status is not a process the group takes lightly. They recognize that with regular prayer and guidance from the Lord, he will bless their work.

This is where the prayers of the brothers and sisters in faith through our synod comes into play. Please pray for the mission work in Amarillo and all of West Texas. If you know of anyone who lives in West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, or even two hours an any direction from there, please contact me at 806-794-4203 or through e-mail at jecares1@gmail.com.

Through prayer and your help in spreading the word about the gospel work in West Texas, we will walk together as a synod and reach many more souls for Jesus.

Written by Rev. Jeremy Cares, pastor at Shepherd of the Plains in Lubbock, Tex.

 

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Spiritual unity in South Asia

The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, guides and assists spiritual leaders around the globe through their pre-seminary and seminary training. The PSI connects with these spiritual leaders through WELS world mission work and through outreach to immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. They are able to evaluate and serve these international groups and synods that want support, training, and a connection to a church body that shares the gospel message in its truth and purity.

E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, traveled to a country in South Asia in December to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter. Read more about his experience: 


For two and a half weeks, I had skated over icy sidewalks in Novosibirsk, Russia. I was looking forward to my next teaching assignment in a country in South Asia. Average temperature? 85 degrees! As we drove from the airport to the seminary facilities, I was second-guessing my choice of wool socks for this day of travel between Siberia and South Asia.

Seminary in South Asia

Later that first day, I got to sit in on a staff meeting with the WELS friendly counselor and the three spiritual leaders that serve with our friendly counselor to administer the seminary training program. The meeting began with a wonderful reflection on a passage from Scripture that featured deep insights and highlights from the Greek text. This was not a hasty “let’s-open-with-a-religious-thought” devotion! Everyone sitting around that table was clearly enjoying time in God’s Word, mutual encouragement, and a partnership in the gospel. The meeting that followed displayed an excellent partnership between local leaders and our friendly counselor. These men impressed me!

It will be challenging to describe the South Asian leaders who work with our friendly counselor in this place; security realities won’t allow familiarity. But here are three men who obviously hail from the same continent. After that, commonalities are more difficult to see. These guys have strong and independent personalities. Their differences were clearly evident to me when they took their turn translating my lessons for the 25 students before us.

One of these guys didn’t just translate. He ran the class. I mean he allowed only one speaker at a time. Side conversations was strictly forbidden. And the amount of time he took to convey my sentences in his language was about the same length of time it took me to say my sentences in English.

WELS Friendly Counselor (left) with the three South Asian leaders and E. Allen Sorum (right)

The second chap relished in the kind of class mayhem that I rather prefer myself. When I placed a question before the men, it seemed their natural style was to all answer at exactly the same time at an above average volume. Somehow, this translator was able to synthesize a group answer and share it with me in a way that was both entertaining and helpful. This leader/translator used my English sentence as a launching point for additional points that he wanted to add to my original point. At least that’s what I think was going on when my one sentence in English became his one paragraph in Telegu. He was greatly enhancing the learning that was going on in that room, I am sure.

The third man took my wimpy, timid English sentences and turned them into powerful oratory. He wasn’t content to merely instruct. He wanted to encourage, rally, and motivate his co-workers. All of my translators were themselves pastors. They know the challenges these men face back home in their young congregations. Most of the students were already pastors. They were, in general, just getting started at ministry, trying to establish a Christian movement in a hostile environment.

These three spiritual leaders who were also pastors, partners with our friendly counselor, seminary administrators, and translators share another attribute: they care deeply for their students. Spiritual unity is a hard thing to establish and maintain in any place. But when there is a bond of peace and love in Christ, and a good dose of humility, unity has a chance. We talked a lot about this unity: unity of faith, unity of love, and unity of purpose.

The friendly counselor who is blessed with the task of overseeing this ministry asked me to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter; fitting texts for these men and their ministry settings. When we got to the spiritual warfare portion of Ephesians 6, I asked the men to raise their hand if they dealt with demon possession. Almost every man raised their hand. We enjoyed, therefore, a spirited discussion on a Lutheran approach to exorcisms; Lutheran as opposed to Pentecostal. The students agreed that the Pentecostal approach common among them seemed more interested in ascribing glory to the exorcist than to serving the (possibly) possessed individual.

The Lutheran approach acknowledges the obvious. It is Jesus who has power and authority over the universe including the spirit world. So we ask Jesus to remove demons, we see ourselves as his agent carrying out his mission to rescue people, and we give him all the glory.

I was impressed by these men who must carry out their mission in these circumstances. I was impressed by their thirst for truth and their gratitude for partnership with their fellow Christians of WELS. They articulated their appreciation for WELS Christians many times. I assured them that their WELS brothers and sisters appreciated our partnership with them. I articulated that many times. May God strengthen our unity through the bond of peace and love in Christ. May we be a blessing to each other.

Written by Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

To learn more about the Pastoral Studies Institute, visit wels.net/psi.

 

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Christmas Presence

Many people in our world think of Christmas as a time for presents. In fact, not only has “Black Friday” become an accepted holiday in the vocabulary of most Americans, but this year it also graduated from a singular to a plural. It seemed like every Friday from October until December became “Black Friday” so we could buy even more presents at a discount.

Here in Native America in our missions to the Apache people in Arizona, we used Christmas as an opportunity to focus on presence instead of presents. After all, Immanuel arrived–God himself came into our world to live like one of us! And we had no shortage of excited volunteers eager to announce his presence to our communities!

Children from East Fork Lutheran School share the story of our Savior’s birth

In the month of December, more than 325 children in Apacheland put on their fanciest Christmas dresses and best clip-on ties and were proud to announce loudly and clearly that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The students at East Fork Lutheran School were able to tell the Christmas story to several hundred people in the school gymnasium under the theme, “Did you Know?”  Meanwhile, the students of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School rented a community hall to fit everyone in to hear their program focused on sharing the story of Christmas, using the theme of “Savior of the Nations.”

It was a memorable night on both the Fort Apache and San Carlos reservations, as each school was able to use its ever-growing presence in the community to share the glorious presence of Jesus. These Christmas programs are well attended by our local communities, including many who would not normally walk into one of our churches. And our students were ready! All of the students had been practicing for more than a month under the direction of dedicated teachers, and it showed. They certainly made their parents and teachers proud as they spoke clearly and sang loudly about this miraculous and glorious event.

With approximately half of the population on both of these Apache reservations under the age of 18, our schools continue to have real opportunities to share Jesus. Our pastors and teachers have the chance each day to continue training hundreds of eager evangelists who share Jesus with the youthful exuberance and blunt simplicity of childhood. Pray that they will continue witnessing as they grow up and that they will become leaders in service to their newborn King!

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

Learn more about world mission work on the Apache reservations in Arizona at wels.net/apache.

 

 

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A lot to love and a lot to work on

As we walked out of the shopping mall, Missionary Abe Degner looked at me and said, “There’s a lot to love. . . There’s a lot to work on.”

That pretty much summed up not just the visit we had just made with a potential church planting partner in that mall, but visit after visit we made in Missionary Degner’s first couple weeks on the ground as a missionary in South America.

Missionary Degner with Pablo, an Academia Cristo contact in Paraguay

There was a lot to love. Visit after visit turned up people who had come to us through our Academia Cristo online classes in Paraguay and northern Argentina and had already gathered groups around the Word that they heard in their classes. Humberto’s group in Capiibury had already investigated a church building. Pablo’s group just east of Asuncion had taken a stand for the truth and separated from a group that taught falsely. Carlos in Machagai, Argentina, had a group that had studied the “Key’s and Confession” from the Catechism, and he had a number of other former pastors who had come out of other churches who were searching with him for the truth. In addition to these students who found us online, we visited a group of new Christians in rural Paraguay who were meeting in a mission house built by a WELS congregation in Sarasota, Florida. There was a lot to love.

There was a lot to work on. There were economic struggles threatening to distract from gospel work. There were some major gaps in biblical understanding. Missionary Degner and I constantly discussed how to tip-toe through the minefield that is planting and building churches that are dependent neither on the missionary nor a constant flow of foreign funds.

There is a lot to love. . . There is a lot to work on.

Missionary Degner (left) and Missionary Johnston (right) studying with Carlos, an Academia Cristo contact in Argentina

I think this likely describes not just our work in Paraguay and Argentina, but throughout Latin America. As 2019 comes to a close there is a lot to love, so much to thank God for. Our more than a million Academia Cristo Facebook followers have translated into thousands of opportunities to make disciples who make disciples of others. We have had students in live, online classes from every country in Latin America. In addition to groups we were already working with, this year we saw new, on-the-ground gospel opportunities in Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. By the end of the year and by God’s grace, we will have three teams of two Latin American missionaries established in strategic locations—north (Miami, Florida), center (Quito, Ecuador) and south (Asuncion, Paraguay)—so that we can take advantage of all the opportunities which are being placed before us throughout the region.

There is a lot to love. . . There is a lot to work on.

Although we see things trending in the right direction, not just in the amount of new contacts but also in the growth of groups we have been working with for decades, will we realize our plans to see gospel-focused, biblically-sound churches planting churches throughout Latin America? Will those who have that incomplete understanding of biblical doctrine cast aside false teaching and embrace the truth? Will our new app allow us, as we hope, to better respond to the thousands who are coming to us for biblical instruction? Will our team in Paraguay be able to figure out life in a place where no WELS missionary has gone before?

Our Latin American mission team moves forward, ready to work to answer these questions in 2020 comforted by the fact that we are loved (a lot) by our gracious Lord. Please thank God for all he has given us to love. Please ask that the Lord of the harvest blesses that which we have to work on.

Written by Rev. Andrew Johnston, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

Learn more about mission work in Latin America at wels.net/latin-america.

 

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Plot Twist

One of the things I love most about being a pastor is hearing the stories people tell. Each person that sits in the pew has a unique one, a fascinating account of the working of God’s grace.

Christina certainly had an interesting story. I met her only one week after I was installed as the pastor at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming. She had a connection to our church previously, when her infant son Leo was baptized. But she hadn’t been to church in a while, mostly because it was difficult for her to come with her infant son, whom she was raising while her husband was deployed in Kuwait.

After sitting down with Christina, she told me her story. She was born and raised in Minnesota, but moved to Wyoming when she was 16 years old. She graduated from high school in Meeteetse, Wyoming, a town with a total population of about 300 people. She attended the University of Wyoming and graduated with a degree in Education. She began teaching at a special school for at-risk children in Laramie. And along the way, she got married and celebrated the birth of her first child.

But the bigger story is the difference God’s grace has made in her life. It may seem like a strange plot twist that Christina and her family ended up in Laramie, but this is how God again brought her into contact with the good news of her Savior Jesus. It may seem like a difficult plot twist that Christina and her husband are raising their child together even though they are miles apart, but God is using it to strengthen their relationship, and to drive them even deeper into his promises.

And then, in what may seem like another amazing plot twist, God brings his gracious blessings through Christina to others gathered here at Living Shepherd. He gives a new, inexperienced pastor the blessing of a prospect eager to learn more about God’s Word and grow in faith. He gives a congregation the opportunity to put God’s love into practice by helping and supporting a military family. And he gives all of us fresh reminders of the power of his Word working in the hearts of his people.

Christina was officially welcomed as a member of Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming two weeks ago. Before she joined, I asked her to answer a few questions which we could use to share with the congregation so that we could get to know her better. One of the questions I asked was, “What title would you give to your autobiography?” She answered, “Plot Twist.”

It’s a fitting title to Christina’s story. She’s eager to see what else God has in store for her family, and she’s excited to see how God’s grace will sustain her through all the plot twists that may be ahead.

Written by Rev. Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming

 

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Alive and active

His body language was speaking loud and clear. Arms crossed. Slouched down. A toothpick pursed between his lips as he stared at the floor. Avoiding any sort of conversation with others. Refusing a bulletin to follow along. He didn’t want to be there, but somehow his girlfriend had convinced him to join her in church that morning. Perhaps she was buying lunch on the way home. Maybe if he went once she’d leave it alone for a while. Whatever it was, it sure didn’t seem like we’d see him again.

And then he came back the next week, this time looking up a couple of times during the sermon. The following week, he followed along in the bulletin. The week after that, he left the toothpick in the car. A few months later, he was asking about some classes where he could learn more about the Bible and ask some questions that have been on his mind.

Fast forward to mid-November 2019. His brother is on life support, making it hard to finish up his classes for church membership. He asks his other two brothers if it would be okay for him to invite the pastor to stop in at the hospital for a visit and prayer. It takes a week of convincing, but they finally give in. Their body language was speaking loud and clear. They didn’t really see the need or want this big, goofy, Spanish speaking, white guy in their brother’s hospital room. It seemed like they were paying more attention to their phones than to this stranger in the room. The conversation was short and God’s Word was shared.

On the way home I got a message: “Thanks. They’d like you to come again soon.”

For the word of God is alive and active.

Hebrews 4:12

Written by Rev. Paul Biedenbender, home missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo. 

 

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From decision to grace

My name is Agus Prasetyo. I am a dosen (lecturer or professor) at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) which is the seminary of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI).

Before learning true doctrine, I very strongly held the position of “decision theology” and saw the sacraments as symbols rather than as means of grace.

I falsely thought that I:

  • decided to believe in the Lord Jesus when I was 12 years old;
  • decided to accept baptism at the age of 13 years old;
  • decided to study at a heterodox seminary where I received a Bachelors and Masters degree of Theology;
  • decided to serve in a place where I wanted to live and work;
  • decided to reach out to people with the gospel in order to make them decide to believe in Jesus;
  • decided to teach people to make decisions to believe in Jesus and also make the decision to accept baptism.

I was (falsely) taught that baptism:

  • is a symbol or confession of faith and that anyone who has been baptized is considered to have been legally accepted as a Christian;
  • requires the ability to make faith decisions in Christ before it is administered, so baptism is for adults only;
  • is a proof of the growth of the church quantitatively;
  • is a way to make people legal members of Christianity so that they can support the work of the church. That is why I used to only baptize teenagers and adults who were able to make a decision.

NOW I AM VERY GRATEFUL, because I know that those statements are false theology.

First, I am grateful because God gave me the opportunity to learn the right doctrine through Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI is a sister synod of WELS and a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). After I finished my Master’s program, I had the opportunity to study Christian doctrine with Professor Gregory Bey who has served as an STTL dosen and WELS Friendly Counselor in Indonesia. Together, we began our studies of basic Christian doctrine using “New Life In Christ” and “Luther’s Catechism” – both of which are produced by Northwestern Publishing House and translated into Bahasa Indonesia with funding from WELS Multi-Language Publications. I needed about two years to complete our initial studies because my mind was still influenced by the theology that I had previously learned. After continuing to study doctrine at a deeper level by auditing classes in exegesis and Christian dogmatics at STTL, and with much prayer, I finally understood the true biblical doctrine, even though it could not always satisfy my human reason and logic—something I had relied on heavily in the past rather than faith alone.

Secondly, I am grateful because I received a great blessing, namely, an understanding of baptism in the true sense: A means of grace, given by God, for all people, without the need of man’s ability to make a decision for faith. “A sacred act in which Christ offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins and thus also life and salvation.” (Luther’s Catechism) My children were also baptized as soon as I became a Lutheran. I am grateful to have received that great blessing.

Thirdly, I am grateful to have been ordained as a pastor by GLI and called to serve as a dosen at STTL. I know there are many mistakes in the Indonesian Bible translation. Accordingly, I feel that it is very important to teach the original biblical languages to our seminary students. Therefore, I continue to study and teach Greek and Hebrew to our students at STTL so that they can become workers in GLI “who rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and teach the Bible correctly.

I am grateful for my calling which permits me to help guide the seminary students of GLI and prepare them to be workers who have the right doctrine from the Bible. My former training and experiences outside of confessional Lutheranism have given me some unique insights which allow me to anticipate things which our young pastors will face that are not in accordance with the orthodox teachings of the Bible. My personal walk of faith has helped me to discern errors. This has been an aid in helping to formulate a curriculum for STTL that can meet the needs of GLI both now and, God-willing, for many more years to come.

As we move into the future, please keep us in your prayers!

From someone who was lost but now is found,

Professor Agus Prasetyo, dosen at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) in Indonesia

 

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African music by African composers for African worship

One of the exciting highlights of this year’s WELS synod convention was the welcoming of the LC-MC Kenya into full fellowship. The relatively new Kenya synod is currently producing its own hymnal and worship music accompaniment recordings for use in Sunday services. One of the goals of the hymnal committee is “to encourage the creation of African music by African composers for African worship.” The hymnal project has set a target of having 90% of the worship songs composed by Africans.

At the request of LC-MC Kenya leader Pastor Mark Onunda, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) of WELS World Missions hosted a music workshop in Nairobi from November 4- 15 to assist in moving the hymnal project forward. Fifteen individuals from throughout Kenya participated in the workshop.

The music workshop took on a formidable number of tasks. Consider the following factors regarding the current worship music situation in the Kenyan church:

  1. Many of the churches do not have musicians or instruments for Sunday services.
  2. A Kenyan Lutheran hymnal does not exist. A few of the congregations make use of songs from a Lutheran hymnal from Tanzania, produced several decades ago.
  3. There is no organized system for recording, sharing, and storing worship songs and liturgies among Kenyan congregations.
  4. There are many church year events and many biblical doctrines for which the LC-MC has no worship music resources.
  5. The LC-MC does not have a musical setting for a common service or communion service based on the historic Lutheran liturgy that they find attractive for use in Sunday services.
  6. There are virtually no worship music resources in a contemporary Kenyan music style for use in evangelism campaigns among the unchurched youth.
  7. There is a desire among the LC-MC members to have a particular contemporary music style that would be identified as “Lutheran church music.” In Kenya, most church denominations have specifically identifiable music styles.
  8. There is a desire to make greater use of technology in recording, distributing, and implementing professional recordings of accompaniment music for Sunday worship. Some congregations are already using accompaniment files during worship.

At the same time, the LC-MC Kenya has the following extraordinary musical assets at their disposal as they address their worship music needs:

  1. There is an astounding availability of composers for the LC-MC. I counted at least seven composers at the workshop. The compositions of the seven were so well received that every composer will have one or more songs included in the first group of recorded accompaniment files.
  2. Among the workshop participants, two had completed three-year music degree programs at a prestigious church music school in Tanzania. Two of the young women had completed vocal studies at a premier music conservatory in Nairobi. Having such trained musicians available is a huge asset in producing quality accompaniment tracks for use in Sunday worship at churches that do not have musicians.
  3. Steve Onunda (son of Pastor Mark) is a brilliant professional musician (guitar, bass) with arranging and studio recording experience. His professionalism has created confidence and excitement in the entire group that quality recordings will be produced.
  4. Steve has contacts with many professional musicians (vocalists and instrumentalists) in Nairobi, several of whom are assisting us with these recordings. Four of the workshop participants are pursuing careers as professional musicians.
  5. We are able to make professional recordings in Nairobi at very reasonable rates at a studio staffed by Christians who specialize in contemporary African worship music.

Among our workshop participants there is an extraordinary level of energy, excitement, and commitment to this worship music project. There is a deep awareness that the Lord is blessing the LC-MC with an historic opportunity to create African music for African worship. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless our efforts to create worship music to his glory and for the furthering of his Kingdom throughout Africa!

Written by Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for WELS Multi-Language Publications

 

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ThanksGIVING

Our nation recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As most people enjoyed time with family, cooked the turkey, and ate too much pie, they were reminded of the many reasons they have to be thankful. In the strong middle class community of Falcon, Colo., it isn’t difficult to see most people through that lens: multiple new(er) cars in the driveway, name-brand clothes, nice houses.

As our mission church prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2018, we wanted to find a way to give to those who weren’t as financially fortunate or materially blessed. We could have donated to a food bank in nearby Colorado Springs or volunteered at a food kitchen for the homeless, but we wanted to impact people in our community – people that lived down the street. We wanted to provide everything for them to make and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner – a turkey, potatoes, vegetables, rolls, pies. But how would we find them?

For the last three years we have held worship services at an elementary school in our community. Over that time, we have developed a strong relationship with the school staff and leadership. So, we asked the principal if she had a way to identify families in need. She connected us with the school counselor, who connected us with other school counselors in the community. Due to privacy concerns, the counselors had to contact the families and ask if they would take us up on our offer and if their contact information could be shared with us so we could arrange to drop-off the food. In a matter of days we had five families lined up!

Our members and prospects rallied around the project by donating the food and wrapping it all up in boxes to be dropped off. They wanted to give so that others would have an extra reason to be thankful.

As we dropped off the boxes of Thanksgiving dinner supplies,

  • one of the school counselors asked if we could stop by her office before we delivered the food because the boy needed shoes and the staff had pitched in and bought him a pair.
  • one family invited us in and the mom shared how much they were struggling, even as they lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. The dad had left and refused to pay child support. The teenage kids were working jobs to help support the family. She broke down crying as we put all of the food on her counter. I asked if we could pray for her and she said, “Yes, please!” And right there in her kitchen I prayed for them.

As November loomed on the horizon this year, several members of our church family asked if we were going to line up families to bless with Thanksgiving dinner again. It helped them appreciate what they had by giving to others. Working through the local schools, we were able to donate to eight families that were struggling this year. And, not only did our members step up to donate the food, several of them were excited to knock on the door of one of these families and give them a box of food. Just because they wanted to give out of thanks.

Written by Rev. Steven Prahl, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Peyton (Falcon), Colo. 

 

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Pursuing a Kingdom culture

As my friend Bo and I watched our kids play together on the playground, Bo turned to me and said, “I’m not afraid to lose my culture.”

Bo is an important member of a successful business, owns his home, is blessed with a wonderful wife and 2 kids, is well-liked by his neighbors, and finds many joys in the life he has been given. Bo and his family have invited us to celebrate their cultural holidays and festivals with them. Bo has been a quality language partner who genuinely wants me to learn his native language. His hope is that we can continue to be neighbors for a long time.

What would cause a man like Bo to be at peace with losing his culture? Especially considering this man has many visible blessings and opportunities from growing up in his culture. He has not been turned away or forgotten by his own people. Instead he is respected and enjoyed by many.

Bo spent a few seconds smiling at the surprised look on my face before explaining the joy he has in his heart from his family pursuing a new culture: a Christ-centered culture.

My friend has no plans to stop speaking his native language or befriending his fellow countrymen. He will continue to celebrate local holidays and enjoy the unique foods that accompany the festivities. But Bo simply has bigger things on his mind and in his heart. He is pursuing a Kingdom culture. His family reads the Bible together, prays together, worships together, and enjoys living life with their Christian friends.

Many of our contacts in East Asia initially pause when presented with the teachings of Christianity, because to them Christianity is a cultural way of life in the West. Bo would say you could count him as one of those skeptics in the past. In the present, Bo is quick to speak on how Christianity isn’t pursuing a Western culture at the expense of losing an Eastern culture, but instead it’s a new culture altogether. In a Kingdom culture, God reigns supreme in the hearts of God’s people, the followers of the Way speak truth from Scripture and build each other up in love, and we all walk together with our Good Shepherd on the narrow path to eternal life.

Bo’s way of thinking has moved away from being set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and is now pursuing his citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Only the Good News of our Savior Jesus can change a human’s heart to pursue God and want to follow His Word. My prayer is that we keep our eyes fixed on our Savior as he desires to lead us to our true home and citizenship in heaven.

How might that affect our own cultural practices? Does our way of thinking in our earthly culture ever cause us to lose focus on the life God calls us to lead?

Ask God in prayer to help you know the way in which you should go. Listen to him as he speaks to you through your Bible reading. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters in the faith who are willing to walk with you home to heaven. Invite others to join you and enjoy the warmth of a Christian community.

Jesus calls us to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). May God bless you with his peace and joy as you pursue a Kingdom culture.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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General Information Security Guidelines for WELS Organizations

A frequent request I receive from WELS congregations, schools and other organizations is for guidance on digital security and privacy. While this is a complex topic and varies by organization and even location, I have put together a document (available below) that attempts to give, at least at a high level, best practices and guidance for things like encryption, data storage, and privacy policies. If you are a WELS organization please feel free to reach out directly if you’d like more detailed information or have specific questions.

General Information Security Guidelines

This document provides guidance to WELS congregations, schools and other organizations for establishing best practices in handling user data and securing online resources. It is important to handle member information (personal and financial), as well as website visitor data, with care. Foreign, and now domestic legislation (depending on what state you operate in) may dictate what you can and can’t do, as well as the policies and procedures you need in place. Many of the new laws have to do with Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

Disclaimer: These guidelines are recommendations but may not consider all local, state, federal or international law. They are meant to call attention to certain important compliance and safety areas but should not be taken as official legal advice. We will attempt to keep this document up to date with general best practices and conventional guidance.

View Full Document: https://wels365.sharepoint.com/:b:/s/tech/EXtznwEzkG1Nk1qkAxpVoCYBqI94Is0Hhki3gVj4RDn-uA?e=5N6r4m

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Faces of Faith – Matthew Cephus

“We have not received the true gospel. Will you oversee us?” begged the caller from Liberia, Africa to Matthew Cephus in Champlin, Minn.

Matthew Cephus sharing the gospel in Liberia

“I couldn’t say ‘No.’” reports Pastor Cephus, who at the time was newly enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. He saw this as an opportunity from God to share the teachings he was receiving in the United States with the leaders of 27 congregations in Liberia. “They are faithful to what they know,” says Pastor Cephus, “but, they have received little to no training.” Since that time, Pastor Cephus, Pastor Dennis Klatt (Matthew’s Anglo partner), the Pastoral Studies Institute, and One Africa Team missionaries have made three teaching visits to build up and encourage this group of pastors who are eager to grow in the knowledge of God’s word and become better equipped to shepherd the souls under their care. Pastor Cephus, himself a Liberian immigrant, shepherds a flock consisting primarily of African immigrant families that gathers at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, in New Hope, Minn.

Training visits to Liberia to have been taking place since 2016 involving our missionaries, stateside pastors, and the Pastoral Studies Institute to two groups in Liberia. In 2019, one trip has already been made and one more will be made in November 2019. Three more trips are being planned for 2020. To learn more about African outreach in Liberia and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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Out of the blue

If you can believe the internet, the modern idiom “out of the blue” refers to a flash of lightning that jumps out of a clear, blue sky. It’s something completely and totally unexpected. Sometimes mission work is just that—out of the blue. Maybe this congregation and its pastor were a little frustrated. Perhaps it seemed no one was interested in members’ personal invitations to worship. Who knows? Ministry moved slowly. Energy lagged and motivation struggled. Mission pastors and mission congregations face these things too.

Then, out of the blue, a bolt of blessing that energized the mission once again. I checked the messages on the church phone. I had missed a call from Alyssa. She wanted to talk baptism. I called back as soon as I could. Alyssa desired her 3-month-old son, Stetson, to be baptized, and she hoped Beautiful Savior would be the place, and the time would be soon. We set up a meeting. We discussed the wonderful truth that baptism is all about what God does for us in the gracious waters of life, as he forgives our sins and gives us a new birth into the living hope. We discussed the importance of continued contact with God’s Word in worship, and I expressed my hope they would consider our congregation as their new church home. Alyssa’s husband shared that he had never been involved in a church and had never been baptized. Another opportunity!

Stetson’s baptism was scheduled for the next worship service. It happened so fast that it came at the congregation out of the blue too! Nearly twenty-five guests in worship with us that Sunday! A front row seat at the miracle of faith as God allowed us to witness Stetson’s entrance into the kingdom of God! His soul, in desperate need of forgiveness (as are all of us) plucked, not out of the blue, but out of the pitch, black darkness of sin and ushered into the wonderful light of God’s grace! The opportunity to meet, greet, welcome, and celebrate with the family! A time scheduled to follow up with Alyssa and Dustin and encourage them further in their contact with God’s powerful Word! How incredible!

To be honest, I don’t know that there was anything that we had done “right” as a mission to create this opportunity. Maybe it was important that we had a solid website that shared solid information. Maybe not. Maybe the pastor’s personality, kindness, and careful instruction helped them feel comfortable at Beautiful Savior. Maybe not. But we are here. In La Porte. The right place at the right time for Alyssa, Dustin, and Stetson. We are serving. We are proclaiming God’s grace. God chose to bless us abundantly. . . a little out of the blue.

To be honest, I had been sitting, waiting, and wondering on what I would write this article. Then out the blue, mission work was placed in my lap, and a beautiful blessing to celebrate was given our congregation. Maybe in God’s planning and timing it wasn’t so out of the blue anyway. Thankfully, the energy it has infused into this missionary and his congregation is something like a lightning bolt.

Written by Rev. Kevin Boushek, home missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

 

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There is not just one way

There is not just one way. . .

. . . that people come into contact with the gospel. There are lots of different ways, and we are seeing many of them in play at your home mission congregation in Macomb, Michigan. The picture above proves that. From left to right, we begin with Bill and Amanda. Bill was an inactive WELS guys engaged to Amanda, who had no church home. They came to us because they wanted to get married, but also because they wanted God in their marriage. They took our pre-marriage course, then took our adult instruction course, and are now every-week worshipers and regular volunteers. Next to them is Bill’s mom, Andrea. She came because she now has family ties to the mission. Next to Andrea is Kay. Kay is a solid, life-long WELS lady who transferred in because she and her husband moved closer to Ascension. Her husband, Paul, has now completed our adult instruction class and, together with Kay, is a valued member and volunteer. Next to Kay is Gary and a few folks to right of him is Mary, one of our most senior members. They came to us because their WELS church in Detroit closed. Along with them came several others – all who know what it is to stay and serve to the end. Gary’s wife, Gloria, came along, too! Gloria is now our organist – on the very organ that their former congregation donated to our mission. The little girl next to Gary is Jillian, and that’s her mom, Joanne, next to her. They are other-Lutherans who moved into our neighborhood, visited us, liked what they heard, and stayed. Joanne’s husband (Jillian’s dad) is Jason who has also taken our adult instruction class and become a member. Behind silver-haired Mary is Mike, ex-military and one who has been – quite literally – battle-tested in the good fight. He lives in the neighborhood, too. The four folks to the right of him are Rod and his three children. They are former-WELS who bounced around for a while before visiting Ascension and enrolling those three great kids in our confirmation instruction class. Rod’s wife Cori has also taken our adult class and established membership.

What’s the point of all of that backstory? There is but one gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to gather people to Jesus, but there are lots of different ways that he brings that gospel to people. Did you hear them in all that backstory? Proximity to a church that proclaims that gospel, family members who become transmission lines for the gospel to others in their family, people who have had a long association with the gospel and who knew exactly where to find it and serve it in their new community, people searching for a place where they can have a meaningful relationship with God through Word and Sacrament, people drawn by authentic friendships to hear the gospel, and people reached through outreach efforts by one of your WELS home missions. If you look, you will find those same ways at work in your congregation, too. That is what makes every WELS church a mission!

P.S. – The guy in the back row under the cross is your home missionary, Dan Simons. I have the best seat in the house to watch the Holy Spirit reach out with the gospel in many ways, but with the same result: souls are added to the kingdom!

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

 

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Faces of Faith – Pastor Marinagaba, Rwanda

God used Google to bring WELS missionaries to Rwanda, a tiny country in the heart of Africa with a dark past and a bright future. Rev. Jean Claude Marinagaba, the leader of the Reformed Lutheran Church of Rwanda (RLCR) had learned about Martin Luther while he was a student at Westminster Presbyterian Seminary in Uganda, and he wanted to connect with Luther’s true spiritual heirs. Most church bodies that still use the name “Lutheran” have unfastened their teachings from the Reformation’s moorings of sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura and the Lutheran Confessions, the historical documents that established the Biblical teachings of the Lutheran Church. A Google search of “confessional Lutherans” led Rev. Marinagaba to the website of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) located 8,000 miles away in Brisbane, Australia.

So what did ELS Missionary Daniel Finn think when he received an email from a stranger living halfway around the world?

“Jean Claude seemed sincere in his desire to learn how to be more Lutheran,” writes Missionary Finn. In justifying his own expenditure of time and effort working in a mission field so far away, Missionary Finn says, “I began to think of ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ in terms of having Jesus’ permission to go to Rwanda. That is, Rwanda is a nation. So, it’s included in ‘all nations.’  Our Lord told us that we canand shouldgo to all nations. I knew was that there was this guy (Jean Claude) asking that somebody from our fellowship would visit him and help him. Nobody else was going. So…  I figured ‘Why not me?’ I knew that I wasn’t the most qualified man to make this trip, but I figured that I had to be better qualified than nobody.”

From left to right: Rev. Bernard, Rev. Birner (WELS missionary to Zambia), Rev. Maniragaba, Rev. Shamachona (LCCA-Zambia pastor), Rev. Finn (ELS Missionary in Australia), and Rev. Felicien.

And so the Fond du Lac, Wis., native turned missionary to “Down Under” struck up a long-distance correspondence with Rev. Marinagaba in 2016. Their relationship blossomed, and one year later on a trip back to the United States, Missionary Finn made a side trip to Rwanda. He also reached out to his like-minded confessional Lutherans, WELS missionaries stationed in Africa, and offered to introduce them to Rev. Marinagaba and the RLCR. Missionary Phil Birner and Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Zambia (LCCA-Z) Rev. Forward Shamachona met up with Missionary Finn in Kigali, Rwanda, in September of 2017. The three of them traveled to the city of Nygatare, Rwanda, and spent a week visiting various congregations of the RLCR and teaching Rev. Marinagaba and his fellow church leaders about the history of the Lutheran church and Confessions. Since Rwanda is a French-speaking country, and only Rev. Marinagaba speaks English, an interpreter had to translate all of the lessons for the rest of those present.

Missionary Birner made a second trip to Rwanda in August of 2018. Joining him were LCCA-Z Rev. Chibi Simweeleba and WELS Pastor James Krause, who speaks French. The three of them gave presentations on the Sacraments and the worker training program of the LCCA. Observing that more intensive training would be useful, the One Africa Team formally invited Rev. Marinagaba to attend the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia, for one year, but he declined to leave his family and his congregations for such a long time. Rev. Marinagaba agreed to attend a Multi-Language Publications conference in Lusaka last August, but was involved in a traffic accident just before the conference began and was unable to travel. Please pray for his swift recovery, and the ability for WELS to strengthen its connection with RLCR, where an altar to the Lord is being built in the heart of Africa.

To learn more about African outreach in Rwanda and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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South Sudanese missionary commissioned

Another chapter of South Sudanese ministry began on August 11, 2019, as Simon Duoth was commissioned at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Renton, Wash., as missionary to the Nuer people of the Pacific Northwest mission district.

Pastor Tom Voss commissions Simon Duoth as Neur missionary

He was commissioned in a joint worship service with both the Anglo and Sudanese members of Divine Peace in attendance.

The Sudanese service lasted three and a half hours and was followed by a meal. This is definitely the longest my wife and I have ever spent at a church service! It was truly an experience of a lifetime, to share the love and warmth these brothers and sisters share in their love for their God. Towards the end of the service, one of the members brought a couple from the airport that just arrived from South Sudan. He had told them that the church family wanted to meet them. They are starting a new life in America and have two young children still in South Sudan whom they hope to join them soon.

Sudanese choir

In addition to Sudanese outreach in the community, Missionary Duoth will lead special services in the Nuer language twice a month. He is also continuing his studies to become a pastor through the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), with Pastor Tom Voss from Divine Peace serving as his “adjunct” instructor. Please continue to pray for Missionary Duoth’s studies and outreach in the Pacific Northwest, and all Sudanese ministry happening in North America and around the world!

 

Shared by Mr. Mel Kam, member of the Pacific Northwest District Mission Board

To learn more about Sudanese ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

 

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The gospel produces fruits… upon fruits

Koilo Vidal lives about a 5 hour drive from Quito, Ecuador, in the city of Quevedo. He has a small farm—about 9 acres of different fruit trees.

I’ve never been to Quevedo, and I’ve not met Koilo face-to-face yet. A few months ago, Koilo signed up for our online courses through Academia Cristo. He connected to the classes twice a week and absolutely loved them. He was so overjoyed about the classes that he said he wanted to send me a gift of fruit. I didn’t think he was serious. . .  but he was! He sent the packages and I picked them up at a distribution center in Quito . . . two boxes filled with 66 lbs of oranges, watermelon, and papaya (pictured above)! What a tasty gift! And from someone I have never met. The gospel produces. . . fruits!

The gospel is producing other fruits in Koilo too. I sent him a digital copy of the Catechism, and he stayed up until the middle of the night studying it. “I just love these classes I’m taking,” he told me, “and I knew from the very first sessions when the teacher kept repeating, ‘Let’s go to the Bible for the answer.’ I knew I was in the right spot.” He told me how the classes were already helping him in his conversations with neighbors. “When my neighbors press me on issues such as tithing, fasting, and other issues, I can defend myself more and more with the Bible. I never knew that before. I also love how the teachers always pray ‘in Jesus’ name’. That way of praying was completely new to me, and I loved the explanation.”

By God’s grace, Koilo continues in the classes. We pray that they be a great benefit for him, his family, and his neighbors.

The gospel produces fruits . . . upon fruits. 🙂

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary in Latin America

To learn more about world mission work in Latin America, visit wels.net/latin-america.

 

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Preach The Word – The Blessing of Knowledge

Simple Preaching: In our last issue, we were encouraged to preach simply for the benefit of all of our hearers. We heard from Luther, “He’s the best preacher who can teach in a plain, childlike, popular, and simple way.” One reader shared this feedback, “[Your article] reminded me of a remark made by one of my parishioners at St. Paul’s in Douglas, Arizona back in the 1950’s. Her comment was, ‘Put the feed down low where the lambs can reach it. It won’t hurt the sheep to stoop a little.’”1 What a great encouragement to simple preaching from a sister in Christ!


The Curse Blessing of Knowledge

I have a sister and a sister-in-law who are both nurses. I love them both dearly, except when they start to talk together about nursing. Then the acronyms start to fly around. Those are followed by unpronounceable medical conditions that I’ve never heard of. Then a lot of abbreviations and shared experiences that only a nurse can understand. If you’ve been part of a conversation like that, how do you feel? Invisible. Frustrated. I don’t get it! It’s like they’re talking another language. I know that what they’re talking about is important. I’m glad they know about it. But it has nothing to do with me. I’d almost prefer not to listen. Have you experienced that feeling?

It’s not just nurses. We could list any number of examples of people who have their own “language.” I love talking to family members in the military, but when they start talking to each other, they lose me. NCOs and IEDs and 24-hour clocks…. I love talking with Hispanic immigrants. It’s fascinating to learn about their lives, until dairy workers start talking together about their work. Then they lose me. There’s only so much about the cow reproductive system that I can handle. I can’t picture it. I don’t want to picture it! I know it’s important. I’m glad there are people who know that stuff. But it’s not for me. I don’t get it. I’d prefer not to listen.

This communication-killing phenomenon has a name. It’s called the “Curse of Knowledge.” You can Google it! The curse of knowledge happens when people unknowingly assume that their hearers have the background to understand what they are saying, even though they really don’t. We often don’t realize the gap between our knowledge and the knowledge of the people around us, and that knowledge gap can be a great barrier to communication.

In 1990, a Stanford student named Elizabeth Newton proved the curse of knowledge through a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tapper” or “listener.” Each tapper was asked to pick a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and tap out the rhythm on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song. Over the course of Newton’s experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Of those 120 songs, can you guess how many the listeners correctly identified? It sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Well, the listeners guessed only three of the songs correctly. There’s more. Before the listeners guessed, Newton asked the tappers to predict how many of the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted 50%. The reality was just 2.5%.

Why? When a tapper taps, it’s impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. In contrast, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet, the tappers were surprised by how hard it was for the listeners to guess the tune. The problem is that once we know something, it’s hard to imagine not knowing it. In a way, our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing that knowledge with others, because we can’t relate to their state of mind. In fact, we get frustrated when others can’t seem to understand what’s so obvious so us. Can you see the damage done to effective communication? That’s the curse of knowledge!2

Do you think this curse of knowledge can affect us as pastors?

Do you think this curse of knowledge can affect us as pastors? I do! By God’s grace, you have a deeper knowledge of God’s Word than most people do. You’ve spent years of your life studying the Bible, even in Hebrew and Greek. You’ve made reading God’s Word a daily part of your life. Before you preach a sermon, you spend hours studying the text and carefully thinking through different possible interpretations. But then you stand up and preach to people who haven’t had many—or any—of those blessings. Do we unknowingly assume our hearers understand more than they do? Can you see how this curse of knowledge could be a barrier in our preaching?

This hit home for me on a recent evening with my kids. I was reading to my 8- and 4-year old boys from a children’s Bible before bed. That evening, the story showed a picture of heaven. I asked my 4-year old son, “Remember how we get to heaven?” He said, “No. I don’t know.” “What?” I said. “Come on, you know how we get to heaven.” He said, “No, you never told me.” Huh. I bet he’s right. I can’t remember ever specifically telling my boys how we get to heaven. I assume they know. How could they not? I know how to get to heaven, so I assume my boys do too, even without telling them. What a dangerous assumption! That’s the curse of knowledge.

I’ve had the blessing of taking an online course from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary called “Preaching in a Postmodern World.” I appreciated these comments from Professor Rich Gurgel:

Basic assumptions we may make about knowledge possessed as we preach would be utterly wrong. If all growth in knowledge progresses from the known to the unknown, how easily our presumed starting point with our hearers could leave people hopelessly in our dust!

If we are not careful about our assumptions as we stand up to preach, we could unwittingly leave our hearers in the dust already from the first sentence of our sermon!

This lesson is urging us to check our assumptions about what our hearers know, lest we leave more and more of them clueless in our preaching because we will seem to be preaching to someone else somewhere else living in some other time.

So what do our hearers know? Each is a unique individual, but all live right in the middle of our postmodern culture. Have you had the chance to study what our postmodern culture is like? Here are four basic characteristics of postmodernism that were mentioned in our course:

  1. There’s no absolute truth. “What’s true for me isn’t true for you.” Truth is subjective and can be different for every individual and society.
  2. Words and texts have no meaning apart from the reader. “That’s just your interpretation.” Readers and listeners have the right to find their own meaning in a text, even if it involves twisting or changing the author’s original intent.
  3. Morality is relative. There is no objective right and wrong. Each individual decides what is right and good for them.
  4. Skepticism is good. It’s wise to be skeptical of authority, institutions, and anyone who claims to have the truth.

How many of those statements match your worldview? More importantly, how many of those fit a biblical worldview? After being immersed throughout the week in postmodernism, people step into our churches—praise the Lord!—and we expect them to think as biblically as we do. Can you see how that assumption could hinder communication?

  1. Not recognizing significant deficits in hearers’ basic Bible history knowledge.
  2. Not discerning where misunderstanding is masquerading as familiarity with biblical truth.
  3. Not seeing where hearers’ biblical knowledge has become disconnected bits of “Bible trivia” divorced from grasping the grand themes of biblical revelation.
  4. Not grasping the need to translate when speaking theologically to a culture that thinks more and more therapeutically.

That’s quite a list! How many of these assumptions affect our preaching, without us even knowing?

Let’s think about that last assumption—not grasping the need to translate when speaking theologically. Isn’t it true that the longer you serve as a pastor, the more knowledgeable and comfortable you are with theological vocabulary? At the same time, as the years pass, the less knowledgeable and comfortable the average person is with theological vocabulary. That means that the knowledge gap is constantly growing! The list of words that need translating is growing rapidly too. Redemption, reconciliation, atonement, sacrament, Lamb of God, justification, sanctification, divine call, absolution, vicarious…. Of course, none of those words is bad. They are rich and deep and beautiful. But to many people, it’s like we’re speaking another language.

You can even add words like “sin” and “eternal life” to that list too. About 30 families attend a monthly food pantry at our church. I give a short devotion to small groups of people as they wait for their food. This past month, I used “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Simple, right? No! When I talked about sin, I got blank stares. “Sin? What’s that?” It was like I was speaking another language. Eternal life? That wasn’t a comfort to anyone. My first reaction was frustration: “Come on! Why don’t you get it? Everybody knows about sin and grace.” No, they don’t. I assume they do, but they don’t.

On that day, I’m afraid I made those people feel like I feel when my nurse relatives start to talk about nursing stuff. “I know that what you’re talking about is important. I’m glad you know about it. But it has nothing to do with me. I’d prefer not to listen.” May that never be what our hearers say about God’s Word! When we don’t realize the gap between our knowledge and the knowledge of the people to whom we preach, our unfounded assumptions can keep people from growing closer to Jesus. That’s the curse of knowledge.

Of course, there’s a problem with that phrase. Knowledge about Christ isn’t really a curse. No way! It’s a blessing. What grace God has showered on us, that “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15)! If so many people today have so little knowledge of Christ, why do we have so much? We say with Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:10). By grace we, like Ezekiel, have gotten to taste the Word and know how sweet it is. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (Ezekiel 3:3). Knowledge of the Word isn’t a curse. It’s really a blessing!

Our goal as preachers is to take the biblical knowledge that so easily separates us from our hearers and use that very knowledge to be a tremendous blessing to their faith in Jesus. Isn’t this what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52)?

It’s daunting to think about all the gaps between what the Bible says and what people think. But I hope you’re willing to use another word to describe that challenge: Exciting! Can you see the opportunity God has placed before us? It’s no fun preaching to know-it-alls, and that’s not our audience. In grace, God fills us with his Word and provides us with endless opportunities to share the treasures of Jesus with people who desperately need it.

Look for ways to talk to people outside your church.

So how do we do that? It’s hard for many of us to remember what it’s like to not have all the theological training we’ve received. But there are a lot of people who can teach us that. Look for opportunities to talk with people outside the mature Christian members of your congregations. I’m blessed in doing Hispanic outreach to spend a lot of time around a lot of people who know very little about the Bible. I need to listen to them to learn how they think and to hear how they talk. Look for ways to talk to people outside your church. Not for their benefit—for yours. To learn. To listen. To see what people are like. To be prepared to share the Word in their language.

As you talk with people, note gaps between what people know and what we assume they know. The first step to breaking assumptions is to be aware of them. Maybe you could start by scanning the liturgies you use at your church. What are theological words that we assume people understand? I found these in the Service of Word and Sacrament: fellowship, penitent, atoning sacrifice, called servant, eternally begotten, incarnate, sacrament, redeem, heavenly realms, kingdom of our God, Lamb, institution…. These are good words. Words rich in meaning! But we can’t assume people know them. If we’re going to use them, we need to preach about them often with concrete definitions and clear illustrations to plant these words into people’s hearts.

I tried that recently. I preached a sermon with the simple theme “Grace.”3 When I saw Hosea 3 come up in our lectionary, I was amazed by the concrete, visible way God describes grace. What’s grace? Grace is a husband loving an adulterous wife over and over again. After she runs off with another man, grace is paying the full price to bring her home. Grace is loving the unlovable, the undeserving, the adulterous. That’s grace. That’s God’s grace for us! When you preach, take your people from the theoretical and theological to the concrete and visible. God does!

Take your people from the theoretical and theological to the concrete and visible.

As you take people into God’s Word, check to see whether they are following you along the way. Ask questions in your sermon. Say, “Got it?” or “Make sense?” or “Can you see what God is saying?” and see if heads nod. Have one central theme and a clear flow for people to follow. One of our members talked with me after a recent service. She seemed happy, so I was expecting a “Great sermon, Pastor!” Know what she said? “Pastor, I could actually follow you the whole sermon.” She meant it as a compliment. That was a good day. God’s Word was preached. She could follow what was said. Her heart was filled with Jesus. That’s the blessing of knowledge.

“Pastor, I could actually follow you the whole sermon.”

Doesn’t that make you excited to preach? I hope you look forward to writing that next sermon. You’re not sharing old news. You have knowledge to share that everyone absolutely needs. There’s one characteristic of postmodernism that I didn’t mention above. People today are searching for identity and meaning in the emptiness of life. You are blessed with knowledge of both of those things! Tell them about our glorious identity as the children of God by faith in Jesus. Tell them how much they and their lives mean to God. He made us. He saved us. He’s got a spot for us in his house. You get to open eyes and change lives and save people through the Word of Christ. That’s the blessing of knowledge. Doesn’t that make you excited to preach?

Just please, by all means, in every way, in every sermon, remember to point them to Jesus. May there never be little boys waiting for their dads to tell them about heaven or people waiting to be told where there is hope and peace and joy. You know. It’s in Jesus! Don’t ever assume that people know how much Jesus loves them. Don’t ever assume that they know the way to heaven. Don’t ever assume that their hearts are sufficiently filled up with the grace of God in Christ.

Like my little boys, they won’t ever get it on their own. They need someone to tell them. To share the blessing of the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins. To share the blessing of the knowledge of a Father’s gracious love. To share the blessing of the knowledge of eternal life in heaven. Over and over again. We get to share it! The blessing of knowledge. How has God been so good to us? May God bless you as you share the blessing of the knowledge of Christ!

Written by Nathan Nass

Nathan Nass has served at St. Paul / San Pablo Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI since 2018. He previously served at St. Peter Lutheran Church in St. Peter, MN from 2013-2018. You can read his devotions and sermons at his blog: www.upsidedownsavior.home.blog.


1 This is from retired pastor Joel Gerlach, who taught homiletics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary from 1971-1981.
2 This description of Newton’s study at Stanford can be found in “The Curse of Knowledge.” Harvard Business Journal (December 2006). https://hbr.org/2006/12/the-curse-of-knowledge. Accessed May 9, 2019.
3 If you’re interested, you can read it at https://upsidedownsavior.home.blog/2019/09/15/grace/.


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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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 2

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 2: Acoustic Definitions and Implications / Microphones

In our first installment we discussed basic acoustic principles to maximize sound quality, tone projection, and speech clarity in the worship space.

In this installment we get into the sound system. Coined as a tongue-in-cheek statement by a sound industry icon, the following statement hits home: “If bad sound were fatal, audio would be the leading cause of death.” Fortunately, bad sound is not fatal. But it can be upsetting both for listeners and for pastors on the receiving end of complaints from members who cannot hear clearly.

“If bad sound were fatal, audio would be the leading cause of death.”

Just what is sound? How does sound behave in the worship space? What does a designer look to accomplish when laying out a sound system? How should I place the microphones? Which microphone designs are used for which purpose?

And the dreaded “gotcha’s.” Why is the audio quality bad on recording feeds? Why do we have “hot” and “dead” spots in the space? Why do we have feedback? Why is the sound just not clear?

The goal here is to give you things to think about. These will help you to have an idea of what questions to ask and the knowledge that good sound can be achieved. Note: I invented the fictional characters Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie some years ago to personalize my talks. I have brought them along here. They, like any worshiper, have one thing in mind when they come to worship: they want to hear the Word—clearly. My job and yours is to make that happen. So let’s dive in and see how we can prevent audio pain, futility, and fatality.

There are a few simple goals that any good sound system designer will strive to achieve. But first, an important definition:

Decibel – The decibel (dB) is a comparison with some point of reference. It is not a unit of power like a watt or volt. I can say that the electrical power in my house is 110 volts. I can’t say that it’s 110 dB. What I can say is that normal human speech is measured at about 65 dB. That measurement assumes a reference level of 0 dB, which is the threshold of human hearing. A difference in level of 3 dB is audible; 6 dB is very noticeable, and 10 dB is considered twice or half as loud, depending on an increase or decrease in volume. I cover this definition first because it is at the root of everything we discuss regarding audio design. Following are other clusters of definitions and their implications. These all are inseparable for achieving a goal of optimal sound quality and for microphones to perform well.

Loudspeaker coverage – We seek to deliver even sound levels throughout the seating area. The standard we use is plus-or-minus 3 dB from front to back and side to side in the seating area. If we keep the sound levels within that window, then there will be no audible volume level differences. The “gotcha” will be intelligibility, or clarity.

Intelligibility – How clear the sound is.

Volume – How loud the sound is.

“Gotcha”: There is a distinct disconnect between volume/loudness and clarity/intelligibility. Aunt Tillie approaches an usher or the sound operator during worship and says, “I can’t hear.” The usher or sound operator turns up the volume. But did that make a difference? The sound is louder, but how clear is it? If the ambient sound is too loud, if the worship space is excessively reverberant or fraught with slap echo issues, or if the loudspeakers are not directional enough, then volume is not going to help. We need to ask Aunt Tillie, “Is it volume or can you not hear clearly?”

Loudness 15 dB above ambient noise level – The clear sound levels from the sound system must be more than twice the level of background or ambient noise. Recall our case study in the previous installment. The ambient noise level from the HVAC system was measured in excess of 70 dB. Normal human conversation is measured at about 65-70 dB, depending on male or female talker and strength of voice. We want the sound from the sound system to arrive at the listener’s ear at about 70 dB in order to make the sound comfortable. If the ambient noise level is already at 70 dB, then the sound from the sound system is totally masked or covered up and needs to be at nearly rock ‘n’ roll levels, at least 85 dB, in order to be heard above the ambient noise. Those levels will drive people away.

“Gotcha”: You can count control of HVAC and other ambient noise as major. If you don’t control that ambient noise, the sound system, no matter the quality of components, will not be able to make up for it without irritating the listeners. Keep that ambient noise level at about 55 dB. Then I as a designer can deliver a most comfortable 70-75 dB to the congregation.

Direct Sound – The sound we receive directly from the sound source before reflections.

Early Reflected Sound – The sound we hear very soon after the direct sound, maybe off a wall near the loudspeaker. This is usually not a deterrent to intelligibility and is desirable especially for good music projection for choir and organ. (This is why we see shell type walls to the sides of choirs and organ pipe chests.)

Reverberant Sound (also Late Reflected Sound) – The ambient sound, which is made up of HVAC noise, people whispering and rustling paper, and other acoustic and loudspeaker sound that has reflected off walls, balcony faces, and ceiling.

Deliver primarily direct sound – God designed our ear/brain mechanism to receive a syllable, process it, then receive the next syllable. Aunt Tillie, Uncle Charlie, and all of us need to hear the syllable once and let it pass so we can get the next one. When we hear echoes or when the background noise is too strong, then that God-designed hearing process gets messed up. Our ears get tired, our brains shut down, and we tell the usher, sound guy, or pastor that we can’t hear.

There is not a written standard to tell us that we need “x-amount” of direct sound for maximum clarity. Experience has shown me and other designers that we need to achieve at minimum 75% direct sound as compared to reverberant sound in order to deliver good speech intelligibility. As mentioned above, we like to have some early reflected sound as well to give us depth for music; this can give dimension to speech as well.

How do we deliver 75% direct sound? We get this result in two ways. First, recall the acoustic principles discussed previously. We need to get the room acoustics right: live but not excessive reverberation, no slap echo and no flutter echo, and control of mechanical noise from HVAC, fans, etc. Secondly, we need to ensure that the sound system receives energy directly from the talker into the microphone, and then that it emits the sound as directly as possible from the loudspeaker to the listener’s ear.

How do we make that happen? Let’s get into a few more definitions and principles. I think that the answer will become clear with this slightly deeper dive into sound principles. It will also answer some more “gotcha’s.”

Sound – Sound happens when something vibrates. Stretch a rubber band and pluck the elastic. The elastic moving back and forth creates air pressure zones, like the high- and low-pressure zones you see on a weather map. The sound is carried along in waves (hence the expression sound waves) along those pressure zones.

Frequency – The speed at which the elastic moves back and forth, or more specifically, how many times the elastic vibrates in one second. The faster the elastic vibrates, the higher the frequency which is labeled “hertz” (Hz). The slower the vibration, the lower the frequency. We can see those sound waves and their speed on an oscilloscope. The scope will show us wavelength.

Wavelength – the portion of one second occupied by a single vibration. The longer the sound wave, or wavelength, the lower the frequency. Moving in that direction takes us into the bass range. The shorter the wavelength, the higher the frequency, and we move into the treble range.

The table below shows how wavelength and frequency relate:

The table may not mean much to many people, but it’s important when we discuss acoustics and audio. And I think it brings clarity (pun intended) to the whole direct sound and intelligibility discussion. Paying attention here eliminates a myriad of “gotcha’s” before they can happen.

The longer the wavelength, the stronger it is and the more difficult it is to deal with. As you read the following points, think of wavelength simplistically as a beam of light with finite edges projecting out from a source.

Example A. The lower we go in frequency, the wider and stronger the beam and the more difficult it is to block or absorb those frequencies. The obstruction required to fully block the frequency must be about equal to the size of the wavelength.

Acoustically speaking, the material thickness and density required to absorb lower frequencies must be substantial. A felt banner or thin drapery will be invisible to a sound at 1000 Hz and below.

A pillar of three feet in diameter will not block a sound at about 400 Hz or below. On the other hand, that three-foot diameter pillar will cast a “shadow” and block sound from 500 Hz and up.

“Gotcha”: The installer just mounted thin column speakers on the front pillar in the church. People seated behind the subsequent two-foot diameter pillars say they cannot hear. The reason? The frequencies in the upper vowel range and consonant and ‘s’ ranges are blocked by the pillars. People seated behind those pillars will not hear clearly. The installer needed to locate support speakers at the subsequent pillars.

Using the table as a guide, we can see that an obstruction of as little as six inches can damage intelligibility. We need to keep that in mind as we go about achieving our design goals.

An obstruction of as little as six inches can damage intelligibility.

Example B. In audio systems, the lower we go in frequency, the more difficult it becomes to control, aim or “steer” those frequencies. Conversely, it is easier to control higher frequencies. In simple terms, we need “acoustic buckets” large enough to contain the frequency range we want to control.

Typically we use horns or other highly directional array type loudspeakers in a space, no matter the size. The horn or array dimension will dictate to what extent we can control where sound is aimed. We can use a small horn or device with mouth dimension of about 8 inches to control from about 1,500 Hz and up. That’s good for consonants and ‘s’ sounds. In order to control the projection of a 500 Hz sound (the vowel range), we need a device (horn, array height, etc.) of 28 inches; for 100 Hz we need a 10-foot horn!

“Gotcha”: The installer just installed one or two loudspeakers, suspended from the ceiling. The total dimension of each enclosure is about 26 inches. The installer tells you that the speaker will deliver very good clarity. He is right—to a degree. What he failed to tell you is that the enclosure contains a high-frequency horn that measures about six or seven inches. It will control the consonants well. There is a 15-inch diameter bass speaker in the enclosure as well. The midrange and bass frequencies will be well-supported but not controlled. At 15 inches in diameter, that woofer cannot contain the wavelengths below about 1000 Hz, meaning that the vowel sounds are allowed to bounce around the space. Those vowels now mask the consonants and develop excessive reverberant sound. In a reverberant space, Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie won’t be happy.

Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie won’t be happy.

How do we make them happy? We need to utilize loudspeakers that are directional not just in the high frequencies, but also in the mid- and low frequencies. If we can control from about 500 Hz and up and deliver even coverage, then we have a very good chance at making every worshiper happy.

Okay, we’ve spent a lot of time on loudspeakers and direct sound. We needed to because if we don’t get that part right, what we do with the rest of the sound system will not matter. But now let’s move to microphones.

There is a difference between microphones. You will get what you pay for.

There are a lot of brands and types of microphones available at virtually every price point imaginable. I need to encourage you up-front that there is a difference between microphones. You will get what you pay for. Many microphone issues are caused by one or more of three basic “gotcha’s”:

  1. Very inexpensive microphones were purchased. Usually, the very-inexpensive microphone is not articulate or clear in the consonants. It may not sound natural. And it may not pick up well for what you need it to do.
  2. The wrong microphone type was chosen for the application. A typical handheld microphone will not work well at the lectern, pulpit or ambo, or for the choir. They are designed for up-close solo work. Unless your talker can position their mouth within about three inches of the microphone, this is not the right mic.
    Use a good long gooseneck microphone for the lectern, ambo, or pulpit. Use a similar type on a stand for the choir when needed as they are more “forgiving” in their pickup pattern and more sensitive and so will pick up from a greater distance—about eight inches at the lectern, pulpit, or ambo; and with greater gain (volume) applied, about two feet from the front row of the choir.
    Use a good discrete headset/ear mic (definitely not inexpensive) that fits well for the pastor’s wireless. These are designed for live sound, as opposed to lapel mics which were designed for use in TV news studios many years ago.
  3. The talker is not positioned properly. The talker must be within the clear operating range of the microphone. This means within about three inches of a handheld solo mic, no more than eight inches from a gooseneck microphone, and two feet from the front row of the choir. Within these distance windows the sound pickup will be full and articulate. The sound level will also be strong for feeds to recordings and distributed speakers in cry rooms and such. Outside these windows the sound will become thin, volume will be low, feedback may occur when trying to increase the volume, and Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie will wonder why the sound is bad.
  4. The talker is not talking to the microphone. This relates to the former point, but deserves its own block. You must address the microphone. In other words, the mouth must be pointed toward the microphone head. Just like we need direct sound from speaker to listener, we need direct sound from talker’s mouth to microphone. If we talk “away” from the microphone, or physically turn away from the microphone to make eye contact somewhere, we will turn out of the microphone’s pickup pattern and sound level and clarity will be lost.
    This is why the headset/ear mic has become popular and even better than a lavalier/lapel mic. But if you have a mounted mic, maintain a distance and position relationship with the microphone. When turning to make eye contact, turn your body about the microphone so that you can look the other way without looking away from the microphone. As was stated in the former point, this will help everything: sound levels, clarity from the loudspeakers, recording feeds, and even hearing assistance systems.
  5. The microphones are placed ahead of the loudspeakers. Feedback occurs when sound from the loudspeaker reflects around the room and back into the microphone. It can occur when the microphone is placed in front of the loudspeaker. If that speaker is too close to the microphone, or if the overhead speaker is turned up and microphone is out front, feedback will be an issue. Proper system tuning (next installment) can help somewhat, but the needed clarity and volume levels will not be realized. And feeds to recordings will suffer as well.

My design philosophy has always been simple: use the right microphone and loudspeaker, set them up properly, and the sound will be right at all destinations. I won’t need to play tricks to try to get the system to work right. If you follow the same philosophy, you will be successful as well.

Use the right microphone and loudspeaker, set them up properly, and the sound will be right at all destinations.

Next up: system setup—good stuff and “gotcha’s.” Also, the hearing assistance system: why do we need it, and which type is best?

Written by David Hosbach

David Hosbach is President of DSH Audio Visions LLC, Milwaukee, WI. A 1983 graduate of Dr. Martin Luther College, his clients include: the Chapel of the Christ, MLC, New Ulm, MN; Peace Lutheran Church, Hartford, WI (WELS); the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, AL; and hundreds of parish worship spaces of all sizes. For more information visit www.dshaudiovisions.com.


 

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25 years of autumn blessings

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

Decorating church for the Harvest Festival

Autumn is a beautiful time in Siberia! Graceful birches are dressed in gold. Rugged apple trees are weighed down with their small, red fruit. Markets overflow with sturdy pumpkins, plump tomatoes, and mounds upon mounds of potatoes and cabbages. Delicate mushrooms pop up in the forests. Once again, our gracious Father has filled our vegetable cellars and pantry shelves with the fruits of a bountiful crop. Our Russian congregations have the tradition of thanking God for his good gifts with a Harvest Festival the beginning of October.

But our thankfulness doesn’t end with vegetables! This fall marks the 25th Anniversary of our Russian Lutheran Church. In 1994, the very first members were confirmed. Now, 25 years later, we have much for which to be thankful:

  • Four national pastors faithfully preach and teach God’s Word to any who will listen.
  • One talented seminary student serves as an apprentice to Missionary Wolfgramm, studying in the classroom and practicing his skills in the Iskitim and Tomsk congregations.
  • Active men lead the congregations, taking care of practical matters like building maintenance, finances, and fire codes, all the while insisting on sticking to the truth of God’s Word.
  • Gifted women show their love for the Savior by teaching Sunday School, bringing vegetables and flowers from their gardens, playing and singing for worship, encouraging each other, and helping their neighbors. When their eyes are weak and their bones are feeble, they continue to show their love for Jesus with their encouraging words and faithful prayers.
  • Energetic children learn Bible stories, sing for worship, listen to children’s sermons and grow in their understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ love.

On November 3, our congregation in Akademgorodok will host a joint service celebrating the Reformation and commemorating our church body’s 25th Anniversary. We will give thanks for these blessings and look to the future. How can we best use the time, talents and treasures our Heavenly Father has entrusted us with to serve our congregations and those around us? How can we share the Good News with others in our community and throughout Russia?

Autumn blessings are readily apparent to all of our senses. See the vivid colors at the market. Smell the pumpkin baking. Feel the horseradish burning in your eyes. Let’s make time this fall to remember these blessings, both physical and spiritual. Please join your Russian brothers and sisters in thanking God:

  • for his providence. Thank him for nourishing food, warm clothing and homes, sunshine, and even snow.
  • for spiritual blessings: for forgiving our sins, hearing our prayers, and giving us eternal life for Jesus’ sake.
  • for pastors and leaders who remain faithful to the Bible.
  • for places where we can worship God and encourage each other.
  • for the blessings he has given the Russian Lutheran church these past 25 years.

Please pray that God would continue to bless the Russian Lutheran Church with strong, spiritual leaders and faithful members who work together to share Jesus’ love.

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, missionary wife in Russia

To learn more about world mission work in Russia, visit wels.net/russia.

 

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A Lutheran Revival?!

The bright yellow sunflowers lining the roads and filling the meadows were craning their necks to catch the last rays of sunlight as I drove down into the red valley known as Dischii Bikoh.

In English, we call this place Cibecue, Arizona. And in September it is especially beautiful after the monsoon rains and cooler temperatures allow the flowers to run wild. But I wasn’t there to sight-see the wonders of God’s creation. In Cibecue, Ariz., on a Tuesday night there was an even more beautiful sight to see: a group of Christians eating together, praying together, singing together, and encouraging, all within earshot to hear what wonderful things Jesus has done and how wonderful it is to be a follower of Christ. They put up a tent in someone’s field, cooked the food, provided the musicians and the loudspeakers, and invited the entire community to come and listen to the powerful gospel all week long.

For most WELS Lutherans, the idea of a tent revival may sound, well, un-Lutheran. But for a group of Lutherans with the word “evangelical” right in our name, it certainly was appropriate for this community on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. As pastor and church member after church member got up to speak words of encouragement from Scripture and personal testimony of what Jesus meant to them, it was music to the ears of a community looking for Christian role models and heroes of faith. It is not an easy thing to identify yourself as a Christian in a place where being Native is equated with practicing traditional religion and there is strong pressure to cast Christianity aside when the two identities collide. But what joy to hear from Christians who are not afraid to be Christians first and always! And what joy to hear from Christians who fell to temptation but experienced the sheer joy that comes from repentance and forgiveness from Jesus!

All week long, with sincere tears and ear-to-ear smiles, by loudspeaker and in quiet conversations over soup and fry bread, the gospel was shared and Christian encouragement was both given and received. Lutheran Apache Christians, armed with the Word of God, were unafraid to share their burdens with each other and tell others how Jesus set them free from the superstition and fear of idolatry, or from the chains of addiction or the prison of hopelessness and despair. Jesus changed their lives and their futures, and they were there to tell the entire community about this powerful and loving Savior.

Events like these are some of the things your Christian brothers and sisters in Native America are trying. They’ve armed themselves with the Word of God in regular Bible study, and they’ve done some hard work to figure out how to best share the gospel in their communities to their people. Won’t you join together in praying for them as we continue to make the efforts and take the risks and go boldly with the best message in the world?

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

 

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