Latin America Mission – Fall 2023 Update

As of October 2023, Academia Cristo has two million followers on social media. The social media platforms used by Academia Cristo include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Through these platforms, Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month. Over a million people have downloaded the Academia Cristo mobile app that launched in February 2020. 2,400 people have completed the self-led courses offered in the mobile app or through WhatsApp since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses. 696 people have completed one live course since March 2020 with a WELS missionary or national partner. 85 students in the Academia Cristo program have gone through a doctrinal agreement process designed for leaders and church planters. There are 29 groups that Academia Cristo leaders have taken through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study. One congregation formed through the program has joined Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional and several others will soon be reaching the criteria required to apply for membership.

A snapshot of blessings from August through October 2023:

  1. An alternative to the mobile app was identified and tested.
    • Through a platform called respond.io, those interested in studying with Academia Cristo are guided in WhatsApp through the same four self-study courses that have been offered in the app.
    • This alternative, self-study through WhatsApp, produced more students with less spending on advertising. It also offered several other positive features, such as the opportunity to engage with students while they are in the self-study process and collect their contact information.
    • Because of the success of the app alternative, it was decided at the 2023 annual meeting to use this alternative instead of the app.
    • Going forward, the “Self-Study Level” through WhatsApp will be the way for students to move from social media to participating in live courses.
  2. A music summit was held in Quito, Ecuador, with representatives from the Latin America mission team and Multi-Language Productions (MLP). Plans were adopted to produce more hymns and liturgical music for use by church planting groups.
  3. The instruction function of the Latin America team focused on incorporating course and lesson objectives into the Academia Cristo curriculum.
  4. An admissions coordinator was hired to help enhance the student onboarding experience.
  5. A program was started to identify and recruit volunteers and match them with needs within Academia Cristo and church planting groups.
  6. Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional held their first convention in Moca, Dominican Republic.
  7. The Latin America seminary program (Seminario Cristo) is wrapping up year two of test courses and has plans in place for 2024. Artemio Garcia from Mexico is currently teaching Old Testament Isagogics.
  8. Plans are set for Rev. Larry Schlomer to lead the Diaspora Ministry Program, continuing the foundation that was laid by Rev. Carl Leyrer through Hispanic Outreach Project in the United States.

 

 




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Port of calling

“Port is where the heart is.” If you’re stitching a saying onto a pillow or a quilt for a sailor, maybe you can use that one. Port is important: It’s where a sailor reconnects with land and with all the comforts to be found there—if only for a short time, until the ship is ready to sail again.

L to R: Stefan Felgenhauer, Dan Witte, Joel Hoff, Dan Kroll, Keegan Dowling

I was once a sailor on the M/V James R. Barker, a thousand-foot-long freighter ship hauling coal and taconite pellets back and forth across the Great Lakes of North America. Did you know that we have a system of Great Lakes here in Africa, too? My favorite port-of-call was Duluth, Minn. I enjoyed the beautiful book and music shops, as well as Erbert & Gerbert sub sandwiches. However, I had been hoping for more. I had hoped to find a WELS pastor who could visit me and give me communion. But there was a vacancy, a situation far too familiar to many of us in today’s WELS, some 20 years later.

The Port of Douala is one of the greatest port cities on the continent of Africa. In fact, it is the largest city in the country of Cameroon. When it comes to WELS mission work in West Africa, the Port of Douala actually functions like a spiritual port. When several of us missionaries met with pastors in September, only one of them was from Douala. All the rest of us were “ships,” so to speak, coming to Douala simply for the purpose of meeting around the gospel of Jesus Christ! Douala—for WELS mission work—is nothing more and nothing less than a “port of calling.”

Missionaries Dan Witte and Dan Kroll were studying and meeting with pastors from three West African synods: Christ the King and All Saints of Nigeria and the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). Because of the multi-dimensional security threats present in the region, for the moment WELS missionaries are not able to travel to Nigeria or to Cameroon, apart from just one city in Cameroon: Douala. Because we couldn’t meet them where they were, our brothers came to meet us in port. Missionary Joel Hoff flew in from Zambia, to give a presentation about the very successful TELL online outreach program, which pastors can use both to teach their congregations and to discover new prospects in their own country. Director of Missions Operations Stefan Felgenhauer also flew in from Wisconsin.

Missionary Keegan with Pastor Israel, professor at the seminary of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon

I, Missionary Keegan Dowling, also ended up in Douala, our port of gospel calling. I met with yet a different church body: Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod. They hail from a distant part of Cameroon, where there is a violent and dangerous conflict. Yet, a group of leaders trekked down to Douala, so that we could study the Bible together and talk about Holy Trinity’s mission plans. Holy Trinity is not yet in fellowship with WELS, but this is their desire. So, my job is to work with Holy Trinity along a pathway of studies and discussions that the One Africa Team uses to bring church bodies into fellowship.

An interesting thing about Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod is that many of the leaders and members speak French! In fact, they are our first French-speaking partner church body (although God is blessing our efforts in other parts of francophone Africa, too—stay tuned for future blog posts!) When we “drop anchor” in our “port of calling” we read the Bible together in French. We discuss the issues in French. And outside of class, walking around the Port of Douala, guess what? Missionaries like Pastor Kroll and I get to practice a lot of real-life French! Each trip adds to our capabilities. It further increases our ability to call: to call our fellow sinners to our common Savior throughout French-speaking Africa. This is why the Port of Douala is our “port of calling.” And, God willing, it will be joined by more ports of calling, too.

Written by Rev. Keegan Dowling, world missionary on the One Africa Team, based in Lusaka, Zambia. 

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Medical camp in Kenya planned for February 2024

Originally appears in the Central Africa Medical Mission October 2023 Newsletter. Learn more and follow updates at camm.us.

The work of the One Africa Team has been blessed as they continue to build relationships with various Lutheran synods throughout Africa. One of those is the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) in Kenya. The synod is led by Pastor Mark Onunda. Pastor Onunda and several other pastors left the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and began the task of building the LCMC from scratch. LCMC is now in fellowship with WELS and has congregations scattered throughout the country. Pastor Onunda spends much of his time on the road, (Kenya is about the size of Texas) encouraging and training leaders and bringing God’s Word to the congregations. We pray God gives him the strength to keep up this monumental effort.

In Zambia and Malawi, our clinics have demonstrated God’s love for all people by looking after their physical and spiritual needs. In fact, part of WELS’ early success in Zambia in the 1960s was due to the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) clinic in Mwembezhi. To help grow the church in Kenya, Pastor Onunda has proposed something similar: a medical camp. The members of thee CAMM stateside committee have prayerfully considered expanding their work to help in Kenya based on several investigative visits by Gary Evans and One Africa Team Missionary John Roebke.

Short term medical camps, which last about a week, are common in Kenya and are used by church organizations to bring people to church properties where they are given physical and spiritual care. A camp might expect to see 3,000 to 4,000 patients over a four- or five-day period. The local government health care agencies support these camps as they are a means of health screening to populations who might otherwise have no access to health care.

CAMM is partnering with the One Africa Team, Christian Aid and Relief, and the LCMC-Kenya to conduct a medical camp in late February 2024. The camp will be held on the grounds of St. Paul’s Church, Kwiangachi, Kirinyaga County, which is located about a 3-hour drive northeast of Nairobi. The church has land, but no buildings, making the camp quite a logistical exercise. Two large 100-seat tents will be provided for shelter and privacy; one will be used as a reception/triage/devotion area and one as a pharmacy. Smaller tents will be used as individual consulting rooms on nutrition, cancer screenings, outpatient services, dental work, eye treatments, and mental health. We will provide the medications and medical supplies. We will also rent port-a-potties and provide a tank for drinking water. Medical staff and some medical equipment will be provided by the government. Transport and accommodation will be provided for staff and volunteers.

The LCMC-Kenya is engaged in much of the ongoing planning and coordination. They will also provide volunteers for security, administration, and making lunch time meals. Pastors from the LCMC-Kenya will hold ongoing devotions and provide pastoral services during each day of the camp. Patients who need follow-up and referral will be directed to go to local health agencies. We have met with Kirinyago County Health Officials who have approved the camp and will provide 25 medical staff, medical equipment, and an ambulance in case of emergencies.

CAMM has agreed to manage the clinic on behalf of the One Africa Team. The camp provides an opportunity for U.S.-based medical and non-medical volunteers to provide assistance. As this is the first of what could be many medical camps, CAMM stateside committee members will be the first set of volunteers to attend the camp. If this camp is successful, we hope to offer similar camps in the future, which will open volunteer opportunities to more WELS members.

Please pray for the success of this camp as it provides an opportunity for healing; and, most importantly, sharing God’s Word with so many people.

Written by Mr. Gary Evans, Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) field director.

 




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What’s the deal with the name?

On Aug. 2 of this year, following a rousing address to convention delegates by Rev. Tonny Quintero of Medellin, Colombia, the hundreds of delegates assembled in the Michigan Lutheran Seminary gymnasium to officially recognize fellowship between WELS and Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional.

I had the privilege of attending the convention with Rev. Quintero (being by his side for what some have called the most energetic 20 minutes in synod convention memory) and was able to hear the warm response both from the convention as a whole and from countless individuals who approached the Colombian visitor with a warmth that transcended the language barrier. One question, though, that did come up multiple times was something to the effect of, “So what’s the deal with the name?” And, “Why wouldn’t the word “Lutheran” appear in the name of a Lutheran church body?”

It’s a fair question. First of all, it is not because the church body is ashamed of its “Lutheran-ness.” Quite the contrary. When I meet with the founders of this synod, the words “luterano confesional” constantly find their way into conversation and the first article of the synod’s constitution proudly proclaims, “El nombre de este Sínodo Luterano Confesional es: Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional.” – The name of this confessional Lutheran Synod is . . .

The founders of this synod chose the name it did not because they have a low regard for being Lutheran, but rather because they have such a high regard for the Lutheran-ness they have received. They love that WELS had such a love for the truth that they brought them a Lutheran-ness that was not degraded by compromising what the Bible says, but that stands on scripture alone. They love that WELS had such a love for the lost that they offered their treasures and talents to send missionaries south to share the precious truths of grace alone and faith alone with them. So, these church leaders brought to faith and to Lutheranism by “us” adopted the name “WELS” in a hope to also emulate the confessional stance and mission zeal of their sister synod to the north.

Additionally, there is one other parallel worth mentioning. The WELS was founded by a tiny group of church leaders who met in equally tiny Granville, Wis., many years ago. When the synod met at convention this past August, there were hundreds of delegates present who represented hundreds of thousands of WELS members from across the country.

The month after I was with Rev. Tonny Quintero in that packed gym in Saginaw, Mich., the two of us traveled to the first annual convention of the Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional in the rural outskirts of Moca, Dominican Republic. The convention there had just 12 attendees. Although the gathering was small, they look forward to the possibility of welcoming many more into their fellowship. As they made their plans Isaiah 55:10-11 came up many times. That group, now so small, made bold plans built on the confidence that the Word will not return empty; plans made with the prayer that their small synod will soon swell with churches formed through the training provided by Academia Cristo.

Written by Rev. Andrew Johnston, world missionary on the Latin America mission team, in Doral, Fla.

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Nutrition and Formation

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Nutrition and Formation

The great questions of life pursue us. When they catch up to us, they grab ahold of us and do not let go. Philosophers muse upon them. Theologians preach about them. Politicians manipulate them. Laypeople think about these big questions too. What is the good life? How shall we live? Where did we come from and where are we going? How do the physical and spiritual interact? At the core of all these questions is an anthropological question: Who am I? This question pursues every person. It can even haunt us.

Genesis Anthropology

The early chapters of Genesis address this anthropological question. We are embodied souls. We are created in the image of God. This image is lost but a shell remains. This image is regained in Christ. We were created with original righteousness but now have original sin. It is all there. Genesis provides the reader with new angles on this existential question seemingly every time we take it up and read it. No wonder some of the great theologians like Luther and Augustine found their way back to Genesis late in their careers. The great questions grab ahold of us and do not let go.

Among other important doctrines, Genesis subtly tells us that humans are 1) psychosomatic people1, 2) people of words, 3) eaters, and 4) worshipers. First, we are psychosomatic people. We are not simply brains on a stick. We have bodies. You cannot get around it. A person cannot simply assert, “I am not spiritual.” We do not have a choice. This is as ridiculous as saying “I don’t have a body.” Yes, you do!

We are people of words. We were created by words. We primarily gain knowledge through words. We interact with each other primarily with words. We interact with God with/through words and are to take him at his Word. No wonder Jesus is the Word through whom all things were made.

We are also eaters. We eat not only to survive physically but to interact with one another. Try to think of a culture that does not gather around the table for important events. You can’t. It is how we mark occasions and enjoy each other. Eating is as much spiritual as it is physiological. No wonder God chooses to eat with us and not just speak with us.

Finally, we are worshipers. Every person has a number one in their life. They might not call it a god but it sure acts like one. It might be their nation-state, their political party, their family, their career, or anything else that gives them their identity and answers for them the great anthropological questions. These gods demand their time, their money, and their energy. Another way to say it is that they demand worship. But none of these gods love them back.

Nutrition and Formation

This Genesis anthropology is quite different than late modern anthropology. Late modern anthropology describes humans as evolved animals, as machines, or, more applicably, as consumers. Work is for production. Rest is to prepare us for work and not contemplation. Eating is for nutrition or fuel. Modern anthropology also tends to see humans as consumers of information. We are learners. Most of our activity is located in the brain, not in the heart or the stomach as the ancients saw it. This affects our view of ourselves, the world, God, and worship.

We need spiritual nutrition or as Ambrose famously stated, “Because I always sin, I ought always take the medicine.”2 He was speaking about Holy Communion, but it applies also to absolution and to the Word of God. We need it. Why? Because we are sinner-saints. We need the medicine. We need the nutrition. Jesus quotes a portion of this Old Testament passage during his temptation, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt 8:3). Jesus is the Bread of Life that keeps us alive spiritually. We need it as much as we need physical bread and water, even more.

Ambrose: “Because I always sin, I ought always take the medicine.”

We also know that health is not just about putting the right food into our bodies (we are more than machines); it is also habitual. Healthy habits matter as much as calorie counting. We rightly speak about being fed by God’s Word, but perhaps a fuller concept than “nutrition” is “formation.” We are psychosomatic people that eat, use words, and worship. This means that words, eating, and physical realities like rituals, rites, architecture, and art form us. They make us who we are.

We can be malformed, or we can be formed beneficially. A child who lives in a violent home is malformed. As he grows, he might only express his emotions through violence. A child who grows up surrounded by books is more apt to be a seeker of knowledge. These things form us. Let’s take a look at two modern views of humans that (mal)form us. The first is the idea that we are primarily consumers. Advertisers want us to believe that certain products will change our lives and even give us an identity. “I am a Dodge guy” or “We are an Apple family.” We are even told in times of economic crises that it is our patriotic duty to play our consumer role in the economy. Our patriotism is connected to our consumerism. The second is that we are thinking-things or, more charitably, students. We take in information, and this makes us better people. We are smarter and more apt to be successful. Notice that these two views are connected. We consume information.

Both consumerism and information-ism affect our view of worship.

Notice also that both consumerism and information-ism affect our view of worship. We are consumers of the spiritual. This is different than seeing ourselves as embodied souls that need to be fed both physically and spiritually. We tend to choose what information we want to consume rather than approaching God to be formed.

The information matters, but we need to be more than informed; we need to be formed. We tend to privilege the information over the formation. We privilege the teaching over the ritual. This is an anthropological mistake. It assumes that we are primarily thinking-things, hearers, or, at best, students. It assumes that we are consumers of information. This is a mistake because we are embodied souls. The body matters. Christ comes to us not just in Word but in physical-Word. He knows who we really are despite our modern anthropology.

Let’s think about ritual and teaching for a moment. There are three options when it comes to the relationship between information and formation. Option number one is ritual without teaching. Scripture repeatedly warns us about this. “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (Ps 51:16). This only ends in shallow work-righteousness. We go through the motions, and this somehow benefits us. The second option is teaching without ritual. Theoretically this can work. A person can hear the Word of God and believe it. But this option is mediocre and, I would argue, not possible. We still occupy time and space. Every church is liturgical. The pastor has to wear something! The congregation has to gather somewhere! There must be an order of service even if it is sitting with Quakers in a bare room waiting for the Spirit to move someone to speak. That’s a liturgy and that liturgy proclaims a theology and forms the worshiper. The third option is ritual with teaching. This is the best option because it fully embraces our anthropological reality: we are embodied souls that occupy time and space and are formed not just by information but by art, architecture, movement, song, and prayer.

Forgiveness is not a reminder of an ancient event but a delivery of that forgiveness.

Explaining ritual also provides an opportunity to teach that forgiveness is not a reminder of an ancient event but a delivery of that forgiveness. The saving actions of Christ are not merely for us to recall intellectually but for us to receive in the here and now with real ears from real voices. Forgiveness is a present reality, medicine, and nutrition that continually forms us and maintains our status with God. Absolution is a good case study. I prefer when the absolution is spoken in the first person, present tense, “I forgive,” rather than in the third person, past tense, “God forgave.” I am not arguing that one is more valid than the other. It’s not. Yet there is something special about the pronouncement of forgiveness in the present moment instead of a slight degree of separation between the repentant Christian and the forgiveness. It is as if the minister says to the penitent, “Make no mistake about it, right here and right now, these sins are forgiven.” It is not a reminder of a past event or even a declaration of a present event occurring elsewhere. It’s an event that is occurring right here and right now.

Not only does the different subject in the absolution teach us about the tangible means by which God delivers his grace, but ritual can as well. If taught properly, liturgical actions like kneeling for confession, the sign of the cross employed with absolution, and bowing the head also teach the present reality of the forgiveness delivered through the voice of the minister (Jn 20:21-23). The same can be true of other rituals. Think of an eight-sided baptismal font that points to the eight people in the ark (1 Peter 3:20) and to our eternal life.3 Or consider the musical contrast between the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei? The heavenly “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Rv 4:8) joins the heavenly choir with the choir of worshipers in the local congregation in great anticipation of a foretaste of the heavenly banquet while the Angus Dei sobers the worshiper. Christ must die and we must carry a cross. All of this forms us.

We privilege the teaching over the ritual. This is an anthropological mistake.

With this reality in mind, it seems that the best course of action is to thoughtfully and deliberately plan—and teach—worship so that all five senses are engaged, proclaiming the gospel clearly and boldly to embodied souls. What follows are a few simple examples of how we can be thoughtful about such matters without falling into the trap of empty ritual. As we go forward, remember that we are either formed or malformed. Everything we do matters. It is a heavy burden for the worship planner to carry but a delightful cross at the same time.

Examples

Let’s start with hymnody. What follows is an oversimplification but helpful. Early Reformation hymnody was largely didactic. Think of Luther’s hymns based on the Small Catechism. There was a need for teaching at that moment. When we jump to Pietism, we see a move from the objective to the subjective. The subject of the sentences becomes “I” instead of “God.” These hymns reflect the heart. Then there is the sweet spot exemplified by the hymns of Paul Gerhardt. The doctrine is applied. The information doesn’t only teach but forms as it engages the heart.

Movement and posture matter as well. Whether you sing an introit, process in behind a crucifix, or walk up the steps to the altar at the beginning of the service, this movement teaches the observer about the presence of God. Yes, God is everywhere but he chooses to be sought in certain places. For New Testament believers, it is in Word and Meal, Baptism and Absolution. Our liturgical movements form us. If we truly believe that Christ is present in the Supper, our actions around the elements will form the worshipers’ view of the reality of the Supper. We stand to show respect. We also stand to confess the faith and be counted among the faithful who have gone before us. We kneel to confess our sins and ask for mercy. We sit to receive. Movements and posture matter.

Some congregations no longer “pass the plate.” It is an archaic tradition considering online giving (and COVID), but there is still value in bringing the offering up to the Lord’s altar. Does not this physical movement teach us about stewardship and therefore form us as we watch the movement to the altar?

The Prayer of the Church is a general prayer. It may connect to the theme of the day but also should include petitions for the world, the congregation, and individuals in the worshiping community. It is a good practice to consistently pray for governmental officials by name especially those elected officials for whom some congregants didn’t vote. This teaches us about God’s Two Kingdoms. It forms us. It helps the worshiper broaden their sympathy as well. It is also a good practice to pray for disasters and tragedies around the globe and not just events in America or Europe. Can we pray for Ethiopia as much as we do for Ukraine? This forms us.

Finally a word on preaching. There is a difference between preaching the gospel and preaching about the gospel. The former proclaims, “This is for you!” The latter informs. It tells us about the gospel in an academic way, but there is a subtle degree of separation between the gospel and the listener. It is primarily for the brain and not the whole person. The sermon may be considered an extension of confession/absolution. It terrifies and then heals. This is the dynamic Word Paul speaks about in Romans 1. It is the power (dynamis) to save. It does something. It is dynamic. It is not merely to be learned. If we see the listener as a person with a free will who only needs the correct information to change their lives or make the right decisions, we have the wrong anthropology. We preach to sinner-saints who need to die and who will rise. Perhaps the language should be less “Here is some information” and more “This is who you already are in Christ, a saint.” It is the difference between proclamation and formation on the one hand and mere information on the other hand.

Embodied souls or thinking-things?

Genesis anthropology insists that we see ourselves as embodied souls and not just thinking-things. Biblical worship always involved movement, rituals, a meal or sacrifice, along with hymns, prayers, readings, and preaching. It is healthy for us to examine and critique the anthropology we inherit from our culture. There simply is no such thing as a spiritual but not physical being or the opposite, a physical but not spiritual person. Nor is there such a thing as a church without liturgy or ritual. We are therefore called to plan worship with this anthropological reality in mind with the sober reminder that all we do will form or malform the worshiper. A heavy burden, indeed. But also an opportunity. Let’s teach the ritual. It will bear much fruit as we both provide the nutrition burdened souls so desperately need and help them answer the great anthropological questions that pursue us all.

By Michael Berg

Rev. Dr. Michael Berg is an associate professor of theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College where he teaches courses on Worship, Apologetics, Martin Luther, Christ in the Old Testament, and Christ and Culture. He is the author of Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing (1517), The Baptismal Life (NPH), On Any Given Sunday: The Story of Christ in the Divine Service (1517), and an upcoming book from NPH Peter: Theologian of the Cross.


1 Psychosomatic medicine explores how social, psychological, and behavioral factors affect physical health, mental health, and quality of life.
2 De Sacramentis V, 4, 25. Also AC XXIV, 33.
3 “Early Christian theologians interpreted … baptisteries and pools symbolically. Eight was the number of Noah’s family saved in the Flood. The Eighth Day, Sunday, referred to the day of Christ’s resurrection and the coming of the New Age which we enter in Baptism.” Huffman and Stauffer, Where We Worship, Augsburg (1987).


Cleansed and Fed: The Sacramental Life

Could your congregation benefit from deeper exposure to the ideas in this article? This could happen through comments in sermons or through a Bible class. See WTL 62:a-c for an eight-part study based on a synod convention essay, “Cleansed and Fed: The Sacramental Life.” Free download at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-confessional-perspectives. Selected quotations:

At this meal God will provide us his antidote for sin’s poison. Here he will serve real food for starving sinners. (15)

A preacher may find himself explaining the saving work of Jesus rather than preaching Jesus. Faith does involve knowing things. And yes, it’s true: explanations of Law and Gospel are still Law and Gospel, and so they are still powerful. But if all the preacher ever does is explain God’s saving plan, his listeners will soon gain the impression that faith is primarily a matter of understanding explanations.

But then why should they keep listening to the same explanations about Jesus’ saving work over and over again? In time they’ll begin to think of their pastor as though he were a restaurant that only hands out menus but never actually serves food. They’ll listen to his sermons and say, “Sounds good, but I’m still hungry!” If they’re loyal, they’ll keep coming to listen anyway, out of duty. But no one will gladly listen for long. (18)

 


 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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Preach the Word – Law-Gospel Model Revisited

Themes in Current Homiletical Theory

Law-Gospel Model Revisited

Law-gospel distinctions are widely recognized as a hallmark of Lutheranism. In its American confessional form, C. F. W. Walther has profoundly shaped this model through his lectures to seminary students in the nineteenth century. They remain widely read today, and in many ways Walther’s approach has influenced the approach of many Lutheran preachers today. Walther strongly emphasizes the law’s condemning role that exposes sin, leads people to despair of their self-righteousness, and leads them to see their need for Christ. He strongly emphasizes the gospel’s comforting role that announces the forgiveness of sins, proclaims Christ’s righteousness, and leads them to their Savior. This classic Lutheran law-gospel approach is summed up as follows:

Accordingly, we may not preach the Gospel, but must preach the Law to secure sinners. We must preach them into hell before we can preach them into heaven. By our preaching our hearers must be brought to the point of death before they can be restored to life by the Gospel. They must be made to realize that they are sick unto death before they can be restored to health by the Gospel. First their own righteousness must be laid bare to them, so that they may see of what filthy rags it consists, and then, by the preaching of the Gospel, they are to be robed in the garment of the righteousness of Christ. . . . They must first be reduced to nothing by the Law in order that they may be made to be something, to the praise of the glory of God, by the Gospel.1

This is the Lutheran model: first the law, then the gospel. Preach the law to expose sin. Preach the gospel to announce forgiveness. But that begs the question: for what goal?

But that begs the question: for what goal?

Law-gospel preaching has been so engrained in Lutheranism that often many do not even stop to ask that question. We expect the preacher to proclaim law and gospel because that is what we are accustomed to. And it is little wonder why so many Lutheran sermons, regardless of the unique text itself, are two-part sermons, where the first part exposes sin and the second part announces forgiveness. Preachers first ask the question of specific law, “How have my people sinned against this text?” Then they ask the question of specific gospel, “How can I announce forgiveness to my people?” This, then, is what application is. After all, Walther said that since the fall into sin, the law “has but a single function, viz., to lead men to the knowledge of their sin,” before he famously said, “The Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.”2 But that begs the question: then what?

The Need for a Lutheran Philosophy of Preaching

This is what a philosophy of preaching answers. A philosophy speaks to “why we do what we do the way we do it.” In advanced studies of any discipline (especially at the doctoral level), students need to wrestle with their discipline’s philosophy. For example, there are philosophies of worship, education, and ministry, all of which explain why we take the approach we do and what we want our approach to accomplish. Lutherans have done a good job in articulating a philosophy of worship.3 I have found Lutherans have not done as good a job in articulating a philosophy of preaching. Certainly, we speak of the importance of law-gospel preaching within the liturgy. But many recent homiletical texts outside of Lutheran circles have chapters or sections on an explicit philosophy of preaching.4 Some entire books are devoted to a philosophy or theology of preaching.5 When I surveyed the Lutheran scene, there seemed to be little explicit treatment on a philosophy/theology of preaching in books, though there have been some advancements in journal articles.6

One hearer leaves comforted that her sins are forgiven; another hearer leaves clueless on what to do on Monday morning.

Now imagine what happens when we have no explicit philosophy of preaching—in other words, when we have not explicitly stated why we preach law and gospel and what we intend law and gospel to accomplish. Preaching becomes notoriously subjective and based on assumptions, both on the part of the preacher and the hearer. One preacher feels it is his duty to simply identify the specific sin and specific gospel; another preacher feels it is his duty to also identify ways the people can apply this text in their lives. One hearer leaves comforted that her sins are forgiven; another hearer leaves clueless on what to do on Monday morning. If a philosophy of preaching is at best assumed and at worst forgotten, it is little wonder that someone tells a pastor his sermon was great, while another tells him it was boring.

In current homiletical theory, it is incumbent on Lutheran homileticians to get up to speed on what is a distinctively Lutheran philosophy of preaching. Therefore, to make the implicit explicit, my philosophy of Lutheran homiletics is this: God’s called representative heralds God’s message of law and gospel that is specific to the exposition of the text, the lives of the hearers, and the place in the church year, in order to indict them of their idolatrous sin, comfort them with Christ’s unconditional forgiveness, and urge them to live the Christian life more fully under the cross. Let’s break this down.

We are preaching to people, not merely presenting doctrine.

First, the emphasis begins with God. The message is his inspired Word, and he is the one who calls preachers through the church to herald that faithfully, so that preachers can honestly say they are “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20, NIV). Next, law-gospel specificity is hierarchical: first the text, then the hearers, finally the church year. Law-gospel cannot simply be this oversimplified construct that mechanistically follows Walther by rearranging or re-emphasizing the text,7 no matter how convenient that may be for Lutheran preachers. Law-gospel proclamation needs to originate from a careful exegesis of the text, and the contours of that specific text need to be reflected in the contours of that specific sermon. Law-gospel proclamation also needs to be specific to the lives of the hearers, since we are preaching to people, not merely presenting doctrine. Law-gospel proclamation finally considers its place in the church year. Lutherans have often used the church year beneficially, but they cannot simply preach the lectionary for the sake of the lectionary.8

The key is that this philosophy of preaching includes three purposes or end goals. Law-gospel preaching is not only about indicting the hearers of their sin and comforting them with Christ’s forgiveness. Law-gospel preaching also needs to explore ramifications for living the Christian life more fully under the cross.

The key is that this philosophy of preaching includes three purposes or end goals.

Objections to a Wholistic Lutheran Philosophy of Preaching

I call this philosophy of preaching wholistic because it emphasizes wholistic application that includes sanctification. The stereotype that Lutheran preaching points out sin, announces forgiveness, and then quickly says “Amen!” is a stereotype, but all stereotypes come from somewhere. I am not contending every Lutheran sermon falls into this category, but I am contending that it is a danger for those of us whom Walther has influenced. Law-gospel preaching has a purpose, and the end goal is not merely to announce sin and grace for the sake of doing so.

One objection to this is that the law as mirror is primary. So the Lutheran thinking goes that when Paul says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love” (Eph 5:1-2), the primary application ought to be that the hearers have not followed God’s example, have not lived as God’s dearly loved children, and have not walked in the way of love. They are forgiven of this, sure, but they leave church with little guidance or inspiration to actually do something. But consider authorial intent. One would wonder why Paul continues by motivating with the gospel, “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” when really he is trying to expose sin by the law. One would wonder why he addresses his audience in such benevolent terms, “dearly loved children,” when he has already demonstrated how to address his audience in the scathing terms of the law (2:1-3). Those factors show that preachers ought to preach the law in this text the way it was intended, as a guide to sanctified living. What Walther has emphasized, therefore, is not wrong, but it is often incomplete and misleading.9

Paul’s solution was not to simply give up preaching sanctification but to motivate through the gospel, clear up confusions, and then fearlessly preach sanctification.

A related objection is that even if the law is preached as a guide, the law will still accuse the hearers of sin, and so it is impossible to preach sanctification, strictly speaking.10 So the Lutheran thinking goes that when a preacher encourages people to live according to Ephesians 5:1-2, some will still think of how they have not. Now all communication can be misunderstood. Above I focused on how the misunderstanding happens at the preacher’s level; here the misunderstanding happens at the congregation’s level. But they are related. If the preacher is preaching in line with authorial intent—addressing them as redeemed children of God, benevolently motivating them with the gospel, speaking to their new man as their true identity who wants to do God’s will—that can help the congregation too. But what if they still feel accused, even after that? Presumably this happened with Paul himself, and we can learn from how he preached sanctification. His solution was not to simply give up preaching sanctification, lest people misunderstand. His solution was to motivate through the gospel, clear up confusions as they arise, and then fearlessly preach sanctification regularly and explicitly. So the solution is more evangelical encouragement, not less.

If epistles were meant to be read aloud to congregations, they essentially functioned sermonically.

A final objection is that sanctification preaching could go against textual emphasis. Some texts emphasize appropriation—truths to believe, not actions to do. So the Lutheran thinking goes that, in order to be faithful to the text, the preacher should stick with law-gospel preaching that exposes sin and announces forgiveness, and leave it at that. On days like Christmas and Easter, do not the texts simply announce God’s saving acts, and preachers should not feel compelled to urge people to be like the shepherds or the women and spread the gospel? There are always dangers of forced applications, but the inconsistency of this approach is that we do not follow it when preaching on texts that are all law. To be faithful to the text, does this mean we do not consider the gospel? No, we find the gospel in the broader context. This should also hold true with sanctification, and this is confirmed by examining NT epistolary rhetoric. If epistles were meant to be read aloud to congregations (Col 4:16, 1 Thess 5:27), they essentially functioned sermonically, and we can learn from how NT authors shaped their messages theologically. Romans is a clear example of law-gospel preaching that indicts sin and announces forgiveness. But why did Paul structure Romans the way he did? He did not stop at chapter 11 for a reason. He continued on to the paraenetic chapters 12–14 because law-gospel proclamation was not meant simply for the Romans to believe something. That was a necessary foundation, but what Paul was really after was for the Romans to do something. Paul does not assume the Romans will automatically put law-gospel proclamation into practice, simply if they hear and believe it. Nor should we. We need to encourage our hearers to see how it will actually impact their actions. The basics of NT epistolary rhetoric is that the indicative is the foundation and empowerment for the imperative. If we are to model that in our preaching, we will always lead our congregations to see how God’s acts for us are the foundation and empowerment for our acts for God. Here is a selection from my Christmas Eve sermon on Luke 2 from 2021:

God has sent a Savior into our world, a Savior for you and for me, to give us peace. And that vertical peace between God and us now inspires horizontal peace between us and others. If the epic cosmic conflict between God and us is now pacified, then suddenly all the conflicts between us and others seem rather small. Now this church can be a place where people don’t constantly fight about masks and COVID. Now this church can be a place where life-long white Christians welcome people of different races, cultures, and backgrounds to sit next to them. Now this church can be a place where all of us first listen to each other before trying to express our opinions. That’s how the surprising peace with God gives us surprising peace with others.

The indicative is the foundation and empowerment for the imperative.

Lutheran preaching cannot simply be reduced down in toto to the law-gospel model; it is much more than that.11 In current homiletical scholarship, Lutheranism is not exactly known for its robust sanctification preaching. That need not be the case. By no means does the law-gospel model need to be rejected. It needs to be divested of its oversimplistic caricatures, embraced for all its beautiful richness, and preached with all its compelling appeal, so that God’s people are indicted of their idolatrous sin, comforted with Christ’s unconditional forgiveness, and urged to live their Christian lives more fully under the cross. All three purposes are vital.

Written by Jacob Haag

Rev. Dr. Haag serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor, MI. His doctorate is from Westminster Theological Seminary with research in New Testament and preaching. His research project was entitled “Evangelical Exhortation: Paraenesis in the Epistles as Rhetorical Model for Preaching Sanctification.” He also serves on the Michigan District Commission on Worship.


1 C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (CPH, 1986), 118.
2 Walther, Law and Gospel, 236, 403.
3 See Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, tr. M. H. Bertram (CPH, 1968); Timothy Maschke, Gathered Guests, 2nd ed. (CPH, 2009).
4 See Part 3, “A Theology of Christ-Centered Messages” in Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), and chap. 3, “Paul’s Theology of Preaching” in Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007).
5 See A. Duane Litfin, Paul’s Theology of Preaching (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015); Jonathan I. Griffiths, Preaching in the New Testament, New Studies in Biblical Theology 42 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2017).
6 See Joel Gerlach and Richard Balge, Preach the Gospel (NPH, 1982); Paul Grime and Dean Nadasdy, eds., Liturgical Preaching (CPH, 2001); Mark W. Birkholz, Jacob Corzine, and Jonanthan Mumme, eds., Feasting in a Famine of the Word (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016); Edward Grimenstein, A Lutheran Primer for Preaching (CPH, 2015); Richard Caemmerer, Preaching for the Church (CPH, 1959). The first half of Grimenstein’s book is an exception, but it is not very comprehensive, and there is little to no treatment of sanctification preaching within a law-gospel model. The closest I could find to a Lutheran philosophy of preaching is David Schmitt, “The Tapestry of Preaching,” Concordia Journal 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011), 107–129. See also Richard Lischer, A Theology of Preaching: The Dynamics of the Gospel, rev. ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001); Richard Lischer, “Cross and Craft: Two Elements of a Lutheran Homiletic,” Concordia Journal 25, no. 1 (January 1999), 4–13; Richard Warneck, “Notes on Preaching Sanctification,” Concordia Journal 25, no. 1 (January 1999), 56–64. Regardless, there is a great need for a current, comprehensive confessional Lutheran homiletical textbook.
7 For example, gospel application must always follow law application, or a sermon’s last sentence must always declare the gospel and not exhort sanctification.
8 In current homiletics, much of the criticism against lectionary preaching (especially by those who favor lectio continua) is that lectionary preaching is atomistic in that the church year determines the meaning and focus of the text, not the text itself. Before we rush to defend lectionary preaching, we need to admit this can be a danger.
9 See footnote 2 above. Walther does say the law as mirror is the only (not merely primary) function after the fall, which implies that preaching should only use the law in that sense. Even the traditional view is prone to misunderstanding, because “primary” is not explicitly defined. It is primary in a logical sense within the order of salvation, such that sins need to be revealed if gospel proclamation is to mean anything at all. If primary is meant in terms of rank, it is unfortunate (and not surprising) that preaching on the third use of the law is denigrated or neglected in Lutheranism. See footnote 10.]
10 Certain voices, particularly in the LCMS, have minimized or essentially denied the third use of the law as a function unto itself. They emphasize lex semper accusat to mean the law only accuses. Preaching the third use then becomes the other uses applied to Christians, or preaching sanctification simply becomes a return to justification and confession/absolution. See Timothy J. Wengert, A Formula for Parish Practice, Lutheran Quarterly Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 98; Louis A. Smith, “A Third Use Is the First and Second Use,” Lutheran Forum 37, no. 3 (2003): 65–67; Walter Bartling’s position in Scott R. Murray, Law, Life, and the Living God (CPH, 2002), 109–11.
11 Thanks to Tim Bourman for this insight.


Indicative-Imperative Structure

The indicative-imperative structure is a common way of analyzing epistles. Simply put, they declare, “Here’s who you are in Christ.” Then they encourage, “Act according to who you are in Christ.” “Therefore” ties the two together. The indicative and imperative do not merge together, as if sanctification causes justification, but they are inseparably connected. If it’s a text that’s imperatives, preachers need to root the imperative to the corresponding indicative. If it’s a text that’s indicatives, preachers need to show how the indicative will naturally flow to the corresponding imperative.


WORSHIP

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Athens of America

My wife and I were walking in the Boston Logan Airport after returning from a trip and on the wall there was a timeline of many Boston and greater-Boston area inventions. There was a picture of the first disposable blade razor put out by Gillette, a picture of the first microwave oven, a picture of Mark Zuckerberg in his Harvard dorm room inventing Facebook, and those are just a few of many others. Why do you think the city of Boston chose that exhibit to go on the wall of their airport? I wasn’t sitting in on the meetings that decided it, but I would guess it is because Boston is proud of their many inventions. They want you to know, before you have even stepped out of the airport, that Boston is a city of great minds, inventions, and innovation.

What does this have to do with starting a church in Boston? That’s a good question. I think there are several facts about our mission that do make it innovative or different than other settings. For one, WELS has never had a church in Boston. Secondly, seventy-five percent of the people who gathered in our house for Bible study last week don’t own a car. Finally, my wife and I live in the most densely populated city in all New England. Maybe that makes this mission start “innovative.” But the more I thought about it, and the more time you’d spend here, you’d realize that we really aren’t that innovative.

What does your normal day look like? This question is asked all the time, and for good reason; people want to know what it is like starting a mission church in a big city. Again, in so many ways, it isn’t all that inventive. My wife and I find different ways to get involved in the community and meet people, we spend time with people over food, and we grow with them in our love for our community and Savior. We study the Word, we pray for each other, and the Holy Spirit continually uses that Word to work faith in people’s hearts one by one. Do we have to be innovative with how we meet people? Sure. Will we have to be innovative with finding space to have worship when we are ready for that? Probably! But our tools for doing church planting are the same tools that have always been used for church planting – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’m not sure the first word you would use to describe our small mission church at this time is innovative or inventive. Yes, we have creative people and come up with new ways to reach the community, but our foundation is rooted in the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17). Thanks be to God for this opportunity to share the gospel to the many people of Boston! All involved on starting the church in Boston ask for your continued prayers as we continue to love God and love our neighbor in this great city.

Written by Rev. Joshua Koelpin, home missionary at the new start mission in Boston, Mass.

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Outstanding ministry blessings in Vancouver

Sometimes God just blesses us with blessings piled up on top of each other. At Saviour of the Nations in Vancouver, BC, we were blessed to have such a weekend on Oct. 1-2. Taking advantage of a local holiday weekend we were blessed to do a discipleship training with our mission counselor, Rev. Matt Vogt. But we packed much more into this weekend.

“The Story of the Bible” initiative

Since Sept.10, we have been doing an “all ministry Bible information class,” meaning every Bible class is a Bible information class. In place of a traditional sermon, we are substituting in a modified Bible lesson connecting an Old Testament story to Jesus in John’s gospel and the relevant doctrines. On Oct. 1, we had 50 people in worship, including five people who have never heard the gospel. And it happened to be on the day we had the clearest presentation of law and gospel. Among them was a gentleman who was raised a Hindu who called the message “beautiful”, a Muslim woman who had never attended a church before, a Japanese woman who had never heard of Jesus before, and a skeptic who was attending worship with his family member. Our Sudanese members came from Surrey and sang as a choir in worship to everyone’s delight.

Sampling dishes from the International Food Festival

The gospel message was doubly reinforced by also celebrating four adult confirmations in the same service. Our other prospects who regularly attend got to hear these four confirmands—Cindy, Taehoon, Chanmuk (Danny), and his wife May—publicly confess their confidence and faith in Jesus. It was a day we all pray the Holy Spirit can use to work in the hearts of those who heard the gospel for the one-hundredth time, and especially for those hearing it the first time.

International Food Festival

To celebrate all that was going on, including Korean Thanksgiving weekend and the Chinese mid-autumn festival, we had an “International Food Festival” after the service with 60 people attending, our highest attendance ever for a meal. We counted 14 countries from four continents represented in various groups among our attendees. Everyone brought dishes from their home country. We tried all kinds of food and had fun voting for different categories like “veggie magic” and “Instagram perfect.” One of our prospects who worked very hard on her Indian dish was so happy she won—it was a big hit for everyone!

Congregation annual meeting

After the food festival wrapped up, we had our annual meeting where we elected two new council leaders: Taehoon Kang from Vancouver and Hakim Kon from our Surrey Sudanese mission. I shared an overview of the church’s past year and what we are doing to share the gospel through building relationships. Rev. Matt Vogt was conveniently present to explain what WELS is to prospects and how we are planting new missions. Our chairman, Volo, presented about the budget and shared gratitude for the financial support we receive through synod subsidy.

Discipleship training

Discipleship training with Mission Counselor Matt Vogt

Twenty-one members, Pastor Matt Vogt, and 13 kids came back on Monday to do an all day discipleship and leadership training. Pastor Vogt shared with us what Biblical leadership looks like and inspired our members to be more involved with the day-to-day operations of our ministry. At the end of the session, both our Sudanese leaders and Vancouver leaders put together respective lists of areas where laypeople can step up and help with the ministry. We hope to be implementing a few each quarter and working on the lists in the coming months.

We ended the day with fellowship over a dinner of Mexican food and celebrating one of our Sudanese kid’s seventh birthday with a cake, singing, and a Lego present to top it off.

God really piled up the blessings for us this weekend. He let us lean into our mission name, “Saviour of the Nations”, to build more meaningful relationships with people through music, food, and above all, the gospel.

Shared by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations in Vancouver, B.C., Canada 





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Your gifts are making a difference in Africa

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

Philippians 1:3-6

The WELS One Africa Team currently works with established church bodies in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia. Your gifts are making a difference for these sister churches as we partner with them in outreach and assist in their theological education programs. Below are just a few specific ways that God is using your support to bring his gospel message to more people throughout Africa:

Constuction on the new school in Ethiopia

  • WELS is supporting the building of an additional elementary school campus that the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia will operate in Gambella, Ethiopia. The current campuses in Dukem serve over 750 students.
  • Missionary John Roebke and his wife, Nancy, assisted with a marriage workshop for pastors and their wives from the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya (LCMC–Kenya) alongside LCMC-Kenya President Mark Anariko Onunda. One attendee shared, “It has refreshed our family and taught us new things that will strengthen our staying together and our work in the Lord’s vineyard too. It was a good encouragement.”
  • Missionary Daniel Witte continues to visit various sister churches throughout Africa to provide theological education for pastors, and partner with the LCMC-Kenya to lead workshops for Kenyan lay and called church leaders.
  • Pastors from Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia come together in various locations throughout Africa to study different courses as they work towards a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A course on marriage was taught in Zambia in June, and another course on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was held recently in Malawi.

Thank you for your support! We pray that God continues to work through WELS’ sister churches and the One Africa Team to change lives in Africa—like those of Eric Kebeno from Soweto, Kenya, and Eunita Odongo, a deaconess in the LCMC-Kenya.

Pray for our African brothers and sisters in the faith as they continue to spread the message of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and love for sinners like you and me. Follow the One Africa Team on Facebook and subscribe to their blogs at oneafricateam.com for updates and stories of the Holy Spirit at work. Ask God to bless the work of the One Africa Team as they help spread the gospel throughout Africa.

Learn more about mission work in Africa at wels.net/africa.

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Taking the gospel to the people

How much time do you spend on the internet every day? Do you know? Is it more than you read your Bible? More than you pray? More than you exercise?

If you’re like me, then the answer to all of these questions is yes. This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip though, but rather to draw our eyes to an opportunity! Yes. God has given us an opportunity in the internet. We could become discouraged by the fact (as I do sometimes) that the internet is stealing our attention from the most important things in life and we should all just set down our phones and computers and enjoy each other’s company. But. . . that’s not the world we live in. We live in a modern age in which technology has improved our lives immensely. And now, as always, we will go to where the people are whether that’s by a river, in a village, on the “other side of town,” or on the internet.

In some parts of the world, like North America, COVID hasn’t been a big deal for a while, but in other parts of the world, mask mandates and PCR tests hung on for a long time. We in Asia felt the full brunt of that. COVID is basically over here now too, but it’s just been in the last six months or so that all restrictions have been lifted. That means that for the past three-plus years pretty much everyone has been doing almost everything on the internet: buying clothes, groceries, watching movies, finding partners, etc.

What does this have to do with the gospel?! Well, #theinternet. That’s how people do everything so that’s where the gospel must go as well. And we must go there and be present there with all our might, in the best way we possibly can.

And so, that’s what we’re doing. Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS) and Multi-Language Productions (MLP) have partnered up to reach all in Asia with God’s grace.

MLP has produced an online training platform called TELL Network. TELL Mandarin is a translated version of the TELL Network high-quality self-study courses called TELL which includes videos and quizzes. TELL Mandarin helps people read and understand God’s Word on their own and then teaches them how to lead others to do the same. MLP has translated and contextualized TELL for a Mandarin speaking audience, so that Mandarin speakers in East Asia and all over the world can learn of God’s love for me. After completing TELL Mandarin, ALS guides these students through its degree programs so that, in the end, they can become church leaders and shepherds for God’s people.

TELL Mandarin has enrolled thousands of students in Asia and the number of those who enroll is growing every day. We thank God for all those precious souls he brings to us through these digital means. We are blessed to be able to have such a far reach with such an incredible tool as TELL Mandarin to educate and bless people all throughout Asia!

Written by Tony Barthels, world missionary for the Asia One Team and recruiter for Asia Lutheran Seminary.

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Being part of the event

“What are some outreach strategies that you use?” “How do you meet new people?”

These are examples of the kind of questions that people ask me when they find out that I’m a pastor at a new church. My answers to these types of questions are usually pretty basic; make friends, work networks, get involved in the community, etc. When people ask those types of questions they are sometimes looking for specifics and ideas. With one year under my belt, I haven’t been at this long enough to know what is effective or not in the long run. However, one of the best outreach strategies that we employ at Amazing Grace started years before I even got here.

The active city of Dickinson has many vendor events throughout the year. Each one is sponsored by a large entity in the city. The Dickinson Press puts on an event called “The Women’s Expo.” The name makes it clear that the event is tailored to appeal to the women of the community. A member of Amazing Grace knows the person who runs the event and made a deal with her five years ago. Amazing Grace will provide entertainment for the children that come to the event in return we get a free booth space. It’s simple, a win for everyone; the mothers can shop or take a break while they or dad brings their children to play, The Dickinson Press has another thing to attract people to the event, and Amazing Grace has a booth presence as thousands of people walk by and are seen as a sponsor of the event.

Some years Amazing Grace sets up arts and crafts tables, other years we bring in a bouncy house. This year we had a bouncy house and six volunteers from the congregation to help manage all of the children. From 9 a.m. through 4 p.m., the bouncy house was full of kids.

So, why is this an effective outreach strategy for us? Maybe you can see it already. The dad or mom stays by the bouncy house to watch their child. This leads to a natural, unintrusive conversation environment. I and the members of Amazing Grace meet so many wonderful people and couples, some of whom are interested in checking out our new church. We had invitations to our launch service on October 15th out on the table if anyone was interested and had exposure to thousands of people in the community. Plus, over the years we’ve built a reputation with a major entity in Dickinson, the Dickinson Press. Five new prospects have connected with us from the most recent Women’s Expo.

Each situation is unique. We can’t run a whole vendor event on our own, but we can provide a valuable service for the event and the community through the Women’s Expo. If you are asking yourself the question, “How can my church meet new people?,” think about providing a service to a big event that’s already happening. Setting up a booth at an event is great, and the way I see it, being a part of the event in any way you can is even better. All of this is to open up more doors into people’s lives so we can share the saving gospel message with them.

Written by Rev. Joel Prange, home missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Dickinson, N.D.

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Giving God the glory. . . on and off the field

Jack Strand is a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bloomer, Wis. Jack played quarterback for Bloomer High School and was recruited to play in college. During the recruiting process, he and his parents, Jim and Veronica, made sure that the colleges that were recruiting him had WELS churches with campus ministries in their areas. It was important to Jack to keep God’s Word, what Jesus called the one thing we need most, at the center of his life.

Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) offered Jack a scholarship to play football. Ascension Lutheran Church was five minutes from the college campus. Rev. Jordan Uhlhorn from Ascension and Rev. Daniel Sprain from Shepherd of the Valley in West Fargo, N.D., lead the campus ministry each Thursday night for college students in the area. He committed to playing football for them in 2022. Jack is now a sophomore at MSUM where he plays football, studies engineering physics, and goes to church and campus ministry.

Another WELS member, Josiah Behm from Appleton, Wis,, is a junior who plays linebacker for the MSUM Dragons football team. Jack and Josiah go to church together on Sundays, the campus ministry studies on Thursdays, and to the various campus ministry events. About ten students attend the campus ministry studies and events. Jack and Josiah’s teammates see that their faith is important to them as they let their lights shine on and off the field.

Here’s what Jack has to say about being a student athlete:

“It gives you a different perspective than a non-Christian student athlete might have, because you are doing everything for a different reason. God says to do all things for his glory, so not only are you playing for other people and earthly reasons, but most importantly to give God glory. Being a student athlete is stressful and takes up a ton of time, so finding time to be in the Word and talk to God can be difficult, but absolutely necessary. It’s a blessing to be able to go to God in prayer in good times and bad. When things aren’t going well, you ask for his guidance and help, and when things are going well, you give him thanks and praise. Being a student athlete is also a great opportunity to let your light shine and show by example how a Christian lives their life.”

Here’s what Jack has to say about what campus ministry means:

“It’s a great opportunity to meet and connect with people your age who have the same faith, beliefs, and values in life as you do. Too often, people get sucked into college life and what they might see and do on campus, and so having a group of students who share the same faith is very valuable while continuing the walk of faith during the college years. Having gone to a public high school, I didn’t know a lot of WELS people my age. Now with campus ministry, I have the opportunity to meet WELS people my age and make friends with them, and continue to strengthen my faith while I’m in college. During our Bible studies we learn, talk to one another, and ‘encourage one another and build one another up’ as Paul said, and it is a blessing from God to be able to do so.”

Written by Rev. James Strand, serving at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Bloomer, Wis., and father to Jack.

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Lutheran Seminary installs principal in Zambia

Originally appears in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) newsletter. Subscribe to future updates from the CELC at celc.info/signup.

Pastor Davison Mutentami, LCCA-Z Chairman

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Zambia (LCCA-Z) joyfully gathered for the installation of Pastor Chibikubantu Simweeleba (pictured center above) as the new principal of the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia, on Saturday, September 16, 2023. Pastor Simweeleba is the seminary’s fifth principal in its nearly 60-year history. He is the second Zambian national pastor to fill this call.

Seminary Board of Control Chairman Pastor Edward Bangwe officiated at the morning service. Pastor David Baloyi based his sermon on the theme “Be Strong and Courageous!” from Joshua 1:1-9. Following the sermon, several area pastors shared their blessings and encouragement for Principal Simweeleba during a laying-on-of-hands ceremony.

A short program followed the service. LCCA-Z chairman Pastor Davison Mutentami brought the new principal greetings from the synod, encouraging Pastor Simweeleba to be among the synod’s pastors and members as an ambassador for the Seminary. The Simweelebas received well wishes and gifts from the attendees. The festivities concluded with a fellowship luncheon.

Pastor Simweeleba has been a pastor since 2009 and has served on the faculty of the Lutheran Seminary beginning in 2018. His responsibilities as principal will now take him beyond the seminary campus. He will use his experience in ministry to reach the synod’s membership as the face of the Seminary to recruit new students, nurture collaboration with the synod’s pastors and lay leadership, and along with the seminary faculty and the Board of Control, tailor the Seminary’s instructional program to meet the future ministerial needs of the LCCA-Z.

Written by Pastor Anthony Phiri, Dean of the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia

 




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The brotherhood in Nepal

The gospel creates a brotherhood. Jesus taught the gospel to his twelve disciples. They became his brothers. Yes, Judas betrayed him, forsaking the brotherhood. But when Jesus called Judas, he called him as a brother. Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34,35).

WELS missionaries enjoy a brotherhood in their mission fields. The Holy Spirit calls them to teach the gospel to church leaders in other nations. As they grow together in the gospel, they become friends and brothers. Yes, some, like Judas, will betray the cause of the gospel. But many will remain loyal. The brotherhood continues.

We enjoy a brotherhood with the church leaders of the CELC of Nepal. Our brotherhood grows when we study God’s Word together. Recently I traveled to Nepal to teach the book of Isaiah to ten church leaders.

We learned the gospel from Isaiah. We learned gospel encouragement from Isaiah. As we studied the call of Isaiah, we thought of ways to encourage others who have a ministry like Isaiah. God called Isaiah to “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes” (Isaiah 6:10). Isaiah had a difficult ministry, announcing God’s judgment on his unbelieving people.

The students composed messages of encouragement to share with WELS missionaries and national church leaders in difficult situations. The Nepal leaders have also suffered persecution for their Christian faith. Their own experience helped them express their encouragement.

One leader wrote, “I heard you are having trouble in your ministry, sometimes people come to beat you and hinder your work. I’m very sad to hear about that. Sometimes they will blame you with false things. But don’t worry. God is with you. God will help you in your ministry and work there. Don’t be discouraged. God will give you strength. Wherever there is persecution the believers remain. I’m praying for you and your ministry.”

We sent the messages through WhatsApp to our WELS missionaries. They rejoiced to receive such messages. They asked to share the messages with others. The brotherhood grows.

Praise God.

Written by WELS Asia One Team missionary.

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West African kickoff

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog. Subscribe to future updates from Africa at oneafricateam.com.

A kickoff always signals the start of a football game. From September 2-9, 2023, we kicked off a new organization in Africa. The One Africa Team brought together two leaders from each of WELS’ three partner church bodies in West Africa: Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria, All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria, and the Lutheran Church of Cameroon. These six men sat together to solve some very sticky issues involving budgets, curricula, and staffing of their seminary programs.

We set up a WhatsApp chat group to communicate throughout the week. It was useful for communication about what we had done in the conference room, details about meals, etc. We also came to understand that we could also use this forum for a monthly meeting. Regular communication will greatly assist us in making plans and holding one another accountable so that things get done.

Our biggest topic of conversation was to gain an understanding of the One Africa Team’s vision for quarterly ministry plans. Much has changed since the days when missionaries resided in Nigeria and Cameroon. Due to security, WELS missionaries do not live in West Africa. In those days our partners were quite free to come and tell us, “We need ____ to carry out our ministry.” Then the local missionary would see what he could do to provide it for them.

Now, our West African brothers are writing their own plans. They are very clear about the programs that they are planning to implement. These plans include the purpose of the proposed program and who will be the participants and the teachers. Plans also include where the proposed program will take place and benchmarks to gauge the program’s effectiveness. The focus of ministry planning must remain on reaching people with the gospel. However, detailed estimates of expenses and funding sources are important for successful planning. We now have a good understanding of what our partners need for the upcoming quarter. With some minor adjustments, our partners will be ready to move forward with assistance from the One Africa Team.

We have opened a line of communication between the One Africa Team and the West African leadership group. After the initial kickoff, the ball is now rolling.

Written by Rev. Dan Kroll, world missionary on the One Africa Team and liaison to West Africa

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Faces of Faith – Eunita

“I want to emulate Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ service to his people.”

Meet Eunita Odongo, a deaconess in WELS’ sister church, the Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ – Kenya. Hear how she’s giving back to her community and spreading the gospel message in this special Faces of Faith video.

Learn more about mission work in Kenya and throughout the continent of Africa at wels.net/africa.

Faces of Faith – Eric

“Surely, when you find the Lord, life changes.”

Meet Eric Kebeno, baptized member at the Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ – Kenya congregation in Soweto. Hear how the gospel has changed his life in this special Faces of Faith video.

Learn more about mission work in Kenya and throughout the continent of Africa at wels.net/africa.

One in Christ

They are home now.

Tired, but home.

Pastor Musa, his wife Mary, and son Nathanael are now back home in Buwembula Village in Eastern Uganda. Back to their family and everything familiar.

For the month of August, they were far from anything familiar. Why? They came to the United States. And what an eye-opening – and taste bud – experience it was! Waffles? What are those? 4-D movie – a what? Cactus? What’s that? Where are all the pedestrians and motorcycle taxis and potholes?

Not only was it their first time in the USA but it was their first trip overseas. If you felt a breeze in the month of August, it may have been from the whirlwind tour that Pastor Musa and his family were on. In addition to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, they visited seven congregations, eight schools, and the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis.

The Musa family at the Ark Encounter

A special thank you to the Musa family for also taking the time to visit Peridot-Our Savior’s and East Fork Lutheran schools on the reservations, as well as Open Bible in White River, Ariz., and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lakeside, Ariz. The kids enjoyed seeing some animals and fish of Uganda, but even more importantly they got to see Ugandan children learning God’s Word, singing God’s praises and dancing for the Lord. Our Apache children had lots to think about after seeing and hearing about the plentiful harvest in Uganda.

God’s Word gave us all something deep to ponder as Pastor Musa based his sermon on Jesus’ prayer found in John 17. One in Christ.

And we think the ark is impressive!? Indeed, it is, but nothing compared to the immensity of God’s grace in Jesus Christ!

One faith. One baptism. One Lord and God. No matter where in the world we are living, as fellow believers we have a tie that binds us: Jesus.

Same Father.

Same Brother.

And that puts us in the same family – God’s family.

After Pastor Musa’s presentation at Open Bible, Rev. Kirk Massey shared his thoughts:

“Over the years I have often been asked to speak about our world mission field here on the Fort Apache and San Carlos reservations, but this is the first time we have had the honor and privilege to have a representative of our WELS world mission fields come to share with us. What a blessing this has been, Pastor and Mrs. Musa! Thank you!”

President Mark Schroeder, Pastor Musa, Nathanael, and Mary

Indeed, a blessing. Thank you, Pastor Musa, Mary, and Nathanael, for making the trip, sparing your time, sharing the Word, and giving us insights into God’s kingdom work in Uganda.

We thank God that you arrived home.

Rest well, my brother and sister. (and our little brother, too!)

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians counselor for the Native American mission field and former One Africa Team contact to Uganda. 

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Latin America Mission – Quarterly Update

As of July, 2023, Academia Cristo has 1.9 million followers on Facebook, 138,000 followers on Instagram, 18,400 followers on YouTube, and 2,121 followers on TikTok. Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month through their various communication platforms. Over a million people have downloaded the Academia Cristo mobile app that launched in February 2020. 2,090 people have completed the self-led courses on the mobile app since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses. 667 people have completed one live course since March 2020 with a WELS missionary or national partner. 79 students in the Academia Cristo program have gone through a doctrinal agreement process designed for leaders and church planters. There are 25 groups that Academia Cristo leaders have taken through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study. There is one official congregation from the program.

A snapshot of blessings from May through July 2023:

  1. Academia Cristo follows an hourglass church multiplication strategy. They try to meet as many people as possible on social media, guide them through an intentional training program, and equip them to plant groups to reach more people. Implementation has begun on changes to the bottom part of our hourglass strategy. These changes focus on revisions to their church planter (Grupo Sembrador) program, where groups gather regularly around God’s Word using a two-year packet of worship and Bible study materials provided by Academia Cristo.
  2. Missionaries guided 39 church planters (sembradores) and four adjunct professors through the divine call process. This was done one-on-one. It included a review of the doctrine of the call, best practices for considering a call, and how to accept or decline a call.
    • All four of those called to serve as adjunct professors accepted their calls (three from Mexico and one from Ecuador).
    • 33 of the 39 who were called to be church planters have accepted (two declined, four are still deliberating). The 33 church planters who accepted are in 11 different Latin American countries.
  3. A plan is in place to start a student services team. It will focus on welcoming students into the Academia Cristo program, setting up live courses, and maintaining student records.
  4. On June 18, 2023, eight students graduated from the Discipleship Two portion of the program. These graduates successfully completed 21 live courses, each with a final project. Several of these graduates will be invited to study in Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional seminary test courses.
  5. The new version of Aprendan de mí, our Bible information course, is almost ready to be sent to Multi-Language Productions (MLP) for production. A specific plan is in place to have the course (videos, teacher’s guides, and student handouts) published by October 2023.




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Faces of Faith – Argentina

Come along with Latin America Missionary Joel Sutton to meet two Academia Cristo students from Argentina: Fabian Gabriel Mandracchia from Rosario, and Luis Bello from Baradero. Hear how the gospel message is changing their lives, and how they’re working with the Latin America mission team to share what they’re learning with those around them.

Learn more about how the Latin America mission team is using Academia Cristo to share the gospel message and make disciples in Latin America at wels.net/latinamerica.

Reflections on Zambia

I had the incredible privilege to travel to Malawi and Zambia in July with three other members of the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) Stateside Committee, Gary and Beth Evans and Stacy Stolzman, to see the clinics operated by CAMM, meet the staff, and observe clinic operations. Gary is currently the CAMM Field Director and oversees the clinics in Malawi and Zambia. This blog shares some of my reflections on our visit to Lusaka, Zambia and the Mwembezhi Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre.

Beth Evans and Stacy Stolzman packing up boxes from CAMM supporters

Our visit to Zambia began with meeting Alisad Banda, the clinic administrator, whose office is in Lusaka on the same property where the seminary which trains pastors for the Lutheran Church of Central Africa is located. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration and is truly a blessing to the clinic operations in Zambia. Alisad has a gentle and faithful spirit that is on fire for Christ and he is dedicated to serving the people that come to Mwembezhi with Christ-centered health care.

Alisad drove our group out to Mwembezhi, which is in a rural area about a two-hour drive from Lusaka, part of it on dirt roads. Before we departed, we loaded up several boxes which were recently received from CAMM supporters across the country. These boxes contained pill bottles, baby blankets, and baby hats, and we were excited to personally help bring those boxes to the clinic staff. About 160 babies are delivered per year at Mwembezhi, and the new mothers really appreciate receiving the baby blankets and hats that have been donated.

We were met at the clinic by Jackson Kalekwa, the Clinical Officer in Charge, who introduced us to many of the staff and gave us a tour of the clinic buildings, including the pharmacy, lab, examination rooms, and the labor, delivery, and recovery rooms. The onsite staff, which is made up of all Zambian nationals, is led by Jackson, who is very knowledgeable and diligent in ensuring the clinic is run smoothly and that things are in good order. The clinic is part of the Zambian government health system, so the government provides many medications and test equipment to keep the pharmacy and lab well stocked. Mwembezhi has a very good reputation to provide their patients with the medications and health care they need.

Mothers and babies at Mwenbezhi receiving gifts of hats and blankets from staff

It was amazing to walk around the property at Mwembezhi and to learn that it is in the same location where the missionaries to Zambia established a church, Martin Luther Church, and began their outreach in the late 1950s, nearly 70 years ago.

The original church is still in use, but the original clinic building has been renovated and new buildings have been added, some very recently. The new mother’s shelter is bright and clean and is a much improved, comfortable setting for expectant mothers to come for a stay shortly before they are due to give birth. The new staff house, which is modern and well-equipped, looks like it could be a home here in the States. It is waiting for power to be connected before it will be occupied by Mrs. Banda, the midwife.

All of these enhancements to Mwembezhi were only possible due to many donations from churches, schools, and individual supporters, and are critical to continue providing a high standard of quality care at the clinic, which serves around 25,000 patients annually.

As we were leaving the Mwembezhi clinic, a local woman and member of Martin Luther Church named Gertrude stopped by our vehicle to introduce herself and to say “Thank you, thank you so much for all you are doing for us.” Her exuberance, joy in Christ, and her humble thankfulness stands out in my memory. I would like to pass on her words to those of you who have remembered CAMM with your donations and your prayers: Thank you, thank you so much for your support of the Central Africa Medical Mission and the work to address the physical and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in Zambia and Malawi!

Written by Vickie Walther, CAMM Development Committee Member. 

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Reflections on Malawi

“You need to be patient!” This is a common phrase used by parents or teachers but what is true patience? During my July visit to Malawi and Zambia with Vickie Walther and Gary and Beth Evans, I was blessed to observe the amazing patience of Central Africa Medical Missions’s (CAMM) clinic patients. Our trips focus was to learn about the Lutheran Mobile Clinic (LMC) in Malawi and Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre in Zambia to better serve our supporters. I am excited to share a few of our amazing experiences with you.

Clinic each day truly started the night prior when Violet Chikwatu, the nurse in charge, and Lusungu Mwambeye, Clinic Administrator, prepared bins of necessary medical supplies and medications. Each morning, the Lutheran Mobile Clinic staff in Lilongwe loaded the ambulance. On the way to the village of Suzi, we picked up additional staff and completed the 1.25-hour drive to clinic. The dirt roads were an adventure in the ambulance. I celebrated the wonderful driving skills of Vincent who navigated traffic in Lilongwe and the bumps and turns of the roads to the villages.

Upon arrival at Suzi, our staff efficiently set-up the clinic in the church buildings and courtyard while patients were listening to a devotion under the trees from a church elder. The mothers waited in line patiently to have their little ones weighed via a scale hanging from a tree outside of the clinic. Beth Evans and I wandered in the crowd to identify any patients who needed to be moved to the front of the line due to severe illness. The Clinic started and ran smoothly and efficiently. I kept thinking about myself headed to a doctor’s appointment in the US and how I would have been frustrated if taken a few minutes late from my scheduled appointment. These patients had traveled many hours by foot to get to our clinic, waited patiently for clinic to open and then proceeded calmly through each step of clinic (triage, immunizations, doctor visits, pharmacy, etc.). I witnessed a man with severe asthma being assessed and treated by our staff. He was able to leave clinic with the necessary asthma medications for the days ahead. Another former patient with a leg wound came to share with Beth his gratitude for her medical care as his wound was now fully healed. A baby with febrile seizures was seen by Violet and Beth who determined the baby required a transport to a local hospital for additional interventions. Our back-up ambulance transported her there while the other staff cleaned up clinic and took the main ambulance back to Lilongwe. What a blessing to have our two ambulances so this could all happen! the Lutheran Mobile Clinic served 250 patients in five hours at Suzi that day.

Patients waiting in line to be helped

There was no chaos and the staff and patients were calm throughout the whole day. It was a true blessing to observe!

The next day started in the same way at Lilongwe with loading of the ambulance and picking up staff on the 45-minute drive to the village of Mwalaulomwe. So many mothers and babies were waiting and listening to the devotion when we arrived. After devotion, clinic was again up and ready to see patients with ease. Within an hour of opening, three babies were identified as potentially having pneumonia. The ambulance was able to transport them safely to the local hospital. We rejoiced that the mothers were able to connect with our staff and receive the necessary triage at our clinic along with transport to the hospital. I again thought about patience. How long had these babies been ill?

What if clinic was not open that day in Mwalaulomwe. As a mother, I am grateful for urgent cares and medical clinics open 24/7 near my home for my daughters. I am thankful God supported these mothers during their infants’ illnesses and connected them to our medical staff for appropriate medical care and transport.

Words cannot express how thankful I am for the opportunity to travel to Malawi and Zambia to see our clinic staff in action and the patients served. I rejoice in their patience as they waited for care to nourish their body and soul. Please reflect with me this month the words of Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” The Central Africa Medical Mission’s focus of Christ-centered healthcare supporting gospel ministry occurs every day through the support you provide with prayer and donations. Thank you for your support!

Written by Stacy Stolzman, development director for the Central Africa Medical Mission

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How’s it going?

“How’s it going?” Many have asked me that question lately. That likely doesn’t surprise you, because it is such a common, generic greeting employed by many of us. Often, we don’t even expect a real answer. The people who have asked me do want a real answer. They ask for a specific purpose. They know I have experienced a big change – the ministry I serve has experienced a big change. They finish the question like this, “How’s it going working with another pastor?”

In March of 2023, Divine Savior Church – Sienna submitted a request through our district mission board to the Board for Home Missions for an enhancement grant – financial support to allow our church to call for a second pastor. Under God’s careful watch and blessing, the Board for Home Missions granted that request. Our leadership crafted a clear job description for a Pastor of Discipleship, then moved quickly to extend call number one. We knew it was a strong possibility we would need to extend call number two, and three, four, five, maybe more, but God had other plans. Our faithful God worked through that process, Rev. Dan Laitinen was the first pastor we called and he accepted the call. He moved with his family to Sienna in July 2023, and we celebrated his installation on July 30 with worship and a massive serving of Texas-smoked pulled pork.

That celebration kicked off a massive change, both for me and for our ministry. Honestly, I was nervous. How well would we get along? Would I be a good teammate? What information is the most important to share immediately?

So. . . how’s it going? I’m learning how to better communicate, and let go, and many other ways in which I can grow as a pastor. I struggled at first to remember to say, “I’m one of the pastors here.” Yet, all of that puts too much emphasis on myself and Pastor Dan, we are under shepherds. I want to put the emphasis on Jesus, the great Shepherd, and his mission to reach more for his flock.

How’s that going? Incredibly!

As we partner with Divine Savior Academy on our campus, there are so many opportunities for ministry. This year, the school has grown to 350 students in PreK – 11th grade. We anticipate more students next year with the completion of a building project. So much ministry can happen! While I serve 10th graders and teach the Old Testament, Pastor Dan can study the Bible with Kenneth, our security officer, and Keith, our technology specialist, progressing towards membership at Divine Savior Church. While Pastor Dan invites them to his home to encourage and equip Connect Group leaders for our small group ministry, I am the invited guest at the homes of academy parents like Jake and Amanda or Will and Jordan, who take our START class to becomes members. While I take time to engage and interact specifically with worship visitors and guests, Pastor Dan leads a Sunday morning small group study. While Pastor Dan works with our youth group leaders to plan consistent events to connect teens to Christ, I work with the Outreach team to plan our Soccer Camp and Easter Egg Hunt.

How’s it going? Thanks for asking! I have a real answer to give: More kingdom work is happening. More people are equipped to serve in our mission. More souls are connected to Christ!

Written by Rev. Kevin Boushek, home missionary at Divine Savior Church in Sienna, Texas.

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Your gifts are making a difference in London & the U.K.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18

The church has been part of the fabric of British culture since before anyone can remember, yet only 46 percent of the British population today call Christ their own. There is a great deal more gospel work to be done in the United Kingdom! Countless people do not know the story of a loving God who sent his Son to seek and save lost sinners. By God’s grace we do, and our group of more than fifty Christians and two missionaries are following Jesus’ call to tell that story.

Your prayers and gifts are already supporting the ministry in London and the U.K.—thank you! Here are some specific ways we have been carrying out our mission:

  • Organizing regular worship and Bible study among the scattered people we serve
  • Developing a website and program for Bible education
  • Visiting church members to support them as they seek to reach out to their friends and families
  • Researching other churches and charities to find avenues to get involved in our communities

We know that you share in this mission with us. Your offerings provide regular opportunities for our WELS mission in the U.K. to share the gospel. We continually thank God for you!

Please share these updates with family and friends. Pray for us as we evaluate all the possible ways we can go about telling the wonderful story of Jesus and his love. Ask the Lord of the church to open hearts and doors as we reach out to the lost in London and the U.K.

Thank you!

Rev. Conifer Berg
Missionary to London & the U.K.

Learn more about mission work in London & the U.K. at wels.net/london.

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Hope in Houston

“Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20, CEB)

Hope Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, started a capital campaign earlier this year with the theme “Beyond” based on that verse from Ephesians. We were in a bit of a tough spot at the time. A few months earlier we had a meeting with the owner of the dance studio we currently rent, and she let us know that unless something changed, she would have to close down by the end of the year. Without many other options, we decided to take on a substantial portion of her lease payment in exchange for more access to the space. But this was hardly a long-term solution. We knew we needed to act quickly to get into a permanent space. We started looking around, but in the middle of a big city like Houston, real estate is hard to come by. We searched for several months and toured several properties without finding any good options.

Current worship space for Hope Lutheran Church

Meanwhile, our members were busy showing just how true it is that God can do “far beyond all that we could ask or imagine.” Our leadership team had conducted an informal poll months earlier to assess how much we could expect our members to contribute when it came time to purchase a building. The total came in around $400,000. So, trusting that God would provide, our leadership team set our fundraising goal at $500,000. After only two months of fundraising, we held our Celebration Sunday, where we revealed how much our congregation had raised. The total came to $607,153 with an additional $120,000 pledged over the next two years! Sure enough, God provided far beyond what we asked or imagined.

Around the same time we were celebrating the results of our capital campaign, we found a church for sale in our target area. It was a Church of Christ that was built in 1927 and remodeled in the late 1950s. It is situated on its own block within a neighborhood in our target area. There is a large parking lot, ample street parking, and plenty of green space for kids to run around. We quickly put in an offer, and it was accepted. We are currently under contract, and if all goes well, we will close in the next few days.

It’s an incredibly exciting time in the life of our church. Thanks to the Church Extension Fund’s grant program for new missions, we get a 4:1 match on the land value and a 2:1 match for every dollar we spend on the remodel. Because of this, we can afford the necessary renovations to make the almost 100 year old building our home for the future. And because Church Extension Funds grants keep the cost down for us, we will be able to taper off of synod subsidy faster, which enables WELS to start more missions in the future. We are extremely grateful to Church Extension Fund for partnering with us on this project!

The original Church of Christ building in 1927

We hope to have the remodel completed by late 2024, when we will be able to move in and open our doors to the community. We cannot wait to see what kind of impact we’ll be able to have in our community once we have a permanent space. Our people have been very involved throughout the process and have all kinds of great ideas for how to use our new space. We’re very optimistic about the next stage of our congregation’s life, knowing that God will do “far beyond all that we ask or imagine.”

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

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All over the map

Ministry in Thailand is…all over the map.

In January, I became the Asia One Team champion for the ministry in Thailand.  Part of my role is to catch up on the history of ministry in Thailand.  One way to describe Thailand’s past ministry: three-tracked.

In the past 30 years, the WELS helped start three different ministries with three different focuses in Thailand.  One ministry focused on ethnic Thai people, another on Hmong people, another on various people groups around Northeastern Thailand.  As they focused on different people, they focused on different regions in Thailand.  Hence, the ministries were all over the map, literally and figuratively.

Unfortunately in those 30 years, some ministries fell off the map.  Support changed.  Circumstances changed.  Ministries changed.  Thailand also suffered from this change when some ministry fell off the map.  The devil worked hard to push the entire ministry in Thailand off the map.  But, God is good and he kept ministry on the map.  He kept it on the map through the dedication of many leaders, both local and missionary.  Therefore, ministry in Thailand continues today.

But ministry is not just about the past, but also the future!  In the past year, the leaders in Thailand officially decided to pool their knowledge and start working together.  All three-ministry tracks have connected and joined.  The three strands have woven together.  After two conferences of discussion, they started mapping out a plan for ministry going forward in Thailand.  Their main purpose: to strengthen each other in faith, build unity, and spread the gospel.  Their name (translated into English): the Lutheran Christian Confederation.

The Confederation asked the Asia One Team to help support their ministry.  So, the Asia One Team continues to find ways to support.  The Asia One Team supports conferences to encourage and build each other up in God’s Word.  It supports the growth of the local leaders in God’s Word.  It connects local ministry to other resources, such as Multi-Language Productions and Christian Aid and Relief.  Lord willing, the Asia One Team will help the Lutheran Christian Confederation build up local leaders to then add new leaders.

As the various groups in the Confederation use the same ministry road map, Lord willing, he will put more ministries all over the map.  As this happens, the more his Word can lighten the dark places off our map.  After all, that’s what a map is for, to see where we have been and to see where we can be going.  A map helps us see where the light is and where it needs to go.

May the Lord guide the ministry of the Lutheran Christian Confederation and the Asia One Team as they spread God’s Word all over the map.

Written by Missionary Mark Zondag, Asia One Team champion in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

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Preach the Word – The lectionary: an enduring narrative

Free Text Series or Lectionary Preaching?

The lectionary: an enduring narrative

In the first two parts of this discussion of lectionary preaching vis-à-vis topical preaching, I argued that in many ways the topical paradigm has not grappled adequately with how contemporary culture has changed since the topical paradigm became popular in Evangelicalism. I also warned against several undesirable outcomes ranging from instrumentalizing Jesus to missing out on the creative strength of an established framework. I pointed to the ways in which the lectionary paradigm effectively keeps Christ as Savior at the center of the homiletical task while also providing the kind of framework that supports homiletical creativity and engagement by taking the burden of brainstorming off of the preacher.

Many of my colleagues who preach topically do, in fact, diligently seek to be thoughtful about what they plan and preach. The nature of my argument, though, is not about what preachers are able to do, but about the directions in which paradigms nudge preachers and their hearers. I see paradigms as a kind of intellectual and spiritual architecture whose designs invisibly—and often inexorably—move people toward certain ends. Such a phenomenon is not individual, but collective and cumulative.

Which leads to the third and final part of this series. Given the character of contemporary culture, it seems that lectionary preaching is perfectly poised to make a meaningful difference among God’s people because the lectionary is, at its heart, not so much a curriculum of topics as it is a comprehensive gospel narrative.

The corruption of narrative as a concept

The term narrative has, unfortunately, reversed polarity from positive to negative. Today narrative means something like dishonest spin. Political and social opponents accuse one another of perpetuating a narrative. “Your truth” competes with “my truth.” Or as The Dude put it in The Big Lebowski, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

But narrative once meant a faithful account. Narrative was used in legal contexts to describe the facts of the case. A narrative is what St. Luke was talking about in the opening sentence of his gospel. To tell the story was to offer testimony to truths that had real-world implications.

The work of Lutheran preaching relies heavily on an understanding of narrative in the original sense.

The work of Lutheran preaching relies heavily on an understanding of narrative in the original sense, which is (thankfully) making an encouraging comeback these days. People are noticing what it’s like to live without narrative and are wondering if perhaps we might want to renew our narrative structures of sense-making.

Shared narrative vs. individual identity

Every preacher surely agrees that something in our social setting has gone horribly wrong. We appear to live in a time marked by a general dissolution of meaning and coherence. People no longer inhabit stories or contribute to institutions, they express identities and construct meaning by giving voice to a true self.

In a world where the primary catechetical truth is not that “I should be his own” but rather that “I should be my own,” the fundamental task in life becomes one of assembling the puzzle of personal identity from whatever material, values, and interests are available. This task is radically individualized. Indeed, that is the whole point. It is an expression of pure autonomy, of self-law.

Much has been said about this phenomenon, perhaps nowhere so thoroughly as in Carl Trueman’s recent work, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.” But that’s a long book. Taylor Swift captured the spirit of what Charles Taylor called expressive individualism in only two lines: “I know my love should be celebrated / But you tolerate it.”

This is not how it has always been and not how it must always be. People once sought to understand themselves not as isolated individuals but as part of a broader narrative. The shared story gave shape to the years and offered wisdom for different seasons of life. It helped them process sorrows and celebrate joys.

But such sense-making is far afield from our culture’s deepest convictions. Indeed, the late modern notion of freedom is to see oneself as a person who has no story. Today’s ideal protagonist is someone who yearns to discover who they really are, subsequently seeks to uncover an authentic self, and then throws off the expectations of family and society to chart their own path and construct their own meaning. The goal is to jettison existing narrative structures and to replace them with stories that are self-made.

Narrative as necessary counterculture

If this is an accurate description of the modern self and we agree that this not only makes society miserable but also contradicts broad tenets of biblical anthropology, then preachers must avoid acting as a chaplain to the culture of self-ownership. I have little doubt that many preachers have substantially addressed the phenomena described above, especially in recent years. But consider again the difference between what is said in the text of the sermon and what is communicated through the paradigm.

Topical sermons can, no doubt, make vigorous connections to the overall narrative of God’s work in the world. But it seems impossible to describe the paradigm itself as a narrative paradigm. The topical paradigm seems closer to a curriculum than to a story, which is in some ways the heart of my point about the paradigm’s interaction with contemporary culture: What is the story that seekers of true self are likely to discern from an idea-driven or concept-centric paradigm—especially ideas that are presented as useful for their practical benefits? One likely story will sound like this, “I am on a journey of self-discovery, self-actualization, and self-improvement, and God is my guide and ally in the process.”

To underestimate how much expressive individualism is imported into church is to be needlessly naïve. Those preachers who can discern the culture’s dominant influence on character formation even among Christians may wish to seek a preaching paradigm that aligns more closely with the countercultural nature of God’s Word.

What if the church had its own set of days tailor-made to accomplish its overarching goals over time?

The power of a calendar

A powerful way to address expressive individualism is to integrate people into a shared calendar. Indeed, the ability to set the calendar matters. What society celebrates as holidays says a great deal about what they value. The recent addition of Juneteenth to the calendar of federal holidays in the United States is an example of this phenomenon. Activists and marketers are also well-aware of the value of marking time by their own values. Our summers are now marked by huge commercial commemorations: Pride Month and Prime Day. The calendar is contested territory for a wide variety of competing values and commercial interests.

The big loser in all this has been, of course, the ecclesiastical calendar. This is unfortunate but also unsurprising considering the dominant cultural values of our time. In the past a liturgical calendar marked time in terms of the Christian story of God’s work in the world. But in an age when therapy and individuality are paramount cultural values, a church year calendar is seen as onerous. Why should a communal sense of what is important to all of us at all times impose on my sense of self-direction?

Now, I am not aware of anyone who has stopped observing Christmas and Easter, but for the most part the rest of the calendar appears to be fair game for revision. This is not to say that topical preachers do not sense the power of a calendar, it’s just that the calendar that sets the agenda is often the civic calendar.

I understand the rationale. “Preach on subjects that everyone’s attention is focused on that weekend anyway.” I suggest, though, that this tactic is not as effective as one might assume. Take Valentine’s Day, for example, and the perfectly understandable desire to preach about love on the adjacent weekend. That love sermon, good as it may be, is not likely to outpace the massive marketing complex devoted to selling billions of dollars’ worth of flowers, wine, and chocolate. To try to grab the microphone from the marketers and say that, actually, the holiday devoted to romance between lovers is a great time to consider the love of God may be an example of spitting in the wind. Chad Bird once noted that Christians already enjoy holidays far better suited for emphasizing the Christian idea of love. They are called Good Friday and Easter.1 So here’s a radical idea: Let people enjoy Independence Day or Memorial Day or Valentine’s Day without necessarily trying to capitalize on the opportunity to preach a religious spin on it.

Here’s an even more radical idea: What if the church had its own set of days tailor-made to accomplish its overarching goals over time, one that closely reflects the nature of its message and the story into which God is integrating us all? And what if this calendar were used in common among all the churches with the same set of ultimate ends? If Jeff Bezos can see the value of having his own holidays and spreading its influence as far as possible, then surely we can imagine that the ecclesiastical calendar might have some power to it, especially as it employs its narrative strength to engage people on a deeper level than the curricular presentation of ideas can.

Tapping into the mythical core

A narrative structure that repeats and reinforces itself taps into what the Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski called the mythical core of how human beings think and act.

The mythical core refers to matters of human experience that are not revealed by scientific examination or standard investigative inquiry. The mythical core connects to those aspects of human experience that are undoubtedly real but not strictly empirical. Kołakowski contrasted the mythical with the technological. The technological core is that which is subject to human manipulation and therefore involves reason, science, and most forms of thinking and philosophy.

Love is a good example of where mythical and technological diverge. Even the most strident evolutionary biologist knows that explaining love in terms of species survival (technological core) is lame. Something more satisfying—more real—is required. Presenting ideas doesn’t cut it. We need a story.

I doubt I will encounter much pushback when I say that contemporary culture is almost entirely dominated by the quest to deploy human power to manipulate and control. This impulse has moved into church life in the form of what has been called spiritual technology, that is, technique-oriented tactics of leveraging spiritual practices to achieve measurable results. Name-and-claim prosperity gospel, glossolalia, and even decisional regeneration are all examples of pagan-style efforts to bring God under human control.

These are, of course, out-of-bounds for confessional Lutherans, but this does not mean that other forms of spiritual technology never appear. Subtle discernment is required here. Emphases on, say, right thinking or applications about how to manage one’s finances or maintain one’s physical health certainly gesture toward topics that arguably fall within the realm of Christian virtues, but the line between sanctification preaching and the uncritical introduction of spiritual technologies imported from cognitive behavioral therapy or modern-day Stoicism (to name two popular movements today) is a narrow one.

Here it may be helpful to repeat a point from a previous article, that there are some things that Lutheran congregations will address in their ministry, but not primarily through the main, public preaching voice of the congregation. Other avenues are better for such things, especially when so many people are missing out on the narrative component of reality that strikes them in deep, abiding ways. When all the people of God are together let preaching be primarily about the story that enfolds all of history and therefore all people present.

Let preaching be primarily about the story that enfolds all of history and therefore all people present.

The language of history and narrative is in many ways more truthful than the language of concepts. Only when a person fully enters the rhythms and contours of a narrative that sets the agenda week after week, season after season, year after year is the transmission of information able to produce transformation of character. Indeed, this issue has long been one of the legitimate criticisms of sermonizing that is too heavy on deductive points of doctrine. But the cure for sermons too heavy on deductive points of doctrine is not sermons too heavy on practical points of application. If anyone wants parishioners to encounter preaching that is more transformational than informational, then he will not present a series of concepts but will instead inculcate a long-term narrative structure.

We do not turn to the Scripture merely to look up correct answers or to find helpful information (though such things are surely there), we turn to the Scripture because there we find the Way—and not according the technological core, as if Jesus is the way to some other good, but in the sense of the mythical core, that is, every aspect of who we are—from our body to our personality to our mind to our behavior—must participate fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the main protagonist of history. All of us are written into his story just as a branch is grafted into a vine.

Narrative as network good

Lutherans are familiar with the concept of antinomianism, that is, a person who rejects moral rules revealed in Scripture. A similar somethingnomianism has lately arrived: autonomianism, that is, the view that we are a law unto ourselves.

Autonomianism in ministry introduces a curious version of the old cuius regio, eius religio in which the principle is often expressed as something like, “This is what we like.” To be sure, there is little justification for blanket uniformity among churches of a denominational brotherhood, especially across broad geographical distances, but there are surely ways to reflect unity apart from uniformity. A shared ecclesiastical calendar and preaching lectionary is one such way. The narrative of the lectionary is a network good.

Note the distinction between a good and a network good. A good is something that is advantageous to have, like money. Having one dollar allows you to do very little. Having one million dollars allows you to do very much. An iPhone, on the other hand, is a different kind of good, a network good. The advantage comes not from owning many iPhones but from many people owning iPhones. The good is a network good.

I would like more and more to think in terms of the “we” in our shared story.

I see the narrative character of the lectionary and corresponding calendar in much the same way. If everyone charts their own path, then not only is the local effect of a consistent, long-term narrative structure lost, but so is the broader network amplification of the good. I would like more and more to think in terms of the “we” in our shared story, a “we” that includes not just the members of this or that congregation who heard this or that particular set of topical sermons, but also the other churches of the denomination 15 miles across town or 1500 miles across the country. I would enjoy learning how some of the most gifted communicators in our church body walk their people through the texts and themes of Lent each year. I would be glad to know that a young professional newly introduced to the gospel narrative in one place could move to another and pick up where he left off. I see great appeal in raising children to find meaning in the narrative points of God’s work in the world, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And best of all, inhabiting the same narrative structure does not require rigid uniformity. Not everyone in a baseball lineup has a uniform batting stance, but they are united in the task of hitting the ball and for that reason they do all share a certain set of practices in common. In the same way, creative variety and local contextualization in preaching will actually be stronger when connected to a common core.

Free to tell the story

The vision I have sought to articulate in this series is one in which the core paradigm of preaching is narrative, cyclical, seasonal, and communal. Such a paradigm is built on a sturdy foundation of texts selected for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel in a way that is distinctively Lutheran in emphasis. It is also a framework that is more likely to produce creative and engaging results in contemporary culture, to say nothing of the massive potential for network good and refreshingly countercultural testimony.

The massive potential for network good and refreshingly countercultural testimony.

For many years I have served in a setting where I could freely preach according to almost any paradigm I might want to try. But I have continually returned to the lectionary not because I am compelled to do so but because of the rationale I have explained in this series. I believe that a careful analysis of the way culture has changed since the rise of the seeker-sensitive or attractional model of Christian cultural engagement reveals a compelling case that, for the most part, the topical paradigm is a paradigm better suited for the past. I’m not enough of a historian to know if lectionary preaching was always so well-suited to a contemporary task at hand, but as I look around me and ahead of me, I am hard pressed to come up with a better overall way to preach to people living in late modern culture than through the shared heritage, common good, and creative strength that the lectionary paradigm offers.

Written by Caleb Bassett

Caleb serves as pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fallbrook, CA. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project and chairman of the project’s Technology Subcommittee. He has been a frequent guest panelist on The White Horse Inn, a nationally syndicated radio program and podcast on theology and culture. He is a fellow of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France and a member of the WELS Institute for Lutheran Apologetics.


1 Chad Bird, Upside-Down Spirituality (Baker Books, 2019), p. 137.


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Proclamation

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Proclamation

Can you remember a time when school cancellations were read aloud on the radio station? Truth be told, they probably still are; it’s just that few of us rely on the radio station anymore. Nowadays, everyone just checks their smartphone for an always up-to-date listing of the latest cancellations. Back in the day, however, students actually had to listen through the entire list of school closings, hoping that the name of their school would be announced. And, if you got distracted and missed it, you had no choice but to wait a few minutes for the next reading of the list. “Did I hear my school’s name, or was that just wishful thinking?”

Smartphones are definitely more convenient, but I must admit to a special kind of joy that came from anticipating the news spoken out loud. Not only did hearing good news over the airwaves bring a smile to my face, but there was something else too. If you were the first one to hear it, then you got to run and tell everyone else in the house. “No school today!” Not only was it fun to hear the news; it was fun to tell it too.

As we think about the Word of God and especially as we learn how to preach it, one of the words that comes to our minds is proclamation. The Word of God is for proclamation. As the words painted above the threshold of the Seminary chapel tell us, our work is to proclaim the gospel. Scripture is not merely a book full of information, a spiritual how-to manual of sorts. It is not merely a textbook with lessons to teach and to learn, though it certainly is useful for teaching and a delight to learn. In addition to all that and more, God’s Word is something to be proclaimed. It is the almighty God’s announcement of salvation sealed and accomplished in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Those who have the privilege of speaking that Word are doing more than simply conveying information. As Paul teaches, public ministers of the Word actually get to serve as ambassadors of God Most High (2 Cor 5:20) and proclaim to his people and all the world the good news of what he has accomplished for them in Christ. The good news is a proclamation!

Again and again, the Lord teaches us to recognize the great honor—and the great responsibility—that comes with this charge of proclaiming his Word. We might think, for example, of the Lord assigning Ezekiel to be the watchman of Israel. “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself” (Ezek 33:7-9). Or perhaps we remember Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians that it is necessary that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Cor 4:1). Or maybe from time to time it leaves us in awe to think of Jesus’ reminder that what we proclaim with our mouths here on this earth is valid even in heaven itself (Matt 18:18). Yes, what an awesome privilege God has given us to proclaim his Word. So central is this work to pastoral ministry that oftentimes the “pastor” is simply the “preacher.” It’s why Paul can sum up his encouragement to young Timothy with the simple, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). It’s also why we hear that encouragement repeated in our Rite of Ordination, as we take up that work for the first time as an ordained pastor.

No doubt, proclamation has a special application to the art of homiletics and to preachers; though preachers proclaim God’s Word in many of their ministerial duties, it is particularly in the sermon that they have the privilege of regularly and publicly proclaiming good tidings to the flock entrusted to them.

Giving thought to public worship, however, leads us to recognize that it is not only the sermon that proclaims the gospel. In his classic work, Worship in the Name of Jesus, Peter Brunner explained, “The congregation’s Spirit-effected response to the gift of salvation, conveyed in Word and Sacrament, is itself Word. Also where this response involves a physical gesture, this gesture is not mute, but vital through the words accompanying it. This responding, confessing, thanking, and glorifying word of the congregation will always recall the great and saving deeds of God’s might; it will acknowledge, laud, and glorify them prayerfully, and in this manner also proclaim and present them to others. It is precisely the priestly service of the congregation that thus becomes a proclamation of the wonderful deeds of God.”1 Yes, all of public worship is proclamation, work carried out not only by the preacher but by the people as well.

All of public worship is proclamation, work carried out not only by the preacher but by the people as well.

It is here that we can recognize the treasure that is Lutheran worship as our forefathers in the faith have passed it down to us. Not only in sermon but in in ordinary and proper, in liturgy and hymn, in art and architecture, in confession and creed, historic Lutheran worship is dripping with proclamation of the sweet gospel. While one could fill volumes answering “What does this mean?” consider two points: 1) the importance of the choices we make in respect to the content of public worship and 2) the importance of emphasizing the essential function God’s people carry out in public worship.

The Content of Proclamation: God’s Gospel

It could probably go without saying, but if it is clear that God’s Word is to be proclaimed in public worship and, likewise, that the proclamation of the Word means more than the pastor’s sermon, then the words we put into our people’s mouths to proclaim week after week matter. Recognizing that is nothing new. About hymns Johannes Brenz (d. 1570) wrote, “In accordance with the example given by the Apostle Paul (Eph 5:19), the singing of hymns has been understood and regarded as a form of preaching, a proclamation of the word of God.”2 The song of the people is a sermon too.

The song of the people is a sermon too.

Robin Leaver likewise writes, “Theologically understood, music in worship is akin to the preaching ministry in its liturgical setting. It is to proclaim the word of God to the people of God. Sometimes this is done through the single voice of the cantor or minister, sometimes through the combined voice of choir or instruments, and sometimes through instrumental music alone. And then there is that unique proclamation of the whole people of God when they join their voices in one, in psalmody and hymnody, as they proclaim their response of faith to God and give witness of that faith to each other. All the Church’s great composers have understood the proclamatory nature of their art, that through it the eternal sound of God’s grace focused in Jesus Christ is made known and shared with his redeemed people.”3

Recognizing this purpose of music in public worship calls for the utmost care in selecting the hymns that we sing and the music that we play. Of course, we want to praise the Lord with joyful songs in our worship, but more than that, we recognize that the highest praise we can give is when we proclaim, with specificity, who he is and what he has done.4 The Lutheran hymn writer Carl Schalk (d. 2021) observed, “God is praised when the gospel is rightly proclaimed; and, conversely, the proclamation of the gospel is the way that God is rightly praised. There is no artificial division between songs that ‘proclaim’ and others that ‘praise’: unless ‘praise songs’ proclaim the good news of the gospel, they are not, in any Christian sense, praise songs at all.”5 Yes, we choose all worship content carefully because it serves to proclaim the gospel and the doctrines of God’s Word. As they do that, they serve to summarize and solidify the truths of God’s Word for his people.6

The best of Christian hymnody has always done this. No doubt, our minds rush to the contributions of the church fathers or to the Reformers. As we survey the historical hymns of the Lutheran church, we cannot help but acknowledge how the Lord has blessed us with a rich heritage. The gems of historic hymnody have pointed generations of believers to Christ and his cross on their journey heavenward, and we pray that they not only do the same for us, but that through us, God preserves them and passes them down to generations of believers after us.

At the same time, we also know that proclaiming Christ has never been the arena of hymnody from the past alone. As our new hymnal illustrates so well, Lutheranism has always taken the best hymns, both old and new, and incorporated them into its worship life. Consider how many of the modern selections in Christian Worship have quickly become beloved ways for God’s people to proclaim the gospel beautifully and powerfully. Again, that has always been the hallmark of the best hymnody of every age. Perhaps the most well-known of modern-day hymn writers, Keith Getty observes, “The healthiest congregational environment flourishes when the worship leader/worship songwriter partners with pastors in feeding the congregation well through the songs they sing and the sermons they hear.”7

Yes, the best hymns of every age proclaim the gospel. Sermon and song are not competing interests, nor do they have only a tangential relationship. Rather, music and song work together with the spoken Word so that in public worship Christ is proclaimed.

“All the Church’s great composers have understood the proclamatory nature of their art.”

Keeping that in mind suggests several applications for public worship:

  • Devote sufficient time and attention to selecting hymns for public worship that work right alongside the readings and sermon for the day—both to teach the particular emphasis of a particular Sunday and, more broadly, to proclaim Christ crucified to everyone who attends.
  • Consider also the value of selecting those hymns as far in advance as possible. This enables musicians to plan and practice so that their work on a Sunday morning can really be a well-considered proclamation of the Word (rather than just making sure the notes fall in the right place). But advance planning also allows preachers to consider how the sung proclamation of the Word can complement and enhance the spoken proclamation that day. So often, hymns capture theological truths in particularly effective and winsome ways that, if recognized, can enhance the sermon.
  • Don’t overlook the value of the Hymn of the Day. These hymns are chosen specifically for their rich content and connection to the day’s Gospel. Of course, there is no ecclesiastical law demanding our use of the Hymn of the Day (or any other hymn). Sometimes pastors who know their congregations and circumstances will make another choice for a particular Sunday. At the same time, however, regularly using the Hymn of the Day not only gives musicians an anchor they can count on in their own planning (and means one less hymn selection worship planners have to make), but more importantly, it helps keep the very best of hymnody in regular use across our congregations.
  • From time to time, consider introducing unfamiliar hymns (both old and new) to your congregation. Perhaps it requires a bit of extra effort, and perhaps a congregation will need to grow in appreciating them. With a bit of time and practice (and the wisdom of not biting off more than a congregation can chew), learning and using less familiar hymns equips the congregation to sing a new song to the Lord, and, with time, these can become beloved favorites. If some Hymns of the Day are not yet familiar in your congregation, consider a plan to introduce two or three each year.
  • Of course, hymns are not the only way the gospel is proclaimed in song in public worship. The psalms have been enriching the worship for millennia. Christian Worship, together with the complete Psalter, provide a variety of ways to use the psalms in worship.
  • Finally, in all this talk of hymns, never overlook the value of the ordinary. Singing the songs of the Western Rite has summarized and solidified the gospel for generation after generation of believers. Christian Worship gives congregations the ability to use these songs week in and week out, while still allowing for musical variety. And Service Builder provides even more variety, including a wealth of metrical canticles (canticles cast as hymns). Sometimes pastors and worship planners will make other choices for their particular ministry contexts (and that’s certainly understandable), but do consider how the textual consistency of the ordinary ensures that the gospel is clearly and beautifully proclaimed week after week in a way that connects us to believers of many generations past.

Yes, in public worship, the gospel is proclaimed. It is proclaimed in Word and sacrament. It is proclaimed as it is spoken and sung. That speaks to the importance of the content of public worship. It also speaks to the importance of the participants in public worship.

The Participants in Proclamation: God’s People

In our age, this latter point deserves nearly as much consideration as the former. Increasingly, it seems that some people allow a consumer mentality to drive their thoughts and decisions about worship. They see worship as an opportunity to be stimulated—spiritually, intellectually, emotionally. They come to receive what’s been prepared for them. Of course, that’s true in a certain way. “Nothing in our hands we bring,” we sinners sing. In worship, we are always the recipients of God’s gospel gifts first.

There’s a danger in worshipers thinking of themselves as consumers of a product.

At the same time, however, there’s a danger in thinking of worship as a largely passive experience. There’s a danger in worshipers thinking of themselves as consumers of a product. We see that in the notion that music and sermons are valued first and foremost for their ability to appeal in various ways.

Or consider the rise of “virtual worship.” Of course, in the difficult days of the pandemic, hearing the Word this way was better than nothing, and virtual worship served as a blessing for many. And yet, we would probably all agree that what may be necessary during dire times is not what is best under usual circumstances. Worship in front of a computer screen just isn’t the same as being in the house of God with fellow believers.

Why? Because worship is all about proclamation. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, we encourage one another as we see the day approaching (Heb 10:25). And how do we encourage one another? No doubt, there are different ways of encouraging, but the most important way is the building up of our faith through the means of grace.

In public worship, we speak the Word of God to one another (Eph 5:19). We proclaim the gospel to each other. When I am singing a hymn or speaking the Creed or confessing my sins, I am not only speaking to the Lord (though I am certainly doing that) but I am also proclaiming the Word to brothers and sisters who are, in turn, proclaiming that Word to me. Together, we are proclaiming our faith to the world around us.

That’s an especially encouraging thought when we consider how often following Christ can feel lonely in this fallen world. Christians don’t always enjoy the benefit of being able to mutually share their faith with those around them on a day-to-day basis. That’s what makes opportunities for public worship so special. During this precious time of the week, we come together as Christians and encourage one another through our proclamation of God’s gifts to us.

What a privilege God gives us as we gather. We get to proclaim the gospel. As God enables us, let’s help his people see this vitally important work that they as the body of Christ get to carry out together.

By Jacob Behnken

Jacob Behnken graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2012 and serves as the Dean of Chapel and a Professor of Music at Martin Luther College. This article begins a new series of possibly ten articles and complements a previous series of timeless topics available at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-worship-words.


1 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, trans. M.H. Bertram, CPH 1968, 124.
2 Quoted in Oliver Rupprecht, “The Modern Struggle for Standards in Religious Music,” Concordia Journal v.9, #4, July 1983, 129.
3 Robin Leaver, The Theological Character of Music in Worship, CPH 1989, 11.
4 Johnold Strey, Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts, NPH 2021, 23f.
5 Carl Schalk, “Hymnody and Proclamation of the Gospel,” in Not unto Us: A Celebration of the Ministry of Kurt J. Eggert, NPH 2001, 138.
6 See the recently released hymnal project volume Christian Worship: Foundations, 15ff, 23ff.
7 Emily Brink, “Teaching the Faith, Expanding the Song: An Interview with Irish Hymnwriter Keith Getty,” Reformed Worship #81, September 2006.


Teach the proclaimers

How can we better teach people about their role as proclaimers? Obviously, a Bible class could address this theme. But that will reach only a minority. So look for ways to reinforce the point also in sermons. One pastor instead of saying “God bless our worship” says “God bless this time as we proclaim God’s love to one another.”

 


 

 

WORSHIP

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

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Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus

Jill walked up to our front door, and I could tell she was nervous. With a smile and hopefully a friendly greeting, I gave her a bulletin and welcomed her to church. That Sunday she heard about Jesus’ love for her.

Jill sat in her living room, and I could tell she was distraught. Her husband had passed away a few months ago, so she moved closer to family. That past Sunday was the first time she had been to church in a while. But it wasn’t just her husband. Her story was all too common: shame, regrets, broken relationships. These weighed on her conscience. That afternoon, she heard about Jesus’ love for her.

Jill began to attend Sunday worship, and I could tell she loved it. She talked to the other members of Our Savior. She participated in Bible Class. She told me how she was working to invite her family to come and visit her new church, a place that told her about Jesus’ love. Jill studied God’s Word in our new member class, and I could see evidence of the Spirit’s work. She learned the depth and the glory of God’s love for her in Jesus. She surprised me with how well she applied what we learned to her life and her religious background.

The worship facility at Our Savior Lutheran Church.

Not long after Jill suffered from a fall. Jill lay in the nursing home after her fall and I could tell she was confused. She couldn’t talk very well and the pain was bad. She questioned why God would allow this to happen.  I told her about the forgiveness we have in Jesus and the hope of eternal life we both shared. We prayed that God would grant her healing and recovery.

As God saw fit, he did not grant her that full recovery. Over the next few weeks, her condition worsened. Jill was moved to a hospital, so I visited her frequently. I continued to tell her about Jesus’ love for her. Sometimes she was “there.” Other times, the medicine made it hard to remain engaged.

Her eyes are what I noticed. The medicine wasn’t as strong now because she was in hospice. Every time I walked in, her eyes lit up. She knew I was there. I held her hand; she squeezed back. I told her about Jesus’ love for her. Her eyes followed along as I read from the Psalms, from the Gospels, and from Paul’ epistles. Her family was there sometimes. They heard too. I had opportunities to share Jesus’ love with them directly. She and I prayed that God would keep her eyes firmly fixed on her Savior, Jesus, and that Jesus would bring her home to heaven.

God answered. Within a span of about 3 months, Jill visited our church, worshiped with us, grew in Bible class, fell sick, and entered into glory. God granted me in those last months the wonderful opportunity to tell her about Jesus’ love for her. God granted me in those last months the wonderful opportunity to witness to her family about Jesus’ love.

Jill lives now in heaven, rejoicing in paradise. I know she couldn’t be happier.

Written by Rev. Orie Thomford, home missionary at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Burlington, Iowa. 

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Summer quarter in Sweden

“To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1).

That’s the way James begins his powerful little book. The apostle wrote to encourage God’s people and to spur them on to renewed service.

That’s exactly why European Summer Quarter is so important. WELS has a dozen sister synods in Europe. The brothers and sisters in these small church bodies are often scattered. Congregations tend to be small. It’s easy to feel isolated. Two weeks of Bible study and fellowship can lift spirits for healthy ministry.

Pastor Holger teaching

This year twelve pastors, seminary students, and church leaders gathered at St. Mark’s congregation in Ljungby, Sweden. These representatives from seven different countries came to dig deeper into God’s word, to grow in personal faith, and rededicate their hearts to service. During the first week, Pastor Holger Weiss, from Germany, led a course on Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. In these letters the Holy Spirit speaks especially to pastors:

  • Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2),
  • And the things you have heard me say … entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

Missionary Luke Wolfgramm teaches the class; included in the class in Missionary Conifer Berg

During the second week, Missionary Luke Wolfgramm led practical meditations on the life and ministry of Elijah. Participants came to appreciate James’ observation: “Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:2). God’s great prophet faced temptations and struggles remarkably similar to contemporary pressures in post-Christian Europe. Nevertheless, the unchanging LORD equipped Elijah to serve his 7,000 elect. The same mighty God remains faithful to his people today.

Everyone enjoyed the studies, but nothing can compete with the fellowship participants enjoyed outside of class time. Evenings and weekends gave plenty of opportunity for discussions, collaboration, and mutual encouragement. Members of St. Mark’s congregation also enjoyed Sunday sermons from three guest preachers during Summer Quarter.

Hearty spiritual food and unhurried contact with brothers and sisters strengthens European fellowship and reinvigorates zeal to proclaim Christ. Please pray that God would continue to bless pastors and people through ongoing Bible study together.

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary on the Europe One Team, based in Leipzig, Germany.

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