The Fields are Ripe for Harvest

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

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

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

Miracle and Vincent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sun Came Out at Midnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There have been four surprises:

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

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

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

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

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to Pakistan

 

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

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“Go Into All the World”… More Efficiently

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

The pinata was a “hit” at our Summer Spectacular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do with children in worship?

Cultural perspective / strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children are expected to be quiet and respectful when required.

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

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

There was not one behavior issue for four hours.

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

Appropriately timed tears or tantrums make parents cave-in…

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

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

“I Have a Solution!”

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

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

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

Foolish, Frivolous, and Forced

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

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

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

Nursery / Cry Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Sermons

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Church

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

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

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

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

Concurrent Sunday School

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

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

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

What is Beneficial?

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

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

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

Written by Phil Huebner


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


 

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Preach The Word – The Cross as Solution to the Problem of Evil

Welcome a new writer: From 2005-2017 Michael Berg was pastor at St. John’s Lutheran in Wood Lake, MN. He graduated from the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France in 2013 and is a fellow of the Academy. He is also a member of the Evangelical Philosophy Society. In 2017 he received a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. His doctoral project was “Masks of God: Vocation as the Proper Setting for Human Flourishing.” He now teaches at Wisconsin Lutheran College where he and Dr. Kerry Kuehn from the physics department offer a summer course on practical apologetics geared towards pastors, teachers, and interested laity (wlc.edu/apologetics).

Apologetics in Preaching

The Cross as Solution to the Problem of Evil

A favorite C.F.W. Walther line: “A preacher must be able to preach a sermon on faith without ever using the term faith.”1

Walther’s warning was against preaching faith as if it were a task the burdened sinner must accomplish on his own, thus confusing law and gospel. It was also a warning against turning the sermon into a theological lecture rather than framing the “address so as to arouse in every poor sinner the desire to lay the burden of his sins at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ.”2

The pastor must define faith in technical terms, but he must also realize that there are devastated people with him every Sunday who need comfort, not a lecture. His sermons cannot always be about the doctrine of faith but a proclamation of the gospel which arouses faith. Can you preach faith without using the word? Walther says you must.

Walther’s comment about faith and preaching applies also to apologetics and preaching. Preaching apologetically is more than a well-placed apologetic argument here or there. It is rather an attitude, an attitude of concern, one worthy of Peter’s admonition: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt 3:15-16).

Apologetic debates … are not for pulpits.

JP Moreland called apologetics a “ministry of caring.” He was contrasting the apologetics of people like William Lane Craig with the apologetics in which an average Christian pastor or layman might engage. Craig is famous for debates with popular atheists. He’s good. Really good. You should watch the debates. These are important academic exercises. Nor should we forget that Craig and others in the field have knocked the blinders off many intelligent skeptics who in turn reconsidered the claims of Christ. Yet these apologetic debates are better suited for Oxford and Cambridge then for Springfield and Greenville. They are not for pulpits.

Sinner-saints always harbor doubts.

Preaching apologetically is simply concerning ourselves with the skeptics in our pews—skeptics the faithful in our pews will encounter, and the skeptic the faithful deal with every day, the Old Adam. Think of the man Jesus encountered in Mark 9: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Sinner-saints always harbor doubts. The preacher does damage if he implies that doubting is a sin to be overcome by the sinner himself. “Stop doubting and believe,” he demands without pointing to evidence, that is, making a case (an apologia) for the faith he espouses. We should never forget that when Jesus encountered Thomas, he accompanied a command with his physical wounds in an act of caring. The goal was faith and if it took a hand shoved into the side of Christ, so be it.

That goal of faith is the same for today’s preacher. The apologetic task is incomplete without the proclamation of law and gospel. There would be no point in apologetics without it. The apologist can only knock down arguments against Christianity or assert positive proofs for a viable claim on truth. The apologist can never give faith; this is the work of the Spirit. It has always stuck me that Jesus commanded of Thomas exactly what Thomas could not do on his own, namely, believe. Certainly Jesus knew this? But as the saying goes: Whatever God demands of us; he gives to us in Christ. Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (Jn 20:27b) and then Jesus gave Thomas the faith to do just that, believe. The apologist is to proclaim the truth of the gospel, offer evidence when called to, and then let Christ do the real work through the Spirit.

It may be helpful then for the pastor to keep these thoughts in the back of his mind as he prepares sermons: What might doubting Thomas say about my assertions? What might the skeptic say? What might my people say to challenges from skeptics? What does the Old Adam in my people say? And since I am first preaching to myself, what does my Old Adam say about this claim? The preacher is then in a caring mindset sensitive to his listeners’ doubts.

A pattern emerges. First the preacher asks the above questions when encountering a text. He then searches for answers. Somebody out there has thought about these problems before. He might not find a satisfactory answer, but at least he has thought about the issue for the sake of himself and his listeners. After thinking it through he can then begin to craft a sermon or an evangelistic tactic that brings the academic exercise of apologetics to the apologetic task of caring.

Preaching apologetically will thus include some apologetic facts but not a full blown academic debate. It will include pulling the rug out from under a material-only worldview but without a “gottcha” brashness. It will include “Thus saith the Lord” but also a humble attitude. Above all it will aim to arrive at the cross of Christ as efficiently as possible so that the skeptic (and the believer) will see that this is not about winning an argument but about a real Savior accomplishing a real salvation for real sinners. The Christian faith is a claim on reality. These events really happened, and this is good news for you and me.

In this six-part series we will engage some of the apologetic arguments used throughout the history of Christianity. We will then wed them with Christian preaching careful not to obscure law and gospel. We will conclude each issue with an example of such preaching.

The preacher cannot, of course, fully develop each apologetic argument in a sermon, nor would he want to. Nor can we do so here. We will not even come close to touching on all the major apologetic issues of our day. This is for personal study. We hope only to whet the appetite of the evangelism-minded preacher with a handful of resources to begin or continue his journey. Nor are the topics chosen necessarily the most important. They were chosen because they come up naturally in the lectionary in the month or so following an issue’s publication.

This issue’s topic is the problem of evil and the very Lutheran solution of the theology of the cross. Pentecost 22 in Year B (October 21, 2018) lends itself to such a discussion. Mark records Jesus disgust with James’ and John’s discussion about the seating arrangement in the Kingdom. They were being theologians of glory precisely when Jesus was heading to Jerusalem for his date with the cross. Isaiah continues his suffering servant portrait of the Messiah in chapter 53, and the writer to the Hebrews claims Jesus to be our sympathetic High Priest. The psalm selection fits beautifully: Psalm 22.

Now to the problem of evil. How can we reconcile a God of love with a world of evil? Atheists revel in this conundrum. Many point out not only the inconsistency of the situation as they see it but also the violence done in the name of religion and specifically the Christian God. Even more boldly, some assert that God is a moral monster with a long rap sheet of genocide and misogyny. He has even been accused of child abuse at the cross.

Accusations deserve an answer but not a theodicy.

Accusations deserve an answer but not a theodicy, an attempt to reconcile a God of love with evil by vindicating God. Theodicies try to rescue God from his bad reputation. They do not let God be God. The apologist walks a fine line here. Declaring that God allowed or even sent a tragedy to a specific people because of their sin is bad apologetics and bad theology. But so are the seemingly more benign theodicies we hear all the time. We have all heard, and maybe even said, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Maybe. He may also shut every escape like he did in that locked room the Sunday after Easter so that Thomas had nowhere to go but to him. Trite answers to evil are not helpful to the truly suffering. Our job is not to treat God like a piece of property we are trying to sell with a little curb appeal but rather to declare who he is.

Trite answers to evil are not helpful to the truly suffering.

The theologian of glory speculates; the theologian of the cross calls a spade a spade. There is a careful balance in the theology of the cross between speculation and utter meaningless. There is meaning to life, including and maybe most of all meaning to suffering. While the theologian of the cross is barred from speculating, he is not barred from ministering. Consider four spiritual reasons for suffering: sufferings strengthen Christians (Hb 12:7), sufferings teach compassion for others (Ph 2:1-11), sufferings (specifically crosses) are a mark of the church (Ps 116:10 and AE 27:47), and sufferings drive us to repentance, which by the grace of God, hopefully leads us to the Scriptures and ultimately to faith (Pv 3:5). C.S. Lewis called this last reason “God’s megaphone.”3 Only in suffering do we yearn for salvation.4

While the theologian of the cross is barred from speculating, he is not barred from ministering.

We should also allow God his right to punish the unbeliever and chastise the believer. Our contemporary Western world has a problem with God’s anger. We might think, “What’s his problem? Is it really that bad that he must allow earthquakes and disease?” Those suffering in the third-world often have a different perspective. Their complaint is not that God is too angry but too patient with injustice. “How could the Christian God allow such inequality? Why does he not smite the greedy West?” Not only this, but when we look back at the ancient Near East, we are taken aback by the violence and immorality. When we consider that God knew about it all and saw his creation so defiant and so flippant about the rights of human beings, we might wonder why he didn’t rage against humanity sooner. How would you react if your children were mistreated, raped, even sacrificed to the local god? God witnessed this happen to his children. Perhaps he is more patient then we thought.

There are also some logical arguments that combat the atheist’s accusation. First, the ability to define evil at all assumes the existence of a universal morality and therefore a free, powerful, intelligent being outside of time and space (the moral argument). Second, not liking something (a God who allows evil) does not mean that that something (God) does not exist. If that were so, why not wish away cancer? Third, love supposes freedom. In love God allows us freedom. We have misused this freedom and there are ramifications.

The topic deserves more space then we have here. We have to whittle it down even more for a sermon example, but let’s try.

Doesn’t it seem that the disciples are constantly trying to block Jesus’ road to the cross? They saw success and craved it. Who wouldn’t? But what they saw as good was the opposite. Jesus knew that an earthly kingdom would be nothing without a payment for sin. So what seemed to be evil (the cross) was actually the highest good. And what seemed to be good (not being executed) was actually evil. It’s hard for us to blame the disciples though. It’s backwards to think that evil things (failure, disease, injustice, violence) might actually be the opposite.

Don’t get me wrong, they are bad, even evil. They would not even exist without sin. But we are to call a thing what it is according to Scripture and not according to sight. So the cross, with all its embarrassment and violence, is good and not just the evil it appears to be.

Well, what about the crosses you bear? Let’s not sugarcoat life here. Let’s not argue about who is the greatest like the disciples did in the shadow of the looming cross. Some of you will go bankrupt. Some of you will die of a disease you’ve never heard of. Some of you might bury your own children. It seems a little small to argue about who is the greatest at such moments, doesn’t it?

So how can we reconcile this coming evil with a God who is constantly telling us that he is love? That might be easy for you if life is going well at the moment. But talk to me when you lie in a hospital bed or when you once again try to intervene with your drug-ridden friend or relative. Tough stuff. The conundrum of a loving God and an evil world has led to many doubts and even atheism. So what’s the answer? Let me boil it down to a few options.

  • Option one: God is not powerful enough to stop evil all the time. The devil and God spar and sometimes God wins and sometimes (a lot of times, it seems) he loses.
  • Option two: God does not care enough to stop evil. This is an even worse scenario.
  • Option three: God simply does not exist. Evil is random and has no meaning. If this is the case, then half of life has no meaning, and that’s on a good day.

But may I suggest a fourth option? God is in charge of evil. It sounds dreadful, but it is truly comforting. Think of Job. God gave the devil permission to go after Job. Dreadful. But what was the result? Job’s faith was strengthened. And isn’t that the goal? What seemed evil was actually good. I wonder if God has given Satan permission to attack you? I don’t know, but I do know that it may be for no other reason than for you to come to Christ in a desperate state. And that’s exactly where you need to be to receive his beautiful promise of life in him.

If the goal is faith in him and the opposite of faith in him is faith in anything else (doctors, government, ourselves), then God must first rid us of this false faith to make way for the Holy Spirit. And if it takes suffering, so be it.

A fourth option: God is in charge of evil.

So, we have more than a God who fights evil, we have one who uses evil for our eternal good. We have more than a God who balances out good and evil but a God who became a curse for our sakes. Listen to Isaiah describe Christ, “Yet it was the LORD‘s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days” (Is 53:10b). Listen to the writer to the Hebrews describe the same Messiah, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hb 4:15). Listen to Jesus say to his disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).

This is finally what Paul meant when he said, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28). Even in the most dreadful evil, the cross, he had you in mind. Even in your most dreadful evil, he has you in mind. So enter the darkness of your crosses with this in mind: I have a sympathetic High Priest who not only knows what I go through, but has gone through it already. Even more, he went through a crucifixion to pay for my sins. All this for my good, my eternal good.

And then emerge on the other side of such evil with Paul’s delight, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rm 5:3-5).

How much more than are you able to love your suffering neighbor, not with trite answers to their pain, but with a real answer, a real Savior, a real comfort?

Written by Michael Berg


1 The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, C.F.W. Walther, 1986 CPH, p. 260.
2 Ibid., p. 260.
3 The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis, 1962 Macmillan, 93.
4 The Theology of the Cross: Reflections on His Cross and Ours, Daniel Deutschlander, 2008 NPH, 114.


Books for further study:

Heidelberg Disputation by Martin Luther
Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough by Alister McGrath
The Theology of the Cross: Reflections on His Cross and Ours by Daniel Deutschlander
On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde
Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Suffering by Gregory Schulz


Fall planning:

Worship resources for Mission and Ministry Sunday, October 21, or another time, complementing the film To the Ends of the Earth are available at welscongregationalservices.net/totheendsoftheearth: a sermon outline; a new hymn with accompaniment options; and a unison song for children, choir, or soloist (please share the link with musicians).

C18 is a national outreach program with a goal to connect with 1 million unchurched people. Advent planning resources for C18 are available at welscongregationalservices.net/c18. More resources will follow.

 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Faces of Faith – Ching

His name is Ching. He was born 28 or 29 years ago in the jungles of western Thailand. He technically has two birthdays – the date that his parents told him he was born and the one the government assigned to him when his family was assimilated into Thailand’s population. The two birthdays are a year apart.

His family was moved to Village 9, one of the settlements established by the government for refugees. He attended school through the third grade, but had to leave due to family difficulties and the need to work in the fields in order to help support the family. No one in his family was Christian including his four siblings.

A strange dream caused his mother to seek out the local Christian leaders of our fledgling mission in Village 9. Through her contact with our young Bible Institute student (now one of our national pastors), the Holy Spirit led her to faith and she was baptized along with three of her children.

Children in Thailand listen to a Bible message

By the time Ching was 15, his interest in the Christian faith led him to the city of Chiang Mai, about a seven hour drive from his home in Village 9. He attended classes at our Bible Institute until its closure in 2009. He then transferred his studies to our seminary in Chiang Rai. At the same time he continued his secular education and earned his GED. When he completed our four year seminary program, he was graduated with a BTh degree and was ordained into the pastoral ministry.

He married in March of 2016. A year later he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and he underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. Though the doctors told him he would never be able to have children after the chemotherapy, the Lord has blessed him and his wife with the joy and expectation of a child this November.

I asked him once why he decided to become a pastor. Music has always been among his interests. In his youth, he once heard a Christian song that led him to seek out more information about the words and music. His friends in turn invited him to become more involved in worship where he was drawn to the music of the church as well as the message. From there, a thirst and desire to learn more led him on the path to service in the church. Pastor Ching and his wife currently are serving as officers on the Board of Directors of our new Thailand Evangelical Lutheran Synod Foundation in Chiang Rai.

Please continue to remember Pastor Ching and his wife in your prayers.  Pray that the Lord grants him a complete recovery from his cancer, and that he and his wife are blessed with the birth of a healthy child.

Written by: Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

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Merging for the Mission

“We would love to start a new program, but there’s no room in the budget.”

“We would love to double the size of this event, but our volunteers are tired and unmotivated.”

“We would love to inject some life into the leadership, but finding willing men for the council is proving more difficult every year, so the same few leaders just swap chairs again.”

There are many things a mission-minded congregation would love to do, but find a number of roadblocks in the way. The desire to carry out the mission is obvious, but the path forward isn’t always clear.

That was the case for two churches in suburban St. Louis. Only 5.6 miles from each other, the congregations had many things in common. Both had roughly 100-150 members. Both had 50-75 souls in worship each week. Both were served by young pastors. Both churches could have gotten by.

But getting by would mean that seemingly every dollar was going to debt repayment, rather than ministry opportunities. It would mean that volunteers had the energy to do the bare minimum, and not much more. So both churches began to ask questions like: Does getting by satisfy the mission? Is institutional survival the mission of the church? Would we be better off combining our efforts in some way?

What if we merged entirely – like two lanes on the highway becoming one?

The plan was simple. Double the pastoral staff. Double the leaders. Double the volunteers. Double the talents. Double the offerings – all while cutting the debt in half.

For two congregations in which debt was mounting, volunteers were losing zeal, and leaders were burning out, the path forward was clear. A “Merger Exploration Committee” was formed, comprised of six representatives from each congregation. These twelve Christians met almost every week for an entire summer planning, organizing, and prayerfully dreaming up what a new church would look like and how it could better carry out the mission. At the end of that summer, each congregation voted to approve the recommendations, which included:

  • Forming one, new congregation with a new name and identity
  • Moving into one building and selling the other property
  • Keeping both pastors

Faith & Fitness Camp – Kids from the community learned about the importance of physical strength and the spiritual strength that we find in Christ

Thus, Christ Alone Lutheran Church in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri was born. Neither church closed. Neither was absorbed. Both made a conscious, strategic decision to do more than just get by – more than survive – but to merge for the mission.

As we approach our one-year anniversary, most things have gone according to our simple plan. But of course there have been speed bumps and detours along the way. We are currently served by only one pastor. We have not yet sold the other property (although there is reason for optimism there). Not everyone has agreed on the best direction forward.

But the Lord has proven his plans to be even greater than ours. We are not in survival mode anymore. We have seen more baptisms in the past 12 months than in any year in either congregation’s history. The same is true for confirmations, general offerings, Sunday School enrollment, Bible study attendance, and first-time contacts with prospects. We are proactive, rather than reactive.

There’s room in the budget for new programs. Volunteers are energized and motivated. Leadership has found new life. We are not just getting by, but by God’s grace we are thriving.

Written by: Rev. Steve Waldschmidt, Christ Alone Lutheran Church – Dardenne Prairie, Missouri

Want to learn more about Multi-Site Ministry and how it can help your congregation and community thrive? Consider attending the WELS National Multi-Site Conference in Pewaukee, Wis. in November. Learn more at wels.net/multi-site-2018.

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Walking Between Two Elephants

The current political situation in West Africa has created great difficulties for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please pray for a swift resolution to the conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking regions of the country, and we trust that God will use this situation for the good of his people. Missionary Dan and Karen Kroll have temporarily relocated to Lilongwe, Malawi, while the situation on the ground is being assessed.

As we sat with fellow workers from our mission field, we learned much about the situation there. They had come from the place we call home, a place which had now become unsafe for us to return to. They had traveled in a military convoy of about two hundred vehicles, not sure if or when some opposition leaders might attack. The government is strong, but so are those who oppose them in the name of independence. Everybody here was raised with a “might makes right” attitude, so violence becomes the order of the day.

Lutheran Church of Cameroon

There is a hopelessness in the air as the proverb rolls off his tongue, “We are walking between two elephants.” We learn the other half of the proverb about five minutes later as he continues, “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” We (ordinary people) are only spectators in this fight, and we don’t choose sides. ANYBODY with a gun makes us run into the bush to hide, makes us afraid to be home, but we are the ones who suffer in this fight. We are the grass.

As Isaiah begins his encouragement to the people of Israel who had been informed of God’s impending judgement, he acknowledges the same idea, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever”(40:7-8). “It isn’t easy” is a common phrase that comes up in our area – it usually refers to a tragic event or near impossible project that needs to be done. This is a classic situation, walking between two elephants, and it’s getting uglier every day.

When God decides that we need to walk between two elephants, or he finds it necessary to allow the elephants to fight, the best we can do is to prepare for any outcome. This is out of our hands. Almost any way we become involved, we will agitate somebody – we will most likely only make it worse.

Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll

“…BUT the word of our God stands forever.” A pretty important “but” that turns our attention away from the terrible things that are happening in a different part of the world, a war zone, across town, or even in our own home. Whenever we look to people or expect anything of this world to bring peace and happiness, we will surely be disappointed. In fact, the devil will use that to get our attention away from our Savior Jesus. As soon as independence, peace, prosperity, or personal satisfaction rule our hearts and lives, we can be lost and trampled underfoot.

Is there a way for us to leave the elephants alone? In spite of the worldly suffering in this situation, might we rather focus on the good news that our ever-gracious and wise LORD is still in charge, even stronger than the elephants. We remember always that he plans only good things for us (Romans 8:28). The best example is the sacrifice of his own Son to keep us close to Him for eternity. Let us continue to read and study his word to remind us that even our biggest elephant (death) no longer has power over us. Together with Jesus we cannot lose. The whole world needs to know about this great victory in Jesus – even if it means we have walk between two elephants while we tell them!

Written by: Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll 

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Worship Wrestling

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive updates, visit oneafricateam.com.

Written by Rev. James Aderman, a pastor who has served congregations in Florida and Wisconsin and is currently retired. Pastor Aderman recently went to Malawi to teach continuing education courses for pastors from Malawi and Zambia.

The topic was familiar. If I had closed my eyes I could easily have imagined myself in a group of WELS pastors in the United States.

But I was 8,500 miles from Wisconsin. I was south of the equator in Malawi, Africa.

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) hosts an annual continuing education week for its pastors at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi. I had the privilege of leading the 40 LCCA pastors who attended the 2018 conference in a discussion of Bible interpretation principles and of Christ-centered worship. It was the worship material that launched this discussion.

“My people think liturgy-based worship services are dull,” one pastor said. Others nodded in agreement. “That’s why some of my members slip off to Pentecostal churches on Sunday,” another said. “We Lutherans have so much to celebrate because of God’s grace,” said someone else. “Why can’t our worship be more lively?”

“But the liturgy reflects our teaching about grace,” another pastor countered. “Everything about it points us to Jesus. We dare not lose that.”

The discussion volleyed for some time. At the end there was consensus.

  • God’s grace in Jesus motivates us to worship him in the best ways possible.
  • Lutheran liturgy provides a solid structure on which to build our worship.
  • Liturgy doesn’t have to be dull or repetitive.
  • Our excellent hymn texts can be placed into music that is more familiar to African ears.
  • Pastors can do a better job teaching the Lutheran approach to worship.
  • The liturgy offers the freedom to help Christians of any culture fully rejoice in God’s grace.
  • We pastors can improve the way we lead God’s people in worship.

“I applaud you, my brothers,” I told them, “for your willingness to wrestle with developing worship services that bring praise to God and best benefits God’s people. You’ve given me new encouragement to keep my eyes open wide, so I do the same for fellow Christians in America.”

Written by: Rev. James Aderman, Retired pastor and volunteer professor in Malawi

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From the Far Side of the Sea

For my wife Connie and I, the words penned by ancient Israel’s King David take on a very personal meaning:

I settle on the far side of the sea. Even there your hand guides me, and your right hand holds on to me.

Psalm 139:9-10 EHV

As part of the WELS foreign service team, we have lived on the tropical island of Java in Indonesia since 2011. Indonesia is an archipelago, a geographic grouping of islands scattered about a region of water. The sandy shores of this nation of islands are bordered by the Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as being interconnected by several seas, straits, and gulfs.

Greg Bey and his wife Connie in Indonesia

One of the country’s many beautiful beaches on the southern coast of Central Java was the site of the 16th synodical convention of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia this past June. The modest hotel at which the convention was held was a mere 10-15 minute walk away from the water’s edge. Reflecting on the vastness of the Indian Ocean at the setting of the sun, the following words recorded by the Prophet Habakkuk seem most applicable: For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV)  All that we need to know about the glory of God our Savior, the God of free and faithful grace, the God of undeserved kindness and love, has been written down for us in the Holy Scriptures for our eternal benefit.

Pastor Ordination at GLI

To the great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9 EHV) God’s Word of Truth proclaims:  He will… have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 ESV) In a sense, GLI is truly a microcosm of the “great multitude” from around the world who so desperately needs to hear the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation which He freely offers to all through faith in Christ. It is estimated that there are more than 300 native languages and ethnic groups throughout the archipelago. Some sources state that the living languages in use exceed 700.

It is a privilege for GLI to be able to reach out to various tribes, people, and languages. This small fledgling confessional Lutheran denomination is able to do so only because the Lord of the Church has already blessed it with members and ministers in a number of major geographic regions including West, Central, & East Java, West Timor, Kalimantan (Borneo), and Irian Jaya (Papua).

GLI Delegates at their synod convention

This was evidenced at the GLI synodical convention as new leaders from among the clergy and laity were elected and new pastors and vicars were ordained and installed. While the baton was passed from the first generation to the middle-aged and younger men of the second and third generations, those added to the cadre of elected leaders and called workers consisted of individuals from various tribes including Javanese, Batak (Sumatra), Papuan, Dawan (Timorese), and Dayak (Kalimantan).

While GLI is small church body with a mere handful of far flung posts and congregations, the LORD has provided it with with big opportunities, the greatest message, and His promise of blessing. Please join in its ministry through your words of encouragement, by your offerings, and especially with your prayers.

Blessed is everyone who has the God of Jacob as his help. His hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything which is in them. He is the one who stays faithful forever.

Psalm 146:5-6 EHV

Written by: Greg Bey, Friendly Counselor to Indonesia

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Needing to Share Jesus

When it became about sharing Jesus with another broken heart, God’s Word worked.

Canvassing Team ready to share Jesus with the Rockwall community

We met at a church carnival and got to talking in the line to get a gyro. He hadn’t been with a group of people who loved Jesus and were kind to him like us in his life, so he was willing to have me come over to his house and visit. Before long, we were going through a Bible Study about who Jesus is, who we really are in God’s eyes, and what God has done for us through Jesus. Each time we met, there were more questions and old stories about things he’d seen or done that he didn’t understand. As we talked about God’s Word, the Spirit answered his questions and healed his heart. Before long, he was gathering with us to worship and taking every devotional book or magazine he could get as his desire to remain connected to Jesus grew.

We pray together that our eyes stay open to see the opportunities all around us – like meeting someone in line at a church carnival waiting to get a gyro. When we realize our calling is to tell someone else about something that changed our own lives, the conversations turns from wanting to share Jesus, to needing to share Jesus.

When we want to share Jesus, it seems that the conversations take place too soon or are disconnected from the situation. When we realize what God has done to repair our own broken hearts, it becomes easier to recognize what the brokenness looks like in others. And when we see the needs of others, we are able to help because our shared need is only met with the Word of God.

Sharing Jesus became real when I had a real conversation with someone. I pray God continues to keep my eyes open to see broken hearts and to share Jesus with them. I also pray that God reminds you of your broken heart and his power alone to heal you – and I pray you see the brokenness in others to share with them the only Words that work:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

Isaiah 61:1

Written By: Pastor Gunnar Ledermann, Divine Peace Lutheran Church – Rockwall, Tex. Campus

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WELS App Replaces WELS Mobile on July 17

On Tuesday, July 17 the WELS Mobile app installed from the iPhone/iPad App Store, Google Play Store, or Amazon will be removed. Any users with the app installed on their devices will find that many of the features will no longer function correctly. The reason for this change is that a new WELS App is now available at https://wels.app. This new app provides all the same functionality as the old WELS Mobile app and more. Please read all about it in a recent blog posted entitled WELS App Launches.

If you have been using the old WELS Mobile app, you may want to uninstall it to avoid confusion. If you are confused as to which one you have, the old WELS Mobile app has a red header bar at the top of the screen, while the new WELS App has a blue header bar (pictured here).

Thanks for giving the WELS App a try. Tell others. Enjoy the experience and the beautiful messages it carries. And be sure to watch for new features coming soon.

God Can Turn Setbacks into Blessings

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Acts 8:4

The book of Acts shows us that the Lord used even the persecution of his church to further the spread of his Word. What seemed a setback actually resulted in added blessing to the church as the scattered believers brought the message of salvation to those whom they might not have otherwise encountered.

South Asian Fellowship at Christ in Pewaukee, WI

When our World Missions contacts in Pakistan, Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, were forced to leave their country and come to the United States for safety reasons, it seemed a significant setback to the efforts to share the gospel in that country. A small but growing Lutheran church had been established. Christian literature had been provided in the Urdu language for tens of thousands of Christian school children, for adults who desired instruction, and for hundreds of low income Christian households that wanted Bible materials for the spiritual instruction of their families.

Yet as happens so often in mission work, our Lord used these unforeseen developments to further his work rather than hinder it. Through the miracle of modern technology in communications, the departed leaders were able to continue to advise, encourage, and train those left behind in their church in Pakistan. Plans for in depth Bible training of the next generation are being carried out and a new wave of leadership has begun to emerge. In fact, outreach through household churches is being done on a scale greater than thought possible.

The Lord’s blessings are not confined to Pakistan alone, but are also evident in the United States. Extended time in America enabled the Pakistani couple to accelerate and complete courses with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a partnership between WELS Joint Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. After graduating from the PSI program, the Jordans began to use the advantage of their Asian background and language to establish a network of Asian immigrant friends who were living in the Pewaukee, Wis. area, where they reside. Their membership at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee prompted the congregation to work with the Jordans to establish an International Friendship Center (IFC) to reach out to these immigrants with Christian love and the message of salvation.

Activities of the IFC over the past months have included meals, gatherings at church, and numerous visits to homes that have involved over 60 immigrants. In all of these activities, the gospel has been shared and relationships between American mid-westerners and people from India, Pakistan, and Nepal have begun to form. This summer, Christ Lutheran volunteers are providing activities for Asian children in a nearby park leading up to the church’s Vacation Bible School in July. Joint trips to farms, businesses, and places of interest in the community are being planned; and classes helping these immigrants to adjust to U.S. culture and life are being developed.

We don’t know where all of this comparatively new outreach effort will lead, but the Jordans and the volunteers at Christ Lutheran do know that God has provided an unexpected opportunity to be his people in a unique way, perhaps showing again in the 21st century that setbacks in man’s perception often become blessings that are part of God’s master plan.

Written by: A volunteer with the Christ Lutheran South Asian Task Force

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“I Knew I Needed Peace”

Redeemer Lutheran Church in Edna, Texas began worshiping at its second site in Victoria on December 3, 2017. As is typical with a new mission start, we flooded our area with fliers, billboards, and door-hanger invitations. We had a few new people respond, but by Christmas, most had decided that Redeemer was not for them. We followed the grand opening invitation with a Christmas invitation just a few weeks later with nearly the same results…

Easter Sunday at Redeemer

Or so we thought.

About 2 weeks after Christmas, Magdalena and her high school aged granddaughter, Nikandra, attended worship with us. As part of our guest follow-up, I took a welcome gift to their house. Although we don’t usually like to enter the house for a visit on this first contact, Magdalena insisted. It was the first time a pastor had sat at her table to visit with her and to address her spiritual concerns and questions.

I asked how she had found out about Redeemer, and she pulled out the Christmas invitation that offered “Peace for the Broken” (the Christmas 2017 invite cards prepared by Pastor Jonathan Schroeder and ECHT Printing) from her Bible and said, “I saw this and knew I needed peace. So I came.”

Redeemer’s Easter Celebration

Over the next several weeks, Magdalena and Nikandra studied with me nearly every week in their home and seldom missed worship or Sunday Bible study. As they neared the completion of the Bible 101 course, I invited them to consider baptism, confirmation, and church membership. They enthusiastically accepted and, for many reasons, chose Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, as the date for Nikandra’s baptism and for their confirmations as well. It was a wonderful celebration of the power of Jesus’ resurrection. On a day our nation celebrates pranks and fools, these two became confirmed “fools” for Christ, who are wise unto salvation through faith in him.

Nikandra used the opportunity of her baptism and confirmation to invite a friend and her mother to worship. These ladies have also started attending worship, and we have invited them to consider the Bible 101 course as well. We pray that in this way our congregation and the Savior’s church will continue to grow.

Written By: Pastor Aaron Glaeske, Redeemer Lutheran Church – Victoria, TX

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Preach The Word – Luther and the Lectionary

Treasures Old and New

Luther and the Lectionary

“Ah, Luther.” Like an audiophile commenting on Bach, confessional Lutheran pastors utter the name with a sense of awe, respect, and thanksgiving for the life, work, and heritage of Dr. Martin Luther. We revere him, quote him, point to him, apologize with him and, on occasion apologize for him in our teaching and preaching. There is so much that one could offer that it is easier for those in the know to simply look at each and exclaim, “Ah, Luther.”

And yet, no confessional Lutheran preacher would ever leave it at that. For 500 years the Lutheran Reformation has shaped both the religious and secular worlds in which we walk, work, and witness today. It is no wonder that quotes from Luther and the reformers find their way into our sermons. We share sermon highlights, catechetical sections, and snippets from the confessions for the joy and edifying of our people. In doing so, we follow a long line of Lutheran preachers and confessors who would witness to their faith in print and in pulpits throughout the German lands and beyond. Bringing their confession of faith to the biblical storeroom of the lectionary, they found treasures old and new to bring forth.

A Lutheran Lectionary

As the Lutheran Reformation took hold, the reformers sought to develop a worship life that would transition worshipers from medieval self-righteousness to biblical justification by grace through faith. Already by the mid-1520s, the organization of churches in Lutheran principalities had begun. Called the Saxon Visitation, parishes and communities were visited, evaluated, and organized in line with the model set up in Wittenberg. Regional customs and observances were retained or modified, if at all possible, while others were eliminated. Mass-orders were based on the examples of Luther’s German and Latin masses yet they often restored or retained local textual and ceremonial practices. “It is apparent that the various church orders made their own contributions to the evolution of Lutheran liturgy, influenced by but also independent of the contributions of Martin Luther.”1

There grew “a remarkable consensus in the calendrical observances of early Lutheranism.”

As worship life continued to center on the church year, there grew “a remarkable consensus in the calendrical observances of early Lutheranism.”2 Based largely in the historic lectionary, Lutheran churches retained much of the historic church year calendar, especially the festival half, while adjusting for local and regional observances:

  • The Advent and Christmas seasons along with the Festival of the Epiphany remained unchanged
  • The season of Epiphany included the Baptism of our Lord at Luther’s urging, followed by specific emphases each Sunday, and concluding with the Transfiguration (moved from August 6).
  • Lent remained unchanged from Ash Wednesday through Easter Eve, though Good Friday was observed with less somberness and Holy Saturday not at all.
  • Easter Sunday led into the Sundays of the Easter season, each named for specific annual observances.
  • Ascension and Pentecost were celebrated as high festivals, followed by Trinity Sunday.
  • The Sundays after Trinity Sunday were largely marked by lectio continua and semi-lectio continua readings.

Yet as the church year came to an end, the lectionary took a decided Lutheran turn. Luther encouraged special emphases to replace Roman All Saints and All Souls days. The last three Sundays of the church year emphasized:

  • The abomination of desolation (Matthew 25:15-28)
  • The last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Remembrance of the faithful departed (Matthew 5:1-12)3

During the annual cycle, feasts of the apostles and evangelists continued to be observed if they fell on a Sunday. Most of the feasts of the virgin Mary were phased out while the Annunciation, the Purification, and the Visitation were kept. A number of church orders included evangelical observances of local, non-biblical saints.

Conspicuous by its absence, though, was an observance of thanksgiving for the Lutheran Reformation. While much of the church year and its appointed texts were nearly universal, Reformation festivals were celebrated in many and varying ways. Johannes Bugenhagen, among the Saxon visitors mentioned above, encouraged territories to celebrate the Reformation on the anniversary of the date the territory joined the Reformation. Others celebrated on the anniversary of Luther’s birth or death. Still others celebrated on the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. A more unified date for the festival wasn’t established until the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War:

The Thirty Years’ War obliterated these [Reformation] observances, but in 1667 Elector John George II of Saxony reestablished the festival, appointing it for October 31. This date, or the Sunday preceding or the Sunday following, came to be generally accepted in practically all German-speaking and other Lutheran lands, where the festival itself rapidly gained observance.4

Die Heilige Schrift oder Was sagt Luther?

Since then, Lutheran liturgy, Lutheran lectionary, and Lutheran quotes have been fused with biblical proclamation. Week by week our Lutheran heritage has and continues to make its way into the worship lives of our people. Nowhere was this more unmistakably on display than during last year’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Books, movies, articles, daily quotes, devotionals, exhibits, sermons, and the like all celebrated Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. Again and again we heard about Luther’s theology, Luther’s faith, Luther’s Bible, and Luther’s impact on the world.

Yet while millions rejoiced at what God accomplished through the Lutheran Reformation, some were left asking, “Do Lutherans worship God or Luther?” Questions like this are easily dismissed as simple misunderstanding by the uninformed, non-confessional bias from the purveyors of liberal Lutheranism, or unfounded criticism by historical skeptics. Certainly, these have all influenced our Lutheran efforts to clearly proclaim the solae of the Lutheran Reformation. We react, respond, anticipate, teach, and preach with Lutheran tenacity, less the lessons of the Reformation be lost, and rightly so.

Could the way we incorporate Luther into worship give the unintended impression that Luther is Lord?

At the same, we do well to hear such a question as, “Do Lutherans worship God or Luther?” and ask that most Lutheran of questions of ourselves, “What does this mean?” Could the way we incorporate Luther and the Confessions into worship, especially our preaching, give the unintended impression that Luther is Lord? References to Luther’s theology, Luther’s faith, and Luther’s Bible can be rightly understood. Yet such references can also be easily misunderstood, even by those who want to rightly understand.

To be clear, this is about perception and not about quia vs. quatenus. Indeed, our quia subscriptions to the Book of Concord give us every confidence to include quotes from and references to the confessions of our Christian faith and Lutheran heritage. This is obviously a good thing. But to those who are new to Lutheranism or new to the Christian faith, an abundance of such quotes and references may be too much of a good thing. Without thoughtful explanation or careful clarity, even a single quote or reference could result in unintended consequences, leading to misperception. A sermon progression of “The prophet Jeremiah wrote…The apostle Paul wrote…Luther wrote…” may become, to the uninitiated and uneducated, no longer two proof passages and some faithful exposition. Rather, the progression becomes three proof passages. Was sagt Luther can end up being perceived to be on a par with Scripture, not simply quoted because this particular explanation of his is in agreement with Scripture. Sola Scriptura becomes Scriptura et….

When it comes to preaching Luther and the lectionary, the advice here is not to eliminate Luther. Rather, be mindful of how you include Luther in your preaching. We dare not compromise the Word of God for the sake of perception. Yet we are mindful of how we present it for the sake of those listening. We carefully proclaim the Word of Truth. We deliberately apply law and gospel to our listeners. We purposely strive for understanding and clarity. And so, as the writer to the Hebrews encourages, it is also good and right for us to point to and remember the “great cloud of witnesses” and “leaders” who have gone before us. We carefully teach the place that Luther and the confessions have in our preaching and in the worship lives of God’s people. We clarify their relationship to the Word of God. In thanksgiving we “consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”5

500th Anniversary Part II

2018 marks another anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, the 500th anniversary of the Heidelberg Disputation.

The Heidelberg disputation is, in many ways, more significant than the 95 Theses.

Following Luther’s proposal for a disputation on the subject of indulgences, the Augustinian Order, to which Luther belonged, was generally supportive of his views. The head of the order in Germany, Johannes Staupitz, called for a formal disputation to be attended by the leadership of the order, in which Luther would be provided a chance to expand upon his concern. The disputation took place at the meeting of the Augustinian Order, in Heidelberg, in April 1518. Luther’s opponents had been hopeful that Luther would be silenced, but Staupitz wanted to give Luther a fair hearing, since he was generally sympathetic with Luther’s views. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” The disputation is, in many ways, more significant than the 95 theses, for they advanced Luther’s growing realization that the theology of late Medieval Roman Catholicism was fundamentally and essentially at odds with Biblical theology. As a result of the disputation, John Eck proposed a debate between himself and representatives of Luther’s views, which was held in Leipzig from June to July, 1519.6

Here is opportunity to celebrate our Lutheran heritage and rightly use it to point to our Savior. Thank you to Craig Engel for providing the following connections between the 28 Theses of the Heidelberg Disputation and the appointed lessons and themes through the Sundays of Pentecost, Year B. Since Engel’s plan includes dates already passed, I offer two November dates instead. The Heidelberg document is available at the website in endnote 6.

Pentecost 7 – July 8, 2018

Mark 6:1-16, Ezekiel 2:1-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Thesis 18 – It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

Pentecost 9 – July 22, 2018

Mark 6:30-34, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-22
Thesis 25 – He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
Thesis 26 – The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Pentecost 14 – August 26, 2018

John 6:60-69, Joshua 24:1,2a,14-18, Ephesians 5:21-23
Thesis 13 – Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.
Thesis 14 – Free will, after the fall, has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can do evil in an active capacity.
Thesis 16 – Nor could the free will endure in a state of innocence, much less do good, in an active capacity, but only in its passive capacity.
Thesis 17 – Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.

Pentecost 15 – September 2, 2018

Mark 7:1-8,14,15,21-23, Deuteronomy 4:1,2,6-8, Ephesians 6:10-20
Thesis 1 – The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
Thesis 3 – Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
Thesis 25 – He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
Thesis 26 – The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Pentecost 21 – October 14, 2018

Mark 10:17-27, Amos 5:6,7,10-15, Hebrews 3:1-6
Thesis 5 – The works of men are thus not mortal sins (we speak of works which are apparently good), as though they were crimes.
Thesis 6 – The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.

End Time 1 – Reformation Sunday – November 4, 2018

Mark 13:5-11, Jeremiah 18:1-11, Revelation 14:6,7
Thesis 25 – He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
Thesis 26 – The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Last Sunday of End Time – Christ the King – November 25, 2018

John 18:33-37, Daniel 7:13,14, Revelation 1:4b-8
Thesis 20 – He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
Thesis 21 – A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


1 Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy, p. 338
2 Ibid., p. 342
3 Ibid., p. 344
4 Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p. 569 (also quoted in Christian Liturgy, p. 345)
5 Hebrews 12:1; 13:7
6 http://bookofconcord.org/heidelberg.php


Treasures from the Archive

With twenty years of archives to hand, there is a storeroom of treasure to behold in past issues. The following is an introductory “observation” which speaks to the place and impact of catechetical preaching.

I love a good catechetical sermon.

When I hear my pastor read a proof text from the catechism as his sermon text, I look forward to hearing how he is teaching it to his current catechism students. I appreciate the review of my own catechetical instruction, and the new applications of the text to my current life.

The original Handbook to the Small Catechism was dedicated “to all faithful and upright pastors and preachers.” I gain quite a bit from catechetical review in a good catechetical sermon to help me in my role as a Christian father, since Martin Luther suggested that the truths of his Small Catechism were for me to present to my household.

And I know how this has worked in history. Good catechetical preaching has borne fruit in Lutheran congregations.

Almost 500 years ago, a group of families moved to where a mine had opened in the present-day Czech Republic. They named their new town Joachimsthal. That silver mine produced the metal for the coins in their area, which became known as “Thalers,” from which we get our English word, “dollars.”

The year after they founded their town, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, and the Reformation began.

The mining families all became Lutheran. Their story is told by Christopher Boyd Brown in his book, Singing the Gospel. The townspeople opened and supported two Lutheran elementary schools, one for the boys and one for the girls. They supported a number of pastors in a large congregation that contained, at its peak, 5,000 mining families.

Many of their legal and church records have been preserved, and what is striking is the documented evidence of each family being sure that the children learned Bible accounts, Luther’s Small Catechism, Lutheran worship, and in particular, the words of dozens of good Lutheran catechetical hymns. All of that family catechetical work was supported by good catechetical preaching from the pulpit.

After imperial armies took over the territory and banned Lutheranism, a Roman Catholic priest named Franciscus Albanus was sent to the village. He had his doctoral degree from a college where they trained men to oppose the unconditional gospel. Franciscus Albanus worked hard in Joachimsthal. But the children under his care told him the truths of the Bible as they had learned them in Luther’s Small Catechism. The men and women of the village patiently insisted on forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus as their Savior. And the families sang Lutheran hymns in public and private. Of course, there was strong cultural pressure to compromise the truth. But the people held firm. Even armies could not stop them.

Albanus was forced to begin reading through the Lutheran theological volumes stored in the Joachimsthal library in order to “strike the people with their own sword, and convince them out of their own writings.”

Instead, he himself was convinced by the Holy Spirit. Albanus resigned from the priesthood and became a Lutheran pastor. Do you think he engaged in any good catechetical preaching after that?

God bless your faithful preaching, catechetical and otherwise.

Paul Prange, Volume 16, No. 5

 

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What do you do with children in worship?

Series Introduction

The Look. You know it well. It comes in different shapes and sizes. It comes in different times and places. It comes in different expressions and amounts of seriousness. There are many variations to The Look, but it’s all essentially the same.

You certainly have seen The Look before. You probably have received The Look before. Writing an article first for pastors, I’m quite confident you have given The Look before. The location of The Look is churches, exclusively. The object of The Look is parents, specifically.

What is The Look? It’s a writhing of the brow, a wrinkling of the nose, and a wriggling of the lips that accent a glassy-eyed, ice-cold stare of death. It’s a communication of body language that silently screams, “What is wrong with you? Will you PLEASE shut that kid up?!”

We who are pastors rarely sit with our children, so we might have to go back to seminary or vicar days to remember what it is like to receive The Look. Or we could ask our wives what it is like to receive it (if we dare stir that pot of opinions).

Many times we observe The Look. From the bird’s nest of the pulpit we can survey the congregation and see much of what takes place during worship. We can hear and see the child whining as the parent struggles to soothe and wonders how long to hold out before leaving the sanctuary. We can also see the subsequent turning of heads. Who cares if you were making the greatest sermonic point of your life? At least ten people find it completely necessary to turn and find that disruptive family because they need to be given The Look.

Most times we pastors have familiarized ourselves with The Look because we have given it ourselves. You know the times: When Johnny feels like he has to go marching in with all the saints mid sermon. When the new family decided it would be a good idea to bring a Tonka fire truck and not turn off the siren. When you are pouring your heart out in a sermon you spent plenty of hours on while some (hopefully) well-intentioned parent thinks waiting out a crying child is ideal during worship. When the stray toddler runs down the aisle and looks like he’s going to make a break for the chancel. (All these I’ve personally experienced!)

Yeah. Those are the times we give The Look. Perhaps we give it with our best evangelical spin. But nevertheless we too give The Look that says, “Go ahead kid. Make my day. Charge the chancel and you’ll get the most evangelical death stare you could ever imagine. I’ll ban your family from pot lucks from now until the good Lord returns!”

I know. A light-hearted opening. But don’t let the satire hide the seriousness. Many times we think about these kinds of things that occur within our walls, and we do laugh it off. We shrug our shoulders and say, “There’s not much we can do about that.” We relish a change but relinquish effort so as to keep the status quo. After all, there will always be children and there will always be noise in worship, so we might as well just deal with it.

But I believe this issue is more serious than that and deserves more attention than a roll of the eyes or shrug of the shoulders. Ministry experience has taught me this.

I’ve been at the door of, or in conversation with, many a prospect who has said something like, “Do you have child care or children’s church during your services? If you don’t, I’m not coming.”

I’ve been in council meetings that pushed the boundaries of brotherly conversation as opinionated grenades were launched across the table: “I think all children should be separate in their own service during church so we can concentrate,” . . . “Well, if that happens, I’m leaving!”

I’ve had people leave during worship never to return to worship because of the noise level in church. (Coincidentally, it was my own daughter who stubbed her toe that day.) I’ve had empty-nesters complain about the noise level in church, and then five of them leave membership within a five-month window.

I’ve had parents stare in disbelief when discussion on the topic arises, as if they are surprised their noisy kid would ever be considered a distraction. And yes, I’ve even given my fair share of The Look as pesky peewees pushed my patience while preaching.

This is a big deal. This is a serious issue. Granted, my former congregation was extraordinarily youthful (40% of 300 souls were under age 12!) and our sanctuary was designed for great acoustics. We faced a bigger challenge than most. But every church has children. Every church has visitors and potential visitors with children. No church is exempt from dealing with the issue.

So if many parents and prospects are looking for something for their children during worship, and if children can often be very distracting during worship, and if other worshipers can easily become distracted and upset with distractions . . . What Do You Do with Children in Worship?

Contributions to the Current Situation

This question has taken me on quite the journey. Initially I was searching for that silver bullet that would silence the congregational alligators, hush the zoo of children, and let God’s people go back to focusing on mission and ministry (and worship!). There must be some solution to knock off these three birds with one worship stone! I asked around. I researched. I read. I tried new things. I read some more.

Then, years later, it finally hit me in a lightbulb moment that felt somewhat embarrassing. How could I have been so foolish? I’ve been looking in the wrong place the whole time! It’s not about the children! It’s not like children are suddenly born “worse in church” in the 21st century—as if there is another degree beyond total depravity that children have now reached! No, it’s not about the children! This is really all about the adults!

It’s not about the children! This is really all about the adults!

Take a few moments to consider only a few challenges in the world of adults and parenting today. First, there have been tectonic shifts in generational stability within our country. “The Greatest Generation” carried us on their backs through the Great Depression and WWII. They gave birth to the Baby Boomers who led us toward the ‘60s. But it was the pivotal generation that came next—Generation X. This is the generation that grew up in Vietnam Days, embraced free thinking, embarked on the sexual revolution, and then embodied rebellion against authority and discipline. Perhaps much of their cultural shift stemmed from what was happening at home. Over 50% of those in Generation X experienced some form of childhood abuse and more than 60% grew up in a broken home without both mom and dad present.1 Today, the youngest of this Generation X (those born closer to the 80’s) has children mostly in grade school, with some having high school or preschool children.

Generation X, a conflicted and confused generation, then gave birth to those notorious Millennials. Millennial parents primarily have early elementary or preschool aged children today. That means that these young children coming up through school today are now two generations removed from any kind of parental stability or normality. It shows, too. James M. Pedersen, a principal in New Jersey, wrote a book2 describing in great detail 55 different parenting styles identifiable today.

What’s the point? Many parents today struggle in knowing how to be parents—how to discipline, how to interact with and communicate with their children, and thus obviously, how to have them behave in worship.

Many parents today struggle in knowing how to be parents.

It doesn’t help that these parents are immersed in a post-Christian America. Some 50% of Americans identify as “post-Christian” today. More than 60% of Americans are unchurched or dechurched. And for those that do go to church, almost 40% of Christians today are “not too familiar” with the liturgy (19%) or have “never heard of it” (19%).3 So not only are children growing up in homes without much discipline or parental stability, they are also growing up in homes that are not familiar with being in church. Thus, proper church decorum can often amount to, “What threat, reward, or sticker can be offered in order to keep my kid quiet for an hour?” And if that doesn’t work, “Here, play on my iPhone” often becomes the solution.

There are many more challenges for parents with children in worship today, such as diminishing attention spans due to the 70+ hours Americans average in front of screens per week. But one more challenge deserves a bit more attention here—the age segregation of society.

We are in an era when everyone has their own place or group. There are geriatric and pediatric specialists. There are YMCA camps and programs for every age level. Even churches have senior groups, teen groups, youth groups, Mommy and Me groups, singles groups, young professional groups, and more. But no segregation of society is more significant than between children and adults.

Parents today train themselves to being accustomed to others taking care of their kids. As soon as a child is “old enough,” it’s off to day care or preschool—sometimes for 10-12 hours a day. When school is done, then Shelly is chauffeured and Cara is carted off to gymnastics or swimming or basketball or karate where others continue to take care of the children. But that’s not all. Grabbing a quick couple nuggets at McDonald’s or Chic-Fil-A? No worries! Kids can go to the play place. Need to get a quick workout in? Not a problem! The Y has childcare, too. Need to shop for the newest Swedish-designed lamps? You’re in luck! Even Ikea has childcare! It has become a strange norm today that parents pass off the parenting.

Let’s put this all together then. If a majority of American parents today are “post-Christian” and also non-church going, and if a majority of parents today struggle to know what it means to parent or discipline, and if a majority of parents today have become accustomed to passing off parenting to others, then should we really be surprised in worship that wiggling, whining, and wailing from children have climbed to epic heights while flustered and frustrated parents have bottomed out at miserable lows?

What Does This Mean?

First, the pastoral heart will have sympathy for those who are struggling with their children. (He will certainly also have empathy if his dear wife is herding a horde of littles each week to worship!) With compassion for these struggling parents, the pastor understands that the culture of Christian parenting has greatly changed over the years. Many may not know well how to discipline because they never experienced it themselves. Many newer Christians have also never really experienced worship, let alone liturgical worship. Thus, the pastor is sympathetic because so many parents today are simultaneously experiencing parenting and church for the first time!

Next, the pastoral heart will have sympathy for those concerned about the noise and volume from children during worship, too. We should not be so trite or dismissive as to declare to those concerned, “Well Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me,’ so you’re going to have to get over it.” Remember that such voiced concerns may come from God’s people who desire greatly to hear God’s Word and concentrate on worship. Even though their concerns are not always voiced with Christian care, they can be heard with your evangelical ear. Considering parents’ struggles, some level of distraction is not surprising. The pastor can be sympathetic toward that concern.

Still, the pastor would do well to fully instruct his members about a vow they make so often in worship: “Yes, as God gives me strength.”4 Time and again God bursts open the floodgates of his grace as he richly pours out forgiveness, life, and salvation on a young child or infant newly buried and risen with Christ in the waters of baptism. Following the rite of Christian Worship, the pastor then asks all present if they are willing to assist in whatever manner possible so that the child may remain a child of God until death. Has any pastor ever heard a “No!” to taking up that responsibility? So if the congregation unanimously resounds with the promise, “Yes, as God gives me strength,” then they need to understand what that entails. They need to understand that there will be compassion, encouragement, and support for parents so that in whatever manner possible children may be trained in the way they should go. This includes being trained in how to participate in worship.

In the articles that follow in this series, we will take a closer look at how the pastor and congregation can partner with the parents in such an undertaking. Specifically, our focus will be on how to assist parents in engaging their children in worship.

We will review the pros and cons of various strategies proposed by congregations such as children’s sermons, children’s church, and much more. We will look at biblical and historical precedents (both prescriptive and descriptive) to guide us on parenting and the topic of children and worship. Finally, we will consider a specific strategy aimed at helping parents to engage their children in worship—a strategy supported by Scripture, psychology, and science.

God bless us as we help, encourage, and support letting children hear the mighty deeds which God performed of old!5

A Preview of What’s to Come
  • Biblical precedent for families worshiping together in the church
  • Biblical directives for parenting and parental responsibility for teaching children to worship
  • Historical, psychological, and scientific factors that have implications for what is done with children in worship
  • Reviews of common practices with children in worship such as children’s sermons, children’s church, Sunday School held during worship, and more
  • Specific strategies for parents and congregations to help engage children in worship
  • A clearing house of ideas for child involvement in worship

Written by Phil Huebner

In 2007 Pastor Huebner was assigned to start a new mission church in Palm Coast, FL. In the nine years he served there, Christ the King Lutheran Church and School grew quickly and became known for outreach in the community, with many young people and children. He now serves as the Campus Pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, WI where he works with families and children on a daily basis. He received a Masters in Sacred Theology from WLS in 2015 and will finish in January 2019 a doctorate in Missions and Culture from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN. His dissertation is on what to do with children in worship. Departing from the usual custom, Worship the Lord is offering a four-part series on this topic.


1 Statistics from Revolutionary Parenting by George Barna
2 The Rise of the Millennial Parents
3 Statistics from barna.com
4 Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, p. 14
5 CW: 512


Commissioning new music

Is there a special occasion happening in your congregation in the next year or so? An anniversary, retirement, or facility dedication? Consider commissioning new music to celebrate the event. A list of WELS/ELS composers is available here: welsfinearts.org. Or musicians at your church might suggest another favorite composer.

A recent NPH publication is 8 Hymn Preludes for Organ, by Jeremy S. Bakken. The collection bears this dedication: “For Phil Becker from his wife, Lois, in recognition of 50 years of faithful service as an organist in WELS churches. S. D. G.” Phil also served for several years on the Commission on Worship, including as vice-chairman.

online.nph.net/8-hymn-preludes-for-organ.html

Organ Chorales of Samuel Scheidt
Forty-Nine Practical Settings

A new edition is edited and arranged by WELS musician Steven Rhode. From online publicity:

The passage of time hasn’t dulled the craftsmanship and creativity in the chorales of Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654). Nearly four centuries after they were first published, the settings still sparkle with innovative harmonies and exuberant rhythmic flourishes. Over time, some of these chorales have changed in common usage from how they were originally published in 1650. This new edition of Samuel Scheidt’s chorales matches the keys, notes, and rhythms of current hymnals while remaining faithful to Scheidt’s musical intent.

online.nph.net/organ-chorales-of-samuel-scheidt.html

 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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God Doesn’t Call the Prepared

Wendy Wright is a member of the Core Group that is starting a home mission congregation in Joplin, Mo. Below is the speech she gave at the 55th annual LWMS Convention in Green Bay, Wis., as part of Rev. Keith Free’s Home Missions Update presentation. 

My name is Wendy Wright, and I’m from Joplin, Mo.

To be honest, I’m a little nervous… As a past member of the LWMS Communication Committee, I am usually the one sitting out there… taking notes on the people speaking up here!

But, it’s interesting how sometimes God has other plans for us. My husband picked up a saying somewhere that states,

God doesn’t call the prepared; but He prepares the called.

So, let me share with you the preparation he did for home mission work in Joplin.

We’ll start back in 2011. I had just been selected as a member of the LWMS Communications Committee as a writer and editor. For those who remember, the 2011 LWMS Convention was held in Milwaukee, Wis. I was excited about my first convention to officially “work”… Unfortunately, that was not God’s plan.

The JoMo Core Group (Wendy is pictured center left in the blue)

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado ripped through the middle of Joplin, Mo. Not only did it destroy numerous homes, businesses, schools, and a hospital, it also claimed the lives of 161 people. Needless to say, I skipped the convention to help in my community.

Let me give you a little idea about Joplin, Mo. – or as we call it, JoMo

Not only is it located in tornado alley, it is geographically in the crossroads of America – about in the center, north and south, east and west. The people of Southwest Missouri are a hardy, “boot-strappin” kind. We don’t wait for someone to come in and tell us what to do, or how to do it. We put on our boots… and hats, and gloves, and we get to work. We dig in. We help our neighbors. We help strangers. We even had the privilege of hosting a group of volunteers from WELS Christian Aid and Relief who stayed for a week to help with tornado clean-up efforts. And I had the privilege of helping to organize their efforts.

God was preparing…

The next year (2012) and each year through 2017, I had the opportunity to attend the LWMS Conventions as a part of the Communications Committee. We wrote up summaries on the workshops and speakers for the website. Basically, it was a way to share home and world mission work with those who could not attend.

At last year’s convention in Orlando, Pastor Jonathan Bourman from Aiken, S.C., presented a workshop on “Gospel Planting in South Carolina.” His focus was on how WELS starts home missions, saying, “We go to where the people are at.” I was dutifully taking notes on his workshop, when he charged those in attendance to “Look within your OWN community to see if there is an opportunity to plant a church within a church with a new outreach or ministry focus, OR look into your own backyard to see if there is a growing community that needs the true gospel message. If so, contact your district mission board.”

I paused… MY own backyard… hmmm…

I scribbled it down in my notebook, “Contact DMB [District Mission Board] about growing community, Joplin: Pastor Shane Krause.”

God prepares.

As many of you know, you leave the LWMS Convention with tons of excitement and mission zeal – ready to save the world by Tuesday. And then you go home and promptly fall back into your regular routine. Well, I was no different. Except about a month later, God had other plans.

I happened to run into Pastor Krause at our LWMS Circuit Board meeting that just happened to be held at his church in Overland Park, Kan. He was our Circuit Pastoral Advisor for several years until he was named Chairman of the Nebraska District Mission Board. Frankly, he was the only one I knew on a mission board.

I did end up e-mailing him about how Joplin just MAY be a good place to look into for mission work… listing features and opportunities of this growing community.

Then, I promptly didn’t hear from him. For 3 weeks! I was just about to dismiss the whole thing, when Pastor Krause e-mailed. He apologized – something about being on vacation, and he needed to check on some information and community statistics, etc. And then he said the most remarkable thing:

“Wendy, I think there’s real potential in Joplin… Let’s do this!”

God was preparing.

It was a whirlwind after that point. Several local group meetings, and then in October, Mission Counselor Rev. Mark Birkholz came down to do some exploratory research into the community and to share his findings with the local interest group.

An interesting (or should I say startling) statistic he found – even though Joplin is located in the “buckle” of the Bible Belt, more than 40 percent of our population profess to have NO church affiliation. And there are many more who SAY they go to church, but really, there is no regular church attendance.

Additionally, even though there is a WELS church within 30 miles of Joplin, it is west over the border in Pittsburg, Kan. There is also an ELS church about 25 miles east, located in a small town called Carthage. But neither of these congregation were actively doing outreach in the larger Joplin metro area.

Armed with all of this information and the positive support of Pastor Birkholz, the Nebraska District Mission Board, local WELS Pastor Aaron Schumann, and a group of 11 laypeople (plus 8 children) agreed to be the Core Group.

At this point, I want to take a moment to point out two members of our core group who are here at the convention… One is my mother, Emilie Keeton, and the other is Janet Scheer.

We. Were. Called.

So, then what? We write a proposal… How? I’d been doing grant writing for local nonprofits for the last seven years, and I knew a proposal was similar to writing grants. You simply break it down and answer the questions. With the mission proposal due in March of 2018, that left us six months to put it together. Our core group met six times from October 2017 through March 2018 to discuss, deliberate, and answer the eight questions that the mission proposal requires. Everyone pitched in and everyone shared ideas. In March of this year we held our last working session, took our photo for the proposal, and sent it to Pastor Krause to submit on our behalf.

On April 12, we heard that we were selected as a new WELS home mission start!

Only 10 months after God provided the seed at the last Convention, he prepared the soil and watered it… and we are now rejoicing in seeing a home mission sprout up in Joplin, Mo.!

Where do we go from here?

We trust that God has a plan for us. We were unable to call a seminary graduate as we had hoped (the workers are just too few), so the Nebraska District Mission Board assisted us in calling a pastor earlier this month. And we are patiently awaiting word on whether he will accept it.

Please pray for us – and ALL home missions and missionaries – that God will bless our outreach and our ministry efforts.

Pray also that the Lord may speak to YOU. May you have ears to hear His call.. because He may be preparing you for home mission work in your own backyard.

By: Wendy Wright, member of the core group from the new mission in Joplin, Mo. 

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Hey Siri, Play God’s Word!

The technology available through your smart phone can do amazing things. But perhaps the best thing it can do is to help you stay in God’s Word. WELS publishes daily devotions and Bible readings in audio format that your phone can easily retrieve and play for you. Today I’ll focus on how this is possible on an iPhone. Later I’ll do the same for those of you carrying Androids.

While Siri, the iPhone and iPad’s perky little digital assistant, doesn’t always do what you want her to do, I’ve had good luck getting her to play WELS Daily Devotion and WELS Through My Bible podcasts through Apple’s Podcast app. I’ve included a screencast of the rather simple process below, but here are the steps:

  1. On your iPhone or iPad, make sure you have the Podcasts app installed.
  2. Open it and tap the Search link at the bottom.
  3. Search for “WELS” and then find and tap “WELS – Daily Devotion” or “WELS – Through My Bible.” They should be on the second row of results.
  4. Once open, tap the purple “subscribe” button.
  5. Give it a minute or two for Siri to figure out that there is new content in the app.
  6. Now give it a try. Say “Hey Siri” (or otherwise use whatever method you prefer to wake her up), and then “Play WELS Daily Devotions”. She should find the latest episode and start to play it automatically. Nice! What a great way to put Siri to good use 🙂

That’s it. Give it a try if you are an iPhone or iPad user.

Faces of Faith – Tsavxue Ham

Brothers and sisters in Christ – I’d like you to meet my friend Tsavxue Ham, a pastor and chairman of the the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam. The HFC is a church body of more than 100,000 members seeking training from WELS and requesting fellowship.

Tsavxue Ham on the left, Pastor Lor on the right, examining a patient

This past March I had the chance to visit Ham’s village near the border of Laos and Vietnam. He runs a micro-hospital there. Ham is skilled in both herbal medicine and modern medicine. Since the age of 7, he’s been learning about herbal medicine from his elders. When we arrived at his village, there were more than 30 patients waiting for Ham because he had spent the last three weeks attending WELS pastoral training in Hanoi. People seek Ham’s help first because it takes more than two days to travel to the big city to receive medical treatment. Because so many patients were waiting for Ham, who is also busy supporting his family as a farmer, I offered to help examine some of his patients – I too have a background in medicine. But for me, the most miraculous thing was the opportunity to share the Word of God and to pray for the sick. We spent two days at Ham’s village. We had many opportunities to share the Word with his members and the community.

Ham’s medical knowledge has opened a door for the mission work in his area. Through his micro-hospital, he has the opportunity to share the Word of God with many people who come from far and near. Many patients travel for days to receive treatment from him. Some prominent people in the city and country have received treatment from him. Most of his patients first sought help from shamans, but the shamans couldn’t cure their sickness. Once they arrive at Ham’s micro-hospital, he gives them treatment, prays for them, and shares the Word with them. After a few days or weeks, they leave his place with joy and happiness in Christ, not only because they were cured from their diseases but also because they’ve learned that their sins are forgiven in our Lord Jesus Christ. As soon as they return home, they share their joy and happiness in Christ with many others, just like the Samaritan woman who had received forgiveness from Christ at the well of Jacob (John 4:1-42).

Tsavxue Ham (far left) with other leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church

Even though Ham lives in a region with a lot of religious persecution, the Holy Spirit has worked through the Word preached by Ham to add more than 25 congregations to the HFC in the last two years. He is a strong leader not only in the church but also in the community as well. Many prominent doctors in Vietnam admire his medical knowledge.

Currently Ham’s hospital only has room for 15 patients. He has to send many patients home after their visit due to the limited space. Ham does not charge his patients for their services. Instead, he and his wife work very hard on their farm to provide food and medicine to the sick. Ham said, “We are poor, but there is nothing more precious than sharing Jesus with others. My wife and I work hard on our farm to make sure we can provide three meals per day and shelter for our patients because we want to seize the opportunity to share Jesus to our poor patients during their stay with us.” Ham’s wife, Ntxawm Muas, said, “My daughters and sons-in-law are also willing to work hard on their farm to support their father’s work, to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” Being poor is not an obstacle for Ham and his family to serve Christ and his patients.

Ham and his wife have three daughters and three sons. All of them are married except the youngest son. Two of his sons are studying medicine in Hanoi, Vietnam. They plan to return to the village to help in their father’s micro-hospital so that their father may have more time for the church. Not only do Ham and his wife work hard for the work of the Lord, but the entire family is working hard on their farm to make sure that they can provide meals, medicine, and shelter for the sick. Ham’s daughters help his wife prepare three meals per day for his patients. Sometimes Ham has to go up to the mountains for days or weeks just to collect herbs to help his patients.

In my entire life, with the exception of my grand-uncle, I have never seen a person as dedicated to the work of the Lord as Ham in the Hmong community. He has been a Christian since 1997 and has been serving the church and his patients for 20 years. Ham heard the gospel through my grand-uncle, Pastor Ntsuabvas Lor, who was murdered in 1999 because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, please keep Ham and his family in your prayers!

Written by: Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

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The one thing we can’t do is nothing

What do you get when you combine a spread-out church membership, multiple communities, mission zeal, and the eternal gospel?

Answer: mission opportunity.

That’s what the members of Living Savior kept at the forefront of our minds before there was a storefront in a mission field.

A brief history – Living Savior started in Hendersonville, long before “Living Savior” was its name. From a few in a living room to a few more in the local YMCA, to a small church building, to a mission restart and relocation south of Asheville, to a healthy membership of hundreds of souls gathered by God… Living Savior was primed to reach more. In fact, over 40 members still live in and around Hendersonville. Seeing opportunity leads to seizing opportunity.

In February of 2017, Living Savior started a second site in Hendersonville. We are one church with two locations in Asheville and Hendersonville, 25 minutes apart. Since the start, God has blessed us with reaching people we otherwise couldn’t – like Lois, “I was searching and searching. And here I found what I was looking for – grace.” Over 80 people were in attendance for our first Christmas Eve service in Hendersonville. We’ve been blessed to serve homeless people, some neighboring schools, and to get to know the surrounding community through events and canvassing. And as is often the case, small opportunities lead to more opportunities.

Pastor Paul Zell

With the support of WELS Board for Home Missions, Pastor Paul Zell – who previously served as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for the past 15 years – accepted the call to serve as pastor and missionary in Hendersonville. He was installed on January 21st, and he and his wife Cathy have hit the ground running. (Not without their contagious smiles and encouraging spirit, of course)

With just a “little teaching experience” (sarcasm intended), he has started classes which are drawing several new faces and equipping others to invite more people. He has hit the fast-forward button in getting to know the community, which will serve him and our overall ministry well. Going from former student to teammate in parish ministry and mission work is a blessing to say the least.

It boils down to three simple things: believers, multiple communities, and the eternal gospel. Those three things highlight what Scripture says the eternal gospel is for, “to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6). That presents a great opportunity here and everywhere. Furthermore, since those three things (believers, communities, the gospel) exist wherever you are reading this, isn’t it safe to say that you have such opportunities too?

And when we see opportunities, God give us the zeal to seize them. After all, one thing we can’t do is nothing.

Written By: Pastor Caleb Kurbis, Living Savior Lutheran Church – Asheville & Hendersonville, N.C.

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The Good News does not stop with you!

Mexico City – 8.9 million people.

Bogotá, Colombia – 7.8 million people.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – 3 million people.

Quito, Ecuador – 2.6 million people.

These are just four of the many cities in Latin America. Many, many more are scattered around the two continents. Many, many, many people live in them. How do you reach them all?

I pray the answer lies in men like Rolando Mena.

Missionary Nathan Schulte

At the end of May, Rolando came to Quito, Ecuador, as our guest presenter in our first on-the-ground event to begin mission work in the country. The workshops highlighted the movie, My Son My Savior, the Samaritan woman in John 4, and included a detailed presentation of the law and gospel. Rolando’s passion shone through as he explained the hope we have guaranteed in Christ.

Interestingly enough, that weekend in Quito was also the first time I had met Rolando face-to-face.

Rolando Mena is a leader at our church in La Paz, Bolivia. Before joining the Lutheran church about seven years ago, Rolando had been growing increasingly bothered by Pentecostal and Calvinist congregations and teachings. He had also been warned about the Lutheran church, “The Reformation only reestablished a bit of the main teachings of the Bible. There is a lot more,” his friends had told him. In addition, he was wary of Lutheranism because of the influence of its most liberal branches. Not a good start.

However, Rolando is a classical musician who plays viola and God decided to use that talent to get him through the doors of the church. Through his years at the university, Rolando really appreciated studying Bach. He also knew that Bach was a Lutheran. So, one day he visited a Lutheran church and met Missionary Phil Strackbein and Pastor Julio Ascarrunz.

The rest is history, as they say… but not really.

Just as Barnabas worked with Paul and Paul worked with Timothy and Timothy worked with many others (2 Timothy 2:2), the Latin American missionary team focuses on “chains of disciples.” The good news must not end with us! From the very start, just like the Samaritan woman in John 4, we can tell others about Jesus. Each and every one of us.

Dan and Joyce invite people to the outreach event

That’s the message we focus on and that is one of the reasons we invited Rolando to present in Ecuador. We want to involve others. We have to involve and train others. Unless more people tell more people about Jesus, Latin America won’t hear about her Savior. We need people like Rolando…

… and Dan, Joyce, Peg, Matt, Greta, and Steve. Rolando wasn’t the only foreigner in Ecuador that weekend. Mission Journeys, the new WELS short-term mission program, also sent a group from St. Matthew’s in Oconomowoc, Wis., to help prepare, promote, and host the event. This new initiative is meant to let congregations visit and help mission fields, both home and abroad, and to bring a little piece of mission zeal back to their lives and congregations.

The good news does not stop with you!

Written by: Missionary Nathan Schulte, Latin American Missions

Want to learn more about WELS Mission Journeys and how you can get involved? Visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

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How to Reach Out… When You Can’t Get In

The mission was clear. We want to be a church that reaches OUT to our community. We want to be a church that is OUTward focused. However, there was a problem. We couldn’t get IN. The community of Lakewood Ranch, FL, is a heavily gated-community. That means that some of our more traditional styles of outreach – i.e. canvassing, door-hanging, etc. – won’t work here because we can’t get IN. We can’t get past the gates. But through prayer and Scriptural encouragement, the members of Risen Savior were not going to allow gates to stop them from reaching out. We brainstormed how we might reach out to our community with the good news of Jesus, and came up with different outreach strategies.

Grand Opening Festival

One strategy we use is our New Mover Outreach Team. Each month, we have approximately 100-150 new families who move into Lakewood Ranch within a 3 mile radius of Risen Savior. As a way to welcome in these new families, we send them 2 different postcards. The first postcard is a professionally developed postcard, welcoming them into the community, and giving them some helpful information about Lakewood Ranch. A couple of weeks later, the ten ladies of our New Mover Outreach Team will send a handwritten note to these families, with a church brochure and a personal invite to join us on a Sunday morning for worship.

After about 6 months and no visible results, I began to wonder if this outreach strategy was the best use of our resources. But receiving encouragement from members at Risen Savior to remain faithful, we decided to continue reaching out to these new movers…and I thank God we did! For the past 4-5 months, God has richly blessed us. I’ve received phone calls from new movers thanking us for being so welcoming. I’ve been asked out to lunch by a new mover wanting to show his appreciation for our kindness. We’ve been blessed with worship guests who have come as a direct result of this reaching out.

Grand Opening Weekend at Risen Savior

And if those blessings weren’t enough, one Sunday morning, in walked an unchurched Grandpa and Grandma with their 7 year old grand-daughter. They stayed for worship and Sunday School, and as they were about to leave, I was able to schedule a follow up visit with them later that week. I didn’t know it at the time, but they found our church through our New Mover outreach. Yet, they weren’t the ones who recently had moved – their son and his family had. Long story short, after being told about the postcards that their son’s family received from Risen Savior, Grandpa and Grandma and their grand-daughter decided to give Risen Savior a shot. In the past 4 months since they’ve been attending, they’ve gone through our Bible Information Class, have become members, and are about to have their grand-daughter baptized. On top of all that, they’ve also brought two of their sons and family to Risen Savior, who have recently joined the church as well. Praise God!

We aren’t sure how God will bless our New Mover Outreach Team in the future, but we are certainly thankful for the blessings he’s given us in the past. And no matter what, one thing we’ve learned is that we can continue to reach out, even if we can’t always get in.

Written By: Pastor Caleb Free, Risen Savior Lutheran Church – Lakewood Ranch, FL

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Bearing Much Fruit

I want to tell you about a friend. We’ll say her name is “Lydia”. We started working in this city in East Asia because of her and her husband. When I first got to town, I thought they’d be critical factors in the work here. But as the year went on I saw their life being filled up with, well, life. Both husband and wife worked; and they have a son who is very smart and also very strong willed, which can make for a lot of work at two years old. On top of that, they bought a home and are renovating it. That’s a full life. So in my mind I said “goodbye for a while” and hoped they could continue to study with us. I couldn’t really see them helping lead or being a main contributor to our ministry while their lives were so busy.

That’s how it went until after this last winter break. I saw them a bit (if they could make it), or I’d sporadically go over to their place if they had time. After winter break she called me up and said she wanted to give a presentation. When we got to her home, she had copies and a projector set up.

Her presentation was about mothers.

She wanted to help. In her own life she saw the difficulty of raising a child, and she also saw it in others: the loneliness, the huge change in social life, the work, and many mixed feelings of guilt, anger, and even child abuse. She wanted to do something about it. So she told me of her plan to create a support program for moms. They would find a time to meet together to learn how to parent, to give them a break to develop friendships with other women, and to provide a time to hear about forgiveness and the gospel comfort as they raise their children. A ‘support for moms’ program to take on the challenges of raising a child in this culture.

To put it mildly, I was blown away. I had resigned to the fact that they would be occasional “receivers” of the work here. Maybe they’d come once or twice a month, but we wouldn’t see too much of them. But instead, God was working in her something massive. In fact, this is so big that she quit her job to focus on the program. Can you imagine quitting your job to dedicate yourself to serving others and sharing the gospel? She wanted to do just that, especially to this specific group.

There’s so much here that I would love to talk more about, but I’ll just mention one more thing. Last week at our Bible study we focused on John 15, the vine and branches. Jesus promises, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Those who remain in Jesus will bear much fruit. That verse made me think about our expectation of Jesus’ promise. Maybe I had been looking for some consistent fruit from her – like a good ole’ reliable apple, or some other plant like wheat or corn – i.e. faithful attendance to studies and consistent outreach work. But maybe God was growing in her some other fruit that takes a bit longer to develop. Maybe like a sweet cherry tree. The sweet cherry tree can take from four to seven years to see fruit; but once it blooms, it produces a large quantity of sweet, much sought after cherries. Maybe God was slowly building in Lydia something that would produce a little later, but something much sweeter and richer in taste.

We can wonder about that same promise of Jesus in our lives, especially when we can’t see the fruit right away. Does that mean we can reverse the logic and say, “I must not be connected to Jesus because I can’t see the fruit?” While that could be the case sometimes, I think we can also rest in God’s promise. He says you will bear much fruit. Maybe you can’t see it right now, or it’s not the kind you are thinking of, but Jesus is connected to you and in you – and you will bear fruit.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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The Lord knows there will be days like this

For many, the end of August is an enchanting time. Like a fireworks grand finale, summer often saves the best for last. Parents and children prize these last summer days – the campfires, the fireflies, and long weekends at the lake – because they know the end is coming. Summer is a season to be savored.

Summer in the desert

But not here. In the Sonoran Desert, summer is a season to survive.

People from Phoenix know the drill. Keep in the shade. Stay where it’s cool. Find places with free air-conditioning.

All that can drive a mission-planter stir crazy. At least, that’s how I was feeling late last August. So I packed up a backpack full of flyers and hit the streets shortly after sun-up. I wanted to get a couple hundred flyers hung before the temperature reached 100 degrees.

Near the end of my route, a man stormed up to me with a scowl on his face. He had a handful of my flyers and a mouthful of unkind words for me. He shoved the flyers into my chest. I tried to muster up a smile, but I’m sure it didn’t fool him.

The Lord knows there will be days like this.

Later that afternoon, a message popped up on our church’s Facebook. I was excited. Until I read it. Someone had taken great offense to our flyer: Rude!!! Even though my family is looking for a church, this will ensure that I won’t be coming. Clearly there is no respect.” In my haste to hang as many flyers as possible, I had missed her sign about not wanting religious pamphlets. I sent her an apology message.

The Lord knows there will be days like this.

The next day, there was another Facebook message. Part of me didn’t want to click it at all. Ignorance can be a kind of temporary bliss… But I did anyway.

This time, it was someone new. Something entirely different: “I found one of your flyers on my front step… I looked up your website and started listening to your podcast this morning. I feel like it’s water to my thirsty, parched soul.”

The Lord knew there would be a day like this.

He prepared this moment. For her. For me. For the advancement of his kingdom. The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your shade. (Psalm 121:5)

So many people living in the growing outskirts of Phoenix are just trying to survive. They hope and dream of better days. They’re looking for relief, but they don’t know where to find it. They have no idea. No idea what they’re looking for. No idea how lost they really are.

But the Lord knows there are people like this.

His Word proclaims what no human mind could conceive. He loves the lost, the weary, and the thirsty. God loves survival-mode people so much that he sent his Son to save them. God offers the relief we all crave in Christ crucified.

That’s why River of Life is nestled here in the Sonoran Desert on the west side of Phoenix. This past year or so, the Lord has watched over us. We moved into an expanded worship facility, but he has been our shade. He blessed us with more than 100 first time worship visitors. Membership has grown. On Easter Sunday, we had 94 thirsty souls hear about the hope they have in the Risen Lord. The following Friday, we began a new program for young, stay-at-home parents and their kids.

The Lord knew there would be days like these. He watches over our coming and going. He is our shade. That’s something special. That’s something to savor. Especially during summertime in the Sonoran Desert.

Written By: Pastor Lincoln Albrecht, River of Life Lutheran Church – Goodyear, Ariz.

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WELS App Launches

Today we are announcing the launch of a brand new version of WELS Mobile! There are a number of changes, including the name. We’ve dropped the “mobile”, so now it’s just called the WELS App. It also no longer can be found in the Apple, Google or Amazon stores. The versions there are being retired in July. In their place, the WELS App is available at https://wels.app.

The WELS App is of course mobile friendly but is technically called a “progressive web app” or PWA. Without getting too technical, PWAs give you all the features of a store app, but can be updated more frequently and offer similar experiences on any device. They get progressively better as your device (and it’s browser) gets more capabilities. We are excited about offering great new features in the WELS App like favoriting content, sharing, and more content.

Some have asked “why the change?” WELS Mobile seemed to work just fine for me. There were two major reasons to offer this new version:

  1. The synod has limited technical resources to maintain mobile applications that are offered in the traditional Apple/Google app stores. It requires deep technical knowledge of both platforms and testing on many, many different phones. We spent more time trying to insure the apps worked on all your devices, than offering new features. Maintaining only one app will allow us to push out new features much more quickly.
  2. A second benefit is that the new app can run safely and consistently on many more devices/platforms. Because it is simply a website, it can run on older and newer devices on many different systems (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.). This will allow more people to take advantage of great Bible-based content.

In the very near future there will be many new features, including:

  • bookmarks,
  • notifications,
  • user configurable text size and color,
  • offline access to devotional and yearbook content, and
  • availability as an app on the Windows Store.

Thanks for giving the WELS App a try. Tell others. Enjoy the experience and the beautiful messages it carries.

A Recipe for Intercultural Outreach

As the horizon of cultures expands in the United States, we ponder a simple question: How do we share God’s Word with everyone? Now that culture, language, and social-economic status are barriers used by the opponents of the gospel to limit contact and connection with other people groups, a congregation that surveys its community and desire to reach out interculturally needs to find the right recipe.

Fellowship event at Immanuel

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waukegan, Ill., is a congregation that has followed a recipe for Intercultural Outreach. Over four years ago, the leaders at Immanuel observed that their Christian day school reflected the community, with over 55% of their student body from other people’s groups. They also noticed that their congregation didn’t reflect that same percentage. A simple demographic study revealed what most already knew – over 57% of the 84,000+ community members identified themselves as Hispanic. Many of them still spoke Spanish at home, even though the children are fluent in English.

How could Immanuel reach them?

The recipe uses several ingredients. You need a strong spiritual leader who can help identify and lead the congregation through the cultural barrier. You would like to have a couple of members who can navigate the language barrier. It would be a blessing to have everyone understand that membership in the visible church isn’t just to increase local offerings, but to answer God’s call of making disciples for now and eternity.

God has blessed Immanuel with those ingredients. So, they went to work on the recipe. They marinated an EIO (English Improvement Opportunity) class, to which the non-English speakers could be invited, thereby creating contact. They set the oven for three years – during which they mixed the ingredients of the plan to call a bilingual man now, so that after three years the English-speaking pastor will retire (his choice!) and the bilingual man would take over the entire ministry. They added the toppings of a relationship with WELS’ Board for Home Missions, which helped them call that bilingual man right away.

Home Bible study

The recipe is proving to be a good one! God has blessed this location with a bilingual pastor, Rev. Seth Haakenson, who started reaching out to the community in September of 2017. He has made contact with hundreds of people, held Bible classes in prospects homes, invited them to his own home, instructed for baptism, and has begun to introduce Biblical culture to their own.

That is why we call it “Intercultural” outreach: we introduce the culture of the Bible to their own culture and allow the two to mix, so that which pleases God will become everyone’s culture. Lord willing, in a few months, worship will be held at church at which the current members, alongside of the new prospects, will together praise God.

The recipe is not difficult to follow, and as most packages will tell you, it requires some changes from place to place. You may have to adjust for altitude or strength of the oven, but the ingredients remain the same: Identify the barriers, use God’s Word to overcome them, and bring peoples together under one roof to praise God.

Now that is a recipe we all can follow.

Written By: Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant – WELS Board for Home Missions

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Worship coordinators carry Christ to the heart

With emphasis on Reformation 500, the 2017 National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts brought hundreds together to focus on Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone. Exuberant worship used various instruments—the bright sound of the trumpet, the lustrous tones of the violin and (one of my new favorites) the loud clank of the tire wheel during Dan Forrest’s setting of “A Mighty Fortress”1. Each service was meticulously planned to center around the theme of the service, yet everything was put in place to focus on Christ Alone.

Attendees received a worship folder—really a 218-page booklet with all the services and much more. For each service it included a description “About the Service”—useful information to focus the mind and give background knowledge on what was about to be experienced. The “worship folders” had everything necessary to participate in worship, including spoken responses and melody lines to sing. They included lists of service participants: pastors, organists/pianists, directors, and a long roster of instrumentalists. They also included acknowledgments and licenses for copyrighted selections.

Hmm…. How was all of that so brilliantly coordinated? What an incredibly well-done task! Behind the scenes, service orders were planned, hymn and psalm variations were chosen, music was sent to instrumentalists, practiced, and put together in rehearsals. The glorious sounds of the worship conference came from well-prepared instrumentalists, trained choral voices, and hundreds of worshipers in the assembly. The personnel to put together a conference with services of this magnitude included a dedicated planning committee to oversee the intricate details of the service plans.

Could a service like this happen in your church this weekend? While not on this level, God has blessed every congregation with resources for enriching worship. God has given unique gifts and talents to every member of the body of Christ. Are we using all of them to the best of our ability to his glory? Are we doing everything we can to prepare for worship as we would for other important events in our lives—a birthday party, a graduation celebration, or even company coming over for dinner? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And everything you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17).

At some WELS congregations, a person is called or hired to coordinate worship. Together with the pastor, the worship coordinator helps select the service orders, schedule choirs/instrumentalists, and submit license information. Worship coordinators spend time behind the scenes to make worship the best that it can be. At the worship conference three worship coordinators were chosen to lead a presentation on their work. While their congregations’ characteristics may vary from yours, the goals can be the same.

Worship is enriched through musical proclamation of the Word

Martin Luther wrote, “When God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together.”2 Worship in every WELS church is centered entirely on the Word of God. However, in an hour-long service, how much of the Word is retained, set to memory, and applied to the worshiper’s life? In an ideal situation, worshipers would take home the readings and hymns and study them devotionally throughout the week. But, that’s most likely not the case. Members are sometimes sidetracked in worship, thinking of the last phrase that was spoken or distracted by an unfamiliar melody. Beautiful sections of Scripture sometimes don’t receive the focused attention that they deserve. The words of a hymn can flow by without enough thought about meaning or with scant musical variation to highlight meaning.

For instance, I have sung “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (CW 125) and thought, “What a nice Lenten hymn,” as all four stanzas were sung at the same volume and registration. But could something be done to encourage worshipers to look at the cross on or behind the altar? Could “forbid it, Lord, that I should boast” be sung softly from a humble heart that knows it doesn’t deserve to be in the Lord’s presence? Is there a reed stop on the organ to emphasize the agony, suffering, and affliction produced by the nails and crown of thorns? What if every worshiper sang at full volume the phrase “demands my soul, my life, my all”?

Attention to creative or expressive musical nuances in worship has one simple goal: “The primary objective of music is to carry Christ to the heart…. God placed a beautiful rainbow into the sky as a lasting testimony to his faithfulness. So also Christian artists use color, highlight, and texture to solidify in the heart the message of God’s grace. The Creator has also enabled Christian musicians to join to basic musical sounds rhythm, dynamics, tempo, timbre, pitch, and style so they may touch the heart as they proclaim the gospel.”3

Planning allows integration of musical selections with readings and themes

In a helpful article summarizing the benefits of a music coordinator, Pastor Phil Casmer wrote: “We know that nothing we do this side of heaven will be as glorious as what we’ll experience there where God is with his people—present in glory realized. And yet, we also know that we are given the wonderful opportunity to receive the encouragement of his Word and to bless his name in worship every week. It may be that a music coordinator is something that serves to help you do that. Yes or no, worship is a worthy place to focus our time and resources and energy, a worthy activity for our thought and attention.”4

Pastor Casmer included some excellent points for consideration in his Q & A section at the end of the article. “Certainly there’s something to be said for picking hymns on the basis of good text-study. At the same time, it’s arguable that one could just as well have a sense of the thematic ideas of any Sunday in the Church Year and pick hymns to the same effect…. Chances are good that organists would appreciate a few weeks’ time to prepare hymns and other music rather than cramming it all in 24 hours before worship starts. Why not give it a try? … A worship plan lets you think ahead and take time for good preparation. But it also gives you flexibility. If you’ve done good planning, small changes don’t rock the ship as much because there’s other preparation to rely on. Your organist might feel better about a last-minute hymn change when she’s well-prepared for the other three. On the other hand, we pastors might also consider whether we sometimes make participants slaves to our whims by making worship prep a week-by-week exploration.”

When worship is planned well, it is a team approach. Our church’s planning begins with the pastor who brings worship planning pages to the Worship Committee. The committee looks at the theme of the services, the Scripture readings, sermon texts, hymn suggestions, and any special items that will be included in the services that weekend. Since directors have these pages well in advance, they can select choir anthems that closely match the sermon theme. They can plan liturgy and psalm variations along with special presentation of some hymns. A well-planned worship folder can assure that everyone involved with worship knows exactly what is happening when. The worship coordinator can place anthems in spots that provide an edifying service flow. All the tasks of the Worship Committee are founded on the goal to “carry Christ to the heart” with services planned as well as possible.

Coordination promotes musical excellence in worship

What is musical excellence? I’d argue that it is simply giving God our best. “And shall man alone be still? Has he neither breath nor skill? No, the Church delights to raise psalms and hymns and songs of praise” (CW 222:4). “It is the church musician’s duty before God to practice and perform with the best of his abilities. He ought to do nothing mechanically, by habit, lightly, or casually. Everything in the service ought to be done by decision, with thought and prayer.”5

This does not mean only the most talented can serve in worship. Rather, whatever gifts have been given should be used to the best of one’s ability. What musical gifts and talents has God given members of your congregation? Encourage members to wipe the dust off the instruments they learned as a child. Your flute players may not be able to play a challenging instrumental line of a choir anthem, but they can certainly praise God and enrich his people’s worship by playing the melody of a hymn. For example, if you can raise “Lamb of God” (CWS 748) an octave, the C-C range with no sharps or flats may be a beautiful choice for a beginning flautist. And be ready to invest a bit of time to coach willing players who need some help on anything from reading rhythms to improved intonation.

Encouragement trains future generations of church musicians

Our Sunday school recently sang the first verse of “To God Be the Glory” (CW 399). Those words were taught to children to edify the service. However, one Kindergartener who sang for the service also sang those words to me on our way to school. She informed me that with the help of her Kindergarten teacher, the Sunday school kids would help the others in the class learn the words. Lutheran elementary schools, Sunday schools, and early childhood ministries have an incredible opportunity to teach children biblical truths through song, truths they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

Training musicians at a young age is close to my heart. My mom taught me how to play the piano and continually bought new music for me. My fourth-grade teacher encouraged me to play hymns for the class and to accompany the Junior Choir. She made it seem fun and not intimidating. My dad introduced me to the organ and said it would help if I’d play while he went to communion. Congregation members encouraged me to continue through their positive feedback, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to play for worship ever since.

Is there someone you can influence? You may never know who takes your words to heart. Yet, behind every musician, there is often someone who inspired the use of those musical gifts for God’s glory.

An overview of the position

What exactly does a worship coordinator do? The answer to that question is as varied as each congregation. At the 2017 worship conference, three coordinators put their ideas together to lead a roundtable discussion of the position. The three were Lisa Uttech (Christ the Lord, Brookfield, WI), Levi Nagel6 (St John, S 68th St, Milwaukee, WI) and Debbie Price (St Peter, Schofield, WI). An overview of their duties, schedules, and resources is available online.7

There is already someone at your church who does some of this work behind the scenes, whether it’s the pastor, church administrator, or someone else. But inaugurating the position of worship coordinator—with title, job description, and possibly a divine call—identifies that work as being important to your congregation and its mission. There is always room to grow. Look at what you already do and see where there is room for improvement. Could you add a worship education note to explain various elements of worship?8 Would an instrumental or vocal arrangement help your congregation learn a new hymn? How frequently is there “special music” in your worship? A worship coordinator can help to increase this frequency, contributing more often the spiritual impact of God’s Word set to music—carrying Christ to the heart.

I pray the posted resources will benefit you and your congregation. My efforts may not compare to the talented individuals who plan the services of a national worship conference. But God puts us where we need to be to serve him and his people in that place. St. Paul teaches us, “He himself gave the apostles, as well as the prophets, as well as the evangelists, as well as the pastors and teachers, for the purpose of training the saints for the work of serving, in order to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

“Before You I Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer)” by Getty, Getty, Taylor, and Townend is a favorite prayer of mine as I begin my daily tasks. (Easy to find online.) Whether your congregation is large or small, all of us who plan worship have the glorious message of the gospel to share. May all the talents of God’s people be used to carry Christ to many hearts through music in our worship!

By Debra Price

Debra, a 1996 graduate of Martin Luther College, serves as worship coordinator at Saint Peter, Schofield, WI, where she also trains the next generation of musicians through teaching piano lessons and substitute teaching.


Involving teens

True story, details altered. Maria and her family recently moved and transferred membership from a mid-size congregation. Gifted at playing the oboe, she had won a top rating at the statewide high school solo/ensemble event. What a surprise to discover that she had never been asked to play at her previous church! Two opportunities were missed: 1) to show that her musical contribution was valuable, and 2) to share her gift with others. Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:21.


Excellence in worship

Perhaps for most of us the [national worship] conference is a triennial battery charge—an inspirational encouragement to return to small and medium and large parishes…and do our best. As we ponder what “best” means, it’s good to remember two points.

Excellence is not elitist. The beautiful tone of children singing on pitch and with beautiful blend is impactful to anyone with ears to hear. The precision of Bach played well or a moving concertato communicates across generations.

Excellence is not difficult. But not everyone can play Bach. So note that some musical selections are actually quite simple (especially in some repertoire sessions). These can be achieved at the piano or with a handful of singers and high school instrumentalists. Excellence is not replicating an orchestra; it’s doing the best you can with the resources you have!

From a welcome letter at the 2017 WELS worship conference. The full letter is available at the link in endnote 7.


Examples of worship planning

Sample worship plans from various churches are available here: worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-planning. These can be a starting point for creating a customized plan for any church not currently doing this type of longer range planning.

See also from the 2014 worship conference “Working Smarter at Worship” by Jon Bauer and Caleb Bassett: bit.ly/workingsmarterhandout


1 This is included on the double CD of highlights from the worship conference: http://online.nph.net/music-video/cds/wels-worship-conference.html. Choral score: http://online.nph.net/a-mighty-fortress-is-our-god-1.html
To view the conference’s opening festival concert or closing worship service, visit livestream.com/welslive.
2 Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, p. 11
3 Christian Worship Manual, p. 57
4 Worship the Lord, no. 68, September 2014. Online at: worship.welsrc.net/ download-worship/wtl-practical-ideas-worship
5 Christian Worship Manual, p. 61
6 If you missed it, check out Levi Nagel’s WELS Connection video update: wels.net/ news-media/together
7 Sermons, presentation handouts, worship service folders, music downloads, and more from the 2017 National Worship Conference are all available FOR FREE at: worship.welsrc.net/worship-conference-2017—useful information for organists, keyboardists, elders, council, choir directors, teachers, as well as for a pastor’s own personal study and growth.
8 See samples at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-folder-notes

 

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Preach the Word – Lectionary…je ne sais quoi

Treasures Old and New

Lectionary…je ne sais quoi

It is most often heard as a punch line in movies, but the French phrase has its place. Take, for example, its use in in the title of this article. Literally, the phrase means “I don’t know what.” In usage, it is a way to label the inexplicable, especially when one is struggling to articulate an opinion. “The title of this article lacks a certain…je ne sais quoi.”

Last month’s title was “Lectionary Abundance.” This month’s title is the result of the author’s struggle to find a suitable counter to “abundance.” How does one realistically pair “lectionary” with words like paucity or dearth, especially considering the size, depth, artistry, and extravagance of the lectionary’s biblical treasures.

And yet, recent feedback to this series revealed a lectionary challenge not covered in Vol. 21, No. 2. A fellow pastor (for the sake of the article we will call him Don) shared that he struggles on festivals when the lectionary offers the same, or mostly the same, texts through all three years of the lectionary cycle. Is this a lectionary…failure…shortcoming…deficiency? Often these festival texts are so specific to the life of Christ within the Church Year, so rich with imagery and meaning, so beatific in celebration of the day, that they are essential to the worship life of the congregation. Lectionary…weakness? Hardly. Thus, lectionary je ne sais quoi.

Frustrated Perfection-ish

As described earlier in this series, the lectionary, while not perfect in and of itself, is a systematic way to hold forth the perfect Word of God. It may be easy to criticize or question certain selections, or the lack thereof, amongst the lessons of a given lectionary cycle, but it is a fine line between criticizing the lectionary and criticizing the Word. Preaching on Luke 2 for Christmas Eve or John 1 for Christmas Day seems almost obligatory. Yet doing so year after year can leave some preachers feeling like they have said it all before. The Word is perfect, the lectionary has crafted it into a kind of perfection-ish, and yet the frustration remains, at least for some.

One of Don’s specific examples causing him frustration is the three-year set of lessons for Palm Sunday:

Palm Sunday Lectionary Readings

While the Gospel lessons change with each year of the cycle, they are accounts of the same event. The First and Second Lessons along with the psalm remain unchanged. Further, Zechariah 9:9,10 is quoted in Matthew’s account, in essence making one lesson of the two. Year C of the Supplemental Lectionary offers the only alternates to the First and Second Lessons. Add it all up and, at face value, there are only five lessons on which to preach, including the psalm. If a pastor were to preach on each of the five selections, he would be “recycling” in year six of ministry.

By comparison, consider the Second Sunday after Pentecost. There are fifteen lessons from which to choose a sermon text, twenty if the preacher includes the psalm selections:

Pentecost 2 Lectionary Chart

After 15-20 years of different texts, a return to the Gospel Lesson from Matthew in Year A would hardly seem like recycling.

Bored with it all

A certain shut-in enjoyed the visits of her pastors. She was fond of saying to them, “Tell me something good.” By that, she meant, “Tell me about Jesus.” Approaching the age of 100, she could see little more than light and shadow. She could no longer read, but she loved to listen. Her audio Bible and Christian hymn CD’s were her constant companions. But she loved to hear “something good” from her pastors. She had heard about Jesus many times before and in many ways, but she loved to hear about him again and again.

If questioned, there is little doubt that any believer would disagree with her. All believers love to hear about Jesus. But Don shared that his frustration with the lectionary was made all the more pointed by the comments of a parishioner who questioned Don’s ability, and the ability of pastors in general, to bring out new treasures from the Word. I’m sure the commenting parishioner would agree that he wanted to hear about Jesus, yet he complained “I’ve heard the same thing over and over again.”

Comments like these come in many and various ways. This author recently heard the comment, “Dad, your sermon today was different. It was interesting.” (The sermon included a brief Q&A, required a volunteer, and incorporated a multi-sensory visual aid.) Another pastor once heard, “After all of these years, I thought that I had heard it all on Palm Sunday, but you showed me something new.” (The sermon connected Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with his entry into our worship, homes, and hearts—something new to him, at least.) While both comments were intended as compliments, they were also indicators of the pre-service expectations of the individuals. They were surprised to see and hear something new. To be sure, they were both pleasantly surprised. But how many settle in to hear a sermon expecting a “same-ol’, same-ol’” experience? Or to take it a step further, how many come with a bored-with-it-all attitude?

Pressure, Point

It is no wonder, then, that a preacher may feel both the pressure and the desire to bring out new treasure each time he preaches. A pastor doesn’t want bored parishioners. A preacher likes compliments on “interesting” sermons. He feels a sense of responsibility to present the Word as best as he can. He strives to be a good steward of the gifts and opportunities he is given to preach the Word. But there is a reason he is encouraged to bring out treasures both old and new. There is blessing to be found in new treasures of fresh perspective and poignant application just as there is also blessing to be found in the “same-ol’, same-ol’” preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Rather than give in to pressure, recognize the manifestation of the unholy trio at work in both the parishioner and the pastor. Parishioners bored with a text often mirror their pastor’s boredom with the text. A shepherd chasing after something shiny and new for the sake of “shiny and new” can foster a similar desire in the flock and a consequential discontentment with simplicity. Point out the slippery slope of correlating the perceived “quality” of the message with its perceived “effectiveness.” If we are not watchful, a desire for proclamation can be replaced with a craving for innovation. Gratitude at what God has done can become conditional on the novelty of the message. “Tell me something good” easily corrupts into “Tell me something better than last time.”

God’s people need to hear the simple unvarnished truth, be it the harsh condemnation of the law or the sweet assurance of the gospel. Take them to cross, and they will not be left wanting. Preach the Word that the good work begun in them may be carried on to completion. After all, “…if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). Point God’s people to Jesus, and they will follow in his steps.

In many ways, festival preaching is the easiest time to do this. It is easy to point to Jesus in the manger, to Jesus revealed in glory, to Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. But in some ways, festival preaching can also be challenging. Repetitive lectionary selections seemingly narrow the possibilities. Schedules around festivals tend to be busier than at other times of the Church Year. Time spent studying a chosen text is abbreviated. Short cuts are taken. A quick glance into the storehouse results in presenting the easiest treasures to grab.

Sadly, such an approach can lead to frustration later on. It doesn’t take too many cycles of the Church Year before “new” becomes “old,” “interesting” becomes “repetitive,” and the storehouse seems bare. Keeping in mind the encouragements above, there are additional ways to continue to bring forth treasures old and new from the lectionary, year after year. What follows are some practical ideas for preaching reinvigoration.

Facet-nating

If a preacher finds himself struggling to bring forth treasure, especially for festival preaching, take a closer look at the individual selections. Fewer selections and previous study can be a solid foundation on which to build. Ask yourself some searching questions: How exhaustive has your text study been in the past? Could you dig deeper? Have you examined every facet of every gem in every selected text? What differing perspectives could be explored? Could a change in preaching style be an interesting challenge? (Consider, for example, an inductive approach to the text, rather than a deductive, propositional approach.) Have you spent time working with the text to determine where it fits with the cycle of the Church Year, how it relates to the chapter and book in which it is found, what connections are to be discovered between the Old Testament and the New, between prophecy and fulfillment, between then and now and forever? What insights could be gained from the Prayer of the Day? And yes, it might be beneficial to see what others have written, crafted, even composed based on the same text.

A seminary junior once asked a retired seminary professor which commentary the professor felt best captured the psalms. His reply? “Do your own work.” Sage advice, to be sure. And yet what blessings can come to the struggling preacher who, after careful study himself, finds additional treasure through the work and experience of others.

Nesper, n’est-ce pas?

Still struggling? Consider some alternate texts. Paul Nesper’s Biblical Texts1 includes more than a dozen lectionaries developed for use during the Church Year. Among them are the Soll, Thomasius, and Swedish lectionaries. Most are one-year cycles but still offer a number of options. For example, consider lectionary selections and alternates for Pentecost Sunday, the Coming of the Holy Spirit2:

Pentecost Lectionary Alternates

In addition to these selections, Nesper provides a number free texts, similar to E.H. Wendland’s Sermon Texts.3 These selections not only provide additional choices for preaching, they can often provide additional perspective on the already appointed texts. All combined, this trove of selections offer a wealth of additional treasure to present on Pentecost Sunday or any other given festival.

Occasional Opportunity

Festival preaching is a special opportunity to preach the Word surrounded by the joy of the season as God’s people celebrate with gratitude all that has been done for them in Christ. As the preacher chooses a text for special consideration on these and any other occasion, his job is not to unearth hidden truths lost to the ages, wow his listeners with clever takes, or try to prove his mettle through innovation. Rather, his job is to clearly sound the saving message of Jesus again and again to the immediate reassurance and the eternal confidence of God’s people. The appointed lessons of the lectionary are but curated suggestions from God’s Word, carefully chosen to proclaim the Father’s love for his people through his Son. Yet it continues to be a storehouse from which the preacher brings forth treasure old and new. Use it, renew in it, and preach it for what it is, the Word of God.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


1 Biblical Texts Paul W. Nesper, 1961 Augsburg Publishing House.
2 Ibid., p.369.
3 Sermon Texts E. H. Wendland, editor, 1984 Northwestern Publishing House.


Treasures from the Archive

With twenty years of archives to hand, there is a storehouse of treasure to behold in past issues. The following abbreviated article speaks to the importance of good text study to the exhausted preacher.

The more we study each Word as God gave it, the more we overflow with love for the Lover of our souls.

 

Περισσευω—At least twenty-seven times in twenty-two passages of his thirteen epistles the Lord’s Apostle Paul uses this favorite word. Paul puts περισσευω in faith-born love contexts like the great resurrection chapter which concludes in triumph: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to (περισσευοντες – literally “overflow with”) the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

When the glass of our heart is filled to overflowing with the “the water of life,” the message of Christ’s substitutionary death and glorious resurrection overflows into our work for the Lord. This overflow keeps us from being discouraged by everything the devil throws at us. “For just as the sufferings of Christ περισσευω into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort περισσευω.” (2 Corinthians 1:5). With this word the Holy Spirit pictures the super-abundance of God’s blessings in Christ. Paul wrote to his dear Philippians: “…Your joy in Christ Jesus περισσευω.…. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have περισσευω” (Philippians 1:26;4:12).

What pastor has not at times felt like an old hand-operated water pump? Every person asking him for help seems to drain something out of him until he feels useless and dry. One pastor on a retreat was advised, “If your reservoir runs dry, you’ve got to go deeper.”

In the drought of 1988, Minnesota farmers did something that seemed very strange to metro area residents. They took their heavy equipment into the dried up ponds and lakes around their farms and dredged out the bottom. “Why are you doing that?” neighbors asked. “There’s no water. It’s a drought.” The farmers answered in typical fashion by shaking their heads and going back to work. And when the rain returned they had deeper water on their acreage for the next drought. Few suburbanites realized that their farming neighbors may have contributed enough to the water table to keep their precious lawn sprinklers swishing in the heat.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

In seasons of spiritual drought, gospel preachers especially need to dig deeper wells, not into human sources, but into the one source of “living water,” the Bible. We can περισσευω more abundantly by drinking deeply of the gracious water of life waiting to be tapped in the Holy Spirit’s original languages.

Mark Cordes – Volume 6, No. 5, May / June 2003

 


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Adversity Turned to Blessing

God can turn any adversity into unexpected blessing! We need think no further than Joseph in Egypt… or Iliyan Itsov in Bulgaria. As many of the Roma people (aka gypsies), Iliyan was working away from home in Italy when adversity struck. Injuries from a serious car accident cost him his job and forced him to return to his village in Bulgaria. While he was recovering, his pastor asked him to consider becoming a pastor in the Bulgarian Lutheran Church. Iliyan eagerly signed on for the three-year seminary program sponsored by WELS, which required him to make many trips to St. Sophia Seminary in Ukraine.

Missionary Iliyan Itsov

His time for graduation came in the fall of 2015, and adversity of a different sort struck. The Bulgarian Lutheran Church, which already had five pastors for its four congregations, had no place for him to serve. This time it was the WELS Board for World Mission’s Europe Committee which turned adversity into blessing. It called Iliyan to begin a new mission effort, called Outreach to Roma. As a Roma himself, Pastor Itsov can relate to the rather closed gypsy society; plus, he has numerous relatives and friends scattered around Europe with whom he can share the good news of Jesus.

There are about 13,000,000 Roma in Europe, of which 750,000 live in Bulgaria. Today, only a very few of them travel from place to place in small caravans of horse-drawn wagons (primarily in Slovakia and Hungary). Most live in small villages, separated from and unwelcome in mainstream society. The poverty in these villages is the reason that nearly all Roma families have one or two members working in Western Europe – and sending money home for the rest of the family to survive on. For example, for 10 years Itsov’s mother has supported her extended family by working as a cleaning lady in Italy.

Itsov’s call gives him the freedom to gather groups wherever the Lord provides opportunity. Following the example of St. Paul in Acts, Itsov gathers interested people in a village, asks them to select a leader, and then provides that leader with training and materials to use. Itsov may visit two or three times a month, but in his absence the leader conducts worship, reading sermons Itsov provides. As of this writing, five groups, scattered across Bulgaria, are worshiping regularly. In addition, the Outreach to Roma van regularly hauls seven or eight people to the Bulgarian Lutheran Church service in Dunavtsi.

Outreach to Roma – Vacation Bible School

The work hasn’t always been easy – and hasn’t always borne visible fruit. At the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Germany, Itsov spent several months trying, unsuccessfully, to gather groups in Germany. In one village, the tires on the Outreach to Roma van were slashed, and Itsov was threatened with a beating if he showed his face there again.

Now another adversity has struck. Itsov is battling serious health issues. But, once again, adversity has also led to blessing. It has given WELS the opportunity to show love and care as brothers and sisters in Christ. We, through WELS Christian Aid and Relief, have sent $13,000 to help with the costs of his surgery and treatments.

The Lord is using Itsov’s ministry. In a service in the village of Zlataritsa during the month of November, 15 adults and 6 children were baptized. Last month, 20 people were confirmed there. These are just a few examples of how God is blessing his outreach. Join me in praying that Outreach to Roma will see a growing number brought to the Gospel, as God turns the adversity of their difficult lives into eternal blessings.

Written by: Rev. John F. Vogt, WELS Regional Coordinator for Eastern Europe

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GDPR Guidance

A question I’ve received quite a bit lately has to do with a church or schools need to comply with GDPR — the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations which will go into effect later this month. While there is a lot we don’t know and it is a complex topic, let me take a stab at providing guidance and what this means for you as a WELS church or school. Over the coming months, as things get a little clearer, I’ll revisit the topic and hopefully provide more definitive information.

First a little FAQ…

What us GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR is a regulation by which the European Union and the European Commission intend to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

When Is Compliance Required?

The GPDR becomes enforceable on May 25th, 2018

What Users Does GDPR Apply to?

The GDPR applies to the personal data of all EU residents whether they are EU citizens or not.

What Data Does GDPR Apply to?

The scope of GDPR is really very broad and vague: it covers any entity collecting information that is “monitoring the behavior of Individuals”. Most of the security community agrees that this applies to all web stored personal data including tracking cookies, email lists, form data, etc.

Can the EU Enforce GDPR on US Organizations? What Could Happen?

They apparently can, but “how much” is still a question. Experts have suggested that having a plan in place may, at this point, shows good-faith effort toward compliance that may minimize the chance of litigation.

What does that mean for you as a WELS Church or School?

  1. Any database (church or school management system, spreadsheet, digital list, form data, etc.) must be encrypted and data transport to and from it also encrypted.
  2. If you have not secured permission from an EU resident to store their data, for whatever purpose, get permission and provide them with clear reasons for why you would like to store the data.
  3. When collecting data from EU residents (likely via online forms), the form must provide an active (vs passive) means for the user to consent to data storage. Again, the expressed purpose for the data collection must be clearly stated.
  4. EU resident data must be expunged when the “expressed purpose” has expired.
  5. Provide a mechanism for EU residents to request that their data be removed, and a means for either them to do it themselves (example, unsubscribe from a newsletter) or database owners to do it for them.
  6. Make sure that EU resident data in all systems and storage mechanisms is accounted for. This is important if you receive a request from an EU resident that their data be removed…you need to know where it is.
  7. Ensure that all 3rd party tools used to collect or maintain EU resident data are GDPR compliant. This could apply to your Church Membership Database, Student Information System, forms tool like JotForms or FinalWeb Forms, etc.
  8. Have a privacy policy on your website or linked to from forms that clearly states what you do and don’t do with data collected.

In summary, a lot of these regulations are just good practices anyway, but it is likely that you may not be in compliance today. Get started with these first steps, have a plan and reach out for help if you aren’t sure you are on the right track.