It’s About Saving Souls

Terri lives right across the street from our church… Literally. She can look out her front door and see our towering steeples. God knew what he was doing when he put Terri right next to our church.

Terri works with one of our members at the hospital in town, and her ex-husband worked for many years with another one of our members. God purposely brought our church members into Terri’s life. For a couple of years, Terri was thinking, “I should check out that church sometime.” One Sunday, invited by her co-worker from the hospital, Terri came to worship. She heard God’s word and was welcomed by our members. Terri started Bible 101 and came to see, “I can be sure I’m going to heaven because Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus rose.” Terri confessed, “I didn’t have peace before. Now I have peace because of Jesus.” She has new purpose in life. “I have a renewed joy in my work as a nurse. I know I’m working for God.”

How cool is that!

This is why we have a church. It’s about saving souls.

Terri’s House – Right across the street from church

There is even more backstory to what God has been doing in Monroe, working to save Terri’s soul. The church across the street from Terri’s house almost closed. It was for sale for over a year, membership was dwindling, and the pastor was set to retire. It didn’t look like the church would remain open, but another congregation was aware of the situation. There were discussions about working together. The two churches decided to go all in on working together and become one congregation, with one name and one pastor. Not only did the church across the street from Terri’s house stay open, the church across the street is growing. Members are inviting family and friends. Former members of the church have returned. Best of all, souls like Terri are hearing God’s Word, finding peace for eternal life and purpose in life right now.

This concept of being one church in multiple locations is relatively new in our church body. There are many advantages to multi-site congregations. Multi-site ministry can save money as one church can often times operate more efficiently than two. Multi-site ministry can save sacred spaces, like the beautiful, ornate church across the street from Terri. Multi-site ministry can save people time going to a church in their community, rather than driving to a church farther away. But most of all, and greatest of all, multi-site ministry is about saving souls. It’s about saving souls like Terri’s.

Pastor Nathan Strutz serves a multi-site congregation, Resurrection in Verona and Monroe, WI. This multi-site church was formed by a merger of Resurrection, Verona and Mt. Olive, Monroe.

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Midwest Island Missions

My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.

Isaiah 51:5

In 2010, a Bible class in the Adams-Friendship area, offered by pastors from St. Paul’s in Mauston, led to worship services with a core group of about twenty members or so. Today this second site of St. Paul’s has grown, by God’s grace, into a thriving mission of about 130 souls. We lease an old day care building that is too small to meet all our needs, and yet people keep coming back, and the Word continues to be proclaimed. St. Paul’s in Mauston, which pioneered this mission and still partners with it as one congregation in two locations, has been working hard with the members in Adams-Friendship to fund ministry, a full time mission pastor, and even a new church building. Many congregations throughout the state have also contributed to a building fund so that work can continue to move forward, and God-willing expand as we move into a larger and more versatile facility in the near future.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – Mauston, WI

When I received the call to serve as mission pastor to St. Paul’s in Adams-Friendship, I was curious to know what a relatively new mission startup was doing smack dab in the middle of what I had always assumed was a very churched (and very WELSy) part of our country. I was surprised to learn that in Adams County, in the heart of Wisconsin, only about 15-20 percent of the population claimed any connection to a church. On top of this, St. Paul’s was the only WELS congregation located in Adams County. St. Paul’s in Mauston saw the chance to share Jesus with this “island” of unchurched people in the heart of the Midwest, and as I considered the call I began to see what a wonderful opportunity this was to reach the lost.

Two months have passed since I arrived, and the opportunities I was told about were not exaggerations. I’ve shared the freedom of the gospel with people battling drug and alcohol dependency. I’ve spoken with jail inmates and former inmates about the cycle of sin and God’s solution in Christ. I’ve witnessed baptisms in a garage, heard testimony from men and women recovering from abuse and broken families, and I’ve seen kids discover a very different message than what they hear all around them. There are people in Adams County struggling with broken families, addiction, financial hardship, depression, anger, and loss. And amidst this sea of grief and pain, St. Paul’s stands ready to share eternal hope and a temporal change in perspective through the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Jasper Sellnow and his family

This rural mission is a reminder that God’s Word still has much work to do in the heartland, even in places we might normally overlook. Congregations can identify the needs of the communities around them and perhaps discover untapped mission fields right in their backyard (or neighboring county). And as St. Paul’s in Mauston discovered, you can sacrifice a little so that even without full Synod mission funding, new churches can be planted and God’s Word can be shared. The lost and hurting are all around us, even on the “islands” in the Midwest. God grant us wisdom and love as we share the hope we have in Jesus.

Rev. Jasper Sellnow lives in Friendship, WI with his wife, Sarah, and their five children. He serves St. Paul’s Mauston & Adams-Friendship, working primarily as the mission pastor in Adams County.

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Unless Someone Explains It

“Go south to the road – the desert road – that leads down from Jerusalem,” he was told. When Philip went, he met the Ethiopian man who was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

“Go to that chariot and stay near it,” the angel directed. When Philip did so, he asked a very important question – “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Ethiopian’s answer was straightforward: “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” Philip used the very passage the Ethiopian was reading, from Isaiah 53 (“he was led like a sheep to the slaughter”) to tell the good news about Jesus. Ultimately, the Ethiopian was baptized on that desert road.

At Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel in Madison, WI, our doors are open to all students on the Madison campuses. There are many occasions that remind us of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Students enter our building not knowing exactly what they are seeking, and the Lord gives us the privilege of being the ones who explain the good news about Jesus to them.

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel

Last fall, one such student arrived at the Chapel, seeking answers about God’s Word. Through several contacts with the Word, the seed of gospel truth was planted and watered, and God made it grow.

In late October, Manaporn “Mint” Phaosricharoen was baptized – but not in our Chapel. She requested the opportunity to be immersed because that picture of washing away sins was important to her. So we braved the wind and chilly temperatures and entered the brisk waters of Lake Mendota for Mint to receive the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

The power of God’s Word is truly amazing. The opportunities God presents to share the power of that Word are equally amazing. Mint came to us seeking answers, needing someone to explain to her the truth of the gospel. God placed the Chapel in the right place and at the right time to offer her the answers for which she was searching.

Campus Ministry opportunities aren’t limited to the Madison area. At colleges throughout the country, our campus pastors delight in the opportunities God gives them to witness to young adults who are searching for what is truly important. “Unless someone explains it” could be said by many of them. Campus pastors continue to plant and water seeds with the Word of God, trusting that God, who works powerfully through his Word, will make those seeds grow.

Sometimes, God gives the special privilege of wading into an icy lake to baptize one of them!

Written By: Campus Pastor Jon Bilitz, Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel – Madison, WI 

Thank you for your prayers and support for Campus Ministry. If you know a college student that seeks to be connected to the nearest ministry to his or her campus, please visit campusministry.welsrc.net. 

 

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Now I Believe

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I didn’t know what he meant.

I heard his words, but I didn’t grasp his message. I wondered what he was really saying. What was the meaning behind the words? Was he even talking to me? Or to someone else? Or was he just talking to himself? Three times he repeated the same thing:

“Now I believe.”

I was a bit uncertain about his words because I had just walked up to him. His name is Bright Pembeleka. He is the pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Blantyre, Malawi. He’s been serving in the public ministry for 13 years.

Bright Pembeleka graduated from the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia in 2005

We both had come to the same place: the mortuary. We were collecting the body of a Lutheran Church member. Pastor Pembeleka has been there before. Many times.

As a pastor he knows the routine all too well when someone dies: visiting the family, preparing the sermon, leading the worship, saying the prayers, conducting the burial service. But this time was different. Powerfully different. Life-changingly different.

This time he would not wear the robe of a preacher but the cloak of grief. The Lutheran member who passed away wasn’t just a church member, the person was his own daughter. Edina was 21 years old. Just 21!

It’s not supposed to happen this way! But it did.

Watching one coffin after another being carried out of the mortuary and being placed into waiting vehicles reminded me once again: The old must die. The young can.

We waited while the embalmers did their job. Sensing an opening in the conversation, I risked asking Pastor Pembeleka what he meant by what he said, “Now I believe.” His explanation came freely, though heavily – it didn’t just land in my ears, it settled in my heart.

“I have officiated at a lot of funerals. I did so because it was my job. It was part of my work. But now it is happening to me… now is really the first time I know what it means to grieve. Now I am the one experiencing the pain. Now I know the heart-ache that others have talked about.

Now. I. FEEL.”

His eyes were reddening with tears. His voice was cracking with sorrow. His heart was breaking with pain. The cloak he wore was both dark and heavy.

Now I believe.

Grief seized him and gripped him. He and his wife and children would now be the ones to weakly stand, then kneel beside the pile of fresh dirt. Even fall upon it.

Maybe you’ve been there – waiting at the mortuary. Visiting at the funeral home. Walking the path to the grave. Placing a wreath of flowers. If so, you understand. If not, you likely will. Because sooner or later death touches the ones we love.

Malawi National Pastors at the Funeral

The cloak is dark and heavy.

Pastor Pembeleka would be at the funeral, but this time he wouldn’t be leading the service. His brothers in Christ would. Fellow servants and seasoned preachers. A band of disciples who gathered, supported, encouraged, prayed and rallied around their grieving brother and family.

Some of whom have buried their own children. They know. They have experienced. They understand. They FEEL. They believe.

They gave what they had, and what they had was what was needed most: the Word of God. After all, it had something to say to Pastor Pembeleka, his wife, his children and everyone there. It has something to say to you who weren’t. At a Christian funeral, GRIEF isn’t the only cloak worn on such days! So is the robe righteousness. The mantle of God’s grace. God has draped his people with a love that seizes and grips and doesn’t let go.

In death there is life! (John 11: 25, 26)

Most fittingly, Pastor Eliya Petro chose and preached on the assuring words found in John’s first letter, ”God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life…” (1 John 5: 11, 12). Edina has life because the Son has her!

A chorus of Lutheran women, uniformed in purple and white, confidently sang that truth again and again as they walked in a long double line to the funeral house, “She’s in the hands of God, yes, she’s in the hands of God.”

She is… because Jesus has conquered death!

She is… because Jesus lives!

She is… because Jesus has taken away her sin!

Pastor Pembeleka, you and your brothers have taught your congregations well. The people, whether sitting in the pew at church or sitting on the ground in a graveyard or kneeling close to the pile of dirt, have heard the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ from you. Week after week, sermon after sermon, service after service, funeral after funeral. Look around, dear brother. The gospel has done miraculous and marvelous things!

The people are expressing the very faith that God has given them. They are sharing the good and comforting news of Jesus with you and your family when you are the one grieving, the one paining, the one sorrowing, the one experiencing. They are serving you, standing with you when you are the one feeling.

Thank you, Pastor, for showing your humanness. Your frailty. Your need. Thank you for sharing your pain and your sorrow and your tears. When we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 10)

Now I believe.

In my weakness and God’s strength,

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi

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Wait! How Do I Pray?

“Let’s close our bible story and pray.”

Pastor Joe asked this simple request, and panic broke out from two neighborhood boys who were attending the “Garden, Baking and Bible” event. This is a weekly, after school activity built around the Bylas Community Garden located on the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church property. It serves as a member-run outreach tool for the Bylas community to use to introduce families to the forgotten practice of gardening, healthy eating, and the Bible as the only hope for salvation.

“WAIT, how do we pray? We’ve never prayed before.”

Pastor Joe with Garden, Baking and Bible visitors

They said it innocently and in honest confusion. It was their first time attending the Garden, Baking and Bible class… but they had heard that if you came, helped weed and water and listened to the Bible story, then there would be food to make and eat at the end.

The other children told them to fold their hands – and rightly so, but this caused more confusion as they asked, “Why does that matter?” The other kids couldn’t easily answer. And so we had a little lesson on talking to God. The boys and all the children learned how God wants us to talk to Him and how, as Pastor Joe says the words, they can think about them more if they are folding their hands and not playing with the stones and their shoelaces etc. They learned that folding your hands isn’t necessary, but it helps us think about the words we’re saying to God. They learned that God – who made the storm calm down immediately, who created the entire world, who loves them and forgives all their naughtiness (aka “sins”) – can truly hear the prayers they pray when they think them to God or say them aloud.

The Bylas members want to share God’s saving messages of hope, the peace of knowing forgiveness, the healing that comes from the only one with power (not the medicine man), and the joy that comes from knowing how much God loves us. After exploring several “fun ideas” that might attract kids and families from the community, gardening was chosen. An initial grant from the First Things First organization while also partnering with the University of Arizona allowed the church grounds to have a section of their land rota-tilled and set up with fertilizer and a simple irrigation system. The church simply had to provide a fenced in area (so the feral horses don’t eat all the crops – which has happened, but that’s for another blog). Weeding, watering and planting all happened in order to harvest:

  • “The Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash planted together)
  • Sugar cane
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Peppers
  • Popcorn

Kids walk from near and far to help, to taste the “unique” good-for-you food, and to hear the Bible stories. Teenagers have come and often ask to read stories to the kids. The kids are so disappointed when we have to end, and they so badly want to know MORE:

“What happens when Joseph’s brothers find out that it’s HIM?’, ‘But what will happen if Pharaoh NEVER lets the people go?’; ‘Please, read more. Please, one more story.”

This month the garden program will be visited by Tribal chairmen and dignitaries, First Things First program leaders, and University of Arizona dignitaries as it won “Most Active” garden and also encouraged healthy food choices. BUT, the Our Savior’s members know the real win is that at least 6 of these children now come to church and Sunday school regularly because they know the church people and want to hear more about how much they are loved. Those who don’t yet come to church are winning too, as they hear God’s Words of hope and get to PRAY every week at Garden, Baking and Bible.

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, visit nativechristians.org.

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God’s Harvest Strategy

Does your congregation have a harvest strategy to connect with the unchurched families of your school?

It’s an exciting topic, but sometimes it can also intimidate congregations and their leaders. Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve honestly evaluated your efforts in reaching the unchurched families in your school. Maybe you’ve implemented a plan, but you’ve been discouraged by the results or you know of several areas which need attention and improvement.

Developing a harvest strategy for our schools and implementing it is tough work – which is made even tougher by the devil’s constant temptations. Our foe pushes us toward pride (“Look what our school has accomplished!”) or despair (“What are we doing wrong?”). May we never lose sight of our Savior’s cross and empty tomb. There God forgives our pride and despair. There we find the very message we desire to share with more families in our schools. There we are renewed with motivation to continue to do the harvest work regardless of the results.

Preschool Sunday at Light of Life

Sometimes God blesses directly through our planning, and we thank him for those blessings. And sometimes God reminds us his plans to gather the elect are far greater than ours – and we thank him for this too.

Rich was a preschool dad who didn’t come to drop-off or pick-up. He didn’t come to preschool orientations or the first day of school. He didn’t come to our preschool singing events. Rich had successfully avoided all of our attempts to make contact with him for a year and a half.

One day the phone rang. It was Rich, “Pastor, my wife has double pneumonia. The doctors say it is bad and I’m worried. I know we aren’t members, but I thought since our son went to your school…” Rich’s wife regained her health, and six months later Rich was baptized and confirmed. Rich has brought more family and friends with him to church, including his friend Brian whom he is standing next to in the top photo. He has joined in gathering the harvest!

Such a story does not excuse us from the faithful planning and work of a harvest strategy, but it is a comforting reminder: God has a harvest strategy too!

Written By: Pastor Daniel Lange, Light of Life Lutheran Church – Covington, WA

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Good Digital Calendar Stewardship

Just a quick thought today on time stewardship. More and more the demands on our time stack up, almost to the point that we would struggle to function without our digital calendars. They are so handy, especially if you have a smartphone that can display your calendar and allow you manage it from the palm of your hand.

But just knowing where to be when and with who isn’t enough. Yes, your calendar can keep track of all that for you, and even remind you when to get going. Yet the tough stewardship challenge has to do with those meetings that sometimes fill it. I won’t dive into a list of all the meeting management or prep tips that are out there. Perhaps another day. Today I want to just offer up one little one that can make a world of difference in making your meetings more efficient — calendar attachments.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…

Ephesians 5:15-16

Most digital calendar tools allow you to attach documents to individual events. For example, Google Calendar, under the “more options” button in the create event window, allows the upload of almost any kind of document or links to Google Docs right into the meeting entry. Where I’ve found this to be particularly useful is for meeting agendas, reports or other documents that I know I’ll want “at the ready” in prep for or actually during the meeting. I don’t want to have to hunt around different file folders, emails or cloud services for relevant meeting materials. Having to look in only one place, i.e. your calendar entry, is a huge time-saver and stress reliever. If you “invite” or “share” the meeting with other attendees, they too would have access to the same meeting materials. You can even update this over time as more materials become available, avoiding the dreaded string of emails that are sometimes necessary to get everybody all the stuff. If a document get’s updated, especially if it’s a Google Doc, then everybody is going to be able to grab the latest copy just by opening the meeting invite/entry. Sweet.

I recorded a quick 3 minute demo of how this is done in Google Calendar. If you aren’t into Google Calendar, just check whatever tool you use for similar functionality.

You Never Know What to Expect

Planting seeds, divine appointments, and caribou. A person may never know what to expect when canvassing and proclaiming God’s Word.

Evangelism is far more about God and his promises than about ourselves. One of the greatest promises Christians can trust when proclaiming the gospel is that his Word works. Due to our human nature and the sinful world around us, personal evangelism is often scary and intimidating. Praise and Proclaim Ministries, a WELS-based gospel ministry, partners with WELS Board of Home Missions and established WELS/ELS congregations throughout the U.S. to provide training for members to verbally proclaim the gospel to lost souls.

To help conquer fears and provide a meaningful opportunity to put their training into action, members participating in an outreach initiative go out door-to-door to apply a simple methodology to verbally proclaim the gospel. When believers step out in faith to share their faith with others, God provides interesting stories.

At The Vine Lutheran Church, a new mission in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a group of members from St. Matthew in Spokane, WA received training and utilized canvassing as a method to introduce their new church in the community. The Lord provided “divine appointments” at the door when people expressed a sincere desire to learn more. One man told a participant, “Just this morning, I was praying that the Lord would send a WELS church to Coeur d’Alene. You are an answer to my prayer!” He and his wife were WELS members from Arizona who recently moved into the area. Now they are active participants in reaching the lost.

Portland Praise Canvassing Group

Three WELS congregations in Portland, Oregon meet every three months to go out and verbally plant the seeds of the gospel. After training, members were so excited and privileged to be God’s messengers that they decided to come together as one to hit the streets surrounding one congregation and bring as many people as possible to heaven through the power of the gospel. The growing group calls themselves “Portland Praise” and includes two established WELS congregations (Gethsemane/Tigard, Amazing Grace/Portland) and one mission congregation (Beautiful Savior/Hillsboro).

Members at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenai, Alaska gathered to received training and immediately put it into action. While going door-to-door, a group encountered several caribou feeding on the summer grass. One caribou followed members for a few doors which made them a little nervous. Grace Lutheran regularly goes out canvassing to hand out little packets of coffee and batteries to replace smoke alarms during daylight savings time. They use these tools to engage people and provide a short gospel message.

Verbally proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is scary; yet one of the greatest exercises of our faith is sharing our faith. When church members regularly gather together to verbally proclaim the gospel, it can have a transforming effect. God’s kingdom is advanced. Trust in God’s promises is strengthened. And there is profound joy in knowing they are being used by God in a powerful way. With training, WELS members are breaking the thin ice of fear and boldly proclaiming the gospel with their friends and neighbors, plus assisting their pastor in making follow-up visits.

To learn more about Praise & Proclaim Ministries, visit their website at praiseandproclaim.com.

Written By: Dave Malnes, Praise & Proclaim Ministries

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Reaching the Vietnamese

Have you heard about Friends of Vietnam?

Friends of Vietnam, Inc. (FOV) is the international outreach arm of Peace In Jesus Lutheran Church (a predominantly Vietnamese congregation) in Boise, Idaho. FOV endeavors to reach out through educational opportunities by supplying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers to Vietnam in order to witness about Jesus in private settings. FOV also strives to bring students into the United States to study at WELS schools. FOV is building bridges for the gospel between Vietnam and the U.S. through education. The FOV Board was established in August 2016 and has an aggressive plan to bring the gospel to Vietnamese souls. There are some exciting things happening in Vietnam! What follows is an interview with Mr. Hưu Trung Lê, President of the Friends Of Vietnam Board:

Q: What are the goals of FOV?

Friends of Vietnam is an exciting and new ministry striving to accomplish two main goals: 1) prepare and send individuals to Vietnam to teach English and also share the Good News in private settings, and 2) assist students in Vietnam to come study in schools of our fellowship in the United States. The vision includes bringing students from Vietnam to study at WELS elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. In pursuit of fostering friendships and understanding between Vietnamese and American cultures, Friends of Vietnam endeavors to connect more Vietnamese souls to the gospel.

Q: Why is FOV important, in your view?

FOV is really important because we are striving to share the gospel with some areas still in the dark. We would like to share the correct teaching about Jesus with Vietnamese people. The bridge of the gospel is important, so FOV is trying to build many such bridges.

Q: What FOV success stories might you be able to share?

Our first FOV teacher is in Vietnam right now! He had a very difficult time at first in Vietnam due to the challenges of living in a new country, the language barrier, etc., but now he is settled in and has a good job teaching English at ILA English center in Saigon. He continues teaching four classes a week, on Saturday and Sunday. Our teacher’s manager at the school did an evening classroom observation and he was really impressed with the class, and he thought our teacher was doing a good job. Our teacher plans on continuing his contract with this school through October 2018.*

*name withheld due to security concerns

FOV President Hưu Trung on a survey visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Q: What is your dream for FOV?

My dream is that we bring more students to our WELS schools so the young generation of Vietnamese people can know more about the gospel, and to place more teachers in Vietnam. Maybe someday we will have our own Lutheran high school in Vietnam! And more importantly, I dream one day we will have a Vietnamese Lutheran Church in fellowship with WELS in Vietnam, so we could have regular worship. My dream is that more people in Vietnam will hear the gospel and believe in God. We try our best to follow what Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:19: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” That is what FOV is trying to do.

To learn more about Friends of Vietnam, visit their website at www.friendsofvietnam.net or check out their Facebook page.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved with Friends of Vietnam, please call the general line at (208) 912-8283, or Hưu Trung Lê at (208) 891-5344.

Interview conducted by Rev. Daniel Kramer: Peace in Jesus Lutheran Church – Boise, ID

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I’ll Pray For…

One of the great uses I’ve found for technology is creating to-do lists. Shopping lists. Honey-do lists. Grocery lists. Project lists. And perhaps most important…prayer lists. We’ve all experienced the challenge of a good prayer life. It’s not for lack of things to pray for, but time, discipline, and remembering everything you want to carry to the Lord in prayer when you are ready to pray.

I’ve found a good routine of praying in the car on the way to work. I have a 30 minute drive in which I listen through the Daily Devotion from the WELS Mobile app as well as the Through My Bible series. Following that I have some quiet time in prayer. What really helped me during that time was being able to have my prayer list available. Trying to keep things digital, as I am want to do, I went in search of a good system to have that list with me in an easy to use and maintainable format. My requirements were:

  1. The list tool had to be easy to use. It’s important to have quick entry as prayer items occur. If it’s hard to get them into your system you will put it off, and perhaps forget before you get it onto a list.
  2. Whatever tool I use needs to be on multiple platforms and operating systems (Windows, Mac, phone, tablet, etc.). So whatever computing device I’m using or will use in the future I won’t have any trouble sticking with the same tool.
  3. The tool needs to support recurring items that can be checked and unchecked like any good list tool. This would allow me to cycle through items.
  4. The tool should be easy to use in the car by simply opening an app and have it appear without multiple taps which would be potentially unsafe.

What I decided on was a simple checklist within the Trello project management tool. I have a “card” called “Pray” and on it two simple checklists called Weekly and Special. My weekly list has a rotation of items like family, co-workers, spouse, kids, etc. The special list has those items that come up that may not be regular items but certainly things I want to take to the Lord, like a friend’s illness, relationship issues, special tasks or projects, etc. As I pray through the list a simple tap on a check box marks it as done once I reach my destination. Be careful to obey prevailing traffic laws regarding interacting with electronic devices. I’m hoping that voice activated check lists are in the near future as well.

Other lists you might consider would be OneNote, Evernote, and Google Keep. These are all cross platform and would work well for simple checklists. The point is to find a system that will put those things you want to pray for in front of you at the time you want to pray. I’ve found that just having the list available and in a system I use everyday anyway is a nice reminder to pray. We all need that!

So I just wanted to share my experiences with a system that seems to work well for me as I try to remove as many barriers as possible for a consistent prayer life. If we talk at some point in the future and I commit to praying for you or something that comes up in our conversation, know that I have a spot ready for it on my digital list.

A Man of Many Hats

Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that the public ministry may assume various forms. For example, public ministers of the gospel may serve as a parish pastor, a world missionary, a seminary professor, a mission counselor, a synod president or as the editor of a theological publication. Theoretically, a WELS pastor could serve in all of these forms of public ministry at different times. But typically no man would serve in all these roles at the same time… unless your name is Alvien De Guzman.

Pastor Alvien De Guzman and wife Marieta

Now, please don’t misunderstand. Pastor De Guzman is not a Lutheran “Superman”. He is as flawed as every other minister of the gospel. Rather, what he is (as the only confessional Lutheran in fellowship with the WELS in the country of the Philippines) is a man who is serving in a lot of roles at the same time. You might say that these days, Alvien De Guzman is “wearing a lot of different hats.”

Actually, it’s been that way since the beginning of his relationship with WELS. In 2014, Pastor De Guzman’s first hat was as a tent minister, devoting his weekends and evenings to conducting Bible classes in his home, while also working a secular job. Shortly thereafter, Pastor De Guzman began working with WELS Multi-Language Publications to develop confessional Lutheran materials in his native language of Tagalog. He put on the hat of a religious publications editor.

About that same time, through the financial support offered to him by WELS Board for World Missions, Pastor De Guzman became a full-time mission explorer. In consultation with our Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, he developed an outreach plan for several barangays (neighborhoods) in Novaliches, a suburb of Manila. He planted a congregation which bears the name Law and Gospel Lutheran Church. He looked for ways to connect with his community. Over the course of time, the Lord brought through his doors a growing number of children – Pastor De Guzman then put on the hat of a youth minister. He taught Sunday school and trained others to do the same.

More recently, Pastor De Guzman has donned the hat of a multi-parish pastor. Preaching stations have opened in neighboring suburbs of Navotas City and Cavite. The opportunities to bring the gospel to new locations have begun to stretch Pastor De Guzman to the limit. Who would provide the workers for these fields the Lord was opening to him?

Law and Gospel Lutheran Church – Manilla, Philippines

In a very short period of time, three different men who recently left the Lutheran Church of the Philippines for confessional reasons have requested further theological training from WELS. They are eager to serve alongside Pastor De Guzman. But first Pastor De Guzman will need to don the hat of a seminary professor – teaching classes and monitoring the field experiences of these men, under the direction of WELS Pastoral Studies Institute.

God willing, all of these men will one day shepherd congregations of their own, united with Law and Gospel Lutheran Church as an independent church body, in fellowship with WELS. It will be a new synod in the Philippines, with a new synod president – and another hat for someone to wear.

God knows what the future holds for our mission work in the Philippines. But from my human perspective, I expect that for the foreseeable future, one man will continue to wear a lot of hats. May God grant this man the grace to wear each of his hats well, for his sake and for the sake of those he shepherds, in Jesus’ name.

Written By: Rev. Robb Raasch – Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee

Want to see more photos from the WELS World Missions and Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) visit to the Philippines? Check out the WELS Missions Flickr album.

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Inner Peace! Inner Peace!

In the movie Kung Fu Panda, poor Master Shifu cannot find any peace. He tries to meditate; he chants the words, “inner peace, inner peace” over and over again, but nothing changes. There is no peace for him. He just has too much on his mind… there are too many troubles, nothing is going the way that it is supposed to go. Worst of all, his enemy is coming, and his student (fat panda Po) is much better at eating noodles than he is at learning Kung Fu.

Maybe your life feels like that sometimes. It’s difficult to live with inner peace. There is so much to do. There is so much that could be done better. There is stress and uncertainty. There are unmet expectations that you put on yourself and others put on you. There are setbacks and disappointments. There are often mental and physical roadblocks to important things you are trying to get done. Life rarely ever goes the way you planned it.

In the midst of that storm, you try to have inner peace, but it just will not come to you.

Here’s the problem: When we cannot find inner peace, it is usually because we are trying to do God’s work. I do not mean the ministries we have been assigned – I mean the work that only God can do. Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances.” It is not our business to run the world and to make all things work out for the good of the Church. Our business is to trust and to live out our vocations in that trust. God will take care of the rest.

Christ’s birth, death and resurrection is the guarantee that we do not need to worry about God’s business. In fact, we do not need to worry about anything. The angels sung about it: “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” I like the Chinese translation there (from the CSB): 平安临到他所喜悦 的人. “Peace comes to those who delight him.” God delights in you!

As Zephaniah wrote,“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (3:17)

God delights in you because He delights in Jesus who lived a perfect life in your place, died as punishment for your guilt, and rose to guarantee that you are now innocent in God’s sight. When God looks at you, He sees Jesus. He sees perfection. He sees a billion reasons to rejoice and sing. And in that moment – in every moment – He commits himself to working out all things for your good.

So, be at peace. Tomorrow may bring trouble of every kind, but peace is yours through Christ!

Written by: A Missionary in East Asia

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Let’s rethink how we think about technology in worship

The debate concerning the role of screen technology in worship is nothing new. The pages of this publication took up the topic already more than ten years ago. The good advice given then could be summed up neatly with one word: moderation.

But cultural and technological developments since that time have given new insights on the effects of pervasive digital technology in our homes, classrooms, and public spaces. Indeed, as screens transition from large-format installations in front of the crowd to small-format devices in every purse or pocket, the question of the appropriate role of screen technology in worship is as relevant today as it was a decade ago.

My contention is that the current state of affairs requires more than merely updating our advice for the latest devices. Instead, we must rethink how we think about screen technology in leading the congregation in liturgy and song.

Test our fundamental assumptions

One way to rethink how we think about screen technology in worship is to test our assumptions. A mistaken assumption at the foundation of our thinking will lead to flawed applications later. The result may be a flurry of mitigating efforts, few of which address the fundamental issue at the root of it all and some of which may actually make matters worse.

For example, the thinking about screen technology to lead the congregation in liturgy and song generally goes something like this: “The screen will be an alternative to what’s printed. Those who wish to use the screen will use the screen, and those who wish to sing and speak from the hymnal or worship folder will sing and speak from the hymnal or worship folder.” The assumption is that screen technology is a neutral medium and therefore assumes a supplemental role in the worship space. I believe that this assumption is almost certainly mistaken.

Consider some recent research from the field of educational science. Anyone connected to a school or college knows that the use of screens in education has become almost the sine qua non of what’s considered quality educational methodology. Administrators first installed screens in the front of classrooms and information-dense books and handouts were replaced by semantically-thin slide decks. More recently, screens were put in the hands of every student through direct funding or policies requiring students to “bring your own device” (BYOD). While educators vigorously debated the relative merits of various devices and software programs, the general assumption was that any added technology would be an improvement.

The assumption is that screen technology is a neutral medium….

But recently the debate over which devices and software to use in education has dramatically shifted to whether such technology should be used in the first place—or at the very least, whether it should always be used. Prompting the shift were studies demonstrating that students who took notes on laptops or tablets achieved poorer outcomes than those students who processed coursework with non-digital technologies such as ruled paper and a #2 pencil.

Even more startling (and relevant to the topic of this essay) was the discovery that the use of screens in the classroom had a degrading effect on peers who did not use a device. Researchers compared the effect to something like cognitive secondhand smoke. Merely being in view of an active screen has been shown to cause a degrading effect on the focus and attention of nearby peers.

This result may not be all that surprising when we consider our own experience. Human beings are generally powerless to ignore surprising new information in their field of vision, an effect most pronounced when new visual data appears in the periphery of our focus. This is why something that appears alongside you so easily startles you. It’s why your laptop displays notifications in the upper corner of the screen. It’s why a flickering light bulb will make you look again and again long after you’ve consciously acknowledged that the bulb is flickering.

Generally speaking, liturgical churches that decide to adopt screen technology to lead the congregation in liturgy and song seek a physical arrangement that doesn’t necessarily replace the altar, font, and pulpit as the focus of the worship space. This leaves the areas slightly above and to the edges of our visual focus for the screens to be installed. Ironically, the laudable effort to preserve the architectural and liturgical integrity of the worship space moves the screens to a position where the visual effect of disruption and distraction is the strongest.

Remember also how screen technology works: imagery and text (often animated) is projected as flickering light in front of the congregation. Projection slides suffer from resolution constraints—a slide can only hold a small amount of visual information while also retaining legibility. Such resolution constraints are the reason why information-dense content like liturgy and song must be split over numerous slides. Text and tune that fit easily on a single 6×9 page usually require more than a dozen slides in a hymnal projection edition. Each build in the slide deck is another blink or flash (not to mention another opportunity for disruptive human error). It becomes virtually impossible, then, for the worshiper to keep his or her eyes from the magnetic allure of the projected pixels as they flicker in the most sensitive part of the visual field. And once neighboring worshipers are invited to swipe their way through the service on a smartphone or tablet, the effect may well become even more pronounced.

The screen will accept nothing less than to own the room.

Screen technology tends to disrupt other media and easily dominates the environment by demanding attention from everyone in view. This is not supplemental, additive, or merely neutral; it is a fundamental reorientation of the worship space. Indeed, the screen will accept nothing less than to own the room. To assume that worshipers who find screen technology disruptive or distracting will be able to simply ignore it misunderstands the nature of the medium and downplays the qualities of our human senses. This is why more and more instructors (especially in higher education) are surprising their colleagues with the announcement that they, too, are eschewing the use of screens in their classrooms. Worship leaders may wish to rethink the issue as well.

Examine our embedded metaphors

A second way to rethink how we think about screen technology in worship is to examine our embedded metaphors. We have certain ways of describing topics that may preclude us from seeing a topic in a different—and perhaps better—light.

Consider, for example, how technological metaphors dominate the ways our culture describes the world around us. The enduring mystery of human consciousness is explained in terms of a computer that “processes information” and “stores things in memory” in spite of the fact that the human mind does no such thing. The paradigm of technocracy that so dominates American civic life creeps also into our conception of Christian ministry: people are no longer complex, embodied beings in need of the daily care of a shepherd but instead become resources to be “managed” and workers to be “activated” by ministry experts. Rich concepts like “preach the Word” and “encourage one another” are replaced with phrases like “deliver Christian content.” Embedded metaphors refashion the world in their own image.

One metaphor that deserves scrutiny is the idea of “technological progress.” Because of the undeniable progress that human society has enjoyed as a result of technological development, we have adopted the word “progress” for virtually any new application of technology. The more radical technologists in society go even further. They alloy the idea of progress with an assumed sense of inevitability to it all. This is the dominant ideology of Silicon Valley and is rapidly assuming an outsized role in shaping the broader society’s view of moral philosophy and ultimate purpose. Nevertheless, enough dark footnotes are attached to the use of technology to prevent us from equating progress with any and all application of technology.

Historians point out that the 20th century saw an unprecedented amount of death not because of plagues or natural disasters but because mankind had developed technologies to make the mass destruction of human life possible. This is not to equate PowerPoint with concentration camps or Facebook with napalm, but to illustrate that it is intellectually dishonest to reason that the application of technology is in itself human progress.

We can escape the unhelpful “are you for progress or against progress” dialogue.

By examining this embedded metaphor we can escape the unhelpful “are you for progress or against progress” dialogue that can so easily arise when a diverse group of individuals discuss how best to walk together in Christian community. If we can accept that new technology does not in itself equal progress, then we will enjoy the freedom to accurately assess when the application of a particular technology might not, in fact, be progress toward the goals of Christian worship. After all, making a wise decision not to do something is as vital a form of progress as any other. Indeed, it may be a kind of progress we need.

Embrace our cultural anchors

A third way to rethink how we think about screen technology in worship is to embrace our cultural anchors. Let us enjoy the happy reality that time and time again the cultural practices of the church, shaped as they are by the gospel of Jesus Christ, become suddenly relevant to a new generation of people disillusioned by the listlessness of life unanchored by ultimate truth.

For example, we’re observing in our society the growing strength of a sort of digital temperance movement. The movement is motivated by a variety of cultural developments. Waves of revelations have detailed how social media companies have explicitly engineered their products to harvest profit from our insecurities and have deliberately worked to draw us into destructive patterns of digital addiction. It seems increasingly impossible to find a public space that isn’t dominated by scrolling chyrons covering the latest political demagoguery and highlights of hat tricks and home runs. Even the local gas station punctuates the few quiet moments spent topping off the tank with a rapid-fire barrage of ads, news blurbs, and weather reports. Few moments remain that are not held captive to the content of a screen.

Commentators have called this the “attention economy.” In a traditional economy natural resources are developed into products which are sold for profit. In the attention economy you are the product and your attention is the resource to be mined. One author has fairly called the business tactics of the attention economy a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” How apt. The goal of the attention economy is not to invite you to enjoy life in the full, but to convert you into a compulsive checker of news feeds and binge watcher of original programming.

The reaction has been what you might expect. People are sensing that something’s being done to them and it’s not benevolent. Ironically, the dominant forms of expression today (i.e. social media) are filled with depictions of disconnecting from digital technology. Photos of open books, quiet spaces, and peaceful settings offer the modern mind a glimpse of the alluring hope that man does not live on likes alone.

In this environment the temptation is to become ourselves captains of industry in the attention economy. We could fill the pre-service time with rotating ads for church events. We could shoehorn a showing of the WELS Connection between the offering and the prayers. We could assume that colorful clip art will make a great hymn even greater. But modes and methods better suited for the attention economy are becoming more and more likely to elicit a reaction like, “Eww, gross” instead of, “Hey, cool.”

Likely to elicit a reaction like, “Eww, gross” instead of, “Hey, cool.”

And so here we are again—the seemingly old-fashioned, liturgical, Lutheran church anchored to ultimate truth is bringing out treasures old and new to a world dying for something better.

We are fellow travelers who answer the call of Jesus Christ to be a communion of believers shaped over lifetimes by patterns and paradigms not immediately apparent to the world. Our churches are places where the primary task is not to demand more attention but to offer Sabbath rest for the whole person—body and soul. What we offer is not something that attracts eyeballs with its overwhelming brightness but creates a new heart of worship by its captivating beauty.

***

I have taken an admittedly contrarian view on the topic of screen technology in worship. Indeed, any call to rethink implies that the process may involve discarding some ideas and reforming some assumptions. Yet I have not indulged in a simplistic “all technology is bad everywhere” jeremiad. I have pointed out that just as it is true that not all technology is bad everywhere, it is equally true that not all technology is good everywhere. The wisdom is in discerning between what’s good and what’s bad—or perhaps even more difficult, between what’s good and what’s best.

Not all technology is bad everywhere … not all technology is good everywhere.

I have presented a range of empirical, cultural, and theological observations that I believe support the conclusion that congregations which resisted the impulse to direct attention to the screen may rightly feel validated in their decision. I sense that this may also be a good time for congregations who bet all the blue chips on the power of presentation technology to reexamine whether such practices will foster the kind of embodied community that offers a countercultural witness to the commercial logic of the attention economy. The modern world is oriented toward the fundamentally ephemeral model of content delivery, but the gospel creates an eternal community gathered around a word and a meal. While I remain fascinated by technology and enjoy the benefits it has brought to my life, it seems nonetheless unmistakable that the character of the kingdom to come will be decidedly more human than machine. Perhaps it will be best for the character of our worship to reflect this in a time like ours.

By Caleb Bassett

Pastor Bassett serves at St. Stephen, Fallbrook, CA. He is a member of the WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee, serving as chair of the Technology Committee. He has designed the project’s public website as well as its private side for managing work by seven subcommittees.


“Moderation…”

Worship the Lord previously addressed projection in numbers 27 and 28: worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-church-architecture. Note the supplemental content posted along with the archived issues. One item is “Designing a Worshipful Environment,” 38 pages of helpful content by former Mission Counselor Wayne Schulz (d. 2011). See “Screens or Not?” Regarding some uses of projection, he wrote in 2000/2005, “Time will tell if this serves as an aid or a distraction….”

See also Caleb Bassett’s presentation from the 2017 worship conference, a narrated presentation “Screens in Worship,” worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/2017-worship-conference-presentations. Direct link: vimeo.com/228517631.


Holy Week Resources

If you haven’t finished planning for Holy Week, find some ideas under Church Year Planning Resources here: worship.welsrc.net/church-year-planning-resources.

Check for new music at NPH: online.nph.net/music-video/sheet-music/choral-music.html. Use the seasonal filters to find a new setting by Phillip Magness of “He’s Risen, He’s Risen.” Also John Reim’s “Lamb of God,” perhaps with a vocal quartet (or two voices on a part) if you don’t have a regular full SATB choir. Could the string trio part be played on an electronic keyboard?

 

Print out the latest edition of this newsletter to share with your congregation.

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Preach the Word – Lectionary Abundance

Treasures Old and New

Lectionary Abundance

Ah, the exquisite agony of a “difficult” decision: taking it all in, evaluating the options, narrowing the choices, flopping back-and-forth, making a choice, taking possession, experiencing some buyer’s remorse, then joyful satisfaction. And that’s just what your average church-goer experiences every Sunday as he decides which home-baked treat(s) to have with his coffee during fellowship hour. But consider the difference if the decision involves a salad bar. The decision-making process is easier. Nearly all of the items are good for you. The only guidelines are your personal likes, the size of your plate, and the number of trips you are allowed to make.

As you enter once again the treasure house of God’s Word through the lectionary you find yourself in a similar situation. A new week has begun. You look at the appointed lessons and their summaries. You take the time to see how they fit together for that day and how they fit into the grand progression of the church year. It is all laid out for you to behold. There is so much to choose from and it is all good for you. There is no agony, just exquisite joy in taking it all in. You could, and will, delight in its glorious nourishment for eternity.

And yet you have been called by a gathering of believers to bring forth from the storehouse treasure which will be nourishing to them. As much as you enter the storehouse to your own blessing, your primary purpose is on behalf of the people you have been called to serve. Yet your intimate relationship with your Lord and your specific training for this work sets you up for a difficult decision—the exquisite agony of deciding what you will proclaim to those same believers through your preaching…and what you will not.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once noted that the number two greatest fear of people is death. The number one greatest fear is public speaking. In other words, he concluded, people would rather be in the coffin at a funeral than giving the eulogy. Because of this fear of public speaking, those new to it invariably begin with a hope for brevity by asking themselves, “How long does this need to be?” I know few preachers who ask themselves that question, and for good reason. The storehouse of God’s Word is an abundance from which to bring forth treasure after treasure. There is no shortage of material. But considering this abundance of the Word and a preacher’s call to representative ministry, perhaps he ought to still ask a similar question from time to time, “How long should this be?”

I resemble that remark

Yes, the focus of this article is indeed on the length of a sermon. (Go ahead and assume a defensive position.) Seriously or semi-seriously, all preachers have been chided for long-winded preaching. Most preachers recognize that this chiding comes with the job. A preacher is out there speaking in public. The public, therefore, has many and varied opinions on both the preacher and the preaching. Up for commentary by the public (parishioners) is everything from content to creativity, from authenticity to energy. But nothing empowers a parishioner to complain to a preacher more than a sermon that is too long.

The preacher, of course, is ready with a host of sanctified (and not-so-sanctified) responses: “People ought to be able to listen to a 30-minute sermon.” “The text required this amount of time.” “The Spirit works as he wills.” “People are always looking for something to complain about.” “This is the way God made me to preach.” Sadly, these comments are often received as more sanctimonious than sanctified, especially by those who are truly struggling against the flesh to stay focused and attentive to the Word of the Lord and the preacher who is proclaiming it.

Would not a faithful preacher take the time to receive these comments as constructive criticism and seek to understand their purposive nature? As blogger Thom Schultz points out, the comments may reflect the lower retention rates of the lecture method, the shrinking of modern-day attention spans, the passivity of parishioners listening in the pews, and the paucity of auditory learners (as opposed to visual and physical).1 Additionally, parishioners may have specific expectations regarding not just the length of the sermon, but also the length of the service. Such expectations are typically neither right nor wrong in and of themselves. Faithfulness to God’s people leads the preacher to lovingly honor them, and when necessary, patiently adjust them. Faithfulness to the Lord leads the preacher to honestly wrestle with the difficult question, “How long should this be?” Ah, the exquisite agony of a difficult decision. “What will I share… and what will I not?”

The exquisite agony of a difficult decision. “What will I share… and what will I not?”

A very good place to start

Let’s face it, the Spirit’s blessing of sanctification and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary homiletical training are to blame for the difficulty of the decision. The Spirit’s blessing instills in preachers a deep love for the Word, a heart for people battling the darkness of sin and unbelief, an aptitude to proclaim healing and hope, and a desire to share what is desperately needed. Homiletical training provides a systematic approach to exploring the storehouse of God’s Word, expositing the treasures within, purposely summarizing and applying those treasures to the lives of listeners, and coherently communicating them. All of this comes together for the preacher as he finds himself readily assenting to the oft-quoted statement: There truly are 100 sermons in every text. The treasure is so abundant!

To illustrate the point, consider The Preacher’s Apprentice. Pastor Mark Cordes has been publishing this dynamic dictionary since 1999. Each reading in the lectionary is exhaustively studied, most texts receiving treatment in 40-60 pages.2 The abundance is overwhelming, and yet the opportunity to delight in the Word of the Lord is spiritually enthralling. Pastor John Koelpin also wrote of this abundant treasure and the challenging joy of Scriptural mining in PTW’s Volume 5 #4.

Text study is hard work, but it is exhilarating. For sinners it is perhaps as close as we can get to gazing at the jewels of heaven that John beheld in his revelation. As the preacher turns his text inside and out—studying it in its immediate context, looking at it in the wider context of the entire Bible, picking it apart word by word and phrase by phrase in the original, and viewing it through the eyes of previous confessors—he finds a bit of gold here and some shining sapphire there, just waiting to be displayed before the hearts of God’s people. Like the prophets of old we “search intently and with the greatest care” (1 Peter 1:10).

A good preacher loves his time in the Word studying the text. Yet the abundance of treasure leaves the preacher with the exquisite agony of a difficult decision: choosing the treasure to summarize and display in a faithful, applicable, and timely way. “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon said of sermon length, “We are generally longest when we have least to say.”3 As true as that may be for some, this author contends that the primary cause of lengthy sermons in WELS is that there so much to say and preachers want to proclaim it all!

After exhaustive research and careful crafting, a budding Junior seminarian once proudly turned in the manuscript of his first sermon. Eagerly he awaited feedback from his homiletics professor, anticipating that the sheer volume of biblical exposition within its pages would translate into equally abundant accolades for its author. Imagine his disappointment when the professor simply commented, “Good work, but save some for next week.”

Perhaps the most common advice from the pew for long-winded preachers is simply “Don’t preach so long,” as if a preacher could simply set an alarm and stop talking at the “bell.” Yet equally ridiculous is an approach that meanders through the results of a text study, recycles similar thoughts within the sermon ad nauseum, or strings together a series of stories with some vague references to a text. Such ramblings invite critical commentary and rightly serve as a reminder to work at crafting the message.

Telic like it is

To put it simply, the point is the point. Even a ten-minute sermon can seem long if it is struggling to bring out the main thrust of the text. Faced with an abundance of treasure discovered during text study and as interesting as all those treasures may be, keep the message focused on the main point. Save some treasures for a Bible study, a blog, “take home” materials for use during the week4, or three years later when the text and its related readings come up again. The storehouse is filled with treasure, yet the preacher’s goal is to help his hearers to focus on that one pearl, that one gem that the Spirit will use as he wills. As one bishop was fond of telling his vicars, “Provide the nail on which people can hang their hats.”

Goal for it

Setting a goal that is in keeping with both biblical and local expectations will greatly help direct the process of crafting a message for God’s people. The most impactful advice this author has received for sermon length came from a Taste of Ministry experience during high school. The host pastor explained that he knew how long it typically took him to preach so many words. He would set his word-count goal and craft his sermon with the goal in mind.

Certainly this approach could lead to slavish adherence to meeting an arbitrary goal at the expense of faithful exposition of a given text. Yet in nearly 20 years of this author’s preaching, a word-count goal has led to a plethora of blessings. Such an approach has led to critical editing, re-working of outlines, the elimination of interesting yet inessential illustrations, and an overall striving for excellence. Good “stuff” has been left on the cutting room floor. Yet the final result from this is a better-crafted message. Essentially, if the length of the sermon goes beyond the word-count goal, it better be worth it.

Good “stuff” has been left on the cutting room floor.

It’s all in the timing

Give yourself plenty of time for crafting, especially if you tend to leave your “sermonizing” to the last minute. Sadly, many preachers are still working on their sermons into the late hours of Saturday night or even the early hours of Sunday morning. Assuming that there has been faithful text study, a message has now been prepared, but how much time has been dedicated to rework? If you find yourself regularly ad libbing during your presentation, or have used the phrase “and that’s another thing” while you are holding forth (yes, this has happened), consider setting aside more time for honing and crafting your message. Give your sermon the priority that proclamation of the Word deserves. Give yourself the time to craft a message in keeping with the gifts God has given you. Make use of fellow believers who can offer constructively critical feedback both after and before you preach. Many a sermon has been preached that could have been better crafted, more clearly communicated, and more succinctly presented simply because the preacher did not take the time to revise.

We are often our own worst enemies. Most preachers get into a rhythm when they preach. They have developed a style, an approach, and a delivery that works for them. These personal aspects to preaching can have a profound impact on the expectations of a congregation, especially when those expectations are in conflict with the personal aspects of the preacher’s preaching. If local expectation is a 20 minute sermon and a 60 minute service, repeatedly preaching and worshiping beyond those expectations will only irritate the sensitivities of the congregation. Lovingly honoring and, when necessary, patiently adjusting those expectations (as encouraged above), can bring preacher and parishioners into a more mutually beneficial harmony. If the preacher desires more time to preach, be willing to patiently help the congregation to see the blessings of a 70 minute service to allow for it. If the service on a given Sunday will include worship aspects like baptisms, Holy Communion, and confirmations, be willing to preach a shorter sermon, recognizing that the means of grace are still active and working through all aspects of corporate worship. If sermon length is truly an issue, take time with your Elders and other mature Christians in your congregation to find out what will best serve the flock. Forcing parishioners to listen to long sermons again and again does not eventually lead to a love for long sermons.

“More” myth

Reconciling “less is more” with “more is better” can be quite the challenge. Yet these phrases have often become axioms to the listener in the pew. A balanced viewpoint recognizes that “Less is [not necessarily] more” and “More is [not necessarily] better.” Generational bias can stimulate this quantity vs. quality struggle not only within the congregation, but also within the preacher. Challenging personal bias towards long or short preaching is a healthy thing to do. Allow the circumstances, context, and occasion to help you craft a message to the edification of God’s people. After all, Jesus once preached a precipitous sermon that lasted all day, yet he was also mindful of his disciples’ limitations, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12,13).

Time’s up

Practicing what this article preaches, it was sent to a fellow pastor for feedback. In his response he shared that his congregation had made the move to every-Sunday celebration of the Sacrament. At the time, there was concern about over-all service length.

I didn’t want service length to serve as an obstacle to appreciating the gifts of the Supper. And so I set out to change how I preached. What I found is that in my 22-minute sermons, I wasn’t speaking as clearly and specifically as I could have. I had grown comfortable in saying things in certain ways. That 22-minute mark fit like my well-broken-in slippers. I started spending more time in text study and more time in revision. It wasn’t an easy process. It is harder for me to preach for 16 minutes than 22. But I have appreciated the results. My sermons are more focused now and there has been a renewed interest and appreciation for the whole sermonic process.

Ah, the exquisite agony of difficult decisions and the immeasurable blessings of a well-crafted sermon, all from the abundance of treasure found in the storehouse of God’s Word. The power of our great God is such that he can work just as effectively through an eight-minute sermon as he can a 45-minute sermon. We may not have a biblical formula for the perfect length of a sermon, but we do have a perfect God. He uses imperfect preachers who have been given the grace to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


1 https://holysoup.com/the-perfect-length-for-a-sermon/.
2 For information on The Preacher’s Apprentice, contact Pastor Mark Cordes – m.cordes@comcast.net. A sample study for Easter 4B Good Shepherd Sunday is provided online at worship.welsrc.net/download- worship/preach-the-word-volume-21.
3 Charles Spurgeon Lectures, p. 135.
4 For example, the preacher need not take the time during the sermon to describe the topography around the Sea of Galilee. He could point his listeners to a supplemental resource like Israel on Drone – Sea of Galilee (youtube.com/watch?v=zlV8HBmL6ek) in pre-service announcements. A preacher mindful of the progression of the liturgy could even provide a link like this the previous week.


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 one of the many blessings that comes from careful reworking.

Leading the listener right up to the well without giving him a drink is a common pitfall in writing sermons, particularly for young homileticians. The preacher engages the listener with one link added to another in his chain of thought. Then suddenly the chain is broken. The preacher leaves the thought unfinished but in the process also leaves the listener scrambling to find the connection to what is said subsequently.

It is a common mistake. We are so filled with the message of the Word we are delivering, we assume our listeners know what we are talking about and what we are going to say next. We mistakenly think that the final statement in our line of thought is so obvious we don’t need to say it. Often the statement we leave out is a key that links what we have said to what is coming. Those obvious thoughts left unsaid leave the real punch out of the message.

Vilas R. Glaeske – Volume 5, No.3

 


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Building Up the Body of Christ

While it is rewarding to write about victory stories of a new member’s confirmation or a prospect’s baptism, I would like to share with you a recent little moment in our mission that gives me even greater joy seeing God’s people at work.

For the last few months, a Chinese woman named Tina has been coming to a conversational English class we have every Friday morning. And every Friday at this class we invite Tina, and all who come, to study the Bible further with us or come to Sunday worship.

Tina and her daughter Crystal

Tina finally came.

And when she walked into our church door on Sunday afternoon, something remarkable happened. Tina isn’t a Christian, and neither is her daughter, Crystal – they came mostly out of curiosity. And they were instantly welcomed by a small horde of eager Chinese members at our church. At first I thought somehow they all knew each other already, which is normally the case when we have Chinese visitors. A few ladies sat down next to Tina and her daughter. They helped explain our English worship and whispered what is going on. They invited Tina and Crystal to our Chinese language Bible class after worship.

Towards the end of our Bible class time one Sunday in January, I snuck into our Chinese language Bible class to find Qiang Wang, our Chinese evangelist, and five of our Chinese members actively witnessing to Tina and Crystal. I admit my Chinese is only good enough to follow the topic, but my heart swelled with joy listening to them sharing the good news of Jesus with Tina and Crystal in Chinese. These Christians were not long ago playing the role of the Ethiopian and asking Philip, “What does this mean?” Now they were sharing the message and explaining God’s Word in their own language to Tina. I saw in all their faces how deeply their love for Jesus was driving them to share with Tina and her daughter the news that so changed their lives also.

Tina helping out at the Chinese New Year event (Pictured holding the baby)

In Ephesians, Paul says that God gave pastors, teachers and missionaries to his church, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:12) In other words, if our mission is training our Chinese members to be missionaries themselves, we are going to be reaching people that I myself cannot reach. It has now been a month since that brief moment in Chinese Bible study, and Tina and Crystal are still coming to church – every Sunday. In fact when we celebrated Chinese New Year two weeks ago, Tina was in the kitchen with the other ladies preparing food for the meal. She still won’t say “I am a Christian”, but she wants to know more. She wants to hear the stories of Jesus. God is working in her heart.

And thanks to our other Chinese members, Tina is experiencing the love and joy of the body of Christ that welcomes her and importantly, reinforces the truths of Scripture in her own language and culture. Perhaps most importantly, God is giving more Christians their own moment to play the role of Philip and grow his kingdom in new ways.

Written by: Rev. Geoff Cortright, Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, Canada

To learn more about this home mission, visit their Facebook page.

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It Will Take 7 Years…

It will take 7 years.

These were the words of Mission Counselor Mark Birkholz when Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada, began planning its first summer Music Camp back in 2010. Why a Music Camp? Our congregation is located in an area of Toronto where we are surrounded by homes and high rises, with people from many different countries and religious backgrounds. The question was asked, “How can we get to know our neighborhood better? And more than that, how can we help our neighbors to know who Jesus is?”

Music Camp Volunteers

Because Hope is blessed with a variety of musical talent, including a full steel pan orchestra, it was decided that we would try a summer Music Camp. This one week, full-day camp would include instruction in steel pans, keyboard, guitar, djembe drum and singing. Most importantly, every day would also include Bible study.

Our first Music Camp was offered in 2010 and what a blessing it has been. For the past several years, we have reached our capacity of 140 children every summer and have had to start a waiting list because of the high interest. Over 60 volunteers from our church and other congregations give of their time to help run an exhausting and exhilarating camp.

It will take 7 years.

What was Pastor Birkholz referring to? Yes, every year we had opportunity to share the Word with the children of our neighborhood, so many of whom did not know Jesus. But Pastor Birkholz mentioned that 7 years was how long it would most likely take for children and families from Music Camp to become a part of the Hope church family.

Hope Toronto Confirmands

What began in 2010 bore fruit in a special way in 2017. Five of our seven youth confirmands first came to Hope through the Music Camp! They kept coming back, and in time found a home at Hope. Of those five youth, all three of their mothers also joined Hope and we all continue to grow in Jesus together. To God be the glory!

Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto has 151 communicant members and 202 souls from 20 different countries, and is served by Pastor Mark Henrich and Vicar Ben Berger. To learn more about Hope, visit their website at www.hopetoronto.com or check out their Facebook page

Written by: Pastor Mark Henrich – Hope Lutheran Church, Toronto, Canada

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It’s Rally Day!

In 1918, Missionary Edgar Guenther established Open Bible Lutheran Church of Whiteriver, Ariz., one of 9 current WELS churches on the Apache reservation. In the past on Rev. Guenther’s birthday, we set aside time to rally the “troops”; or rather, the members! That was years and years and pastors and pastors ago. We all loved (and needed) that day. The members started asking present Apache Pastor, Kirk Massey, if they could have Rally Day again.

“We sure can. We should rally the members back to church.” said Pastor Massey. However, with a congregation of over 1,000 members, Pastor Massey had his hands full. Many members had stopped coming to church for one reason or the other, and Pastor Massey was making sure to follow up. Many came to church, but also needed their pastor daily. He needed some help and suggested to the ladies, “If you can find some people to organize a big Rally Day – we can have it, but I won’t be able to devote much ministry time to organizing it.”

Brenda Lee wanted to have Rally Day, but she needed help. After asking around, she found help in her Christian sisters at Open Bible Lutheran Church.

Rally Day organizer and Open Bible member, Brenda Lee

“The goal of Rally Day was to bring back straying and lost members into the church. To welcome them with awesome worship, joy-filled fellowship, games, and delicious food.” exclaims Brenda Lee. “And that is what happened – all to God’s glory!”

With a budget of $500, the ladies organized egg and balloon tosses, music, miniature horse rides, lots of games for kids, cream pie throwing at our pastors and teachers (that was a big hit), and a fry-bread making contest for the ladies. Pastor Massey built the fry bread fire, he and the church men were the judges, and the ladies went to work making the traditional fry bread. The fry bread winner received homemade banana bread! In the end, everyone won as they enjoyed traditional fry bread and beans, a potluck of side dishes, and fried chicken brought in from the local grocery store.

Now that Rally day has ended, the ladies can’t stop talking about what else they can do to aid in fellowship and encouragement:

  • Could our other Lutheran reservation churches hold more joint events?
  • Could we host more fellowship days where we could offer support and encouragement to visitors?
  • Is there a way we can gather to offer support for the recovery group attendees from the local neighborhoods and encourage more people to go into recovery from alcohol, drugs, anger and harmful habits?
  • The men said they’d like to teach the women to play horseshoes… can we make an event out of that?

“There are some awesome Christian fellowship opportunity there.” says Brenda Lee, whose head is spinning with all the possibilities.

Her question to other reservation churches and to YOU reading this is:

What can you be a part of organizing at your church that will offer support and encouragement to members who have strayed and to brand new visitors? How can you help strengthen those who are regulars by giving them an opportunity to serve?”

That’s a great question for all of us.

Brenda Lee is a member at Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver, Ariz. 

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, contact Debbie at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.

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Faith and Love in Action – Africa

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Are you a planner? I am. At this time of year many people plan what they’d like to accomplish during the year and beyond. As I finish my term of service with the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM), I am starting to make some plans for what comes next. Though planning of some degree is wise and sensible, what happens when plans are upset? Do you feel frustrated or angry, wondering where you went wrong or questioning the wisdom of God?

Many people greet the New Year hoping for prosperity. But how do you define prosperity? Is it based solely on your net worth, or is it based on what you share, be that time, money, or skill? Your definition of prosperity could depend on your definition of “enough”. But what if you don’t have all you need? Does that mean God’s plans for you fizzled, or His promises don’t apply to you?

Some of the rural Malawians that the Lutheran Mobile Clinic serves are wrestling with very grim situations, just like many other people throughout the world. Grave illnesses, the death of the main breadwinner, flood, drought, the breakup of families and other consequences of living in a sinful world have snuffed out the survival and prosperity plans of some of these people. In these circumstances it is easy to forget that God is watching and intervening for their good. Hope is fleeting and future prosperity seems impossible. They may fear that God is guessing, rather than knowing His plans for their lives. They may wonder if God’s promises apply to them.

This is where organizations like CAMM and Christian Aid and Relief come in. We understand, by the grace of God, that His promise in Jeremiah is to us, just as it was to the Israelites who, being carried off into exile, were most certainly wondering about their future. However, as volunteers, donors, and those who pray for these “faith and love in action” organizations, we also understand this promise is not just to us; it is also about us.

Believing that God is the source of every blessing and that everything belongs to Him, we are free to use everything He has given to care for ourselves as we care for others. Because God places us and gives to or withholds from each of us as He sees fit, there is always something you can do for someone in need, whatever that need looks like. Perhaps you have nothing but time; be a full-time volunteer. Maybe God has given you money; give wisely and generously. Have you identified and developed the talents with which you were blessed? Use them in service, wherever you are. Are you enduring a season of life where time is limited, money is tight and you’re unsure of or unable to use your skills? Be a prayer warrior and expect the Lord’s guidance in His time.

Will this be a prosperous year for you? It might depend on your definition of prosperity. However, no matter what sort of year this turns out to be, we are confident in God’s providence, and privileged to share with others, because God is faithful and He never breaks His promises.

Written by: Amanda Artz, Clinic Administrator at the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi

P.S. – Want to learn more about the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM)? Visit their website at www.camm.us or follow them on Facebook

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What It’s All About

What exactly do you do as a mission pastor?

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked that question. My answers have varied greatly over the past six months. Sometimes I’ll talk about the detailed planning that has been completed in preparation for our September launch. At other times, I’ll talk about exploring Huntersville, the new community my wife and I call home. And sometimes, I’ll talk about our launch team meetings or the newest church planting book I’m reading. Depends on the day, I guess.

But there are days as a church planter when I wonder: “What am I doing here?” It can’t just be for long hours of planning and meetings, or finding a rental space for worship and studying books on church planting, can it? Is this really what it’s all about?

It’s easy to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture. But a week ago, I was reminded that being a mission pastor is about more than planning and community exploration. On Saturday afternoon, I received a phone call from a member of my launch team, “Pastor, I wanted to let you know my step-daughter passed away in her sleep last night” (We’ll call the step-daughter, “Jo.”).

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believe in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” – John 11:25-26

Even though Jo was my member’s step-daughter, she wasn’t a member herself. In fact, I met Jo for the first time three months after moving to Huntersville. At the beginning of November 2017, she started to come to our launch team meetings with her mom and step-dad. During the next two months, I had the privilege of sharing the message of God’s “arrow-pointing-down” love for her. As a mission pastor, I had the blessing of conveying the message of the Gospel that says, “No matter your past, no matter your sins, Jesus died on the cross for you. Because of his sacrifice for you, your sins all forgiven and God remembers them no more.”

I firmly believe that over the past few months, God planted faith in Jo’s heart – a faith that clung to Jesus as her Savior. And this past Saturday, Jo experienced her own Easter and is now at her Savior’s side in heaven. This is the comfort I had the opportunity to share with my members on Saturday afternoon.

On my drive home from their house, as I reflected on the events that transpired, it suddenly dawned on me. Being a mission pastor is about far more than detailed planning, community exploration, and website design. It’s about personally connecting to people and connecting these people to Jesus. It’s about sharing with them who Jesus is and the love he has for them. It’s about planting the seeds of certain hope in a heart assailed by doubt. It’s about offering people true peace amid the storms of life. It’s about pointing people, like Jo, to the promise of the empty tomb and explaining,

This means that on the last day, you, too, will rise.

It’s astounding that God gives cracked clay jars – mission pastors, like me – the privilege of sharing with people the changeless message that will change their eternity. What a blessing to share Jesus’ love with people like Jo, and point them to their heavenly home. At the end of the day, that’s what being a mission pastor is all about.

Written by: Pastor Doug Van Sice – Huntersville Lutheran Church

P.S. – Want to learn more about this new mission start in Huntersville, NC? Visit their website at www.huntersvillelc.com

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Our Chair Problem – With a Surprising Outcome

The Peridot-Our Savior’s Mission Elementary School has been growing each year. It’s a combined school serving Peridot Lutheran Church (on the school campus), Grace Lutheran in San Carlos (4 miles away) and Our Savior Lutheran in Bylas (25 miles to the East). There are three towns on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and each one is blessed to have their own Lutheran Church.

Students from Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

In the past five years, the school has grown from 60 students to 70, 80, 110 and now 127 students!

This is an AWESOME blessing from God!
… but this was a HUGE problem for the Peridot-Our Savior’s Christmas Service!

  • None of our churches have enough space to put 127 children, 10 teachers and 300 parents, aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, and community visitors
  • All together, our three churches do not even have 200 folding chairs
  • Renting chairs is $1 a chair, and the rental company wasn’t sure they had more than 100
  • Peridot-Our Savior’s had exhausted it’s budget by putting up a much needed addition in order to accommodate most of the people wanting to send their kids to our Lutheran school
  • It was Bylas’ (25 miles from the school) turn to host this service

And so the school board went to work solving this awesome problem. We needed seating for 127 children, 10 teachers and maybe close to 300 people.

The Apache Tribal office allows tribal members to reserve the Stanley Recreation Hall (a gym) for free! The men of the Bylas Church Council were on it and agreed, that even though we’ve never held a Christmas service outside of one of our churches, it was necessary. They secured the gym and prayed people would come. However, Stanley Hall only owns 75 folding chairs. We wanted 300 chairs – just in case that many came.

The School Board came together and contacted the Apache Gold Casino. They had 200 chairs.

That would help!

For a reimbursable down-payment – they were ours to use. We just had to find men, trucks to pick them up, and a crew to set them up approximately two hours before the service would start because the gym would be used till that time.

After lots of up and downs…

“I can haul chairs.” – “Now I can’t haul the chairs, neither can I, neither can I”.
“You can set up early.” – “You now have to wait three more hours to set up.”
“Some of our chairs are broken.”
“The alternative high school kids will set up the chairs.” – “The alternative high school kids can’t set up the chairs any more.”

… it actually came together and worked!

Robert Olivar, a Bylas church councilman, brought family to help set up chairs. Liza Stanley brought relatives to help decorate. Wilfred and Jayson Stanley hauled chairs. Loren Victor and Beverly Robertson came to sing solos with the kids, the teachers handled last minute signage, and the children came to proclaim the good news.

But the BIG story is, 300 people did NOT come…

Over 550 people came! The gym was filled with almost 700 people including the students… Standing, on bleachers, against the side walls.

The Savior the children proclaimed and the people worshiped was the Savior that took care of all the details. The Savior that has taken care of our biggest problem, sin, also took care of our littlest problem (that we incorrectly thought was big) – chairs!

The Service, Reformation 500 Christmas: Promise Foretold. Gospel Retold. To Scripture We Hold, rang out boldly to more people that any of us expected!

Ben Pagel is principal of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School. He and Pastor Joe Dietrich of Bylas cannot thank the Apache men of the Peridot-Our Savior School Board and Bylas Church Council enough for all they did to make the school Christmas Service happen! These Apache Lutheran leaders are taking this 1st WELS world mission to new heights. Keep them and their work in your prayers.

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Sean Young, Director of Missions Operations, and his wife Kirsten visited our WELS mission field in the area around Novosibirsk, Russia in October 2017. Kirsten documented their stay:

It really hit me at 12:30am when we were standing on the tarmac in rainy Moscow, all trying to get on the plane at once, that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

I have met and spoken with both Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife Jennifer before, and I really enjoyed our conversations in the past. I knew we would be very comfortable as their guests during our stay. Our first day in Novosibirsk was spent adjusting to the time change in the fresh air of the Siberian countryside, while getting to know some of the national pastors and vicars. After some much needed recuperation, I could fully enjoy Sunday church services with our Russian brothers and sisters.

We attended two churches, one in Iskitim and the other in Akadem. I didn’t realize how lost I was going to feel during the services. I really wanted to follow along during the first service because I recognized the music, but I could not place where they were. I then realized that’s what it must be like for others to try and hear God’s Word in someone else’s language. Thankfully, we had a wonderful translator in Kate Wolfgramm. During the second service in Akadem I was able to find a Russian hymnal to follow along more and sing some of the hymns. The choir sang during the service and it was so wonderful to just listen and let the Holy Spirit work in my heart since I couldn’t understand the words.

Jennifer Wolfgramm prepares the Children’s Choir in Iskitim

While Sean met with the Russian pastors and took care of the mission operations business during the trip, Jennifer Wolfgramm showed me around Novosibirsk to take in the sights. We toured multiple art museums and cathedrals. From an artist point of view everything was fantastic! But from a Christian’s point of view (who knows the truths of scripture) it was sad to see people not only praying, but KISSING the frames of paintings and relics of either Mary or the Saints. I wanted to go around telling everyone they didn’t need to do that! One of the chapels we tried to visit was closed… but what was even more sad was the lady that spoke with us and conveyed that she was hoping the chapel was open so she could light a candle and say a prayer to a saint because her grandson was sick. Again, I wanted to explain to her that she can just pray to Jesus.

I’m sure I would be thrown in jail quickly if I lived in a foreign mission field.

Kirsten Young with a Russian Shut-In

The Sunday before we left, we were again blessed to attend church in Iskitim. I was prepared this time, making sure to grab a Bible and hymnal from the apartment we were staying in. We only needed Kate to translate the sermons. It was spiritually uplifting (and made me cry both times) to receive communion at both churches with people half way around the world – knowing that they believe in the same thing as me. After church, I got to help Jennifer teach Sunday school to the preschoolers. I helped a 4-year-old boy put together a craft, which was amazing that we could complete it since neither of us knew what the other was saying.

When I think about our visit, I still get chills thinking about prayers we said together – to think that even halfway around the world they’re still understood and applied the way we apply it and the way God intended. We can’t say enough how wonderful of hosts the Wolfgramms are! Thank you, God, for the experience of a lifetime!

Want to see more photos and videos from their trip? Visit the WELS Missions Flickr Album.

Cultural Insights:

  • The Greek Orthodox church is the only religion allowed to freely practice anywhere in the country by the Russian government
  • Russian meals usually start with 2-3 different kinds of cold salads
  • Russians don’t like to pass around food dishes at mealtime – there are always 2-3 different dishes of the same thing spread out around the table.
  • Russians don’t talk in public. They all have their pashminas (scarves) around their necks and usually a phone in hand.
  • Russians see an empty glass as one that NEEDS to be filled (this one we figured out on our own)

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Preach the Word – Lectionary Teaching

Treasures Old and New

Lectionary Teaching

A common lament among pastors is the phrase, “I wish that I could get more members in Bible Information Class.” Shepherds know first-hand the value of “refresher” classes to keep sharp on language skills, doctrinal insights, and practical approaches. Similar “refresher” classes are of equal value to members looking to do some catechetical review, explore situation-oriented discussions, and finding renewed confidence for faith-based conversations. Not unexpectedly, a common lament among members who take a refresher Bible Information Class (BIC) is the phrase, “I wish we could get more members in Bible Information Class.”

As we continue our look to the lectionary for opportunities to bring out “treasures old and new,” it is important to consider the role of teaching while preaching. Arguments could be made that biblical preaching and teaching share most of the same characteristics. Preaching and teaching then are neither mutually exclusive nor are they merely different without a distinction.

Allow some distinctions: Biblical preaching is summarizing a section of Scripture to its Christocentric message and proclaiming that message to the eternal healing and spiritual edifying of God’s people.1 Biblical teaching is the broadening of knowledge to the growth in understanding of God’s people. The first is meeting our temporal and eternal spiritual needs through God’s Word. The second is carrying out God’s desire for the continued spiritual growth of his people through God’s Word. As new creations in Christ, we want to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. From this perspective, simply put, preaching meets needs, teaching addresses wants (both God’s wants for us and our Spirit-wrought wants for ourselves).

Preaching meets needs, teaching addresses wants…. Wants tend to be preferred.

Sadly, like many needs and wants, wants tend to be preferred. Years ago, this author preached on Ephesians 5:21-33 under the simple theme: Submit. The PowerPoint presentation slides began with the picture of an elephant rising on the screen as the sentence was stated, “There’s an elephant in the room, and his name is Submit.” This began what amounted to a Bible Information Class lesson on the roles for men and women. It included diagrams, bullet points, and illustrative pictures. While time was spent connecting the biblical roles for men and women to the beautiful picture of Christ and his bride, the Church, the “presentation” was far more teaching than preaching. Afterward, several similar comments were made. “I liked what you did with the sermon today. I learned a lot. You should preach like that all the time.” Perhaps you have experienced similar glowing comments after a sermon that was more of a taught Bible class than a preached sermon.

Just where such comments come from is difficult to identify definitively. Certainly, they are expressions of appreciation from hearts and minds eager to learn. But does didactic preaching as a primary, even exclusive, approach to the sermon offer more of what eager hearts and minds want, rather than what they need? Good preaching confronts and challenges the hardened or apathetic heart. Good preaching seeks to correct the wayward or inattentive heart. Good preaching offers comfort to the aching heart, forgiveness to the guilt-laden heart, and confidence to the questioning heart. All are intimate connections established between God’s Word and God’s people through preaching. They cannot be taught. Teaching is clinical, objective, general in nature. Good preaching is so personal that it leaves the sinner nowhere to run from the law, and it leaves the repentant nothing to doubt in the gospel.

Does didactic preaching … offer more of what eager hearts and minds want, rather than what they need?

Even so, teaching has its place in the pulpit. In contrast to the compliments mentioned above, this author has also received constructive feedback on sermons regarding the need for further explanation. “Pastor, you mention words like justification and atonement in your sermons a lot. But I don’t always know what those words mean.” For us who work with such “big words” on a regular basis, we don’t realize that our average listener doesn’t possess the same working vocabulary. For example, a preacher might quote the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Romans, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (5:11) These familiar and reassuring words mean everything to us, but many listeners may never get past the word justified. Consider teaching while preaching:

Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ went to war and died as a real substitute, paying for the sins of the world, for your sins, for mine, so that because of his shed blood every person on earth can be justified—declared not guilty, forgiven—in other words, you have peace.

Taking a moment to teach, explain, and broaden the individual listener’s understanding, deepens the reassurance of peace through Jesus.

Another role that teaching has in the pulpit is to broaden understanding of biblical settings, cultural differences, and regional observations. An example is the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat from Matthew chapter 13. It is difficult to fully grasp the impact of the weeds sown by the enemy. Consider teaching while preaching:

The weeds most likely sown were a plant called darnel, a Eurasian ryegrass. It looks like wheat until it is more matured and the developing fruit finally identifies it as a noxious weed. What a vivid picture of how we often see little difference between the children of light and the children of darkness. There is both warning here and assurance from Jesus: By their fruit you will recognize them (Matthew 7:20).

Taking the time to broaden the listener’s understanding of a regional weed deepens the connection between God’s Word and God’s people.

The danger comes when teaching is included to the exclusion of good preaching.

For many, this inclusion of teaching while preaching may seem obvious, second-nature even.

It is not just a necessity. Teaching while preaching is a true blessing from God to his people. The danger comes when teaching is included to the exclusion of good preaching. Gone would be the personal connections between God’s Word and God’s people. Sermons would spend more time addressing what people want to learn, and less time addressing what people need to hear. Preaching must be primary and teaching must be secondary. Yet teaching resonates with listeners, instructs the uneducated, and explains mysteries. Teaching broadens knowledge. It has its place.

Early church fathers were known to include liturgical and catechetical instruction in their preaching. One genre of preaching was known as “mystagogical catchesis.” These were delivered by bishops during the week after Easter to instruct the newly baptized about the meaning of the sacramental rites in which they had just participated.”2 These were not Sunday morning, general gathering sermons, however. They were sermons designed specifically for a targeted gathering of catechumens. And yet, they offer further examples of how teaching can be both integral to and prominent in preaching.

Consider once again the lament mentioned above, “I wish that more members were in Bible Information Class.” Is there opportunity to bring BIC elements into our preaching? Look no further than the lectionary to find opportunity for such treasures old and new. A BIC is a systematic approach to broaden understanding of biblical doctrine. But stepping into the pulpit on Maundy Thursday to teach a BIC lesson on Holy Communion as a Means of Grace would not only miss the point of the service, it would also fail to connect the loving example of Jesus to the people who need to hear it. There needs to be a blend of teaching and preaching to broaden the mind and touch the heart.

Working within the liturgical context of the lectionary, there are myriad opportunities to review biblical doctrine within the framework of the Church Year and the appointed lessons. Not only does this provide the “refresher” and broadened doctrinal understanding that many need, it also deepens the connection between God’s Word and his people.

Working within the liturgical context of the lectionary, there are myriad opportunities to review biblical doctrine.

Consider the Gospel Reading appointed for Epiphany 5B, Mark 1:29-39 (February 4, 2018). Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law and then is inundated by crowds of people. He slips off by himself in the early hours of the morning leaving the disciples to search for him. When they find him, they exclaim, “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus’ response is an opportunity to talk about how God responds to prayer, especially when it seems as if he’s wandered off and not listening.

There is no trick, no secret, to reach the live person of Jesus Christ. We are assured In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. So, bring your every request to the Lord. Be generic. Be specific. Be bold and confident, knowing that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer (1 Peter 3:12). But don’t get discouraged if you don’t get your way in your time and according to your plan. Rather ask…and then…wait for it…wait for him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. He will come with exactly that—immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine—according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).

While not a didactic approach to prayer, the paragraph connects the gospel account to the prayer lives of God’s people through the sedes doctrinae found in any BIC lesson on the subject.

The Season of Epiphany provides many more opportunities for lectionary “teaching” as Jesus is “revealed” throughout the Sundays. The following are some ideas for teaching Christological doctrine while preaching on the gospel readings from St. Mark.

Epiphany 1
Mark 1:4-11
The Baptism of Our Lord – Jesus is anointed and identified as the Son of God.

Epiphany 2
John 1:43-51
Jesus calls the first disciples – Jesus is identified as the Son of Man.

Epiphany 3
Mark 1:14-20
Jesus calls Peter and Andrew – Jesus is identified as the fulfillment of prophecy.

Epiphany 4
Mark 1:21-28
Jesus teaches with authority – Jesus is identified by his teaching.

Epiphany 5
Mark 1:29-39
Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law – Jesus is identified by his healing.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Mark 9:2-9
The transfiguration of our Lord – Jesus is identified by his mission.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


1 Consider early apostolic sermons in Acts 2, 4, and 13. The common pattern is connecting the fulfillment of messianic prophecy in Christ to the lives of listeners.
2 Senn, Frank. Christian Liturgy, p. 112


Treasures from the Archive

With twenty years of archives to hand, there is a storeroom of treasure to behold in past issues. The following abbreviated article speaks to the broadening of the listener’s understanding of context.

Location, Location, Location

The impromptu homiletics lesson was memorable. “What is the key to giving your sermons a certain sense of depth?” a vicar once asked a veteran pastor who was well-known as a “good preacher.” The pastor hesitated briefly, then replied with a smile: “Location, location, location.” He knew that the vicar was not expecting his answer, nor did the vicar immediately understand what he meant. What did a real estate adage have to do with sermonizing? “I’m trying to emphasize the value of context,” explained the pastor. “Real estate agents know that where a property is situated is often more important than the amenities a home might offer. The setting is more significant than some of the specific details. I’ve found that exploring the context of a text—the immediate setting, the wider issues of ‘to whom’ and ‘for what,’ even considering what a text has meant to the church—supplies me with lots of ideas that give the sermon some dimension.”

The veteran pastor went on to explain that from his perspective one of the weaknesses of novice preachers was that they often equated text study with word study. The resulting sermon tended to expound on key words and phrases and attempted to apply the concepts to today’s world. The sermons were rather “generic” in terms of explanation and application. “They’re thin,” he asserted. “Too many trees. Not enough forest. The meaning is not developed with enough sense of connection to time and place and usage. I mean, I once heard a sermon on ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ that was all about the temptations of wealth. The whole sermon took its structure from the word ‘rich.’ It wasn’t false doctrine, but the sermon didn’t really preach the text. I’ve heard preachers do that with words like ‘mercy’ or ‘grace’ or ‘peace.’ They explain the meaning of the word, then attempt to apply it. Those kinds of sermons turn out to be a bit vague and general.”

He continued to discourse. Note authorship, when possible, for Psalm texts. If it is David, or Moses, you have the accounts of “life history” to give the prayers or pleading or praise a real-life setting. Many Old Testament texts are so rich with context that the specific law and gospel are almost always indicated by the setting. He said that he had preached recently on Psalm 118. The text study produced connections that supplied structure and depth. The central verse—“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”—is a direct quotation from the Song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15. The psalm was also used after the return from exile as part of the Passover liturgy—and it may have been the “hymn” Jesus sang with his disciples before they left for Gethsemane on Thursday of Holy Week. Psalm 118 was also a favorite of Martin Luther and supplied what some call his motto verse: “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” The three levels of “context” provided compelling elements of application. The psalm begins and ends with “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever,” but “this text was about much more than a table prayer.” “The epistle letters were written for specific reasons,” he added, changing the focus a bit. “I know that seems too obvious, but it’s a reminder not to remove the instruction too far from its intended meaning.”

Don’t some preachers spend too much time on historical setting and background? “Fair enough—there needs to be some balance. But don’t forget the verse from Ecclesiastes: ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’ Ancient texts—and ancient contexts—are always relevant.”

Professor Paul Koelpin – Volume 17, No.5


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Renovation: St. John, Burlington, Wisconsin

Sanctuary interiors are like wedding photos. They are snapshots in time of a sacred event. They represent a Christian congregation at its finest, offering the Lord their very best.

When a couple gets married, they’ve spent months, even years, planning for the big day—whether that wedding is a small gathering of family members or a large church full of people. And when the service is over and the wedding photos are taken, the bride and groom are as joyous, stunning, and well-dressed as they will ever be. So it is with sanctuary interiors. When a worship space is constructed or renovated, months, even years, have been spent planning for the work—whether that sanctuary is the small, redesigned storefront of a mission congregation, or the towering edifice of a well-established, 1000 member congregation. And when the construction is complete and worshipers gather in the newly renovated space, the sanctuary interior is as joyous, stunning, and well-dressed as it will ever be.

But as wedding photos age, the attractive couple therein—still beautiful—is inevitably locked into that moment in time, with its fashion style, its look. You can usually guess in which decade a couple was married by looking at the wedding photos. And you can usually guess which decade a church was built by looking at its sanctuary. As the worship space ages, it still remains beautiful in its own right. But it is locked into a moment in time, with a certain style, a look.

St John's, Burlington, WI - Before

Before

St. John’s Lutheran in Burlington, Wisconsin is a beautiful church with a long, rich history. Founded in 1858, the congregation built their first church building in 1875. But impracticality in maintenance and growth in membership required new construction. In 1980 a brand new, gorgeous sanctuary was erected and dedicated to God’s glory…representing the very best of 1970s style. And just like a wedding snapshot from the 70s—picture periwinkle suits and puffy white dress sleeves—the St. John’s sanctuary retained the look of that era. Bright orange carpeting covered the entire floor and chancel. Low hanging light fixtures were “buoys of light in a sea of darkness,” according to our design architect. The balcony, which was originally designed for extra seating but later became the “choir loft,” was impractical for musicians. New lighting, new flooring, new balcony design—these became the focus of our renovation.

Lighting

Longtime members of St. John’s and members of the original church building committee say our nave pendants gave inadequate light from day one. Even at the original church dedication some people were disappointed. Apparently the lighting contractor actually said, “Well, it’s a lot better than other churches we’ve done.” Before the renovation, some people would sit directly under the light fixtures just so they would have enough light to see the hymnal.

So we hired an architectural design firm to put together a new lighting plan for us. No more low hanging pendants, which create an artificial ceiling of light. Now we have linear banks of lights hanging only a few feet from the 40’ high ceiling deck, as well as high-powered can lights pointed down at the pews. We also added additional LED spotlights to brighten the chancel area and replaced the narthex lights with bright LEDs.

St John's, Burlington, WI - After

After

What a change! Now all can see the hymnal and the service folder—and each other. Now we can see the beautiful, golden varnished, knotty pine ceiling deck. (When people asked us what we did to the ceiling, we said, “We just put light on it.”) Now we can see the carefully detailed carvings on the face of our large, chancel cross. Now we can see the face of the pastor in the pulpit. Now we can see how badly we needed new lighting.

Wedding photographers used to comment to me about how difficult it was to take good pictures. Members used to lament that they couldn’t see the expressions on the pastors’ faces. Some people with decent vision used the large-print service folder, just for added help. Not anymore.

Some of the members of the original church building committee said afterward that this is the kind of lighting they wanted from the very beginning. There is a happier, more celebratory atmosphere noticeable in the sanctuary now. Instead of a dark, intimidating house of worship, now we gather in a bright, joyous space to receive Word and sacrament with fellow believers.

There is a happier, more celebratory atmosphere.

Flooring

The time for flooring change was overdue. The orange carpet had become a laughingstock among members. People talked about purposefully spilling coffee on the floor to force the update. I don’t think anyone actually did that, but we did have plenty of sippy cup spills and accident stains. We even had a large bottle of Communion wine slip from someone’s hands and crash to the floor, leaving permanent traces. And try as we might, we just couldn’t lift the stains and return the orange carpet to its original glory (?). The anecdote shared often at congregational meetings was, “If we get brand new lights, then we’re going to see just how bad the carpet really is!” Since the pews needed to be removed for the electricians’ lifts anyway, we decided now was the perfect time for new flooring.

Our sanctuary floor slopes down toward the chancel, like in a theatre. So we decided to keep carpeting in the aisles and entryway. But, mindful of improving the natural acoustic of the space, we installed under the pews a hard surface—luxury vinyl planking. Congregational participation in song and liturgical dialogue has improved greatly. Now worshipers can hear themselves and those around them speaking and singing better than ever before.

Congregational participation in song and liturgical dialogue has improved greatly.

Symbols of the means of grace

Symbols of the means of grace

For the chancel we wanted the very best. The chancel deserves the best because its furnishings remind us of how the means of grace are delivered through Word and sacrament. So we installed a lovely ceramic tile which coordinates well with the wooden chancel furnishings, brick walls, and bright reredos wall. All the hard surfaces have greatly improved the acoustic of the room, and the carpeted aisle ways alleviate slip concerns—a win-win for everyone.

Additionally, we installed under the carpeting a hearing loop system, which wirelessly transmits the signal from our church audio system directly into hearings aids equipped with t-coil technology. This allows worshipers with hearing loss to finally hear the service and sermons clearly, as opposed to picking up all the ambient sounds taking place in the sanctuary around them. Our hearing impaired members speak very favorably about the new hearing loop technology.

Balcony

Our balcony was impractical for musicians, and yet most of our musical ensembles perform from the balcony. Since our members typically do not sit in the balcony for worship, we decided to completely redesign the floor plan to allow for more flexibility for our musicians. Faceted floor risers now allow a director to stand front and center, with a choir wrapped around them in a semicircle. Fixed balcony pews were replaced with individual, stackable chairs. Handbell tables, previously retrofitted over existing pews, are now positioned more comfortably on the risers. Custom cabinets for choir folders, sheet music, and bell cases have decluttered the previously disorganized work area. Now the balcony is versatile enough to meet the needs of vocal, brass, string, guitar, and children’s ensembles.

Here’s one small but impactful change we made to the balcony: we replaced the glass panels of the balcony railing with an attractive façade of steel cables. This allows music to pass unhindered through the balcony railing, instead of being blocked by it. And the result was not the industrial appearance some feared. Now the congregation often comments on how much better they can hear the handbells, choirs, and organ.

An attractive façade of steel cables allows music to pass unhindered through the balcony railing.

Speaking of the organ, we gave our congregation’s main instrument for worship a complete makeover. The relay system was replaced with digital components, the electrical wiring was updated, the console was touched up, and the inoperative pedals and stops were all fixed. Once tuned and voiced, the organ now sings in the acoustically enhanced space like never before. “Majesty” is the word that comes to mind when I think about the refurbished organ. (The impact from an improved acoustical setting applies to any instrument, not only a pipe organ, and especially to congregational singing.)

We also use piano for worship quite frequently. The old keyboard was becoming glitchy. So now a digital baby grand piano accompanies choirs and leads worship from its own designated space near the organ. In sum, the balcony has become a dream come true for our musicians.

Committee Work

Sometimes working on a committee can be a drag, especially when competing personalities clash and narrow-minded stubbornness prevails. But when a committee is comprised of people passionate for the project, united on the goal, and committed to a cooperative spirit, committee work can be a real joy.

That was the case for our Sanctuary Refurbishment Committee (SRC). We sometimes had different ideas and strong feelings, but God blessed us the kind of camaraderie that makes working together for the common goal exciting and fun. In our four years together as a committee, I can’t recall the men and women of our SRC ever speaking sharply to one another. Instead, our meetings were characterized by prayer, patience, perseverance, and productivity—and frequently some homemade chocolates from a chocolatier on our group.

Member Commitment

It certainly wasn’t just the SRC forwarding the renovation project, however. The congregation really took ownership, as well. Our last Sunday in the old sanctuary was July 16. After the second service, over fifty members came together to prepare the room for renovation. Together we removed all the pews, ripped up all the carpet, and put into storage all the Bibles, hymnals, and church furnishings. It was an inspiring display of congregational solidarity.

An inspiring display of congregational solidarity.

So was the inflow of donations. We started with some savings and memorial seed money. But within a few short weeks, the necessary $270,000 was raised to complete the project debt-free, without the guidance of a special funding program. The outpouring of financial support for the project was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to fund the project, at whatever level they were able. God’s Spirit moved the members to contribute to a project they knew would outlive themselves and benefit the next generation.

For fourteen weeks we worshiped in our school gymnasium, which meant changes for everyone. The altar guild had to set up Communion in the school kitchen. The accompanists had to play the piano in front of everyone. The pastors had to preach from a school stage. The worshipers had to sit on metal folding chairs. The ushers had to rethink their responsibilities. The singers had to do without their harmony lines from the hymnal. We all had to worship on a basketball court. And we all had to pitch in to make sure chairs were set up and the gym was worship-ready. But the comforts we lost were made up for in the unity we strengthened. We realized that it’s okay to worship in a hot gym; it’s okay for the pastor to not wear his robe; it’s okay to stand for Communion; it’s okay for the bell to not be struck at the beginning and end of the Lord’s Prayer; it’s okay to sing everything from the service folder; it’s okay for the bleachers to be the worship backdrop. It wasn’t ideal. But it did bring us together as a congregation; it did remind us that “Where two or three gather in my name” (Mt 18:20), there Jesus is with us; it did make us eager to return to our renovated worship space.

Project Stories

Two fun stories may give the readers a chuckle. We ordered the wrong spotlights for the chancel. Somehow, somewhere communication broke down, and the wrong pieces were shipped. Replacement would have been easy enough, but by the time the second order was placed, we were running short on time. We had already set the rededication date, and we had a large wedding the following Friday. Then we received word that the correct spotlights and housings were delayed—by several weeks!—due to manufacturing complications. So one of our committee members baked homemade, chocolate chip cookies, drove them to the manufacturer 100 miles away, gave them to the production staff, and urged them kindly to speed along our order. We got the lights just in the nick of time!

Then, once the electrician had the lights installed, I was with him up in the lift, over forty feet in the air, positioning them to correctly shine onto the chancel. In order to reach the lights furthest from the lift, the electrician stood on top of the railing of the lift, leaned well over the edge of the lift, and stabilized himself with one hand on a ceiling beam. This made me more than a little nervous, and I expressed to him my concerns. He said to me, “Don’t worry, Pastor. I do this for a living.” I looked up at him and said, “Well, I do funerals for a living!” He got the point.

Rededication

We rededicated the St. John’s sanctuary on October 22. We used the same hymns, Scripture readings, even much of the same rite of dedication from the original dedication in February 1980. The theme for the project, and the occasion’s sermon text, was Psalm 26:8—“Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.”

And that love for God’s house was evident that rededication day. There were tears, smiles, and hugs. There was sense of accomplishment and a feeling of humility. There was Word and sacraments as the congregation heard the gospel, tasted the gospel, and witnessed an infant washed with the gospel. There were gifts given by God to his people—forgiveness and grace. And there was a gift given by God’s people to their Lord—a refurbished sanctuary dedicated to his honor, glory, and praise. “‘Tis Thine for us, ‘tis ours for Thee” (Come, Jesus, from the Sapphire Throne, TLH 634:2).

And pictures were taken, just like at a wedding, because the rededication of this sanctuary was a snapshot in time of a sacred event. The sanctuary looked as joyous, stunning, and well-dressed as ever—same beautiful church, with a new, updated look.

I suppose the comparison would be to a husband and wife renewing their vows. They probably aren’t wearing the same clothes they wore years ago on their wedding day. Their outfits are new, their look updated. They are the same attractive couple as in the original wedding photos—still beautiful, still the same people—but no longer locked into that moment in time.

St. John’s sanctuary no longer looks locked in the 1970s. It’s still the same beautiful church, the same dignified house of worship it was at its 1980 dedication. But now some new photos can be added to the album—photos of an attractive, refurbished space with a fresh look and a new outfit, a place where God will continue visiting his people and where people will continue meeting with God.

And this renovated sanctuary is where the people of St. John’s will worship, until it needs refurbishing again, or until we make it to the sanctuary that needs no refurbishment committee—the holy, heavenly dwelling of the Most High God, where Jesus will someday bring us to live with him for eternity, and where all Christians will joyfully exclaim, “Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.”

By Kirk Lahmann

Pastor Lahmann has served at St. John’s in Burlington, WI since graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2009.


Additonal Photos

Additional photos and the dedicatory service folder are available at https://worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-renovation-projects/.

 

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Not a Bite Left, but a Hunger for More

We wanted all members to come together for fellowship. It didn’t work. We wanted everyone to hang out after church and visit. It didn’t work.

HOWEVER, something else worked! We didn’t see it at first…

Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. hosted their annual Christmas Dinner – a Mexican Fiesta on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Church was full that morning. The dinner was for all the members. As requested, after church and Bible class the members were given extra time to go home, get their dishes and bring them back for the potluck an hour later.

Only it didn’t work. Most of the congregation members didn’t come back. At first we hardly had anyone and not many dishes to pass at the Mexican Fiesta potluck. YIKES! “I was worried, even though I know I shouldn’t worry and God will work things out.” exclaimed Cecelia, the president of the Ladies Group.

And then enough dishes came. Several families came. Community members who hadn’t been to church in years and several interested neighborhood children came – children who invited their parents who wouldn’t come but said their kids could come. People who had heard about the “Mission Church” and had seen us at community events came.

And so, IT DID WORK. We served food to all of our guests, and some even took extra plates for relatives at home. The last person to eat found one piece of everything left! It was really quite miraculous. Several community members were able to get to know our members. Some even exchanged cell phone numbers so they could join in future events. Members brought friends and family who hadn’t met the pastor yet (who has been here for a full year now) and made solid connections with invites to visit.

There wasn’t a bite of food left at the end – but miraculously we had enough food for everyone and extra for them to take home to hungry relatives that live in their family trailers. And everyone left with a hunger for more Christian fellowship!

Cecelia was satisfied and happy. She had prayed God would use this opportunity to God’s Glory and accomplish whatever He wanted. And for her, she once again learned what we all often have to be shown over and over: that we don’t have to worry. God will always use our efforts to His good plans and for the people He loves!

Cecelia Dillon has served as Ladies Group leader at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. for years – maybe decades. She, her husband and her young and grown children often organize and serve at fellowship gatherings, demonstrating the gift of hospitality that often opens the doors to sharing the Gospel with others.

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn more about this world mission field, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

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Time to Tell the Story

One of the many differences about living and working in East Asia is this time of year, Christmas-time. Instead of reminding everyone about the “real meaning” of Christmas or reading about how we need to stop the materialism and stress to enjoy Christmas, I’ve found that over here I more often get to share the answer to this most basic question: “What is Christmas?” Each time I’m asked the question, I’m given another chance to sling my well-rehearsed What-Is-Christmas story. And, “well-rehearsed” is the right word. I probably told the Christmas story individually over 30 times last year. That’s a lot of telling and retelling. Last year, as Christmas drew closer I thought, “I’ll be glad when this is over because I’ve been telling the same story so many times”. I was getting flashbacks of practicing for Christmas pageants as a child, mechanically shout-speaking the words of Luke 2, “IN THOSE DAYS CAESAR AUGUSTUS…” But as Christmas arrived, my attitude was refocused as I got to thinking…

First, I appreciate the opportunity to focus the Christmas story. Sometimes we pack the nativity scene with extra characters, metaphorically and literally, finding every possible story that relates to Christmas to give it a fresh look. However, I’ve found that retelling the simple story of Luke 2 helps me cut it down to the basics. The conditions tell us Jesus’ beginning was a humble one, yet the angels tell us this was a massive event. After telling it so many times, I find myself ending the story by saying something like, “Basically God loved us so much he sent his own son to save us.”

It’s after telling people this focused message over and over that I see just how important this event is. This is God’s love put into action. Here is where I consider myself blessed to have heard other aspects of the Christmas story – of all those who waited for a Savior, or of those who scoured the writings for news about his coming, or about how so many promises of God were completed in this birth. It’s such an important point that I have to add it to my retelling. Unfortunately, I can’t share every detail every time without drawing a blank stare, but I’ll keep working on it. Nonetheless, all those facts tell me that Jesus’ birth is a massively important event – for me and for the person I’m telling it to.

Be like the Bethlehem shepherds, sharing the news of Christ’s birth

That leads me to these thoughts: How can I feel worn out from telling this amazing and important story?! And, how could it feel old when these people are hearing this news for the first time ever?! At Christmas, I’m excited to play the role of a shepherd of Bethlehem who goes throughout the city telling people “about this child.” I’m able to do this because our synod loves these people so much that they support and allow me to live over here to tell them. It’s even more exciting to see the people that have learned the Christmas story and are now becoming “Bethlehem shepherds” themselves, telling this story to others clearly and more naturally in their native language – sharing it better than I ever could.

This isn’t just a phenomenon on this side of the globe. There are people where you live that need to hear the Christmas story too, whether it’s for the first time or retold for the who-knows-how-many-time. This story is worth telling and retelling.

After thinking it through, I was excited for Christmas, and I’m excited for the new year. Let’s go tell the story of Jesus and his love.

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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A Most Blessed, Christ-filled Christmas from Malawi

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I just have to smile. After all, it’s Christmas time! It’s the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I just have to smile.

I just have to chuckle, too. Christmas is also a time that I do.

Here’s why: at Christmas time my family and I display some of our nativities in remembrance of our newborn King. When setting them up and seeing them displayed, my mind immediately recalls the time I once bought a Crèche in an open air market here in Lilongwe, Malawi.

What’s so funny about that?

Picture this: Mary and Joseph and Jesus, some shepherds, the Wise men, a star,1 a cow, a couple of sheep, a donkey or two…

and a hippo.

My Nativity Scene Hippo celebrating the season

Ok, granted, it is Malawi. It is Africa. And hippopotami are abundant here. And to top it all off, it is a very different culture from the USA. But a nativity scene hippo? Hmmm… maybe this explains a few things.

For years I always pictured that Joseph was wide-eyed in amazement because of the birth of the Baby. Now I’m wondering if his eyes were like saucers because he was a bit worried and astonished that the three-toed, barrel-shaped beast with the beady eyes, big mouth, and bad breath was meandering just a bit too close to the manger.

We all love to sing Silent Night and we seem to think that all was indeed calm, but now I doubt if it was really all that quiet. I mean if

the cattle were lowing,
the sheep were baaing,
the donkeys braying,
and now the hippo gets a bit edgy and chimes in with its snorting, grunting, bellowing and blowing, then maybe the Baby was crying after all with the noise!

And yet we faithfully and confidently proclaim “No crying He makes” when we sing Away in a Manger. Yikes! Strange thoughts run through my mind! I just have to chuckle. I guess it’s fun to have fun with it. Gives a lighter side to the very important and monumental fact of Christmas:

The INCARNATION!

The “ten dollar” word that means God became Man. The second Person of the Trinity, True God, became the “first-born among many brothers,” True Man! (Romans 8:29).

Born to die!
Died to live!
Descended to earth so that we might ascend to Heaven!

That means we can sing Joy to the World with gusto all year round if we want! We have untold, incalculable, immeasurable, even indescribable joy not just on the 25th of the last month of the year. That gives us reason to worship every day of the year!

And worship we do. All around the globe Lutherans are worshiping this Christmas season. Which brings up something to ponder again at this time: Lutherans worship in different cultures and different cultures worship in different ways. Lutherans in fellowship worship in different ways. Even at Christmas.

The instruments played in your church may not be the ones in ours. Dancing choirs may be common place here, but not there. Your congregation dresses one way, but they do so very differently on the other side of the world…or maybe even on the other side of town.

There really wasn’t a hippo in the stable on that first Christmas in Bethlehem, but it didn’t seem to bother the marketer much that he included one in the nativity set he sold me. I walked away with a good deal and a good deal to ponder each Christmas in Africa: there are many differences at Christmas time in Malawi compared to an American Christmas in Wisconsin. Here are some:

  • No snow! While you may be singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” we are opening up our umbrellas because it’s the front end of the rainy season.
  • Decorations? There are a few but there are probably more in one Wisconsin Walmart than in the whole country of Malawi.
  • I’ve never seen a Christmas tree set up in a Malawian house.
  • Strings of lights framing houses? Are you kidding? Most houses don’t have electricity hooked up and the ones that do don’t have power most of the time anyway.
  • The most common and most favorite Christmas meal in Malawi seems to be chicken and rice.
  • I have never seen or heard of a Living Nativity in Malawi enacting the Christmas story. (Maybe it’s because it’s too difficult to get the hippo to cooperate).

Plenty of differences, but there are also similarities:

God’s people gather for worship.
Sins are confessed and songs are raised.
The Word of God is preached.
The Bethlehem Story is pondered.
Gospel news shared.
Fellowship enjoyed.

The Babe in the manger is honored with humble gifts and worshiped with happy voices. I just have to smile… at the absurdity of it all. There are many things more surprising than a hippo in a Nativity set! Imagine…

A God in love with us!
A night sky of angels exploding in song!
Shepherds who seek!
A virgin birth!
A believing husband-to-be!
God becoming Man!
A leading star!
Wise men who followed and those who still do!

And there still are missionaries who live in far off lands who, at Christmas time, still set up trees, decorate their houses and string lights even though there’s little power. Some still display nativity sets… with or without a hippo. On behalf of the Lutheran Mission in Malawi, have a most blessed Christ-filled Christmas!

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi

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Immediate Blessings in Atlanta, GA

On August 29th, my family and I moved to a neighborhood near the center of Atlanta. We were excited to reach out to this diverse mission field, and we couldn’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit might accomplish here through the power of the gospel.

As it turned out, we didn’t have long to wait! On the weekend of my installation, our core group of lay members set up a booth at a local festival, where they gathered information from nearly 700 people via a short survey. Over 100 people asked to be included on our email list, and several dozen indicated interest in a Bible Basics class. One of them was a woman we’ll call “Rachel.”
What made Rachel particularly intriguing was that in the “church background” box on her survey, she had written atheist. Why would an atheist be interested in a Bible class? I was about to find out…

I soon met Rachel in a local coffee shop for our first Bible Basics lesson. As we discussed the topic of sin, Rachel expressed a great deal of anger. Anger at God for setting an unreachable standard of perfection. Anger at Christians for insisting that their way to heaven was the only way. Anger at her childhood church, which had bombarded her with rules and crushed her with guilt. However, as we moved on to the topic of God’s unconditional love for sinners, Rachel’s anger began to soften. She confessed, “I’ve never heard God described that way before. I understand what you’re saying… but I don’t know that I can believe it.”

The next few lessons took over a month, as Rachel bombarded me with one tough question after another: evolution, the origin of evil, non-Christian religions, the canonicity of Scripture, the end of the world, etc. I didn’t have the answers to all her questions, but I did have the gospel. I explained, “Many Bible teachings are tough to understand, but we have to take this whole book seriously because it’s the only place in the world where we get the gospel.” This made sense to Rachel. She was beginning to see that Christians were not the narrow-minded, arrogant zealots she had once thought them to be – they were simply people who had found the gospel and wanted more of it.

We’ve now made it through Lesson 4 (“The Old Testament”) and Lesson 5 (“The Life of Christ,”), and this walk through Scripture has radically changed Rachel’s view of God. She no longer thinks of God as a cruel dictator, but rather as a patient, loving father. She no longer bombards me with skeptical questions, but rather expresses the gospel in her own words, and talks of sharing it with friends and family. She looks forward to upcoming Bible Study lessons, to our worship launch next summer, and to attending church for the first time in years.

I don’t know what Rachel’s future holds, or if she will end up joining our congregation. But I do know this: after only a few short weeks in the city, God has already used our ministry to add a new member to his invisible Church. He has called a self-professed atheist out of the darkness and into his wonderful light.

Praise God for his powerful Word, and pray that he sends many more “Rachels” our way!

Written by: Pastor Lucas Bitter – Intown Lutheran Church

P.S. – Want to learn more about this new mission start in Atlanta? Visit their website at intownlutheran.com.

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Christmas Expo and a Logo

Getting your church’s name out into the community can be a challenge. It can be especially challenging if you don’t actually have a name for your church yet!

Our new mission in Chattanooga, Tennessee just recently picked our name: Living Hope Lutheran Church. Before choosing this name, we polled people in our community through social media and some good old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing. Out of our list of 5 favorite names, Living Hope was picked more than half the time! Not only did we end up with a great name, but we also had people we are trying to reach help us pick it out! We were able to get our name out in the community before even having an official name.

Asking the community to help us pick a name was fun and successful, so we decided to carry on the idea as we picked a logo for our church. A door for us to do this appeared in the form of a Christmas expo at the Chattanooga Convention Center. This event called “HoHo Expo” allowed us to set up a booth alongside 150 other vendors to sell our product. Instead of selling something, we allowed shoppers to stop by and vote on which of our 6 Living Hope logo options they liked best. As a thanks for voting they received a goodie bag with some info on Living Hope attached.

Over the course of 2 days, we gathered 363 votes from Expo attendees and had some great conversations with people interested in Living Hope. Over 260 of those voting wrote down an email address or phone number so we could contact them afterward and let them know the results of the voting. A good number of people we talked with at the Expo were genuinely interested in our church and wanted to learn more. We’ve already added a handful of those we met at the Expo to our email update list. We even met a WELS woman from Phoenix, Arizona who wants to join our launch team. She’s living in Ringgold, GA and wasn’t aware WELS had a new church here. God continues to bring people to us and blesses us with more opportunities to share the gospel.

HoHo Expo was a great way to get out in the community and create awareness for Living Hope Lutheran Church. The community really seemed to enjoy that we were asking their opinion on our logo. We plan to continue finding ways of showing we are a church that wants to be involved in the community. We will keep our eyes focused outward instead of inward so we can find people around us who are in need of some Living Hope – the kind of hope Jesus freely gives.

We are giving thanks to the Lord for the doors he’s opening for us here in Chattanooga! Please pray for our mission in this growing city. Pray that we are able to connect with many more people and, most importantly, that we get to connect them with God’s Word.

By: Pastor Eric Melso, Living Hope Lutheran Church – Chattanooga, TN


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Mexico – Not Quite Potlucks and Pipe Organs

I’m a pretty WELSie (WELSy?) guy. I could bore you with details, but suffice to say I feel pretty connected to a lot of people in our synod. And I don’t consider that to be a bad thing of course! I truly enjoy seeing how God has woven together people to do his work. I enjoy a good potluck with a long line of Midwest-made casseroles. I enjoy a pipe organ blasting out the old Lutheran favorites.

But I live in Mexico and I serve as missionary in Latin America. My background and what I enjoy might not matter all that much.

In this part of the world very, very few people share my commitment to potlucks and pipe organs. Much more troubling is this: very few people share my Spirit-given understanding of God’s commitment to mankind in his Son Jesus Christ.

While the souls of men are dying (to quote a favorite hymn), you’ve got to ask yourself again and again and again:

Is the most effective way to share the Gospel the way I/we are doing it? Maybe it doesn’t need to be said again (but probably should be stated anyways) that the message will not change. Pure grace is non-negotiable… as is every other stroke of the inspired Scriptural pen.

A fellow missionary on our Latin America Missionary team, Terry Schultz, recently came to Mexico. Terry is a Doctor of Ministry with coursework in Ethnomusicology. Until his recent visit, I wasn’t 100% what that was.

As we toured around Mexico, celebrating the Reformation with a few of the widely scattered Lutherans in this country, Terry shared his songs. Songs designed to share the unchangeable message in ways that make sense to the people who are hearing them.

The confession of sins is there. The song of praise after the absolution is there. The Song of Simeon. Even a Kyrie. Many of the hymns have lyrics ripped directly from the pages of the Bible. To a pretty WELSie (WELSy) guy like me, the music was unfamiliar. Prior to spending the last 11 ½ years in a couple different countries thousands of miles south of the “WELS heartland”, to be honest the beat pounded out on a conga drum probably would have made me at least a little bit nervous.

It did not make the people in Mexico nervous at all. Most of the people who attended the workshops were long-time and/or lifetime Lutherans. They love the message of pure grace in Jesus. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were overjoyed when they heard that precious message expressed with music that makes sense to them and makes sense to the people outside their small gatherings whom they have an overwhelming desire to reach.

At first, Terry tried to get me to play a drum so that I could provide a little supporting rhythm as he played his music on our short tour. Me. The very WELSie (WELSy?) guy with an affection for casseroles and pipe organs. Wrong guy. Putting me on the conga is like putting habanero pepper in your 7-layer salad. But it’s not about me, is it? And if putting the Gospel to a cumbia beat gives our brothers and sisters the opportunity to share Jesus with just one more person, then by all possible means.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

By: Missionary Andrew Johnston – Leon, Mexico

P.S. – Want to learn more about how World Missions and Multi-Language Publications are using ethnomusicology? Check out this video.

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What Do You Really Need?

What do you need to hold public worship services? I mean, what do you really need? What are the things you can’t do without if you are going to worship our Savior? At the end of the day, a public worship service is really simple, isn’t it? God’s Word, people, bread, wine and water – that’s it.

Four walls – optional.
A roof – optional.
Musicians – optional.
Pastor – optional.
Everything else – optional.

These things are beautiful additions to a public worship service, but finally, they are optional.

When Cross of Christ decided to begin worshiping at a second location, we fully trusted God’s promises to be with us always. But, we had to ask, “Where do we start?” We had to decide what was essential to establishing an outpost of the gospel in neighborhoods heavily steeped in both the teachings of Joseph Smith (Mormonism) and in the secular ways of much of the West Coast. What would we absolutely need?

With that question in mind, we began our public worship services. The Word was there. People were there. We included water when necessary and bread and wine as often as we thought was right.

But, while we knew we had everything necessary for public worship that would hold a resurrected Christ before the eyes and hearts of people, we also knew we could do more. We could do better. Enter our Church – to go!

Church – to go! equips churches with all the things that aren’t essential for public worship. They further help congregations that are on the move: congregations that set up and take down week after week because they are in a shared and rented spaces. Since we are only starting out and worship in a local elementary school, Church – to go! matched up very well with our situation.

And so we began a process of using Church – to go! to make our worship if not better, then more comfortable – more welcoming to visitors, and more efficient in setup and take down. If you’ve ever built a new house, you know how many decisions there are to make… the same thing happens when you’re putting together your Church – to go!. There are items for churches of all styles and flavors.

Would we want LED lighting?
A stage?
A piano?
What kind of computer would we need?
What about a kids’ areas?
Would we have kids church?
What kind of signs would we set up and take down Sunday after Sunday?
What kind of trailer would it all go in?
Could we store any of it at the school?

Those are just a few of the questions we faced.

But in the midst of those decisions and all the possibilities, Cross of Christ kept its focus on what was necessary for public worship. We could decide for or against LED lights. We couldn’t and wouldn’t budge on whether God’s Word would be proclaimed as clearly as possible. Did we want pipe and drape? We could go either way, but did we want communion regularly offered for the communing fellowship of believers? Absolutely!

In the end, we are excited and grateful for our Church – to go! and for our WELS fellowship that made sure we had what we needed, and wanted, for worship. Our Church – to go! made our Sunday morning experience more comfortable, more streamlined, and more inviting. Their work has been a blessing surpassed only by our gracious God who has already supplied everything we absolutely need for public worship: his Gospel and people to share it with.

Written by: Pastor Ben Workentine, Cross of Christ Lutheran Church – Boise, Idaho

P.S. – Want to learn more about how this flexible solution is helping home missions reach out with the good news? Be on the lookout for the December WELS Connection showing at your congregation!


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