Unexpected blessings in Paraguay

The Unexpected
It wasn’t a part of the plan. We weren’t supposed to be there. We were on our third move to another new country, with two kids under two years old in less than a year . . . this was certainly not on our radar.

When my wife and I were sitting in the Seminary auditorium for the vicar call service and we heard that we were assigned to Medellín, Colombia for vicar year, we could not have imagined what lay before us. We could not have imagined ourselves living with a wonderful family in Ecuador for two months and going from asking them what “dinner” is called to a tearful and prolonged goodbye as we left them to go to Colombia. We could not have imagined that in only the first two months of our time there, we’d get to know Pastor Herrera, and his wife, Eliana, well enough to leave our daughter with them so we could go to the hospital and welcome our son into the world on Christmas Day. And we could not have imagined getting to meet the mission team in Paraguay to close out the year.

With the help of missionaries, synod workers, lawyers, friends, and family, the plan was made to start us out in Ecuador for two months to learn Spanish full-time and get to know the Academia Cristo Mission Team based there. From there we would go to Medellín, Colombia for the rest of our time to work with Pastor Herrera and the wonderful congregation there. As we neared the end of our time in Medellín, we had some visa issues and so an impromptu plan was made to send us to Asunción, Paraguay, where another Academia Cristo Mission Team is based.

The Blessings
It wasn’t a part of the plan, and it certainly wasn’t on our radar. But it was a part of God’s plan for us. God put us there and we could not have imagined the additional blessings he had planned for us in Paraguay.

As we went from the city of eternal spring – Medellín, Colombia – to a city in the southern hemisphere in the dead of winter (it was still 50s and 60s Fahrenheit so not too cold) – Asunción, Paraguay – we were blessed with the opportunity to learn about another culture and people. We were blessed to learn some Guaraní words as we met with some local Paraguayans and blessed to worship together at the mission house run by a WELS church in Florida. We were able to see God’s wonderful creation at Iguazu Falls in Brazil right across the border from Paraguay. We were fortunate to travel with missionary Abe Degner to Bolivia and meet with church leaders there, in addition to preaching for the new church formed by an Academia Cristo student in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We were blessed to celebrate our daughter’s second birthday with the mission team and have a Paraguayan-style grill-out after church. I also was blessed to visit Academia Cristo students in Argentina, with missionary Joel Sutton, as they considered starting Bible Study Groups that will God-willing turn into churches someday.

Our experience in South America was filled with unexpected challenges and blessings start to finish. But it’s amazing to see how God turns those unexpected plans and challenges into unexpected blessings.

Written by Caleb Koelpin, vicar for World Missions in Medellín, Colombia during 2022-2023.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The gospel in Garden Grove…in three languages!

“Pastor, has there ever been a trilingual ordination service in the history of WELS?”

It was a very good question. This past Sunday, August 6, 2023, the installation and ordination service of two pastor was held at King of Kings in three languages. The three languages were English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Songs, prayers, and Scripture readings happened in all three languages with translations printed in the bulletin. If there had been a trilingual ordination service sometime earlier in WELS history, it was probably not in those three languages.

One of the men being installed and ordained was Rev. Grant Hagen, a Spanish-speaking graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) who had been assigned to a Spanish-speaking congregation. The other man being installed and ordained was Rev. Trung Le, a Vietnamese-speaking graduate of the Pastoral Studies Institute of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, who had been assigned to lead Vietnamese outreach for an English-speaking congregation.

The English-speaking congregation, King of Kings in Garden Grove, Calif., had opened its doors to the Spanish-speaking congregation, Pan de Vida Iglesia Luterana, a couple years earlier. The chancel furniture was from Pan de Vida’s previous location. The man who preached the Spanish sermon, Rev. Luis Acosta of the WELS One Latin America Team, stood behind the pulpit and told the assembly of more than 200 people how ably Hagen had served as a senior vicar in a Spanish-speaking congregation in Milwaukee, Wis.

The man who preached the Vietnamese sermon, Rev. Daniel Kramer from Peace in Jesus in Boise, Idaho, told the assembly, including 20 pastors who had come to participate in the laying on of hands, how Trung Le had come to faith and ably served in the leadership of that congregation in Idaho.

Because the WELS Joint Mission Council is helping with part of the effort, I had the privilege of preaching the English sermon. All three of us preachers used the text Matthew 9:36-38, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Because the Lord sees how harassed and helpless we human beings are, and because he has compassion for us, he knows exactly what good gifts to give as a result of his people’s prayers. On this day, in southern California, he gave two men who are in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. They join Rev. Brian Doebler in Garden Grove, Cal., in proclaiming the everlasting gospel.

In three languages!

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Administrator for Ministerial Education and Joint Missions Council chairman. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Brats and building bridges for Jesus!

Sometimes you just need to be creative.

The core group for a new mission start in Kronenwetter, Wis., was looking for a way to both get the word out that a new church was coming to this growing community, and to begin building a prospect list for sharing the gospel. We knew that there was going to be a community garage sale weekend in mid-summer. This meant there would be a lot of residents moving around the village eager to find bargains and hidden treasures at the nearly 100 garage sales that would be taking place in our target area. They were going to get hungry during the day, and of course some of them would need to go to the bathroom.

The core group got creative and saw a golden opportunity! In this part of our country, folks love their bratwurst as much, if not more, than they do their Green Bay Packers. So, it was decided to hold a free brat fry. We would also use this opportunity to open the doors of Northland Lutheran High School, where the  mission will eventually begin, to allow garage sale shoppers to use the facilities and become familiar with the building and the ministry it does.

On the day of the brat fry, the Lord blessed us with perfect weather. A good number of residents stopped by to take us up on the offer of free brats and hot dogs and to use the Northland High School’s bathrooms. That got them in the door. The banner by the food table proclaimed that a new mission church was coming. This accomplished our exact goal, as questions were asked and comments were made, resulting in natural and easy conversations about our intentions. Most of the people who came wanted to give us free will donations.

While we thanked them for their thoughtfulness and politely refused their money, we asked them instead to fill out a 60-Second Survey. We told them that their opinions were valuable because we wanted our mission church to meet the needs of people living in Kronenwetter. If they wanted to be put on our mailing list for regular updates on how the mission was progressing, they could give us their name and address. Twenty-eight surveys were completed, and nine families are now on the prospect list. It’s a start!

I had the opportunity to meet (and eat with!) a young couple blessed with a four year old daughter. Not long ago they moved to Kronenwetter, they told me that they had Lutheran backgrounds from where they used to live but had not found a new church home. They were concerned because their daughter had not been baptized yet, and now she was starting to ask questions about God. It was obvious to me that they were feeling guilt for not doing a better job of Christian parenting. It was a joy to share with them the good news about forgiveness in Jesus, and to let them know I would gladly work with them to have their daughter baptized and that it wouldn’t cost them anything. I also told them they could bring their daughter to my church’s Sunday School starting this fall. They were thrilled to know that a church was coming soon to help them all grow in God’s Word and love on their journey to eternal life in heaven.

As the core group was cleaning up at the end of the day, the consensus was clear. Even if the only result of the brat fry was this little girl’s baptism, our efforts were more than worth it. But we are confident of God’s blessings and we praise and thank him for letting us use brats and bathrooms to build bridges for sharing Jesus!

Written by Rev. Jeff Mahnke, pastor at St. Peter Lutheran in Schofield, Wis., and chairman of the Western Wisconsin District Mission Board. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Fishing in French in Cameroon

Fresh fish! Look at these fellas and the catch of the day! For one week in the middle of June, two One Africa Team missionaries got to work by the sea in Cameroon with a group of church leaders, not only in English but also in French. As far as anyone can tell, this may have been the first time WELS World Missions has provided in-person training in Africa in French!

Sweating in Douala
Missionary Dan Kroll, who has many years of experience living in Cameroon, Africa, and I went to the port city of Douala, and the church leaders traveled from their inland homes to meet with us there. Douala is a dank, green city on the Gulf of Guinea—and basically on the Equator. Douala is Cameroon’s biggest city and a major port. Where we stayed was right next to where the huge freighter ships docked and there was plenty of fresh fish to eat—even huge, spicy prawns! We got so much fish on the street that the sellers got to know us. . . and rival sellers would tussle over us, trying to physically direct us toward their stalls.

Fish for Souls
But the real reason Missionary Kroll and I were there was not to eat, but to catch fish. More specifically, we were there to help train some local fishermen: a group of leaders from Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod, whose calling from Jesus—like each of us Christians—was to fish for people, not necessarily for fish.

Holy Trinity is not yet in church fellowship with WELS. They are just beginning their journey of exploring the road to church fellowship. This starts with an emphasis on doctrine—specifically, a comprehensive overview of doctrine like you would find in a Bible information course at a church in North America. I’ve known French since I was a teenager and would read Le Monde newspaper, listen to Radio France Internationale, and collect French films in college.

I am thankful that, back in 2013, the Lord called me at my Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduation to serve as a pastor for nine years in Orléans, Ontario, which is on the eastern side of Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Ottawa is the largest bilingual city in the country. While I was there, seeing and hearing French every day, I soaked up a lot of detailed vocabulary, which is coming in handy serving in Africa, where 167 million people speak French.

Teaching God’s Word in French

When Missionary Kroll and I were out an about in Douala, we both got a lot of exposure to hearing French. French is the language of the city of Douala. Seeing the need, WELS Multi-Language Productions (MLP) gave us permission to create my favorite Bible information course—Basic Bible Christianity, by Pastor Jon Buchholz—in French, and use it in our training workshops. We spent time with our new friends in Cameroon focusing in on such aspects of doctrine, such as: communion, baptism, law and gospel, the history of the Bible, and confession, among others.

It is still a new and fresh experience for us to use French in our ministry. It was also a new and fresh experience for our friends from Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod to explore biblical doctrine systematically with a Bible information course presented both in French and in English. We plan to meet with these very same men at all our upcoming workshops so that we can forge personal relationships and make progress as we grow deeper in our studies and our planning together. Missionary Kroll and I hope we grow stronger in our use of French with each visit we make to Cameroon, and we hope the leaders from Holy Trinity will also grow stronger in their understanding and use of God’s Word—which sounds sweet in any language.

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

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sometimes, It’s just clear

If you live in the north central and north east states of our country, you’ve lived with a smoky haze for weeks. Even with wildfires thousands of miles away, the smell of burning forests can sting the nose, limit vision, and threaten fragile lungs. We long for clear skies and fresh air.

Sometimes God lets us struggle through what we think is a smoky haze when the answer doesn’t seem to be clear, or even in sight. He does this to drive us to his Word, drive us to our knees in prayer, drive us to seek counsel and collaborate with fellow saints. This is always for our good, even if we cannot see the good in the moment or a while after we emerge from the haze. And then, sometimes, it’s just clear.

Mission Counselor Wayne Uhlhorn and I left Green Bay Tuesday morning with a heavy haze of smoke filling the air and our lungs as we set off for Marquette, Mich., to hold our next core group meeting. By the time we reached Marquette, the haze was completely gone. The sun was shining brightly and the fresh air filled our lungs. It was just…clear.

I share this not only to relate the wondrous natural beauty God created in the Marquette area, but also because our journey to Michigan works as a great metaphor for the new start in Marquette. Sometimes it’s just clear.

From our first visit two years ago with Pastor Stephen Lehmann until now, and every trip in between, it’s just clear—we need to start a new church in Marquette! This isn’t just the opinion of a mission minded pastor an hour away in Iron Mountain (Lehmann), nor that of a Midwest mission board. From visits we made with movers and shakers in the community to other WELS people we keep finding in the Marquette community, everything and everyone has kept saying…it’s just clear.

Rev. Lindloff, his wife, and their three children.

Rev. Joseph Lindloff, his wife, Julie, and their three children

That’s not to say there hasn’t been haze, trepidation, or uncertainty.

The fall of 2022, our board wasn’t sure we were ready to submit a request for the spring Board for Home Missions meetings. Why? We didn’t have an established and active core group. If you know anything about church planting these days, that’s kind of a big deal! But we knew Marquette was an excellent example where we still need to do some exploratory missions. Obviously, it was just as clear to the Board for Home Missions as it was to us.

Along the way, there has been other haze to contend with. There are naysayers regarding the 100 missions in 10 years initiative (though most who give me the chance to explain will at least understand, if not come to support it). We also had to answer the question, “Why would you start a church in Marquette? We already have one there!” In Marquette County? Yes. In the city? Nope. That said, our goal isn’t that one church close so that another would thrive, but that we would have two thriving congregations in Marquette County. St. Paul’s would focus on the rural community south of Marquette, near Harvey and K.I. Sawyer. The New Start location would focus on the area west of Marquette proper, near Northern Michigan University and the communities of Negaunee and Ishpeming. It’s just clear.

Six months after deciding to move forward with submitting the request for a New Start in Marquette…three months after BHM approval, here Wayne and I were sitting in the beautiful backyard of our gracious hosts, Ashley & Eric Nicholas (the core of the core group), talking about starting a new mission in their community. And just three days prior, Rev. Joe Lindloff had accepted the call to be the missionary of our new start! It’s just clear when you see things come together like this and knowing it’s all part of God’s gracious plan.

And still, there’s more! At this meeting we got to meet two new members of the core group. Evan, a traveling nurse, is looking for a new position closer to home not only so he can be home every night with his wife and child (and #2 on the way), but also so he can help establish a new mission with a man who years ago was a senior he looked up to at Michigan Lutheran Seminary. Next, we met Sydney, who went to NMU to get her graduate degree in counseling. She works at Christian Family Solutions(CFS) and decided to stay in Marquette after completing her degree. Early on in our research for the new start, we saw a huge opportunity if we could get a CFS counselor in an office and on site at the new start. And now, three months after approval, God introduced us to Sydney who is excited by the prospect of setting up shop together with our new mission!

I think by now you’re seeing it too. It’s just clear. God is working in wondrous ways to gather more sheep in the Marquette community. I can’t wait to see what else God has planned for his church in Marquette!

Written by Rev. Ben Enstad, pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Green Bay, Wis. and DMB Chairman for Northern Wisconsin District. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Rivers of living water will flow

Like the loops and curls of the mighty Mississippi River that form the western border of the state of Mississippi, so also are the twists and turns of life that lead unwitting travelers toward Christ’s astonishing grace. Near the river in rural western Mississippi, Pat recalls her childhood days of picking cotton in the fields. Pat and her thirteen siblings attended a Baptist church in Lyon, Miss., where she also participated in summer Bible school and other youth events.

Although Pat quit school in the ninth grade, she kept busy working long hours with her mom in a local department store. When she was 16 her parents separated, leaving her mom to raise the children alone, including one with down syndrome. Looking for a new start, Pat made the life-changing decision to leave her Mississippi home and live with her sister in Indiana at age eighteen. Upon her move to Indiana, her relationship with Jesus stagnated.

Pat settled in Greenwood, Ind., a southern suburb of Indianapolis. In 2007, she and her husband purchased a home in a new subdivision on the southside of Greenwood surrounded by open fields. In one of those open fields, just two-tenths of a mile from Pat’s home, WELS purchased land. In 2014, Builders for Christ volunteers gathered at that open field to construct a new church, Light of Life Lutheran. For years, Pat would drive out of her subdivision and pass by the church.

In the spring of 2023, Pat decided to turn into the church parking lot. She had spotted vehicles unloading food that would be served that evening for the Lenten meal. Pat pulled up to speak with the pastor and asked about the church. One issue that really concerned her was the dress code. As a young girl she often felt judged because of her hand-me-down attire. She wondered if she would need to wear a dress to church, since that was what she was used to when she went to church as a teenager in Mississippi. She was assured that she could come as she was.

Pat attended the midweek Lenten service that evening. Although she admits the service was different from what she was used to, members of Light of Life visited with her after worship. Wading in the gentle current of the river of life, flowing freely from God’s Word, she began attending weekly Bible information class on Monday afternoons. To encourage her, members from the church also attended the class.

The church Pat had routinely passed by had become a place she attended several times a week for worship and Bible studies. Pat said, “It makes me wonder why – it’s like this church has been in my face all these years. And now I finally decided, ‘I am going to stop at this church.’ I know I believed in God, but since I’m an adult, it makes things so much better because I can understand. As an adult it is so different. I feel I need to be here. Now I make a point to be here. It’s a plan. ‘Pat is going to church on Sunday.’”

She appreciates the streams of support in newfound friendships among the members of Light of Life. “I feel like I belong here. And everybody is so helpful.” Pat now seeks to channel her renewed faith in Christ as she finds new ways to be active in the life of the church. May the current of God’s grace continue to overflow in Pat’s life until it leads to the river of eternal life in heaven.

Written by Rev. Scott Miller from Light of Life Lutheran Church in Greenwood, Ind.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Peace like a River

“Peace like a river” was a fitting theme for the 60th Annual Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society Convention, held this past weekend in La Crosse, Wis., held just steps to the Mississippi River. This convention serves as a an annual opportunity for men and women to come together in one place and serve by increasing awareness of, interest in, and support of the mission outreach of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

This year’s convention included speakers from Wisconsin to Ecuador to Colorado to East Asia. Each workshop leader and keynote speaker had something unique to present as a result of their unique mission fields.

Rev. Daniel Lewig, of Richland Center, Wis., spoke on “upcycling evangelism.” He shared examples from personal experience with their church, Bethlehem Lutheran. He reminded attendees that each congregation has it’s strengths and weaknesses, so why not lean into those strengths. They did just that by leaning into their Live Nativity event that had great attendance, and they never looked back. What began as a well attended event, eventually led the church to settle on Bethlehem as their name. How fitting!

Coming from the other side of the country, Rev. Paul Biedenbender and Vicar CJ Fury from Denver, Col. presented on the Vicar in a Mission setting program, which allows seminary students to serve their vicar year at a home mission, or mission minded, church. Vicar Fury was able to give a first hand account of some of the responsibilities and projects he took on during his vicar year at Christ Lutheran, as well as stories of the ministry he’s been able to do this past year.

To speak about World mission work in Latin America, LWMS had Missionary Elise Gross, the director of Women’s Ministry for the One Latin America team, as one of the keynote speakers. Elise told her story of growing up as a missionary child in Antigua and how she now has a missionary child of her own in Quito, Ecuador. She addressed how her role as director of Women’s Ministry has given her an opportunity to connect Latin American women with Academia Cristo, as they have the monumental task of sharing the gospel with their families, which takes strength and courage.

The convention had many other Home and World missionaries who were able to present and share their stories of faith, struggle, success, and unexpected situations in a mission field. Along the way, attendees were also able to receive Home and World Mission updates from Rev. Larry Schlomer and Mr. Sean Young, a 100 in 10 initiative presentation by Rev. Paul Schupmann and Steve Wolf, members of the 100 in 10 task force, and LWMS Business Meeting highlights.

After four days filled with WELS Missions, the 60th Annual LWMS Convention came to a close. The weekend was spent with over 1,200 attendees sharing their love and support for WELS Missions and all by the hand of God, who made all things possible. God willing we will meet again next year in Sioux Falls for the next Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society Convention!

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Faces of Faith – Veronica

I was driving one Sunday morning, and I needed to stop to use my phone. As I was looking for a safe place to pull over, I saw someone holding a sign that read “The Vine Church – Worship Service Today.” I pulled in and parked as far away from the church building as possible, because I had no plans to go in. I just wanted to use my phone.

A woman approached my car with a big, welcoming smile and said, “Come on in for the service; we’d love to have you.” She was super friendly, so I thought to myself, “Why not?”

I had no idea what kind of church it was, but the people inside were friendly too. After I found a place to sit, a young lady came and sat next to me. She made me feel comfortable and not so alone. Pastor Kevin Schultz was awesome. His message really touched my heart as he told us about the undeserved love of Jesus. I knew I was at the right place.

I came back the following Sunday, and I kept coming back every week after that. I became a member of The Vine in Hayden, Idaho, and I never looked back. It’s been wonderful being part of this amazing congregation. I finally found my church home. . . all because the Lord led me to a church’s parking lot to use my phone. He had so much more in mind for me on that day!

Written by Veronica, a member at The Vine in Hayden, Ida. served by Rev. Kevin Schultz. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Worship and Outreach – In a Mission Restart

I have been asked to share how our congregation’s outreach efforts intersect with our worship life. The first part of this article will be a description of those efforts. How do we reach out to our community? What are our worship services like? To be honest, I am not sure those answers will be especially interesting or insightful. I am not an innovator. Worship and outreach, if viewed separately, remain under our control. But where they intersect, the Spirit blows, and things get more interesting, at least for me. I will conclude with excerpts from interviews I conducted with new members about how they experienced our worship.

Background

“Fish or cut bait.”

That was the directive ringing in my ears five years ago when I was assigned to a mission restart in Knoxville, Tennessee. Dwindling attendance, a lack of leadership, and a massive projected budget shortfall meant that the 40-year-old church would not remain viable for long. “Fish or cut bait.”

The frustrating thing about fishing is that the end results are beyond our control. This is also true about those Jesus called fishers of men. But knowing this didn’t necessarily lessen the frustration. It did, though, lead me to focus on the things I could control.

Outreach: The Basics+

To return to our Lord’s metaphor, I didn’t have to learn how to sew a net when I arrived in Tennessee. During my training I had learned numerous ways to engage my community. As I share some of what our congregation has done over the past five years, there may be little, if anything, new for most of you. That is a great thing.

In no particular order, here are some of what I considered “The Basics” as I led our church to actively reach out to our community:

  • Frequently teaching and modeling the appropriate balance between reliance on divine monergism and recognition of human responsibility in outreach.
  • Frequently teaching and modeling outreach as an essential part of our church’s mission without making outreach the sum total (or even the most important part) of our church’s mission.
  • Equipping and encouraging members to invite their FRANs and to share the gospel with them. (Does that acronym make you groan because you have heard it so often? That is another good thing!)
  • Praying for the Lord to give the increase to our efforts.
  • Maintaining a “good enough” online presence. It doesn’t need to be great, but it should be somewhat active and professional. Post-2020, I believe this now includes a livestream or some sort of video content to give a digital window into the church.
  • Personal pastoral care and follow up.
  • Traditional canvassing (rarely) and door hangers (more frequently).
  • Targeting major services (especially Christmas and Easter) for community invites. We send out thousands of postcards and spend hundreds on online advertising. Most importantly, we encourage and facilitate FRAN invites at these times.
  • Maintaining a clean and attractive church building, including decent signage.
  • Making sure guests are “greeted and seated.” I changed the flow of our foot traffic so I would have a chance to personally interact with everyone who enters our building on Sundays.
  • Clear worship folders.
  • Sharing a brief, clear, and compelling welcome and worship focus each Sunday.
  • Encouraging attendees to fill out some form of worship registration.
  • Gathering that information, reviewing it, and following up on guests within 48 hours of their attendance.
  • Maintaining prospect records. Frequently praying for them and following up as appropriate.
  • Frequently inviting guests to a Bible Information Class.

While the goal is that our congregation understand and share in this work, these basics are largely under my control. If need be, I could make everything above happen on my own.

In addition to the basics, we are blessed with unique opportunities to reach out to our community. Several engaged volunteers offer themed educational playdates for children (Mornings with Mommy—more info at knoxvilleshepherd.com/mwm) and early childhood music classes (Music Makers—more info at knoxvilleshepherd.com/aboutmusicmakers). We train these volunteers to engage the parents and invite them, as appropriate, to church.

Finally, our building has a beautiful education wing. When I arrived, it was only being used for Sunday morning Bible study and Sunday School. It sat empty for six days, 23 hours, and 15 minutes each week. For the past four years, we leased it to a small private school that teaches children on the autism spectrum. This provides a valuable service to our community. It has also led to dozens of connections with teachers and families, a boost to our reputation, and some much-needed rental income.

We have been, in our own modest way, fishing. Has it worked? Sometimes, even for months at a time, nothing seems to work. Other times, it all goes according to plan. (Family gets a flyer, attends children’s music classes, meets the pastor, talks about baptism, attends pre-baptism classes which lead to BIC which lead to membership!) Sometimes, people showed up at church out of the blue. (Knoxville is a growing area. People still church shop around here.) Sometimes, they showed up because a friend invited them. Some showed up because we were the only Bible-believing church they could find that was not shaming people for wearing masks. Sometimes, the voice of the Good Shepherd echoed in the conscience of one of his long-lost sheep, leading him to seek out a church after many years away. One time, that voice of God took the form of a pastor who locked his keys in his car and needed to borrow a phone after going for a run in July. (Definitely my sweatiest evangelism story!)

There is always more to say. Bunches of WELS members have transferred in (a perk of being in a growing area) but some transferring away. The quantitative results are largely beside the point, except to highlight the variety of ways in which God may choose to work.

We’ve been blessed with unique opportunities to reach out to our community.

In fact, and to close this section with perhaps the only unusual part of our approach, we have purposefully avoided opportunities to scale up or streamline our efforts. We limit mass messages to prospects. Post-COVID, I teach most BIC classes one-on-one. (We even treat transfers like a special kind of prospect. They take a four-part course before we accept them into membership.) This comes from a series of convictions: People increasingly hate being marketed to. Every soul is not just precious, but unique. Idols hide well, even in small groups. Assent to a series of doctrinal propositions is only a small part of discipleship. This approach also addresses the immense difference in biblical knowledge and faithfulness found among prospects, a gap that will only increase in size as cultural Christianity fades away.

Worship: The Basics+

Worship, to a significant degree, is the goal of our outreach efforts. We want as many people as possible to hear the efficacious Word of God proclaimed in responses, prayers, songs, and sermon. Worship is also something we can control. That control, even for congregations that most aggressively exercise it, has limits. The Spirit blows where he wishes. Lutheran worship has a distinct flavor and progression. People react based on their backgrounds, prejudices, what they’ve heard youth like, and a host of other reasons beyond our control. Yet we do control, at the very least, the songs chosen, the instrumentation, the sermon text, and the sermon itself. We control the effort we put in as we strive for excellence.

Again, I doubt you will find much exceptional in what we do. I wear an alb. We print the order of worship in the bulletin. We sing hymns from the hymnal. We follow the lectionary. We do not offer a staffed nursery or any children’s programming during the service. If we exercise additional control over the order of worship, we do so in a way that we believe to be judicious. You may, of course, disagree. The following is offered as a description of some of those choices. It is not a defense, nor is it a prescription.

  • We often replace the Kyrie/Gloria with a hymn. We appreciate the opportunity to sing an additional song and tie it in with the season of the church year.
  • We take a fewer-is-better approach to song selection, working toward what the old Germans called “Kernlieder” —core hymns that become deeply embedded into the hearts and minds of God’s people.
  • We have introduced some guitar-based contemporary songs into this repertoire, as well as some more modern versions of classic hymns.1
  • We have a children’s sermon after the Prayer of the Day. It explains one of the readings or tells a Bible story appropriate to the day’s theme.

As with outreach so also in worship: our congregation is blessed with several unique advantages. The worship space is attractive and has good acoustics. In a sea of Bible Belt big box churches, we stand out as a church that looks and feels like a church. The Lutheran emphasis on the arrow-pointing-down love of God stands out, too, as does the fact that we allow children to participate in worship. We also have the personnel to worship well. Our members have always sung strongly. My wife is an excellent pianist and choir director. We have other high-caliber musicians.

In a sea of Bible Belt big box churches, we stand out as a church that looks and feels like a church.

The Intersection of Outreach and Worship

We fish, as best as we can control. We worship, as best as we can control. Yet it is impossible to control what happens next, as worship and outreach intersect. But we can notice, appreciate, and learn from the experiences of guests who do join us for worship.

What were your initial impressions?

I found the congregation’s active participation in the worship service more formal than what I was accustomed to with decades of attendance at a Baptist church but a bit more engaging.

I expected that such a formal service would be stone-cold silent, but instead the ambiance of small children was heard throughout the service.

Certainly from the very beginning I really appreciated the music. While performance quality is a nice addition, what I really appreciated was the substance. (The choice of doctrinally solid hymns over worship choruses.)

I appreciated the sermon the most. It was easy to understand, relatable, and it held my attention. Nothing laced with guilt about what you did or didn’t do or how you missed mass last week. It was all about Jesus and his promises.

Did you find anything especially confusing or strange?

I didn’t recognize very many songs (Lutheran songs tend to be a lot older and more theologically dense). The banners marking the church season were foreign to me as I didn’t really know what the church calendar was. The congregational responses were very strange to me as they sounded a lot like chanting.

Phrasing the absolution as “I forgive you” was strange. Was nearly a deal breaker.

The feeling of “not in Kansas anymore” kept running through my head.

The joint congregational responses made me feel like I was in a room with a cult.

The robes were a surprise to me.

I grew to appreciate the congregational responses. I think there is value in stating beliefs corporately as a body of believers.

Have you grown to appreciate any particular part of the service?

After learning of the biblical and historical reasoning for the Office of the Keys, I grew to appreciate audibly hearing that my sins had been forgiven each week. As I learned the truth about Baptism being the historical moment we were brought into the family of God, the subtle reminders of my Baptism throughout the service (primarily through the invocation of the Triune Name) became really profound to me.

Baptist churches put a huge emphasis on the altar call. It is the point up to which the whole service builds; one final opportunity for us to decide to offer our lives to Christ at the front of the church. The Lutheran church, instead, has the Eucharist at this point where Christ willingly gave himself to and for us. Now I see beauty in every piece of it.

I immediately appreciated that creeds were recited, doctrinally rich hymns were sung, and political power/grievances were not the substance of the sermons.

I grew to appreciate the congregational response; I think there is value in stating beliefs corporately as a body of believers.

It took me a long to time to see, believe, and fully embrace that we’re saved by grace and not by our good deeds.

There is an obvious selection bias at play in this sort of conversation. Prior impressions or ignorance of Lutheran worship may prevent someone from visiting our church. A negative impression may prevent them from returning. This is somewhat inevitable.

That said, I have consistently found discussions about worship to be fruitful. I have learned to appreciate parts of the service to which I hadn’t given much thought. I have learned what some appreciate and what others don’t. Sometimes it’s the same thing! Some people did not return because we’re far too liturgical, and others left because we’re not liturgical enough. Some stormed out because of closed communion; others joined because we practice it faithfully and unapologetically. I have heard, “We love everything about your church except that there is no children’s church. We are moving on.” And I have heard, “We are so grateful to finally be able to go to church with our children. What a gift!”

To return to the metaphor at the beginning of this article, these conversations prevent me, a lifelong Lutheran, from being like the proverbial fish swimming along, ignorant of the water. They help me appreciate the manifold ways the Spirit works and highlight just how much of this is beyond my control.

By Scott Henrich

Pastor Henrich graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2018 and has served Shepherd of the Hills in Knoxville, TN since then. While he states in this article that “quantitative results are largely beside the point,” it’s worth noting that attendance has doubled since 2018 to over 140.


1 A growing variety of resources for both are available at online.nph.net/musicians-resource for both congregations with the new hymnal and those using CW93.


Sierra’s reflection

Sierra is a gifted singer, song writer, and guitarist. She and her husband joined the Lutheran church as adults, along with their children. I asked her to reflect on her initial experience attending a Lutheran church, as well as her work as our music coordinator.

When first visiting a Lutheran church—as cheesy as it sounds—it felt like coming home. The church felt like a group of people who collectively loved the Lord. They sang songs that spoke of his promises that specifically claimed his words. As a Christian I had never experienced the level of sound doctrine in congregational worship songs before. While I had always loved contemporary Christian music, I didn’t know what I was missing until I dove into the heart of the Lutheran hymnal.

I was so shocked at the clarity of the sermon. Growing up in multiple denominations, I was used to a very bland sermon. In stepping into the Lutheran faith, I feel like the level of education of the pastors truly shows in their knowledge of Scripture.

I have had the privilege of becoming the music coordinator, and I’m truly loving it! I get to help Pastor pick music for Sunday services. The biggest factor that goes into music choice is Scripture. I would say that the way that the readings are set up every month as a church body encourages a clear guideline for worship that allows me to plan ahead and connect the hymns with the doctrine provided. I would say that some of the hymns are difficult because they are not bland or made to be simple for first-time singing. They are meant to clearly relay the messages of the Bible. I feel truly blessed to help the church choose these songs to sing weekly and to worship our Lord with my fellow believers.


2024 National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts

Save the dates: July 30 to August 2, 2024, at Carthage College, Kenosha, Wis. (Pre-conference rehearsals for the Festival Choir will begin Sunday evening, July 28.)

A 2020 conference was moved to 2021 to better take advantage of new hymnal resources and to link the summer conference with the fall release of the new hymnal. Then, after the pandemic we planned for 2024 to avoid scheduling in the same year as the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership (2023).

Pastors, please forward this info to various people. See wels.net/worshipconference for details on the following:

  • Who is this conference for? (Not just pastors and musicians!)
  • Were other sites considered?
  • How were the dates selected?
  • What’s the cost for congregations that want to budget ahead?
  • I’m an advanced-level musician who hasn’t been involved in the past. How can I sign up to be
    considered?

 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

 

Preach the Word – The lectionary can’t cover everything—but it can cover what matters

Free Text Series or Lectionary Preaching?

The lectionary can’t cover everything—but it can cover what matters

My previous article argued that the underlying logic of the topical series preaching paradigm popular in American Christian culture and somewhat influential in Lutheran homiletical thinking carries with it some unexamined weaknesses that are worth the attention of Lutheran preachers. I cautioned that the underlying logic of the paradigm can push the homiletical task toward making Jesus instrumental instead of essential, that is, a topic-first approach has inherent qualities that could either make it more laborious to accomplish gospel predominance or that might move Christ from the center of the sermon’s purpose and position the gospel as a footnote to what people otherwise sense is the primary goal: religious therapy, cultural commentary, intellectual inquiry, or spiritual motivation. I suggested, then, that a shared Lutheran lectionary, with its clear and consistent focus on the words and works of Jesus, makes gospel relevance and gospel predominance more natural—even easy—to accomplish.

Some readers suggested that the paradigmatic issues I described and conversations about them among preachers do not exist to the extent that I described them and therefore most if not all of my argument is spurious. I want to make clear that I do not consider this subject to be in the category of a roiling synodical controversy. I called it a simmering debate on purpose. I have observed it gently bubbling in circuits, conferences, and in the online spaces where pastors gather to talk shop. But by writing as if every reader was fully acquainted with the contours of the conversation, I opened my point to unwanted misunderstanding. The background I elided is this: contemporary Lutheran preachers have before them a significant choice between two fairly distinctive preaching paradigms. One is lectionary-driven, the other is topic-driven. The latter is quite influential, but I am arguing that such influence is not all that warranted and that the former is the better overall choice for Lutheran preachers in our time and place.

A more serious concern from some readers is that I have accused colleagues of ministerial malpractice. Therefore it is good to repeat what I said in the previous installment. I am not saying that someone who preaches topically fails to preach law and gospel, nor am I saying that topical preachers are automatically guilty of positioning Jesus as instrumental instead of essential. I set up the framework of analysis to be one of paradigms in general, not preachers in particular. I signaled this in several ways, especially in gesturing toward the famous dictum that a medium can communicate in a way that overrides or undermines the message or, to put it another way, sometimes style can overpower substance. I’m not talking about the presence or absence of law/gospel sentences but rather the characteristics of preaching paradigms.

Style can overpower substance.

My specific claim was that the paradigm of topical preaching runs an unnecessary risk of interacting with the characteristics of ambient culture in a way that pastoral perspectives might overlook. Preachers tend to think in categories like Christian freedom and efficacy of the Word, but people catechized by the ambient culture’s domineering emphasis on self-ownership and self-construction are prone to engage with sermonizing in radically different terms. We think we have said one thing, but in reality they hear another. The result can be a subtle shift from an objective message of good news to a message perceived as self-improvement. Such an outcome is surely not intentional, but that does not make it imaginary.

I am suggesting that Lutheran preachers think carefully about this phenomenon and adjust their approach accordingly because they are free to do so. Christian freedom is essential to my thinking on this. The fact that we don’t have a prescribed preaching paradigm is why discussing the merits and demerits of the available options is legitimate and worthwhile. That this is an adiaphoron is precisely why it deserves attention.

In this installment I give attention to the sentiment that the lectionary paradigm is too limited and that the topical paradigm is worth pursuing because it gives the preacher opportunity to cover things not covered in the lectionary. In this formulation it’s not that the lectionary paradigm is irrelevant, it’s that the lectionary paradigm is insufficient.

But first, we need to talk about books.

Books are an excellent contribution to preaching

I love to encounter thoughtful, engaging writing on theological subjects—and not just new writing either; reading old books is just as refreshing. C.S. Lewis once praised the salutary effects of the “clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.”1

Reading broadly in popular literature is important for cultivating a well-rounded homiletical mind and for developing illustrations and examples. Reading widely in popular Christian commentary is a useful way to develop fresh idiom and expression. Reading deeply in professional literature is important for gaining new angles on familiar texts.

But you know this already. This is commonplace homiletical advice. Preachers know the benefit that comes from reading an expert author exposit a biblical theme. We all have favorite writers who resonate with us. Excellent writing can teach new skills, encourage fresh enthusiasm, offer timely support, increase emotional intelligence, and deepen knowledge. These are good things.

Books are an inadequate agenda for preaching

Sometimes, though, enthusiasm from reading a good book becomes a powerful desire to communicate the same content to the congregation. Thus the sermon-series-on-a-recent-book is born.

I identify with the preacher who wants to act as a kind of London Review of Books for the people he serves. The book review (not the book report) is a simple and flexible genre that offers writers and readers alike the opportunity to creatively interact with all sorts of ideas. If a preacher thinks of himself as a purveyor of engaging ideas (a communicator in contemporary parlance), then he will probably be the kind of preacher who enjoys digesting, synthesizing, and systematizing other people’s work. This is a tremendously useful skill and is valuable in ministry.

But I suggest that the Sunday service is not an ideal time for a book review. Such a practice relies too much on the personality and temperament of the pastor. The homiletical task offers generous opportunity for the preacher to speak naturally from his personality and to develop sermons in a way that suits his temperament, which is why it strikes me as unnecessary for the preacher to also claim control over the agenda of preaching.

Is the pastor’s bibliography an adequate pattern for congregational proclamation? I’m skeptical, but even if I’m wrong, the question remains: On what grounds does the preacher conclude that his reading list should set the every-Sunday agenda for what the people of God hear?

Answers might sound like this, “This book covers things not covered in the lectionary,” or its corollary, “This book covers things not covered with enough detail in the lectionary.” In this sense the topical preacher provides a vital service by selecting texts that plug critical gaps left open by the lectionary.

A framework for preaching that is creative, relevant, enduring, and engaging.

Sufficiency as acceptance of reality

Here I sense common ground between lectionary and topical preachers. A persistent challenge in ministry is to connect parishioners to diligent study and application of the Bible. We all agree that it is good for believers to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. I also understand why the Sunday sermon becomes the front line in the battle to get more people engaged with more biblical topics and their application. Preaching remains the most prominent public voice of the congregation. If a pastor is concerned that people need, say, an in-depth review of how to forgive one another, then the sermon seems like just about the only avenue available.

But here a dose of finitude might be helpful. It seems both self-evident and inevitable that no preaching paradigm could be so extensive that it covers every important subject in careful detail. There are parts of the Bible that the lectionary does not appoint for reading and preaching just as, I am sure, a random sampling of three years of topical series preaching would reveal whole swaths of the Bible and entire categories of teaching that received little to no attention in Sunday sermons.

This is not a problem, though. The point of an organized presentation of Scripture is that certain texts are better suited for certain purposes than others. No one complains that six funeral sermons last year missed out on opportunities to cover Paul’s missionary journeys.

“People won’t get this material otherwise,” when offered as a reason to set aside the lectionary, is a rationale that bolsters my point. If preaching really is the primary way most people connect with Christian teaching, then it is all the more important that the agenda for all that preaching be aligned as closely as possible with the main purpose of Lutheran preaching.

The Lutheran concept of sufficiency has long included the sense that something is sufficient for a given purpose. The purpose of Lutheran preaching is to announce the gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind. If there is to be an agenda for the public voice among God’s people, then the person at the center must be Christ and him crucified. The lectionary paradigm excels at this and consistently nudges preachers in this direction. Yes, there will be a lot of otherwise good things that don’t get as much coverage, but some things really are more important to say than what the preacher might otherwise want to say. This is not a problem; it’s the whole point.

Brainstorming as a bad sign

I realize that not all topical series preaching is seeking to plug gaps. I agree that the metaphor has a certain haphazard, ad hoc feel to it. I know that many topical preachers take the task of long-range planning very seriously. I do not doubt that these men believe that what their congregation needs is not offered by seasonal texts from Epiphany or Advent and therefore they need to think thoroughly about what to offer instead. I admire the level of effort that goes into such work, but allow me to suggest that preachers keep one part of that process (the planning) and ditch the other (the inventing).

Consider the cognitive model of topical series planning. It necessarily begins with what amounts to a blank page. Of course, the page is not literally blank; there is, at the very least, a list of every Sunday. Next to these dates are blanks that must be filled. Several may be marked already with themes or events like Soccer Camp, National Back to Church Day, Christmas, and Easter. The task is then to fill in all the blanks with a year’s worth of themes, weekly topics, and biblical texts to support them. And so the brainstorming begins.

The topical preachers I know are usually open-minded men, certainly more amenable to creative innovation than some of their more conservative colleagues, which is why I see a certain irony in the fact that the planning model that undergirds topical preaching is, generally speaking, less likely to produce creative and innovative results. Looking at the year ahead as an empty calendar to be filled with new ideas might just be one of the worst ways to work. Brainstorming can be a bad sign.2

The black hole of the blank page

The typical planning process of the topical series takes the preacher back in time to the unsettling college experience of staring at a blank page that must eventually become a finished paper. The common composition advice in such a situation is to brainstorm. “Come up with as many ideas as you can. See what sticks.” But this advice only makes sense because the writer has nothing to work with. Brainstorming is the first step not because of the virtue of the process but because of the poverty of the situation. When you have nothing, then, yes, anything is better. But that’s a low standard to work with, couldn’t we agree?

A blank slate can be a black hole.

Could it be that the blank slate brainstorm is not ideal for delivering the kind of creative results and engaging communication that preachers want to deliver? Brainstorming prioritizes ideas that come easily. But easy does not equal relevant. Easy is simply a matter of our mind remembering what is most recent, has the most emotion attached to it, or what is most lively, novel, or practical.

Brainstorming is also susceptible to the human tendency to like our own ideas the best. People prefer to hold onto their own ideas whether they are optimal for the task at hand or not. Brainstorming can actually reduce relevance for others.

One might think that adding more people to a brainstorming session will help, but the opposite is usually the case. It instead reduces the quality of the ideas and meaningfully narrows the scope of thinking.

This is not to say that it is impossible to generate creative ideas, but it is to say that brainstorming isn’t as useful a tool as preachers might think it is. A blank slate can be a black hole. If a year of preaching began with a blank page brainstorm, then the odds are increased that the end result was not as creative and engaging as it could have been. There must be a better way.

Books to the rescue

The experience of blank page brainstorming may explain why some lectionary preachers react differently to the reading of books than topical series preachers do. Because the topical preacher has decided against following an overarching preaching agenda, he regularly faces the task of inventing one. It should be no surprise, then, that what a book offers will seem especially valuable: a systematic, carefully organized, and meticulously edited sequence of logic or narrative created by someone besides the preacher. The good book gives the topical series preacher what the lectionary would otherwise provide: a framework for preaching that is creative, relevant, enduring, and engaging.

The lectionary preacher, on the other hand, has a preaching agenda defined by the regular pattern of reviewing the words and works of Jesus Christ in an organized and narrative structure designed to repeat and reinforce itself over time. When the lectionary preacher reads a good book, he more naturally thinks of its benefits in terms of how elements from the book will fit into his preaching now and into the future. He thinks, “This insight will be really useful for my sermon on Lent 1,” or “This chapter will contribute to my approach in Epiphany.”

It is through the connection of new material and existing structures that creative thinking and original effort is most likely to occur.

It is through the connection of new material and existing structures that creative thinking and original effort are most likely to occur, especially if the structure is consistent over a long period of time. The preacher who sets aside invention in favor of integrating his thinking and reading to a lectionary framework over many years might discover that huge gains in creativity and engagement accrue at compound interest.

A different path is before you

The topical series preachers I know are men with tremendous skills at digesting, synthesizing, and systematizing the work of others, which is why I mean it sincerely when I suggest that they might become even better preachers if they migrated to the shared heritage, common good, and creative strength of our lectionary. The communication of important ideas is a skill that becomes all the more potent when connected to a long-term, external framework.

There are also a range of opportunities to engage people with the benefits of good writing apart from a book-driven sermon series. Reading groups, blogs, podcasts, classes, and newsletters are all better suited for the work of interacting with and applying ideas to strengthen and equip the saints for lives of faithful obedience, especially when the telos of such settings is more aligned with treating topics didactically and applying them within community accountability. Lean into such genres instead of trying to fit similar efforts into sermonizing.

To set aside the concept of sufficiency is to eschew a critical element of Lutheran preaching.

Topical preachers are right to remind colleagues of the many important matters that God’s people need to understand and apply, but to set aside the concept of sufficiency is to eschew a critical element of Lutheran preaching. It is good for preaching to be proclamation and it is good when the agenda of preaching is the news to be proclaimed: the person of Jesus Christ and the great works by which he has redeemed us. And when the overarching agenda is not a bibliography of theological miscellany but a framework designed to support the primary purpose of Lutheran preaching, the creative communicator will offer what the denizens of contemporary culture are desperate to hear: a total narrative in which to situate themselves. If believers have the story of Christ for them, then what they have will be more than sufficient.

Written by Caleb Bassett

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


1 On the Reading of Old Books,” God in the Dock: Essays on God and Ethics, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harper, 1970), 201-202. Also HarperCollins, 2014.
2 For more detail consult the research presented in section 13.1 of “How to Take Smart Notes,” 2nd ed., by Söhnke Ahrens, pp. 130ff.


WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

 

Faces of Faith – Michaela

As most college students headed out to their spring break trips, 12 students from UW-Madison and UW-Stout campus ministries used this time to come together. We traveled down to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Deltona, Fla., to serve the Lord and his people through a Mission Journey.

On our Mission Journey trip, we cleaned up an area of land outside the school, washed tables and walls, and hung 500 door-hangers in the surrounding neighborhoods for the upcoming Easter events at the church in hopes of bringing in more members of the community. We were also able to attend the Lenten service where the congregation was having a Puerto Rican themed dinner and presentation to update the congregation on future evangelism goals.

In our down time, we were able to enjoy time by the pool, go to the beach, see the manatees at Blue Springs, go on an airboat ride, and have a game night. All the while, we were able to form and build connections between the two campus ministries, the congregation, the pastors who guided us, our host families, and those we met in the community along the way. The Christian fellowship we experienced was invaluable.

Good Shepherd showed us the perfect definition of Christian love and hospitality. This Mission Journey fanned the flame for all of us on the trip as well as those surrounding us. As we returned to Wisconsin, we were all invigorated to do more in our own congregations and continue to serve the Lord in our everyday lives.

Written by Michaela Hansen, a member of the University of Wisconsin – Stout campus ministry.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Faces of Faith – David

David is a freshman at the University of Arizona who is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He was born into a Lutheran family and has been part of the Lutheran church since he was very young. As he grew older, he reflected on his faith and investigated parts of it, finding that it was an integral part of his life.

When he started applying for college, he explored WELS Tucson Campus Ministry (TCM) because of its familiarity with his home church, Shepherd of the Hills, in Tucson, Ariz. He realized that in college there are a lot fewer people that share the same faith, some even outright deny it. Therefore, he wanted a place to share his faith and worship with others. He feels that TCM has allowed him to study God’s Word in an environment that is supportive and kind. He is also a student assistant at TCM and he helps plan events to bring people into the faith.

One personal experience he had that helped him as he grew older was attending the LYFE group (high school youth group) at his home church where Jonathan Rhodes, a LYFE group leader, was a role model for him and remained a role model even during David’s college years. He hopes to grow stronger in his faith and remain a member of TCM next year as well.

Written by Rev. Tim Patoka, campus pastor at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Breaking down barriers

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has treated over 70,000 patients a year and has been operating in Mwembezhi, Zambia, since 1961 and in Malawi since 1970. The goal of CAMM was to work side-by-side with the missionaries. CAMM would assist in the physical needs of the people and the missionaries would preach God’s love and nurture the spiritual needs. When the clinics opened, the idea of nationalizing the clinics seemed incomprehensible, but was still part of the charter when CAMM was originally created.

The missionaries, staff ,and the CAMM stateside board made nationalization a reality in 2007, when the Lutheran Mission Rural Health Center in Zambia was transitioned to being fully run by national staff under the direction of a chief clinical officer. Since that time, the clinic has run efficiently and even dedicated an additional clinic building in 2015. Patients continue to rely on the clinic in Zambia for wellness visits, immunization, and labor and delivery.

During the pandemic, our American clinic staff, living in Malawi, were sent home for their safety. It was during that time that the CAMM stateside board realized how reliable our Malawian staff were and that American staff were no longer needed in Malawi on a full-time basis. Careful planning and proper trainings were completed in the months that followed. In 2022, God blessed CAMM with a successful Malawian nationalization! The Malawian clinics are now fully run by national staff under the direction of a stateside field director. What an amazing blessing!

According to Violet Chikwatu, Lutheran Mobile nurse-in-charge, there have been many positives seen in the clinic since nationalization. First, communication is no longer a barrier between the people in the village and the nurse-in-charge. The patients are able to fully express their feelings and symptoms about their conditions since the language is the same between patient and provider. No longer does the patient have to explain the condition multiple times to different people. Another positive impact that continues to grow is the community is looking after and maintaining the clinic property. Through this, the community feels they have a sense of ownership to protect the clinic property and ensure the day-to-day clinic operations run smoothly.

Since the clinics operate fully on donations and grants, CAMM wants to ensure the nationalization of Malawi and Zambia clinics continues to maintain Christian values and operate at its fullest potential with good efficiency. To aid in operation, our stateside based field director, Gary Evans, provides ongoing leadership and financial management. He also travels to Malawi and Zambia regularly to meet with the staff and medical councils, address issues and confirm all medical and clinic equipment, and ensure that the overall properties are being taken care of and maintained.

It has been almost a year since the clinics have been run fully by Malawian staff and over 16 years since Zambia was nationalized. We continue to see God’s blessings through the clinic, staff, and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) pastors at work. Many bodies and souls are being nourished through the work of CAMM. May God continue to bless CAMM and the possibility of future clinic sites in different areas of Africa.

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations for Central Africa Medical Mission.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Faces of Faith – Harry

HoonSik, Harry Jo, graduated from Martin Luther College a few weeks ago with a degree in elementary education. He was fully qualified to serve anywhere, and he made himself available to serve anywhere.

His connection to WELS began in 2008 when Mr. Jay Wendland, the principal of Immanuel Lutheran School in Salem, Ore., came to Seoul, Korea, to tell people about the Christian education that his school offered. HoonSik’s mom decided her son should attend. He was in fifth grade at the time.

Harry at Martin Luther College graduation in May 2023.

At Immanuel Lutheran School, HoonSik, better known as Harry, learned about Jesus, was baptized, and eventually confirmed. His faith continued to grow at his time at Evergreen Lutheran High School in Tacoma, Wash. Then, in his senior year, Harry decided to pursue public ministry at Martin Luther College, a decision supported by his parents and his Oregon host family, the Wassers.

While in the United States, Harry embraced some of the American lifestyle and interests. He loves American sports and culture. He played on the MLC football team. He took a cross-country trek to further explore this place he calls home. “Montana took forever,” he always says.

But Harry still stayed in touch with his Korean roots. He cheered for the Korean soccer team in the World Cup. He remains fluent in both Korean and English. And his fiancé, who he is marrying this month, is also Korean.

With all of those interests and abilities, what would be the best place for Harry Jo to serve? His assignment, his very first call, is to serve as the 5th-6th grade teacher at Jerusalem Lutheran School in Morton Grove, Ill., where there are many Korean immigrant parents who have enrolled their children.

Jerusalem’s principal is Chiseon Kim, who came from Korea himself to train for service in WELS. “Our dream is to have a vibrant Korean ministry here at Jerusalem,” says Chiseon. And with the blessing of the Lord, Jerusalem is well on their way to seeing the fulfillment of that dream.

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Administrator for Ministerial Education and Chairman of the Joint Mission Council. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

God works through the big and the small

Big is good, but…bigger is not necessarily better.

Easter was about a month and a half ago, and maybe you saw advertisements that looked something like this.

“10,000 Easter eggs, packed with candy and fun!”
“40 thousand Easter eggs!”
“100,000 Easter eggs for your kids to pick up!”
“Thousands of eggs dropped out of a helicopter!”
“Easter bunny skydiving into egg hunt!”

Maybe you and your church reached out into your community via a massive Easter event, and you got to talk with people and love people who would never profess to be interested in learning more about Jesus, let alone open the door of your church’s sanctuary on Easter or any other day.

If so, wonderful! Praise God!

Or, maybe, seeing headlines like those put a pit in your stomach and made you and your church feel at least a little inadequate. Maybe like you’re not doing enough, like you’re less than.

First, there is no enough. We can never be enough. Our identity, as souls loved by Jesus, is and always will be enough. Secondly, comparing your church to other churches is not the name of the game, nor is it beneficial to anyone.

And lastly, a big event can be wonderful, but. . . bigger is not necessarily better.

Within a 10-mile radius of our ministry center, there were over a dozen other big Easter egg events advertised. But 16 months ago, a seemingly small thing happened, a family with three young girls attended worship for the first time. It seemed like a small thing, but following worship that day in January 2022, we had planned an open forum to talk through a ministry plan and brainstorm new ideas. It happened that the family, who was there for the first time, decided stay for the open forum, and they decided to speak at the open forum.

And it just so happened that their idea was a special needs Easter egg hunt. Their former church, of a different denomination in a different state, had held one previously. We looked —there wasn’t one anywhere near us!

Long story short, for two Easters now, we’ve hosted an Easter egg hunt for children with special needs—children with Down Syndrome, autism, and other needs. Children who would not be able to be at an event with hundreds or thousands of other people. But a few dozen? That’s just right.

This year 12 kids came, from five families, and it started unexpectedly down pouring five minutes before the event was supposed to start (one can never trust even the best weather apps). Regardless, we still got to have fantastic conversations, show love, and one of the unchurched families attended worship the very next day and became interested in taking our Foundations course to learn more about God’s grace.

100,000 eggs? A helicopter? No, not exactly, but God works through the big and the small. Whether your church is big or small, your events are large or small scale, God promises to work whatever he wills. And whatever he wills is always best.

So be confident and joyful in his promises, whether your ministry seems big or small. God always works in just the right way, and his grace is always good and always working.

Written by Rev. Nathan Loersch, home missionary at Illumine Lutheran Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What goes around, comes around

As a WELS pastor, I have been blessed with three overseas calls. In between stateside parishes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, I served in Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Indonesia again. The first two deployments included moves with our children. On those occasions, I vividly remember my wife, Connie, and I informing our parents that we were taking their grandchildren and moving around the world.

As “Third Culture Kids,” our three daughters have carried their overseas experiences as children into adulthood. The international travel and lifestyle bug especially bit our youngest, Grace. During her college years, she volunteered with Kingdom Workers, which landed her in Brazil and Mexico. Later, as a young wife, she and her husband, Jeremy Seeger, spent time with Friends Network in East Asia. While there, they also visited Connie and me in Indonesia. Their return to the U.S. was via Bulgaria, where they connected with friends from Grace’s childhood.

Fast-forward to early 2023, when Facebook Messenger chimed on my wife’s iPad. It was Grace and Jeremy. They informed us that Jeremy, a WELS teacher, had accepted a call to serve as a Tech Missionary on the Asia One Team. They soon will be moving with their daughters to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Although retired from the full-time ministry, I am still serving in a part-time capacity as the WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia. This means that my son-in-law and I will be serving on the Asia One Team at the same time! As the sun sets on my time with WELS World Missions, Connie and I feel truly blessed to see it rising on Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters as they prepare to join the Asia One Team in Thailand. Like all our WELS workers at home and abroad, they have answered the Lord’s call to serve by humbly saying, “Here am I. Send me!”

The Bey family in Indonesia in 1992

As we begin retreating into full retirement, we will be joining the ranks of those who also serve as they sit and wait prayerfully for the furlough visits of their children and grandchildren. As we do so, any number of clichés come to mind: “The shoe is on the other foot!” “Like mother, like daughter!” “It takes one to know one!” Or perhaps the most fitting, “What goes around, comes around!” Just as we took our children around the world so that we could live and serve in places initially foreign to us, our son-in-law and daughter will be taking their children around the world to Asia. Now, we are experiencing emotions that our parents must have felt so many years ago when we announced that we were taking their grandchildren around the world to live in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

Together with so many other Christian parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones, we give thanks to our gracious God and Savior for raising up a new generation of called workers who are willing to go wherever the good Lord calls them. We place them solely into his loving hands and under his watchful eye as we pray for their safety and health, and for their spiritual well-being.

To Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters, and to all our families in fields across the globe, allow me to say, “Thank you for your service, for your ministry!” As you travel around the world to do the work to which the Spirit has called you, we pray that these benedictory words of Solomon might always fill your hearts and minds: “May the Lord our God be with us, just as he was with our fathers” (1 Kings 8:57). You will be in our thoughts and prayers continually. But of far greater importance is the fact that you will always be held securely in the arms of Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria!

Written by Rev. Gregory Bey, WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It’s not about the jars

A pastor who is much smarter than I am once said that planting a mission church comes down to “the man, the mission, and the moment.” How are things looking for our new church in Canton, Ga.? The moment seems right. Our county has grown over 400 percent in the last 30 years and the population of Canton itself is projected to grow by 25 percent over the next 10 years. That’s a ton of people who will be looking for a new church home or who have never even heard the good news about Jesus.

Everything appears to be lining up for the mission, too. By the grace of God, Christ the Rock is blessed with a launch team of 25 people of all different ages from all different kinds of backgrounds, who are willing to share what it means to build on Christ the Rock with our growing community. And when 70 percent of the people in our area are unchurched or left churched, it’s a tremendous blessing to have mission-minded Christians ready to go with that mission in front of them!

It’s when we get to that last one, “the man”, that’s when things get a little sticky. Because who am I? What do I bring to the table? How can I accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished to get a new church off the ground? The moment and the mission might be right, but, man…a lot of times I feel ill-equipped. Like I’m the weak link in the “man, mission, moment” mantra.

Maybe that’s okay, though. What was it Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4? “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. . . we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Paul, the greatest missionary ever, his reminder was it’s not about the jars. . . it’s about Jesus. A clay pot is so fragile. It’s temporary, non-descript. It is so not the center of attention! It’s what’s inside the clay jar. . . that’s the real focus. That’s the treasure! If you make mission work all about the jar of clay instead of the treasure of Jesus inside, then you are going to wrestle with feeling fragile and inadequate.

But thanks be to our Savior, who transforms us into clay jars with the greatest treasure the world has ever seen inside of us. The treasures of forgiveness, life, and freedom through faith in what Jesus did for you and me. That good news comforts and strengthens us as we carry out our mission. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Now I am by no means an expert when it comes to pottery, but I do know that words like “pressed on all sides” “persecuted” and “struck down” don’t sound like good things when you’re talking about something fragile. Then you notice Paul says we are “not crushed” or “in despair” or “abandoned” or “ destroyed”. That can only be possible if someone is taking care of the jar. The glory of the gospel we carry is that Jesus loves us enough to fill us up with this good news and he holds us tight in his arms. He is our strength when things get tough.

The moment is right. The mission is clear. The man. . . is just a clay jar. But it was never about the jar. It’s all about Jesus.

Written by Rev. Cale Mead, a home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Canton, Ga.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Worship and Outreach – At Our Redeemer, Madison, WI

In his excellent book of devotions titled Our Worth to Him, Mark Paustian described the music of the church as a “soft apologetic” that reaches out into the world, an apologetic not “of evidence and argument, but of beauty, mystery, and…nostalgia.”1 A “soft apologetic” strikes me as a perfect descriptor not only of church music but of how the whole worship life of a congregation serves in interfacing with the broader public, and it puts into words the approach we’ve attempted to take at Our Redeemer in Madison, Wisconsin. We’ve been careful not to treat the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments as a product in need of marketing, nor do we wish for our services to be subservient to a shopkeeper’s mentality that follows the whims of the customers in order to keep them satisfied. Still, our church doors are open to any and all on Sunday morning, service times and an invitation to come are routinely broadcast to our community, and a channel on YouTube allows anyone who is interested to peer in on what is taking place within our walls when we gather for worship.

In other words, our congregational worship life is public facing, and on most weekends we do have visitors joining us. What will they notice when they come? We hope they will find a soft apologetic—not an in-your-face sales pitch for Jesus, but the quieter witness of a body of believers who are gathered together around Word and sacrament, who believe that Jesus comes to them with forgiveness through these means, and who are engaged in mind and body in receiving the gifts of Christ and offering up prayer and praise in the Spirit. Some specific things might catch their attention right away: I begin the service standing next to the baptismal font for the invocation and confession and absolution, a silent reminder that this is a gathering of believers who are joined by water that runs thicker than blood. They will notice, like the well-known former Southern Baptist Beth Moore did on her visit to an Anglican Church, that we are intent on letting Scripture speak on its own by the inclusion of three readings,2 and that these Scriptures are applicable to our lives today as they are expounded in the sermon. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they can’t miss the importance we place on the sacrament Jesus gave in which the body of Christ gathers to receive the body and blood of Christ.

Our congregational worship life is public facing, and on most weekends we do have visitors joining us.

Since it is these means through which the Holy Spirit works faith when and where he pleases, we make sure that they are front-and-center. But those means never come bare, so we also pay attention to the form in which they are delivered. Not to worship our worship, but so that such things as beauty and mystery and nostalgia might serve, as Paustian puts it, like a John the Baptist, pointing away from themselves and to Jesus, the Lamb of God.3

Beauty – liturgy and music that adorn preaching and the sacrament

Our Redeemer is a mid to large congregation of about 500 souls, and we have a vibrant school and early childhood ministry. That brings a lot of children into our midst, and it is what I have heard and seen from the kids that has reinforced in my mind the role beauty fulfills in worship. For example, for our school Christmas service every year, we have the children sing one of our standard settings of the Gloria that we use on Sunday mornings. Without fail, every year as I am walking through the school hallway some day in early December, I hear children’s voices spontaneously breaking out into that liturgical canticle as they pile on snow gear to head out for recess. They sing the Gloria strong and loud and all together at the Christmas service, but even better is hearing the voices of some of the littlest ones joining with the rest of the congregation on other Sundays throughout the year. The beauty of this great Christian song of praise that grows out of the liturgy has a way of getting into kids’ ears and onto their lips and sinking into their hearts. I love that!

The best hymns, whether very old or very new, are hymns that bring together strong images with powerful and moving melodies.

The children also remind me that beauty is not something that is narrow and rigid by definition. The best hymns, whether very old or very new, are hymns that bring together strong images with powerful and moving melodies. Our school teachers do a fine job of drawing the children into these hymns, but they are aided by the beauty that’s already there. The hymn captures some facet of the gospel, and it also captures the hearts of children. You can see it in the intensity on their faces as they sing those hymns in worship.

There is also a time-tested quality of beauty in the orders of service that have survived the winnowing fork of church history and have wound up codified in our hymnal. The way that the liturgy strings together a coherent path of worship, drawing us in, gathering us together around Word and sacrament, and then sending us out, is something I appreciate more and more with each passing year. Again, I’ve noticed the way this simple beauty makes an impression by what I’ve witnessed among the children of our congregation. Every month we hold a Vespers service on the first Wednesday evening. We just follow the order of service straight out of the hymnal, but we do a few things to draw attention to the where the worship form is leading us: dimming the lights, having an acolyte light the candles during the singing of the Phos Hilaron, burning incense while the congregation sings Psalm 141. For a number of months, now, we’ve had a group of children who ask their parents if they can sit together for the service. But they don’t choose to sit in the back so they can goof off—they sit as close to the front as they can get so they can see the action and participate in it.

We strive in our worship for beauty that is not ostentatious but simple and dignified.

In my mind, that’s the power of beauty, and while I might argue that reaching children is doing outreach to the next generation, I could also add that what appeals to children is not likely to be lost on adults. So we strive in our worship for beauty that is not ostentatious but simple and dignified. We want to adorn the real meat of the service, Word and sacrament, in a manner that reflects the great gifts Christ is giving.

Mystery – worship with a low floor and high ceiling

With its economy rooted in government, university, health care, and technology, Madison is a community of professionals. Every week I’m preaching to people who are a lot smarter than I am. For that reason, one of the important soft witnesses that marks our worship is our embrace of mystery. People who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge need the humbling reminder that there is a limit to human wisdom. None of us can wrap our minds around who God is and what he has so wonderfully done for us and for our salvation. So we strive to reflect this in our worship by crafting services to be accessible but not remedial.

People who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge need the humbling reminder that there is a limit to human wisdom.

I one asked my school principal for advice on teaching Bible study. He gave me an image that has stuck with me. He told me that you want a classroom with a low floor and a high ceiling—that is, no one on the low end of comprehension will be lost, but at the same time no one with a good deal of learning will feel bored or as if they have nothing more to gain. That’s a good way to think of worship. It needs to be accessible enough so that a newcomer isn’t totally lost, but it needn’t overexplain everything nor chop out everything that cannot be understood in one pass. We want worship to offer treasures that even lifelong members (and pastors) can grow into and discover—one good reason to keep coming to church.

There are some practical things we do in this regard. We print the entire order of service, but sing hymns out of the hymnal. That strikes a balance in making it easy to follow along, but also gets the book into people’s hands to show the wealth of resources there for personal devotional use outside of the service. Likewise with hymn selection. We sing a Hymn of the Day that is often meaty and always tied closely to the Gospel, but we select more familiar and crowd-pleasing hymns for other spots in the service.

Thinking of the apologetic of mystery on a deeper level, I see the wisdom in using resources that I did not create but received. Such things as the liturgy and the lectionary are at some level accessible, but they also offer a lot that is yet to be understood or discovered. At least, it has helped me to realize that I don’t need to sweat it so much if a visitor doesn’t “get” everything in a service. After all, I myself don’t get it all, either—and that’s a good thing. It means I have the opportunity to keep on growing into all that liturgy and lectionary have to offer.

So, for example, I had heard the post-communion collect prayed countless times for more than three decades and had myself prayed it at the altar for six or seven years before it dawned on me one Sunday that this prayer includes petitions that look both backwards and forwards—back in thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins that we receive in the Lord’s Supper, and forward to the way this sacrament increases our love and fuels holy living. That Sunday, I realized that the prayer reflects the same ordering of doctrinal truth that is found in articles four, five, and six in the Augsburg Confession. Justification (AC IV) comes to us through the ministry of Word and sacrament (AC V) and leads to good works and new obedience (AC VI). The post-communion collect demonstrates that perfectly, but it took me a long time to see it and appreciate it.

Likewise, the lectionary is a helpful tool that has both a low floor and a high ceiling. People with no church background whatsoever are still acquainted with Christmas and Easter, and they know what they should expect to hear if they come to church on one of those festivals. From there, it doesn’t take much to figure out that the seasons around these holidays fill in the story of Jesus’ life and that the church follows a calendar that makes it impossible to miss out on the main details of God’s plan of salvation. Yet there is always room to grow in understanding how a given Sunday’s readings fit into the broader church year and connect to one another. I think that is the delight of the lectionary—it is always inviting us to see new connections as it reveals the fullness of Jesus and his saving work and leads us through an annual review of all the chief doctrines of Scripture.

These kinds of mystery bear witness to the fact that the God we worship is bigger than ourselves and beyond our ability to comprehend. Yet in grace he has revealed himself to us in his Word, so that all of us might continue to grow into our knowledge of him who fills everything in every way. I’ve found this to be a helpful dynamic in a town like Madison.

Nostalgia – homecoming for pilgrims

Madison is a fairly transient community. People move here for school or work, but just as quickly find a job offer elsewhere and move away. So a lot of our outreach has to do with connecting to Christians who are new to town and looking for a church home. With them in mind, one of the things we strive for is that our worship would evoke a sense of nostalgia in the best sense of that term. We want people who encounter us to feel like they’ve come home, and we’ve had good success in that regard by trying to look and act like a church as we gather together.

Since we’re pretty much worshiping straight out of the hymnal, it’s not surprising that in this regard we do very well with people who come from a Lutheran background. Many of them tell me that our church feels like the church they grew up in or came from recently. But I have also heard similar things from people who have come to us from very different backgrounds, whether former Evangelicals or Roman Catholics.

How might this be? I suppose that former Roman Catholics feel somewhat at home in the format of our service and in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Evangelicals, on the other hand, connect readily with our preaching that is based on the Bible and brings the Scriptures to bear on our Christian lives. Call it the Lutheran middle—or call it what the Christian church at its best has always done in worship. We are at our best when we are gathering people around preaching and the sacrament, and therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that such worship would feel like home for God’s pilgrim people as they make their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

They tell me that they appreciate a church that tries to look and act and feel like a church.

For people who have come to us with no church background, we have the opportunity to start from scratch and give them a solid foundation on which to build future nostalgia, if I can call it that. They tell me, too, that they appreciate a church that tries to look and act and feel like a church. I’d like to think that if they move away they will also readily feel at home in other WELS churches because of what they’ve experienced at Our Redeemer.

A soft apologetic with a personal touch

I am ever-mindful of Eugene Peterson’s observation that pastoral work is geographical and tied to a specific locale—the real, mappable Nineveh and not Tarshish, the dream.4 But I would venture to guess that it’s not only in Madison that worship seems to be less of a front door to the church as it once was—our visitors are largely those whom I described above as already having some Christian background. That means we also need to get out and meet people outside of our services if we wish to reach those with little or no experience in church. We’ve found that opportunities to witness have come simply by training our people to ask their friends or family members, “Do you have a pastor who is visiting you? Would you like my pastor to stop by?” That personal interaction goes a long way—people are hungry for personal touch. It stands out to them when they are not treated as just a number or another customer, but as individual souls worthy of individual attention and care.

Then, when they come to church, they see the same guy who visited them in the hospital or elsewhere. That dynamic, I think, is something we will keep trying to capitalize on. We have the real advantage that the preacher in the pulpit is also the pastor who makes hospital calls and personal visits. Especially in the era of mega-churches where the preacher is inaccessible for the rest of the week, this is something I’ve noticed that really makes an impression. But I suppose we’ve always known this: the old adage about a home-going pastor making a church-going congregation is as true today as ever.

I’ve tried to describe some of the circumstances in Madison that have shaped the worship of our congregation. Situations may vary, but I think that the concept of worship as a soft apologetic will prove a helpful framework for fitting worship to any locale.

By Philip Moldenhauer

Pastor Moldenhauer graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2012 and has served at Our Redeemer in Madison, WI since then. In addition to congregational duties, he serves as the District Worship Coordinator for the Western Wisconsin District.


1 Mark Paustian, Our Worth to Him: Devotions for Christian Worship (Milwaukee, WI: NPH, 2021), 145.
2 https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/march-web-only/beth-moore-book-sbc-church-stranger-anglicans-welcomed-me.html
3 Paustian, Our Worth to Him, 145.
4 Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1992), 122-123.


2024 National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts

A 2021 conference was canceled due to the pandemic. Rather than rescheduling in the same year as the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership (2023), the next worship conference will be in July of 2024. The site and exact dates are not yet firm. For the latest information, see wels.net/worshipconference. Advanced ability musicians who have not previously played at a conference and those whose contact information has changed are invited to submit their information at this site. This information is requested even from those who aren’t yet sure they will attend the 2024 conference. Pastors, please share this invitation with instrumentalists of above average skill who entered or graduated from college since 2017 and with other adult new members since 2017 with similar skill.


Adorn the liturgy for outreach.

Moldenhauer writes about using liturgy and music to adorn the real meat of the service, Word and sacrament. The word “adorn” recalls an essay by Jonathan Schroeder from the 2005 national worship conference—still valuable reading almost 20 years later: worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-and-outreach. When Schroeder wrote this essay, he was serving a small, mission congregation. Since then it has grown to become the largest single site congregation in the South Atlantic District.


 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

 

Preach the Word – The essential element that makes preaching worth anyone’s attention

Free Text Series or Lectionary Preaching?

The essential element that makes preaching worth anyone’s attention

A common sentiment among my fellow preachers suggests that the lectionary-based approach to preaching has become unsuitable for contemporary ministry. The thinking is that an occasional, topical approach—typically called series preaching1—is better than following the liturgical church year with its one- or three-year cycle of pericopes used in common across an entire community of churches. This opinion appears to be particularly pronounced in missions to the unchurched and in parish settings self-consciously characterized as visionary or innovative.

This is the first part of a three-part essay in which I will enter this simmering debate. I will analyze and comment on three subtle but significant criticisms of lectionary preaching. I intend to offer meaningful resistance to what strikes me as a largely unexamined assumption: that series preaching is the way of the future because it somehow offers unique advantages for ministering to the kind of people shaped by contemporary American culture. I will work to carve out some much-needed common ground even as I make the case that lectionary preaching remains the best preaching paradigm for Lutherans in our time and place.

Perhaps I will be able to convince some of my fellow preachers to return to the shared heritage, common good, and creative strength of lectionary preaching. But if not, then the series preacher might at least rely less on unwarranted assumptions to justify the practice and become more sensitive to the realistic pitfalls in series preaching.

Effort isn’t the issue

Last year I participated in a conference discussion on how best to contextualize worship to today’s culture. The conversation inevitably turned to contextually relevant preaching. A clear sentiment emerged: lectionary preaching was said to be the easy way to preach because the lectionary has already been planned for you. The topical series, in contrast, was said to be the hard way to preach because a good series requires a significant amount of advance planning. The resulting benefit of all this hardness was said to be a corresponding increase in homiletical relevance. In other words, “The topical series is hard to do because relevance is hard to come by.” By the end of the discussion the matter was even cast in moral terms. One pastor called the lectionary not just the easy option, but the lazy option!

No doubt he was overstating the case. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the lectionary has acquired a reputation as little more than a time-saving table of texts instead of an atlas showing the way to the kind of seriously relevant preaching that ministers of the gospel are called to deliver. Many preachers are setting lectionary preaching aside on the grounds that it is simply too weak of a tool to till the fields where they have been called to gather a harvest.

I will wholeheartedly agree that series preaching takes more effort to do well than most lectionary preachers probably realize. I once had to plan and preach a brief, occasional series and I found the process to be quite unpleasant. Maybe the difficulty arose from working against the grain of so much training and so many years of practice. Regardless, my point is that, yes, it does take serious effort to do series preaching well. I hope any preacher who preaches serially always gives the job the full beans it requires.

Persistent misuse of a preaching paradigm does not prove the paradigm is faulty.

I will also agree that many preachers have used or continue to use the lectionary lazily. The point is well taken that the specific value of the lectionary is not that you can arbitrarily (and at the last minute) grab a text from a table of pericopes and preach as if every sermon is isolated from what has preceded it and what will follow it. But at the risk of offering what amounts to a playground retort—“I’m not lazy, you’re  lazy!”—what is the lectionary preacher to make of the many websites trafficking in ready-to-preach series kits? A clever programmer could probably code a bot to compare the social media feed of every WELS congregation to what’s trending on the most popular sources of series kits and find no small number of matches.

Both lectionary preaching and series preaching have well-known and well-worn ways of taking shortcuts, the habitual use of which should be unwelcome in a virtuous professional culture. Persistent misuse of a preaching paradigm does not prove the paradigm is faulty, rather it bears witness to an ethos short on rigor and lacking in integrity. Excellent preaching of any kind requires significant foresight, careful planning, and all-around effort. The lectionary is not the easy option because preaching is not the easy option. All preaching is hard when practiced seriously and sincerely.

I suggest that we settle on this common ground and focus on more fruitful ways to analyze and compare series preaching with lectionary preaching. We must still discern a credible path from the premise, “series preaching requires more planning than lectionary preaching,” to the conclusion, “therefore series preaching yields greater contextual relevance compared to lectionary preaching.” Is such a path possible or plausible?

Relevance is at stake

Differences over lectionary preaching vis-à-vis series preaching seem to arise most frequently in conversations about what makes preaching relevant to a particular cultural demographic or cultural moment. It seems that context and relevance, not ease or difficulty, are the real points of contention. This is significant for understanding and addressing the issue. The assumption appears to be that the lectionary cannot reliably engage the context of the congregation or the community in which the congregation operates. The question, then, is why anyone thinks this.

One commonly-held answer seems to be rooted in the static nature of the lectionary. The lectionary tells and retells the account of a God who promised (and subsequently accomplished) to become our human brother in order to decisively redeem mankind from its entanglement in the cords of death and to definitively raise us to new life in a God-owned identity and vocational purpose that stretches from this moment through eternity. And because these things happened in the past there can never be new things that happened “once for all,” as the writer to the Hebrews puts it. The core story in the lectionary is static in the same sense that history is static.

This means that the lectionary cannot know who was elected president or what progressives want to teach kids these days. The lectionary does not react to the latest ministry blogs, nor does it comprehend that superhero movies are a big deal. The lectionary hasn’t been imbibing the latest pop psychology and religious self-help. The lectionary doesn’t know any memes. The lectionary hasn’t reviewed the latest Barna studies. Therefore, the thinking goes, for preaching to be relevant to a contemporary setting (as opposed to flowing from a historical consciousness) there must be an intermediary individual or group, like a pastor, group of pastors, or a planning committee, who regularly surveys the surrounding culture anew to discern what topics need emphasizing for preaching to enjoy relevance in the coming months.

This is, to say the least, an extremely popular approach to preaching. Aside from the expository model in which a congregation will work through whole books of the Bible over lengthy periods of time, the entire Evangelical industrial complex appears to be geared toward the task of churning out series after series. Such an approach thrives in the theological framework governed by the presumption that if the church and her ministers will only just embrace the surrounding culture with gusto, then the surrounding culture and its denizens will be more open to the church’s message in return. In this dispensation it seems the concept of relevance is meant to mean the task of calibrating preaching to harness the most engaging subjects or styles of the times, even if it means making heroic leaps of logic to somehow connect intellectual fashions and cultural fads to biblical theology.

This is not the relevance that Lutheran preachers ought to seek.

I am unconvinced that this is best described as relevant. Predictable may be a better word for it—and not the good kind of predictable, like Christmas coming every year. The point at which the series approach as commonly practiced could be called innovative appears to be in the rear view mirror. Whether it’s the barely camouflaged fundraising effort (#generosity) or the soft-core commentary on sex (#intimacy), series preaching as a trend appears to have become a rote procedure by which a cultural product of some kind, like a fascinating book, hit movie, major event, or social trend becomes the catalyst for the question, “How can I preach a multi-week series on this subject?” Indeed, some such books come with twelve chapters, which—voila!—become twelve sermons.

This is not the relevance that Lutheran preachers ought to seek. Unless the goal is to communicate that the church’s message is a Christianized expression of the surrounding culture, it’s an awfully big assumption to think that what’s trending in culture or what’s on the pastor’s Kindle is also genuinely relevant to the actual predicament of particular people in the padded seats, to say nothing of relevance to the formation of thick, resilient, long-term Christian communities. In fact, a serious concern to consider is whether by focusing on cultural relevance the preacher is directing the eyes of his people away from where they need to be focused, that is, preachers can easily point people away from the Person in whom genuine relevance is found. To answer this concern with, “Jesus is in every one of my sermons,” is, frankly, inadequate. Jesus is in an awful lot of hip-hop tracks, too. The heart of the issue is what role Jesus plays in preaching.

Jesus is essential, not instrumental

The series paradigm too easily positions Jesus as instrumental instead of essential, that is, when a congregation’s preaching is presented as a species of cultural commentary, religious therapy, or intellectual inquiry, Jesus must inevitably come across as one of the many great minds that people could choose to follow for good advice. In this paradigm the preacher can really only recommend Jesus, and because he can only recommend Jesus he must go to great lengths to present Jesus as the best way to accomplish whatever the stated goal of the sermon series is. The preacher may say something quite biblical, like Jesus is the only way to salvation, but such a message, while technically true, is overwhelmed by what the medium says. Things soon start to sound less like preaching and more like motivational speaking or life coaching. After all, if this month isn’t “The Greatest Month of Generosity Ever,” then what was it all for?

Things soon start to sound less like preaching and more like motivational speaking or life coaching.

The underlying logic of an instrumental deployment of texts tends to create people who hear only way as better way—and even then, it’s only the better way for now, that is, until they discover an even better way. This underlying logic of instrumentality is subtly implied if not explicitly stated in the form of advice-centric series themes and topics. “Come to hear how Jesus makes blank better,” is the main message, even if a few sentences of gospel are sprinkled in to rescue the sermon from formal charges of legalism. The fact is that there are other great minds out there and many people who recommend them as the good, better, or even best way to get after your goals. Only Jesus asks his followers to bear a cross. At some point following Jesus does not make everything better, it makes many things quite a lot worse. If Jesus is offered to people as relevant insofar as he can be a means toward some other end—especially a self-directed end—then he is not relevant at all.

The psychological captivity of the church.

I file this entire tendency under a concept described as the psychological captivity of the church.2 The notion that the most relevant pastor is the one who looks to the world around him to determine where to head with his preaching has probably ceded any remaining position of strength against profoundly strong cultural currents. The church and her preachers are mired in a trade deficit of sorts; we import more ideas than we export.

None of this is to say that good preaching won’t engage with the cultural context of the congregation in significant and meaningful ways. It is to say, however, that it is too simplistic to think that the series paradigm is itself the engine of relevance. Quite often the result is literal irrelevance, especially if what’s on offer is merely a Christianized version of what others offer. People will go elsewhere to get the same practical benefits but without the Christian cross. Can we blame them?

The gospel is relevance incarnate

A helpful way to understand the issue of relevance is to analyze what kind of communication the gospel actually is. Christian doctrine is clear that salvation comes “from hearing” and what’s heard is a “message about Christ.” Here it is not pedantic to point out the plain meaning of the word gospel, that is, “good news.” Because the gospel is a report of an event or state of affairs, we must understand our preaching as the delivery of news. If we are not preaching news, then we are merely hosting a speaking event. Whether this event takes the form of a droning lecture or a trendy TED talk is immaterial. Both manifestations are the same—devoid of the distinctive power at our disposal to call lost souls from death in sin to life in Christ.

What does this have to do with the question of relevance? Everything. A sermon that offers commentary, advice, or application about the world that someone could, in principle, come upon elsewhere and apart from the Christian gospel is, by definition, irrelevant as news. It may be good and useful information that everyone is glad to have heard, but it is not, in the final analysis, news—and certainly not gospel.

Nothing ever will be as relevant as the words and works of Jesus Christ.

What animates the lectionary paradigm is the insight that nothing is or ever will be as relevant to as many people in as many situations as the words and works of Jesus Christ. The relevance people need most comes in the form news, an announcement of events that no one could come upon by any amount of their own thinking or choosing, events that happened “once for all,” but must be proclaimed again and again, generation after generation.

This is why I suggest that Lutheran preachers be less concerned about the quest to make their preaching relevant in culturally conditioned terms and to work instead at saying what is genuinely relevant to people living under the effects of sin and death. You can be sure that everyone will one day find themselves facing a deadly spiritual thirst (indeed, they face it already). Your task is to ensure that they have been drenched with words that point to the one who can and does quench their thirst. Aim your preaching at the moments when people will need to have heard good news, not endless therapeutic applications of biblical proof passages. Aim your preaching at relevance worthy of the word.

The lectionary does make one thing easier

I want to be clear that my claim is not that the series preacher never preaches the gospel, but that the series paradigm as a medium, with its reliance on a culturally-conditioned definition of relevance, makes genuine gospel proclamation either more difficult to accomplish or makes the gospel into an instrumental footnote attached to what people otherwise sense is the obvious goal: religious therapy, cultural commentary, intellectual inquiry, or spiritual motivation.

For example, one Sunday after Easter I was enjoying dinner at a neighbor’s house. Our host, knowing that I am a pastor, asked, “What was your sermon about today?” I briefly summarized the thrust of my sermon on the appointed gospel in which the recently-resurrected Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas. Then, knowing that our host attends one of San Diego County’s largest multi-site Evangelical churches, I asked, “What was your pastor’s sermon about today?” The answer: “How to lead like Moses.” I have little doubt that Jesus was mentioned in that sermon just as I have little doubt that the Lord was mentioned mainly as the means to a practical end.

I am not saying that everyone who follows the series approach to preaching does that, but I am saying that the lectionary makes it a whole lot harder to traffic in legalistic life lessons. It would take a monumental effort to somehow feed God’s people leadership training seven days after Easter while preaching the lectionary. If the lectionary makes one thing easier it’s this: maintaining focus on the words and works of Jesus and delivering the good news in a way that is—as I will argue in the following parts of this series—uniquely poised to matter most in our cultural moment.

There are almost limitless opportunities to engage contemporary culture within the lectionary preaching paradigm. It’s still hard work, too; but where it matters most the lectionary may really be the easy option.

Written by Caleb Bassett

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


1 This article is the first in a series of three that evaluates free text series preaching, not the kind of lectionary-based series featured in the new hymnal’s Commentary on the Propers and offered in The Foundation at welscongregationalservices.net/the-foundation.
2 This concept was coined by academic theologian L. Gregory Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School and provost of Baylor University.


WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

 

Back home in Asia

It was May 2008 – 15 years ago. I sat in the auditorium of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for assignment day. My name was read, “Jonathan Bare, Graduate Mission Associate – East Asia.” By the middle of the next month, I had been commissioned and was on a plane to Asia. Asia became my new home, the place my wife Kim and I would meet (she was serving there as a Friends Network missionary) and get married, where our son Josiah would be born, and where we’d serve until taking a call back to our new home in the U.S. in 2016.

Fast forward seven years. In January this year, my family moved “back home” to a new home in Asia. My current call is to serve as the president of Asia Lutheran Seminary and the Integrator of the Asia One Team. Before my arrival, Asia Lutheran Seminary was asked to transition from being a seminary for only East Asia to being a regional seminary for all of Asia. To facilitate that pivot, my family and I are stationed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which serves as the hub of the Asia One Team.

So, what’s it like to be “back home” in Asia? First off, many things have changed.

There’s the obvious – my family situation has changed. When I moved to East Asia in 2008, I was single. An international move meant boxing up a few belongings that would stay in my parents’ basement, packing two suitcases, and getting on a plane. Now Josiah is ten and we have a six-year old daughter, Elina. Moving meant giving away trailer loads of stuff, packing up a few dozen boxes that would be stored, selling vehicles, and finding a way to get 12 suitcases to the airport (not including our carry-ons). Moving meant tearful goodbyes to family, friends, and coworkers and finding a new house, a new school, a new car. . . the list goes on and on. In the process, God taught us to be patient and flexible every step of the way. He still teaches us that a bit more every day, it seems. Moving “back home” with a family means a daily resetting of expectations, working through sadness over the loss of friends, and figuring out new lives in Thailand.

The team has changed. Missionaries have come and gone – some to new calls or retirement in the U.S., and a few, home to heaven. East Asia was its own field in 2008. Now all of Asia is served by one WELS team of missionaries. The Asia One Team serves over 16 different countries with a unified vision for reaching out and serving all of Asia. The work of the team is divided into three main branches: Explore, this includes following up on new opportunities and expansions. A second branch is Asia Lutheran Seminary, which coordinates the training and equipping of leaders throughout Asia. Finally, support, which provide the tools and expertise our missionaries and our sister churches can use to carry out their work. It’s a growing team too – this year alone, two new missionaries have already accepted calls to join us. God willing, by the end of this year we’ll welcome three more to their new home in Asia!

Asia Lutheran Seminary has changed. When I first arrived, Asia Lutheran Seminary was focused on training in Hong Kong. That expanded to East Asia and our first cohort of East Asia students graduated in 2016. Since that time, Asia Lutheran Seminary became a fully-accredited, Master of Divinity-granting seminary serving all of East Asia, and now Asia Lutheran Seminary is pivoting to serve all of Asia (all while continuing to focus on Hong Kong and East Asia). We have initial plans in place to establish a regional branch of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Chiang Mai. We’ve also created a Regional Theological Education Program within the seminary to assist with meeting the needs of our sister churches throughout Asia. And in addition to all those changes, I came in and am now the president of these efforts – humbling, to be sure.

But not everything has changed, this is still home – and it’s good to be “back home.” We know it’s home because it’s the place that God has called us to be. He has placed us here – and we know that he is with us each and every step of the way. It has not changed that his word is still going out to all the world – and we are still his witnesses. As his word goes out, he is accomplishing his purpose through it and strengthening us for the task in front of us. Because of that, it’s good to be “back home.”

Written by Rev. Jonathan Bare, president of Asia Lutheran Seminary

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It takes a village

“It takes a village to raise a child.” Many of us have heard this old proverb, and many of us who have been blessed with children understand how true it is. In the case of my wife and I, we clearly see the wisdom behind it. Our four children continue to be influenced and shaped by the people who make up our village. Close relatives, neighbors, friends, and church family have brought something unique to the table that further creates a safe and healthy environment for our kids and helps mold them into the adults they will become in the future.

As a new church planter in Windsor, Colo., I can’t help but conclude that this proverb also applies to mission starts. Indeed, it takes a village to plant a new mission. After accepting the call and moving from Southern California in January, I have seen the extensive village that is involved in influencing and shaping a new mission. Each part brings something unique and vital to planting and raising this mission. And each part is committed to creating an environment for this church to succeed. So, who makes up this village? Well first there is the District Mission Board (DMB), which I would consider to be the parents of this mission start since they identified Windsor as a place for another mission. The DMB consists of pastors and lay leaders within the district who have passion for reaching the lost and understand the logistics, finances, etc. of starting a new mission. But that was just the beginning. Within a few weeks of arriving, I took part in a Church Planter Intensive led by Pastor Jared Oldenburg in Castle Rock, Colo. This two-day seminar provided an opportunity to think about overall vision, mission statement, and the core values of our new mission. In addition, there was practical advice and countless tips that would further shape how we did outreach, evangelism, our church structure, and the timeline to launch.

Then there is the regional mission counselor(s). These pastors assist every mission in getting off the ground and provide valuable feedback through the process. With extensive experience in mission work and a detailed understanding of the “step-by-step” approach, they are able to assist them in a strong start. They give guidance and advice on what to do next when it comes to planting a church. In my case, mission counselor, Matt Vogt, facilitated a brainstorming session with our core group (pictured above) to help gain traction in moving us to the next level of church planting.

Windsor, Colo., core group meeting with Mission Counselor, Matt Vogt

But the village influence continues! Within 30 minutes of Windsor is our neighboring WELS churches in Fort Collins, Loveland, and Greeley, Colo. These established congregations and their seasoned pastors bring ministry experience, knowledge of the area, and additional minds to bounce ideas off of as we continue to grow.

Thus far, I can’t help but thank God for the village he has provided to influence and help shape his new mission in Windsor. It has been eye opening to see how God puts the right people at the right time in the right location to further his Kingdom. To that end, I would encourage you whether you’re an established congregation or new mission, a pastor or lay member to contemplate these questions, “Who has God put in my village?” Because the proverb applies well, it takes a village!

Written by Stephen Koelpin, home missionary in a new mission start in Windsor, Colo. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A gift for making gifts

Two years ago I received the call to serve Christ the Rock in Farmington, N.M. As I was deliberating, I received a phone call from one of the members. He told me that his name was Tully. His friends called him Tools. As a long time mechanic, the name fit him perfectly. Tully told me about the ministry at Christ the Rock and the different opportunities for serving in Farmington. He was excited to have a new pastor come and serve, and he, along with his wife, Terri, believed that I was the one.

They were right! In August 2021, we arrived in Farmington, N.M. At my installation, Tully presented me with a special gift – an amazing gift! It was a sand art name plate. The cross and Bible were a reminder of what I do and who I serve. On the other side was a painting of a mountain, Shiprock. In Navajo it is called Tsé Bitʼaʼí, “rock with wings” or “winged rock.” The mountain is sacred to the Navajo and is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico. Every time I look at his painting I am amazed at his talent!

Tully has done sand art for a long time. All of the colors come from natural sand and crushed rock. The blue, he is proud to share, is made from crushed turquoise. He used to make his name plates to sell at art shows. He still does, but he makes most of them to give away. New members at Christ the Rock receive one with their family name, along with some traditional Navajo art on either side. When we attended District Convention together last summer, he made name plates for our district officers. Tully loves to give, and he gives generously with his talent for art.

However, Tully has another gift. He has a gift for being one of our most active evangelists. He invites everyone, and I mean everyone, to come and visit Christ the Rock. He takes our information to the local Navajo station so it can be broadcast to the Navajo Nation. He invites his family members to come every week. Tully loves Jesus and wants everyone else to know Jesus’ love for them. I love to watch the way Tully uses the gifts God has given him to make gifts, spread the gospel, and further his kingdom. That’s what being a missionary is all about!

Written by Rev. Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Farmington, New Mexico. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Rural training program in Vietnam

Jesus taught, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40). WELS’ ministry to the Hmong in Vietnam trains leaders to train other leaders. Efforts have focused on small groups of leaders, one group of 55 students and a second group of 60 students. The Hmong Fellowship Church has almost 1,400 leaders serving their 145,000 members. How does WELS training reach other leaders and the church members?

When COVID-19 restrictions stopped training in 2020, the Vietnam ministry group—led by full-time professors Bounkeo Lor and Joel Nitz—decided to add new training. They shifted to online Zoom training and started a new program to reach more of the leaders and more of the members in the rural congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. Most congregations are in rural areas of northern Vietnam, where leaders and members operate small subsistence farms. Many of these leaders and the members have not enjoyed much formal Bible study or training.

The new rural training program consists of 30 courses for training over a three-year period. They began the program in the fall of 2020. Salvation History 1 and 2 covers the Old Testament. Salvation History 3 is based on the Gospel of Mark, and Salvation History 4 was added to cover the Book of Acts.

Professors Lor and Nitz taught the courses to 57 church leaders, who then taught the course to 700 other leaders, who then shared the course with all congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. The teachers and students have enjoyed the teaching so much that they continued the program by using other courses taught to them in previous training.

Leaders and students shared the blessings they have received through this training:

  1. The training for the 700 leaders helps them understand the law and gospel, and have comfort and confidence in their salvation.
  2. Members understand more about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are more confident in the Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins.
  3. The leaders can distinguish between the true and false teachings of other people.
  4. The program helps church leaders love the Word of God more, hold on to the true teaching of God, know Christ as the center for their teachings, and have less legalism in most churches.

Hmong Fellowship Church members thank WELS for training their church leaders in the rural areas. Now they understand more about the word of God. Praise God for the tremendous blessings of teaching God’s Word to the Hmong in Vietnam!

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A reason to give thanks

Name a safe city with an airport in a low-cost country with no visa requirements, no COVID restrictions, decent weather in March, and interesting Biblical sites nearby. Did you say Thessaloniki, Greece? If so, then you’re right!

For the past year, our planning committee had been preparing for the third triennial World Missionary Wives Conference. In 2017 we met in Athens, and in 2020 we met in Barcelona. After much discussion, we decided to hold the conference in Thessaloniki on March 16-20, 2023.

Twenty-seven excited missionary wives from five continents were packing their bags for three and a half days of Bible study, fellowship and fun. But wait! On March 15, Greek air traffic controllers declared a 24-hour strike for the next day – the conference arrival day.

“Seriously?” I thought. “This very day? All these months of planning for nothing?” We had a few tense hours waiting to hear if anyone would still be able to come. In the end, 23 out of 27 still came, but arrival was pushed back two days. Our conference was condensed into half the time. Despite the disappointment, our conference theme was still fitting: “BREATHE: Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Dr. Rhoda Wolle presented our keynote address entitled “Life to the FULL.” She gave us guidelines on how to thrive (not just survive), tips on how to make positive changes, and encouragement to start a gratitude journal.

Half of the attendees had never been to a Missionary Wives Conference. Some are grandmothers, some new mothers. Some have been in missions for two and a half decades, one for just two and a half weeks. Yet there was immediate camaraderie amongst all the ladies. New acquaintances were chatting like old friends, sharing joys and challenges of the mission field with people who know what it’s like. “What do you do for babysitting? How do you buy furlough tickets? Any insights into parenting high school kids from a distance?” I loved watching the Christian fellowship and the new friendships blossoming.

We followed Missionary Paul’s path to visit the ancient city of Philippi. We saw the ruins of the forum, the “prison of Paul,” and the theater, which is still used today. Missionary Luke Wolfgramm gathered us in the theater and encouraged us to “live like Lydia!” with a message from Acts. It was especially meaningful to reflect on the Apostle Paul’s preaching, Lydia’s baptism, the jailor’s conversion – all that took place right there 2,000 years ago.

Just a short walk from Philippi flowed the river where Lydia was baptized, with trees, flowers, grass and seating for many visitors. We were fortunate enough to be the only tourists there while we enjoyed a devotion by Dr. Rhoda Wolle on “Rejoice!” from the book of Philippians.

In addition, we played silly games, worshiped, communed, shared more devotions, sang, laughed a lot, tasted some wonderful Greek food, and shopped! On behalf of all the missionary wives, thank you! We are grateful for the opportunity to meet with each other face-to-face. Many thanks to WELS, our husbands, and our families for supporting this conference!

Written by Mindy Holtz, world missionary wife on the Native American mission team. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Joy in Dunavtsi

On the last weekend in March, believers from six countries gathered in Dunavtsi, Bulgaria, to dedicate a church building.
God gave us more than we expected.

Anticipated Joy
Six years earlier, a generous WELS donor provided funding to construct a chapel in the hometown of Pastor Iliyan Itsov in northern Bulgaria. Finally, after delays of every kind, the church stood ready to welcome the first worshipers.

I was looking forward to seeing Iliyan and the saints in Dunavtsi. It had been four years since I last visited them. I was also looking forward to meeting friends from Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Albania. These churches (and others) have taken special interest in supporting Iliyan and his outreach to Roma peoples scattered throughout central Bulgaria. I couldn’t wait to preach, to praise God for this new house, and call God’s people to keep building the Lord’s Church.

Experienced Joy
Guests began arriving Friday evening. As travelers greeted each other, I was struck by the sacrifices they and their churches had made to attend our celebration.

• A German transportation strike wreaked havoc on Pastor Holger Weiss’ itinerary. He would now have to leave Dunavtsi early Sunday morning before the worship service he had prepared. Yet he still made the trip to spend 36 precious hours with us.
• Pastor David Åkerlund, a tent minister, took time off from work, family, and church responsibilities to bring greetings from his congregation in Finland.
• Five representatives from Sweden flew first to Serbia, then drove the final leg in a little red car. They carried a special gift, a bronze altar crucifix, that a church member had purchased on an earlier business trip to Poland.

And there was a last-minute surprise. Missionary John and Nancy Roebke joined us from Malawi. The Roebke’s had served in Dunavtsi 20 years earlier. This was their first opportunity to revisit the people they had served.

Missionary Roebke, having not forgotten his Bulgarian, was able to facilitate a dual-language worship service where guests and local members joined together to glorify Christ. Worshipers – including Pastor Iliyan – were eager to reconnect with “their” pastor who first brought the Lord Jesus into their lives. We meditated on the account of Zacchaeus and worshiped the Savior who transformed the tax-collector’s house into a powerful base for proclaiming God’s good news.

Left to Right: Rev. Iliyan Itsov, Rev. John Roebke , Rev. Luke Wolfgramm

For a brief moment, God gave us a foretaste of heaven when believers from every nation will join in one tongue to praise our Savior forever.

Lasting Joy
The German transport strike delayed our travel back to Albania. So, Pastor Nikolla Bishka and I had an extra day to explore Bulgaria’s capital. As we walked and observed different houses of worship in downtown Sofia, we discussed the work the Lord Jesus has given us. “The most beautiful building in the most convenient location is not enough to build God’s house, but the Holy Spirit constructs God’s splendid temple wherever we proclaim Christ. Jesus is God’s great gift to fallen people. Niko, we have the best news, the news people need to hear!”

Niko thoughtfully took this statement in, and from there, we started making plans to proclaim our Savior’s suffering death and resurrection back home in Albania.

Written by Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary on the Europe mission team. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Exactly where God wants us

“The school doesn’t even teach us about Jesus. Why would anyone want to go there anyway?”

My boys had many questions. What would the weather be like? What kind of foods would they eat? What wildlife would they see? Would there be any playgrounds? How long would we live there?

Since accepting the call to serve as the TELL Missionary to Africa, the questions had been coming daily. We had answers for some of the questions. For others, we couldn’t say much more than, “I guess we’ll find out together.” But when one of my sons asked why we would ever want to go to a school that wouldn’t teach about Jesus every day, I had to pause before answering.

At the time, I was serving at Trinity in Neenah, Wis., and we were blessed to have a Christian elementary school right across the street from our church. Our boys had built close relationships with their classmates as well as their teachers. My wife was involved with the fundraising for the school and a significant portion of my ministry was focused on the school ministry. The school, faculty, staff, and the families connected with Neenah Lutheran had been a blessing and joy for our family for the past four years.

So why leave? Why move to a country so far away and so different? Why move to a place that didn’t have a school that won’t teach about Jesus every day? Why would anyone want to go there anyway?

We have been in Lusaka, Zambia, for two weeks now. My boys have experienced new things every day. To our shock, they’ve tried many new foods. To their delight, they’ve ridden on bumpy roads and discovered lots of new insects. Before the end of our first month, we hope to have them enrolled in a new school for the remainder of the school year.

Since we arrived, we’ve also been blessed to meet many new people. Elizabeth works at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka and helped us fill out the proper forms when three of our luggage pieces didn’t arrive when we did. George is studying medicine and happened to worship with us at the Lutheran Church of Central Africa at M’takwa. Clarise is a flight attendant with Qatar Airways and was looking for ways to grow in her faith and study of God’s Word. By God’s grace, these three will enroll in the TELL program and begin their journey of studying God’s Word and one day become trained TELL Bible leaders.

I honestly can’t tell you the exact words I shared in response to my son’s question. Yet every day we’ve met someone new, they have really been the answer. We are here – at this place and at this time – to tell others about Jesus. And that is how it’s always been. It doesn’t matter if you live in Wisconsin or Zambia, you are exactly where God wants you to share the love of Christ with others.

I don’t know what school will be like for my boys, but I do know that it will be one more thing that is different for them. I also know that they won’t hear about Jesus in the classroom. So, why would anyone want to go to a school that doesn’t teach about Jesus? Good question.

Perhaps, my son, because the Lord will provide opportunities for us to be His witnesses and to share with others the hope that you have through Jesus.

Written by Rev. Joel Hoff, new TELL Missionary on the Africa One Team.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A warm welcome in Tanzania

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

Missionary John Roebke and I received a warm welcome to Tanzania last month, as part of One Africa Team’s Four-Stage Outreach process. We came to Tanzania to continue discussions with a local Lutheran church body, the Africa Mission Evangelism Church (AMEC). We wanted to discuss if our church bodies share the same Scriptural beliefs and practices. We hope that one day we will be able to work together united in faith.

AMEC’s leader, Bishop Baltazar Kaaya, met us at the airport late at night and showed us to our lodgings. The next day he gave us a tour of a couple congregations up in the foothills of Mt. Meru. As we drove, he explained how the lack of rain had been starting to affect their crops. “We’re praying for rain so that our people will have food to eat,” he said. Eventually, though, the dry areas began to give way to more green. Bishop Kaaya explained, “As we get higher on the mountain, we find areas that receive more rain.” It was quite a contrast.

Later in the day, we had the opportunity to witness an interesting piece of culture. The elders of a village were recognizing a man as the new leader of his family. This was a celebration somewhat reminiscent of a new pastor’s ordination or installation. All the other family heads gathered to speak their blessing upon this man in the presence of the entire clan. Many people were gathered. Though we felt a little out of place at this event, we were treated as honored guests. We were even asked to speak blessings of our own, as if we were part of the clan.

Throughout the week, the Tanzanian people continued to show us their warm welcome and hospitality. The church members gave us places of honor at their worship services. They made us feel at home with them, and that feeling increased. As the week progressed, we saw a familiarity in how the people approached the Word of God. In our daily workshop sessions, we explored that Word together. We used Luther’s Small Catechism as a guide to see whether we were on the same page. Ultimately, we found a group of people committed to the truth and zealous to put it into practice.

AMEC is made up of a group of almost 100 Lutheran congregations in northern Tanzania. Most of the congregations are concentrated near Mt. Meru, with a few more around Mt. Kilimanjaro to the east. These congregations are reaching out to other areas as well. AMEC’s newest effort is the coastal business center in Dar es Salaam. Islam is the dominant religion in this area, but the pastor there is working to bring the soothing peace of the gospel to the city’s people. It is living water for thirsty hearts!

At the end of our time together, the workshop participants surprised us with another warm gesture. They presented us with shukas, the traditional garment of the Masai people. Many of the people in this area of Tanzania belong to this ethnic group. It was a wonderful gift that expressed a deep truth: they wanted us to be part of their “tribe.” This is something that we want too! And what a blessing it was to see all the things on which our churches agree!

The weather isn’t the only thing keeping Tanzania warm; the faith of these people is a warm welcome in this cold world. It is a faith in the same God we serve and worship. We pray that our visits with the people of AMEC will continue to bear fruit of a common faith watered by God’s Word.

Written by Benjamin Foxen, a world missionary on the One Africa Team, serving in Zambia. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A celebration in Cochabamba

The streets were packed with tourists, vendors, and colorfully dressed dancers. It was carnival weekend in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and thousands had flocked to the city to celebrate. We were there to celebrate, too – but not because of carnival. We had something so much better to celebrate: the planting of a new church.

This is the goal of Academia Cristo. We give free online Bible studies to students all over Latin America, but the end goal is not online Bible study. Those studies help us identify and train people to plant biblical, Lutheran churches where they live.

That’s how a new church was born in Cochabamba. In April of 2020, a maxillofacial surgeon there named Eduardo Milanesi saw an Academia Cristo ad online and began studying with us. The Holy Spirit used the gospel he was learning to bring newfound peace and purpose to his life. He wanted to share what he was learning with others. He started bringing his Bible with him into check-ups and surgeries and telling his patients about Jesus. In less than a year, Eduardo finished the 13 courses in our discipleship program, confessed doctrinal agreement with us, and started gathering a group in his medical office to study God’s Word. We call groups like these “grupos sembrador” – planter groups.

It wasn’t easy. Eduardo was still working full time as a surgeon while leading his group in worship and Bible study. His group wrestled with COVID restrictions, addiction problems, and marital struggles. Academia Cristo provides study and worship materials for our church planters like Eduardo to use with their groups to help ease their workload, as well as a “consejero” – a missionary who counsels them as they navigate tough situations.

For the next two years, Eduardo’s group met every week, and by God’s grace, they began to grow – not just in numbers, but in faith and knowledge of the Scriptures. In January, they completed the studies we’ve prepared for planter groups and were received by WELS’ newly formed sister synod in Latin America – Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional – as a congregation.

That’s what brought us to Cochabamba on carnival weekend. Representatives of WELS, Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional, and our sister church in La Paz all traveled to celebrate. It wasn’t a celebration of our work or Eduardo’s work at all. It was a celebration of God’s saving work in the hearts of all present – especially in the hearts and lives of the new believers in Cochabamba. As Eduardo likes to say: “A Dios sea toda la gloria.” To God be all the glory.

The new church in Cochabamba is the first one planted through Academia Cristo. But over the past three years, God has blessed us with 51 other church planters and 21 planter groups – all on the same path Eduardo and his church took. God-willing, there will be many more celebrations like the one in Cochabamba in the future.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, missionary on the Latin America mission team stationed in Asunción, Paraguay. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

From the very beginning

How do WELS churches get started? How do we decide where they should go? This is not a secret nor is it a simple process. Through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s 2023 Winterim course, 14 seminary students were able to experience firsthand the earlier steps in exploring potential churches in three communities outside of Austin, Texas. The students began the week by meeting with WELS Mission Counselor, Matt Vogt and the core group of WELS members in each of the three cities. The 14 students were divided into three teams, one for each city, and asked to research thoroughly and report how much potential each community had for growth in the coming years.

The communities of Leander, Jarrell, and Kyle/Buda, seem to display potential for a new WELS church. Mission Counselor Vogt and Professor Allen Sorum worked alongside the South-Central district mission board, local area pastors and home missionaries, and their district president to prepare for the week. The students were trained and tasked with conducting community and church leader interviews, doing some door-to-door canvassing, and interviewing other potential core group members. When asked about their favorite part of the experience, students shared many examples of how the Holy Spirit opened hearts to conversations about the gospel.

Once their research was complete, the 14 students were able to present the information they gathered with their team (pictured). Students, local pastors, and Home Mission representatives listened, reacted, and asked questions about each location. With these insights from the seminary students, the South Central District Mission Board will prioritize which location(s) to pursue first.

As for the 14 seminary students, they were able to gain real experience exploring a potential mission field and sharing their faith before they receive their divine calls. Many students expressed greater interest in serving as a church planter after the trip was over. One student noted, “It was eye opening to see the grand scope of what WELS Home Missions does and the support we give to our home missionaries. It makes mission work less scary.” These men are going to be a part of the first few Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduating classes to potentially receive assignments to new home mission churches approved as part of the 100 Missions in 10 Years initiative. WELS Home Missions is thankful for partners at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary that are training the next generation of church planters.

Next week, the Board for Home Missions will meet to carefully consider and prioritize each request submitted for a new home mission or enhancement. Stay tuned to hear where those first new home mission starts and enhancements will be located as we work towards our goal of starting 100 missions and enhancing 75 ministries in the next in 10 years. 

Learn more about our 100 missions in 10 years initiative at wels100in10.net .




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Worship and Outreach – In Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin

“I suppose you’re doing ___________ worship.”

In the summer of 2013, a group of about 25 Christians met in a renovated storefront space in a strip mall in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, for the very first time. They called themselves “Good News Lutheran Church.” Most of them had previously been members at the WELS church in nearby Verona. For the first year that they gathered on Sunday, the pastor from Verona, Nathan Strutz, would also lead the service in Mt. Horeb. Eventually I was called to serve as the first full time pastor of Good News and arrived in Mt. Horeb in the summer of 2014.

Not long after I arrived in Mt. Horeb, a man I had met and crossed paths with a few times found out that I was the pastor at that new church that was meeting in the strip mall. After a few polite questions about how things were going at our church, he commented, “I would imagine you’re doing _______________ worship over there, huh?”

The specific adjective he used in front of “worship” doesn’t matter a great deal. Much more important were the logical dots he was connecting in his mind. We were a new, i.e. small, church. We wanted to, i.e. needed to, get bigger. We wanted to reach the individuals and families in our community who weren’t currently attending one of the six churches that already existed in our town. Therefore, it stood to reason that __________________ worship would be the key to reaching them.

Again, the specific adjective he used is beside the point. In the nine years that have followed since hearing that comment, I’ve talked to many unchurched people in our community. I’ve had those unchurched people ask a variety of questions about our church. Those questions have ranged from the deep and theological to the superficial and mundane. Sometimes I’m amazed by things that are on people’s minds as they contemplate going to church. It’s often things you would never think of as being important.

I’d be lying if I said that no one has ever asked about our style of worship. But I’m confident I could count on one hand the number of times that specific question has been asked. When it has been, it usually involved someone who had recently moved to town, who had previously had an active relationship with a church in their previous community, and who was looking for a church in our town that was similar.

However, that’s a rare profile in Mt. Horeb. The much more common profile goes something like this: A person had some sort of religious upbringing as a child, likely Mainline Protestant or Roman Catholic. When they graduated high school and moved away from home, they lost their connection to a church. At the same time, they were likely attending a large, public university where they were exposed to strong influences of secularism. When they entered the workforce, they lived in a fairly urban setting, likely Madison. At some point they met someone and got married. Eventually they had kids. When those kids approached school age, they started looking for a smaller, quieter community with good schools to buy their first home in and continue to raise their family.

So by the time they settle in Mt. Horeb, it has likely been well over a decade since they had an active relationship with a church. The weight of parental responsibility may mean that they are open to the idea of going back. But because of everything they’ve seen, heard, and experienced in the meantime, they also need to sort through with their adult minds some of the things they had been taught and believed when they were children.

What caused them to drift away—and what will convince them to come back—has very little to do with any particular style of worship.

In other words, what caused them to drift away from church in the first place—and what will convince them to come back to church—has very little to do with any particular style of worship. You can fill in the blank however you want. Traditional worship. Contemporary worship. Formal worship. Casual worship. Structured worship. Spontaneous worship. Praise band worship. Polka band worship (yes, we have that in Wisconsin). It wouldn’t really make a difference. I would say, if anything, people seem to desire something that feels at least somewhat familiar to what they experienced when they were young.

If not, then…?

So if worship style doesn’t seem to play a huge role in helping us reach people and grow as a church, what does?

A bit more about our community…

The most recent demographic information for our community indicated that the average household income was north of $80,000/year. Your typical home prices range from $250,000-$400,000. Both the unemployment rate and the poverty levels are below 2%. More than 80% of households in Mt. Horeb have both a mom and a dad who tuck the kids in at night. In other words, life in Mt. Horeb seems to be pretty good, at least outwardly.

But even before the pandemic, mental health struggles among young people were a major focus of attention within the community, and for good reason. A string of suicides and attempted suicides among students suggest that all is not as well as the demographics seem to indicate. Young people aren’t the only ones who seem to have something missing in their lives. Adults may not be losing sleep over where they stand with God or where they are going to spend their eternity. But they do seem to be obsessed with demonstrating that they are worthy of the approval of their peers. There always seems to be some new moral/political cause that people want everyone to know where they stand on.

So if people in this upper middle class, suburban, family-oriented community are going to consider giving church a shot, it’s not likely because they feel as though they have the “Jesus thing” all figured out but are looking for help in making some incremental improvements on the more incidental aspects of life. Instead, it’s because they have the incidentals (job, education, career, etc.) pretty well figured out, but have been living with the results of the “Jesus thing” being entirely absent.

Lutheran worship has a weekly structure and an annual rhythm whose entire goal is to point people to Jesus.

As I get to know them and have conversations with them, it would seem completely unnatural to try to convince them to come based on any one facet or characteristic of our worship style. But it’s entirely natural to assure them that the approval, identity, peace, and hope that seems to be missing in their lives can all be found in Jesus. It’s entirely natural to talk about how Lutheran worship has a weekly structure and an annual rhythm whose entire goal is to point people to Jesus. It’s made me grateful to know that is one thing we can offer our community as well as any church in the world. When we were a new church of fewer than 30 people, there wasn’t a ton we could do in worship. We could, however, deliver Christ and all of the blessings he brings with him.

A bit more about our community…

For as long as I’ve been in Mt. Horeb, the contentious political issues that tend to trend on Twitter and soak up the airtime on cable news seem to keep popping up at the local level as well. Everything from climate change to immigration to school bathroom policies to pandemic policies to race relations has been a source of debate in our community. In a small town, the sides get drawn up pretty quickly. It’s often challenging to avoid getting caught on one side of the debate or the other. Everyone seems to want to weigh in, including Christians and Christian churches.

As a result, people often make assumptions about the political party or platform each church supports, including ours. While doing some canvassing one time, I ended up knocking on the door of our local representative in the Wisconsin State Assembly. We had a very nice conversation overall. But at one point she made the interesting observation that she assumed I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of hers as a politician because I was a religious person.

Living in such a politically charged climate has made it entirely natural to emphasize with people the difference between the church’s mission of winning souls for Christ’s kingdom and winning political battles. It’s been eye-opening—and door-opening—to share with people that the main message of our church is not a political position. In the past three years especially, I’ve found it natural and beneficial to be able to say (repeatedly): I’m not here to change your views about politics, and I’m not here to change your views about public health. When politics seems to dominate the conversation 24/7, it’s a relief for people to know that there’s at least 1 of the 168 hours of a week where the topic of conversation is something else (and far more important).

One last thing about our community…

Our community is situated in a county that was by far the most restrictive in our state and among the most restrictive areas in the country. Public schools in our county kept their doors closed for nearly a full year after the pandemic hit, much to the dismay of many parents. During that same time, online learning gave parents a fuller and sometimes surprising glimpse of what their children had been getting taught when they sent them off to school each day. Many companies kept their doors closed and their workers at home. Many churches didn’t have in person services indoors for well over a year. In other words, it’s an area where people seemed ready to go “all in” on all things online. As a result, it’s an area where many people have seen firsthand the detrimental results of doing so.

The good news is delivered by fully embodied persons to other fully embodied persons in fully embodied ways.

As a result, it’s been very natural to share with people how the good news at the heart of our weekly services is not just content we want them to passively or even virtually consume. Instead, it’s a message that is delivered by fully embodied persons to other fully embodied persons in fully embodied ways. It’s offered a natural talking point for why we opened our doors as soon as we could in 2020 rather than keeping them closed. It’s been natural to share how we hope that our services are places where the whole family shares and receives the gospel together, where we want parents to hear what we are teaching their kids about Jesus, and in fact where we want parents to be the ones telling them about Jesus through their active participation in the service.

Like just about every other church in the world, we started live streaming our services during the pandemic. We’re still doing that, but we try to communicate in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways that, even though we’re happy people can be “flies on the wall” watching from their home, we’d really love it if they were with us in the room.

Emphasize the difference between the church’s mission of winning souls for Christ’s kingdom and winning political battles.

How we fill in the blank

So while there doesn’t seem to be a pressing need to focus on the specific style of our services, there have been plenty of opportunities to share with people the substance of our services. They are Christ-centered and gospel-focused. They aim to effect change in the heart rather than in the ballot box. They engage the whole person, not just the mind. They are communal rather than individual.

None of that probably comes as a surprise. None of that is probably any different from the way any of our churches would describe their services. Maybe you’re wondering about the specifics.

I’m not sure how I’d fill in the blank with the word that best describes our style of worship. I’ve had people describe it as much more modern/contemporary than the traditional style they grew up with. I’ve had people describe it as much more traditional/structured than the casual style they experienced somewhere else.

I don’t think I’ve made many decisions about worship in an attempt to have any of those adjectives fit our style of worship. Perhaps the ways in which our worship might be the most different from what you’d experience in your typical WELS church could be described with words like “simple” and “stable.” In a church where most people don’t have much of a WELS background and where all kinds of families with young children are learning to worship together, I’ve found that simple and stable are huge blessings. We do quite a few things seasonally. We use orders of service seasonally. We often use seasonal opening or closing hymns. We’ll use the same psalm refrain seasonally while speaking responsively the verses of the Psalm of the Day in between. Overall, our repertoire of core hymns is quite small (~125). The different settings of the service that we use is even smaller (two with seasonal variety, especially during the festival half of the Church Year). Simplicity and stability continue to pay dividends. It’s a great joy to see new worshipers get familiar with our service quickly. It’s a great joy to hear children who can’t read yet belting out the simple melodies and texts they hear week after week.

Simple and stable are huge blessings.

Other than that, it’s pretty standard fare—prepared and delivered as well as we possibly can. Yes, it’s printed in the service folder so that people can follow along easily. But when we first started, it was pretty much what you’d find in the red hymnal. Now it’s pretty much what you find in the blue hymnal.

However you might describe our worship, it served us well while we were a group of 30 gathering in a strip mall. It had evolved and expanded a bit by the time we were a group of 80 gathering in our second temporary location: the basement of a multi-tenant office building. And during all that time while we gathered in those temporary spaces with cobbled together chancel furnishings and audio equipment and hand-me-down paraments and banners, it was also preparing us for services in a space that’s actually designed for the very things we’ve been doing all along.

Whether in a strip mall, a bank building basement, or a newly constructed sanctuary, whether the specific style of worship was everyone’s favorite never seemed to matter a great deal. What mattered is that they knew it. What mattered is that they could do it. What mattered is that their kids had something they knew and could do as well. And at the end of the day, they decided to come (and decided to stay) for much different reasons.

(For additional photos of the new church, see 119a. Supplemental Photos at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-worship-and-outreach.)

By Jonathan Bauer

Pastor Bauer graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2008. His first call was to Emmanuel Lutheran in Tempe, AZ. In 2014 he accepted the call to Good News in Mount Horeb, WI, a mission church that recently completed its first building project. Jon serves on WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling and the Institute for Worship and Outreach. He served on the Executive Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project. His keynote address from the recent leadership conference contains some thoughts that are complementary to this article and is available at vimeo.com/801975492.

 


 

 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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