Synod convention overview

Synod convention celebrates our great heritage 

From the opening hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”—complete with a 45-voice choir, instruments, and organ—to the closing anthem “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage” sung acapella three days later, the 64th biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod highlighted the blessings of our Lutheran heritage. 

More than 400 delegates and advisors attended the convention, held July 31–Aug. 3 at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. The convention theme, “Our Great Heritage,” connects with the important anniversary confessional Lutherans are celebrating in 2017—the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. 

In the opening President’s Report, WELS President Mark Schroeder stressed the importance of the blessings God gave to the church through Martin Luther and the faithful witnesses that followed him. “We can’t help but thank God for the many blessings that God has passed down through the generations to us,” he says. “It’s a rich and priceless inheritance—not of money or property but of the truth of his Word and the life-giving power of the gospel. It’s a heritage that has been treasured, protected, and preserved, and which has now been entrusted to us. It’s a heritage for us to defend and hold on to, so that we can share it with others now and with generations to come.” 

Daily devotions reflected on the three solas of the Reformation, grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. John Brenner, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., also presented an essay entitled “God’s Word is our great heritage,” which focused on one of the teachings brought back to the light by the Reformation: The Bible is the totally inspired and inerrant Word of God. 


Learning about work being done 

Reports from WELS areas of ministry shared how WELS is working to spread this ageless, unchanging gospel message.  

  • LarrySchlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, gave an overview of expanding gospel-outreach opportunities around the world.He reported that since the last synod convention in 2015, WELS has made contact with and been involved in some capacity with 14 new mission fields around the world. Now WELS works with close to 50 world fields, ranging from places where WELS sends missionaries to locales with contacts from national churches to groups that are using materials from Multi-Language Publications. Delegates also heard firsthand about world mission work from missionaries who live in Africa, Russia, and East Asia.
  • Outreach opportunities in the United States and Canada were also highlighted—including new and enhanced ministries started in 2017 in placessuch as Waukegan, Ill.; Hendersonville, N.C.; and Milwaukee, Wis. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, also underscored growing cross-cultural ministries to the Hmong, Sudanese, Vietnamese, and Spanish-speaking populations.
  • Training called workers to preach and teach is an important part of preserving our heritage. Paul Prange, administrator of WELS Ministerial Education, talked about quality and quantity of workers as he looked at the ministries of the four ministerial education schools—Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.
  • Representatives from the Congregational Supportshared updates on resources and information that can help congregations in the areas of outreach, education, discipleship, worship, and member assistance. A special report from Jonathan Hein, director of the WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, highlighted key findings from a comprehensive demographic survey of WELSconducted over the past two years.

Highlighting Reformation 500 

Celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation continued with presentations that highlighted Reformation history as well as shared materials and ways for congregations and individuals to celebrate the Reformation. 

Michael Herbst, vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany, was a special guest of the convention and shared more about the history of our sister church and how the ELFK continues to reach out in the land of the Reformation. 

Herbst was not the only special guest at the convention. Representatives came from three Lutheran church bodies with whom WELS will be declaring fellowship during the convention: the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia; South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (Hong Kong); and East Asia Lutheran Synod. Guests from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod also attended. 

John Braun, chairman of the Reformation 500 Committee, reported on available Reformation 500 resources, including Bible studies and a children’s film taken from the popular Martin Luther film, A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy. Delegates were treated to a viewing of A Return to Grace, which included a question-and-answer period with the film’s executive producer, Steve Boettcher, and author of the companion book Luther’s Protest, John Braun.  

To celebrate the anniversary, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) decided to prepare a new “Ninety-five Theses for the 21st century.” Fifteen pastors from around the world put together the document, which was approved by the CELC at its triennial convention in Grimma, Germany, this past summer. A video of confessional Lutherans from around the world reading some of these theses was shown to the delegates.  


Go to wels.net/2017synodconvention to read the President’s report and the essay, to view presentations, to look at photos, and to watch news videos filmed at the convention. 


Convention resolutions set direction for the future 

During the convention, 21 floor committees met to consider information that pertained to their assigned area of ministry and to offer reports and resolutions to the convention floor that will set the course for the next biennium. 

Delegates adopted the resolution approving the Synodical Council’s proposed ministry financial plan (budget). This plan keeps WELS on solid financial ground, but, according to Todd Poppe, WELS’ chief financial officer, near-flat Congregation Mission Offerings and increasing costs could make it difficult to maintain ministries beyond this biennium. The Synodical Council authorized a greater use of reserve funds to maintain ministry for 2017–19. 

Delegates did express some concern about the amount of support for the Board for Ministerial Education, particularly for Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn. The amount of debt for Martin Luther College graduates has been an issue of concern in recent years. Other delegates noted that adding support to one area of ministry means that support would need to be removed from another area.  

The Synodical Council’s unfunded priority list, which helps allocate additional resources received above those projected by the ministry financial plan, was also adopted. Some of the prioritized ministry programs not in the current ministry financial plan include Publication Coordinating Commission theological works, more new Home Mission starts, enhancement of World Missions, financial assistance to MLC students, another Christian giving counselor, capital projects at ministerial education schools, and support to various Congregational Services ministries like Military Services and Prison Ministry. 

A resolution to support the synod’s new long-range plan was adopted. Titled “Our Great Heritage,” this plan will help guide the work that WELS will undertake from 2018–25. 

Delegates adopted a resolution that will constitutionally change the name of the Congregation and Ministry Support Group to Congregational Services. The Congregation and Ministry Support Group recommended the change because it wanted a shorter and more memorable name that better communicates the central mission of the commission. 

Recommendations of the Compensation Review Committee were reviewed and adopted by delegates. The 2015 synod in convention called for a thorough review of the WELS Compensation Guidelines. The Compensation Review Committee of the Synodical Council recommended only slight modifications to the current guidelines but also worked on repackaging the guidelines to make them easier to apply by calling bodies.  

Discussion ensued when a resolution was presented to require all early childhood and Lutheran elementary schools to require a $7.50 annual fee per student and all high schools to pay a $4.00 annual fee per student to help support the work of the Commission on Lutheran Schools. Since 2007, schools have been encouraged to give a voluntary supplemental contribution to assist with Lutheran Schools’ operating costs. Delegates who spoke against the motion believe that these costs should be included in the WELS ministry financial plan. The motion was defeated. A motion did subsequently pass urging delegates to “strongly encourage all of their schools to participate in the voluntary supplemental contribution.” 

Synod leaders now will move forward during the next biennium to carry out the direction that was supported by convention delegates. The next synod convention will be held in 2019 at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. 


 Read all the convention reports and resolutions as well as learn more about the new long-range plan, the unfunded priority list, the recommendations of the Compensation Review Committee, and details of the ministry financial plan at wels.net/2017synodconvention. 


A growing Lutheran family 

The synod in convention had the joy of officially welcoming three Lutheran synods from around the world into fellowship.  

Representing the synods at the convention were Rev. Dr. Kebede Yigezu from the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE), Rev. Titus Tse from South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) in Hong Kong, and two pastors from East Asia Lutheran Synod. 

Kebede founded the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia in 2012 and, at the same time, added a seminary so that he can teach other Christian pastors, in addition to Lutheran pastors, the pure Word of God. Today, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia has nearly 400 members and has already seen graduates from its seminary. Kebede says the declaration of fellowship is a historic moment for the LCE. “It is meaningful for us because faithfulness to Scripture is a very important matter of life and death. Jesus says ‘If you hold to my teaching . . .’ So, faithfulness to what he says, what the Scriptures say from Genesis chapter 1 to the last chapter of Revelation, is very important. We are very happy because we know that WELS is faithful to the Scriptures and is a confessional Lutheran church.” 

Founded in 1977, SALEM has 10 congregations and six pastors. The synod’s history is tied closely to Asia Lutheran Seminary, the WELS ministerial training school located in Hong Kong. Tse says, “We recognize that it’s important that we’re keeping the faith, and we can share with future generations the importance of keeping the faith because of this relationship with WELS, a church that shares our faith.” 

East Asia Lutheran Synod was established in February 2017. It was formed from five Lutheran groups and has 280 baptized members. The synod is just getting started but is already looking ahead to how it can expand and grow as well as begin international mission work. One of the pastors said, “It’s a numerous number of people who come to convention, and it’s a blessing to see there’s a huge church group at our back to support our church even though we are very far away and in a very different situation.” 


To learn more about of WELS’ sister synods, visit celc.info. 


Bible study important part of compensation guidelines 

One of the important issues coming in front of delegates at the 2017 convention was a set of revised compensation guidelines put together by the Compensation Review Committee to help calling bodies determine adequate compensation for their called workers. The delegates adopted the guidelines through a resolution put together by Floor Committee #8. 

But Michael Woldt, pastor at David’s Star, Jackson, Wis., and chairman of that floor committee, says the numbers and guidelines and new compensation calculator were only part of his committee’s discussion. “The message that the floor committee really wanted to get out was not just adopting the calculator and guidelines but looking at the Bible study and the prayerful, thoughtful approach to compensation as the most important element and the starting point,” he says. 

The compensation guidelines begin with a Bible study that explores the guidance God’s Word gives about what compensation full-time called workers should receive. In a report presented to the convention, Floor Committee #8 wrote, “Special thanks is given for the Bible study portion of the report. We strongly encourage all calling bodies to review this Bible study on a regular basis.” The report also noted that the Compensation Review Committee is planning future Bible studies and instructional videos related to called worker compensation issues. 

Notes Woldt, “The calculator is not where you start. . . . You start with the Bible study and make that front and center.” 

The report also included one final note: “No guidelines or resources, no matter how well-crafted, will ever eliminate selfishness, greed, or discontent in the hearts of those serving in the public ministry or in the lives of those being served by faithful ministers of the gospel. That is the work of the Spirit. No guidelines or resources, no matter how well-crafted, will ever provide the financial means for struggling congregations to compensate their called workers according to synodical guidelines. That too is the work of the Spirit as God’s people grow in the grace of giving.” 


 The compensation guidelines and calculator as well as a new video Bible study presented by Prof. Earle Treptow, chairman of the Compensation Review Committee, is now available online at welsrc.net/human-resources. 


Elections 

The following individuals were elected at the 2017 synod convention to serve on various boards and commissions: 

First vice president 

Rev. James Huebner 

Recording secretary 

Rev. Robert Pasbrig 

Synodical Council  

Pastors-At-Large—Rev. Joel Jenswold, Rev. Jonathan Schroeder 

Teacher-At-Large—Mr. James Moeller 

Board for World Missions 

Chairman—Rev. Paul Janke 

Layman—Mr. Arlin Bornschlegl 

Board for Home Missions 

Chairman—Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn 

Board for Ministerial Education 

Chairman—Rev. Duane Rodewald 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. Gerald Zeamer 

Laymen—Mr. Paul Hahm, Mr. Dean Waldschmidt 

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Governing Board 

Chairman—Rev. Jonathan Scharf 

Board of Appeals 

Pastor—Rev. Joel Leyrer 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. James Moeller 

Layman—Mr. Kennith Gosch 

Commission on Evangelism 

Chairman—Rev. Donn Dobberstein 

Commission on Lutheran Schools 

Chairman—Mr. James Sievert 

Northwestern Publishing House Board of Directors 

Parish pastor—Rev. Joel Schroeder 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. Matthew Groth 

Laymen—Mr. Joel Raasch, Mr. Edward Wolf 


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Author:
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

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