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Celebrating the blessings of WELS youth ministry

As one decade comes to a close and another begins, WELS youth ministry programs have exciting milestones and events on the horizon.

First, the monthly video news magazine Kids Connection is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Created to complement the WELS Connection monthly video news magazine, Kids Connection encourages children and their families to “stay connected to Jesus” through Christ-centered stories and segments presented by two teenage hosts.

“We have an incredible number of passionate kids and adults in our church body,” says Mrs. Kris Snyder, producer. “God places each of us in spaces and situations and in different relationships to nurture our faith and provide us with opportunities to serve him by serving others. Kids Connection is our chance to share their stories and connect us through our common faith.”

Snyder recalls how the tagline “stay connected to Jesus” first came to be a signature element of the program.

“Early on, we used the line ‘stay connected to Jesus’ to close a few episodes, just encouraging kids to stay in their Bibles, to learn more about their Savior,” Snyder says. “Soon, kids began to quote that line when they wrote letters to us; it became a permanent tagline. I even heard it used during one of our WELS grade school graduations!”

Kids Connection is valuable in numerous settings, including grade schools, Sunday schools, preschools, early childhood education centers, and Christian homes. It can even be shown after worship for the whole congregation or during visits to elderly homebound church members.

Another way for young people to stay connected is the WELS International Youth Rally. The next rally will be held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, June 23–26, 2020, under the theme “Vision 2020: Seeing Christ Clearly, Serving Christ Boldly.”

“So much in our culture distracts, distorts, or outright denies the incredible love of God who sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for their sins,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Commission on Discipleship. “This rally will position Christ and his cross in front of them to encourage clarity of faith and motivate bold service to him in their lives.”

Youth rally attendees will join more than 2,000 others who share their faith, making this event the largest regular assembly of WELS members. Special speakers and workshops will further bring into focus the meaning of their Savior’s presence in their lives today and in the life to come. Christ-centered discussions of critical topics like evangelism, anxiety, and social media will guide and empower teens long after the event.

“We don’t want the rally to impact them for just four days,” says Dobberstein. “We want this to be transformational in their lives as they understand who they are and what their God has equipped them to do.”

Attendees also will be able to enjoy the Anakeesta Theme Park, river tubing, paintball, and other recreational activities around Knoxville for an additional fee, all the time growing through fellowship with their Christian brothers and sisters.

Churches and schools are encouraged to start promoting and planning for the youth rally by announcing the dates of the event to church teens and youth leaders and by connecting with the event on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Registration booklets will be available at churches and online in January. Early-bird registration begins March 2.

To learn more about and subscribe to Kids Connection, visit wels.net/kidsconnection. To learn more about the 2020 WELS International Youth Rally, visit wels.net/youthrally.

 

 

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A new voice for WELS Daily Devotions

Starting March 3, the audio version of the WELS Daily Devotions features a new voice: Zach Steinke. Steinke is a senior at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., with prior experience in the radio communications industry.

“We are thrilled to have Zach as our new narrator for the WELS Daily Devotions,” says Rev. Eric Roecker, director of the WELS Commission on Evangelism. “His experience and expertise will be a blessing to the thousands of souls who listen each day.”

Narrating the Daily Devotions was an unexpected opportunity for Steinke. Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of the WELS Commission on Discipleship, was teaching one of Steinke’s classes recently and mentioned that they were seeking a new narrator for the Daily Devotions. Dobberstein asked the students to take turns reading portions of some devotional material, and Steinke’s abilities captured Dobberstein’s attention.

“When it was my turn, I read my paragraph,” Steinke recalls. “Then Pastor Dobberstein asked me to read the next one . . . and the next one.”

Afterward, Steinke shared his voice demos with Dobberstein and other WELS staff, eventually meeting with them to discuss the opportunity. He was quickly brought on board.

“I was not planning to audition myself as a candidate, and Pastor Dobberstein was not necessarily looking for a ‘voice’ from the classroom that day,” Steinke explains. “However, the Lord brought this all together, so to him be the glory.”

Steinke replaces Rev. Mike Hintz, retired director for the WELS Commission on Evangelism. Coincidentally, Hintz was once his pastor. Steinke sees this connection as another example of God’s hand in shaping this opportunity.

“It just shows you that this is something only the Lord can plan and work out,” Steinke says. “I am surprised and honored to be succeeding Pastor Hintz.”

In 2018, the Daily Devotions had nearly 11,000 subscribers in more than 15 different countries. Thousands of listeners tune in each day.

“The Lord has already blessed this ministry exponentially,” Steinke notes. “I pray that I’ll be a good steward of this ministry and that God continues to make it fruitful through me and the many writers of the Daily Devotions.”

Steinke expresses gratitude for being able to share the gospel in this unique way. For listeners of the Daily Devotions, he shares this message: “As you incorporate these devotions into your day, may the Holy Spirit strengthen your faith as God speaks his gospel comfort to your heart. I’d also like to challenge you to think of people in your life who need to know such comfort. Share these devotions with them so they can know Jesus, their Savior, and how precious they are in his sight.”

To read, listen to, and subscribe to WELS Daily Devotions, visit wels.net/daily-devotions. Listen to Steinke read today’s devotion.

Women’s ministry conference highlights being “living stones”

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

The focal point of the upcoming 2019 WELS Women’s Ministry Conference, being held at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., July 18–20, is “living stones” and how Christian women are called to be a part of something bigger.

Mrs. Dawn Schulz, conference coordinator, says the committee chose 1 Peter as the conference’s inspiration because it’s a great encouragement to women. “A ‘living stone’ is a woman who uses her God-given talents and gifts to build up God’s kingdom and to bless those around her, wherever that may be,” Schulz says. “Just like Jesus, we are special to God. We are chosen for a reason.”

A range of speakers will discuss the topic of living stones in keynote addresses and breakout sessions. One of the main points of the conference is how Christians fit together, like stones on a building. Each stone possesses unique qualities to serve God’s kingdom. To emphasize this point, the speakers have a range of backgrounds, including a lawyer, a pastor, and a ministry coordinator.

“We wanted to provide opportunities for a wide scope of presentations,” Schulz says. “The speakers who were chosen are people who have been speaking and researching God’s Word and will bring light to the fact that God uses every single person in his kingdom.”

The conference also will dive into how Christian women should look at the individuality of each person to more effectively share the gospel. For example, a young adult ministry professional as well as a panel of college students will emphasize how to reach younger generations today.

At the end of the conference, Schulz hopes women walk away feeling more confident in their purpose as a part of God’s spiritual house. She says, “This conference is going to nurture women in God’s Word, encourage them by bringing them together with other Christian sisters, and equip them with resources.”

For more information on the Women’s Ministry Conference and to register, visit wels.net/wmconference.

Ministering to Millennials

In November, WELS Congregational Services launched a new set of resources aimed at helping congregations minister to Millennials, those born from 1980-2000.

“The Commission on Congregational Counseling has worked with so many churches that have identified that the Millennial generation is opting out of church on a large-scale basis,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services and director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling. “I hear it from individuals too. They have a relative in their late twenties who still confesses faith in Jesus but who does not see the benefit in being a member at a church.”

Hein continues, “The Ministering to Millennials resources are meant to help congregations think through how they might better retain and gain members from this largest generation in America. However, I think individuals might benefit from it too. It can help them learn how to better understand ways to personally witness to Millennial-aged friends or neighbors. So we are hoping that everyone—congregational leadership and individual Christians—goes to welscongregationalservices.net and utilizes the Ministering to Millennial resources.”

Four videos with accompanying discussion guides are available as well as a playbook that outlines 10 important ministry behaviors to consider to retain Millennials in our congregations and when reaching out to share the gospel with them. To view these materials, visit welscongregationalservices.net, choose the “Modules” dropdown menu, and then choose “Discipleship Modules.”

For more information about ministering to Millennials, watch this “Together” video update featuring Rev. James Hein, who serves at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis., which has a thriving ministry to Millennials. Hein helped coordinate the video modules on this topic for WELS Congregational Services.

 

 

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WELS Youth Rally wraps up

From June 26-29, Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, hosted the WELS International Youth Rally. Approximately 2,100 WELS teens and youth leaders gathered for worship, learning, and fellowship under the theme “Never Alone.” This theme was based on the message of Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Attendees were assured that God is ever-present in their lives and that they are not isolated in their belief.

The teens and leaders alike were encouraged and entertained by the events of the rally.

Sophia Busse, Trinity, Waukesha, Wis., remarked, “It’s been really incredible. I’ve never been with so many people who share the same faith.” This was Busse’s first time attending the rally, and she called it a “really cool experience.”

Tabitha Vannieuwenhoven, Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., enjoyed discussing topics of faith with new people at the rally. “I loved all the workshops and hearing everybody else’s point of view on stuff that my friends and I talk about.”

Youth Leader David Denninger, Redeemer, Maple Grove, Minn., gathered a great deal of knowledge from other leaders to take back to his home congregation, “It’s eye-opening, and you know you’re not alone. There are resources out there, and they’re plentiful. People are giving you ideas about what you can do, and you can do it in your church no matter what the size.”

Rev. Donn Dobberstein was installed as the director of discipleship for WELS’ Congregational Services on the final day of the rally. Affirming the mission of the event, he shared a story he heard from a Florida pastor about his group of teens: “One of them was a teen girl who had just been baptized six months ago. To be able to see this event through her eyes—the eyes of someone who is new to the faith—and then to experience it on a large scale with youth from all over the nation . . . to me, that is what the event means: To let the kids know, like the rally theme says, ‘You are never alone.’”

Rev. John Boggs, a member of the rally planning committee and chairman for the WELS Commission on Discipleship, hopes that the event has a lasting impact on the attitudes of all the WELS teens who were in attendance. “It’s to give them—even if it’s just for a few days—an opportunity to celebrate the fact that their God knows who they are, their God deeply loves them, and he has put people in their lives who want to build them up instead of tear them down,” says Boggs, pastor at Divine Savior, West Palm Beach, Fla. “That’s hopefully something they’ll take with them throughout their lives at this critical time.”

The rally was organized by the WELS Commission on Discipleship. View photos from the rally on Flickr.

View WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder’s welcome to the attendees.

 

 

 

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Registration opens for 2018 youth rally

Registration is now open for the 2018 WELS International Youth Rally, June 26-29, in Bowling Green, Ohio. WELS teens from around the country and the world will meet under the theme “Never Alone,” based on Matthew 28:20, to learn about how God’s Word applies to their lives and to meet fellow Christian youth.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein, WELS director of discipleship, says, “Our church body can never over-invest the time spent with the youth of our congregations. In a day and age that makes it increasingly easy to ‘drift away’ from faith or the church, a youth rally experience gathers WELS teens together to see undisputable proof—they are not alone in their faith! It’s an event that personally encourages WELS teens to confront their doubts in faith and understand better how they truly are a highly-valued part of Christ’s church.”

If congregations haven’t already, it’s time to get a group together to attend. To register, each group needs a contact youth leader who will be the main point of communication prior to and during the rally. The contact youth leader registers first, and once the university processes their registration, the rest of the group can register individually. New this year, every youth leader must submit information for a background check. Also, the cost went down this year. The registration fee is $345 until April 30 and then $370 until May 31 when registration closes.

The theme, “Never Alone,” seems an important message now more than ever. Mrs. Kris Snyder, the youth rally planner, says, “From social media to politics, random violence to racial tensions, we are constantly on edge. We are surrounded by a tornado of information and activity, yet we can feel isolated. What a comfort to know that God remains in control. He sent Jesus to make us God’s children. And Jesus promises, ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).”

Attendees will participate in worship services with 2,000 of their peers as well as choose from a range of workshops with topics relevant to their lives, including “Can I be a ninja when I grow up?”, “#notawkward: dating and relationships,” “Got self esteem?”, “Discover your mission,” and more. In addition to the spiritual workshops for teens, recreational workshops will also be offered as well as workshops for the youth leaders.

Snyder says, “Bowling Green State University (BGSU) is an excellent campus for the 2018 WELS International Youth Rally. It’s self-contained and compact, no more than a ten-minute walk from one end to the other, and no major streets to cross. BGSU has a wide variety of recreational buildings including an ice rink and indoor facility with artificial turf in addition to the rock climbing wall, large pool, and several basketball courts. They also have a great deal of green space to fill with inflatables, bands, and fun!”

Dobberstein says, “My hopeful prayer is that on the return trip home, our youth are challenged to see themselves as called and equipped by Christ for meaningful works of service in their churches. The way the gospel is unleashed is through THEM as they carry Christ’s light into their homes, their schools, their places of work, and their neighborhoods. WELS teens are vital to the mission of our churches. Let them participate actively in it!”

Learn more and register at wels.net/2018youthrally.

New movie focuses on outreach

Filming is complete for the movie To the Ends of the Earth, an upcoming outreach film that will follow the apostle Paul and his work in Philippi.

This movie is the final installment in a series of four outreach movies that are a collaboration between WELS Commission on Evangelism, WELS Commission on Discipleship, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc. “Our goal for this movie is to show in a dramatic way how the gospel is spread into the world following the command of Jesus and to show how it impacted people’s lives,” says Rev. Mike Hintz, who recently retired as director of WELS Evangelism but continues to serve as a member of the movie production team. The film’s title is taken directly from Jesus’ command to his disciples at his Ascension: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco, from Jan. 29–Feb. 3, the movie highlights four major events from the book of Acts—the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus, the conversion of Lydia, the casting out of a demon from the slave girl, and Paul and Silas in prison followed by the baptisms of the jailer and his household.

The filming location, in a setting where many other Bible-era movies have been shot, allowed the production team to make use of already available sets, beautiful scenery, and local talent. The production team is the same crew that worked on the recent Luther film, A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy. “Our goal was authenticity, and, honestly, I felt like I was back in that time,” says Hintz, who served as a consultant on set. “The way the people looked and sounded, the scenery, the sets—I think people are going to feel like they’re in Philippi.”

The goal is to have the movie available by the end of summer 2018 in time for congregations initially to use the film and accompanying materials as an option for celebrating a synodwide Mission and Ministry Sunday on Oct. 21. Plans are to show a movie trailer at the district conventions in June.

Hintz says the movie would not be possible except for funding help from Church Mutual Insurance Company Foundation; WELS Foundation’s Shared Blessings donor advised fund; Multi-Language Publications; and gifts from groups, congregations, and individuals.

“It is our goal that this not only be a movie that will hold our attention but also move us with our hearts and minds to continue to follow the Lord’s will to take the gospel to the ends of the earth,” say Hintz.