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NPH 125 Years and Counting: Beyond paper and ink

Northwestern Publishing House looks ahead to the digital world.

Raymond W. Schumacher

From the time of its incorporation in August 1891, Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) has served the publishing needs of the Wisconsin Synod. For much of its 125-year history, the work involved paper and ink. Books, Bible studies, brochures, music, curriculum, bulletin covers, tracts, certificates, and more—all were print resources.

Advances in technology have made it possible to communicate the message of Christ in different ways. It has also made it necessary for the synod’s publisher to adjust its vision and adapt to the changing ways people access the written word. So NPH looks to the future, aware that God’s people will want and need to receive Christ-centered resources in different ways.

Different ways to communicate the gospel

The difference is illustrated by the means God has used to reach souls with the message of Christ in two separate mission fields.

A Christian doctor in a predominately Muslim country understood how the printed Word could be the vehicle to strengthen the faith of believers and to introduce unbelievers to Jesus. Patients at his clinic sat in a waiting room that would seem humble to those accustomed to American clinic standards. Yet, it was well stocked with reading material. As they waited for the doctor to attend to their needs, patients could read a little booklet that, in clear and simple language, explained the message of sin and of God’s grace for us in Christ. Or they might have picked up one of several self-study Bible pamphlets and grown in their knowledge of Christ and in their faith. The Holy Spirit worked through the message of Christ the patients were reading. Many, who once bowed before false gods, became soldiers of the cross.

In a neighboring country, an ambitious Christian packed a solar-powered projector into a backpack and hiked into the mountains. He visited villages that aren’t served with electricity, where there is limited access to printed material, and where few people are able to read. Using a sheet as a screen, he would show the villagers a video presentation that told of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Many who heard about Jesus for the first time came to believe.

You can probably think of examples in your own family or your own church that illustrate the same point. Perhaps you know of a recent retiree who bought a complete set of the People’s Bible—all 41 volumes—and made it his goal to read them all. He wants to grow in his understanding of the Bible so he can be a better mentor to the young leaders in his congregation. Though he is adept at using a computer and a smartphone, he prefers a printed book for his study of Scripture.

Perhaps you have a relative whose tastes are different. Living and working in one of our nation’s largest cities, she is thankful that she can access biblical resources digitally. Her long commute to work inserts a ready-made time slot into each day. At her seat in the commuter train she can read the Bible, a devotion, and prayers, all on the screen of her phone. And one evening each week she meets onscreen with her pastor and several other members of her church who are scattered around the large metropolitan area, and they study the Bible together.

Those situations all reveal that the work of the synod’s publisher is broader than it once was. Although a large segment of the population prefers to have a book in hand and to read words that are printed with ink on paper, others enjoy the convenience of being able to grab guidance and strength from God’s Word whenever they want, wherever they are, and with whatever device they happen to have on hand.

Meeting people wherever they are

Even as NPH adjusts its focus beyond printed pages stored on pallets and distributed from a central warehouse, God is already blessing the effort. More than 160 titles are already available in e-book format through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We can only wonder about the ways God may be building people up through resources that faithfully proclaim God’s Word.

A casualty of extreme and severe suffering may be searching for understanding and strength. Still smarting from the pain of losing a loved one, a person who doesn’t know Christ may be looking for clues to the meaning of life. A young father may be reaching out for help as he seeks to lay a firm spiritual foundation for the family the Lord has given him. A lifelong learner may just be curious about what the Bible says about angels. Bewildered students, overwhelmed by all the confusing and contradictory messages that swirl around them each day, may be looking for help to sort out the truth. A Christian psychologist may be searching for the proper Christian perspective on mental illness. A sinner, who has carried a burden of guilt for a lifetime, may be desperately looking for rescue. All can find resources that hold up the cross of Christ as they answer questions, offer hope, and point to the Savior whose forgiveness is unconditional and complete.

For decades, the Meditations devotions have served as a tool for spiritual strengthening. Today, in addition to 90,000 print copies, Meditations is available as an app for iPhones and iPads. About 41,000 individuals have downloaded devotions through the app; 1,500 have signed up for an annual subscription. What is perhaps most remarkable is that people from 150 different countries have downloaded the app—from such unlikely places as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. Forward in Christ has also taken a step into the world of digital distribution. Each issue is available in print and digitally.

Changes in technology are also changing the way church workers carry out their ministries and the kinds of resources they need. Teachers work in an environment that relies more and more on computers, interactive whiteboards, projectors, and tablets. They benefit from materials that offer more visual and dynamic tools as they teach God’s Word to students who learn with a variety of learning styles.

Choir directors have long relied on NPH to provide quality music that offers more than just catchy tunes to make you feel good for a time, but music that proclaims a message of peace and hope for eternity. With the ability to download and print just the number of copies they need, choir directors are saving financial resources that can be directed for other ministry work.

Pastors have access to 115 books that are integrated with the Logos Bible Software, helping them as they study the original biblical languages and the Lutheran Confessions.

In our rapidly changing world, the methods and tools used by the synod’s publisher will also change. But printed books, e-books, apps, digital files—or whatever else might come in the future—have real value only if they faithfully proclaim the message of Christ. Thank God that for 125 years NPH has maintained that focus. We pray that it will always be so.

Ray Schumacher, an editor at Northwestern Publishing House, is a member at St. Peter, Helenville, Wisconsin.

This is the final article in a two-part series on Northwestern Publishing House and the printed word.

Learn more about Northwestern Publishing House at www.nph.net.


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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Raymond W. Schumacher
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Printed comfort and strength

The gospel was central to the mission of Northwestern Publishing House 125 years ago and still is today.

Raymond W. Schumacher

The fields are ripe for harvest. Jesus reminded his disciples of that in Samaria. They are still ripe. Our task is always to put the gospel in contact with people.

With a clear understanding that the spiritual harvest fields are ripe, a Christian immigrant from East Asia works to translate Bible study materials to train church leaders in her native land. She marvels at the ability of the citizens of the United States to be able to worship freely, and at the abundance of materials we have at our fingertips—Bibles, as well as devotional books, Bible studies, commentaries, and worship materials that are faithful to the Scriptures. She recognizes the importance of the written word for spreading the message about Jesus and for training and encouraging fellow Christians back home.

The written word is a critical part of sharing the gospel. It places the gospel in the hands of people so the Holy Spirit can convert, strengthen, and comfort. One hundred twenty-five years ago, another generation understood its importance. On June 23, 1891, our forefathers resolved to open a bookstore and print shop. Two months later, on Aug. 28, Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) was officially incorporated. In the century and a quarter since, NPH has prepared printed materials that maintain Lutheran doctrine and practice. Those materials have been translated into many languages and spread around the world.

Meditations shares the gospel

But what happens at NPH doesn’t only find its way into world mission fields. It also reaches the hands of people in our own country. Four times each year, a truck backs up to the loading dock on the east side of the NPH warehouse and unloads seven pallets stacked high with Meditations devotional booklets.

The staff packs and ships the 90,000 printed copies to the congregations of the synod. In many homes, husbands and wives benefit from the spiritual interlude as they read the devotions together. In other homes, entire families use Meditations. Some church groups reflect on the message of a devotion as they gather together for a meeting. Some booklets are left in nursing homes or hospital waiting rooms to be read long after the date stamped on the cover. Only God knows how many hearts are encouraged through these devotions.

The gospel and our children

Each week more than 20,000 children in Lutheran elementary schools—and thousands more in Sunday schools—study the Bible using the Christ-Light religion curriculum. This sizeable army of young people is being prepared to find its way in a world scarred by sin, where dangerous and confusing messages bombard impressionable minds. Teachers use the materials to combat a variety of distractions that threaten to derail faith.

In addition, this last year alone, an estimated 14,000 sixth- through eighth-grade students grew in their understanding of Christian doctrine as they focused on the six chief parts of Luther’s Catechism.

If those numbers seem impressive, keep in mind that we live at a time when the student population is lower than in the past. It fills us with awe to think of the sheer numbers of those who have prepared for confirmation, communion, and service in the church using catechisms and curricula developed as a result of a decision made in 1891.

Sing and make music

God’s people come together to worship the God who has saved them. The gospel has touched their hearts and moved them to sing praises. Not only do they sing praise, but in their worship resources they also find comfort and strength. Christians of all ages wrap their arms around their hymnals and carry them—along with their Bibles—in good and bad days. Music for organ, piano, and other instruments inspire and lift up the hearts of God’s people. Working with the synod’s Commission on Worship, NPH has produced a hymnal that has sold more than 469,000 copies—a resource that is common in almost all of the synod’s 1,270 congregations.

The familiar red book, along with its blue supplement, provides the structure for worship services that are built around the confession and absolution of sins. They are a source of liturgies as well as hymns that place before us a satisfying musical feast that refreshes us by pointing to Jesus and the forgiveness hungry souls crave.

More resources to share the gospel

The NPH Board of Directors, made up of one professor each from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and Martin Luther College, one teacher, two pastors, and four laymen, recognizes that the appetite and need for solid Bible-based material extend beyond Sunday worship and Sunday school and Lutheran elementary school classes. For that reason, the board has tasked six theologically trained editors with the development of books and resources that will help church leaders carry out their ministries on the solid foundation of God’s Word.

Pastors, teachers, and church leaders have benefited through a wide array of professional resources: biblical commentaries; Bible studies; doctrinal studies; as well as books on biblical counseling, evangelism, stewardship, preaching, youth ministry, church life, and more.

The editors at NPH also seek to develop materials that will assist God’s people in applying God’s Word to the variety of challenges and issues they face. One such project is a series of devotional books for those who have learned they are terminally ill, those grappling with grief at the loss of a loved one, or those troubled by loss of other kinds. So far those devotions have benefited thousands of families and individuals. After weeping beside a freshly opened grave, grieving loved ones have found rest for their aching hearts in God’s words of comfort from those devotions in the quiet hours afterward. They are reminded of a greater comfort than that their loved one’s memory will live on in those left behind. The greater comfort, rather, is the promise that the loved one now enjoys the bliss of worshiping at the throne of the Lamb, the same Savior worshiped while on earth—the Savior whose words assure us, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

God’s pledge to us is that he will bless this gospel message, whenever it is proclaimed. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). We can only speculate about the great things God has accomplished over the course of 125 years of publishing. Souls found comfort. Marriages were saved or strengthened. Hearts were given courage to face spiritual challenges. Generations of pastors, teachers, and church leaders were encouraged to stand solidly on the truth.

Today, we can’t help but wonder if our forefathers had even an inkling of how God would bless that decision made 125 years ago and bless the church as a result of that decision.

Ray Schumacher, an editor at Northwestern Publishing House, is a member at St. Peter, Helenville, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a two-part series on Northwestern Publishing House and the printed word.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Raymond W. Schumacher
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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