IWO Personnel Present in Pacific Northwest

I had the opportunity to be in Portland, OR for three days last week to present to the Missionaries Conference of the Pacific Northwest. As soon as I stepped off the plane I realized that things were different. Those who serve in ministry in the Pacific Northwest serve in a very different context from the one in which I serve in Middle Tennessee. The dress was different. The accents were different. First impressions told me that attitudes toward religion were also different.

God’s Mission

But we had gathered in Portland to consider something that does not change. No matter where we serve, God’s mission is the same. God has called us to faith through the power of his gospel message. We have been reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. That message of reconciliation has been entrusted to us. We are spokespersons for God. Our mission (God’s mission) is to proclaim Christ in our world. A part of that mission is to proclaim Christ to those who don’t know him. In grace, God offers us the privilege to be involved in his work. We play a part in the gathering of the elect of God. That is grace upon grace.

The Means

We discussed something else that does not change. God gathers his elect through the means of grace (gospel in word and sacrament). We proclaim Christ crucified and risen. We use the means that God has provided. It is all that we have. It is all that we need. It is a tremendous comfort to know that the work of conversion is God’s work and not mine. I am called to proclaim but the results are outside of my hands. I am a servant who humbly handles the glorious truths of God’s gospel. When serving as God’s spokesperson, we put all confidence in the power of the gospel. The word works. That, of course, does not mean that I don’t examine my own activity. That is a matter of stewardship. We seek to take the means entrusted to us to the world around us.

The Methods

The conference also discussed things that might change. The methods that we use in proclaiming the gospel might change. Your church and my church might do things differently. The contexts of our ministry are not the same. But it is important that we examine our context and plan our activity to proclaim the gospel to those in our community. A community canvass is a method. We are seeking to discover the unchurched so that we might gain an opportunity to share the gospel. In our ministry, our preschool is a method. We carefully plan ways to share the gospel with children and their parents. We use certain worship services (Christmas Eve and Easter) as opportunities to invite others. This is a method. As we plan our activity (methods), we do not display a lack of trust in the means of grace. We are simply seeking every opportunity to unleash God’s powerful means.

Chuck Westra and John Steinbrenner (IWO members) presented a workshop on methods and means in Portland, OR. If you are interested in having them present or offer workshops for your gathering, contact the Institute.

Rev. Charles Westra

Charles Westra serves as pastor of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Columbia, TN. In addition to his congregational duties, Pastor Westra serves as the chairman for the WELS Board for Home Missions.

Full biography »

Treasures in Jars of Clay in the NW District

It was 80 degrees when I got into the plane in Charleston, SC. It was 39 degrees when I got off in Wisconsin. Yet in spite of the cold and the rain, I sincerely enjoyed my visit to the Northern Wisconsin District. I had the privilege of presenting my IWO paper, Treasure in Jars of Clay, to the pastors of that district. The paper examines a concept – the ministerial cause of salvation – that I hadn’t heard discussed much in my ministry. We study and talk about the instrumental cause – the Means of Grace – often. But this paper looked at the synergy that exists between those two. It was a blessing to be write it, and a blessing to discuss it with my brothers.

The discussion seemed to focus on some of the applications, not surprisingly. For example, in one part of the paper I mention that I question the wisdom in always dividing preaching responsibilities 50/50 in a parish with two pastors. I expressed the concern that in some churches, where the homilitical skills are not even, it means members come to hear one preacher in greater numbers than the other. Some wondered if that was a straw man argument. “Does that really happen.” I assured them that on the basis of my brief tenure as chairman of the Commission for Congregational Counseling I have found that, yes, it happens quite frequently actually. I also clarified that I wasn’t suggesting some pastors don’t preach, but simply encouraging all pastors to remember that because there is a psychological aspect to the working of the Word, we want to always be growing in our homiletical skills.

Perhaps the funniest comment I heard was, “Can you please explain what you mean when you say the ministry is not hard?” I could hear about 120 people murmuring their agreeing with the questioner! I explained that I certainly wasn’t saying that the ministry isn’t time-consuming, often heart-wrenching, and full of crosses! I simply meant that sometimes we can over think methodology. Surveys and studies and canvasses – these all have their place. But ultimately, our confidence comes not from thinking “We have found the perfect method for ministry!” Our confidence comes from knowing that we have treasure inside these jars of clay – the life-changing, soul-shaking Gospel.

I thank the members of the Northern Wisconsin District for their invitation, for their lively discussion, and for their hospitality. I truly enjoyed it.

Rev. Jonathan Hein

Jonathan Hein serves at Beautiful Savior Lutheran in Summerville, SC. He serves WELS as the chairman of the Commission on Congregational Counseling and serves his district as the chairman of the South Atlantic District Mission Board.

Full biography »

You can do this!

Congregations conduct surveys in preparation for Schools of Worship Enrichment (SoWE). Three items from these surveys regularly receive the lowest scores - no matter the type of congregation, no matter how rich their musical resources.

  • My congregation’s singing is strong and enthusiastic.
  • We use enough musical variety for the psalms, hymns, and liturgical songs.
  • Our congregation seems to carry out its part of the liturgy (order of service) with enthusiasm.

With firm conviction that progress on the second point can help the first and third, we model good variety in SoWE worship and encourage greater variety when musicians and pastors plan worship. SoWE presentations include audio and print samples of music that can bring meaningful and creative variety to Lutheran worship. One example I’ve used over the years is:

Psalm and Gospel Acclamation for Advent (Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel). Click here for the audio sample. Can you name the various instruments? Piano, guitar, bass, flute. At 1:12 in the track you hear a windchime; a bit later a suspended cymbal.

How difficult is the music? Excellence doesn’t have to be difficult! At SoWEs we make the point that average high school instrumentalists can play this music without much rehearsal. This has the side advantage of involving teens in a way that both they and others will appreciate.

You don’t have anyone who plays bass or a wind instrument? Okay, use any pleasant sound from an electronic keyboard (or even organ) along with acoustic piano. With a “split keyboard” option, one person can play both bass and flute.

MIDI folks, you have it even easier. Order the music here: GIA G-5259- or via NPH.

But Lent is coming up, not Advent. Here’s another example. Psalm and Gospel Acclamation for Lent (Psalm 51, with refrain tune for What Wondrous Love): GIA G-4707 Order here. This one is even easier, with piano, flute, bass - and an instantly singable refrain for the congregation.

It may take a bit more advance planning and recruiting to use such music. But it’s worth the effort - for our Lord, for his people; for worship and outreach!

BTW: these samples work with just a soloist/cantor; you don’t need a full choir.

Further reading:

Audio samples are shared with permission of the publisher.

Rev. Bryan Gerlach

Bryan Gerlach serves as the Director of the WELS Commission on Worship. His parish ministry experience includes congregations in Texas and California. Gerlach has a Master of Church Music degree and continues to serve as a regular pianist and organist at two WELS churches in the Milwaukee area.

Full biography »
Syndicate content