Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Family Update

It has been awhile since I did a family update. We had a much better holiday season this year. It helped that this year we did not come back from San Diego to find our house robbed as we did last year.

Zach came home this Christmas from his base in Cherry Point, NC for two weeks. Although I think he only stayed at our house for a couple of those nights. We enjoyed our time with him. Zach is back with his former girlfriend. They were always good friends and continued talking a lot. They have been broken up for awhile but everyone knew that they would get back together. I’ll have to check to see who won the pool on how long it would be before they got back together.

Zach is back in Cherry Point though and will be there until the very end of March. After this training class is finished he will head off to a Permanent Duty Station somewhere. My vote is for Hawaii. I think that would be a great place to visit him. He also just got 5 wisdom teeth removed. Apparently he was lucky enough to have an extra one to dig out..

Zach did have a bit of a boo boo with my Jetta and it was totaled. No one was hurt or anything. However, I did have to find a new car. I did find a great car from a guy here at NML. It is a Volvo S40.  It came with a portable XM satellite radio of which I am now in love with. It looks like an iPod with an antenna and I can click it into the car or into my sound system in the basement. I like that you can load MP3’s on it as well to have this all in one portable device with 170 channels of material.

Kt is ready to be done with school. She has begun her final semester of high school. She is planning and getting ready for college at Miracosta College in Oceanside California. They have a program that directly transfers its students into UCSD or Cal State. She already has a place to stay with friends in a house and can transfer her job at JCPenney to one of two places out there. I know it sounds crazy but the total cost of her living out there and tuition is cheaper than living at home and going to UW-Milwaukee. The reason for this phenomenon also goes a ways in explaining why California is bankrupt. California subsidizes the tuition at state schools to a crazy, crazy degree. Even non-resident tuition is cheaper than resident tuition here. Of course if only cost were the reason she was going to school out there, we all know that is not the reason. Boy’s speak louder than money. Expect Kt to beat a hasty retreat from WI this June so she can work out there for the summer and be near the boy at Camp Pendleton.

Ike is hitting his stride in school.  Vastly improved in his organization and attention to the work that is due.  His GPA steadily creeps upward and even in the classes he struggles the most in he is getting progressively better.  He is also much more interactive and social with his classmates after last year not being very integrated into his new school.  He visits his friends in Cedarburg a lot on the weekends.  Other than hanging out in the basement Ike doesn't do a whole lot more these least until track starts.

Karen just got back last week from a week in Jamaica attending her cousin's wedding with a host of other family members.  The kids and I stayed behind.  They had a lot of rain while they were there but Karen said she had an incredible amount of fun and wants to go again...this time with less rain.

I think that's the most of it for now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Brit, Tiger, Buddah and Christianity in the Media

Although Ann’s Christian perspective has an Armenian decision theology edge to it, this was a great article. It's a shame these kinds of public defenses are so rare

January 6, 2010

Someone mentioned Christianity on television recently and liberals reacted with their usual howls of rage and blinking incomprehension.

On a Fox News panel discussing Tiger Woods, Brit Hume said, perfectly accurately:

"The extent to which he can recover, it seems to me, depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

Hume's words, being 100 percent factually correct, sent liberals into a tizzy of sputtering rage, once again illustrating liberals' copious ignorance of Christianity. (Also illustrating the words of the Bible: "How is it you do not understand me when I speak? It is because you cannot bear to listen to my words." John 8:43.)

In The Washington Post, Tom Shales demanded that Hume apologize, saying he had "dissed about half a billion Buddhists on the planet."

Is Buddhism about forgiveness? Because, if so, Buddhists had better start demanding corrections from every book, magazine article and blog posting ever written on the subject, which claims Buddhists don't believe in God, but try to become their own gods.

I can't imagine that anyone thinks Tiger's problem was that he didn't sufficiently think of himself as a god, especially after that final putt in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year.

In light of Shales' warning Hume about "what people are saying" about him, I hope Hume's a Christian, but that's not apparent from his inarguable description of Christianity. Of course, given the reaction to his remarks, apparently one has to be a regular New Testament scholar to have so much as a passing familiarity with the basic concept of Christianity.

On MSNBC, David Shuster invoked the "separation of church and television" (a phrase that also doesn't appear in the Constitution), bitterly complaining that Hume had brought up Christianity "out-of-the-blue" on "a political talk show."

Why on earth would Hume mention religion while discussing a public figure who had fallen from grace and was in need of redemption and forgiveness? Boy, talk about coming out of left field!

What religion -- what topic -- induces this sort of babbling idiocy? (If liberals really want to keep people from hearing about God, they should give Him his own show on MSNBC.)

Most perplexing was columnist Dan Savage's indignant accusation that Hume was claiming that Christianity "offers the best deal -- it gives you the get-out-of-adultery-free card that other religions just can't."

In fact, that's exactly what Christianity does. It's the best deal in the universe. (I know it seems strange that a self-described atheist and "radical sex advice columnist faggot" like Savage would miss the central point of Christianity, but there it is.)

God sent his only son to get the crap beaten out of him, die for our sins and rise from the dead. If you believe that, you're in. Your sins are washed away from you -- sins even worse than adultery! -- because of the cross.

"He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross." Colossians 2:14.

Surely you remember the cross, liberals -- the symbol banned by ACLU lawsuits from public property throughout the land?

Christianity is simultaneously the easiest religion in the world and the hardest religion in the world.

In the no-frills, economy-class version, you don't need a church, a teacher, candles, incense, special food or clothing; you don't need to pass a test or prove yourself in any way. All you'll need is a Bible (in order to grasp the amazing deal you're getting) and probably a water baptism, though even that's disputed.

You can be washing the dishes or walking your dog or just sitting there minding your business hating Susan Sarandon and accept that God sent his only son to die for your sins and rise from the dead ... and you're in!

"Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9.

If you do that, every rotten, sinful thing you've ever done is gone from you. You're every bit as much a Christian as the pope or Billy Graham.

No fine print, no "your mileage may vary," no blackout dates. God ought to do a TV spot: "I'm God Almighty, and if you can find a better deal than the one I'm offering, take it."

The Gospel makes this point approximately 1,000 times. Here are a few examples at random:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23.

In a boiling rage, liberals constantly accuse Christians of being "judgmental." No, we're relieved.

Christianity is also the hardest religion in the world because, if you believe Christ died for your sins and rose from the dead, you have no choice but to give your life entirely over to Him. No more sexual promiscuity, no lying, no cheating, no stealing, no killing inconvenient old people or unborn babies -- no doing what all the other kids do.

And no more caring what the world thinks of you -- because, as Jesus warned in a prophecy constantly fulfilled by liberals: The world will hate you.

With Christianity, your sins are forgiven, the slate is wiped clean and your eternal life is guaranteed through nothing you did yourself, even though you don't deserve it. It's the best deal in the universe.

1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106

God's Sense of Humor

I saw this picture and it amused me. :-D At least he wasn't ROFL.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Installment #2: A Contemporary Lutheran Mission Primer

With Victory now started and a small group of worshippers, which was composed of about 15 core members and 15-20 un-churched/under-churched people, we began a journey filled with adventure at the Polonia. We’ll have stories for a long time such as the time the septic tank overflowed and froze into a sewage pond in the parking lot. The time the furnace went out when it was 10 degrees outside but those who came used blankets to stay warm as the space heaters we tried blew the circuits. The occasional phone calls that would come in during a service on the Polonia phone. The fact that our church had a full length bar with an admirable array of Polish vodkas. There was the time after some big flooding where the Polonia had lost power and we held our service under the picnic shelter and sang hymns acapella as more storms gathered. Our summer assistants had all their belongings flooded in the basement they were staying in and one of them had a car nearly submerged in the flooding. The weekly event of cleaning up beer bottles, cigarette butts from the party the night before and walking into the Polonia to that distinct smell of liquor, burritos, and vomit that may still be in the bathroom to clean up. My son Ike became the Sunday morning janitor and Coffee barista as the band set up and practiced. He could vacuum the joint, mop the floors, pick up the trash and set up the welcome table in no time. He could also dance about the place with air freshener on a regular basis. The point is that the flexibility learned here at the beginning is key to developing an attitude that reiterates that God is in control and he will direct all things.

As amusing as the stories of the first 2.5 years at the Polonia may be, what was most important was that this congregation took to its mission and started spreading the Word to the community. From the beginning, we began with the idea that this church would serve to reach the un-churched. That members at this church would be focused on reaching out to the community. That whatever your past experiences may be, that this church will not exist to make you feel all cozy and doted upon. There is an expectation that you would participate in the mission and be active in the church ministry. There is an assumption that perhaps our worship services are not exactly as you might prefer. That maybe the programs we run are not your favorite. However these things are things we have decided will help us in our mission and we would ask that you support it to reach the lost. This has definitely steered a number of curious WELS onlookers away.

The people that have come into this mission have been extremely faithful. Volunteers abound and the numbers of people who will show up to make something happen has been great. In the area of music, we have developed from two original musicians to having an array of 10 or so band members that alternate through. They put in a lot of hours in practice, setup, takedown, and planning. In Technology we have grown from just myself running audio and video to having a multi-media team and a few sound engineers. I am hardly even involved in these activities anymore. There are teams of people to run the cafĂ© and to be greeters. There is a team to help with the children’s ministry. All of these things started with one or two dedicated people and have grown to be larger groups.

A mission to reach the un-churched needed to get its name known. We launched large mailing and advertising campaigns. We created a movie theater advertisement that we change up each year. We have done nearly 25 bulk mail campaigns in 3 years. Put out 1000’s of door hangers with canvassing crews. We have been in the Franklin 4th of July parade 3 years now and have handed out nearly 6000 pieces of literature at that. We have had some good signage right on Hwy 36 as well. At this point, many people in southwest Franklin know who we are and where we worship. Additionally our outreach events have attracted attention. We have gotten 200 people each year from the community for our Hallepalooza music in the park event. We have gotten 75 kids a year in our VBS Soccer Camp. We have gotten hundreds of kids between our Easter for Kids and Christmas for Kids events that we hold at the public Library. We have even drawn some praise for the quality of the events themselves and our involvement in the community from secular sources. This obviously is NOT the point. There are two points for all this activity. Number one, to let the community know we are here and number two, to create as many contact opportunities with the unchurched in the community. All these activities only serve as outreach activities. However that leads to the most important activity of all and that is Evangelism activity.

For many of our events we make a serious effort to have strong evangelism focused members available to talk to those visitors to our events. At the soccer camp, there are people to sit down with un-churched folk and ask questions and help spread the Word with evangelism. The Christmas for Kids and Easter for Kids are specifically designed to tell the true story of Christmas and Easter so the Word is proclaimed there to children. So many opportunities to evangelize start by just planting little seeds. Hopefully those seeds grow and we can encourage those new prospects to further explore God’s Word by studying in Adult Bible classes. So far this outreach to evangelism approach has been successful.

What we have seen has been remarkable at times. Over half our members have come from WELS and the other half from un-churched. Often times it is the new Christians who are the ones to immediately tell their friends and neighbors and bring them to church and to events so that they too can learn about Jesus. Of the many churches I have visited in the WELS, I have not really seen one that approached its ministry in this way. Now that I have seen how a church that is serious about reaching the un-churched functions, it would be very difficult to go to a church where congregational effort is low. I think mostly of my old church in NH that was very much averse to getting into the community. It has been there for 35 years and I bet that 75% of the people in a 1 mile radius do not even know it is there.

In the next installment I’ll talk about worship. After that, finances.

Yes Virginia, There is a Church in Franklin

It would seem I wasn’t clear in my first installment as within hours, what I had said in the previous post was misunderstood. It was a comment in a weird random location and not very relevant to the topic but it was there nonetheless. However, I will try to clear that up.

“FeltNeeds over on his blog says that Victory of the Lamb was formed to serve the "unchurched" people of Franklin.

He seems to have forgotten that church.

He also forgets the 18 other churches within 10 miles that the WELS Church locator finds. Franklin to Muskego, New Berlin, Oak Creek or Southern Milwaukee is a wonderful drive taking about 30minutes on a worst case scenario.”

I did not forget about St. Paul’s Franklin. They were one of the congregations that was going to help fund this mission and they did give some donations. One would have to really consider if they think one church for a city of 30,000 is all that is needed to serve the needs of that community. If that were the case, Milwaukee would only have 20 churches to serve that community…alas it has nearly 50. Additionally, you’d have to wonder why the one church in a city that is expanding and growing at such an aggressive rate was not matching that growth rate if for nothing else than just tracking along with the population with transfers. If that is too subtle for you, I will just say it outright. It is laughable if you think St. Paul’s, Franklin was adequately reaching all the un-churched of Franklin. I’d love to hear how many new residents of southwest Franklin even knew about this church on the north side. I’d also love to hear St. Paul, Franklin’s ministry plan for the un-churched and how that’s been working out for them. (of course it was very ironic when an un-churched person visited our church who lived in the subdivision abutting St. Paul’s Franklin. We mentioned she lived within blocks of that church ..and she didn’t even know anything about it except that it was obviously there.)

Victory was very strategically placed to fill a gaping hole where the nearest WELS church was 4 miles or more away in most any direction. To the southwest, Living Water is 7 miles away on the same highway. Ironically Living Water (a 3rd the size of St. Paul’s Franklin) has been a huge supporter and donator to Victory.

See, the point was not that there are 18 churches within 10 miles. The point is that un-churched will rarely drive more than 3 miles away from their house to go to a church. There could be 100 churches within 10 miles, but if there is not a church within 3 miles then you can expect very little un-churched from the community to find or even bother trying your church. I’d love to examine any congregation and ask them how much impact they have on the un-churched outside a sphere of influence of 3 miles. See a church is part of a community. It is not safe to say that a city in and of itself is a community. Northeast Franklin and eastern Franklin along 27th street is NOTHING like 76th and Ryan Road.

Having lived in NH for seven years I have some experience with a congregation that was the only one in the entire state. Trust me in that although the members drove from all over the place and distances of up to 70-80 miles that only the die-hard WELS member transplants would do that. Yet getting an un-churched person to drive from Merrimack, or downtown Nashua out to Amherst was very difficult indeed.

I know these concepts are tough for some old-school WELS to handle. What good WELS person wouldn’t drive a really good distance to be at a church. However you can’t transfer that desire to the un-churched. If you could influence them somehow, you should not worry so much about the distance they drive than just providing the motivation to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. However, after they are up and ready to go, then it will be a lot easier to get them to a church they can drive to in minutes. I know when I moved to the area and settled in Wind Lake, I tried out a good number of WELS churches. I chose a church 12 miles from my home rather than the one across the street. All well and good for me, but how would I convince my neighbor to do the same?

We also have had some instances of people finding our church from a distance away like Sussex, Pewaukee, West Bend and such that found the WELS for the first time but ultimately found a local WELS church to attend because traveling 30-40 minutes to church was not necessary or desirable.

Just a random question I thought of …outside of church far will an un-churched person drive for Adult instruction classes? Honestly, it is not the church service that is so important for un-churched. It is the bible classes and instruction classes that bring new members. It is the community outreach events. It is the door to door canvassing. When did your church drive 10 miles away and do door to door canvassing?

I’m not sure that simply existing as a church in a community means that you reach the un-churched. There is one thing that has never once been answered in all my discussions on BW. What is an acceptable way to do outreach and evangelism in a community? I’ve gotten the non-answer of preach the Word and Sacraments faithfully. Got it! That is indeed the one thing needful. Now What? How do you make this one thing needful known to the community you service? The reason I don’t get an answer is that anything else is a “program” and they can’t support a “program” without it being considered CG. Sunday school is a program. Door to Door canvassing is a program, Advertising is a program, Bible classes are programs, VBS is a program…etc etc.

So I appreciate the analysis. I’m glad that someone can locate churches on the WELS Church locator however when considering starting your mission plant there may be a touch more analysis needed. I’m pretty sure churches could save a bundle in doing home mission work if they just said, ”hey we got a church within 30 minutes…we’re covered.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Installment #1: A Contemporary Lutheran Mission Primer


I am writing this series of blog postings to help chronicle the starting of a new contemporary Lutheran mission. My congregation represents a 3 year old mission plant that has been very successful in the spreading the Good News in a fast-growing suburban area southwest of Milwaukee. It also represents a mission that has successfully blended contemporary service design with traditional Lutheran worship. This has created a blended worship experience that is both modern, yet true to the principle of worship having its one true focus on Christ crucified. To illustrate where we have come from, Victory of the Lamb has grown from 12 members to over 110 in just under 3 years. Our attendance at Sunday worship continues to rise with a regular attendance total averaging about 150 per Sunday. At our Christmas Service we had 220 in attendance. Our first Adult instruction class had 3 prospects. Currently, the Pastor runs 2 classes of 7-10 each several times a year. How did this unique mission start? It started with the idea of one man and a mission spirit of a local congregation.

The Beginning

In early 2006, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Muskego, WI, a congregation of 2300 souls, had commissioned a demographic study of the southwestern suburbs of Milwaukee in combination with a study that already been released regarding community growth for WI. The study showed that the Southwest suburbs, and the city of Franklin in particular would be the fastest growing communities in WI for the next 20 years. The study that examined religious behavior showed that well over half the community is and would be un-churched. An even larger number of households would claim a church home but do not attend that church regularly. Another notable feature was that most people noted they would not search out or attend a church that was outside a radius of 3 miles from their home. A simple look at where the fastest growth was occurring and where the local WELS churches were, and there was a glaring hole to fill in Southwest Franklin. Not only was there no WELS church servicing this new and un-churched area of Franklin, there were very few churches of any kind servicing this area.

With the synod financial crisis in full bloom there was no mission money available for home missions like this. St. Paul’s had already started funding a missionary position in Africa for John Holz. Also a couple of years before, they joined with a number of Waukesha WELS congregations to partially fund for 3 years a startup congregation in a similarly growing area of Waukesha county that had no nearby WELS churches. That church, Living Word Lutheran, has grown as well and has over 160 members. St. Paul’s as a large congregation was taking on a mission above its synod mission offering to help spread the Good News in its area of influence. In the 10 to 20 years before this they had also spun off two daughter congregations in the form of Living Water Lutheran in Wind Lake and Star of Bethlehem Lutheran in New Berlin. Those congregations have 350 and 1000 members respectively.

So in early 2006, Pastor Peter Panitzke came up with an idea to start another congregation, using the data from the studies, in that underserved area of Franklin. This mission would be different. It would not be a daughter congregation in the sense of redistributing WELS members to a more convenient location as was typical. This was to be a mission focused on reaching the un-churched of southwest Franklin and it would be an all-contemporary church. St. Paul’s approved $100,000 to start the mission paying out 33,000 a year for 3 years. Additionally, two other congregations nearby, St. Jacobi and St. Paul’s, Franklin, agreed to pay into the kitty to assist in starting the mission. This additional funding never really materialized as these congregations were struggling in their finances. However within the first year of this mission, the new congregation managed to secure an additional $100,000 in gifts over the course of 3 years from individuals, new members, and a number of other WELS congregations in the area gave one time gifts.

Pastor Panitzke had gathered 6 WELS members together to form the Victory core. On behalf of this core group St. Paul’s called seminary graduate, Ben Kuerth in May of 2006. Pastor Kuerth recalls his first meeting with Pastor Panitzke. He told me, “We’ve called you to a mission that has a shoestring budget, 6 core members, and really has no WELS counterpart to learn from or compare to. You have no house, no place to worship, and no precedent for this kind of mission.” Although there were other WELS all-contemporary missions around, they were mostly started with Synod assistance, support from a wide base of other WELS churches, and a large core of WELS members to provide support and assistance. We had none of that.

Pastor Kuerth arrived in the area in July of 2006. Although the new mission was responsible for paying for it, St. Paul’s had secured a mortgage on a great parsonage in Franklin as no seminarian would be affording any kind of a house on their own in swanky Franklin. St. Paul’s administratively took care of the books and Pastor Kuerth would share in their staff meetings and ministry team resources (church secretaries) He gave an introductory sermon at St. Paul’s when he arrived and I was interested from the very beginning. Pastor Kuerth started going door to door canvassing and introducing Victory of the Lamb. A few more WELS members became part of the core group as well and began meeting for Bible Study. The primary mission was to find a place to worship. In this as yet undeveloped part of Franklin there are really only two locations to rent space from, Showtime Cinema and the Polonia Soccer Club. Showtime Cinema flatly rejected our offer to rent space from them. They wanted nothing to do with renting out to a church. The Polonia was a bit reluctant as well as a bunch of old Polish Catholics wasn’t as amenable to Lutherans coming in to set up shop on Sunday mornings in their “Beer Hall”. However, economics won out and they agreed to rent out the Polonia.

With a space secured, we now turned our focus on starting worship services. We came up with a plan to start worshipping on December 3rd 2006. Then we would have a “Grand Launch” service on April 1st. 2007. This gave us time to work out the kinks and develop our core a little further so we could actually pull off a worship service. I entered service with Victory in September 2006, starting to create the first version of the website and host it on my webservers. I then turned to arranging for the sound equipment needed for the services. It arrived two days before the first service. We had two hours to get it out of the box, setup and working before our first musicians of a guitar and a keyboardist needed to be heard. Our first media cart was a gutted out 26 inch console television case with wheels on the bottom. We had 140 in attendance at our first service. About 40 un-churched people and 100 or so curious WELS people from the area. After that first service and a follow-up Christmas Eve service we had about 35 start to worship with us weekly as we headed towards our Grand Launch.

It is hard to capture the “seat of the pants” way this mission started, yet it was off to a better than expected start. In the next installment, I will focus on the two unique features about this congregation that distinguish it from most any WELS congregation. A thorough look at Victory’s outreach and evangelism efforts as well as its decisions on how to “do worship” are a significant topic to the success of Victory.