Synod convention delegates approve goal to launch aggressive home missions effort in 2023.
“EVERY STATE BY ’78!” Anyone remember this?
The year was 1965. This was the plan proposed at the synod convention that year by the Board for Home Missions: “Every State by ’78.”
It was an aggressive plan. To some it seemed unachievable. WELS was small—only 800 congregations, mostly in the Midwest. We were still fresh on our own, having split with the Missouri Synod just four years earlier. Now “Every State by ’78!” Could our small synod do this? Did we have manpower, money, and ministry resources?
Lots of questions, lots of challenges. Yet the delegates rallied behind the plan, and though it didn’t happen by ’78, it did happen by 1983. God blessed the efforts of those who went before us!
A recipient of those blessings was and is a woman named Carole. Carole is a member where I serve at St. Paul in Beverly Hills, Fla. Last month, Carole was hospitalized. We visited for a bit before I shared these words from Psalm 73: “My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Carole’s eyes filled with tears as she listened. She responded with a beautiful confession of faith. It was one of those visits where I went there to encourage but was encouraged myself!
I share that story because Carole was not always a WELS member. Back in the 1960s when she and her first husband lived in South Florida, they were unchurched. They received an invitation for their kids to attend vacation Bible school. They went. That week the pastor visited. He visited again the next week and the next. He convinced them to enroll in a Bible information class. They took it and eventually were confirmed.
After that, as Carole and her family moved around the country, their first priority was to find a WELS church. When their kids were school age, they moved to where the church had a school. Fast forward to today. Carole has grandkids who attended Luther Preparatory School. One of her daughters serves as a preschool teacher at our church. Another daughter graduated from Martin Luther College and is a teacher. A granddaughter graduated from Martin Luther College and is married to a WELS pastor. A grandson serves on the council of ministry where I serve, and another grandson is married to one of our teachers. Carole met her second husband, Marty, at St. Paul. He wasn’t always WELS either. The Lord has used them both to bless our ministry.
Here’s my point: Carole and Marty and generations after them have been served by WELS congregations that started because of the “Every State by ’78” initiative. Many of you can say the same. The Lord used “Every State by ’78” as groundwork for where we are today.
Who is our next Carole?
Now, it’s 2021. A similar initiative is before us: Start 100 new missions in 10 years. That’s 10 missions each year, ten new dots on the map throughout North America. During the same time, we want to support 75 enhancement grants. These grants aren’t as “flashy” as a new mission start, but they are no less important as they help existing congregations to reach more souls, often in other cultures.
Some might wonder if we’re just throwing a number out there without really thinking this through. What about manpower? What about money? Is this goal realistic?
The WELS Board for Home Missions has formed a task force to carefully and thoroughly address these questions and concerns. Our work has already been rewarding. It’s clear that we have men and women in all areas of ministry of our synod who are dedicated to this initiative. They want to do their part in reaching more souls with the gospel. In fact, we can see how we stand on the shoulders of present and past leaders who have encouraged and supported worker training, home missions, world missions, and all the other important areas of our synod.
Recognizing how God has blessed our efforts in the past, we trust that he will bless our efforts in the future. In fact, what I’m about to say next might sound contradictory, but this initiative isn’t as much about the results as it is about the work. It’s about aggressively reaching more souls. It’s about Christ’s mission to his church.
You know that mission. It hasn’t changed: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” But consider the words that Jesus spoke right before that: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Look at the one who commissioned us. He is the one who said to the wind and waves, “Quiet, be still,” and to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take up your mat and walk,” and to Lazarus, “Come out.” He is the one who died, rose from the dead, and descended into hell proving and proclaiming his victory. Death was put to death. The devil defeated. The powers of sin destroyed.
This is the Jesus who has commissioned us. This is the Jesus that sits at God’s right hand ruling over his church on earth. This is the Jesus who has equipped us! This initiative is about aggressively and confidently doing the work that he has called all of us to do. This isn’t a spectator sport where some are on the playing field and others are on the sideline.
What can you do? First of all, pray! This is no small thing. Pray that the Lord of the church would provide workers. Pray for our leaders, our missionaries, our worker training schools as they recruit and train future pastors. Laymen, ask your pastor to keep our synod’s work in your congregational prayers on a regular basis. Pray that the Lord provides us with the financial support needed to do the work.
Second of all, give generously. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was rich, yet he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich. God’s generosity has resulted in the riches of forgiveness, peace, joy, and hope. Let that move you to give generously to your local congregation. Let it move you to give a special offering to support an area of ministry in WELS that is near and dear to your heart. Let it move your congregation to give at least 10 percent of its offerings for your Congregation Mission Offering, which supports the majority of our work as a synod.
Talk with your district mission board to see what you or your congregation might do. Encourage young men and women in your congregation to consider full-time ministry.
“Every State by ’78!” That seemed impossible, but God blessed those efforts. Many Caroles were reached. Generations of Carole’s family have been blessed and are a blessing to others. There are still many Caroles waiting to be found. The lost are waiting to be reached. They just don’t know it. So let’s support this. Let’s do our part to get after it, trusting that God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Mark Gabb is pastor at St. Paul, Beverly Hills, Florida, and chairman of the WELS Board for Home Missions. This article is based on his presentation to the delegates at WELS’ 66th biennial convention. For more coverage of this synod convention, read “Synod convention shorts” and “Delegates work together at hybrid convention” and look at more photos and captions.
Volume 108, Number 9
Issue: September 2021