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The heart of church planting

In January, WELS Home Missions teamed up with Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., to organize a church planting course hosted at The Way, Fredericksburg, Va. The course was led by home missionaries Jared Oldenburg and Matt Rothe and mission counselor Mark Birkholz, each of whom came with a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Eleven seminarians traveled to Virginia to learn more about starting new churches in places where WELS may not have an established presence.

“Starting a new mission congregation is a unique ministry that comes with distinct challenges,” said Matt Rothe, pastor at The Way. “Receiving instruction before ‘boots are on the ground work’ prepares and equips men to be pastoral leaders in those circumstances.”

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students
Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students enjoyed fellowship time with the men’s group at The Way, Fredericksburg, Va.

With the new Home Missions initiative to plant 100 new home missions in the next 10 years, the possibility of being called to start or restart a congregation is more real than ever. “We want to offer students the opportunity to spend time with church-planting pastors who can open their eyes to the challenges and blessings of starting a congregation,” says Bill Tackmier, the WLS professor who organized the trip to Virginia.

During their time at The Way, seminarians studied core principles of confessional Lutheran mission work and were challenged to apply these concepts to actual WELS mission fields. Each seminarian was assigned to one of three new missions and prepared a strategy for how to mobilize a core group, reach the community, and use limited resources to maximize reach. The capstone project for the course was a presentation of each seminarian’s mission strategy.

While in Virginia, seminarians also got to enjoy time in fellowship with members of The Way. They enjoyed a walking tour of historic Fredericksburg, a “cornhole golf” night with the men’s group, and the chance to worship together on Sunday morning.

“I cherished the opportunity to hear the stories of the members in Fredericksburg and see how God brought each one into his flock,” said Caleb King, a WLS senior taking the course. “Those interactions showed us that there’s more at the heart of church planting than starting a congregation and making it grow. It’s about people—individual souls coming face to face with a Savior who has met their greatest need. That is indispensable.”

Justin Steinke presents his research and ministry plan
Justin Steinke presents his research and ministry plan for a hypothetical new mission as a capstone project for the church planting course.

After some hard work and a whole lot of learning, the seminarians returned to Mequon with a newfound appreciation for the work of a home mission pastor.

“Mission planting is an enormous undertaking,” said Justin Steinke, another WLS senior taking the course. “From the early stages on it takes a community of believers who love to share the gospel and a whole synod’s support! It’s a miracle of God’s grace anytime a church is planted for his kingdom.”

As WELS Home Missions continues to strategize where dozens of new congregations will be planted in the years to come, may God continue to bless young men like Caleb and Justin with gifts to serve his kingdom and a passion to learn how to serve him better.

To hear more about this class, watch this Together video update. To learn about another hands-on mission experience taken by seminary students in January, read this blog.

Author: Cameron Schroeder
Volume: 110, Number 04
Issue: April 2023

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