By Paula Schlueter Ross
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sharing your faith and reaching out to others in your community: black, white, Hispanic — everyone! — was a major focus of the LCMS Black Ministry Family Convocation, held here July 9-13.
The convocation was “marvelous,” according to the Rev. Roosevelt Gray Jr., director of Black Ministry with the Synod’s Office of National Mission. Under the event’s theme, “Worship, Word, Witness,” nearly 400 adult attendees — including groups that had driven many hours from Alabama, Michigan and Texas — “were indeed encouraged, equipped and empowered to go back and serve the communities in which God has called them to serve,” Gray said.
A highlight for many was the main keynote address, “Can I Get a Witness?,” by the Rev. Gregory Seltz, speaker of radio’s “The Lutheran Hour.” Seltz, it was noted later in the convocation, changed his schedule in order to attend, and Lutheran Hour Ministries sponsored Seltz’s presentation and 12 related witnessing workshops.
In his keynote, Seltz read a long list of people featured in the Bible — all used by God — and their various personal struggles, from Moses, who “stuttered,” to Abraham, who was “too old,” to Jeremiah, who was “depressed and suicidal.” Many had “short fuses” and were quick to anger, Seltz noted.
“Do any of these fit you?” he asked convocation-goers.
Seltz, an avid runner, played a video of the men’s 400-meter race at the 1992 Olympics, which featured an injured Derek Redmond hobbling to the finish line, assisted by his father, after the race had been won. Redmond’s determined finish was reportedly met with a standing ovation from the Olympics crowd of 65,000-plus and is what impressed people most, noted Seltz: that this athlete, disappointed and in pain, didn’t give up but finished what he set out to do.
Christians can relate their struggles to Redmond’s struggles to finish that race, Seltz said, and Redmond’s father can be seen as a metaphor for Our Savior, Jesus Christ, who walks alongside His children, offering support.
Instead of the popular Nike motto “Just Do It,” Seltz offered “Just Be” — “be who you are in Jesus Christ” and let Him use you to share His message of salvation with others. “God is already using you where you are,” he said, and Christians need to “learn to seize the opportunities” to be His witnesses.
Seltz spoke of the late LCMS chaplain and U.S. Army Col. Conrad “Connie” Walker, who viewed just about every life situation as an opportunity to witness. For example, on his way to a hospital for treatment, Walker reportedly told his wife, “Jesus has some work for us to do at the hospital today.”
“Tell your [faith] story with passion,” Seltz advised the audience. Many people today are searching for authenticity, hope, love, joy and peace in their lives, he said, and Christians can help them find those things by pointing them to Jesus Christ.
“Let people see it all” — tears, success, struggles, he said. “In all those things, let them see Christ in your midst” and “let your challenges be your witnessing opportunities.”
Seltz played another racing video that showed Heather Dorniden, who in a 600-meter race in 2008 fell, got up and ended up winning against three other racers.
“That’s the one race people remember of hers,” said Seltz, and he encouraged those who are living with challenges and struggles to let those difficulties “be your witnessing opportunity.” People, he said, will “want to know where you got that strength and faith.”
Seltz urged attendees to use technology to share God’s Word, and he said many resources are available at the Lutheran Hour Ministries website, including free mobile apps for daily devotions, “The Lutheran Hour,” “Men’s NetWork” Bible studies and LHM events. If you need help downloading the app, he said good-humoredly, “ask your grandkids.”
The Rev. Howard Alexander, pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, said he “had no idea [Seltz] was such a great speaker. Here I’ve got this gem in my own backyard, and now I’m definitely going to be listening to ‘The Lutheran Hour.’ He’s dynamite!”
Alexander said he “picked up some wonderful ideas for witnessing and outreach that I can use with my congregation. What stuck out in my mind was when he said, ‘Just meet people where they are. You’re already a witness.’ ”
The pastor said he will encourage his flock to “use what you already know” about Christ, “be yourself and approach people,” and “instead of a barrier, see opportunity. An opportunity to witness.”
‘Vastly different’ ministry
Compelling, outreach-focused keynotes also were given by Gray and by the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission and interim chief mission officer for the Synod.
In his presentation titled “Vision, Challenge, Passion,” Gray, who was installed Jan. 7 as director of Black Ministry — a position that had been open since 2010 — said of that ministry: “It’s not a black-white issue anymore.”
The ministry of black Lutherans, Gray said, “is going to be vastly different” because of the increasingly diverse nature of U.S. communities. “We’re going to have to learn how to be more diverse,” “change our way of thinking” and “open our doors” to serve others, such as Hispanic neighbors, he said. “We may have to learn to speak Spanish.”
Gray said those in black ministry “need to learn how to be culturally sensitive to the people that God has called [them] to serve” in their own communities and neighborhoods.
Citing research that the United States is today the third-largest unchurched nation in the world and that one in five American adults has no religious affiliation, Gray said as Christians “we have a herculean task” to reach them: “they’re all around us in our communities” and “some of them are in our families.”
Gray listed among black-ministry “priorities” planting congregations; identifying and training new leaders; revitalizing existing congregations; strengthening schools; training laypeople to witness; providing Lutheran-school scholarships for children in urban areas; producing a newsletter; completing and distributing the new Rosa J. Young documentary, “The First Rosa”; and starting a blog for prayer requests.
“We have to be back in the business of recruiting pastors,” he said. Only one black pastor graduated from the Synod’s two seminaries this year, he noted, adding, “We’ve got to do better.”
He encouraged congregations to serve their communities in “simple ways” — such as handing out fliers to advertise your church’s potluck and other events — and he said the Synod has resources “right now” that can “show you how” to reach out to others with the love of Christ.
Grants, resources available
In his keynote, Day introduced the convocation to the wide variety of departments and staff that make up the Office of National Mission (Black Ministry, Church and Community Development, Deaconess Ministry, Disaster Response, Life and Health Ministries, Mercy Operations, Recognized Service Organizations, Rural and Small Town Mission, Schools, Specialized Pastoral Ministry, Stewardship, The 72, Urban and Inner-City Mission, Worship, Youth) — and how they relate to the Synod’s “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” theme.
He said that more than half of the Synod’s congregations — particularly small ones in urban and rural areas — “feel disconnected from the LCMS,” and if the church body loses its “footprint” in U.S. cities, “it will be very difficult to get back in.”
Echoing Gray, Day said that the Synod offers many resources to help congregations reach out to their communities, and he introduced the Rev. Mark Wood, who began serving June 16 as director of Witness and Outreach Ministry with the Office of National Mission (ONM). Wood, he said, plans to produce even more resources specifically geared for witnessing and outreach.
The ONM, Day said, offers Domestic Development Grants of $5,000 to $20,000 each — a total of $340,000 per year — to congregations that are doing “works of mercy” in their communities (see lcms.org/domesticgrants for information), and he encouraged those in black ministry to apply for those funds.
Congregations also can partner with any of more than 170 Recognized Service Organizations affiliated with the LCMS, he noted.
Stewardship resources — including articles, newsletters and a manual — also are available to help congregations, he said. (Visit lcms.org/stewardship.)
During a Q-and-A session, Day described “healthy congregations” as those that respond to the needs of their communities, and he encouraged black-ministry congregations to minister to those outside their church doors.
The ONM, he said, may begin sending missionaries to U.S. cities and college campuses within the next two years. And the ONM plans to fill a part-time position for a church-worker recruiter who could work with the Synod’s Black Clergy Caucus to recruit men for the pastoral ministry.
ONM funds also are available, he added, to assist church workers, but not all of those funds are being used. For example, he said about $400,000 was available last year to provide financial assistance to retired church workers through the Veterans of the Cross program, but requests totaling only $270,000 were received. (To make a referral or apply for these benefits, contact Tina Luhr with Concordia Plan Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-927-7526, ext. 6809.)
In addition, $200,000 is available annually through Soldiers of the Cross, which serves active church workers. (To make a referral or apply for these benefits, contact your district office.)
The Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of Church and Community Engagement with the ONM, said he and Gray have begun working together on issues that pertain to both black and Hispanic ministries, since both ethnic groups are “people of color” and have similar concerns.
Hernandez said he knows of an LCMS congregation that exhibits today’s increasing ethnic diversity: it has a black pastor with a mostly white membership and is located in a Hispanic neighborhood.
“We’re all in this together,” added Gray. “It’s not about race and ethnicity, it is about the Gospel.”
Gray told the convocation, “If you have a need … the LCMS has the resources. We’re here to support you.”
Concordia, Selma, update
As banquet speaker July 12, the Rev. Dr. Tilahun Mendedo, president of Concordia College Alabama (CCA), Selma, Ala., said CCA has received “a green light” from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges — the regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education in the South — to accommodate 24 new dual programs with Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon. CCA currently offers four programs of study.
CCA’s “Time to Build” development campaign — which began in 2012 with a goal of raising $15 million — has received to date nearly $16 million, he said, and the school has increased its donor base from some 1,400 to about 5,000 supporters.
Increasing the number of students enrolled at the college “has been a challenge,” Mendedo acknowledged, along with recruiting church-work students who “can make a difference” in the world, but CCA, he said, has “a responsibility” to carry on the work of famed black-ministry educator Rosa Young, who started 30 Lutheran elementary schools in the South in the early to mid-1900s.
The largest Lutheran church body in the world, the 6.8 million-member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, has some 6,000 missionaries in service worldwide and grows by some 300,000 members a year, Mendedo said, and U.S. Lutherans should adopt that same enthusiasm for outreach.
“Jesus. That’s what you have in hand,” he told the convocation. “Never cease telling about Him day and night.”
Mendedo said the Synod needs a “ministry of the Gospel” that is “not in black, white or immigrant boxes,” but rather, is for all.
“There is no color line for the Gospel and our mission must be intergenerational and global beyond barriers and boundaries,” he said, and he advised pastors to “teach, preach, mentor and coach” at least one person to succeed them in ministry.
Performing several selections at the banquet was the seven-member CCA Concordia Chorale, led by Director Minnie McMillan.
Eight workshops on topics ranging from starting an after-school children’s ministry, to identity theft, to adult praise dance, to serving older adults were offered on July 10, and a dozen more workshops — all focused on witnessing and outreach, and sponsored by Lutheran Hour Ministries — were offered on July 12 in conjunction with Seltz’s presentation.
In her workshop on serving older adults, Deborah Mitchell, director of Lutheran Geriatric Care Inc. in St. Louis, described the benefits to congregations that offer “adult day care,” which she said can “bring people back into your pews,” “money into your church,” “create jobs” and “bring your churches back alive.”
With state funding, a congregation caring for 60 adults for seven hours a day, Mitchell said, “can bring in about a million dollars a year,” or some $400,000 in profit after paying salaries and other operating costs.
LHM’s witnessing workshops were offered in four tracks that focused on: reaching families and family members, engaging non-Christians, personal witnessing for beginners and congregational outreach.
In his workshop on witnessing to neighbors, the Rev. Dr. Yohannes Mengsteab, director of Ministry Programs for The Lutheran Foundation in Fort Wayne, Ind., noted that if you’re not excited about being a Christian, you won’t be a good witness.
Although only six of 24 people at the workshop acknowledged they “have the gift of evangelism,” all in the room “are called to be witnesses” for Christ, he said, and “what you do” can inspire others even more than your words. “Your life and my life are supposed to be a walking, living, breathing sermon,” he said.
But Mengsteab also encouraged convocation-goers to “develop your [faith] story,” which he called “the most effective way to witness for Christ in the 21st century.” No one can argue with your story of how God has made a difference in your life, he said: “They can reject it, but they can’t argue with you.”
A good Christian witness, he added, must “be, do and say — you cannot separate one from the other.”
In a workshop on witnessing methods — which she described as a “taste” of LHM’s Mission U course on the “Seven Styles of Faith-Sharing” — Linda Stewart said, “Every time you come into contact with another human being, you’re on the mission field.”
In trusted relationships with family and friends, “don’t judge” them but provide an “abundance of love” in your message and leave it to God to help get your message through, Stewart said.
Sharing a story about how God has made a difference in your life can be a powerful witness, she said, as can serving others: Ask people what they need and pray for guidance on how to respond.
During life events such as pregnancy/birth, engagement/wedding, divorce, retirement, sickness and death, Stewart advised asking yourself, “How can I share the love of Christ [in this situation]?”
Even if someone does not accept your invitation to attend a church service or event with you, “keep the invitation open,” Stewart said, and if they do say yes, pick them up, show them around, introduce them, sit with them — but not up front — and include them in a fellowship activity afterwards.
As Christians, our job is to “present the Word of Christ, and let the Lord do the rest,” she said.
During convocation business sessions, 38 voting delegates adopted resolutions to:
- establish a recruitment and development center for professional church workers at Concordia College Alabama, Selma. Faculties of both LCMS seminaries — in Fort Wayne, Ind., and in St. Louis — are encouraged to partner with the college in this endeavor.
- support, pray for and work with the director of Black Ministry (Gray) to strengthen, revitalize and establish black and immigrant ministries. The resolution also sets a goal of adding 6,750 Lutherans in black and immigrant ministries by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. That goal can be reached, the resolution notes, if each of 150 LCMS black-ministry congregations adds 15 members per year.
- celebrate the 140th anniversary of LCMS black ministry in 2017. A task force to be appointed by the director of Black Ministry is charged with planning the celebration. The next Black Ministry Family Convocation will be held that year in Alabama.
- celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 and “engage in the study of all writings within the Book of Concord.”
- encourage Lutherans in black ministry to embrace and support the LCMS “Stand” theme during the 2013-16 triennium.
Delegates also voted to distribute convocation offerings totaling $3,605.35 among Concordia College Alabama, the Rosa J. Young film project, Lutheran Urban Mission Agency in Kansas City, seminary scholarships and the convocation’s operating expenses.
A total of 70 youth also attended the five-day convocation, with an agenda geared for ages 5 to 11 and a separate program for those 12 and older.
Teresa Hillie, a youth adviser at Grace Lutheran Church in Concord, N.C., brought her 15-year-old daughter, Danielle, and several members of the congregation’s youth group to the convocation. The group takes part in two servant events — plus two fundraisers — each month, and the money raised was used to help pay expenses for their trip to Kansas City.
Kyana Wood, 9, and her best friend Tiana Stevenson, 10 — members of the Grace youth group — said they were enjoying their first convocation because it was “fun.” They had already learned a hip-hop dance and performed it with other youth at the convocation’s “Music Night,” and had enjoyed a visit to Kaleidoscope and Legoland earlier that day. A trip to a waterpark and a game-and-pizza night were still to come.
Each day’s activities also included devotions as well as age-appropriate witness activities and servant events.
Kyana added that she would “tell other kids to come [to the convocation] because they’ll learn about Jesus and how He came to be a Savior.”
The convocation featured opening and closing worship services and daily devotions for all registrants — young and old — with soulful, stirring and often rousing performances by a choir composed of members of four black-ministry congregations: Great Commission, St. Matthew and Transfiguration, in St. Louis, and Unity, in East St. Louis.
In his sermon on opening night, the Rev. Donald Anthony said today’s world is not too different from that of St. Paul because many non-Christians are still “all around us.” Anthony asked: “Do we have a desire that they be saved?”
Even though “we have failed God, He does not fail us,” Anthony said. And, as St. Paul came to realize, “that message is worth sharing.”
Referencing Scripture, where Jesus healed the crippled man who was lowered down to Him through a hole in the roof because of the crowds outside (Mark 2:1-12), Anthony said the crippled man’s friends did something “untraditional” by climbing up on a roof and cutting a hole “in order for this man to experience the power of Jesus.” They did it, he said, “because they were convinced Jesus could supply” what was needed.
“Those four friends responded to the power of God that was within them,” Anthony said, and he added that it was his hope that the convocation would “strengthen us to be a witness to our faith to the world around us.”
Gray, at a June 12 “sending service,” said “the greatest sin in the church is the sin of ‘no-mission,’ ” and he encouraged convocation-goers to “share God’s love, and His grace, and His mercy” with others.
“You’ve got to be Jesus in the places God is calling you to serve,” he said. “You may be the only Jesus they see, and you can make a difference in their lives.”
The Rev. Kasongo Guy Kabeo, pastor of the French-speaking International Lutheran Church of Zion in Milwaukee, was attending his first Black Ministry Family Convocation. Born and raised in the Congo, in Central Africa, Kabeo said, “As an African immigrant, I think it’s very important for me to be here. Why? Because now we are part of [LCMS] black ministry.”
Kabeo said he plans to “bring more people” to future convocations because he sees great “benefit” in attending the event: “They can understand what is going on with black ministry, how they can be part of this, how they can share the Gospel with other people in their cities.”
As an “immigrant pastor,” he told Reporter, “I was [limiting] myself, thinking I can share the Gospel only with people from Africa. But I do understand now that I can share the Gospel more with people who are African-Americans, or who are immigrants from other countries, or African, or Hispanic, whatever.”
Being at the convocation, Kabeo added, “has given me another picture of who I was seeing … and who I can reach … which is very important.”
Lois and Bob Gilham, co-chairs of evangelism at Peace Lutheran Church in Kansas City, and fellow congregation member Deanna Staehling said they came to the convocation to meet people, “get a feel” for the black culture and “get information on how to reach out to more” of their neighbors, according to Lois.
The three, who are white, described Peace as a “dwindling” congregation of some 200 members, about 25 of them black, in an ethnically diverse neighborhood.
Many white church members “have moved out, and so … we want to bring in those in the community, which is more black and Hispanic,” Staehling explained.
Although whites were a minority at the convocation, all three said they felt very welcomed and learned a lot about reaching out to others.
Bob Gilham called the convocation “a very good thing” and said he is hopeful that Peace will become “an integrated church [that will] represent the community.”
Posted July 31, 2014 / Updated Aug. 3, 2014