Convocation: Church Planting

Yesterday’s convocation was led by Prof. Adam Koontz, who you may recognize from a recent post about his successful PhD defense (he won’t officially become Dr. Koontz until after his degree conferral in May). Sometime in the fall of 2020 we’ll have him lead a convocation on his dissertation topic, but today’s presentation on church planting is thanks to his church planting experience in Pennsylvania, where he served as a pastor before being called to serve here at CTSFW this past summer.

A proper understanding of church planting begins with 1 Corinthians 3:5-7: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

He talked both Gospel-focus as well as tactics. Visitation was central to his church-planting duties, along with planning and strategizing. He noted that, as a pastor, you don’t know how much you take for granted in a church until you’re planting. In a church plant there are no set tasks and duties, no established power networks or overarching culture to the congregation as a whole as the congregation is just individuals at this point. You must be perceptive of the cultures of the individuals you are reaching. When a student asked about catechesis, Prof. Koontz explained that he didn’t start a general catechism class or program, but rather visited with individuals for catechesis. He had a standard plan he followed—work through the six chief parts—but then he spent more or less time on each part as per each individual and family unit according to their questions and concerns.

Ultimately, he found that church planting makes it extremely clear that the Gospel is central. Because you have to focus on people who don’t currently go to church, you begin to focus your pastoral tasks: training the laity on basic apologetics, and on the communication of the message that people are sinners and Christ is the Savior of sinners. Prof. Koontz noted that his established congregation also came to understand the centrality of the Gospel much better after the work of planting a new church.

“The effect on the mother church is, in my experience, nothing but good,” Prof. Koontz said. “I did not personally encounter any jealousy over time because they understood this was for the sake of the spread of the Gospel.” They were excited by their connection with it, from active participants all the way to the shut-ins. They were starting a new church. That kicked back into the established congregation and made them much more excited about evangelism in their own place.

Nigerian Book Project

From left to right: Maintenance Staff Tom Boese, Library Director Prof. Roethemeyer, and Library Director Assistant Rev. Roger Peters load books behind the library early one morning.

The Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria is completing a project to upgrade their library building. It has been the fervent desire of the Wakefield-Kroemer Director of Library and Information Services here at CTSFW, Prof. Robert Roethemeyer, to provide a refresh of the books that have been in service for more than 50 years in some of the harshest environments in the world. In 2017, the library staff began setting aside material mostly from gift books from retired CTSFW and CSL faculty and from many pastors. In the end, we are sending over 2,600 volumes to Nigeria that are shelf-ready (spine labels on the books) and circulation-ready (barcodes in the books).

Library Director Prof. Robert Roethemeyer helps unload at the Theological Book Network.

As the project developed, we found a library software system that could be used in the cloud and locally. Using this tool, we have created a catalog containing the materials selected for Nigeria. Kay Roethemeyer (Assessment and Business Analyst for our library) managed the project and provided call number assignment oversight. Rev. Lammert, Technical Services Librarian, added his skills to help build the catalog. Many student workers were involved throughout the project and assisted with creating a bibliography, adding holdings in the library system, adding the spine labels and barcodes to each book, packing boxes, and manifesting each box.

Ninety-two boxes of books began their journey to Nigeria in January, though the complications of oversea shipping will hold them up for awhile in transit. The Theological Book Network began the logistics process, which they anticipate may take 4-6 weeks to get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed before the pallets leave Michigan to go to port. Once on the water, it takes about 100 days to get to the destination’s port. We hope that the books will be in Nigeria by summer.

Two pallets, 92 boxes, and 2,600 volumes headed to The Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria.

With thanks to Kay Roethemeyer for the pictures as well as the write-up.

Faculty Travel: 7th World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council

The mountain town of Baguio City on the Philippines’ Luzon island.

A couple of weeks ago, two of our professors of Systematic Theology, Dr. Naomichi Masaki and Dr. Roland Ziegler, attended the 7th World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council in Baguio City, Philippines. Dr. Masaki shared greetings on behalf of President Rast and Dr. Ziegler spoke at the conference, expanding on the theme: “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.”

Many different cultural contexts were presented at the conference, as evidenced by the participants and speakers who hailed from many different countries. Besides our own representatives from CTSFW (and a colleague from CSL, Dr. Joel Biermann, who served as a speaker for the North American perspective), the additional cultural contexts were presented by:

  • Asian perspective: Dr. Samuel Thompson, Professor of Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Nagercoil, India
  • European perspective: Dr. Christoph Barbrock, Professor of Practical Theology at Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany
  • African perspective: Rev. Dr. Nicolas Salifu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana
  • Latin American perspective: Rev. Samuel Fuhrmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil

During the conference, President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS and President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium signed a document finalizing altar and pulpit fellowship between our church bodies. Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, CTSFW Professor Emeritus, was also appointed as next General Secretary of the ILC.

Dr. Masaki reported that it was a delight to greet the conference hosts. He spoke at the Luther Academy Conference for pastors and church workers at the Lutheran Center in Manial and also served as a guest professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary & Training Center in Bagui City about a month and a half prior to the conference. Students from the seminary served the conference (you can spot them in the pictures wearing their “uniform” with Luther’s Rose on their jackets), and he was delighted to see them alongside the faculty, pastors, and saints of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines.

Dr. Masaki (in the middle) stands to the left of the Dean of the seminary, Rev. Teodorico Taran, among the students working the conference.

He also shared a story, told by Rev. Jon Albert Saragih of Luther Theological Seminary of Indonesia. In Rev. Saragih’s school days (grade to high school), he learned Japanese, the Bible, and other subjects from Miss Machiko Chigane, a former missionary to Sumatra from West Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. “Chigane sensei was a member of North Osaka Lutheran Church where I grew up,” Dr. Masaki wrote on his Facebook page, explaining the connection between the two men. “She was an active leader in the congregation. So delighted to hear his story!”

You can read more about the 7th World Seminaries Conference, including details about each of the presentations, at the International Lutheran Council’s website. The articles covering the conference can be found HERE.

Conference attendees at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Baguio City. St. Stephen’s served as the worship site for the conference.

Convocation: The Curse of Knowledge

A couple of weeks ago, Rev. Richard Rudowske, chief operating officer of Lutheran Bible Translators as well as Doctor of Philosophy—Missiology student here at CTSFW, led a convocation on “The Curse of Knowledge.” The mission of Lutheran Bible Translators is to translate the Bible into every tongue, that all people and nations may read and hear God’s Word in their heart language. Why, then, would he lecture on knowledge as a “curse”?
First, what is this curse? It’s this: when people know information, they don’t know what it’s like not to know it. For example (a particularly poignant one for this convocation audience), a professor who knows his subject inside and out can easily forget what it was like before he learned it, accidentally leaving behind his students when he assumes a base of knowledge they don’t have. “Ignorance can be a virtue in education.” (“Tell your professors that,” Rev. Rudowske added as an aside, as he read this quote from an educational study.) “To teach effectively, you need to see things from the naive perspective of your pupil—and the more knowledge you have acquired, the harder it gets.”
It’s a problem across fields. Rev. Rudowske quoted economists, psychologists, educational experts, and an article written by a plumber: “I was an expert in my knowledge base, but not a professional in my field. The curse of knowledge must be battled daily. Know your foe: arrogance.”
This curse can be traced back to Genesis 3:4-7. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
The first thing Adam and Eve noticed was their nakedness. They immediately turned their eyes to themselves. Or, to use a Latin theological phrase: incurvatus in se. “Curved inward on oneself.” “That’s really mankind ever since,” Rev. Rudowske said. “You care more about and think about what you know and less about what someone else knows. That’s the depth of the effect of sin.”
Though he began the convocation as a typical presentation, Rev. Rudowske soon opened up the floor to comments and questions from the students, leading it more as a regular class. Theological knowledge is going to serve foundationally towards their future as teachers (an intrinsic part of both pastoral and diaconal vocations), but overwhelming knowledge can unintentionally intimidate or lose listeners, such as when they use unfamiliar jargon or allude to the Bible without attribution or context. “We’re not called to dumb down the message of the Gospel or the Law,” Rev. Rudowske said. “But be aware of your audience. That’s a key part when you’re assigned to a vocation: be intimately involved in that community.” The Word of redemption is universal, but we have relationships with people so that we can also speak personally and directly to their individual needs.
Dr. Detlev Schulz, Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions here at CTSFW, chimed in, speaking of how this ties into emotional intelligence, the “self-awareness—or awareness—of how you view your actions as they affect other people,” he explained. It’s also an important tool for future pastors and deaconesses. For example, your language may be theologically correct and academically impressive, but can you recognize how it may be heard or understood? Will it help and serve your neighbor, or overwhelm and lose him?
Speak to your hearers, not to your own ears. Or as 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
And thanks be to God, we also have the promise that the Word works despite our fallen nature. We are tasked with speaking it, but we need not be driven to despair over our unworthiness. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Christ Jesus works both because and despite us. We are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10).
Rev. Rudowske (left) and Dr. Schulz (right)

Pless at Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Brazil

Early in July, Professor John Pless gave a lecture on Law and Gospel in Confession and Absolution at the 8th International Luther Symposium at our sister seminary, Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Brazil. The seminary train ministers in one of our partner churches in Latin America, the Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil, or Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil. Prof. Pless taught a course on “The Catechism: A Field Manual for Discipleship.” Two of his books, translated into Portuguese, were also featured at the symposium: “Manejando Bem a Palavra da Verdade” and “Palavra: Deus fala conosco” (“Handling the Word of the Truth” and “Word: God Speaks to Us”).

Like many of our faculty, Professor Pless has a full travel schedule, especially in the summer months. He attended this symposium in Brazil, returned in time to travel south to Tampa, Florida, for Synod Convention (where he also signed copies of his books—though in English this time—at the CPH booth close by the Seminary booth), and left from there to go to South Africa.

Prof. Pless spoke highly of the seminary in São Leopoldo (which is part of one of our partner churches in Latin America, ), from the depth of its theological education to the warm community of faculty and students. As always, we thank God for the partnerships we have with our sister seminaries across the world, and for our brothers and sisters from all nations.

Photos courtesy Filipe Schuambach Lopes of Concordia Seminary of São Leopoldo.

Convocation: Black Ministry

Last week, following chapel on Wednesday, the Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray Jr., Director of LCMS Black Ministry, led convocation on the history of Synod’s work with African Americans. Dr. Gray graduated from CTSFW in 1988, receiving an honorary doctorate from the Seminary in 2015.

His first call after graduation was to Houston, where he served until 1994. “Get involved in agencies of the community,” he advised the seminarians in the audience, speaking from his own experience. He’d volunteer to read to the kids at nearby schools, attend local events, and would go to funeral homes, hand them his card, and say, “I can’t do anything about the dead, but I can do something for the living.” Funeral directors would call him when a family who had no pastor needed pastoral care. The church grew by leaps and bounds. “Wow!” Dr. Gray exclaimed, “Evangelism does work!” which got a particularly appreciative laugh from the students.

And though he spoke of the tenacity and love a pastor must have for his community, every time he also came back to the same point: that witness and mercy work is about sharing the Good News that Jesus Christ died for our sins. “In the Great Commission, Jesus was speaking to Galileans—and speaking to Lutherans,” he said. “We cannot be ashamed or afraid.”

Black Ministry’s history is nearly as old as the LCMS, serving the longest existing ethnic group in our church body (“Besides the Germans,” Dr. Gray pointed out with a laugh, reminding his audience that “We’re all ethnic people.”). In 1877, only 30 years after the Synod had formed, the sixth convention of the Synodical Conference unanimously resolved to begin mission work among blacks, particularly in the southern and southeastern districts where the slave trade had driven African migration to the United States. Mission efforts were educationally-focused, meant to bring the Good News and schooling to a people in desperate need of both. With the Civil War barely in the rear view mirror, freed African Americans were still living in slave-like conditions, denied basic rights under “Black Laws” and without access to education or jobs. They were impoverished, physically and spiritually.

Mission work started with their children. In 1878, a Lutheran Sunday School was organized in Little Rock, Arkansas (St. Paul Colored Lutheran Church would be built in Little Rock years later), and the first black Lutheran parochial school opened in the fall of 1879. Every new mission they started (traveling further and further south) was connected with a school.

In 1889, four black pastors attended the North Carolina Synod convention as voting members. The committee on “Work among the Freedmen” recommended that “the colored brethren connected with this Synod be allowed to form themselves into a synod.” The Alpha Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Freedman in America formed on May 8, 1889 (and would later be merged back into the LCMS). By 1926, the Carolinas had increased from five black congregations to 23, served by 16 pastors and professors (four times the original four), and started seven day schools and Immanuel Lutheran College.

Rosa Young, arguably the most famous figure involved in early Black Ministry (specifically in Alabama), made herself known to the LCMS in the early 1900s. Born in 1890 in Rosebud, Alabama, Rosa was a schoolteacher who saw her people “groping in spiritual darkness.” When the cotton boll weevil invaded Wilcox County in 1914, devastating an already impoverished area, she wrote to Dr. Booker T. Washington for help. He suggested she write to the LCMS for assistance, as he knew of the Synod’s reputation for educational work among blacks in the south.

The partnership blossomed quickly. She turned her school, the Rosebud Literacy and Industrial School, over to the LCMS shortly after the mission board sent assistance, which then became Christ Lutheran Church and School and the mother church of black Lutheranism in Alabama. Together, Rosa and the pastors and teachers sent to the area ultimately planted 30 schools and 35 congregations in Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. Concordia College in Selma, Alabama, eventually grew from these endeavors.

“I hunted lost souls for Jesus somewhat as I hunted for money to build and maintain my first school,” she wrote in her autobiography. When speaking of the deplorable ignorance of her people and the immoral spiritual leaders who had failed them, she explained, “None of them ever told us: Christ is your Savior, who died for your sins. Believe in Him, then you are saved.”

Dr. Gray explained that there are third and fourth generation African American Lutherans, in places so geographically and culturally isolated (such as St. James in Buena Vista, Alabama, begun by Rosa Young as a Sunday School), that the members there have never seen a white Lutheran. “They think the LCMS is a black church,” he explained, then got another laugh when he immediately added: “Don’t tell them!” His own wife is a fifth or sixth generation Lutheran.

“This [Synod] has done powerful work,” Dr. Gray said, especially considering that the LCMS was still very young and very small when it started reaching out to African American communities. “But we have to revisit that.” Concordia College Alabama has closed, as have other major LCMS institutes that served black populations. The parish he served over 30 years ago has closed too. “Lutheranism is growing faster among Africans than African Americans,” he said.

“The Lutheran Church is the whitest church in America,” Dr. Gray went on, citing the statistics. Fourteen percent of the US population identify as “Black only” or “Black in combination with another race,” but only 3% of LCMS membership identifies as such. With two million baptized members, this means only 60,000 of our membership is black.

“11 a.m. Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America,” Dr. Gray pointed out. “We worship separately. We plant Hispanic churches, Black churches.” Sometimes that’s due to a language barrier, but too often it’s because we simply don’t know how to talk with people from different cultures, ethnicities, or backgrounds.

Black Ministry exists to reach out with the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection, to bring more people into the Kingdom by engaging with those broken, destitute, and trapped by the challenges unique to their background. For African Americans, that’s racism, poverty, discrimination, and family structure. Dr. Gray explained engagement in very simple terms. “Be culturally sensitive to the community you serve. It doesn’t mean you give in—but be sensitive to it, and then get on to serving the Church.”

Much of Dr. Gray’s insights come from his own experience in the parish, especially that first call out to Houston. “Thank God for two elders who taught me how to be a pastor. I learned great, great theology from the Seminary, but gained my experience in that church, learning to work with people who are broken every day. A lot of sinners out there are angry at the Church.”

He recalled one young woman with two children, who came from a rough background and got involved with the church because of their childcare resources. At one point, Dr. Gray was tempted to kick her out. He spoke about it with his elders, who urged him not to, wanting to keep that contact point with her children even if their mother was already lost.

“One of my elders said something I’ll never forget,” Dr. Gray recalled: “’You go fishing, let us do the cleaning.’” In short, they urged him to do what he excelled at (going out into the community to witness, bringing folks into the church), and they in turn would do their part (keeping them in the church, by spending years walking them through their particular issues). “Your elders and your laypeople are not against you, they’re for you,” Dr. Gray said, speaking directly to the seminarians. “And they don’t care about how much you know until they know you care.

“That church taught me how to love people. It’s easy to push people into the well,” he added, then explained how tempting it is to prioritize fighting against the particular sins we don’t like rather than sharing the Good News. “It’s ‘For God so loved the world that He gave…’ not ‘For God so hated sin that…” Dr. Gray pointed out. “The solution to the preponderance of your sin must be the Gospel. The Law does not save you.”

All other solutions also fall short. “The government will not save us. You cannot vote in a Savior, you cannot vote in morality. The Gospel is the only thing that can change hearts.

“Give them Jesus, brothers,” Dr. Gray said to the seminarians, his future colleagues. “The Law has already done the work in their lives. You’ve got to preach the Law,” he conceded, “but the Law won’t change them. I am not ashamed of this Gospel,” he repeated, a common refrain and theme of the convocation. It is a bludgeon against fear and hopelessness.

LCMS Black Ministry began only 30 years after the Synod formed, when they had few resources in terms of both money and men. Only that’s not precisely true. We had – and still have – everything we need. “We have the resources,” Dr. Gray explained simply: “We have the Gospel.”

If you would like to learn more about the history of Black Ministry, you can click on the following articles:

The History of LCMS Mercy Work with African Americans

Formed for Service: The Work of Rosa Jinsey Young

LCMS Black Ministry: A Look Backward and Forward

LCMS Black Ministry History

You can also learn more at

Dr. Schulz: LCEA

On March 5, Dr. K. Detlev Schulz (Director of PhD in Missiology Program and Co-director of International Studies here at CTSFW) was in Himo, Tanzania, visiting St. Peter’s Seminary there together with the Bishop of the Lutheran Church of East Africa (LCEA).

Dr. Schulz is third to the right, standing to the left of Bishop Angowi of the LCEA (in purple). On the far left is missionary Rev. Jonathan Clausing, who teaches at the seminary. He and his wife Anita have nine children, and live in Moshi, Tanzania.

The LCEA is only 20 years old, the church body having formed in 1999. Much like our own CTSFW, students attend their seminary for four years before ordination. St. Peter’s Seminary’s location in Tanzania allows these men to remain close to their homes and the congregations that they will serve as they enter the ministry.

Lutheran Theological Seminary in Pretoria

Prof. Pless’s Advanced Catechetics class.
Imposition of the Ashes during Ash Wednesday service at the LTS chapel.

Another faculty member taking advantage of the quarter break to teach beyond the city of Fort Wayne is Professor Pless. He is teaching a two-week intensive catechetic course on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper at the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) in Pretoria (Tshwane), South Africa. The class began on February 25 and ends tomorrow.

He is also working with the St. Philip Lutheran Mission Society to expand and remodel the current library at LTS. The society was formed by CTSFW students following the spring of 2008 (now pastors themselves), after they traveled to LTS and saw not only the present but also future impact the seminary will have on confessional Lutheranism in Africa.

Prof. Pless presenting new books to the LTS library.

LTS serves students from several African countries, who are educated in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and then return to their countries for ordination in their home communities. The Mission Society raises financial aid in support of LTS, and funds have been secured and designated for this library project. Construction is expected to start in the near future, and Prof. Pless had the opportunity to present new books for the library.

You can learn more about LTS in Tshwane/Pretoria at

Dr. John T. Pless (left) with Dr. Mark Rabe, LCMS director for theological education in eastern and southern Africa, and Pastor Eric Skogaard of Elm Grove Lutheran Church in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, who is at LTS to teach an intensive course on the pastoral epistles.

Urban Immersion

The ordination and installation of Rev. Robert Winston as assistant pastor through the SMP-Español/English program, standing in the middle of this group shot. Dr. Wiley is second to the right.

Dr. Don Wiley is another of our faculty members busy over the quarter break. We most recently spoke of him on our Facebook page in relation to his presentation to the women of the Seminary Guild regarding his work with the SMP–Español/English program. And thanks be to God, on Sunday, February 24, the Rev. Robert Winston was ordained and installed as assistant pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church/Iglesia Luterana Nueva Vida in Springfield, VA, the very first man in the SMP-Español/English program here at CTSFW to reach this point. “The Lord of the harvest has added another laborer in the Gospel ministry of Word and Sacrament,” Dr. Wiley wrote on his Facebook page.

The Lutheran Mission Society Compassion Place. From left to right: Rev. Dr. David Maack (Executive Director), Rev. Elliott M. Robertson (pastor at Martini Lutheran Church), Vicar Bob Etheridge, seminarian Chase Lefort, seminarian Daniel Wunderlich, seminarian Austin Meier, seminarian Tim Steele II, and Dr. Don Wiley.

Dr. Don Wiley was near enough to the area to attend the ordination and installation because he and four seminarians were in Baltimore for a nine-day Urban Immersion Experience in the city. Hosted by the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and Martini Lutheran Church, in conjunction with the Wyneken Project, they have immersed themselves in both the work and the city. From Dr. Wiley’s Facebook page:

“Today we learned about the mercy work of Lutheran congregations in Baltimore through the Lutheran Mission Society Compassion Place. It’s one more way that the congregations reach out to their communities with Christ’s love and Gospel. We had the pleasure of meeting the Executive Director, Rev. Dr. David Maack and ran into one of our Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne-CTSFW students currently on vicarage, Bob Etheridge.”

The seminarians also had the opportunity to plan, purchase food, prepare, and finally serve a meal to the needy. In Dr. Wiley’s words: “[They] served it up in style and with great compassion at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer…Great job, men!”

Left to right: Dr. Don Wiley, Chase Lefort, Tim Steele, Daniel Wunderlich, Austim Meier, purchasing food for the meal to the needy. Then serving the need, l-r: Tim Steele II, Daniel Wunderlich, Austin Meier.

Convocation: Prison Ministry

With the students on break we have no convocation today, so instead will highlight the topic from last week: “Visiting the Imprisoned: Making the Case for Jail Ministry.” You may be familiar with the work of our presenters already; they were featured in a “Lutherans Engage” article and video, which you can read and watch here:

The presentation began with Deaconess Carole Terkula, called as a deaconess to St. John Lutheran Church in Columbia City, Indiana, while her husband finishes his fourth year at the Seminary. One of the congregation’s outreach programs is their ministry to the inmates at the local jail.

Deaconess Terkula began with the Biblical foundation of jail ministry. She quoted first Matthew 25:36 and 40 (“‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’…and the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’”) then 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

“Many [of the inmates] have never heard the pure Gospel,” she explained, adding that others in jail had fallen away from the church years before. “They need to be reminded of who they are in Christ—of their Christian identity.” And for all that St. John’s is active in jail ministry, it takes only three to four hours out of their week to go to the jail and minister to inmates in the form of Bible studies. “We it do it out of love for Christ, overflowing to our brothers and sisters.”

Deaconess Carole Terkula talks about the need for jail and prison ministries.

Sharing the Gospel is a particularly easy thing to do in jails and prisons, where there’s no hiding from the law—an inmate knows that he or she is a captive, bound by their sins. By drawing people to repentance and God’s forgiveness in Christ, jail ministry can also help stop the revolving door of release and incarceration, benefiting not only the individuals but their families and community.

The individual successes, when they do happen, are incredibly triumphant. “Don’t get hung up on numbers,” Deaconess Terkula advised. “We’re dealing with people. [The numbers] may be discouraging from a human perspective, but we have done what God has asked us to do.” Her presentation finished on Isaiah 55:11: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Rev. David Mommens, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, next covered some of the practicalities of prison ministry and what to expect. Prison/jail ministry is not a popular program across churches (in Indiana, only 6 out of 236 congregations have outreach to jails or prisons), many citing a lack of volunteers, training, finances, no knowledge of where to start, already busy with other ministries, or see no need for it (because their own parishioners are not in jail), and he hoped to remove some of the anxiety and reluctance by explaining St. John’s experiences.

Rev. David Mommens discusses his experiences with jail ministry through St. John Lutheran Church in Columbia City, Indiana.

First, he explained the difference between jail and prison. A prison houses those who have committed felonies, the inmates often hardened criminals. Jails are for the less serious offenses, like DUIs and petty theft. “These are pretty much ordinary folks,” he explained. In small communities you often know the inmates personally; maybe you went to school with them, or know their parents from local events. Violent flare-ups are incredibly rare. In all the years he’s been going to the jail, he’s only seen some posturing between two inmates that got shut down by the guards in about 15 seconds.

Next: “Get to know the Sheriff.” He is the man who knows all the regulations, rules, and holds ultimate accountability, so he will need to understand your intentions and the details of your ministry. Some of the rules you can expect: don’t take anything in or out (including information, like notes), remove all staples from materials, no hardbound books. After a background check (which is looking for felonies and violent crimes; they don’t care about your traffic ticket) you receive a badge.

Some of his other suggestions: if you bring (softbound and approved by the jail) Bibles, sign them and put their names inside so that it becomes personal property that an inmate can take with them when they leave. “By the time they get out,” Rev. Mommens noted, “[the Bibles] are well used.” They enjoy the explanations, the printed maps, and all the information provided within.

He has also found that a Bible study that starts out with only three or four attendees usually ends with every seat filled and guys standing along the walls to listen. Many of these studies end up being about Baptism, because of its strong Gospel assurance for those in jail. While some inmates ask to be baptized just because they know it will  make them look good, Rev. Mommens has found that it is an excellent opportunity to get into the meat of the Gospel. Why do you want Baptism? Do you understand the promises attached to it? Over 30 baptisms have resulted from St. John’s prison ministry.

Rev. Geoff Robinson on his experience in prison ministry in Illinois.

The next to speak was Rev. Geoff Robinson, Executive Director of Outreach and Human Care in the LCMS Indiana District. His experience in this type of ministry was to those in prison, rather than jail. “You literally have a captive audience,” he said, “very open to hearing the Gospel.”

Rev. Robinson didn’t serve the prisoners as a chaplain but as a teacher, teaching science to his incarcerated students at both minimum and medium security facilities. While he was not allowed to bring up religion himself, the rule stood that if a prisoner asked him anything about religion, he could answer. As such, Rev. Robinson wore his collar to every visit (uniforms are a major part of the prison world, and his collar was immediately recognizable as the uniform of a pastor), which was a great way to encourage prisoners to come to him with religious questions—which they did, and often.

“It’s rewarding work,” he said. It’s also difficult. “They’ll challenge you with lies. Answer with the truth. Every prisoner has a story. They always tell you they’re the victim. Try to get them beyond that and teach true repentance.” He smiled. “I didn’t allow them to take advantage of me either.

“I was never afraid,” he added, though the first time that door locks behind you is “eerie,” he admitted. He didn’t go anywhere without an escort and always followed the rules, even if they didn’t make sense to him. That, and he respected the chain of command. “Don’t argue with the Warden.”

The presentation ended with the perspective from three students, involved with the prison ministry at St. John’s as a part of their fieldwork experience. “[Inmates] hear God’s Word and it does its work. They’re sinners and they know it,” Rob Schrader, Sem II, explained to the room. “Some I have seen brought to tears because of the grace of God. You can see God and the Holy Spirit working in these people. You can see it on their faces that they’re being changed. We don’t often see that in people.”

Left to right: seminarian Rob Schrader, deaconess student Mika Patron, deaconess student Kate Phillips.

Second-year deaconess student, Kate Phillips, added that when she first heard about prison/jail ministry during a Prayerfully Consider Visit (before she was a student here), she immediately thought, “That’s not for me.” But then she discovered that jail ministry was really just leading and teaching Bible Study. “Oh!” she said she realized. “I can do that.” She added that it was a blessing to herself as well. In teaching the Bible to inmates—many of whom have never or rarely heard much theology, particularly based in Law and Gospel—she had to get back to basics. “I had to define the big words we throw around.

Second-year deaconess student, Mika Patron, finished off the presentation with a simple directive, and a powerful truth: “Hear their stories,” she said. “It’s a great honor to bring the light of Christ into the darkness and loneliness of a jail cell; the light that cannot be overcome.”