1 Peter 2:9
The Rev. Erwin Ekhoff
2007 Synod Convention Essay
“Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Abram listened to God and through faith in the promised Savior was delivered out of the darkness into the marvelous light of salvation (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham became God’s evangelist and in his seed all nations on earth have been blessed. Jonah went the opposite way when he heard the divine appointment and directive of God who desires that all come to the knowledge of the truth. God trained Jonah through a short term, turbulent, residence in the belly of a fish. Jonah, having been vomited out of the fish, somewhat humbled, yet reluctant, followed the directive of God and spoke the message of repentance and faith to the people of Nineveh. The watchful shepherds heard the heavenly invitation and believed the message of the angels. They went to the humble manger and worshipped the new-born King of Grace. The message which had filled and gripped their hearts over-flowed into the entire world. The devout women on the first Easter listened to and believed the message of the angels, and scurried on their way telling the good news. The downcast disciples, the ones who were slow to believe, were schooled by the risen Jesus as they made their way to Emmaus. Believing his words, they hastened back to Jerusalem to tell the message of the bodily resurrection of the Victim who had become Victor. The Apostles who had been unjustly jailed (Acts 5) could not help but speak of the one who had set their hearts free. Declare his praises!
Before the victorious Jesus ascended, he commissioned his people, beginning with the apostles and disciples, to take his message to the ends of the earth. God wills that his people preach, speak, and live according to his message of salvation. The angels are not summoned to this earth for such work. God’s kingdom of priests, his chosen, holy people, the clan which he bought with his precious blood serves as his ambassadors and evangelists. Luther teaches:
It belongs to the office of a priest to be a messenger of God and receive from God himself the command to preach his word. The excellencies or praises, says Peter, that is, the wonderful work that God has performed in you, in bringing you out of darkness into light, you are to proclaim. This is the highest office of a priest. And the way you are to preach is by one brother proclaiming to another the powerful word of God; how you have been called to eternal life. Thus shall you also instruct others how to come to the same light. For our whole duty is discharged in this, that you confess what God has done for you; and then let it be your chief aim to make this known publicly and to call everyone to the light to which you have been called. Where you see people who are ignorant, you are to direct and teach them as you have been taught, namely, how a man may be saved through the virtue and power of God, and pass from darkness to light.
So we see that the first and foremost eminent office we as Christians are to discharge is that we make known the praise of God. What then are the praiseworthy things and the noble deeds God has wrought? They are, as we have often said (1 Peter 1:3, 13), that Christ, through the power of God has wounded death, chained hell, subdued sin, and brought us to eternal life. These are the excellencies or virtues so great that it is impossible for any man to comprehend them, and as to doing them, that is out of the question.1
Declare his praises.
Peter unearths the praises, the excellencies, the mighty works of God, the mercies of our God in the opening verses of his letter.
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5).2
Peter’s immediate audience is the Christians in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. He names them “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (1 Peter 1:1–2). The praise of God is his plan, execution, and distribution of salvation without any merit or worthiness in us. Before creation day one, God had planned the salvation of mankind. When the time was right, he sent his one and only Son, to be the Savior of every nation. God’s Son and Mary’s Holy Boy lived a flawless life and spilled precious blood. The punishment that he endured brought us peace. While Jesus is the sign which was spoken against (Luke 2:34), he alone was lifted up on the cross and won our salvation. The perfect life of Jesus, his agony on the cross and empty tomb, which has taken away the sin of the world, come to us unworthy folk through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The Holy Comforter uses Law to condemn hearts and minds. The Gospel, in Word and Sacraments, his chief tool brings comfort to undeserving sinners like us, keeping us in the faith, bringing us to our eternal hope. He is protecting and shielding us through faith in Jesus.
What then is the treasure with which we are redeemed? Not corruptible gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, the Son of God. The treasure is so costly and precious that the mind and heart of man cannot contain it; so precious that a little drop of this innocent blood would have been sufficient for the sin of the whole world; yet it was the good pleasure of the Father to pour out his grace so richly and to let it cost him so much that he permitted his only Son, Christ, to shed all his blood, and give us this treasure entirely gratuitously. Therefore it his will that we cast not such rich grace to the wind or lightly esteem it; but let it move us to live in fear that this treasure not be taken from us.3
Declare his praise in the midst of loss, suffering, persecution, hardship, and affliction.
6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6–9).
Tough times were in store for those to whom Peter was speaking. This did not diminish their inexpressible joy because their hearts were fixed on the mercy of God, the praise of God. Jesus encourages his suffering and sometimes doubting children by assuring them of his presence. The ascended Savior promised that he would be with us always even to the end of the age. There is no way that he will lose track of us. No disorder, disease, persecution, not even death itself can steal away God’s ultimate protection over the body and soul of his children (John 10:27–30). In good days and bad, suffering or joyful, Jesus remains the same for us and with us. He is always shielding us as he limits the pain and suffering in our lives, even using it to refine and purify our faith.
Peter was well acquainted with pain and suffering. He denied the Savior and with great sadness fled the presence of Jesus and wept bitterly. The look of Jesus was followed with tender restoration and forgiveness. Peter urges us, in the midst of the struggles of life, to focus on the eternal, the final prize. The full compensation of the grace of God awaits the believers in heaven (Luke 18:28–30). Our suffering and our witness to the truth in this life is temporary. Since our time here on earth is limited, today is the day to speak. Peter spoke, preached, and shared the message of the risen Savior. This message was his hope and deliverance from this world. The resurrection of our Lord is an inheritance that does not fade away, a pledge of our bodily resurrection to come.
Declare his praise by loving one another
22Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).
When people come to our churches what do they perceive, see, feel, and hear? When the visitor interacts with members and pastor, what do they perceive, see, feel, and hear? It is good for us as pastor and people to take a good look at our house, our congregation, before we invite anyone to come. Pastor Mark Jeske has written this:
Jesus said on Maundy Thursday evening, “People will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Christians in the early church became famous for sharing with one another, taking care of the sick, poor, and needy among them, for their hospitality and generosity, for treating with dignity and respect people who did not rank high in first century society: slaves, widows, the elderly, and children. Nothing has changed in two millennia. Today congregations that not only talk about doctrines but demonstrate Christian love find respect and credibility for their message. Peter’s point is that true love is more a matter of the head than of feelings. Real love is a choice—choose to show it in your lives!
The world that many unchurched people live in is cold, heartless, cruel, impersonal, and uncaring. As they find love and acceptance from loving Christians, they will also find love and acceptance from a loving Father.4
The love of Christ compels us, holds us in its grip, and seizes on every fiber of our being. The love of Christ shapes us into his evangelists. St. Paul dwells on that love and how it had radically changed his life. The wonder of Christ’s love was Paul’s constant banquet. His inspired reasoning went something like this, “Since Christ had saved a man like me, anybody could be saved”. We are included in this great salvation. We have come to love God because he first loved us. The Spirit who poured this love into our hearts gives us the Spirit-given ability to love others. The love by which Christ loved Paul and gave himself for him was the very love which brought heartfelt concern for Paul’s fellowmen. Paul desired his own condemnation rather than have his kinsmen according to the flesh perish everlastingly. The Apostle Paul prayed for us this way, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). May genuine love grow and flourish among us.
Scripture reveals how we are to live in harmony with one another and love one another. The conduct and behavior we display testify to the faith that abides in our heart. The apostle Peter writes, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11, 12). Our life is an imperfect message, and we pray that our conduct is not a hindrance to the Gospel message.
Luther encourages us to love this way:
Thou sacred Love, grace on us bestow,
Set our hearts with heav’nly fire aglow
That with hearts united we love each other,
Of one mind, in peace with every brother, Lord, have mercy!5
Declare his praise as living stones
4As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5)
The basis for Peter’s inspired words is found in the Prophet Isaiah, who foretold the coming of the precious cornerstone (Isaiah 28:14–16). It is not unusual that Peter, the rock, would be led to use a metaphor such as the living Stone. We have come to believe that the foundation, head, and cornerstone of the church, is Jesus Christ, the precious living Stone. Jesus was tested and remained pure. Through faith in him, we are set in place to be living stones.
Stones are unique, special, and different one from another. As we think about our congregations, each is like a living stone. Some are in the country and etched with age, rich in history and gifted with God’s people. Others are in the city, lighting the way in this frazzled, fallen world. Some congregations are declining, struggling and dealing with these changes. Other congregations are wealthy, flourishing with children, teaching, and making music to the Lord. Some congregations ignore their earthly surroundings and the inevitable changes which are consuming them. Some congregations, for a variety of reasons, ultimately lose their ability to season the community into which God has placed them. Understanding our congregational history and our community is essential. Demographic work is worth its weight in gold. After all we would not consider it good stewardship to send a flyer to a senior’s residence inviting them to enroll in our preschool. Basic demographic information is available at no or little cost through your local community organizations. The city, county and chamber of commerce will tell you about planned growth and expansion, extension of city water and sewer, school districts and enrollments, churches and local activities. A company such as “Percept”6 may also be contracted to accomplish a more thorough, detailed demographic plan.
Peter speaks to those who trust in this Stone when he writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” (1 Peter 2:9) He directs these words to the whole body of believers, to each living stone, not to a special, elite group. All who believe in Jesus constitute one holy, special people, regardless of particular congregational affiliation and denomination. Christians are united by their faith into one priesthood, one nation and people. We Christians exercise our royal priesthood individually by personally telling others about our Savior, and we exercise it jointly with other like-minded Christians by establishing, maintaining, and supporting the public ministry in our congregations and in our Synod. When we exercise our priesthood in this way, whether individually or jointly, we are proclaiming God’s praises. We are functioning as royal priests to the glory of God.
Declare his praises, remembering from where we have come
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:10).
With these words, Peter stirs the pot of the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:23). On the day of our birth, connected to mom and dad, we were spiritually disconnected from God. We belonged to Adam, wallowing in darkness and separated from God. We were lost and condemned creatures. That is who we were. Remember what God has done, is doing, and what he will do for you. We have become the people of God, born not by the will of a man, but of God. While God brought about this great reconciliation, sending his one Son through his people Israel, we Gentiles were always on his heart, included in his mercy. This mercy was delivered to us personally through water connected with the Word (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism washed our sin away and renewed our heart, giving us faith in Jesus who gave the complete blood sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Listen to a summary of what we have become by the grace of our God. Pastor Mark Jeske writes:
Here is what you are brothers and sisters:
- a chosen people — God so loved not only the world, but he so loved you in particular that he sought you out and brought you to faith—he wanted you.
- a royal priesthood — not one or the other but both! You are both adopted into the royal family of heaven and anointed into the holy priesthood of God. This means that you have full and free access to communicate with God, to pray directly, needing no other mediator than Jesus Christ, and you are commissioned to a lifelong spiritual ministry of love and service.
- a holy nation — by faith in Christ you have become part of the great army of believers, that invisible network that has become what the visible nation of Israelites under their monarchy never were: a nation of holy people. Faith in Jesus Christ makes you holy and it makes you a part of the great Christian church on earth and in heaven, the communion of saints.
- a people belonging to God — there is an enormous satisfaction in realizing that you are connected to God, that you have a place, a spiritual home, connections of mutual obligations. We are God’s possession not as slaves, as things that are owned, but as children for whom he accepts a huge and unending obligation.7
Declare His praises! We are royalty, servants of the King most high, equipped to carry on His work. In Psalm 110 David speaks about the willing service which the Lord’s priestly people render to Him. Luther comments:
When people learn to know Christ through the Gospel, when they believe that they obtain God’s forgiveness of their sins through Christ and become acceptable to God for Christ’s sake, the right service of God develops as a consequence within the heart. Where such a faith exists, the Holy Spirit also works in the heart, as we have said before, so that a man develops such a desire and love for God that he wants to obey Him. Such a man begins to fear God with all his heart, he trusts Him under all conditions of his life, he calls upon Him in all his needs, he is steadfast in the confession of His Word, by His life he praises God before all the world, and for His sake he suffers and bears whatever God is pleased to send him. Such are genuine and true forms of service, and they please God very well because they are done with faith in Christ. They proceed from within the heart, which has now become “a new creation” in Christ, as St. Paul calls it in Galatians 6:15.8
A BIBLE STUDY
(For personal and congregational use)
Declare his praise! Let’s take a tour of the library of the Holy Spirit so that we might know and apply the varied ways we are able to declare his praises. A study of the Bible, and specific words, such as “exangello euaggelion”, “to publish, or celebrate the good news”, offers not only an interesting field for research but the most glorious of messages for thirsty sinners. God’s Word takes us on a journey that has its origin in eternity, revealed in time and sung from the window of heaven. This message called us to faith and invites us to join in the long line of witnesses who have spoken His praise.
Declare His praises—with instruction, Matthew 10:5–7
Who were the messengers?
Who was the audience?
What was the message?
Declare His praises—far and wide, Luke 9:60
Discuss the priority of evangelism in your life and in your congregation.
Discuss the sacrificial nature of following Jesus.
Declare His praises—priorities, the issue of where, Acts 1:8
Discover the meaning of the word “witness”.
Start at home and go to the ends of the earth—discuss the work of Home and Foreign Missions in our Synod.
Declare His praises—see what men do and what God does, Acts 4:1–4
Peter testifies about the miracles and salvation of God. Note the reaction.
Declare His praise when you are—scattered, persecuted and afflicted, Acts 5:12–32; Acts 8:1–4
The afflicted and persecuted speak out. Does it seem that when life is easy and favorable, our desire for the word and sharing that word lessens?
Declare His praises—reporting, Acts 14:27
What is required of a reporter?
What is a reporter to do?
What had Paul and Barnabas done and what did they report?
Declare His praises—reasoning with one another, Acts 17:2; 19:8–9; 20:7–9
Talk about the relationship of evangelism and apologetics.
Declare His praises—proclaiming, 1 John 1:2–3
Discuss what the Apostles heard, saw, and touched.
Discuss their experience, testimony and frank proclamation of the message.
Also refer to the words of Jesus, John 16:25
Declare His praises—from within, 1 Peter 2:9
Christians can’t keep still, or quiet about the glorious message of Christ. “My lips no more can silence keep”. Examine and sing “From Heav’n Above To Earth I Come, Hymn123, ELS Hymnary, vs. 14.
Discuss ways you have spoken with your lips and with your life. Consider the shepherds at Christmas, the Emmaus disciples, Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:20)
Declare His praises—prepared to give an answer, 1 Peter 3:15
How does my congregation prepare me to give an answer?
Talk about the importance of catechism training, and Bible study.
Are we as ready as we think we are to give an answer?
GO AND TELL … COME AND SEE
These are two general principles which help us in our task of evangelizing. As the people of God we gather to be taught and are scattered to tell the message. We open our doors to all, inviting them to come and see. General truths which permeate the “go and tell” and “come and see” strategies are these: identity and working with a sense of urgency.
Jesus delivered the Great Commission in a variety of ways: “make disciples”, “preach the good news”, “preaching repentance and remission of sins”, and “I am sending you”. The Book of Acts announces to us that we are His witnesses.
If we check through our church constitutions, we will undoubtedly come across a purpose statement or mission statement. Here are two examples along with a third example from our own Synod.
- The purpose of this Congregation is the expansion of His Kingdom in the hearts of the Congregation members and to all people throughout the world, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
- The purpose of our congregation is to worship God, who gives life through Word and Sacrament; to serve one another in love and fellowship; and to proclaim forgiveness and salvation to all through Jesus Christ alone.
- The synod exists to carry out the command of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20), to contend for the faith (Jude 3), and to promote the development of Christian life (Galatians 5:22-25) within its membership.9
A mission statement by itself is perhaps not as important as the process, the study of Scripture, and the resultant understanding of the mission of God in and through the church. The initial, actual wording of a mission statement may be done by a small group, and most mission statements are not that different from each other since they are derived from the same Scriptures. A mission statement helps a congregation structure itself and enables the congregation to eliminate a ministry or two that have outlived their reason(s) for being. A mission statement also may serve as a springboard for new, God pleasing ministry. Why are we here? What are we to do? Do our members realize the mission of the church and own the mission of the church? Do the leaders know it and do they seek to carry out the mission of the church? Is our mission statement published so that all are reminded of what we are to do? Take the necessary time to review, utilize, and publish your mission statement.
Make a list of all organizations, programs, and group meetings in your church. Check the ones that nurture and have opportunity for outreach. Can those that are not outreach oriented add that aspect to their ministry? Is there a passion and priority to seek the lost?
Working with a sense of urgency
Today is a day of grace. Today is the day of salvation. We are to work while it is still day, before the night comes when no man can work. Is there a sense of urgency among us to proclaim God’s praise to a neighbor, friend, relative, and stranger? Each congregation is faced with the task of proclaiming the message of salvation, the Good News. Even though the most arrogant will boast with Satan according to John Milton in “Paradise Lost”, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven”; the rage, the eternal darkness, the separation, the pain, and the punishment and reality of hell remain. Hell has not been closed. Its terrors and torments are real. The unbeliever resides there eternally. The proclamation of the Good News is the singular message which delivers us from the punishment and consequences of hell. The Gospel announces to us that our permanent address is heaven, and brings us to this holy place with many rooms. My, what a grand exchange! Do we see and sense the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel? Have we spent too much time wallowing in self-righteousness with the older son, rather than following the model of our Father and his angels who rejoice over sinners who repent (Luke 15:25–31)? Now is the accepted time, the day of salvation. People are dying and we have the message of life for them. Where do the days and months go? Busy we are, but are we doing the right things, or are we Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke? Perhaps pastor and people have not come to see the priority of declaring his praises.
GO AND TELL
How do congregations locate others who do not know Jesus, and who would be blessed as branches connected to the Vine? Congregations interested in outreach will advertise in the paper, create a website, pay for radio spots, and install signs which identify the congregation and its ministry. Congregations will mail materials, brochures, and special event announcements to the community. The “welcome wagon” will include congregational materials in the newcomer packets. Pastors may look over the list of the unchurched in the hospital and ask for permission to stop in, listen, and speak. Congregations will conduct door-to-door canvasses, and phone campaigns. Some congregations practice the fine art of farming; returning to their field, knocking on the same doors, seeking to build a relationship with people, hoping in time to declare his praises with them. Some congregations build a float for the local parade, or host a booth at the local fair. Other congregations will host a community event; serve as an election location, so that the community becomes more acquainted with the building and people. Congregations should be encouraging members in their every day vocation to have spiritual conversations in the work place, or the park, or at children’s sports events, or in school.
We spend a great deal of time with fellow believers; worshipping, studying, praying, and serving one another. How much purposeful time do we spend with those who do not know Christ, or who know him incompletely? Are we willing to dedicate time and effort to such relationships? Do we pray about and think about ways to initiate a spiritual conversation with them? Listen to the life stories of others. Listening to others often gives you opportunity to tell your story which centers in the cross of our Lord Jesus. Spiritual conversation starters may be a time of blessing or sickness, a time of birth or the sad time of death, a time of uncertainty or change in our world or in our life. As you enter ongoing friendships with people, you will have numerous opportunities to let Christ’s light shine through you in your conduct, attitude, outlook, mannerisms, and speech. Please remember that about 65% of people who visit church for the first time do so because someone extended to them a personal invitation.
COME AND SEE
getting our “house” in order
For most of our congregations, the number one entry point for the guest, visitor, and unchurched person is the Sunday morning worship service. What happens when such a person comes? Are people greeted with a genuine welcome? Is the bulletin written with them in mind? Is the message Biblical, practical, something which people may take to heart, digest, talk about, and put it into practice? People are looking for meaningful worship, for them and for their family. People want to be certain that pastor and people are talking to them and interested in them. After the service has concluded, what happens? Are visitors identified in a loving way, listened to, and encouraged? Do they and will they sense that harmony and unity is evident in the church’s teaching, life, and mission? The first 5 minutes or so upon arrival and around 10 minutes after the conclusion of the service are when most minds are made up as to whether or not they will return. Visitors often look on the outward appearance, and thus externals are important in attracting non-spiritual people. We have one chance to make a first impression. How are we doing with our building and grounds, our greeters and greeting, our preaching and teaching, and extending our tender care and concern to them?
There are multiple events, programs, and services that congregations offer so that people may come and see. Congregations may provide after school care, preschool and Christian Day School, host a “Christmas (or Easter) for kids”, parenting seminar, or sports leagues for children and adults. Why not offer marriage classes and sweetheart events each February, or offer a parents night out and keep watch over the children?
How do we help people claim membership in our congregation? Are those who are inquiring eagerly taken care of, accommodated, and served? Is there an instruction class for them, suited for their schedule and their needs? Is there a meaningful reception into membership and introduction to other members? Are new members intentionally plugged into an ongoing study of the Word, and existing organizations? Are they given opportunity and encouraged to use time, talents and treasure to praise God and serve others? Are new groups started to assimilate and involve new people?
TRAINING FOR GO AND TELL AND COME AND SEE STRATEGIES—WHAT SHALL I SAY?
When it comes to telling someone about Jesus Christ, confessing one’s faith in Christ, perhaps many of our members are often at a complete loss for words. Have you found yourself not knowing what to say and how to say it in the grocery line, funeral home, post office, and in the yard? The development of any kind of art; painting and playing the piano, takes practice and repetition. Our people experience the art of preaching, hearing the Word regularly from the pulpit, but we need to teach the art of having spiritual conversations and practice them. Such spiritual conversations may begin with moms, dads, and family and be taught as a part of our daily life and devotion.
The Holy Spirit teaches us the art of spiritual dialog through Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4). It was a drink of water which initially connected them. The Savior poked her heart when he revealed her ugly life-style. As she sought to steer the conversation to her comfort zone, she opened the door with her reference to the Messiah, and Jesus walked through that door with the lovely, winsome announcement, “I am He”. The effect of Jesus’ self‑attestation was startling. Faith had been born in her heart. When the woman arrived in the town, she simply had to speak of the Savior. Many of the Samaritans in her town came to faith in Jesus through her witness.
Once God has placed us where we may be his mouthpiece, what shall we say? Congregations are to be a training ground in the art of speaking the faith. The Word of God is the foundation of the church. Justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is the heart and soul of our message. As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod we are convinced that the Word of the Lord is true in all of its parts, without error, efficacious, powerful and universal. The message of Christ is inclusive, for God does love the whole world, but it is also exclusive, in that Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him. We embrace this glorious truth that God has declared the whole world not guilty in Christ. Through faith in the victorious King we are justified, fitted for work in the kingdom, and set in place to declare his praises. This is the praise that we are to declare.
Once we have come to know people, we eventually need to speak the message to them. There are numerous prepared presentations of the Gospel. Some of those include, “God’s Great Exchange”, “God’s Message to you” (Perfect, Punished, Proof, Possess), and “A Question to Consider”. These are useful. Put one to memory and modify what works best for you. The Law and the Gospel are for preaching, telling, speaking, sharing, singing, and teaching. This proclamation of the Word and the faith it generates rescues lost sinners and causes them to declare his praise. While people do not have to be enlisted in an organized program in order to do the work of an evangelist, they do need support, encouragement, mentoring, training, and the prayers of others to help them along the evangelism road. Not only are we to be faithful in our various vocations, but within that context, we are to speak the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.
Even though not everybody has the public office and calling, every Christian has the right and duty to teach, instruct, admonish, comfort, and rebuke his neighbor with the Word of God at every opportunity and whenever necessary. For example, father and mother should do this for their children and household; a brother, neighbor, citizen, or peasant for the other. Certainly one Christian may instruct and admonish another ignorant or weak Christian concerning the Ten Commandments, the Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. And he who receives such instruction is also under obligation to accept it as God’s Word and publicly confess it.
Every Christian has and practices such priestly works. But above these activities is the communal office of public teaching. For this preachers and pastors are necessary.10
EACH MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHRIST, KNOWING HIS/HER ROLE
Doing “the work of an evangelist” is a God‑given responsibility that concerns more individuals than just the pastor. The pastor will take the lead and spend time with a small number in the congregation, giving to them more intensive training in evangelism, as Jesus did with the Twelve. Every Christian is a daily witness to the Gospel of peace and to the living faith which the Holy Spirit has worked in his heart. H.A. Preus writes:
The ministry of the Word is thus not a private possession belonging only to the servants of the church but a common possession belonging to all members of the church, of which Peter says to them: ‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (I Peter 2:9). Believing Christians should not therefore think that it is enough for them to hear, receive, and believe God’s Word; they should not think that they have no responsibility for seeing that God’s Word is preached and the sacraments administered to others, saying merely: ‘That is what we have a pastor for.’ No, he to whom God has given faith he has also made into a spiritual leader and laid upon him care for the salvation of his neighbor.
He, therefore, who does not wish to be a preacher, does not wish to be a Christian either, because a preacher and a Christian are one and the same thing.11
More than once pastor and people have lamented that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Often we have wondered who will teach Sunday school and who will be around to help with vacation Bible school? Who will serve as Elder, Trustee, and chairman of the congregation? Will we recruit and ask people to do God’s work and train them to do it? Will we let them have the precious opportunity to serve God as they serve others? Will we tell them what is expected (time commitment, tools, what to do) and trust them to do it? Will we learn from their experience as they were serving their Savior? Will we ask them to recruit others to help serve? Will we thank them for their service?
It would be worthwhile for all our pastors and people to read Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism.12 Even though this work is dated, it is helpful. Coleman details these eight steps:
1. Selection—God’s priests were his method (John 1:35-42)
2. Association—Jesus stayed with them. “Knowledge was gained by association before it was understood by explanation.” (John 10:40–11:54)
3. Consecration—the way of the cross (Mark 8:34-38, John 6:25-66)
4. Impartation—Jesus gave knowledge and comfort (John 15:15, Matthew 11:28)
5. Demonstration—Jesus showed them how to live—praying, studying, “class was always in session” (Luke 11:1-11, John 15:7)
6. Delegation—Jesus assigned them work after they had been watching and learning from him (Matthew 4:19, Luke 9:1, 2, Matthew 10:5, 6)
7. Supervision—The Good Shepherd kept check on them (Mark 6:30, Luke 9:10)
8. Reproduction—Jesus expected them to reproduce (John 17:20)
I am not aware of a shortcut for evangelism. Evangelism is hard work. Satan hates it and will prowl and growl so that congregations delay, hesitate, perhaps mock and even resist the work of Evangelism. Speaking the message of Christ is not an easy task. Frustration and sadness often enter in as we take on our duty of being God’s light and salt, his mouthpiece. We may wonder what God has in mind and what he will do. Suffering and persecution add a different dimension to the witness of the Christian. Wielding the two edged sword of the Word, speaking Law and Gospel to a world gone mad, to a world that has forsaken long standing truths and foundations, leave us wondering how effective our witness may or may not be.
My fellow pastors, let’s take an honest look at our prospecting. Let’s leave the ninety nine and go looking for the one lost sheep. What does our prospect list look like? Where is our prospect list? How do we find the stranger, the lost, and the member we have not seen for sometime in church? Is prospecting important to us? We know where our Bible is, as well as our Lutheran Confessions, our Catechism and Hymnary, but do we know were our prospect list is? Do we consider it an essential tool of our ministry?
Convention delegate, ask your pastor about his prospect list. Ask your pastor how you can help him in this area of ministry. Pray about ways to find new people (Thy kingdom come). Invite them to adult instruction class and come with them. Make it a congregational priority to declare his praise on Sunday morning, at every church event and program, at every group, in your neighborhood, always being mindful of those who do not know the Savior of the world. Find new ways and repeat old ways so that people have as many opportunities as possible to hear about the wonderful works of God.
Annual physical check ups are often skipped by those of us who think we are in better health than we really are. Weigh ins, and blood pressure checks, and thermometers are not on the top of our priority and pleasure lists. Take a look at our Evangelical Lutheran Synod over the past 10 years (see chart on last page). Our Synod is aging. Our Synod is declining numerically. It is true that a better percentage of our members are coming to church but it is equally true that it takes more than 70 adult members to gain one new communicant member.
If we look back some 30 years we see that we have grown from 108 congregations to 138 congregations. We have gained one congregation per year on the average. But we must acknowledge some concern about the internal health of our organization as we consider what has happened to the 108 congregations which made up the ELS 30 years ago. About one-quarter of those congregations have increased in size, about half have decreased in size and the remaining quarter has dissolved. Of those no longer with us, some have withdrawn to other fellowships, but many have closed their doors.
If your congregation is few in number, it may not be able to offer some of the attractive programs others in the community do offer. A large portion of our congregations are located in rural America, where populations are declining. Are small numbers, less than ideal locations, and a world going mad signaling to us to stop our work, to give up, or work halfheartedly? These are indicators that we are to work all the more. We believe that spiritual health, both for congregation and synod, is related to our use of Word and Sacrament. God promises that His powerful Word accomplishes His purpose (Isaiah 55:11) wherever it is in use. By God’s grace the ELS possesses exactly what our world needs: the pure Gospel of Christ. 13
Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? You have an identity that makes you something special in this world. You are a chosen one of God, claimed by him as his very dear possession, made holy by him through Christ; you are the priest of a King. As priests it is our privilege and joy to proclaim God’s praises here on earth. Here on earth our praises are, to be sure, often hesitant, faltering and weak. With Moses we often stutter and sometimes stammer. We grope for words and pass up opportunities. “The people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (Isaiah 43:21) is the standing instruction and encouragement of God through his prophet. It is our greatest delight to thank him for his grace and mercy and to tell others of his mighty deeds, namely, that Christ has swallowed up death, devoured hell, overcome the devil, and opened the gates of Paradise to all. What we believe is what the world needs. Declare his praises.
But who can express what an unspeakable, mighty and blessed comfort it is that a human being can with one word open heaven and lock hell to a fellow mortal? For in this kingdom of Grace Christ has founded through his resurrection, we indeed do nothing else than open our mouth and say, I forgive thee thy sins, not on my account, nor by my power, but in the place of, and in the name of, Jesus Christ, for he does not say: ye shall forgive sins on your own account, but: “I send you, as my Father hath sent me.” I myself do not do this of my own choice or counsel, but I am sent by the Father. This same commandment I give to you unto the end of the world that both ye and all the world shall know that such forgiveness or retaining of sin is not done by human power or might, but by the command of him who is sending you. This is not said alone to the ministers or the servants of the church, but also to every Christian. Here each may serve another in the hour of death, or wherever there is need, and give him absolution.14
Our resurrected, victorious Lord, the lamb who was slain but is alive forevermore, our brother who holds the keys of death and of hell tells us to disciple the nations. He equips us with divine tools which are complete and efficacious. He comforts us with his presence, promising to be with us and to bless us in our labors for him. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5–6).
1 Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, pages 106, 107, Kregel Classics, Grand Rapids, MI.
2 New International Version International Bible Society Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, All Scripture references in this document are NIV.
3 Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, page 71, Kregel Classics, Grand Rapids, MI.
4 Mark A. Jeske, The People’s Bible, James, Peter, John, Jude, page 82, Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2002.
5 Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, Morning Star Music Publishers, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, Hymn 33, vs. 3, 1996.
6 The reference to this company is not an endorsement but a suggested resource for your exploration. Since its inception in 1987, Percept adds value to its demographic information by integrating data about the religious attitudes, preferences and behavior of the American people. Percept, 29889 Santa Margarita Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-3609, (800) 442-6277, perceptnet.com.
7 Mark A. Jeske, The People’s Bible, James, Peter, John, Jude, page 93, Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2002.
8 Martin Luther, Selected Psalms II, Volume 13, Concordia Publishing House, 1956, page 293.
9 Evangelical Lutheran Synod Constitution and By-Laws, Chapter III, page 3.
10 Martin Luther, Selected Psalms II, Volume 13, Concordia Publishing House, 1956, pages 333, 334.
11 Herman Amberg Preus, Vivacious Daughter, Todd Nichol, translation 1990, page 126.
12 Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism ,Fleming H. Revell: Old Tappan, N. J., 1963.
13 Adapted from article by Reverend Steve Petersen, Missions Counselor, Lutheran Sentinel, February 2004.
14 This sermon is found only in edition c. It was preached by Luther in 1540 in Dessau and delivered at the baptism of the young prince Bernhard of Anhalt. It bore the title: “The third sermon for the Sunday after Easter on Absolution from the 20th chapter of St. John.” German text: Erlangen edition vol. II, 350; Walch edition vol. II, 1022; St. Louis edition vol. II, 748.
10 Year ELS Statistics
|Year||Baptized||Communicants||Avg. Attend||% Attending||Adult Confirmations||Average Number of Communicants it takes to gain one new member|
Our synod membership is aging percentage wise, that is, we have fewer children than 10 years ago.
Our synod is declining numerically. A better percentage of our members is coming to church.