Philippians 1:12–18a 12I want you to know, brothers, that the things which happened to me actually took place to advance the gospel. 13And so it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to all the rest, that I am in chains because of Christ. 14And, through my chains, the majority of the brothers in the Lord have become much more confident about daring to speak the word of God fearlessly. 15Some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, and others out of good will. 16The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, but thinking they can cause trouble for me while I am in chains. 18What does it matter? Only this, that in every way, whether for outward appearance or for the truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.
Barb started worshiping with us at Epiphany about two years ago. When Barb came for Wednesday night worship, she brought her son, Keith, her daughter-in-law, Chrissy, and their three children, Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn. I baptized the three children in June of 2014. That’s when Chrissy took our adult instruction classes to join Epiphany. Her husband, Keith, had no interest in church, though.
Then, God, in His grace and providence, got Grandma involved.
Barb was ecstatic that her grandchildren had been brought into God’s family through Holy Baptism. She was very disheartened, though, that her son did not want to be a part of that same family of God.
So, Barb started worshiping at Epiphany. She picked her family up on the way to church, to make sure they would all be there. Then, she sent Chrissy and the kids home in her car, while she and Keith stayed for adult instruction classes. Chrissy came to pick them up when class was over.
In January of 2017, we were blessed to have eleven adults stand before the Lord’s altar to profess their faith in and their faithfulness to the Lord of the Church. Barb and Keith were two of those eleven.
Then, God in His grace and providence, called Barb home to Himself this past May.
Michael, the oldest grandchild, was very close to his grandmother. Yet, he found comfort in God’s timing when he told his mom, “I’m so grateful that God used the Church to save Grandma.” He then added, “And I’m also grateful that God then used Grandma to save Dad.”
God also used the Racine School Choice Program to bring this family into our school, and then into our church, and then to bring their Grandma into the Church Triumphant.
40% of the 171 students at Wisconsin Lutheran School are unchurched. The mission of our churches and school is to reach the lost and teach the found with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
We have been blessed to work with First Evan over the past forty plus years to bring Christian education to the families within our congregations. With School Choice, the Lord has opened our school to the community and created a ripe mission field within the walls of our school buildings. This summer, we were granted funding from the WELS Board for Home Missions to call Mark Blauert as our School Chaplain to reach these unchurched families within our school. Mr. Blauert is jointly called and funded by Epiphany, First Evan and WLS.
The School Chaplain’s call is definitely unique. There aren’t too many staff ministers who are called to do the kind of mission work we are calling Mr. Blauert to do. But, what is even more unique, is that we have two churches and a school that are united in this mission work. That type of ministry doesn’t happen too much in the WELS.
Far too often, there is annoyance, acrimony, and even downright animosity between members and churches. There may be seeds of jealousy because one church is growing faster than the other church. Or, one congregation has more programs for the young adults and youth than the other congregation. Or, one school is more ethnically diverse, while the other school has more of a country or suburban student body.
Pastors judge each other’s ministry, and not always favorably. Congregations zealously guard their buildings and ministries, and often are unwilling to reach out to learn from or share ministries with their WELS church across town. A fiefdom mentality, versus a Kingdom mentality has been established in many congregations. It is more about preserving the church, than proclaiming Christ.
Brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Not much has changed in two thousand years.
The apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the congregation in Philippi while he was a prisoner in Rome. The devil was rejoicing because he thought he could stifle the Lord’s gospel ministry if the Lord’s number one apostle was in prison. The enemies of Christ, joined the devil in rejoicing, because this zealous Christian missionary and powerful preacher of Jesus Christ was detained and quieted.
In reality, it was the apostle Paul who was rejoicing.
Rather than Paul’s imprisonment hindering his gospel proclamation, he saw his house arrest in Rome as a way for the Lord to advance the gospel. Rather than Paul being a captive, his guards were a captive audience hearing him proclaim Jesus as Savior. Every six to eight hours, another set of guards would relieve the ones who had been guarding Paul. Imagine the number of guards Paul told about the Savior during his two years in custody of Rome. Imagine how many people those soldiers told. Paul wrote about this: “I want you to know, brothers, that the things which happened to me actually took place to advance the gospel. And so it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to all the rest, that I am in chains because of Christ.”
Additionally, detaining Paul resulted in other Christians stepping up into leadership and outreach roles with their congregations. Pressed into service, they became more bold in speaking about Christ to others. And Paul was rejoicing.
There were other preachers, Paul admits, who were not so properly motivated. They were jealous of Paul’s influence and leadership. They understood that Paul was the tip of the spear as the gospel went into the major cities of the Roman Empire. So, when Paul ended up in a Roman prison, they saw their opportunity. They tried to replace Paul and take his job of gospel proclaimer. They tried to take advantage of Paul’s situation to grow their respective churches. What they didn’t realize was that God was using them to proclaim Christ and accomplish His work, in spite of their motives. And Paul was rejoicing.
Paul wrote about this: “And, through my chains, the majority of the brothers in the Lord have become much more confident about daring to speak the word of God fearlessly. Some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, and others out of good will. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, but thinking they can cause trouble for me while I am in chains.”
Sadly, too often, even our WELS churches, pastors and members, do not always display proper motives when preaching Christ. We isolate ourselves and concern ourselves too much with our own individual and congregational ministries. That becomes a detriment to God’s ministry. We focus on building up our own little fiefdoms. We forget that we are doing God’s Kingdom work.
I pray that faulty way of thinking can be overcome … and quickly.
Epiphany has been blessed to partner with First Evan to operate Wisconsin Lutheran School. There aren’t too many congregations that are able to partner with each other like this to run a school. Yet, we’ve been doing it for over four decades. Now, Epiphany is looking to partner with Trinity in Caledonia for a new ministry opportunity.
A few years ago, when we talked about starting a second site mission congregation in Sturtevant, people thought it was a good idea, but that idea quickly fizzled out. It wasn’t the right time. Now, though, Epiphany is looking to work with Trinity in jointly starting a second site mission in Sturtevant. The timing couldn’t be better! With businesses moving into the area in the next few years, there will be people, homes, and jobs in that area west of Epiphany and south of Trinity.
God is bringing students and families into our Lutheran elementary and Lutheran high schools through School Choice. These are mission fields that are ripe for harvesting. God is also bringing new families into our ministry area through all the businesses that are moving into Racine County. This is another mission field that is ripe for the harvest.
It is exciting to see our people recognize the opportunities that God is presenting before us. It is exciting to see the opportunities to work with another mission-minded congregation to harvest souls. It is exciting to see congregations break out of the fiefdom mentality that plagues us and work together to build up Christ’s Kingdom in Racine County.
Will doing something different be hard? You bet! Will it stretch ourselves? Definitely. Will it be difficult to get our people motivated to reach out with their prayers, efforts, and offerings? It always is. Will it be complicated to work with another congregation to do a joint mission project? I’m sure it will be.
Satan always tries to stir up all kinds of opposition to frustrate the advance of the gospel. He tempts us to wallow in the sins of jealousy and envy to discredit our proclamation of Jesus and distract people from listening. The world will say that there are enough churches in the area. Our sinful nature will constantly find excuses to say “no” to any type of gospel outreach.
But the authority of the gospel is not limited by the forces of evil. God’s truth is not rendered powerless by sinful hearts or selfish minds. Christ is the world’s Savior. We want to share that Savior with the world.
Christ saves children through Baptism. We are looking for more opportunities to give this precious, saving bath to more and more children.
Christ feeds families through His Word and Sacrament. We look for more ways we can connect families in our school, high school, and community to God’s Word and His holy Supper, so they can have their faith fed and their soul strengthened.
Christ gives comfort to those who are walking through the dark valley of the shadow of death. We look for more ways we can offer Christ’s resurrection comfort to those who are dying.
Whether we are doing ministry on our own, with First Evan, with Trinity, or whomever, it doesn’t matter. We want more people to be able to say, “God used the Church to save Grandma.”
We want to be able to say with St. Paul: “What does it matter? Only this, that in every way, whether for outward appearance or for the truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.”
It isn’t about a fiefdom. It is about God’s Kingdom. It isn’t about preserving a church building. It is about proclaiming Christ. Amen.