2017 was a very special year as the world celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This was not simply a look back, however. As St. Augustine was credited with saying, “The church is always reforming.” We celebrate the gift of Martin Luther’s work in the past, but we also rejoice that the impact of the Reformation continues among us today.
Three reformation themes describe God’s blessing in the Texas District during 2017:
The “Solas” of the Reformation capture the heart of what we do together as God’s people: We receive and share the Gospel message found in Scripture alone, that by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we are new creations in Christ who live to give glory to God alone.
This is our focus as God’s redeemed people, as His Church, and as mission partners in the Texas District. As Texas grows in numbers, our prayer is to share this message and see a movement of the Gospel take hold in Texas and beyond.
Luther lifted up God’s call to love our neighbor. Congregations around the Texas District are doing this exceedingly well as they connect with their communities in creative and Gospel-focused ways. In addition, as congregations pool mission resources for mission in the Texas District, much fruit has been realized. Twelve new Word and Sacrament congregations were planted in 2017. This brought the total number of congregations planted since 2004 to more than 120. We praise God for the generosity and mission passion of Texas District churches. Thousands of new followers of Christ have been added because of these new mission efforts. More than half of the new congregations are reaching new generations and new ethnicities.
In addition, the people of the Texas district joined together to respond to what has been called the worst natural disaster in U.S. History: Hurricane Harvey. Impacting nearly 200 LCMS churches and covering about 250 miles of coastline, Harvey damaged over 200,000 homes. Winds and rain ravaged cities and towns throughout Aransas, Refugio and Victoria counties while over fifty inches of rain flooded cities and towns from Wharton through Houston and into the Golden Triangle.
But God’s people responded. Local churches mounted heroic efforts to rescue, rehab and restore. Churches around the nation mobilized resources. Donors contributed more than $1.6 million to Texas District disaster response efforts. While a number of the $3.1 million in aid requests have not been completely filled, every church worker and church member in need has been blessed with some tangible assistance, much prayer, and loving care that flows from the God who first loved us. Communities are also being blessed by ongoing efforts to show God’s love in action. You can find out more about continued relief efforts at www.txlcms.org.
Hurricane Harvey highlighted the Reformation call to vocation: all of God’s people engage in holy callings throughout the normal course of daily life. All we do glorifies God and blesses His people. During the hurricane, boat owners from many of our Texas congregations converged on Houston to save people from floodwaters. Church members drove deliveries of essential supplies to storm-ravaged areas. Neighbors picked up tools and helped muck out the homes of people they never met. An “uprising” of the priesthood of all believers accompanied the wind and floodwaters.
We’re seeing the same trend in the overall mission of the Texas District. A movement of lay people in mission is accompanying the efforts of pastors and missionaries. We’re calling some of these lay workers “lay evangelists.” They’re reaching into apartment complexes to bring the Gospel to children and adults. They’re reaching new immigrants with the Good News. They’re starting outreach in neighborhoods. They’re spearheading literacy outreach, Bible studies, sewing classes, and visits to nursing homes.
In 2018, the Texas District hopes to capitalize on this movement of laypeople by offering training for lay evangelists and encouraging them to develop new ministry outreach. This training will complement the growing momentum in church planting.
What’s developing in 2018? Among many new ministry efforts are:
• A new childcare-based church from The Family of Faith in Houston
• An emerging network of churches from the Houston area building on the launch of The Dwelling from Christ the King in Kingwood and Lamb of God in Humble
• A Mosaic Ministry from Peace Hurst to reach African Immigrants
• Growing Hope for the Nations Church as it reaches international students and the Eastern Indian community around University of Texas, Arlington
• A new partnership with a Liberian community by Redeemer in Austin
• New church development in the Rio Grande Valley from St. Paul in Harlingen and in partnership with RioMAC
• Seeing multiple church plants result from a team of apostolic church planters stretching from Killeen to DFW
• A new church plant in the growing far west part of San Antonio
Our prayer is that, together, we can see the initial stages of developing 500 new servant-leaders who reach 500 new communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by 2031, the 125th anniversary of the Texas District LCMS.
In 1922, Rev. F.W. Herzberger, writing in the 75th anniversary book of the synod, Ebenezer, said: “True Biblical orthodoxy is always full of spiritual life, full of missionary zeal, full of unfeigned helpful, compassionate love, for it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His believing children.” He went on to quote Martin Luther in the fourth article of the Formula of Concord: “Faith is a divine work in us, that changes and regenerates us of God…Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing” (446-447).
Please pray that we will build on our Reformation legacy by sharing God’s gift of life in Christ with many! (Sign up to be a prayer partner. Please continue to support our mission financially. And please join in these outreach efforts as a fellow servant of our Savior!
By Rev. Michael W. Newman
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area C