Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I want to express my appreciation for those pastors that have helped shape my own ministry. I start a ways back. I appreciate the solid foundation of faith and family upon which my great-grandfather Henry Gaertner raised his family.

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Henry Carl Gaertner

He was ordained at Zion Lutheran Church in New Orleans in August 6, 1899. He went on to serve at Trinity in Port Arthur and Salem in Malone Texas. A memorable story from the beginning years of his ministry occurred in 1902. According to the Port Arthur “Herald” of September 14, 1902, the school children had been greatly annoyed by ‘yellow jackets’ or wasps stinging them near a sidewalk. In an effort to end the menace and control the insects, the Pastor Gaertner set fire to some grass near the sidewalk, which quickly waxed out of control and ignited the building while school was still in session. The flames spread rapidly to the main sanctuary as well, and within an hour, both buildings were reduced to cinders. The financial loss was about $3,000, and was only partially covered by a $600 insurance policy. The church building was quickly replaced in 1903 and the school building followed in 1904.

My grandfather Henry Emil Gaertner became a pastor that served God’s Word in New Mexico and Minnesota. His two brothers, John and Carl, also became pastors.
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(names not necessarily in order) John, Carl, Henry (my grandfather), Pauline (my great-grandmother), Esther, Ruth, Bertha, Paula, Hulda, Marie, and Margaret. This picture was taken I think at Pauline’s 75th surprise birthday party in 1955. She had been away visiting one of her daughters, and when she returned to Waco all of her children and their spouses were together for the first time since 1934.

My father, Mark, became a pastor and served congregations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. Inside my father’s generation of Gaertners there are several pastors and women married to pastors. Growing up my father helped me understand the importance of seeking opportunities to use our God-given gifts to love God by serving our neighbor. No matter what career I imagined, my dad helped me consider how this path would use my gifts to serve others.
Mark Gaertner Ordination 1971

Ordination of my father, Rev. Mark Gaertner in 1971. My grandfather is on the left.

Throughout college and seminary I continued to find God providing me wonderful mentors in the Christian faith. Daniel Brokopp, campus pastor at Valparaiso University, demonstrated the noblest virtues of ministry.
My field education, during the seminary years, was wonderfully guided by my second cousin, Ronald Rall. Ron emphasized seeing the gifts God had given to the lay people in the congregation. No one works by himself in the ministry. During my vicarage, Wayne Puls at Trinity in Hicksville, New York, helped me understand the wide scope of challenges a pastor will experience daily.
In 2001 I was ordained into the Office of Public Ministry at Trinity in Clinton Twp. Pastor Harry Henneman and my father served me the Word of God from their preaching at Trinity. My first call was at Grace in Niagara Falls. I fondly recall Henry Gerike playing the organ at my installation. My beginning in Niagara Falls was shaped by the mentoring of Thees Carl Hoft. Thees is a patient man who gave me perspective on how to be a pastor that does not burn out quickly. John Brunner was the District President. John and Karen kindly let my wife and I stay in their basement apartment for 45 days because the closing on our home was painfully delayed. As much as John served as an administrator in his role as district president, he even more so served as a pastor to me. Pastors in a congregation should always seek out a pastor, I did not have to try hard to find a pastor. John was always ready to receive my phone calls or emails and remind me of the winsome ways to be a pastor to everyone in the congregation.
Since December 2008 I have served as the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Michigan. David Maier serves kindly as my District President. I don’t know a man besides David that can match a strong handshake with an equally genuine smile. His churchmanship is a demonstration to me of how pastors must be authentic in pastoral love and care for each person entrusted to his care.
Besides pastors as mentors and guides, I have also enjoyed the peer support of so many pastors.
Indeed beyond these men, my wife Christi Dunklau Gaertner has been a constant and necessary wonderful support in my life. I am a pastor today largely because of conversations we had together our senior year in high school. No doubt in my mind, God knew what he was doing when he placed her into my life. She is my rib. Each breath I take is easier because she is on my side.

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Do you find your identity, community, and purpose at your church?

Identity, community, and purpose are common to why people stay passionate and participate in organizations. I believe that a Christian congregation should be equipped to answer these three motivations. I want you to think with me about how successful your congregation does supporting in people and in families identity, community, and purpose.

Hebrews chapter 10 does a good job helping me understand how the church can answer our personal desires for identity, community, and purpose.

Identity

Our identity is shaped by our Baptism. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

We are baptized children of God who are loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ. The accusations of our wrongs and the judgments of our sins are no longer held against us, because our shame has been washed away in the water of Baptism. We do not get our consciences clean through our own redeeming acts. Jesus is our identity. As much as I rely on Jesus for my identity as a child of God, I desire daily for God to give me the vision to see others as ones for whom Christ died and rose again. Who are you? You are not defined by your sins or shame. You are a child of God loved by Jesus Christ.

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Community

Our community is shaped by holding in common that we are all sinners deserving of judgment who have been brought together by the awesome good news that Jesus Christ saves us through His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus has brought us into the family of God. The writer of Hebrews continues by writing, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:23-25a)

The good news of Jesus Christ brings together people. The love of Jesus Christ unites us into community and keeps us caring for each other. We hold each other accountable by encouraging one another to love and do good works. When we live together connected to Jesus, we do not neglect the needs of one another. We are the family of God.

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Purpose

Our purpose is shaped by the Day of the Lord that is drawing near when judgment will come and the dead will be raised. Those who believe in Jesus Christ will be raised to eternal life and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord will be damned to hell for eternity. I trust that God desires all people to be saved. Amazingly, God wants to use us to share this good news. We witness in our words and deeds to the world that we have confidence in the promise of God to deliver us to salvation through Jesus Christ. The section from Hebrews I have been quoting from finishes with the line, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25b). The decision of what you are going to do with your life is a big question. Living on purpose is a lot less stressful when we trust that God loves and cares for us. We are free from the burden of having to prove ourselves, and we are completely free to serve others. I love that God promises to use us as His instruments to share His love in this world.

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Grace on Tap Episode 6

Episode 6 is now online and ready to listen to. Enjoy in this episode information about the lead up to the proceedings at Augsburg in 1518. Mike calls this this “Game of Thrones Episode.”

Episode 6

Also we want to share that Grace on Tap is going on a road trip to Brewery Becker on March 30 at 7:30pm. We are hoping you will be able to enjoy us for a drink and a discussion about Martin Luther’s “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” You can find out more information at the Facebook Event Page for the Road Trip.

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Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Grace is on Tap again at the Podcast

The Heidelberg Disputation was a debate that took placed at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Augustinian order in April 1518. Head on over to graceontap-podcast.com and discover the latest podcast which gives Mike and I an opportunity to talk about the lead up the 1518 disputation in Heidelberg.

 

My Report of 66th LCMS Convention

Here is a quick report of what happened at the 66th The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee.

The convention took place July 9-14, 2016. I attended this convention because I was elected last summer to be the Ann Arbor pastoral delegate. Every circuit of congregations sends one lay delegate and one pastoral delegate. There were about 1,125 voting delegates sitting in the often frigid conditions of the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The theme for the convention was “Upon this Rock: Repent, Confess, Rejoice.”

The primary business of the convention is the “opportunity for worship, nurture, inspiration, fellowship and the communication of vital information” (Bylaw 3.1.1). The worship services were filled with the most spectacular music from the organ, brass, and soloists. The theme focused on the rock solid confession of faith that Jesus Christ is our savior. As much as the world may change around us, we can remain confident that Jesus is our hope and salvation. The most important business at the convention for me was the opportunity for relationship renewal and building. The communication of vital information was found in printed reports, speeches from the stage, and some attractive videos that were shown to introduce new programs.

The second item of business is elections. The president was elected before the convention by electronic vote. So delegates arrived at the convention knowing that Rev. Matthew C. Harrison was reelected for his third term as president. We spent several hours at the convention electing people to various offices. There were not many surprises in the elections. Before the convention an anonymous group mailed to the voting delegates the “United List.” This produced and distributed list influenced the outcome of the elections. I think only a handful of the nearly 100 elections went against the list. I did not utilize the list and so therefore I found my votes in the elections were often on the wrong side of victory.

The third item of business at the convention is for the assembly to consider reports, overtures, and resolutions for action. Overtures were submitted to the convention by congregations, circuits, districts, and officers and committees of the synod. Floor committees met over Memorial Day weekend to craft these overtures into resolutions. The convention assembly debated and voted on the resolutions. Some of the controversial resolutions presented to the assembly concerned the dispute resolution process, the role of lay deacons functioning in support of the office of the public ministry, and the governance of the universities.

President Harrison had a majority of delegates supporting his positions in these controversial areas. He had a consistent 60% voting block, but he demonstrated at this convention a commitment to the unity of the church. He did not utilize his support among the voting delegates to pass anything by slim margins of majority. He sought consensus. For instance, the modifications to the dispute resolution he proposed had very little support from the district presidents. His proposal would have increased the power of the president to overrule decisions by the district presidents. When the opposition to this change became publicly evident, the resolution was revised so that both sides could find agreement. Providing a route towards ordination for those deacons that have been doing the duties of the pastor was approved by over 70% of the assembly. This route towards ordination was approved without considerable discussion because the leadership of the synod has spent a great deal of time over the last few years nurturing this idea.

Our synod voted with considerable unity on issues that appear to divide the rest of our country. We affirmed that marriage is between one man and one woman. We affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth. We affirmed that Lutheran universities, seminaries, and schools should be Lutheran. We affirmed that we should regularly read the Bible (yep we voted on that tough topic).

I can report that Jesus is at work in this world bringing His saving message of redemption, and graciously God is using our own church body to be a part of delivering this saving message. God also uses, throughout the world, tremendously brave people in our partner churches to share this good news.

You can learn a great deal about what happened at the convention by visiting LCMS.org/convention. If you are looking for a less varnished reporting of the events of the convention, then you could visit the online forum of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. The ALPB sent Rev. Dr. Paul Sauer to report the events of the convention. HIs comments and the musings of others that watched the convention can be found at alpb.org/forum.

When I came home, I received wonderful hugs from my kids and wife. It was good to see our church body at work, but I think it is even more powerful for me to witness the daily ways God is using the people of our congregation. Thank you for sharing the Word of God with your friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. When I witness Jesus being shared with the children of our community during Vacation Bible School, I rejoice God is at work.