Church Councillors’ Retreat 2023

On the 3rd and 4th of November 2023, the annual church councillors’ retreat took place at the FELS-Retreat near Paulpietersburg. The Friday evening began with a presentation on the synodical finances by synodical council member Mr. Rupert Uhlmann (Kirchdorf). After gathering for fellowship around God’s word for the evening devotion, held by Pastor Matthias Albers (Panbult/Piet Retief), the councillors and pastors enjoyed an evening of fellowship around the braai. A big thank you to the Vryheid and Newcastle congregations for organising the braai.

The Saturday began in church with a morning devotion, held by Bishop Helmut Paul. The rest of the morning was divided into 4 sessions, of which the first 3 were presented by Pastor Thomas Beneke (Newcastle), and the last by synodical council member Mr. Lutz Böhmer (Newcastle).

In session 1, Pastor Beneke spoke about “mission as stewardship of God’s name”. Being good stewards is not just making sure we take good care of our time and money (resources), but also taking good care of God’s name. What does this mean? We are to teach people that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). We are to baptise people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). This is the reason Scripture exists: that you may have life in his name (John 20:31), for Jesus is Lord and his name is above every name (Philippians 2:9-10). God’s name even has a commandment about it! And it is the very first petition of the Lord’s Prayer! A central question Jesus asks people is: “who do you say that I am?” This is a question every single person has to answer!

Pastor Beneke then presented in the 2nd session on “Our identity in God’s Mission – lessons from history”. Louis and Theodor Harms sent out our forefathers as “Lutherans, Germans, Hermannsburgers.” How do we – with our deep German heritage – reach out to non-Germans? How can we – within our deep colonial heritage – see all people as equal? Being confronted with the past can be a difficult thing. We should ask ourselves if the original mandates from the 1850’s are still applicable today.

After a tea & coffee break, Ppstor Beneke spoke about our motivation when it comes to mission in session 3. We should not engage in mission in order to get more people so that we can make budget. Nor should we do missions from a place of fear (if we don’t, then people will go to hell; or the Muslims will take over). Engaging in mission is an act of love for the neighbour. Mission must come from proper motivation. Because we have been saved, we want to share that salvation with others. Living your faith in service to others goes hand in hand in spreading the Gospel with preaching and teaching it. Word and deed (Mission and Diakonia) must not be pitted against each other.

In session 4, Mr. Lutz Böhmer presented on an LCMS programme called Re:Vitality. The topic was introduced by a video from the director of the programme, Rev. Dr Mark Wood. The programme consists of three units: 1) self-assessment to ascertain where the congregation is currently at; 2) training that addresses the most needed areas of improvement; and 3) practical ways to spreading the gospel in everyday conversations. The LCMS has made Re:Vitality available to the FELSISA free of charge.

Mr. Böhmer shared his own congregation’s mission efforts that have taken place over the last 10 years. Ultimately, we can plant and water, but only God provides the growth! Re:Vitality is simply a tool to help congregations identify aspects that could use improvement and help them in addressing those areas.

Mr. Böhmer spoke about various self-assessment things to think about: How does the congregation think it is known in its community versus how the community might actually view the congregation. What image does the congregation project to the outside world? Another self-assessment question to ask is how willing the congregation is in engaging the community. This reveals how adaptable the congregation is. Do members of the congregation get upset if someone sits in “their” seat? How friendly and welcoming is the congregation to visitors? Is it the congregation’s key goal to maintain a certain language and culture? Do the congregation’s goals align with its mission aims? Any congregation interested in taking part in the Re:Vitality programme is welcome to contact Mr. Böhmer.

The presentations were followed by an overview of current synodical matters by Bishop Helmut Paul. The retreat was closed off with a devotion, held by Pastor Karl Böhmer (Kirchdorf).

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