Dr. Joan Prince
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Fisher
A Courageous Conversation on Modeling Gospel-Centered Unity, Dr. Joan Prince and Rev. Dr. Kenneth Fisher
Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Christ calls us to share the gospel with people of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus allowed the apostle John to see this come to fruition. In a revelation, John saw, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). Jesus made it crystal clear that what would unite believers is not shared heritage, traditions, or culture. What unites believers is Spirit-wrought faith in a Savior whose love includes all of humanity with all of its diversity. This presentation will discuss how we personally might do all we can to pursue that glorious vision.
Dr. Joan Prince, a lifelong WELS member, has lived her faith from the streets of Milwaukee’s central city to the halls of the United Nations where she served as the United States ambassador to the General Assembly. Pastor Ken Fisher, who grew up without racial diversity, now finds himself president of the most ethnically diverse high school in the WELS. Together they will share the convergence of their experiences as they provoke thinking around ways to live out the Great Commission and create a sense of belonging, wherever God has planted you.
Dr. Joan Prince
Dr. Joan Prince, a life-long member of St. Philip’s, Milwaukee, Wis., and a graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran High School, grew up in the poorest zip code in Wisconsin and has become a global advocate for diversity. She recently retired as Vice Chancellor for Global Inclusion and Engagement at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. During her tenure at the University, Dr. Prince was also called to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, where she occupied the US Chair in the General Assembly, delivering policy statements and traveling world-wide as an advocate for the inclusion of all people in working on global solutions for life’s challenges, including racial and religious tolerance. Prior to her work at the University, Dr. Prince, a hematologist by trade, was the laboratory director of a five-hospital health care system in the greater Milwaukee area. She holds a doctorate degree in medical science education, master’s degree in clinical laboratory medicine, and bachelor’s degree in medical technology. Dr. Prince continues to live her faith by serving on several boards and commissions and is the incoming Chair of the Siebert Lutheran Foundation board in Wisconsin.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Fisher
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Fisher is the president of Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, Wis., where he has served since 2011. Prior to his move into administration at the high school, he served 12 years at Risen Savior in Milwaukee. At Risen Savior, he helped lead the congregation’s effort to reach cross-culturally into its local setting, growing from a monocultural ministry into a multi-ethnic congregation. This involved leading the congregation through several mission and vision planning processes that committed the congregation to reflect the diversity of the community in its membership. He graduated from Northwestern College in 1988 and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 1993. He completed his Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Leadership and Ministry Management from Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill. in 2018. His doctoral project studied the benefits of multi-ethnic diversity from a majority culture perspective. He also serves on the Board of Asia Lutheran Seminary and several other boards. His wife, Kimberly, is the principal of the East Campus at Christ-St. Peter Lutheran School. They enjoy entertaining, cooking, and global travel. They consider one of their greatest joys being grandparents to Lucyana (age 10) and Ezekiel (age 8) Bravo.
Rev. Eric Roecker
Culture Is Critical: Shaping a God-Pleasing Congregational Culture, Kurt Nitz and Rev. Eric Roecker
One of the biggest challenges to a congregation’s ministry efforts is the changing American culture. However, we need to understand that it’s not just our community that has a culture. Our congregations have a unique culture too. And a congregation’s culture will impact their ministry efforts even more than secular culture. Culture is critical! There’s a business axiom: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It means that no matter how strong an organization’s plans may be, it will struggle to execute those plans without healthy organizational culture. Here’s the reality. Congregational culture determines what you do as a church… and what you don’t do.
Scripture gives the Church a mission and a mark: We are to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. Scripture does not give a specific strategy for how to carry out that mission. Instead, God gives us the gifts of faith and reason. He then lets Lutheran leaders figure out the strategy. Scripture says little about strategy. However, Scripture does have plenty to say about culture. God’s Word says culture is important. And “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is critical!
In this presentation, we will explore this critical component of congregational health—culture. We will define what congregational culture is. We will see that congregational culture can have both healthy aspects that allow for zealous gospel ministry and unhealthy aspects that hinder ministry. We will see that if you have aspects of unhealthy congregational culture, by the power of the Gospel, it can and must be reshaped.
NOTE: Both presenters are offering breakout sessions that build upon this keynote.
For more than 20 years, Kurt Nitz has been leading culture transformations that enable organizations to achieve previously unattainable results. He currently works as a consultant focused on organizational culture shaping and has facilitated culture workshops worldwide, including in the US, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Malaysia.
Kurt is the co-developer of the Everyone Outreach program recently launched by the WELS Commission on Evangelism. Kurt currently serves on the WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling and the WELS Long Range Planning Committee. He and his wife Kristin are members of Christ Our Savior Lutheran in Rockford, Mich.
Rev. Eric Roecker
Eric Roecker is a 1998 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Upon graduation, he was assigned to serve Resurrection Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach, Va. where he served until 2013. While in Virginia, he served as the Adult Discipleship coordinator for the North Atlantic District and later as the district’s second-vice president. In 2013 he moved to Menomonee Falls, Wisc. to serve as the pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church. In August of 2018 he began serving as the director of the WELS Commission on Evangelism.
Eric has been married to his wife, Mary for twenty-four years. They are blessed to be the parents of a nineteen-year-old son, Rees, and a seventeen-year-old daughter, Riley. He enjoys spending time with his family, travel, reading, and playing golf.
Rev. Mark Zarling
Dr. Donald R. Kudek
Rev. Luis Acosta
Prof. David Scharf
Lutheran Leadership—What It Is and Why It’s Important
While this conference will discuss mission and ministry, ultimately it is titled WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. This keynote will dive into that specific topic—Lutheran leadership. A variety of presenters, with different backgrounds and ministry experiences, will share their thoughts about Lutheran leadership in a series of TED Talk-type discussions. (Each speaker makes their points in a ten-to-fifteen-minute presentation.)
The title of this keynote implies the presenters will not only define leadership but share how their Lutheran faith shapes their view of leadership. Finally, presenters will share their thoughts on why Lutheran leadership is important to our gospel efforts.
Rev. Mark Zarling
Mark Zarling was born in West Bend, Wisconsin and grew up in Michigan. He received his B.A. from Northwestern College, Watertown, Wis. in 1976, his M. Divinity from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. in 1980 and his M.S. Ed from Concordia University, Mequon, Wis. in 1998. He has served as a parish pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran, Danube, Minn. (1980-1984) and at Bethany Lutheran, Fort Atkinson, Wis. (1984-1996), and professor of Christian Education and Old Testament at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (1996-2007). From July of 2007 until June of 2020 he served as the president of Martin Luther College.
Mrs. Colette Zarling was born in South Dakota and grew up in different places in western United States. She is a licensed Lutheran grade schoolteacher with 17 years of teaching in WELS schools, mainly in Milwaukee but also in Minnesota. Jesus has blessed Mark and Colette with four adult children and thirteen grandchildren.
Dr. Donald R. Kudek
Dr. Kudek is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration and the Department Chair for the School of Business at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wis. He earned his Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from Regent University, his MBA from Bradley University, and his BA from the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. He spent the first 25 years of his career in various industries, including International Marketing Director for a manufacturer, Corporate Treasurer for a Fortune 500 company, and SVP/Director of Treasury Services for a large commercial bank. During the majority of that time, he taught various business classes in the evenings, until receiving a full time ministry call to Wisconsin Lutheran College.
In addition to his teaching, Dr. Kudek has conducted various research studies looking to gain a greater understanding of both leaders and followers. He has presented his research findings at the International Leadership Association conferences in Brussels, Belgium; Geneva, Switzerland; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and in the US. His work has been published in the Journal of Organization Psychology and in the International Journal of Teaching and Education. He regularly speaks to both graduate and undergraduate students on the topic, and has shared his work with various church groups.
Rev. Luis Acosta
Rev. Acosta was born in Colombia and moved to Venezuela when he was 9. While studying oil engineering in Venezuela he worked for a large spirits distributor in the marketing department. He went on to take roles as market manager for both Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey for several Latin America countries. Luis also worked as a sales manager Leadertech International.
Luis is married to his high school sweetheart Carolina and has 2 children. As newlyweds they moved together to Miami and began attending Divine Savior Lutheran Church. While attending Divine Savior, Luis began studying for the public ministry through Cristo Palabra de Vida (WELS PSI Latino Program) and completed the Congregational Assistant Program. In 2004 he received a divine call to serve as a full-time staff minister at Divine Savior.
In 2007 Luis relocated to Wisconsin to complete his pastoral studies at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. While studying at the seminary, he also served as Hispanic deacon at Christ and St Peter Lutheran Church part-time. Following seminary graduation, he was called to serve the Hispanic ministry at Risen Savior in Milwaukee and served there for 9 years. Luis accepted a new call this summer as a 1LA Missionary for North Latin America.
Prof. David Scharf
David Scharf served as a parish pastor at lmmanuel in Greenville, Wis., and as coordinator for the Northern Wisconsin District Evangelism Commission from 2005-2016. He now serves as a professor of Theology at Martin Luther College. He is a member of the Institute for Worship and Outreach and chairman of the Commission on Congregational Counseling. A graduate of Luther Preparatory School (1996), Martin Luther College (2000), and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (2005), Dave and his wife Beth (nee Koelpin), have six children ages 9-20.
Rev. Jonathan Bauer
Our Lutheran Moment: Why Now Is a Good Time for Us to Be Doing What We Do Best, Rev. Jonathan Bauer
The first WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership ended on January 23, 2020. That was roughly a thousand days ago. It might as well have been an eternity ago. Can you even remember the world that existed on that date?
It would be understandable if you can’t. Those thousand days have presented a seemingly endless barrage of challenges for leaders of all kinds, including the Lutheran leaders at this conference: a global pandemic and the lockdowns that followed; the death of George Floyd and a summer of unrest; a closely contested election and its turbulent aftermath; mask mandates and vaccine mandates; the continued erosion of public trust and the continued deepening of societal division. If you can remember the world that existed before these last thousand days, do you ever wish you could go back to it?
Assuming we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand and wait for that to happen, Lutheran leaders might consider several possible responses. On the one hand, we might wring our hands, lament our misfortune, and reminisce about the pre-pandemic “good old days” as we watch our churches continue to lose their relevance. If that were your preferred response, you probably wouldn’t be attending this conference.
On the other hand, we might conclude that ministry in this new and different world needs to look new and different. Every leader in this room has no doubt learned to think, act, and minister in new and different ways in the last three years. If we are going to remain relevant in our reshaped world, perhaps a willingness to do things differently will be the key.
This presentation, however, highlights a different response: to see the challenges of recent years as a much-needed reminder that what our world needs most is the very thing we do best. The presenter will demonstrate how hallmark Lutheran doctrines offer the only adequate solutions to problems that the people of our world are desperately trying to solve. As a result, we are already positioned to proclaim and practice these truths in a way that few others have the interest or ability to do. We are certainly better positioned to proclaim and practice these truths than we are to pursue any other strategy for maintaining vitality and relevance in our time. Despite the many challenges of our day, now is a good time for us to be doing what we do best.
Rev. Jonathan Bauer
Pastor Bauer graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2008. His first call was to Emmanuel Lutheran in Tempe, Ariz. In 2014 he accepted the call to Good News in Mount Horeb, Wis., a mission church that is currently undergoing its first building project. Jon serves on WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling and the Institute for Worship and Outreach. He served on the Executive Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project. He and his wife Lindsay have been blessed with three children.
Prof. Luke Thompson
Thinking Differently: On How the Next Generation Thinks, and On How to Help Them Think, Prof. Luke Thompson
WELS total membership in 2021 is almost identical to what it was in 1956—approximately 340,000 souls. In 1956, one-third of WELS members were pre-confirmation age (about 111,000). Today, it is one-fifth of WELS members that are in that age grouping (about 68,000). Over half of WELS annual back-door losses (people who quit the church) come from younger generations. WELS median age trends up each year. So, a common lament in our congregations is: “We need more young adults.”
As we endeavor to retain and gain young adults in our congregations, it is important we first strive to understand them. God calls young Christian adults to be different, to think different, to be in the world but not of the world. What does that mean for our current generation of young adults in the West who see the world in such a radically different way than their parents? From social media to sex and gender, they have a unique spectrum of cares and concerns. In this presentation, we will learn about how young adults think, from psychology to philosophy, and make applications for our gospel ministry to them.
Prof. Thompson will share his experiences in mentoring young adults in a campus ministry setting and propose a vision for how to mentor and equip this next generation of church leaders to think differently, using the power of the means of grace, Holy Spirit-inspired empathy, and God’s gift of reason.
A portion of this presentation will include a panel discussion, consisting of some young WELS adults.
Prof. Luke Thompson
Luke Thompson (M.Div theology, M.A. philosophy) taught philosophy courses at Wisconsin Lutheran College and Bethany Lutheran College before becoming a pastor in WELS. He served eight years in Ottawa, ON, Canada, at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran, where he ministered to government workers, South Sudanese immigrants and the university students of University of Ottawa and Carleton University. For over twenty years, he has worked with and helped start campus ministries, presenting internationally on apologetics, philosophy, and pop culture. His most recent divine call is to Martin Luther College, where he teaches theology, history, and philosophy and leads the college’s “film and philosophy” club and a Great Books club. He is the author of Your Life Has Meaning (NPH) and co-author of Quick to Listen (NPH).