I had the privilege of volunteering for Higher Things for many years. As many of you know, it’s a wonderful organization that provides our youth an opportunity to worship around the clock, learn more about Lutheranism and connect with other young Lutherans for fun and shenanigans.

It’s precisely the type of thing that Synod, Inc. should be embracing. But, for some extremely odd reason, Synod, Inc. is more interested in chasing fads from the 1980s than getting “officially” involved with groups such as Higher Things. Sometimes there are Synodical officials who are downright hostile to the group. Which, at this point, is probably all the better for people interested in advancing confessional Lutheranism.

Anyway, I thought it interesting that this generic Christian group gets Synodical blessing. It’s called UKANDU. Here’s the Northern Illinois District’s Ablaze! site highlighting this group. It’s got some Lutheran ties — but also a lot of non-Lutheran ties. And judging from the website, there is nothing distinctively Lutheran about it at all. Compare that with groups such as Higher Things — where you can’t be involved unless you’re a confessional Lutheran. Why would Synodical districts support UKANDU and not, say, Higher Things?


UDIDWHAT? — 16 Comments

  1. I don’t even have to go to the website to get the message. U KAN DU. It’s all about me–I can do it, you can do it. Now I’ll visit the website, but it’s rather predictable.

    Rather than UKANDU, how about HEDIDITALL. Or to use the vernacular, HEDOODIT.

  2. From the NID Ablaze site article on UKANDU, “I liken it to the feeding of the 5,000 with only a few bread and fish.”

    Jesus, somewhere in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4 ESV)

    Our Gospel reading for last Sunday was John 6:22-35 (titled “I Am the Bread of Life” in the ESV). This follows the miracle of feeding the five thousand which the UKANDU references. If we do as Jesus instructed us in the Matthew quote, we read every word in the six chapter of John.

    While the congregation of five thousand looks good on the Ablaze! counter, when we’ve finished with this chapter, we find Jesus standing with only the choosen twelve apostles and asking, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

    The confessionals among us recognize this as the Alleluia Verse in DS I & II. While the UKANDU crowds chase after Jesus to make him their bread king, our Lord responds with the full Gospel which they reject. It’s not about what I do do, nor what U KAN DU – it’s about Jesus for you. His Word is the good news we desperately need, not to fill our stomachs but to cleanse our hearts.

    If you must have a catchy Nike slogon to make your point, get a sweatshirt printed with a large “4 U”. Then when anyone asks, “What – 4U?” tell them about Christ for you. Save the monies spent on travel and the ‘ministry’ efforts expended; give the money to our semanaries to train pastors and missionaries to preach the Word to those in need and direct your ‘ministry’ to your local food bank or Habit for Humanity (where you can utilize your new sweatshirt!)

    One well-trained missionary can do much more for the real needs of these people than fifty UKANDU’s (or five thousand). God called you to be part of the royal priesthood; he did not call everyone to be a minister nor a missionary. If you need something to do, try praying for your Pastors, pray for your missionaries; pray for your neighbors. Then go read the rest of John (and Matthew, and Mark, …).

  3. Your point is well made and well taken. I do not understand the posture of some in the LCMS which seems to be opposed to other stuff. For crying out loud, this is not supposed to be a competition (and it is time to quit competing for the same believing souls – aka sheep-stealing)! If there are others who are doing things which are thoroughly and wonderfully Lutheran (hence Christian – duh), then we welcome them and see how we can encourage and support one another. This business of treating other Lutherans as though they are the enemy is so thoroughly un-Lutheran. This is what makes my heart ache.

    May the Lord ever bless and increase HT and then grant us youth who will go to those events where they grow in knowledge, grace and faith, and even make salutary connections with other Lutherans.

  4. “Sometimes there are Synodical officials who are downright hostile to the group. Which, at this point, is probably all the better for people interested in advancing confessional Lutheranism.” – M.Z. Hemmingway

    There’s the crux of things (no pun intended). At a time when many of us wouldn’t consider giving money to Synod (Inc.), it is wonderful to know that organizations like HT, Tom Baker’s group and others can and do use financial support appropriately and conscientiously, without any siphoning off. Grass roots, babies!

  5. Pastor Strawn – That design would work, especially since I doubt anyone at 1333 Kirkwood would wear that to work. I just find our current situation and its emphasis on what we do so saddening for the more we focus on ourselves, the less we look to Christ and his Cross. Thankyou.

  6. Hey–I worked with UKANDU for 3 years at that Native American Reservation project. I can tell you it was a worthwhile work, teaching VBS on a reservation…but it was not God’s calling that led them to the inner city. Rather, it was local missionaries’ reaction to some of the OTHER work done by the group. When we realized that, our church didn’t participate anymore…

  7. Why? They teach kids stuff like Private Confession and Absolution, which flies in the face of generic protestantism.
    At the same time this idea also gives bronzies the jitters.
    HT is great, but it is just too Lutheran.

  8. According to the UKANDU web site, all the members of the staff and board have LCMS Lutheran connections. The purpose of this organization seems to be organizing servant/mission opportunities for youth, which sounds like a really good idea. In the past, when our youth group has done a “servant” event, it was always coordinated through a non-Lutheran agency. On paper, at least, it looks like a fine idea, and I would welcome such endeavors.

    HIgher Things is a different sort of organization. Its purpose is to assist parents, pastors, and congregations in cultivating a confessional Lutheran identity among the youth of our congregations through campus-based conferences, publications, and web-based media. HIgher Things is giving the Synod an opportunity to embrace its work among our youth by submitting an application for RSO status with the LCMS.

    Thank you for the endorsement of Higher Things, though there is no need to cast aspersions UKANDU or other groups seeking to work with our youth.

    WM Cwirla, president
    Higher Things

  9. WM Cwirla,

    You make a good point. I think Mollie’s point still stands however, i.e. that it would be a good thing for UKANDU to not hide its Lutheransim and to mimick HT by being overtly Lutheran.


  10. The options are the Bible or the Board? Let’s do the Board.

    Aaron – BA, Theology, Valparaiso
    Mary – Dir. Youth and Young Adult Ministry
    Pete – Youth and Family Minister

    UKANDU Board

    Mark – President; 10 years as Youth Minister (had to give this up for a Honda Dealership???)
    Jim – VicePres; BA – Civil Engineering; Plays bass guitar in praise band; taught high-school and college Bible study for years.
    Richard – Stephen Minister
    Meredith – BA in Spanish; Director Mexican Missions; (note: looks pretty good on the ‘hog’)
    Jeff – BA Education; Director of Christian Education, Seward, NE

    What’s missing on this ‘Mission Team’? We refer to them as “Called and Ordained”, i.e. qualified to preach God’s Word. Is this not the primary function of missions? It’s the soul – not the stomach (see my previous entry #2).

    What I read on the UKANDU home page is no diffent from what I see at RivChurch.com. This is my son’s choice of church, but it is definitely not Lutheran. As Mollie emphasized so clearly, where is the Lutheran in this group? RivChurch has been doing Mexican ‘missions’ for years – long before UKANDU existed. RivChurch didn’t invent ‘mission’ trips for youths; being ‘non-denominational’ they simply followed the crowd.

    They do ‘good’ work in Mexico at orphanages. They build, paint, repair and fellowship. What they don’t do is preach the Gospel. They show up to help these sinners in need, and when their done – well, the sinners have a bit less physical needs. But they still have their sin (I’ve sat through their ‘worship’ service; big band, lot’s of light and the best coffee in Mid-Michigan; not one drop of Gospel in forty-five minutes of ‘preaching’!)

    Christians should do good works for their neighbor; Christians do good works for the neighbor. And we should encourage our youth to be involved. But I can not fathom how a organization like UKANDU can be a mission program and not have one Pastor on their Board. (I have a very good assessment of how many Pastors are utilized by Higher Things for a one week program.)

    UKANDU claims to be a christian mission society – so do the Mormans (they aren’t). UKANDU claims to do good works for their neighbors – so do the Mormons (they really don’t). UKANDU has the blessings of LC-MS.inc. Is what they do Lutheran – we certainly can not tell by their web homepage. All I know for sure is their not Mormon; at least I can identify a Mormon from afar. They do not hide their identity nor their purpose. Tomorrow – the Bible.

  11. I agree with Pastors Cwirla & Rossow that the comments have gotten a little off-point here. Sure, it’d be great if UKANDU were more thoroughly Lutheran. I’m all for that. But, as Pastor Cwirla points out, they do “servant events”. Perhaps they shouldn’t call that “missions”, but I am sure they do give testimony of the hope that is within them. I know DCE Shoemaker makes a good confession, and have no reason do doubt that other leaders do as well.

    All Mollie is pointing out is the irony that the more substantailly Lutheran group, centered on catechesis, is not well-received by Synod, Inc., while a group such as UKANDU is clearly supportive. But this is not to diminish what UKANDU seeks to accomplish or to cast aspersions on them. Perhaps there is some substantive critique that can be explored (such as what Melody alluded to via her actual experience with one UKANDU team), but that is not what BJS is doing here.

    Simply put, it’d be nice if UKANDU would borrow a page from Higher Things and adapt HT’s approach of “Real Fun, Real Worhsip, Real Bible Study” and do their works of mercy with an attitude of “Real Fun, Real Worship, and Real Service”.

    But then maybe they fear they’d lose Ablaze! support if they did something like that….

  12. Just to pile on here . . . my beef is definitely not with UKANDU. They are what they are. They are straightforward about that and it’s up to other people whether to support them in their mission or not. What I’m curious about is why some Synodical leaders won’t support some of the best confessional Lutheran groups — usually claiming it’s because they’re not Registered Service Organizations or some such thing like that — but will support non-Lutheran or non-confessional Lutheran groups. It’s the double standard I am highlighting.

    My own congregation does some of our works of mercy through secular and interdenominational groups, fwiw.

  13. The question was posed why Synod Inc. would not support such groups as Higher Things, etc. One of HT’s excellent promos say why: “Dare To Be Lutheran”. As promoters of Ablaze, seek their critical moment in the sun, they use the package of emotion to engage folks in the attractiveness of the faith. In other words, they want to show how “cool” it is to be a Christian. Well, Higher Things and others put the crux of the Christian faith unashamedly out there for youth and adults to trust in the ways our Lord has given–through Christ-centered preaching, Christ-centered hymnody, all the while distributing the Sacrament which Christ Himself instituted for us Christians to eat and to drink. Higher Things makes no pretense and yet engages the minds and lives of youth so they rest on the real forgiveness of sins which Christ promises all who trust in Him.

    It’s interesting to see what makes youth at a Higher Things conference stoked as opposed to what makes them excited at a National Youth Gathering. Folks come back from Higher Things talking about the worship straight from the hymnal and how awesome it was with so many other Confessional brothers and sisters. When folks I’ve seen or heard come from the NYG, they are enamored with things like the light shows or the technotronic theatrics that surround the message being conveyed. Much of their comments reflect they same fascination I’ve heard from people enthralled with a service at a megachurch event.

    Not that God can’t convey His Word at such a huge thing or glitzy show as the NYG. I’m sure and know He can. However, the stripped-bareness of proclamation at a Higher Things conference leaves more room for growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ instead of searching and guessing of what it means to “me”.

    Pardon me for being jaded, but the Synod Inc. seems to have the same attitude toward HT as it does toward the humble, small, rural congregation who holds to the Word and Sacraments but lacks programs. (See A SURTHRIVAL GUIDE FOR SMALL CHURCHES put out by Reformation Today.)

  14. I think the whole mission trip fad in evangelicalism has become a problem for the church at large over the last 20 years.

    The idea is that affluent suburbanite teens get other Christians to finance their road trip where they work a little on a house, maybe hand out a few tracts, have a lot of fun, and develop an insufferable pride in their good works for having done so. Spring break for young pharisees.

    That said, it appears to me that UKANDU is a better program than most, and it would not be fair for me to lump them in with the worst excesses of the mission trip movement.

    Still, I do think that teaching teens how to discern and worship through a program like HT is a better use of our efforts; and UKANDU might benefit from some more pastoral oversight.

    Also, why would we want HT under the official umbrella of LCMS, Inc. when that body has a record of firing gifted and effective communicators for vague reasons?

  15. The question is why would we want H.T. lumped under the banner of Synod Inc. who…. Simply put, we wouldn’t. It emphasizes that Christ Jesus teaches us through His Word and the Lutheran Confessions, not through executive decisions that quell the Gospel. Synod Inc. wants the dear people in congregations worldwide that we are the ones who cause unneeded division. All I have to say about that is: Who left the truth vs. Who is still faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions? Thanks be to God for the efforts of H.T., et al who are training the next generation of Confessional Lutherans!

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