Keep the Symbols Alive

The Twelve Days were nearly over. It would soon be time to pack up the ornaments and take down the Christmas tree. So for a few more minutes that evening I sat staring and pondering. I considered my (pseudo-) tree’s evergreen (like) branches and their connection to the Tree of Life and eternity. I squinted at the strings of lights and thought, “Jesus is the Light of the world…” “The light shines in the darkness…” I took in the glassy bulbs reflecting the Light to the world and the crafted ornaments picturing the details of the Christmas story or pointing to the cross. I enjoyed the beautiful Christian symbolism of the tree that took me a little farther into my celebration of Christ and of Christmas.

How many people who put up Christmas trees in their homes think about—or even know—the symbolism there? I’m guessing that it’s not a really high percentage. Many Americans put up a Christmas tree out of habit, because it’s what we do in our culture. It’s part of the appropriate “decoration” for the season.

So, is the symbolism of the Christmas tree dying? It’s certainly not as meaningful anymore. Symbolism is not effective if nobody thinks about or understands it. The symbol becomes mere decoration.

We don’t want this to happen to symbols in our worship. We can’t let them die. Many congregations have symbolic artwork in their worship spaces. Are those art pieces effective? Do members appreciate what the symbols represent? Do they even notice them anymore? The symbols in our churches are more than mere decoration. Worship lives can be deepened by symbols, but only if worshipers are tuned in to the bigger thoughts behind the art they see.

What Makes a Symbol?

Before we go further, what makes a symbol? It is helpful to think about the distinction between a symbol and a sign.

planeThis airplane shape is a sign. It’s a simple, literal representation of something we know, something tangible. Even somebody who hasn’t been educated in the meaning of this graphic has a pretty good idea the image is telling her that she is close to an airport. There is nothing more to it than that.

power buttonThis power emblem is more of a symbol. Because power is an intangible concept, not something we can easily picture, a clever graphic designer developed this set of shapes to represent the idea. Now a widely used identifier, this image is helpful to those who know that you can power up your electronic device by pressing such a labeled button. It is, however, not so useful to anyone who doesn’t understand what the shapes represent. (It’s also not a very deep symbol. The concept of electrical power has lost a lot of its mystery as we have become more dependent upon it in our everyday lives.)

Symbols open us up to concepts that are difficult or even impossible for us to understand.

While signs are meant to be easily read, symbols are designed to take one deeper. That’s the beauty of them. Symbols represent ideas, and their visual connections open us up, if even slightly, to concepts that are difficult or even impossible for us to understand.

Making connections—this is the blessing of symbolism in our worship lives. Since the God we worship and so many aspects of faith are beyond words and pictures, beyond reason and understanding, symbols can help build bridges between our lives of reality and our lives of faith and thus strengthen our worship. We have a cross symbol in the chancel to help us think about Jesus and his sacrifice for us. We have the open book symbol on the lectern to picture God’s Word as a means of grace and a guide for our lives. We have the descending dove on the font to remind us of the Holy Spirit and his saving and sanctifying work in us through Word and Sacrament. We have….

Symbols can help build bridges between our lives of reality and our lives of faith.

What do you have? What are the symbols in your worship space? Look at them again with a fresh eye. Ponder them and consider how you can use them to make connections in worship.

The Need for Symbol Education

Many people will look right past worship symbols unless they are taught and reviewed often. A good number of our Christian symbols come from the early Christian church and the Middle Ages, when symbols were used and taught regularly. Most people of that time were illiterate—that is, not able to read and write—but they were quite biblically literate and knowledgeable about the symbolic images that were before them; the church used art to teach truths and to direct spiritual thinking.

That is not the case today. While we live in a very highly text literate and visual culture, we don’t live in a symbolic culture or a symbolically literate culture or a biblically literate culture. Of the thousands of images that come at us every day in print or on screens, most are straightforward and meant to be read easily; few are fashioned to be considered for deep meaning or even to be looked at for more than a quick couple of seconds. Today’s image-overloaded Americans are not accustomed to symbolic thinking—or they don’t take the time for it.

Today’s image-overloaded Americans are not accustomed to symbolic thinking.

quatrefoilPowerful symbols can be right in front of us and go unnoticed. It took me years to understand that, in the sanctuary at St. John, Jefferson, the quatrefoil, a four-lobed leaf or flower, is the dominant symbol. Oh, I saw quatrefoils…everywhere. They make up the shape of the windows in the doors that separate the narthex from the nave.

They are carved into the altar and the reredos behind the altar. Dozens of quatrefoils ring the tops of each of our light fixtures. Dozens more line the molding that transitions the walls to the ceiling. Flowers with four petals are the focal point of the stained glass windows in our transepts. When I saw them, though, either I didn’t think about them, or I thought about them as a dominant decorative motif for the sanctuary—but not as symbols. I’m sure most of our members were of the same mind. Once I learned that the quatrefoil is a symbol of the gospel, the four lobes representing the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I was surprised both at how oblivious I had been and at how beautifully our church designers worked to show the predominance of the gospel in our worship by including not just one, but hundreds of these symbolic shapes in our worship space! Now I love the quatrefoil symbol; I think about it often and point it out to others, too.

I was surprised both at how oblivious I had been and at how beautifully our church designers worked to show the predominance of the gospel in our worship.

In Practice

So, how do we guide 21st century Christians to such “Aha!” moments and deeper worship through symbolism? Here are a few practical thoughts for symbol education.

As Jesus used much symbolic language in his teachings, much of our Christian symbolism is borrowed from his words. Vine and branches, bread, light, salt. Filling ears with Jesus’ picture language in lessons and sermons is natural in worship, and it is also easy to direct eyes to a connecting image in a stained glass window or on a banner. Pointing out a sanctuary symbol in the introduction to a service, a hymn, a sermon, or a lesson decodes the presence of that symbol.

A good portion of our symbolism ties to the church year. When we enter a new season, my pastor, as part of his introduction to the service, points out that the paraments in our chancel have changed and gives a brief explanation of the new color’s meaning. There are ample opportunities to teach just like this in each passing season: explaining the Advent wreath as part of the midweek Advent service’s candle lighting ceremony; noting your altar’s empty cross on Easter; highlighting your stole’s intertwined rings on Trinity Sunday.

Worship folders and bulletins provide a great space for printed images along with explanations, especially if one’s worship space does not house a lot of symbolic artwork. A worship folder’s cover art with symbolism that ties to the week’s lessons or hymns helps set the theme of the day; a sentence or two about the artwork will help make a secure connection. With today’s word processing software and in our Google Image age, copyright-free graphics for Christian symbols are easy to find, copy, and paste into several sections of worship folders and bulletins.

After thinking about and presenting on the topic of Christian symbolism at the 2011 Worship Conference, I started a special section in our bulletin called “Symbol of the Week.” Here’s the first entry, from the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A:

psd-shiny-white-pearl-icon 2Symbol of the Week: Many of our Christian symbols come from Jesus’ teaching and parables—like the parables of the treasure, the net, or the pearl that we hear in today’s Gospel lesson. The pearl “of great value,” which in Jesus’ parable symbolizes the kingdom of God, has also come to represent anything that is rare and of great value in our spiritual lives, including the Word of God and even Jesus himself. Enjoy the pearls that come to you today in your worship.

Most of the time the “Symbol of the Week” was connected to the theme of the day or to a reference in one of the Scripture lessons. Other times the highlighted symbol was seasonal or one of the symbols in our worship space that would otherwise not be reviewed. This section was included in the bulletin for the rest of that three-year cycle of lessons. It will probably come back again someday, but maybe, for variety’s sake, as an educational piece in our church’s monthly newsletter.

Like other spiritual education that the church provides, opportunities for symbol teaching will come outside of worship time, too. Bible study sessions provide opportunities to present Christian symbols and their explanations in many discussions. As a visual learner and lover of art, I like to include some type of image on nearly every PowerPoint slide in my Bible study presentations. I can’t help then but regularly take a minute to point out symbolism or connections. I often get a thoughtful “Oh…” when we make the picture a part of our discussion. Sometimes, even before I get to it, somebody will comment on or ask a question about an image.

Once in a while—again, because I love art and my Bible study attendees appreciate it—an “art break” occurs in the middle of a lesson to show photos of artwork (famous or not-so) that connect with the section of Scripture we’re discussing. It’s a good way to point out symbolism in the art that is not commonly used in our churches today.

Of course, a full study on Christian symbols, their origin and their meaning, is good to have every once in a while on a Bible study schedule. The resources listed with this article give information on materials that would be helpful for such a study.

Consider also how important it is to teach Christian symbolism as part of Catechism lessons and Bible information classes. The growing Christians in these classes can greatly benefit from visual education tied to the doctrines they are learning. Catechism books include a lot of graphics already. Handouts or other visual aids can include more.

We let symbols live by making lessons on Christian symbolism part of the curriculum in our Lutheran elementary schools. Where do these lessons fit? Are they part of Bible lessons, devotions, classroom decoration, art classes? One principal under whom I served had a unit on Christian symbolism as part of his upper grade religion course each year. The study of Christian symbols became such a special topic to him that he has explored more deeply in personal study and has given well-received presentations on symbolism at churches in our area.

Don’t Assume

Teaching and reviewing Christian symbolism is beneficial at all levels. Even our most faithful members may not grasp basic presentations of symbolism. For our last Reformation Festival I set up a symbolic display of the means of grace: the baptismal font on a stand, a big open Bible next to it. Somebody asked our congregational president what was going on, why the font was raised up. Our president relayed this conversation and asked me to be sure to explain whatever symbolism is presented, no matter how simple. I was a little surprised, but I should know better.

You see, I can present artistic symbolism in banners, sanctuary displays, graphics—I can even challenge with uncommon symbolism, like a pelican (Christ’s atonement) or pomegranate (the Resurrection)—but those efforts are wasted if the connecting meaning is only in my head and in nobody else’s. I can’t be like the pop singer who writes cryptic ballads filled with figurative language and then brushes off the baffled questions of fans with, “Whatever it means to you is what it means.” In worship, symbolic meaning is not open to interpretation. It must be explained. It must be clear.

Only then do the symbols live.

Efforts are wasted if the connecting meaning is only in my head and in nobody else’s.

Back to the Tree

The Christmas tree I was pondering had an unusual ornament perched on it—a goldfinch. I happened to find the tiny bird ornament two summers ago at Bronner’s Christmas Store in Frankenmuth, Michigan, not long after I had learned about its symbolism. While visitors to my house might look at the ornament and say, “Hmm. Beautiful bird,” I look at it and think: Goldfinches eat thorns and thistles—yes, those thorns and thistles listed as consequences of the fall into sin in Genesis 3. Goldfinches devour them, destroy them, just as my Savior Jesus destroys the curse of sin for me. I have another symbol that I now love.

I have put the goldfinch ornament away. But I’ll think about what it means to me when it comes out again next year. That symbolism will live with me every time I see it.

Written by Peter Schaewe

Peter is staff minister and art teacher at St. John, Jefferson, WI, and has served as the Worship Arts chair for the last five worship conferences. He is a graduate of Martin Luther College and holds a B.F.A. in painting and drawing from UW-Milwaukee.

Symbolism Resources

  • Murray, Peter and Linda. Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art. Awesome resource…not just for symbolism, but for any topic related to Christian art.
  • Gray, Doug. Christian Symbology. Much of this book is on
  • Fergusson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. —Very comprehensive. It seems like a lot of the websites I found on Christian symbols are “quoting” from this book.
  • Baldock, John. The Elements of Christian Symbolism. The first part of this book is more philosophical with a good explanation of the nature of symbolism.
  • Steffler, Alva William. Symbols of the Christian Faith.
  • Stoner, Marcia. Symbols of Faith: Teaching Images of the Christian Faith. This book includes symbol patterns and activities for teaching symbolism. The cover says that it is “for intergenerational use,” so don’t think that it’s just fun stuff for kids.
  • Taylor, Richard. How to Read a Church: A Guide to Symbols and Images in Churches and Cathedrals. In addition to information on symbols, this book has summaries of Bible events and people that one might encounter when looking at art in churches.
  • VanderMeer, Harriet. Rings, Kings, and Butterflies: Lessons on Christian Symbols for Children.—Comes with a CD with of images you can use for your publications
  • Whitemore, Carroll E. Symbols of the Church. A thin but full book… It’s a quick reference.
  • Dover Publications has a book called Christian Symbols that includes a CD with 456 royalty-free pieces of clip art.
    WELS member Ian Welch is a graphic artist with a site full of art for your worship folders for each Sunday of the church year along with information and art on symbols.
    View symbols from the stained glass windows of WELS churches. Photographed and posted by Pastor Robert Koester.
    See Christian Symbology by Doug Gray above… It’s the same thing.
    A fairly comprehensive listing of symbols with information, pictures (not great but usable) and available patterns for free by email or for purchase on CD.
  • (Images)
    Type in key words, and you’ll find resources and images that you can copy and paste into documents for educational purposes.
  • A Catalog of Christian Symbols—my presentation handout from the 2014 Worship Conference.



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Rebel With a Cause

The Virtue of Being a Rebel

If we take a quick scan through the 2013 TEDx Youth San Diego program, we notice some similarities between the guest speakers. Matthew Emerzian, among other things, is author of Every Monday Matters – 52 Ways to Make a Difference. Shaka Senghor recently published Live in Peace: A Youth Guide to Turning Hurt into Hope. Brittany Wenger is a biology and computer science freshman at Duke who won several awards for Breast Cancer awareness and fundraising projects. Martina Gray offers yoga instruction to bring peace and alignment into the lives of her students. David Joseph, a UCLA junior, co-founded Northern Uganda Medical Mission. And so what do we get when we bridge TED talks (the world’s most popular platform for brilliant people sharing ideas on technology, entertainment, and design) with Millennials?1 We get a full slate of brilliant people interested in causes, interested in being parts of little revolutions for social and global change. It’s not enough to simply be brilliant. You need to be both brilliant and changing the world, both a renaissance man and a rebel.2

Rebellion against the status quo or against being another cog in the machine is important to Millennials.

Which ought to tell us that causes3 are highly valued and play a major role in how Millennials identify themselves. Somehow rebellion against the status quo or against being another cog in the machine or against being another brick in the wall is important. Simply take a look at any book, web article, or newspaper column concerning business tactics for a millennial demographic. For one example:

“90 percent of millennials are likely to switch from one brand to another—even when price and quality are equal—if the second supports a cause…. Millennials are prepared to reward socially responsible companies; they are more likely to trust these companies, seek their employment and buy or recommend their products to others. According to a Cone study, after learning that a company is socially and/or environmentally responsible:

  • 83 percent are likely to trust the company more
  • 79 percent are likely to purchase that company’s products
  • 44 percent are likely to actively pursue working at that company
  • 74 percent are more likely to pay attention to that company’s message because it has a deep commitment to a cause.”4

In an age of mass conformism and consumerism and information, one major millennial cardinal virtue is being a rebel, someone willing to stand for just causes and stand against negative practices. And this affects even acts as simple as choosing one brand over another. The major vice, then, is inactivity in the face of information that demands a clear response.

Come, Follow Me. Be a Rebel.

So how does the pastor reach out to a generation whose cardinal virtue is rebelling against the status quo and cardinal sin is inactivity? Perhaps we could rephrase the question: How do we share a world-changing message with a generation that wants to change the world? The gospel, too, is a cause, but a far greater one compared to any earthly cause the world has to offer. Consider the following ways Scripture pictures the gospel:

How do we share a world-changing message with a generation that wants to change the world?

Gospel as mystery. Paul writes in Colossians 1:25-27 that to be an evangelist is to present “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations … Christ in you, the hope of glory.” When you’re sharing the gospel, you’re busting free a mystery that’s been largely hidden from the world. You’re in the know of a life-changing message, the world’s only hope for glory. If you’ve ever talked to a Millennial passionate about this or that particular cause, she acts as if she’s letting you in on a secret, maybe a secret the government or the corporations don’t want you to hear (and in some cases she may be right!). And she’s so excited to subvert the powers-that-be who don’t want you to know. Feel the energy millennial rebels have, and remind yourself that you can bring the same energy to the pulpit when you bust free your Mystery and subvert the powers of Satan that don’t want your audience to know the Mystery.

Millennials want to love something bigger than themselves and their possessions. They’re striving for a transcendent purpose.

Gospel as radical shift. John writes in his first letter (2:15-17) “Do not love the world or anything in the world…. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” Part of the desire to be wrapped up in a cause is the desire to escape North American complacency, consumerism, and economic self-centeredness. Millennials want to love something bigger than themselves and their possessions. They’re striving for a transcendent purpose. And that’s exactly what God tells us we have. As children of God, we serve purposes far greater than what common experiences would lead us to believe. Doing God’s will, especially his will to bust out the mystery of the gospel, takes priority over everything, and so John urges us to not let love for earthly things trump our love to carry out our transcendent purpose as evangelists. God asks us to radically shift our priorities, and this shift is something the Millennial is attracted to, a shift the Millennial is very ready to make in her life for lesser causes.

Gospel as invasion. The actual state of affairs in this world is far different than what it appears to be. As his English audience is dealing with World War II and its aftermath, C.S. Lewis writes concerning how Christians view the world,

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what the world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends.”5

In a very real sense, Christianity is about rebellion: it’s about the Holy Spirit creating faith in our hearts that cling to the promise that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the devil on the cross, and now creates in us the ability to take part in the final invasion of the enemy’s territory. When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we are praying that we share the revolutionary gospel message that will defeat the strongholds of Satan in the hearts of our friends and family (2 Corinthians 10:4) and will set free one more soul from bondage (Luke 4:18). If Millennials are looking for a cause to make real change in this world, a cause that ends slavery, cruelty, and suppression, tell them to look no further, and invite them to be part of the invasion. It will look different than any other invasion, since his Kingdom is not of this world. But it’s an invasion of far greater scope than any the world has ever seen.

The Gospel ministry as the ultimate cause. Here we state the obvious: If a Millennial wants to be part of a cause that matters, nothing comes close to the cause of the gospel. It’s a mystery to much of the world (and to many of our friends and families) about how God through the incarnation is reclaiming the world from sin, death, and the devil, and to be part of this cause requires a radical life shift that only the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to begin. And so how do we share a world-changing message with a generation that wants to change the world? Simply tell it to them, in all its epic glory as Scripture presents it.

Come, Follow Me. Be a Rebel Without a Cause.

Far more than simply being one of many causes a person could champion in their life, it turns out that the gospel is the mother (literally) of all righteous causes. The real reason a person ought to care for our planet is that it was created by God for us to steward. The real reason a person ought to care for outcasts, the poor, and those who cannot defend themselves is that God not only created them, but he loves them and died for them. And so, for the Christian, each human has the infinite value of the blood that Christ desires to clothe them with. This makes the Christian gospel cause the mother and logical source for tons of lesser causes. Consider the impact Genesis 1 has on environmentalism, or Psalms 51 and 139 on the pro-life movement, Deuteronomy 15:11 and Acts 20:35 on the needy and poor, Jesus’ ministry of compassion on the sick (e.g. Mark 5:25-29) on support for medical research and care for the sick, passages like James 1:27 on orphanages and foster care, and the list will go on until Christ comes back. Scripture is an endless source of imperatives for earthly change.6

The gospel is the mother of all righteous causes.

But if it were only an endless source of imperatives, then it would be an endless source of crushing guilt. The truly unique aspect of our faith is not that it gives justification to so many causes, but rather that, when we fail over and over again to stand up for the things we ought to, Scripture turns out to also be an endless source of gospel, reminding us constantly that we’re forgiven for our inability to be the justice and righteousness and change this world needs. We’re forgiven for not taking the time that we should have for the person in need, or to be educated about this or that issue, or to change aspects of our lifestyle to improve the lives of others. Regardless of whether or not we know how much we’re really called to do in a given situation (do I really need to sew my own clothes rather than take the chances the clothes I buy in stores come from sweat shops?), God’s law makes it clear we rarely do enough, but that Christ has done it all perfectly. And he gives us that life of perfect love, service, and action. Jesus was the perfect rebel so that we wouldn’t need to be. And he now calls us to stand with him against those that would harm his children.

Opportunities for the Church

God calls us to be (theological) rebels and stand with him against sin and the devil. Scripture provides many pictures to help us describe the gospel this way. This gospel message (along with God’s law) gives not only justification for all righteous causes, but also forgives us and renews us when we fall short ourselves in standing up for the poor, the outcast, and the defenseless. If, then, the gospel has everything the rebel Millennial is looking for, why do we have so much trouble connecting with her? Besides the fact that the enemy works hard in the hearts of unbelievers, and besides the fact that the gospel will always remain foolishness to the sin-bound heart, here are two areas we might be able to work on.

God calls us to be (theological) rebels and stand with him against sin and the devil.

Is your church full of slactivists? Just about everyone wants to call him or herself an engaged, caring individual. Very few people want to be that person who doesn’t care about the world or his community or who doesn’t make informed decisions. And so from football players wearing pink ribbons to the over fifteen-thousand 5K runs each year in the U.S. alone, our culture and economy give us plenty of opportunities to look like and feel like we’re making a difference, no matter how small. But the rebel Millennial often distinguishes between people who legitimately make changes in their lives to better their community and the world, and those who do enough to simply feel good about themselves, cleverly termed slactivists. Obviously, there is no exact science in knowing how much is enough, and making this distinction is dangerous, at times cruel, and often unfounded. But the fact remains that for many Millennials, among the chief places slactivists gather are churches. After all the church is full of hypocrites. Although it’s that way by design (he came for the sick, not the healthy), the charge against the church as a home for slactivists is something we ought to be aware of. Let it renew our vigor to put on the new self, to seek out visitors because we love them and really want to help them, and especially to help us and our congregations be honest about our own sins and the need to take them to the cross. Homiletic application abounds as we confess our own sins of slactivism at times (which is really just falling short of the second table of the law). Use the challenge of slactivism as an opportunity to grow in our mindful preaching and guest awareness.

For many Millennials, among the chief places slactivists gather are churches.

Issues, not organizations. It’s almost stereotypical, but it’s clearly taught that “millennials care about issues, not organizations.”7  In other words, millennials don’t want to be part of a club for the sake of being part of a club. They don’t want to just be. They want to be about something. If a congregation appears too self-centered and not focused externally on the community and world around it, and particularly on the issues around it, the rebel Millennial will not consider being an active member of the congregation.

Addressing this concern from the pulpit naturally flows from a good understanding of the nature of the church and the nature of the pastor. After all, the church is really not about creating an organization (although the body of Christ is a necessary and wonderful byproduct of the gospel); it’s about dealing with an issue: sin. And if that’s the case, then nothing is more important than clear communication about where church offerings go. We are here to bind the broken-hearted (Isaiah 61:1), welcome the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), and bring a peace to this earth (Luke 2:14) that only the gospel can bring. If a Millennial sees your church as simply funding an organization, they won’t find that attractive. If they see your church as getting things done and making progress on an issue, even if that issue is spiritual rather than social, political, or environmental, they just might want to know how they can join forces with your group of rebels and make a difference.

Written by Luke Thompson

Luke Thompson received an MA in philosophy from Marquette University, was an adjunct professor of philosophy at Wisconsin Lutheran College, and worked with several WELS campus ministries before graduating in 2013 from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He now serves as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and its campus ministry, illuminé.

Preaching in the context of worship

Following are comments from a study released in September 2015.8  The first of five themes is related to worship. The study is pertinent to the entire PTW millennial series. BG

  • Millennials don’t need worship to be entertained. Many are attracted to ritual and high forms of worship. “Contemporary worship was a Boomer response to their parents. Millennials are attracted to the ancient modern9.”
  • Millennials are drawn to more traditional and ancient forms of worship, which symbolize a connection to something bigger than themselves.
  • Are you trying too hard? How much emphasis are you putting on “contemporary” worship styles that may be turning off Millennials?
  • Engagement does not, however, necessarily mean a high-tech worship service. Authenticity means more than form, and many Millennials are attracted to more traditional forms of worship as important symbols of belonging to a community.

Many studies refer to Millennials as persons born from 1980 to 2000, marked particularly by growing up in the information and technology age. We will use this definition. William Strauss and Neil Howe are credited with introducing and first defining the term in Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, (New York, NY: Vintage Original, 2000).

We do not define the term rebel as our two-kingdom theology understands the term and strongly rejects, a political dissident, but rather how the term is understood more broadly by Millennials and in common popular media, someone who marches to the beat of their own drum, is no part of the status quo, or refuses to be objectified or commercialized.

We define cause as any issue or subject that groups of people try to influence other people to either support or reject. Causes include social causes (organized care for the poor or homeless, pro-life and pro-choice advocacy, etc.), environmentalism, medical research awareness and support, and virtually anything else groups have organized fundraisers for or advocated change in behavior to address.

Christie Barakat, “Cause-Related Marketing and the Millennial Mindset,”Social Times,, accessed January 20, 2016. Citing research from “The 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study,” Cone Inc. in collaboration with AMP Agency,, accessed January 8, 2016.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (NY: HarperOne, 2002), p. 46.

Our desire to be part of causes, then, is a reflection of the natural knowledge of God, the law within driving us to care for others. This makes causes an apt place to begin preaching law to the unbeliever. For example, “(a) You say you care for cause X. (b) If that’s truly a cause worth caring for despite whether people care for it, then it’s because it follows from a transcendent law: love your neighbors as yourself. (c) You know this law, because it was written in your heart by the law giver. (d) And you know as well as anyone that you can’t keep that law perfectly.”

Randy Hawthorne, “Understanding What Motivates Millennials to Give to Your NPO,” Nonprofit Hub,, accessed January 8, 2016.

The report, Engaging Millennials in Ministry, is available at The Siebert Foundation is perhaps best known in WELS circles for being a sponsor of the annual Change or Die Conference.

Robert Webber’s term. But, as he says, not the traditionalism of the 50s. And not “hymnal and organ autopilot.”


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Freeing the voice

 A physical therapy analogy

The current series of WTL articles is a potpourri of practical items for pastors, musicians, and worship planners. Here’s an article that is valuable equally for pastors who speak (and sing) and for choir directors, cantors, soloists. It contains a wealth of practical advice—advice, however, that may be rather technical, causing the reader to wonder if improvement can come without coaching. Some ideas will be helpful without much struggle. Some will require focused attention. Some might prod the speaker or singer to seek assistance from a qualified vocal coach. The online videos mentioned on page four can be helpful.

Think of a person experiencing shoulder trouble. The physical therapy solution requires doing just the right exercises in just the right way. Correct form and weight are critical to resolve the problem and avoid further pain or damage. – Bryan Gerlach

Freeing the Voice

A pastor once shared with me the vocal challenges he faced each week. He preached for the early service, taught a Bible class, and then preached for the second service. Add to this an evening service during the week and other classes. He developed a hoarse voice each week in his attempt to communicate emotion by raising and lowering his pitch. This left him wondering what he was doing incorrectly as he projected his voice.

In the past two years I have worked with two called workers who were seeking to take voice lessons to correct their vocal technique. Their voices were tight, sore, and exhausted. I found one common thread while working with both pastors and a Lutheran elementary school teacher. Their overall body tension and unregulated air flow caused them to “over” sing or speak in order to project their sound. One pastor needed complete vocal rest during the week. The teacher had to wear a microphone while speaking in the classroom.

The point to these stories is that many people experience faulty vocal techniques and are unsure how to correct them. This article offers guidance to help you “free your voice.”

A voice teacher once told me, “The human voice is the only instrument that you have one opportunity to care for. If you damage your voice, you do not have the opportunity to replace it.” This is an important concept for us who use our voices to the glory of God both in worship and for our profession. We need to use our voices in a healthy manner each time we sing or speak.

What does healthy mean?

Healthy means using your voice to the best of your God-given ability. It’s a stewardship issue similar to other ways we take care of the body and health that God has given us: diet, exercise, rest. The goal is a healthy voice for a lifetime of faithful use and service. You can accomplish this goal by understanding the anatomy involved in freely resonating your voice.

Healthy means using your voice to the best of your God-given ability.


Good alignment in how you stand or sit can affect how your body produces a singing or speaking tone. Poor alignment can cause undue pressure on your larynx (voice box). Alignment starts by lengthening your spine which will in turn release tension in your lower back muscles. This happens because the abdominal and lower back muscles are supporting your skeletal structure. You help the breathing process by widening your shoulders and allowing your rib cage to expand. You reduce tension in the muscles where your skull and vertebra are connected by lengthening them along the back of your neck. This lengthening also allows your chin to stay level with the floor as you produce vocal tone. Your vocal tract works freely and consistently when you take time to align yourself.


Well-supported breathing is another area that needs to be addressed in order to free the voice. Irritation in the vocal folds and cords may be caused by too much air being expelled while singing or speaking. Expelling too little air produces a harsh tone in your voice. This is sometimes referred to as a “glottal attack.” Both techniques—too much or too little air—can cause serious and even permanent damage.

How can you regulate air flow while singing or speaking?


Diaphragm illustration

The diaphragm is an important muscle that separates your abdominal muscles and your thoracic cavity (the area that contains your heart and lungs). What does your diaphragm do? It is a muscle that is involved during the inhalation process of your breathing. If you release your lower abdominal muscles in an outward and forward motion, your diaphragm would contract (drop down as the abdominal muscles are displaced outward). Your body then would naturally form a vacuum which draws the air into your lungs. As you sing or speak, your diaphragm relaxes in an upward motion and eventually rests in a domed shape under your rib cage. Your abdominal and lower back muscles slow down the process of your diaphragm returning to its resting position. This process supports your vocalization and evens out your airflow.

An exercise that you can use to perform “diaphragmatic” breathing begins with proper alignment. After your body is aligned, blow air through your mouth as if you are trying to cool off a warm beverage. At the same exact time, you should feel your abdominal muscles relaxing upward toward your ribcage as the air is leaving your body. It’s as if the air is slowly leaking out of a balloon while it deflates. Inhalation begins by releasing your lower abdominal muscles and allowing the navel to spring outward. As this happens, air will quietly enter the lungs through your nose and mouth. You are harnessing your air and are ready to support your vocal tone. This process should continue through each vocal phrase.


Many people believe if we use more air, we produce more sound. It is not the amount of breath that determines whether we are heard at the back of the room. What matters is how we use that breath, combined with the skill of developing natural resonance.

Resonance is defined as amplification of the original sound.  Natural resonance allows a person to carry their vocalization over the space they are trying to fill. The path of resonance begins with an even airflow through the larynx. The larynx makes a buzzing sound which travels up the back of the throat to the mouth. Three areas in the mouth that affect your vocal tone are the soft palate, the hard palate, and the tongue. The soft palate is the soft tissue constituting the back of the roof of your mouth. The hard palate is the dome-shaped roof of your mouth. It is a sensitive surface that can be a focal point for the sound wave arising from the vocal folds. This is the area where the sound wave converts into vocal tone. The sensitivity of the hard palate is a very useful tool for enhancing the speaking voice when lecturing or preaching, and it is essential for singing.

Freeing up space between the tongue and the hard and soft palates is the key to making resonance successful. This space allows vocalization to amplify without adding tension or stress to the vocal tract. Your vocal tone exits your body through two areas: your mouth and your nose. Here are some issues that can develop bad vocal habits and also how to correct them.

MOUTH – Vocal tone is distorted or strained if the tongue is pulled back and away from the opening of your mouth. The tongue arches upward toward the back of the throat. This improper use of the tongue is visible when the pitch of your voice is in the higher range of singing or speaking. You can see space between the tip of the tongue and the lower front teeth. This unnatural position will lift the larynx into a higher position in your throat because of connective tissue and ligaments. This is detrimental to your overall vocal health. In choirs, you may see an indicator of this when people lift their eyebrows while singing. One obvious visual cue that a director can notice is when singers lift their chins and you see the muscles straining around the larynx. This usually happens in an attempt to sing higher pitches in the vocalist’s range. If a public speaker or singer continues to use their higher range in this manner, they will develop permanent damage to their voice.

How do you correct this misuse of the tongue and larynx?

You need to connect coordination between the tongue and the jaw. The goal is to relax the tongue and allow it to lay flat in a neutral position across the lower teeth and jaw. The tongue should be as “flat as the state of Texas”—both broad and wide. Each time the jaw releases to vocalize vowels, the tongue should move fluidly with the lower jaw. This assures that the larynx remains in a low position and is relaxed while singing and speaking. A recommended exercise to build tongue and jaw coordination is “Hee, ah.” The tongue lies flat in the mouth as you fluidly move the jaw between the vowel sounds of “ee” and “ah” (Example 1).  You ascend each time you sing the phrase by half-steps.


Example 1

NOSE – Vocal tone sounds nasal if you allow the sound wave to travel through the nasal cavity and the mouth.

How do you close off the area to the nose so that the sound wave is distributed through the mouth?
The soft palate needs to be lifted to close off resonance through the nasal cavity. It is like a trap door. The sound wave will travel directly to the hard palate if the soft palate is lifted. An easy way to lift the soft palate is to say the word “hung.” Now add the syllable “ah” after the word hung, which sounds like “hung-ah”. You will feel the soft palate lift and lower itself in the back of your hard palate. The “Ng” hum is an exercise used to strengthen the soft palate to stay in an upright position. Pick a neutral pitch. I suggest G below middle C for the men and G above middle C for the women. Sing the word “hung” and hold the “ng” sound as you descend down the 5 note scale. Keep the tongue flat and relaxed in the bottom of the mouth. This is very important. (Example 2)


Example 2

This exercise develops the ability to keep the soft palate lifted in a dome shape across the back of the throat. By simply learning to include an appropriately domed soft palate in every vowel shape, the singer or speaker can close off the resonance through the nose and de-nasalize the voice.

Resonance is the end result of a developmental process. It is not something we either have or don’t have. We can build a resonant singing or speaking voice. Opening your vocal tract by freeing up the space in your mouth will allow you to resonate naturally, easily, and fully across the space that you are trying to fill with sound. This illustration shows what an open vocal tract looks like.


Path of Resonance


A review of the information above in a simplified manner is as follows:

  • Align your body
  • Utilize diaphragmatic breathing to even out the airflow which passes through the larynx
  • The larynx buzzes producing a sound wave
  • The soft palate should be lifted
  • The tongue should be flat and relaxed, moving fluidly with the jaw over vowel sounds
  • The sound wave is focused on the hard palate and converts to vocal tone
  • Vocal tone resonating from the hard palate allows sound waves to travel through the mouth and amplifies the voice in a relaxed manner

These seven components take time and practice to coordinate. Each one is essential to opening up the vocal tract and “freeing the voice.” Together they will allow you to resonate efficiently and to the best of your God-given ability. If you do have vocal issues that cause discomfort or pain, please seek medical assistance. Do not wait. You have been given only one voice to use for God’s glory. God bless your continued efforts in sharing the Gospel through Word and song.

By Natosha Cole

Natosha Cole is a voice teacher and the Cantate Choral Director at Manitowoc Lutheran High School with over 20 years of experience teaching voice. A member of the distinguished National Association of Teachers of Singing, she is a 1996 graduate of Martin Luther College and studied vocal performance at Arizona State University.

Additional resources

Natosha Cole provides video content at the link below. If you are accessing this from a paper copy of WTL, search YouTube for the title: Improving Vocal Resonance and Freeing the Voice   (

The first 15 minutes explore concepts described above. Then follows additional content especially helpful for singers and choir directors. Two additional videos are available on YouTube from presentations to WELS choir directors.

The Voice – Pedagogy and Technique

Choral Director and Voice Teacher: Working Together

Four resources from Natosha Cole shared at the 2014 conference are available at Follow the “Worship Conference” link and then click on “2014 Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts” to open up a list of all available handouts.

See also under “Worship the Lord Newsletter” numbers 53 and 54 in the series “Challenges for the Lutheran Church Choir.”

Preacher testimonial

I remember occasionally having a sore voice after preaching. The main reason I sought voice coaching, though, was because I wanted to become a better singer.

I was amazed at what voice lessons did for me over time. I didn’t know how to “sing from the diaphragm.” But voice lessons helped me to understand and put that concept into practice. I’m still a novice. But after practicing for a year, I can feel the air expand my ribcage when I breathe in. I’ve learned to regulate the exhale. In choir I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement. I can sing more than one line without taking a second breath. Singing high notes is also easier.

Voice coaching has taught me that the proper use of my voice does not require major effort. To sing or speak loudly, I used to make the effort from my throat. Now, I simply let the air release from my ribcage, open my mouth wider, and the sound comes out louder. Through voice lessons, I now appreciate that my voice is like a natural wind instrument.

Besides singing improvement, I feel the timber of my speaking voice has improved. To my ears, my voice sounds richer. Since voice lessons, I have not had a sore voice from preaching. I highly recommend voice training for called workers.

Teacher testimonial

About six years ago, I began experiencing pain in my vocal cords and dealt with voice loss almost every month. I would feel relief on the weekends. But after an hour of teaching on Monday morning I would begin losing my voice again and feel the pain in my vocal cords. Even normal talking in conversations became difficult. After seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist, who informed me I will always struggle with swollen vocal cords, I decided my last option was voice lessons. I took one year of voice lessons and faithfully did the exercises needed to improve breathing habits and to relieve tension as I sing or speak. Lessons were once a week, and I was able to go the entire year without losing my voice. I could project more, and it was easier for me to be heard.

But now this year my schedule does not allow time for the lessons, and I am struggling with chronic voice loss and the pain of swollen vocal cords again. I have not been consistently using the exercises this year.

There is definitely a correlation between strength of voice and exercises for it.


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Preaching to the biblically ignorant…

…without seeming biblically arrogant

For many generations, preachers could assume a decent amount of biblical understanding from their hearers. Pastors could mention a name like Abraham or Zacchaeus without having to explain who they were or what they did. People generally knew their Bibles better than some do today.

A change was first apparent in confirmation classes. Year after year, a growing percentage of kids did not know anything about Abraham, Moses, Daniel, or Paul. They had no concept of Old Testament and New Testament. Trying to find Exodus was a chore. Initially we blamed poor parenting as the culprit.

Then we discovered it was not just a handful of isolated incidents. Biblical ignorance became a defining characteristic of an entire generation. Perhaps it was the parenting. Perhaps it was the local church. Perhaps it was a combination. Rather than dwelling on what brought us here, it is better to figure out a plan for going forward. The question to address first is this:

Should our style of preaching change to accommodate a generation that is biblically ignorant?

Let’s work through some common myths that might shape the way we answer that question.

Myth #1: I don’t have any biblically ignorant people in my church.

If you believe this, you will eventually be correct. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical example.

Over the course of 30 years church leaders believed that the only people who came to their church were well-versed, biblically-founded Christians. It never crossed their minds that someone biblically illiterate might wander through the doors. At every service and in every sermon, the pastors communicated in such a way that would engage and challenge the spiritually informed people who gathered there. They didn’t explain things in a way that a biblically ignorant person could understand. Now after 30 years, what kind of a church would you have?

I believe that this church would be one of the most biblically-literate churches around. Granting that this church is Bible-based and the pastors taught the Bible well, another significant factor might be at play. This church would have attracted people who already knew the Bible and were loyal to the church’s doctrinal stance before they even met the pastor. Guests who were biblically ignorant and doctrinally ungrounded would have difficulties connecting to such a church.

So if you believe there are no biblically ignorant people in your church, you will eventually be correct. Rather than ask if there are such people in your church, ask if you want them to be there. With that desire, we can overcome a few myths fairly easily.

If you believe there are no biblically ignorant people in your church, you will eventually be correct.

Myth #2: If I preach down to the level of the ignorant, they will remain ignorant.

Preaching to their level does not mean you minimize the gospel or water down the law. It means you communicate the word clearly and show them how it applies to their lives. We will talk about practical ways to do that in a moment, but for now consider the importance of doing it.

These are souls who have not been reached. They are ignorant not because they woke up one day and decided the Bible was not important to them. Most of them are ignorant because the Bible doesn’t make sense to them. It’s a foreign language to them. They do not miss what they do not know. Any given Sunday might be the first time someone is hearing the message.

When you preach at their level, you show them what they have been missing. You connect them to the means of grace by which the Holy Spirit will sow and grow their faith. The Spirit will nurture a new man who thirsts for God’s Word, which in turn will overpower the old man’s contented ignorance.

Myth #3: If I adopt a style that engages the ignorant, I will bore the literate.

I can confidently tell you on the basis of plenty of anecdotal evidence that mature Christians enjoy a preaching style that engages the biblically ignorant. Here is why I think they enjoy it. The language of the shepherd becomes the language of his sheep. The words you regularly use will become their vocabulary. The way you explain things will shape the way they look at things.

Mature Christians enjoy a preaching style that engages the biblically ignorant.

The point is that even if you have a consistent audience of informed Christians, they will consistently interact with biblically ignorant people five or six days per week. Teach them how to converse with such people by demonstrating it from the pulpit. Then the language used on Sunday can be put to use on Monday.

Myth #4: I don’t have enough time to explain everything.

It will absolutely require more time. It will require you to think like an uninformed person—even like an unbeliever. It will force you to find words and phrases that communicate God’s timeless truths to people with no biblical background. This requires a great deal of mental effort. You will question if you can afford the time to do this. But in light of myth #1, there is a better question. Can you afford to not do this?

It is not your job to preach the entire Bible every week. It is not your burden to defend the supremacy, inerrancy, and efficacy of Scripture on a weekly basis. It is  your job to be a clear window to the gospel of Jesus.

Some practical tips follow on how to speak to the level of the biblically ignorant without coming across as biblically arrogant.

Tip #1: Rethink the atmosphere you create.

I wish that engaging those with little Bible knowledge was as easy as switching a few words in our vocabulary—which does help, as we will see. But we have to start deeper than that. The biblically ignorant who are determining if your church is for them pay attention first not to the words you say, but to how you say them.

Most pastors are wired completely opposite. When you visit a church, you evaluate it based on doctrine. If the church is a solid Lutheran church, there is not much evaluation to do. But if you have ever gone to a wedding or funeral at a different church, how did you feel? No matter what that church did to make you feel comfortable, you probably felt out of place and awkward. That’s because we pastors evaluate churches on the basis of doctrine.

Those who are biblically ignorant cannot do this. The first thing they pay attention to isn’t what  you say, but how  you say it. While the implications of this could warrant an entire article, here’s just one connection that is pertinent to the title of this one. What does your atmosphere communicate to those who are biblically ignorant? Does it communicate a loving desire to reach them on their level, or does it suggest an arrogance that requires them to reach yours? The remaining tips narrow in on specific parts of the sermon that are worthy of attention.

Tip #2: Rethink your introduction.

The purpose of the introduction is to find a point of connection with the listeners. We preachers often leverage our introductions to connect with people on a biblical level. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say I am preaching about Samson’s final feat. I introduce the sermon by talking about a character from The Avengers  that will surely get the attention of the younger crowd: Iron Man. I show a picture of Iron Man as a visual aid. After highlighting Iron Man’s unique strength and how he used it, I immediately transition to talk about Samson’s unique strength and how he used it. Then I announce my theme and parts: God makes you strong. Strong to live. Strong to die.

Illustration: Iron Man is strong → Connection: Samson was strong → Theme: God makes you strong

In this model, the illustration which is widely recognized is immediately  connected to a detail in the text. This is not inherently bad or wrong. It immediately connects people to the text, which is great for those people who are familiar with the Bible and eager to hear it.

But what about people who are not familiar with the Bible and perhaps a bit skeptical about it?

In the introduction above, the illustration doesn’t apply to them unless they own a fully-functioning Iron Man suit. The connection is difficult for them to make because they have no context yet for Samson. The result is that they might contemplate scenes from The Avengers  more than your message.

The traditional way to use the introduction is to gather people around the text. An alternative way to use the introduction is to gather people around an issue resolved by the text.

For example, a sermon on Samson’s last feat could start with a dialogue about the mercy rule—the rule that ends or shortens the game when a team is completely outmatched and everybody knows it. What if you could apply the mercy rule to life when your career, health, or relationships seem to be beyond repair? Perhaps you recently went through something where it seemed like God was working against you—like you were down and out, and there was no way you could possibly win. In a moment I will show you why a guy named Samson had every right to feel that way. But when you see what God did through him, you will discover that even when you are down, you are never out.

Illustration: Mercy rule → Connection: Common tension → Theme: You are never out

The illustration is something biblically ignorant people can relate to, and the connection is something they have all experienced.

Gather people around an issue resolved by the text. This draws everyone in, regardless of biblical knowledge, and it creates a sense of urgency in which everyone leans into the text to discover the solution.

Gather people around an issue resolved by the text. This draws everyone in, regardless of biblical knowledge.

Tip #3: Rethink your vocabulary.

If you are not careful with your vocabulary—especially overused insider words and phrases—it’s easy to cause disconnect and bring ambiguity to your message. Here are a few examples.

“The text before us this Sunday…”

Use of this phrase could be a homiletical shortcut that undermines the authenticity that Millennials are searching for. If what you are preaching on is just a “text,” you don’t need to explain where it came from or what it is. It’s just there. Somebody put it in front of you, and now you have to deal with it.

Tell them what “the text” really is. It is God’s living, powerful word. It is from God’s library of books and letters of which he himself is the Alpha and Omega. What you have is the best news that anyone could hear.

Try banning this phrase altogether and see what it forces you to do. You will likely be more specific about the way you refer to the Bible, and that’s always a good thing.

“This part of the Bible reminds us that…”

What are you communicating with the word remind ? On a theological level, the Bible does not repeat something we already know. It is earth-shattering news that deserves urgent attention no matter how often we hear it. The word remind  can deflect hearers away from that sense of urgency.

On an interpersonal level, you are implying that the hearers should  know what you are reminding them of. But what if they don’t know? What are you implying about them?


Pay attention to pronoun usage. When preachers use “we,” they often mean everyone in the room. Be careful, though. By default, Millennials and most guests interpret “we” as a reference to the pastor and the members of his church. Big difference.

There are appropriate times to talk about yourself and the members of your church, such as when you are welcoming guests or sharing a congregational vision.

There are also times when “we” could make a good statement sound arrogant. For example: “We know that we are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us.” This might be heard as an attitude of arrogance to those who don’t feel like part of the “we.”

“We read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.”

Textual introductions like this create confusion for the scripturally uniformed by opening up a lot of questions. “Who is Paul? Why did he write a letter? Why is it my business to read his letter? What is a Corinthian?”

“What is a Corinthian?”

Take the time to tell people what they are hearing. Set it in its historical context. “This was a message written by the most influential first century Christian missionary to a group of struggling Christians in a bustling city called Corinth.” This shows your authentic interest in what you are about to read.


That was you completely ignoring a detail in the text that you did not want to take time to explain. You decided to skip it, hoping that nobody would notice.

Better to highlight such details. It should be expected that God’s story contains details that are odd or difficult. Rather than skipping over them, acknowledge them. Offer at least a brief explanation so that people can learn from the challenging detail.

If we ignore the oddities or imply that people just need to believe everything in the Bible without mentally processing it, we risk creating an atmosphere of biblical arrogance which could reinforce biblical ignorance.

“Here are a few other passages that support this.”

With some Millennials you don’t need to prove yourself. If you feel that a truth is unusual enough that it needs reinforcement, just share that you have been convinced by studying the many places where the Bible speaks about it. If you feel compelled, list the references you studied. Tell them where to look it up for themselves.

If it aids in the joy of their discovery, walk through one auxiliary passage that provides exceptional clarity on the issue. Digging into one passage with context is better than sprinting through several with none.

Jesus created an atmosphere of grace where everyone was welcome.


Right now you might feel that these tips overemphasize some very minor points. I acknowledge these are little things, but a bunch of little things contribute to an atmosphere.

That is what the Pharisees hated about Jesus. Their accusation that he welcomed sinners was telling. He did lots of little things to create an atmosphere where sinners felt welcome. Don’t think that Jesus had it easier than we do. He encountered guilty people who should have known better  and people who should not have been so ignorant  of the truth.

For these kinds of people, Jesus created an atmosphere of grace where everyone was welcome. He gathered people around issues that he alone could resolve. He ran towards messes that he alone could fix. Many of these were temporal in nature rather than spiritual. But by engaging them Jesus drew people toward the problem of sin for which he was the remedy by his life, death, and resurrection.

By Matt Ewart

Matt Ewart is a 2006 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He is one of two pastors who serve at Bethlehem Lutheran in Lakeville, MN. He is passionate about communication techniques that engage people of all backgrounds.

Next steps
  1. As you read through the Gospels, pay attention to the atmosphere Jesus created for ignorant “sinners.” How did he communicate to help them make sense of the message?
  2. Answer the question: “Do I want my church to attract the biblically ignorant?” Is there anything about the answer that scares you or makes you hesitate? Why?
  3. Use the tips in this article to build a framework for personal evaluation. Include people of all ages in the evaluation process. Nothing apart from the Word is too sacred to evaluate, but use wisdom when making changes.

Banish everything alien?

The examples in this article are not from a list of things to banish from preaching so that messages have no trace of anything alien. Millennials, like seekers of all time, will have much to learn as they explore the message and culture of Christianity and confessional Lutheranism. But the examples in this article do illustrate points on which greater awareness might increase a listener’s interest in receiving a message. BG.


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Preaching the Law without being judgmental

The Unique Challenge Millennials Present to Preaching Law

Millennials are Extra Sensitive to Judgment

Cable television entrepreneur Bob Buford discussed the uniqueness of Millennials in a fascinating interview conducted with researcher David Kinnaman for his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith. Noting the shift in the self-assessment of various generations, he said that, in his surveying, when the Elder generation was asked to describe themselves, the most commonly used words/phrases were: “World War II and Depression, smarter, honest, work ethic, and values and morals.” Boomers described their generation using terms like “work ethic, respectful, values and morals, and smarter.” Busters (or Gen X) used terms like “technology use, work ethic, conservative or traditional, smarter, and respectful.” And then he noted Millennials. The phrases they most commonly used? “Technology use, music and pop culture, liberal or tolerant, smarter, and clothes.” He concluded, “Where has respectful gone? Where is work ethic? To me, this shows that the next generation is not just sort of different; they are DISCONTINUOUSLY different.” 1

“The next generation is not just sort of different; they are DISCONTINUOUSLY different.”

It might be interesting to pursue the reasons why each generation automatically assumes itself “smarter” than the previous or why something as superficial as “clothes” is a prominent self-identification for Millennials. But for our preaching purposes, let’s take note of the Millennial self-assessment of “tolerant.”

Theologically conservative, traditionally oriented Christians tend to cringe at the very sound of the word “tolerance.”

But let’s not be too quick here.

Tolerance itself is a fully godly trait. The Apostle Paul, writing to some (hypocritically) self-righteous and judgmental Jews, said, “Do you show contempt for the riches of (God’s) kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

Within the premise of the gospel is the idea that God doesn’t merely send lightning bolts down upon me when I’m behaving badly. He’s patient with me. He stays with me. And he seeks to win my heart over to the truth. He doesn’t just shut me down and cut me off. Instead, for a time, God tolerates me, guiding me to repent of my untruth, see the beauty of his mercy, and voluntarily conform to his will.

Furthermore, some tolerance is necessary for differing peoples to exist peaceably in the same space. This is the basis for civilization.

The point is this: a younger generation’s preference for inclusiveness is certainly not inherently wrong nor should it ever be scolded as such. This tolerant disposition is, however, a little misguided. This is where you, the preacher, help them navigate a better path for life by shining the light of God’s Word.

The Tension in Preaching the Law

Millennials have grown up with a society devoid of moral universals. Again, if they have a cultural North Star for behavior, it’s tolerance. I’m not suggesting they don’t all have an innate knowledge of morality from God (Romans 2:14-15). I’m suggesting the culture they’ve grown up in hasn’t reinforced that natural moral code the way it had in previous generations.

Additionally, their open-minded disposition is the natural reaction of a generation that has grown up with peers who are significantly more diverse—ethnically, religiously, relationally, and sexually—than their parents and grandparents. They have zero patience for mistreatment of those who are different. Inclusiveness, diversity, and political correctness are ideals that have shaped Millennials.

Before we tackle the challenge of how to preach the law, it’s worth reminding ourselves that statements of inclusion are important to communicating the gospel clearly. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). John says, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). Jesus himself says, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). These are clear statements of gospel inclusion. The gospel is so overwhelmingly inclusive that it works for EVERYONE. It’s intrinsically inclusive. Let’s not be too quick to stomp out a good, but often misguided trait of Millennials.

Finally, perhaps the most influential factor in the differences between the Millennial mindset and that of previous generations is the widespread dissolution of the family unit. Kids today are eight times more likely to come into the world without married parents than were Boomers. Without that natural, God-given parental unit in place as an authority in their lives, Millennials take longer to grow up, are highly skeptical of authorities, and will generally only trust you after personal, relational investment.

Since they understandably distrust traditional authority structures, Millennials rely heavily upon what feels right. What seems fair is more powerful to them than what someone tells them is objectively right.

For example, it’s difficult to convince Millennials that illegally downloading copyrighted music online is objectively wrong. The rationale could go somewhere along these lines: many musicians are disgustingly wealthy anyways; music is just the collection of sounds and ideas which should be free; why should wealthier people have more access to such things? Whatever the objective reality, it doesn’t seem fair to them.

As an illustration of the rapidly increasing influence of Millennials, keep in mind that they’ve gotten their way on this issue. Starting with Napster back in 2000, the music industry could not stop Millennials from getting music for free. This is the basis for today’s popular, free ad-sponsored music services like Pandora and Spotify.

Millennials possess a liberal-mindedness that is constantly pushing for fair. They will outright reject any authority structure that carries an insider/outsider type of mentality, and many of them are convinced that Christian churches embody such a temperament.

Millennials grew up hating the relational dissolution they experienced with their parents. They often feel that many truth claims are unquantifiable. So rather than bicker, Millennials prefer to constantly push for unity. Boomers were often skeptical of others but caustic in their attitudes. Millennials want to get along. They are forgiving and relational and have great difficulty understanding why other generations don’t feel the same way. They love family. They long for togetherness. They hate constant negative speech about other political parties, have no time for comments that suggest racial bias, and will opt out of any Christian church that is obsessed with pointing out the flaws in other Christian churches.

Rather than bicker, Millennials prefer to constantly push for unity.

With these factors in mind, the obvious challenge to preaching the law then is that every pronouncement of the law is saying that something in us isn’t right. The listener recognizes that he/she is further from ideal than previously thought and it feels like rejection—an unsubstantiated, uncaring push to the outside.

Overcoming the Challenge

Attitude – You’re No Better

It sometimes seems like “don’t judge” (Matthew 7:1) has now surpassed John 3:16 as the most frequently echoed scriptural sentiment in a morally relativistic generation.

While it’s true that this section of the Bible (as others) does not prohibit moral judgment, the point remains: we aren’t the final judges of God’s law. We are merely witnesses to God’s grace. Consequently, if the gospel is true, then I never have the right to look down on another person as inferior to me because we are both sinners saved exclusively by the grace of God in the work of Christ Jesus. Showing an aura of condescension while sharing the law with someone harms your ability to rightly preach the gospel, because it seems you don’t understand the gospel yourself. Sinners are saved by grace alone. It works the same way for every single one of us.

This means that all human beings are fundamentally more alike than we are different. Guess who loves the sound of that? Inclusive Millennials.

All human beings are fundamentally more alike than we are different.

Technique – Affirm the Good, Correct the Bad

Okay. Okay. Yes, we all know Millennials have work to do on their problem with moral relativism. But before immediately correcting their inconsistent and illogical attempts at morality, let’s start with a positive: these young adults are eager to find a point of commonality rather than a point of contention. This is drastically different from previous generations. Many Christians and Christian churches in the twentieth century largely defined their faith and denominational affiliation on the basis of what they were not, e.g. a Lutheran was not a Catholic because…. A Baptist was not a Lutheran because…. Certainly such doctrinal differences are serious and at some point need to be worked through, but Millennials don’t want to start there. Many older WELS members often do appear to want to start there.

Doctrinal differences are serious … but Millennials don’t want to start there.

When confronting a misguided common belief in culture, consider the methodology that Timothy Keller proposes:

Our premises must be drawn wholly from the Bible, yet we will always find some things in a culture’s beliefs that are roughly true, things on which we can build our critique. We will communicate something like this: “You see this ‘A’ belief you have? The Bible says the same thing – so we agree. However if ‘A’ is true, then why do you not believe ‘B’? The Bible teaches ‘B,’ and if ‘A’ is true, then it is not right, fair, or consistent for you to reject ‘B.’ If you believe this – how can you not believe that?” We reveal inconsistencies in the cultural beliefs and assumptions about reality. With the authority of the Bible we allow one part of the culture – along with the Bible – to critique another part. The persuasive force comes from basing our critique on something we can affirm within our culture. 2

Let me offer some examples of what Keller is talking about.

Example 1 – Tolerance. What if someone says, “I think you’re being intolerant—and therefore, unloving—of other beliefs and other Christians by not (e.g.) allowing them to commune with us.” At that point you can agree that the gospel does promote radical, almost otherworldly, inclusiveness. However, tolerance of beliefs really has nothing to do with it. In fact, by saying that I’m being “narrow-minded” or “intolerant,” you’re being just as intolerant of my beliefs as you claim I’m being of yours. Neither of us is more or less tolerant than the other. Both of us are claiming authoritative spiritual insight. At that point, you’ve both affirmed their desire for a good, gospel-flavored attitude of inclusion, but corrected their misguided application of what is or is not unfair judgment.

To someone who possesses any of the humility necessary for learning, this then affords you the opportunity to walk through 1 Corinthians 10-11, at which point they might well see how loving, compassionate, and beautiful the idea of close Communion really is. If your approach is “That’s just wrong,” you’ll run into a Nietzschean Millennial distrust of authority and institutional power plays.

Example 2 – Evolution. I regularly use this teaching technique on the issue of macroevolution. Most young adults operate with “macroevolutionary beliefs” since that’s what they learned in their science textbooks. However, most young adults also often have compassion for the oppression of human rights around the world. So I establish that such human sensitivity (an ‘A’ belief for them) is a wonderful attribute, but gently point out how this is inconsistent with their ‘B’ belief of evolution. Evolution is predicated on the idea of “survival of the fittest” and “the strong eat the weak.” So if you believe in macroevolution, you cannot logically say that it is wrong for a stronger country in the Middle East to devour a weaker country. That’s merely the advancement of the species, natural selection. At that point, their ‘A’ belief trumps their ‘B’ belief, and they feel compelled to correct the cognitive dissonance. I don’t know that I’ve ever explained macroevolution to a young adult that way and not had them say, “Hmm. That’s interesting.”

Example 3 – Identity. We live in a time and place where students grow up hearing in their biology classes that their lives are accidental—as Bertrand Russell said, “accidental collocations of atoms.” And then these same students hear in their psychology classes, “You just need to have more self-esteem.” As a preacher, it’s important and not that difficult to point out the internal consistency of such beliefs. “No wonder you feel so worthless! You’re not an accident! The King of the Cosmos knitted you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). Not only that, God’s only Son sacrificed his life in order to save your life. That is what you’re worth to God! Don’t you dare let a bitter philosopher or arrogant biologist who doesn’t know for certain what happened a hundred years ago, let alone thousands or millions of years ago, tell you you’re an accident.” The ‘A’ belief here is the idea that human life is valuable. The ‘B’ belief is that mankind sprung about through a chemical happenstance. Further illustrate that anything without design is purposeless. Then ask them if they feel like their life has or should have purpose? If so, then they must necessarily be designed.

Affirm the good. Gently walk them through what is incorrect.

Notice that in each of those examples there is no condemning “You’re wrong!” speech. Millennials will put up a defense mechanism against that. You can’t just tell them that they’re wrong. You have to show them the inconsistency of their beliefs. You have to show them a better, truer way.

Jesus is THE Way

So you come to the average person in the twenty-first century and you tell them that they need Jesus. They ask why. You start talking to them about the Ten Commandments—how sex outside of marriage is wrong, how greediness is wrong, how lying and disrespect are wrong. The Millennial is much more inclined than people of a previous generation to say, “What are you talking about? Who are you to judge? This is just who I am.” All you end up doing is arguing about moral relativism.

On the other hand, try saying, “Everyone in the world is serving a master. We sacrifice to this master—our time, our energy, our wealth—at the expense of many other good things in life. But many of those masters (e.g. career, romance, social approval, etc.) will enslave you and curse you and disappoint you. But Jesus is the only master who can fully satisfy you and put into perspective all competitors—also those who tempt Christians. And when we fail him and yet turn to him for rescue, he’ll forgive us and demonstrate even greater love” (Romans 5:20-21).

Preaching the law has subtly transformed from harping on how certain behaviors are wrong (though they are), to showing how following Jesus is better.

This could be followed by an explanation of how God’s laws, far from being oppressive, are really given in love to lead toward human flourishing.

Example 1 – The Necessity of Restriction. An old preaching illustration of this is the fish in the fishbowl. A fish needs restrictions to live. Since it can only live in water, it needs walls that hold the water together. If you decide you’re going to liberate a fish by freeing it from its fishbowl and tossing it out onto the ground, it will flop about until its life is squeezed out. The fish needed those restrictions to live. True freedom then is not the absence of restrictions, but rather includes the presence of restrictions that lead to our health and well-being.

Example 2 – The Law of Design. Something which is designed only works when used in accordance with its intended purpose. For instance, I’m not particularly handy. I keep my tools in a zippered pouch, if that tells you anything. I once tried to remove a stripped screw from my wall with the backside of the hammer, i.e. the claw. I ended up ripping the dry wall apart. When you use something in a way other than how it was designed, it’s not productive. It’s destructive. You’ll destroy your life if you don’t use it the way God designed it to be used. God’s laws help explain our design.

In summary, 1) tolerance is not all bad, 2) don’t just tell but show Millennials, and 3) explain how we all will have a master, but Jesus is the only worthy master of our lives. His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3) but beautiful. After all, Jesus is the one person who perfectly followed his Father’s will, and just look at the beauty he brought to mankind by doing so.

Written by James Hein

James Hein is a 2008 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He serves at Resurrection and Life Lutheran, a multisite congregation in Rochester, MN. He thoroughly enjoys the challenges and blessings of ministering to Millennials.

1    Kinnaman, You Lost Me, pgs. 37-38.
2    Timothy Keller, Center Church, pg. 125.

Read more from Pastor Hein

To read more of Pastor Hein’s thoughts on ministering to Millenials, visit and search “Millenials.”


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Voices raised with keys and strings

“How will it go? What will people think?” These questions were on my mind prior to making a presentation at our synod’s 2011 National Conference on Worship, Music and the Arts. With the kind assistance of Dr. Kermit Moldenhauer, I had prepared new musical settings of the canticles found in the historic liturgy, settings written for piano and guitar. 1 Being far less than professional in both guitar and vocal performance, the thought of playing and singing in front of a group was doing a little number on my nerves. All in all, it turned out that the two sessions went well.

Four years later, this article reviews a 2014 worship conference presentation which expanded on the one just described. With Mr. Mark Davidson on the piano bench, I led two groups through 24 samples of hymns and songs written for piano and guitar. 2 Based on that event and other experiences, it is a privilege to share a few observations.

Repertory and Instrumental Performance

There is no shortage of worship music written for “keys and strings.” With the stipulation that texts must be scripturally sound, the question becomes, “Which solid titles/texts have music written for both instruments?” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal included guitar chords for only 12 of 623 hymns. The guitar edition for Christian Worship: Supplement had a much higher percentage: 70 of 85. To be noted, however, is that not every one of those 70 supplement hymns was written with guitar accompaniment in mind. The same is true of any number of recent hymnals where guitar chords are available for every hymn or song. Without delving into technical detail, it is true that someone can analyze the chord structure of the keyboard settings and manufacture matching guitar chords. The questions become whether or not the resulting combination works musically, and whether or not the guitarist can actually manage to play the matching chords.

One of the main purposes of “Voices Raised with Keys and Strings” was to provide a sample playlist where such questions were taken out of play. The guitar chords of the sample pieces were accessible to guitarists who play at an average or less than average skill level. The hymns and songs featured in the sessions were written in such a way that both instruments were intended to be combined.

That intent may not always be readily apparent. Early in the first session, an example arose which put a smile on my face because I expected it to happen. Rather than playing strictly from the accompaniment, Mr. Davidson was improvising the piano performance in a way that better suited the guitar accompaniment. Noting that the piano score was different, one attendee asked which score he was using and where it could be acquired. I had to acknowledge that not every congregation will have a keyboardist who can improvise in this way.

This is, however, part of the mix in seeking to have keys and strings accompaniment for worship. The well-known tune HYFRYDOL (CW 365) is available from Oregon Catholic Press (OCP #91192) as a score for unison singing, keyboard, guitar, and trumpet in Bb. The lead sheet (text, guitar chords, and melody only) carries this note at the bottom of the page: “When guitar and keyboard play together, keyboardists should improvise using the guitar chords above the melody.” While such a note does not mean that this is the only way that such tunes can be played, worship planners with limited musical background will benefit from understanding whether or not their congregations’ musicians can improvise.

Perhaps one of the easiest test cases for exploring a piano/guitar combination in worship is two pieces from the version of Morning Praise published by NPH in Christian Worship New Service Settings (M. Haugen; downloadable instrumental parts OL-033039E). Both the Venite and the Te Deum have an easy complementary guitar arrangement.

That brings up one further item to address in terms of WELS worship planners and repertory. Of 24 pieces sampled during the session, only four came straight out of Christian Worship resources, and less than half were Christian Worship titles. As we walk together in a synod, I have the confidence that Christian brothers and sisters will devote themselves to choosing texts which match our Christian and Lutheran confession. As worship planners search for solid texts which are also available with the instrumentation under discussion, where can we best point them?

Just to be clear (if it isn’t obvious), the sample playlist of our session had no intention of being comprehensive. After vetting the texts, the titles were chosen primarily on the basis of a compatible arrangement for both piano and guitar. An ongoing question for WELS worship leaders is: “Do we give people a fish or teach people to fish?” Do we best tell people where to look for quality piano and guitar worship music, or do we generate a list and put individual pieces in their hands?

I don’t believe it’s wrong to ask that question. Nor do I believe it’s necessarily the right question. Some congregations have people who, without advice or assistance, know where to go and who can secure quality worship music for this genre of performance. Other congregations have people who would prefer not to be given directions where to go but who would derive greater benefit from being given specific titles, links, etc.—the actual music. A difficulty with the latter is that subjectivity will always be a factor, both for those who generate “the approved list of materials” and for those who are on the receiving end of such lists (“Why did or didn’t they include such-and-such a title?”).

A better question is to ask about balance. It wouldn’t be desirable to limit congregations’ repertory to 30 hymns which work well with piano and guitar simply because those are the hymns which can be identified or performed or made available. Nor would it necessarily be desirable to always accompany every hymn or liturgical song with these particular instruments (or to endlessly search for such settings), as if the hymns and songs weren’t written with organ accompaniment in mind. Balance comes into play when we recognize that, for both music and available musicians, one genre doesn’t need to cover all repertory. We’re perhaps not doing our best worship planning when, in search of piano and guitar accompaniment, our first consideration is “What can we find out there?”

Seldom if ever is Lutheran worship planning going to be easy. Ask any pastor or music minister how easy it is to pick hymns or line up choir music for a year. It takes time and effort. For two reasons (one of which comes later), I maintain that the best starting point for corporate worship music accompanied by piano and guitar is our church body’s published hymnal and its accompanying resources. The reason for starting there is that we already know what’s there—texts carefully chosen for use in our churches. If we don’t yet have a high percentage of 711 existing hymns, plus liturgical music, written specifically for piano and guitar, I recommend both patience and a commitment to keep working at it.

I will admit that the guitarist part of me would probably prefer to have a complete set of all of our hymns and liturgy songs written specifically for the combination of piano and guitar. But again, ask the members of Koiné or Branches Band (groups which have worked almost exclusively with CW/CWS texts) how much work it takes to produce a strong “keys and strings” arrangement that can also be used by others. It is no small task. It is a task on which the current hymnal project has its eye. While the current hymnal project may not be able to promise “a complete set,” it will be pursuing the matter in terms of both piano and guitar editions as well as other instruments.

Congregational Performance

Making a worship conference presentation is like preaching to the choir. At these sessions the attendees served as the choir. While much of the sample playlist was brand new to them, strong singing voices and ability to read music meant that the selections were well sung. Since this is obviously not always the case at the local congregation, those results were surely a bit skewed.

As much as I personally enjoy playing guitar along with the piano to accompany worship, and as well as the singing at the sessions went, I do not mean to write in a way that puts organ accompaniment in a bad light. Apart from people’s personal preferences for accompaniment and apart from concerns about the ability of the organist, there are strong arguments for putting the organ at the top of the list as the premier accompaniment instrument for public worship. At the same time, at both of my worship conference presentations, 2011 and 2014, it was easy to sense something in the room. While I didn’t take a poll of how many organists were in the room, comments and discussion revealed how some felt: “In addition to the organists who serve our congregation so faithfully and so well, perhaps this is a way that I, a non-organist, can serve the Lord and the church.”

“Perhaps this is a way that I, a non-organist, can serve the Lord and the church.”

Introducing practices into the worship life of a congregation calls for the greatest care and patience. I recall the first time I played guitar in a public service in the 1990s. After the first performance, I didn’t play again for another year, not because it was not well-received, but because I didn’t want to push. I also took things slowly because I was the guitarist. Especially since I was the pastor, I didn’t believe it was my place to play in church just because I could play the instrument. I would rather be asked to serve in that way than to imply that I really ought to be able to serve in that way.

With that kind of “public worship thinking” understood, I would hope that worship conference presentations such as “Voices Raised with Keys and Strings” would lead to congregational conversations about utilizing the gifts of as many of the congregation’s instrumentalists as possible. Some common sense is necessary when it comes to deciding on which instruments are commended or not for use in public worship. In light of different skill levels, the same is true of which instrumentalists are asked to serve (or perhaps, as difficult as it may be, not asked to serve). But as the efforts are expended to educate the congregation in advance and to avoid the pitfalls and to work out all the bugs, watch how much the ownership of and appreciation for public worship increases for both instrumentalists and non-instrumentalists alike as individuals join the congregation’s local orchestra, be they one or two or many.

An article recapping a presentation entitled “Voices Raised with Keys and Strings” would miss the mark if the first two words weren’t also emphasized. To do so, I acknowledge the efforts of the conference presentation keyboardist, Mr. Mark Davidson, and of Rev. Aaron Christie, both of whom serve at the congregation where I now hold membership, Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha, WI. In large part, their worship planning was responsible for many of the selections in this presentation. The ensemble at Trinity ensemble includes piano and guitar, along with mic’d cantors—and also at times trumpet, percussion, digital keyboard, violin, cello, and bass guitar.

In most cases the assembly sings along with the cantors—hymns, psalms, or service music which they have sung before, just with different instruments.

When that ensemble comes together (every other month on average), its selections number between six to nine pieces per service. The selections have never been anthems; they are always either hymns or service music (canticles, psalms, verses of the day). Performing from a dedicated music space at the front right section of a large nave, the ensemble seeks to “raise voices.” In most cases the assembly sings along with the cantors—hymns, psalms, or service music which they have sung before, just with different instruments. Trinity in Waukesha is by no means the only place using this approach. I write favorably about this approach not because I am a part of it but because it is transferable to the Lutheran congregations and schools whose worship leaders are reading this article. This approach focuses on the body of hymns and service music which is common in our church body.

Adequate rehearsal time is essential.

Adequate rehearsal time is essential. None are the times when this ensemble has played without individual and group rehearsal. It takes a lot of work. Few are the times when this ensemble has played that I haven’t spent time figuring out guitar chords by playing piano chords, transposing music to an easier key for the guitar, or organizing and marking up music for performance.

While there are some unique items about the dedicated worship space and the sound system which I could address (such as iPad controlled mixing capabilities), here’s what I appreciate most about this ensemble. It is both set up and executed to involve the worshiping assembly. This is the second reason that the best starting point for corporate worship music accompanied by piano and guitar is our church body’s published hymnal and its accompanying resources. Familiar tunes make for success when leading the congregation with different instruments. With a guitar on my lap and a monitor amp allowing me to hear myself play, I can’t always judge how the singing is going, but comments indicate that it is going well, due in part to good mixing, but due in greater part to the use of familiar hymns and service music. In a setting which is blessed to have a magnificent pipe organ and gifted organists, occasional scheduling of this ensemble has allowed people to find “a new dimension in the world of sound” (CW 248:2).

Familiar tunes make for success when leading the congregation with different instruments.

It has taken a few years for me to become marginally adept at performing most of a service’s worship music as a guitarist, in combination with a pianist, in what remains a familiar Lutheran worship service. Unlike the weeks before the worship conference in 2011, I no longer find myself worrying or wondering, “How will it go?” or “What will people think?” I now find myself hoping and praying for something definitely more significant and decidedly more focused: “Will this strengthen the singing? Will it carry the text more forcefully toward the rafters and more deeply into the hearts of both hearers and singers?” To combine piano and guitar in accompaniment is by no means the only or best way for that to happen, but for that to happen is by all means the best reason to combine piano and guitar in accompaniment.

Occasional scheduling of this ensemble has allowed people to find “a new dimension in the world of sound.”

Written by Michael Schultz

Pastor Schultz has served WELS congregations in Flagstaff, AZ and Lawrenceville, GA. He chaired the hymns subcommittee for Christian Worship: Supplement, compiled its guitar edition, and currently serves as project director for a new WELS hymnal. Some of his compositions, arrangements, and hymns are available at

  1     Throughout this article, references to “piano and guitar” are not intended to be exclusive. Many, if not most, of the arrangements from the conference sessions included options for a number of other instruments. Limiting the language of the article to “piano and guitar” simply reflects the session title and the instruments used during the sessions.

  2     A repertoire list from this presentation is available at Audio samples are available for many of the selections. Recordings from publishers  are not always reliable to show potential in a given parish. The vocal style may be too soloistic or too much a pop style. Your choir or a soloist may use a different vocal style. The instrumentation may be too complicated (and thus too difficult) or too busy. For example, too much percussion may make a song seem less appropriate. But the same song will “work” with less percussion.

Beyond Strumming

Search for three volumes with the title Beyond Strumming. From the publisher’s description: “Liturgical guitar method series. Provides both the music reading skills and guitar techniques demanded of today’s liturgical guitarist. Book includes compact disc.”

Without endorsing every point but noting that much of the liturgical music is transferable to Lutheran circles, readers might be interested to know that Michael Joncas, David Haas, Marty Haugen, and others were featured in a one-hour documentary on KSMQ public television—On Eagles’ Wings: Minnesota’s Sacred Music. Search for the title on YouTube. It’s about far more than guitars. But note this quote at 17:37: “While in some cases guitars were well played and invited the people’s participation, in other places very amateur guitarists played and gave sacred music a bad name.”

“By Faith”

A double CD of highlights from the 2014 worship conference would make a fine Christmas gift for church musicians. Search NPH for the title track (above)—a hymn anthem by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Additional tracks are available by free download at

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Building Part-Singing Skills in Children’s Choirs

“Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It’s a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage. It’s natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We’re too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment.”

Singing for Lutherans, Garrison Keillor

Much of my childhood was spent as a “choir orphan.” There are many memories of time spent in a church balcony with my parents, relatives, and family friends who served as choir directors, organists, and various singers in every section of the choir. Family gatherings always included group singing, with repertoire spanning the gamut from beloved hymns to folk songs and other familiar songs common to Americans. As a result of this rich upbringing, there are moments today that I lament the loss of this communal singing tradition in the lives of my fellow Americans. It has been suggested that the church may be one of the last places where people engage in group singing!

Without the tradition of group singing, it stands to reason that children have also lost exposure to part-singing that has been an integral part of the church’s song. While the media inundates us with music and singing in all forms, our children are often merely spectators as opposed to creators of God’s gift of music. Music making becomes something that belongs exclusively to the musically gifted. Yet, in my work with children and high school students, it quickly becomes apparent that choral singing is still an enriching experience for young singers. Combine the Word of God with the beauty of choral singing and watch young singer’s eyes grow wide with wonder! Watch the eyes of congregation members grow moist from the honest proclamation of the Gospel through beautiful treble singing!

How do we establish solid part-singing skills in children, equipping them for a lifetime of joyous praise to our almighty God? Part-singing is a developmental skill that can be cultivated through careful teaching and selection of music. It is easy to assume that if we ask children to open their hymnals to a simple hymn such as “Glory Be to Jesus” and sing the soprano and alto line, they should immediately sound angelic! Nothing could be further from the truth and many a director has left the rehearsal discouraged that their children “can’t sing.” The secret to building good part-singing skills is in the selection of music where the parts are independent, with movement and tonal relationships that qualify each part as a melody unto itself. Traditional hymn settings use parallel harmony, which is challenging for children who have not had training in part-singing. Even alto parts in parallel harmony that hover around three to four repeated notes can confound young singers because they have no sense of a melody taking place.

When we teach part-singing skills, we are developing the ear and its capacity to hear one or more parts while singing another. Unless children (and adults!) are able to acquire these inner hearing skills, part-singing will be a difficult and frustrating experience. Singing experiences that employ independent part writing give children something to “hold on to,” which in turn builds inner hearing. By following a sequence of steps with appropriate repertoire, all children can learn to sing in parts. Think of these steps as a pyramid, beginning at the bottom and working to the top.

Four-Part Parallel Harmony

Three-Part Parallel Harmony

Four-Part Rounds, Canons, Countermelodies, etc.

Two-Part Parallel Harmony

Three-Part Rounds, Canons, Countermelodies, etc.

Two-Part Partner Songs

Two-Part Counter-melodies and Descants

Two-Part Rounds

Ostinato (a short musical pattern that repeats)

Shared Melody Songs

Singing with Beat and Rhythm

In-Tune Singing

Teachers of primary grades (K4-Grade 2) begin this process with the first three steps in the sequence. It is crucial that children become in-tune, independent singers by the time they reach third grade. While teachers of older children can establish these foundational skills, the process becomes more difficult as children age. There is no substitute for attention to the use of head-voice and beautiful unison singing in primary grades! Children begin to build part-singing skills when they sing a song while tapping the beat, rhythm, or simple rhythmic ostinato pattern. Singing a song while performing simple movement is also part singing. Call-and-response songs, echo songs, chain-phrase singing, and antiphonal singing are all examples of shared melody songs that establish a foundation for future part-singing. Examples can come not only from sacred literature but also from the vast body of children’s folksong repertoire.

If solid preliminary work has been done in the primary grades and at least 90% of a group of children are in-tune singers, the real work of part-singing can begin. Rounds are a wonderful way to build part-singing skills and children cannot sing too many of them. Ostinatos are short melodic patterns that repeat over the course of a song or section of a song. Many excellent collections of rounds are available with both sacred and secular examples. It is also easy to create an ostinato from a short phrase of a round.

When introducing songs utilizing rounds or ostinatos, begin with a careful teaching sequence:

  • Teach the main melody until the children are able to sing it confidently without the piano or teacher.
  • Have the class sing the song while the teacher sings the ostinato or second part of the round.
  • Switch parts. The teacher sings the song or leads the round and the class sings the ostinato or second part of the round.
  • Divide the class in two sections and perform in two parts. It is helpful to place a couple of strong singers in the first group to begin the round or sing the melody. These singers will support their classmates while the teacher brings in the second group. The second part in a round or the ostinato is always more challenging for young singers.
  • Switch groups.
  • It should be a goal for the teacher to stop singing with children and simply conduct as soon as possible. The end result should be a children’s performance.
  • Other applications in this process include:
  • Have a small semi-section of children lead the group while the rest of the class follows.
  • Have a soloist lead the group while the rest of the class follows.
  • Have two semi-sections sing the song in parts.
  • Have two soloists sing the song in parts.

All singing of rounds and ostinatos should be done without piano. This enables children to hear themselves and the other part clearly. Good inner hearing skills will be stronger if children hear only themselves and their group. Furthermore, a piano will often “muddy the waters” for many children and they will not know which notes are theirs. The end result of such a cappella singing will be more confident and independent singers.

If children falter, simply try again. If the song continues to fall apart, back up and re-establish the last successful step. Don’t try to complete the whole process in one setting. Most likely, it will take several “chunks” within successive rehearsals to work through this sequence, and there is no need to rush the process. When training the ear, repetition and reinforcement are important. The learning process should be one of joy and discovery, and children will be excited and intrigued by what they hear. If the ensemble is successful at each step of the process, the singers will almost always be self-motivated.

Once singers are successful with rounds and ostinatos, venture into countermelodies, descants, and partner songs. At this point, you can move freely from one compositional device to another. Singers in Grades 4-8 will be successful with these songs if a firm foundation of earlier skills has been established. Songs with countermelodies have a familiar melody (hymn tune) paired with another independent melody. Each melody is introduced separately in unison and then combined together. A descant is a higher melody that is paired with a familiar melody. Partner songs are two established songs that sound good when sung simultaneously. Children love part-singing and will accept the challenge of each song. Once again, a process for establishing skills can be followed:

  • Teach both parts to everyone. Most of these songs have equal vocal ranges in both parts, so there is no “soprano” or “alto.” Use such terminology as “Treble 1 and 2” or “Part 1 and 2.”
  • When putting parts together for the first time, the teacher can sing one part while the group sings the other part. If one melody is a familiar hymn, let the children begin with the hymn. When singers are comfortable singing those two parts with their teacher, switch parts.
  • When children are confident singing in parts with their teacher, divide the group into two parts.
  • If at any point the song breaks down or the harmony sounds “fuzzy,” try again or back up and reinforce a previous step.

Once singers have experienced several types of part writing, simply teach the music in parts from the beginning and employ the previous steps when challenges arise.

What about boys? Part-singing is intriguing and satisfying for boys and can be a strong motivator to keep singing. Encourage (insist!) boys to sing in their “high voice” until vocal change happens naturally around Grades 7-8. Talk to boys about vocal change and the importance of staying in their “high voices” until vocal change occurs. Offer encouragement and support when voices begin to move down. It is often more effective to have changed or changing voices sing the higher part one octave lower if the ensemble is doing two-part work. However, if students are experienced part-singers, it will be possible for a choir to do three-part music with independent parts, including octavos labeled “three-part mixed.” These arrangements can be a perfect fit for changing boys’ voices. How exciting for those young men to have their own part! Furthermore, high school choir directors will be thrilled when well-prepared tenors and basses arrive at their high school program.

As the rehearsal process progresses, take the time to work on other choral skills such as good breathing, phrasing, tall vowels and crisp diction, and sensitive dynamics and articulation. Each of those choral elements will improve intonation and bring warmth and vitality to the choral sound. Children know when they sound good and they will work hard for directors who bring out their best! Aspire for musicality and artistry, and make the connection between the scriptural text and how the composer chose to craft the piece. It is amazing the spiritual insights child singers will bring to their work! The same children will then give heartfelt performances that are truly the “living voice of the Gospel.”

How does a director know if singers are ready to move to parallel harmony in two, three, and four parts? If children are learning multiple songs utilizing independent part writing quickly, effectively, and confidently, they might be ready for parallel writing. When moving to parallel harmony, look for octavos that approach two-or-more parallel parts from the unison and then return to unison writing within a phrase or section. This will ground singers while their ears adjust to the parallel harmony. Warm-ups in solfege (do, re, mi, etc.) using chordal patterns found in the music can help establish the sound in young ears prior to singing it in the music. Utilize past rehearsal process steps when necessary. By this time in the part-singing process, children’s ears will be pretty keen and the process moves faster and smoother.

May these steps to successful part-singing be applied to adult choirs? Absolutely! If an adult choir constantly sounds “fuzzy” or sings individual parts well but cannot hold their parts in a group when singing parallel harmony, it could be that their part-singing skills are not as developed as they need to be for traditional SATB choral writing. Look for music that employs independent part writing in at least part of the octavo. While it can be a treasure hunt, much fine SATB music exists that employs rounds, descants, countermelodies, and partner songs. SATB octavos that employ occasional doubling of the soprano-tenor parts and/or alto-bass parts or voice leading utilizing imitation also lend support to older singers. In addition, two-part mixed or SAB settings can build necessary inner hearing skills. Rounds with more musical substance exist and can be used as part of the warm-up routine. With a little intervention, adult choirs can improve their part-singing skills in musically satisfying ways.

Building good part-singing skills in young singers takes time. It takes time to research the perfect octavo that satisfies not only the liturgical season of the year and the lectionary for a particular worship service, but the appropriate level of part-singing skills for the intended choir. There are many sensitive composers and arrangers of children’s sacred choral literature featured in almost every publisher’s catalog. Careful planning of repertoire and rehearsals will manage learning time efficiently and allow children to grow in their choral skills without being rushed. With patience and time, all children may experience the thrill of making joyful noises to the Lord. Children are most capable of proclaiming a powerful witness of the Gospel through their music. May we lead them to proclaim with the psalmist:

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. Psalm 89:1

Written by Marjorie Flanagan

Marjorie serves as the Fine Arts Coordinator and Choral Director at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, where she teaches Freshman Choir, Church Music, and Musicianship through Handbells. She directs the Jubilation Handbell Choir and coordinates several elementary school music activities. She received her Bachelor of Music degree and Kodály Certificate from Alverno College and a Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University Wisconsin.

Children’s Sacred Choral Repertoire Using Independent Part Writing

The following octavos are examples of beginning part-singing literature.

Melody Sharing

This Little Light of Mine
Arranged by Mark Patterson
Choristers Guild CGA1108

The Lord is My Light
Michael Bedford
Choristers Guild CGA878
(There are brief excursions to parallel harmony, but they make so much sense that children are bound to be successful.)


Savior of the Nations, Come
Linda Moeller

Christ Be My Leader
Michael Bedford
Augsburg 0-8006-77439


Silent Night
Mark Patterson
Choristers Guild CGA 1315

Children of the Heavenly Father
Jeremy Bakken
Choristers Guild CGA 1380


An Invitation for Advent
Ruth Elaine Schram/Douglas Nolan
Shawnee Press 35029815

The Lord’s My Shepherd
John Eggert
NPH 28N6015


A Christmas Introit (Hodie Christus Natus Est)
Audrey Snyder
Shawnee Press 35029816

What Wondrous Love Is This?
from “Children Rejoice and Sing, Volume 1”
Jeffrey Blersch
Concordia 97-7074
(Both Volumes 1 and 2 of “Children Rejoice and Sing” contain excellent arrangements for beginning part singers.)

Partner Songs

Yesu Kwetu ni Rafiki (What a Friend We Have in Jesus)
Mark Burrows
Choristers Guild CGA 1234

Away in a Manger
from “Children Rejoice and Sing, Volume 1”
Jeffrey Blersch
Concordia 97-7074

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Exegizing your audience

By Mike Geiger

This issue of Preach the Word begins a new series: preaching to Millennials while maintaining connection with other generations. This series, planned in cooperation with the Commission on Evangelism, departs from previous custom with a different writer for each issue. 

Mike Geiger is a 1997 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He served an exploratory outreach setting in Cary, North Carolina for 12 years before accepting his current call to serve as pastor of adult discipleship and outreach at Good Shepherd in Burnsville, MN. He serves on the WELS Commission on Evangelism. He writes not as the expert but to encourage and spark a discussion of how we can better communicate the saving Gospel of Jesus to the millennial generation.

Exegesis. It’s what every preacher does every time (I pray) before he preaches. He spends significant time in the original languages of the text to draw out the meaning and clear interpretation of the text. How can a preacher expound on a specific text, proclaim clearly specific law and specific gospel, appropriate and apply the truth of Scripture, unless he first invests time to do a careful exegesis of the text? In fact our seminary training has focused us on mastering the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. We’ve invested hours of learning to understand sentence structures, verb forms, and hundreds of vocables. Even though some of these skills may have slipped and we have relegated some of our exegetical work to the help of software such as Logos, we still take great care every week to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). Exegizing the text allows us to carefully mine the Scriptures in order to clearly communicate the truth of God’s Word from that particular text to the particular people God has gathered before us that week.

But…even if we have done a thorough textual exegesis, could we perhaps have shortchanged our exegizing so that unclear communication of God’s Word takes place when we stand before God’s people?

I’m not talking about getting out A Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Robertson) or the Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Brown, Driver, Briggs) and rememorizing verb forms and vocables (although it might not be a bad idea). I am suggesting that communicating the Word of God involves a speaker and a hearer. I am suggesting that just as we shortchange the Word of God by doing a superficial exegesis of the text, we perhaps also miss clearly communicating God’s timeless truth if we fail to exegize our audience…the people to whom we speak.

he Word of God is changeless and timeless. The people to whom we preach changes from week to week or year to year, from community to community, from culture to culture, from generation to generation. How God’s Word applies to one, perhaps, is not an application to which another relates. The terminology we choose for one audience, may go over the head of another. The application and appropriation of God’s Word for one generation may not be the same application and appropriation another generation understands.

In this volume of Preach the Word, the Commission on Evangelism in partnership with the Commission on Worship and various writers will tackle an audience that is found in our churches but which, sadly to some degree, may be drifting from our churches. And yet we eagerly desire for this audience to gather regularly around the Means of Grace.

Who are these people? They are the Millennials.

First of all, these are souls who matter to Jesus and therefore matter to us. They are worth understanding so that we can be instruments of God’s Spirit to communicate saving truth to them and equip others to do the same. These are individuals who need the message of God’s grace as much as the next person, but don’t always think the way we think, value what we value, or understand what we understand. Nonetheless, they are worth listening to…so that they will listen to what God wants them to know and believe. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Understand, what follows are generalizations. In your ministry context you may well find exceptions. A thorough “audience exegesis” must happen in your community and with the individuals to whom God has called you to bring the Word of Truth. However, generalizations are a place to start in our exegizing of our audience. Consider each of these descriptions as food for thought as you craft a message to connect in a relevant way to this demographic of souls.

So, who are these individuals, the Millennials?

This demographic of individuals born from 1980 to 2000 (approximately) is having an increasing influence and impact on the culture around us. Their thought processes, their values, and their interests are overshadowing what previous generations have thought, valued, and found of interest. So if our clergy culture and learning as well as our main audience for preaching are dominantly Baby Boomers and Generation X’rs, it’s time to broaden our awareness and exegize the audience of the Millennials.

To give you a start, here is a Top 10 List of Millennial generation generalities:

  1. They grew up in a post-Christian era (Gen X’rs left the church but were raised in the church. Many Millennials have had no connection to the church.)
  2. They are biblically illiterate. Key stories and biblical terminology are not in their awareness.
  3. They do not have a biblical worldview. Secular humanism has molded their worldview.
  4. They often see Christianity as judgmental and hypocritical (Secularization. White, p. 48).
  5. They see spirituality as “anything an individual desires it to be—a private affair to be developed as one sees fit” (Privatization. White, p. 49).
  6. They are “confronted with a staggering number of ideologies and faith options competing for their attention” (Pluralization. White, p. 50).
  7. They are interested in truth but want to experience the truth more than being told what truth is. They want to know if the truth you present works for you and for others.
  8. They are more interested in rallying around a cause than perpetuating a program. They want to make a difference, a positive impact, not just be busy in a church program.
  9. They aren’t necessarily committed to a congregation, but desire to have community. The institution is not important…social connections are.
  10. They are interested in what you have to say, but more interested in who you are. Are you being authentic, sharing your questions and struggles?

My personal awareness of the work I need to do to better exegize this audience came on New Year’s Eve this past year. As we were enjoying the evening waiting for midnight we were playing iHeart Radio top songs for 2014. My 10 year old daughter was singing along to some. I was completely clueless. Just looking at the Billboard Top 100 leads me to realize people like Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, John Legend, and Iggy Azalea are people who are somewhat foreign to my mind, but readily influencing the minds of Millennials and others. I too have some work to do to exegize my audience.

You, preacher, wouldn’t be the first one to understand the importance of knowing your audience to reach them with the Gospel. Inspired speakers and writers throughout the Scripture took the changeless truth to changing audiences. Not every audience receives information the same way as another. Consider the Apostle Paul. To the Jews in Thessalonica (Acts 17:20) he reasoned with them to show that Jesus was the Messiah. To the Greeks in Athens (Acts 17:16ff) he started his “sermon” with the natural knowledge of God. To the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) he rightly divided the Word of Truth to divide law and gospel so the gospel was free from attachments of the law. You might say all of them had the purpose of proclaiming God’s grace…but it was done differently because of different audiences.

As a preacher, see this as a challenge to be embraced rather than an issue we hope will go away. It might be easier if we could just preach to Lutherans who have grown up in WELS and have our shared tenets of faith ready at a moment’s recall. It might perhaps be easier…but that is not what God has called us to do. The Lord Jesus knew that every people of every generation was important, so he commissioned all his followers, including preachers: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This commission includes different cultures and different generations.

For a textual exegesis you have resources on your book shelf or Logos on your computer. Wouldn’t it be great to have resources for understanding Millennials and others in your audience easily available on your book shelf or at the click of a mouse?

Some beginning work can be done with a click of your mouse or purchasing a few books. Simply typing “Understanding Millennials” into a Google search will give you many websites that parse the information for different applications. Try “Preaching to Millennials” and you will connect with another set of articles. From our WELS fellowship, check out Pastor James Hein’s blog series on Millennials ( To add to your library, you might pick up a few books such as The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White. (The Commission on Evangelism focused on this book for a year to study this demographic and our need to connect with it.) James White offers a blog that is worth subscribing to called “Church and Culture.” See also You Lost Me by David Kinnaman or The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom Rainer. These books will give you the results of interviews and research to glean insights into this generation.

But let’s not neglect the reality that the best exegesis of your audience comes when we follow Christ’s directive to “go.” God has sent you to a context and community of ministry. This is where the generalities of blog posts and books become the reality of the people to whom God has called you to preach the gospel.

Start with the Millennials who are in your congregation or have drifted from attending regularly—perhaps a good “excuse” to make an elder visit. Take time to ask questions and to listen to their responses. Spend some time in your community. Sit in a Starbucks or Caribou; observe and interact. Talk to your high school teens about what they listen to, watch, or pay attention to. Or perhaps hang out at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store if your community has one. The goal? Exegize the audience in your community.

If you are a preacher from the Boomer or Gen X generation, you don’t need to embrace all the millennial mindset, but it would be wise to understand it and adapt your preaching to connect with it. Certainly in our desire to connect with any generation we will ask what is permissible, but perhaps not beneficial. But we will always carry the heart of the Apostle Paul who was willing to become a Jew to the Jew to win the Jew and a Greek to the Greek to win the Greek. Can I become a Millennial to win the Millennial?

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings
(1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

So for the sake of the Gospel, the power it has for salvation, and the soul of the Millennial, let’s embark on this preaching adventure together.

Written by Mike Geiger

Upcoming Topics
  1. TOPIC: Preaching to the Biblically Ignorant without Being Biblically Arrogant
    Purpose: Assist the preacher in communicating biblical persons, language and terms to an audience that may have little or no awareness of the same.
  2. TOPIC: Preaching the Law without Being Judgmental
    Purpose: To help the preacher hone a skill to be clear about God’s law, but present it in a non-judgmental way.
  3. TOPIC: Preaching with a Cause
    Purpose: To help the preacher communicate in sermons the vital “cause” of Christianity and its personal benefit for people (especially in eternity).
  4. TOPIC: The “Sermon” after the Sermon
    Purpose: As a preacher expounds the Word of God, God’s Spirit gives people something to believe AND live. How does your preaching encourage individuals throughout their week to live a sermon of the Christian life so others may see and “praise their Father in heaven.”
  5. TOPIC: Including the Story in your Preaching
    Purpose: Give the preacher ideas that while the greatest story ever told is Jesus Christ, the second best stories are the impact Jesus Christ has on lives. Give examples of how we might use testimony in preaching.
Upcoming Topics

We invite interaction on the new Worship blog site: Can we have some constructive dialogue around the articles and the issues? The authors don’t profess to have all the answers. They don’t claim their insights are more powerful than the gospel or make it more powerful. We just want to communicate the power of the gospel to the millennial generation as best we can.

Exegizing your audience

Three tasks of a Good Missionary (Rise of the Nones, p. 114)

  1. Learn the language: educate yourself on how to talk in a way that people can understand and to which they can relate and eventually respond.
  2. Study the culture: become so sensitized to that culture that you can operate effectively within it.
  3. Translate the gospel: translate it into its own cultural context so that it can be heard, understood, and appropriated.

Kinnaman, David, and Aly Hawkins. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church—and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Rainer, Thom S., and Jess W. Rainer. The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation. Nashville: B&H Pub. Group, 2011.

White, James Emery. The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014.


Forasteros, JR. “Preaching to Unchurched Millennials.” Preaching to Unchurched Millennials. Norville Rogers, 19 May 2015,

“Generational Differences.” Springer Reference (2011): n. pag. Generational Differences Chart. West Midland Family Center,

Hein, James. “Ministering to Millennials.” Bread for Beggars. James Hein, 29 April 2015,

Print out the latest edition of this newsletter to share with your congregation.