Understanding and Embracing Good Worship Patterns

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Understanding and Embracing Good Worship Patterns

In public worship, the topic of patterns is unavoidable. Once a family of believers takes to heart the exhortation let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), there will eventually emerge a regular and repeated way in which something happens or is done.1

How should we deal with these inevitable patterns? Some may view them as a necessary evil. Whether from a desire for creativity or from wariness of getting stuck in a rut, planners may feel compelled to vary the path of worship wherever possible to keep people awake, on their toes, and, presumably, more engaged.

In this article we’ll explore the topic from a different angle. We’ll consider some reasons to embrace the patterns of worship, and we’ll talk about the beneficial effect good patterns can have on the various people who gather in God’s house. The goal? That we worshipers may be even more poised to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2).

An aside: this is not specifically a conversation about ritual and ceremony, though what we say here may also apply there. Here we’re looking through a broader lens. We’re viewing the whole service, the context of that service in a year and even in the life of a congregation.

In an oft-quoted passage from his Letters to Malcom, C.S. Lewis writes:

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling.

The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping.

Lewis is not suggesting that each service must replicate the one that preceded it. He does not renounce creative use of art, poetry, and music. Rather, he points out that a good path for worship is one that doesn’t call attention to itself. He encourages us not to be afraid to let that path be a repeating pattern from week to week.

Of course, no pattern for worship can by itself stop us by-nature-sinful worshipers from being distracted. We have Old Testament apostate Israel as an example of that, and their worship patterns were divinely ordained. We have the same flesh they had. The spiritual OCD we’ve inherited can lead us to focus on getting things done right and in the right order, while the message about Christ dwells richly somewhere else. Ex opere operato is alive and well in the flesh of even the staunchest Lutheran.

The problem of going through the motions is a problem that can’t be solved either by a pattern or the absence of one.

The problem of going through the motions is a problem that can’t be solved either by a pattern or the absence of one. Only a trip to the cross can do it. Only through Spirit-worked contrition and repentance can we be freed, whether from an unhealthy obsession with novelty or from the grip of spiritual OCD. Only then can we be renewed in our desire to worship our Savior God. Then, as Lewis might say, when we are eager to dance, we’ll be grateful not to have to think about the steps.

A Good Worship Pattern

So then, what constitutes a good worship pattern? If the goal is to enable worshipers to fix their eyes on Jesus, it may be helpful if the pattern itself is Christocentric. And if the goal is to avoid patterns familiar only in one congregation, it may help to choose an order for worship that is already in broad use in other places. And it’s worth noting that some repeating patterns may not be optimal for Lutheran worship if they represent a significant departure from what Lutheran worshipers typically do.

Believers who are interested in Christ-centered worship week after week, year after year, don’t need to shy away from using the patterned environment of the liturgy. It’s a weekly pattern that rehearses and reinforces the daily devotional rhythm of a healthy Christian soul: contrition, repentance, means of grace, prayer, praise. The liturgy’s key repeating elements from week to week are the canticles of the ordinary, each of which engages hearts and voices with the saving work of Jesus. The liturgy also offers an annual pattern of holidays and seasons. Together, we celebrate the key events in the life of our Savior. Together, we consider various applications for our Christian life. And since the liturgy is already in broad use, any beneficial improvements tend to happen slowly and with careful consideration by the church at large, just what the doctor ordered for anyone looking to embrace a consistently good pattern for worship.

This is not to say the liturgy is the only worship pattern that can benefit worshipers. But since it is so familiar to us and so commonly used in our circles, and especially since it offers the saving gospel of our crucified and risen Savior in rich supply, the liturgy can serve well for the purpose of this present discussion. Whether the liturgy’s texts are of themselves beneficial in worship is not in question. We are trying to determine to what degree we might want to embrace worship patterns, and the liturgy is a good example of a good pattern.

It may be helpful if the pattern is Christocentric and already in broad use.

For children

Consider how this pattern called liturgy may benefit children. It’s no secret that children thrive in a patterned environment. Do you want your child to have healthy sleep habits? Establish a nightly routine with them, and see how they start yawning and settling in even before the routine is finished. It’s not a stretch to suggest that a good worship routine can help children to find their rest in Jesus.

Children thrive in a patterned environment.

At bedtime, children say: “‘Tell me again,’ … as we repeat a familiar story for the hundredth time. ‘Tell me again!’ Some stories they know so well that they can say them right along with us. Changing even a word or two brings the instant response, ‘That’s not how it goes.’”2 So also in worship we tell them “the most important story they will ever hear or learn. And we tell it in the same way—again, and again, and again.”3

We might think children won’t be interested in a liturgical pattern that seems designed for adults, but:

Young children like to pretend they are adults. When they think no one is watching, girls dress up in their mother’s grown-up clothes… Boys like to hop into the driver’s seat of the family car, grab the steering wheel, and pretend to drive. Children are eager to show they are growing up and can do grown-up things…

More congregations are helping children to participate [in worship] by teaching them the simple melodies of the liturgy, helping them to learn the songs of God’s family in which they, too, can participate.4

When a congregation embraces this pattern, children can learn to worship in much the same way that they learned how to understand language, from simple words to complex sentences, by watching and listening to the adults around them. So also in worship. Early on they can grasp: Lord, have mercy. Give it time and they can learn to know: incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Without the pattern, they struggle to participate. Without the challenges, there’s little encouragement to grow. Add some worship education along the way, and the liturgy can help children grow into a pattern that will continue to serve them well for years into the future and in places far away from the place where they grew up.

(For more perspectives, see the Children in Worship series of this newsletter, authored by Phil Huebner: worship.welsrc.net/archived-resources/#worship-the-lord/36.)

For guests

But what about our guests? Won’t the liturgy seem strange to someone who has never experienced it? The goal of Christian worship is to fix worshipers’ eyes on Jesus. Won’t our patterns distract them? To use Lewis’s illustration, how can someone dance when they have to focus on the steps?

Of course, there’s no avoiding this hurdle. Where any group of worshipers has been regularly meeting, patterns of worship are indeed unavoidable, and those patterns will always seem strange to a first-time visitor. But that’s only the beginning of the strangeness. The symbol in the front of church represents a barbaric form of torture from two millennia ago. We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

So we welcome a first-time guest with open arms and genuine hospitality. We can’t expect him to feel welcomed by a message he doesn’t yet believe or to appreciate a path of worship he can’t yet understand. What we can do is let him know that we care about him. We can welcome him, tell him we’re glad he stopped in. We can offer further conversation about the Savior we proclaim. As the gospel is proclaimed, we can trust the Spirit to work the miracle of faith when and where he chooses.

It is becoming less and less common for a guest to walk into a place of worship all on his own, without an invitation from a family member or friend. When it happens, he may well expect to find the unexpected when he arrives. Indeed, for him to find no surprises would seem incongruous. But while he may not understand everything he experiences, he may find our engagement in worship to be compelling. Clearly what’s happening is important to us. Especially when we invite him to attend again, he may decide to take us up on it.

The first-time visitor may well expect to find the unexpected.

It is for the second-time visitor that we begin to see the value of a good pattern of worship. Now he’s beginning to resemble a young man visiting his fiancée’s parents. He’s looking for patterns, something to help him get to know this unfamiliar family, something he can do with us, something that gives him a sense of belonging. It will be of great benefit if his second experience in worship isn’t completely different from his first. He’s learning to dance, and repetition is the mother of learning. And when the worship pattern he experiences proclaims Christ throughout, it won’t take long for him to know that the cross in the center of our building is also the central message of worship.

(For more perspectives on guests in worship, see Christian Worship Foundations, chapter 19 (NPH 2023), “Worship and Outreach,” authored by Jon Bauer.)

For longtime members

We can see how good worship patterns can benefit those who are new to worship, our children and our guests. They need consistency and growth. Can the same be said of lifelong members? What happens when the weekly and annual patterns of the liturgy are stretched out over a lifetime? Is there value in embracing a good worship pattern from cradle to grave?

It’s not children or guests but rather long-time members who most often feel the need to break the worship patterns and change things up. They’ve had more time to sin by going through the motions, and it may seem as though our worship patterns are to blame. They may also point to worship patterns as the reason why they’ve seen young people drift away from church. To give up the worship patterns they’ve used their whole life feels like sacrificial love.

The problem was never with the patterns of worship.

But the problem was never with the patterns of worship. Just the opposite, those patterns have been a great blessing for God’s people. We’ve all witnessed or heard stories of the grandfather who can’t remember what happened the day previous but still prays the Lord’s Prayer by heart. Of wayward teens who came back to church again because it felt like home. Of married couples, newly reconciled, who have renewed their vows before the Lord. Spread out over a lifetime, good patterns in worship have a way of shaping and molding us in our habits and our focus, keeping our eyes on Christ.

Rather than setting aside those familiar patterns, longtime members are better served by leaning in and learning more.

Understanding why we worship helps worshipers review the enduring necessity of the gospel for faith, causes them to appreciate the gospel message communicated to head and heart, leads them to gospel gems they may not have noticed before, and enables them to present a clearer gospel witness to those worshiping with them. When they understand worship’s primary purpose, believers arrive at church with intention: they know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and thus the church is edified and God is adored.5

In times of trouble

The better we know and understand the liturgy, the more readily we can use it in times of trouble. In her book Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren references a dark time in her life when she suffered a miscarriage. During those difficult days when she struggled to find words for her own prayers, she found herself turning again and again to the patterns handed down to us in the liturgy, which she calls “other people’s prayers.”

Over a lifetime the ardor of our belief will wax and wane. This is a normal part of the Christian life. Inherited prayers and practices of the church tether us to belief far more securely than our own vacillating perspective or self-expression.6

When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints, the Lord’s Prayer, the Daily Office—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, or drum up in ourselves. “Other people’s prayers” discipled me; they taught me how to believe again… When my strength waned and my words ran dry, I needed to fall into a way of belief that carried me. I needed other people’s prayers.7

When gathered in church

Christian Worship Hymnal (2021) encourages the use of the liturgy in public worship. There are three musical settings for this good pattern for worship (and even more in Service Builder), and while there is some minor textual variation between each setting, the flow of each service, its pattern, is the same. If the creed follows the sermon in Setting 1, the same is true in other settings.8 The idea was to establish a rhythm that worshipers will recognize from week to week. The goal is that they not get caught up in the services themselves. The hope is that their focus may be on the key focal point of all true worship, Christ crucified.

One more encouragement toward embracing good patterns: In WELS Congregational Services’ online resource The Foundation9, worship planners are invited to choose a musical setting for three or more weeks in a row, to provide space for worshipers to embrace that musical pattern before moving to the next one.

There are all kinds of ways to engage people, to keep them awake and interested. It’s wise for us to continue examining our practices. We need to keep asking ourselves: Is what I’m doing in worship from week to week drawing attention to worship itself, or to me, the presider/preacher10, in a way that lessens the attention that might be fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith? By God’s grace—whatever we may in freedom decide to do—let us resolve both in our preaching and in our worship to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

By Jon Zabell

Pastor Zabell chaired the executive committee of the WELS Hymnal Project and served as managing editor for Christian Worship: Foundations. From 2011–2023 he chaired the WELS Commission on Worship. He serves as pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, Wis., and as first vice president of the Northern Wisconsin District.


1 Brittanica, “Pattern, noun, 2a”, www.britannica.com/dictionary/pattern
2 Carl Schalk, First Person Singular: Reflections on Worship, Liturgy, and Children (St. Louis: MorningStar, 1998), 13.
3 ibid, 14.
4 ibid, 45.
5 James Tiefel, The Purpose of Christian Worship in Christian Worship Foundations (NPH, 2023), 10-11.
6 Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021), 16.
7 ibid, 17
8 See history and rationale for a consistent pattern in Christian Worship Foundations, 118ff.
9 welscongregationalservices.net
10 See the discussion of the presider’s demeanor in Christian Worship Foundations, 228ff.


 

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A Fresh Look at Symbolism

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

A Fresh Look at Symbolism

The Wisconsin Synod has come a long way in its nearly 175-year worship history. This article will not attempt to review that history1, but a brief glance at that story shows a church body whose worship customs have grown from straightforward and simple services to the full liturgical rite we know today. Musical diversity in style and instrumentation is now widely accepted. We also recognize the Word is proclaimed not only by our spoken words, but also in our songs and even in symbolism.

In this article, we explore the matter of symbolism in public worship. Symbolism is the idea that something we see or say or do represents something else—something larger and more significant than the symbol itself. With symbolism, we depict that which cannot be seen through art, ceremony, music, and even texts.

I’ve written about symbolism previously.2 An essay about symbolism is also included in the new Christian Worship: Foundations.3 These resources especially speak to the principles that underlie symbolism in public worship. Without mechanically repeating what has been written previously, this article takes a fresh look at some of the issues raised by common symbolic practices in our midst.

Symbolism Requires Participation

For several years, I have taught classes about worship to seniors at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School. On the day we discuss symbolism, I introduce them to a sampling of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. Besides the fact that most of the students are unfamiliar with Larson’s old comic strip and his unique brand of humor, the benefit of this exercise is that The Far Side requires you to “participate” with it to understand the humor. One example: Two dogs are looking at a broken mirror on the ground. One says to the other: “Tough luck, Rusty. Seven years of bad luck—of course, in your case, that works out to 49 years.” At the risk of stating the obvious: A reader needs to know the superstition that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck, and that “dog years” are commonly equated to seven years of a human’s life. A reader who brings that knowledge to the cartoon will respond with something between an outright laugh and an inward chuckle. But if the reader doesn’t know about the superstition or dog years, the cartoon makes no sense. We need to bring a certain “necessary knowledge” to the cartoon for it to be humorous. When we do, there is an “Aha!” moment—the moment when we understand the joke and it causes a reaction within us.

Symbolism works in a similar manner. Symbols—whether in art, ceremony, music, or words—require worshipers to “fill in the blanks.” Even though subtle printed explanations can be helpful, worshipers must engage with the symbol—observe it, ponder the biblical truth it is meant to portray, and apply it to their own present circumstance. The “Aha!” moment with worship symbolism does not result in a chuckle, but in a personal devotional application of biblical truth. The placing of the funeral pall over the casket communicates to mourners that their loved one is clothed in the righteousness of Christ through Holy Baptism, which gives them confidence and joy amidst their tears. The minister’s raised hands for the blessing communicate that this blessing from God’s Word is not a mere recitation of an excerpt from Numbers, but that this blessing is being applied to God’s people in that assembly and at that moment. When the organist adds a growly, low reed in the pedal (bass) for her accompaniment of stanza 3 of Luther’s A Mighty Fortress, many singers will understand that she is depicting the stanza’s opening words which describe a spiritual reality that must keep us on guard: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.”

Symbols require worshipers to “fill in the blanks.”

Just as a lengthy explanation of a joke causes the joke to fall flat, so a wordy explanation of symbolism causes the symbol to turn into mere information. Worshipers’ participation is blunted. But just as a lack of the necessary background knowledge causes a joke to bomb, so a lack of biblical understanding and catechetical truths can result in ineffective symbolism. Worshipers’ participation hasn’t been enabled.

Preaching and teaching must be solid for symbolism to be effective. Worshipers will experience those “Aha!” moments when they observe symbols because they know the doctrinal truths expressed in symbols. But another simple, practical way for symbolism to be more effective is with simple, succinct, printed comments about the symbolism employed in public worship. When space permits and opportunity suggests, an explanation along the margin or in a text box can enable worshipers to fill in the gaps of the symbols they see.

Depicting What Cannot Be Seen

One important value of symbolic communication is that it helps us to depict truths we believe and confess but cannot see. When we baptize an infant, we cannot see the child’s baptismal connection to the death and resurrection of Christ, but the sign of the cross over the head and heart visualizes Romans 6:3, and the lit paschal candle alongside the font symbolizes Romans 6:4. We cannot see this divine miracle with our eyes, but to communicate its reality, we symbolize it. We likewise cannot see the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament, but the sign of the cross in connection with the Words of Institution not only sets apart these elements for Christ’s purpose, but also communicates that the bread and wine we receive are in fact the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us on the cross.

Because symbolism depicts what we cannot see, some common symbols we use might be considered redundant. For example, I once heard someone argue against the use of a unity candle in wedding services. His rationale was this: Marriage is established by the public consent given by a man and a woman. We witness this at a wedding service. We hear this in the vows that they speak to the Lord and to each other. There is no great need to symbolize that which people can hear with their ears and see with their eyes. Not everyone will agree with my acquaintance’s opinion. For some couples, the unity candle is a desirable feature. Others may find it to be anticlimactic after the declaration of marriage. The local pastor will work with couples to determine what makes the most sense in each setting.4

Emotional Impact

The way that symbolism communicates engages our emotions far more than words alone. Words especially speak to our heads—the logical side of our being. But symbolism in beautiful art, music, rituals, or poetry has a way of speaking to our hearts—the emotional side of our being.5 And that emotional message is powerful—sometimes overwhelmingly so!

At my first congregation, I introduced the custom of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. I also inherited that as an established custom at my present congregation. What I didn’t sense as a younger pastor is just how powerful the emotional impact of that symbolic ceremony can be—not just for the worshiper, but especially for the minister! What goes through the pastor’s mind when the octogenarian widow comes forward to receive the sign of ashes? What does the pastor think to himself as the cancer patient stands before him? “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Can we speak these words without a lump in our throats?6

The imposition of ashes is akin to sticking your finger in a liturgical light socket! We stand inside one another’s personal space. The ashes are physical; the application is personal. “Remember that you are dust” bluntly means “Someday you will die.” Not everyone will be comfortable with its strong emotional impact, and that’s okay. My parish makes it clear that participation is optional. It’s fine if a person doesn’t want to “go there” due to the impact of the rite or for any other reason.

The emotional impact of symbolism can be a great blessing that worshipers deeply appreciate. At the same time, be aware that some symbols and ceremonies can impact people so strongly that it leaves them uncomfortable. The careful, caring parish pastor can be a good judge of what symbolic customs work best for his people and how to carry them out. Encourage your people to appreciate the emotional impact, but give them the space they need if the impact is too uncomfortable.

Reassessing Symbols

Do some of the symbols and ceremonies of worship need to be reassessed? Have they lost their meaning and impact? Is the “Aha!” moment missing because the symbol itself is murky or unclear? As with anything, a reassessment of why we do what we do can be a valuable exercise, in this case, to make sure that worship symbolism communicates clearly.

As the hymnal project neared completion, a small group from the Rites Committee met to finalize special occasion services. One of those services was the Good Friday Service of Seven Words, also known as the Service of Darkness, or Tenebrae. An issue that the group wrestled with for this service was its ending conclusion. Should a single lit candle be returned to the chancel before people exit, symbolizing the glimmer of resurrection hope that we possess on Good Friday? Should the service end with the strepitus, the loud “bang!” sounded in the darkness that some interpret as the sealing of Jesus’ tomb and others as foreshadowing the rending of Christ’s tomb on Easter morning?

Many found the strepitus symbol confusing and unclear.

The group did not agree on a single approach, and so the rubrics of this service in Christian Worship: Service Builder are intentionally flexible. I originally advocated for retaining the strepitus, but I changed my opinion after my own informal survey of brother pastors and parishioners. A personal email survey is hardly scientific, but it did reveal that many found the symbol confusing and unclear. Still others appreciated these symbols and would regret to see them disappear. My perspective on these symbols changed from, “Let’s encourage this,” to “It’s not always effective, so perhaps it should be optional”—which is reflected in the service’s rubrics.

Another symbol that deserves reassessment is the Advent wreath—particularly its arrangement of candles. As a recent Forward in Christ devotional article7 indicated, many people wonder about the origin of the pink (technically: rose) candle for the third Sunday in Advent.

The story of the Advent wreath is uncertain; there are at least three theories about its origins.8 When the Advent wreath made its way from the home into the church in the early twentieth century, Roman Catholics used colors for the wreath’s candles that echoed their liturgical colors—purple for most Sundays in Advent, but rose for the third. While purple is understood as a symbol of repentance, rose symbolizes joy. The traditional Introit for Advent 3 from Philippians 4:4 begins with Gaudete—“Rejoice!” Now several of the appointed readings for the Third Sunday in Advent in the three-year lectionary also contain thoughts about joy.

There seems to be good reason to believe that the use of rose is connected to the medieval Roman Catholic Church’s lessening of Advent (and Lent) fasting restrictions9—a bit of joy and reprieve injected into a somber season, hence the color rose (joy) injected into the otherwise purple (repentance) season. But these practices are not part of Lutheran history and need not affect our own Lutheran liturgical practices. In recent decades, blue, understood as a symbol of hope, has been replacing purple in many parishes during Advent. These realities suggest a different approach to our Advent wreath candles—blue to match the liturgical color or white to reflect the more original Lutheran custom10, in either case without a rose candle for the third week of Advent.

The rose candle is a well-established custom in many minds and parishes. It is not likely to disappear, so understanding it as a symbol of joy is a devotionally appropriate way of handling this custom and symbol.11 But since its origins don’t necessarily reflect Lutheran history, the rose candle may be worth reassessment and, ultimately, replacement.

The placement of the flag in the chancel can be a touchy subject!

A symbol that stirs up passionate feelings is the American flag. The placement of the flag in the chancel can be a touchy subject! But the flag is a good example of the way symbolism works. No one sees the American flag and thinks only about our nation’s 13 original colonies and the present 50 states. The flag conjures up memories of American history. The flag is viewed as a symbol of the sacrifice of our servicemen, a symbol of freedom, pride, and patriotism. In our current tense political climate, some also consider the flag to be a symbol of oppression.

So let’s broach that touchy subject: Does this symbol belong in the chancel? Many people have argued that the freedom of religion we enjoy as a nation is a reason for displaying the flag in the front of the church. It is absolutely true that our congregations have been blessed through that freedom! But other factors also affect our decision. Does a symbol of laudable national sacrifice belong in a setting that is meant to communicate Christ’s sacrifice? Does a symbol with such diverse political interpretations belong in a space where we communicate our unity in Christ? Does a symbol of our nation confuse the truth that the kingdom of God is found within the hearts of people from “every nation, tribe, people, and language”?

Like the other examples in this article, we do not want to be dogmatic about the flag. The debates and battles that might ensue in a congregation might lead worship leaders to rightly conclude, “Let’s not take this up at this time.” At my own congregation, we recently resolved that issue by placing the flags in a visible place in our lobby. We certainly are not against the flag and what it stands for, but we didn’t want the American flag’s message to compete with all the other gospel symbols in our chancel.12

Final Thoughts

Symbolic communication is not like a doctrinal subscription. We must agree on the teachings of Scripture! We don’t have to agree on what constitutes the best symbolic practices in worship. There is room for differing opinions, especially due to differing circumstances from setting to setting. But an honest discussion will prayerfully lead us to look at the symbolic communication that happens in worship with an eye toward the gospel.

Can our art, music, ceremonies, and texts help people to apply gospel truths in a personal way? Can we help our people sense what cannot be seen? Can we touch their emotions as well as their intellect without falling into emotionalism? Can we assess our current practices to make sure that the message perceived is the message we want to proclaim? When we approach symbolism with these questions in mind, the rites and rituals of worship will not fall into ceremonialism but will be a beautiful depiction of the beautiful gospel that proclaims our beautiful Savior.

By Johnold J. Strey

Pastor Strey served congregations in California for 15 years and as the Arizona-California District’s worship coordinator for a decade before coming to Crown of Life in Hubertus, Wisconsin in 2016. He earned a master’s degree in worship and church music from Santa Clara University in 2009. He has served on the School of Worship Enrichment team and on the hymnal’s Rites Committee and is the author of Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts (NPH).


1 The best resource for a succinct yet thorough summary of WELS worship history is James Tiefel’s “The Formation and Flow of Worship Attitudes in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” in Not unto Us: A Celebration of the Ministry of Kurt J. Eggert (NPH, 2001). See also two presentations at this summer’s worship conference Prof. Joel Otto’s “175 Years of Change in WELS Worship” and my “The Story of The Service in CW21” – welsworshipconference.net.
2 See “Proclaiming the Gospel in Worship” in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 105 No. 4 (Fall 2008), particularly part 2, “Proclaiming the Gospel—in Symbol,” pp. 256-269; “Worship and the Right Brain” in Worship the Lord, No. 79 (July 2016); and Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts (NPH, 2021), particularly chapter 11, “Symbolism,” pp. 199-217.
3 Christian Worship: Foundations (NPH, 2023) is one of several supporting volumes for the new hymnal; see chapter 16, “Worship Symbols.”
4 A simple symbolic action that can be used with the new marriage rite in Christian Worship (2021) is for the minister to place his hand on the joined hands of the couple after the exchange of rings as he prays, “Lord, pour out your blessing…” (p. 272). While subtle and simple, this visualizes the marriage truth that we cannot see, that God (represented by his called servant) is the One who joins husband and wife together as one.
5 For a fuller discussion, see Worship the Lord, No. 79 (July 2016), especially page 2: worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-practical-ideas-worship. See also Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts, pp. 202-203.
6 I am blessed to serve a church with a few retired pastors, seminary professors, and seminary students in the congregation. One of them assists me with the imposition at each Ash Wednesday service. After one year when I choked up while imposing ashes on my wife and children, my family knows that they need to go in the other minister’s line on Ash Wednesday.
7 December 2023, pp. 17-20
8 Frank Senn, Introduction to Christian Liturgy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), pp. 211-212
9 Rose is the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical color for Advent 3 and Lent 4.
10 Senn, ibid.
11 It is with this understanding that I wrote the devotional articles based on the Advent wreath for the December 2023 edition of Forward in Christ. My personal preference is for blue paraments and four blue candles around the Advent wreath. But like many liturgical customs, there is no “one right way.”
12 See “Flags in the Worship Space,” at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-more-worship-words-to-wrestle-with.


 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

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WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Participation

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Participation

Is participation in public worship a breaking of the Fourth Wall?

All the World’s a Stage

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”1 While Jaques’ soliloquy is considered some of William Shakespeare’s finest poetry and is one of many Shakespearean quotations that remain in common usage, it has become an oft-used modern idiom for a broad range of applications. Seen positively or negatively, collectively or parochially, it speaks to the way in which each of us must temporarily “tread the boards” of this thing called life.

Because the idiom is so encompassing, many aspects of theater have been applied to all sorts and conditions in life. One aspect in particular has found broad application: the concept of the fourth wall. The fourth wall is really a metaphor, completing the “four walls” of a theater—the stage mise-en-scène bordered by three “solid” walls. The proscenium and arch are an invisible “fourth wall,” creating a barrier between actors and audience. The audience can see through it while the actors pretend that they cannot.

In many ways, the fourth wall didn’t exist until the 16th century. Ancient performances, medieval morality plays, even Elizabethan theater, were mostly in the round, or otherwise in the midst of the people, with narrators and characters engaging the audience through winks, nods, soliloquies, questioning, and active participation. (Think Peter Pan inviting the audience to clap for Tinker Bell.)

But by the 19th century, there were strict rules throughout much of Western theater, making the so-called Fourth Wall inviolate. It would be another century before writers, directors, and actors would break through the “wall” and once again engage the audience. Actors will acknowledge within the script that they are fictional characters. They will speak directly to the audience to set the scene or explain a situation. They will bravely step out into the auditorium, making use of public doors and aisles. They will even sometimes let the audience change the course of the script. In such ways, the Fourth Wall isn’t merely broken or shattered, it is obliterated.

The Church’s Four Walls

The “breaking of the Fourth Wall” concept is not confined to theater. It can readily be found as a literary device, even in Scripture. A few striking examples include Moses’ “humble” side comment in Numbers 12:32, the many narrator-type Old Testament connections of Matthew’s gospel, and Jesus’ direct address “let the reader understand” in Mark 13.3 One could argue that the Epistles, by their very nature and the expressed directive that they be passed from congregation to congregation, shows an intent that there be no Fourth Wall between the 1st century world of the early Christian church and every generation to come.

Not surprisingly, the Fourth Wall metaphor has often been applied to the church of today. Discipleship, evangelism, elders’ work—nearly every area of ministry has some aspect of breaking down real or perceived barriers to the words and works of Jesus. Author Wes Vander Lugt summarizes the application this way:

Overall, I am suggesting that interactive theatre provides a compelling model by which to re-imagine Christian mission, not as a mission to unbelievers through an impenetrable fourth wall or a mission with others where no fourth wall exists, but a mission among and in interaction with unbelieving guests in the context of our everyday lives. In order to participate in God’s mission, we need to take church beyond the fourth wall.4

Nearly every area of ministry has some aspect of breaking down real or perceived barriers.

What Wall?

While Vander Lugt’s point has some validity as applied to congregational life—we do tend to hide behind church walls where it is warm and comfortable—are there Fourth Wall implications or parallels for a congregation’s public worship life?

Though there are plenty of descriptions of public worship in both Old and New Testaments, there is no prescription for what New Testament age worship should look like. This is not to say that the New Testament does not have anything to say about public worship. Though it does not dictate the forms for public worship, it does say that public worship should not be formless.

As the apostles proclaimed the words and work of Jesus, they connected the Old Testament to its fulfillment in him. As they heard the life of Christ proclaimed, believers naturally responded with thanksgiving, praising God for the great things he had done and was continuing to do. As the message of Christ dwelled in them richly, the Holy Spirit continued to work in them both the will and the ability to love others as they were first loved by Christ.

And so it continues today, from generation to generation. Paul’s declaration to the Galatians is yours and mine, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”5 The life of Christ is our life. By grace, through faith, we are not viewers but participants in God’s plan for redemption, renewal, and resurrection to eternal life. As the gospel is proclaimed in Word and sacrament, as we gather around these means of grace to our eternal good, and as we respond with gospel proclamation in praise and thanksgiving, we worship.

The congregation’s Spirit-effected response to the gift of salvation, conveyed in Word and sacrament, is itself Word… This responding, confessing, thanking, and glorifying word of the congregation will always recall the great and saving deeds of God’s might; it will acknowledge, laud, and glorify them prayerfully, and in this manner also proclaim and present them to others.6

This is our calling, our right, our responsibility, our joy. In other words, in public worship, the audience can no more be separated from the action than the action “for us and our salvation” can be separated from us. There is no Fourth Wall. In fact, there are no “walls” at all!

In public worship, the audience cannot be separated from the action.

Walled Off

And yet, nearly throughout the history of public worship in the New Testament Age, there are those who would construct a wall between Jesus Christ and the people he has saved. From the Gnostics to the monastics to the Arminian Evangelicals there has been a determined effort to shift the emphasis from Christ’s sacrifice for you to the by me of self-wisdom, self-sacrifice, and self-prove-ment. By the end of the first millennium A.D., the sacrifice of the Mass was firmly entrenched in the Western Church, replacing the Christ’s sacrifice for us with its own so-called sacrifice, but also removing, to varying degrees, participation in the sacrament by the people. Screens were built to literally wall the people off from the message and actions of public worship, the Life of Christ only to be glimpsed in stained glass or meted out in small doses, lest the people have no need for the church.

Even after Luther’s reforms, Calvinism deemphasized the grace of God for the almighty rule of God and robbed the people of the efficacy of the sacraments. Within Lutheranism, the Pietists sought to emphasize Christ in us, not in balance with, but at the expense of Christ for us. Methodism and Arminianism determinedly pulled the spotlight from the Life of Christ to shine on proving oneself and a personal decision for Christ. Nearly across the landscape of public worship in America was a pervasive attitude to “do what works,” an attitude that continues to color public worship decisions today.

Finally, one thing that all these abuses of public worship (not to mention abuses of the Word and sacraments) have in common, is a moving away from, or at the very least an obscuring of, what one could call Life-of-Christ worship.7

Peruse the website and watch a few online services from your local Evangelical mega-church and you will readily see the shift. Christmas is observed and celebrated, but what of the preparatory and anticipatory weeks of Advent? Though not always the case, Easter is observed and celebrated, but Good Friday is rare (perhaps only every few years!). The rest of Holy Week, Palm Sunday in particular, is lost to the ages. The sovereignty of Christ is often emphasized, but the humble King riding into Jerusalem is dismissed as an archaic reference to some by-gone tradition of waving palms.

The rest of the year is filled with preaching series on self-improvement, congregational visions, and situational ethics in which the Life of Christ is relegated to an occasional reference, hidden behind walls of “relevance,” and instrumentalized for personal purposes.8 If observed at all, Baptism and Holy Communion are embarrassingly dismissed with a wink and nod that “some people need this sort of thing.”

The apostle John was inspired to conclude his Gospel account with these words: “Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”9 The apostle Peter declared that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”10 As such, the purpose of Christian worship is to praise God by proclaiming the gospel in Word and sacrament.

A determined effort to shift the emphasis from Christ’s sacrifice for you to the by me of self-wisdom, self-sacrifice, and self-prove-ment.

Can public worship fully honor the Word of the Lord when the Life of Christ, the story of him who is our light and life, is reduced to occasional glimpses, disjointed references, and whimsical illustrations seemingly on par with the ever-loved personal story?

God wants to call human beings to eternal salvation, to draw them to himself, to convert them, to give them new birth, and to sanctify them through these means, and in no other way than through his holy Word (which people hear proclaimed or read) and the through the sacraments (which they use according to his Word).11

A lack or even diminished role of the Life of Christ in public worship contributes to construction of not just a Fourth Wall, but the whole theater. Worshipers become audience, engaged through “winks and nods,” creative preaching, and musical selections—perhaps glimpsing occasional nuggets in Christ’s story, but nuggets primarily for private insight and application. This loss of Christo-centricity, deemphasized gospel proclamation, and preference for a rationalized subjectivity in worship slowly and tragically distances attendees from the true heart of worship, transforming them from participants to at best outside-the-box enthusiastic appreciators and at worst shadowed cheap-seaters, slipping out the nearest exit.

Tearing Down the Walls

But as all Christians have the right and responsibility to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, we do well to encourage such declaration through Word and sacrament as the gospel message is proclaimed in the Life of Christ. To encourage such participation, public worship acknowledges what is already true, Christ is in us because he has been, and is, for us. We prioritize gospel predominance, we strive to faithfully use God’s gifts, we honor the historical experiences of the church, and we encourage the participation of God’s people in freedom and love.

Consider the many-layered ways in which the Life of Christ is proclaimed in public worship through ritual, calendar, readings, preaching, music, art, architecture, and language. All of these combine to create an invitational environment in which those sweet words, “Your sins are forgiven,” provide the counter-intuitive and counter-cultural message that releases and transitions lost souls from the grip of sin and the strictures of society to the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Oh, that this message of forgiveness and grace would not be reduced to merely a weekly reference in absolution and a monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but generously offered again and again through Word, sacrament, liturgy, and song! Frank Senn explains in Christian Liturgy:

It is something else to obediently proclaim the word and administer the sacraments and to be surprised by the work of God, to see how the Holy Spirit works in, with, and through the means of grace to produce a faith response. What finally makes worship authentic is not human design but the presence of Christ in the proclamation of the gospel and in the celebration of the sacraments, whose Spirit works through these means to create, sustain, and awaken faith.12

As the totality of our being is found in Christ, our public worship is the mirror image of his life lived for us, sacrificed for us, and raised for us. Participation in the actions of public worship brings us together, strengthens our bond as a family of believers, gives expression to our unity of faith, and prepares us for returning to the outside world. It is the actions of public worship that move us from the liminality of self to the unity of us as we participate in standing together, sitting together, reading together, praying together, confessing together, singing together, and communing together. As the apostle Paul declared:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.13

By grace, through faith, in Christ alone, this is our calling, our right, our responsibility, our joy.

The actions of public worship move us from the liminality of self to the unity of us as we participate.

All In

It’s good for the pastor not only to rightly understand participation but also to teach it. Here are some idea-starters for verbal or printed explanations:

  • Ritual: See a section in Foundations, Ritual and Ceremony (page 212ff) for “several teaching angles.” Our Worth to Him: Devotions for Christian Worship, Unit 1: The Story of Worship, offers the perspective of a participant in worship as one among many worshipers spanning space and time and eternity.
  • Calendar: The Church Year isn’t merely a way for pastors to organize worship themes. It’s also something that forms us together as Lutheran Christians, something that you can echo in your homes by means of devotions (cf. the link in today’s worship folder for free options from The Foundation: welscongregationalservices.net/foundation-yr-b).
  • Preaching: How does preaching involve participation if only one person is talking? Several possible ways: active and focused listening, the “work” of concentration, taking notes on key points both to aid attention and for later reinforcement, intentionally applying some point in a personal way even if the pastor doesn’t make that specific application. A great resource is the new “My Christian Worship” journal and accompanying Bible study: online.nph.net/my-christian-worship.html
  • Music: Singing hymns is obvious participation. But how does one participate when listening to instrumental music? Include an occasional note in the worship folder regarding service music. Here’s an example.
    Suo Gan Reverie, by Franklin Ashdown [from The Eventide Collection, CPH 2006]
    The Welsh title for this music translates as “Soothing Song.” It was used in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Empire of the Sun. Our new hymnal uses it for two new texts: 647 and 669. While neither is sung in today’s service, 669 may serve for preservice meditation on Holy Communion.
  • How do we participate in art? By consciously taking it in as message and not merely decoration. Explain the Christian symbols by printing explanations in your worship folder. Example: Carved into our altar is the symbol AΩ. These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega. They symbolize the eternal nature of Jesus Christ. “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (See Foundations, chapter 16, for deeper understanding and quotable quotes to share.)
  • Architecture: Worship does not take place ideally from a stage (presentation to the people) but rather in a chancel and a nave, or a wide seating layout focused on the chancel. With a visual focus on the means of grace, with pastor and people participating in proclamation and praise, the form of the worship space encourages the actions of public worship. Use Foundations, chapter 15, Worship Space, to enrich understanding and appreciation.

By Joel Gawrisch

Pastor Gawrisch served for 14 years at Christ Lutheran before taking a call to New Life in Shoreview, Minnesota. He is the Minnesota District Worship Coordinator. He has also served on the Schools of Worship Enrichment team, the Rites Committee for the WELS Hymnal Project, and with the Commission on Congregational Counseling’s Self-Assessment and Adjustment Program.


1 From “As You Like It” Act 2, Scene 7 (line 139), by William Shakespeare
2 Numbers 12:3: Now the man Moses was very humble, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.
3 Mark 13:14; also recorded in Matthew 24:15.
4 itiablog.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/church-beyond-the-fourth-wall/.
5 Galatians 2:20
6 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, tr. by M. H. Bertram (CPH, 1968) pp. 122-124 as quoted in Christian Worship: Foundations (NPH, 2023) pp. 30-31.
7 For an exposition on Life-of-Christ pubic worship, see Michael Berg’s On Any Given Sunday: The Story of Christ in the Divine Service available from 1517 Publishing: shop.1517.org/products/on-any-given-sunday-the-story-of-christ-in-the-divine-service.
8 See Caleb Bassett’s comments on instrumentalizing Jesus in Preach the Word Vol. 27, No. 1.
9 John 20:30,31
10 1 Peter 2:9
11 Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II, 49-50 as quoted in Worship, Gottesdienst, Cultus Dei: What the Lutheran Confessions Say About Worship (CPH, 2005) p. 90.
12 Senn, Frank C. Christian Liturgy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997) p. 565.
13 1 Corinthians 10:16,17


 

WORSHIP

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Nutrition and Formation

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Nutrition and Formation

The great questions of life pursue us. When they catch up to us, they grab ahold of us and do not let go. Philosophers muse upon them. Theologians preach about them. Politicians manipulate them. Laypeople think about these big questions too. What is the good life? How shall we live? Where did we come from and where are we going? How do the physical and spiritual interact? At the core of all these questions is an anthropological question: Who am I? This question pursues every person. It can even haunt us.

Genesis Anthropology

The early chapters of Genesis address this anthropological question. We are embodied souls. We are created in the image of God. This image is lost but a shell remains. This image is regained in Christ. We were created with original righteousness but now have original sin. It is all there. Genesis provides the reader with new angles on this existential question seemingly every time we take it up and read it. No wonder some of the great theologians like Luther and Augustine found their way back to Genesis late in their careers. The great questions grab ahold of us and do not let go.

Among other important doctrines, Genesis subtly tells us that humans are 1) psychosomatic people1, 2) people of words, 3) eaters, and 4) worshipers. First, we are psychosomatic people. We are not simply brains on a stick. We have bodies. You cannot get around it. A person cannot simply assert, “I am not spiritual.” We do not have a choice. This is as ridiculous as saying “I don’t have a body.” Yes, you do!

We are people of words. We were created by words. We primarily gain knowledge through words. We interact with each other primarily with words. We interact with God with/through words and are to take him at his Word. No wonder Jesus is the Word through whom all things were made.

We are also eaters. We eat not only to survive physically but to interact with one another. Try to think of a culture that does not gather around the table for important events. You can’t. It is how we mark occasions and enjoy each other. Eating is as much spiritual as it is physiological. No wonder God chooses to eat with us and not just speak with us.

Finally, we are worshipers. Every person has a number one in their life. They might not call it a god but it sure acts like one. It might be their nation-state, their political party, their family, their career, or anything else that gives them their identity and answers for them the great anthropological questions. These gods demand their time, their money, and their energy. Another way to say it is that they demand worship. But none of these gods love them back.

Nutrition and Formation

This Genesis anthropology is quite different than late modern anthropology. Late modern anthropology describes humans as evolved animals, as machines, or, more applicably, as consumers. Work is for production. Rest is to prepare us for work and not contemplation. Eating is for nutrition or fuel. Modern anthropology also tends to see humans as consumers of information. We are learners. Most of our activity is located in the brain, not in the heart or the stomach as the ancients saw it. This affects our view of ourselves, the world, God, and worship.

We need spiritual nutrition or as Ambrose famously stated, “Because I always sin, I ought always take the medicine.”2 He was speaking about Holy Communion, but it applies also to absolution and to the Word of God. We need it. Why? Because we are sinner-saints. We need the medicine. We need the nutrition. Jesus quotes a portion of this Old Testament passage during his temptation, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt 8:3). Jesus is the Bread of Life that keeps us alive spiritually. We need it as much as we need physical bread and water, even more.

Ambrose: “Because I always sin, I ought always take the medicine.”

We also know that health is not just about putting the right food into our bodies (we are more than machines); it is also habitual. Healthy habits matter as much as calorie counting. We rightly speak about being fed by God’s Word, but perhaps a fuller concept than “nutrition” is “formation.” We are psychosomatic people that eat, use words, and worship. This means that words, eating, and physical realities like rituals, rites, architecture, and art form us. They make us who we are.

We can be malformed, or we can be formed beneficially. A child who lives in a violent home is malformed. As he grows, he might only express his emotions through violence. A child who grows up surrounded by books is more apt to be a seeker of knowledge. These things form us. Let’s take a look at two modern views of humans that (mal)form us. The first is the idea that we are primarily consumers. Advertisers want us to believe that certain products will change our lives and even give us an identity. “I am a Dodge guy” or “We are an Apple family.” We are even told in times of economic crises that it is our patriotic duty to play our consumer role in the economy. Our patriotism is connected to our consumerism. The second is that we are thinking-things or, more charitably, students. We take in information, and this makes us better people. We are smarter and more apt to be successful. Notice that these two views are connected. We consume information.

Both consumerism and information-ism affect our view of worship.

Notice also that both consumerism and information-ism affect our view of worship. We are consumers of the spiritual. This is different than seeing ourselves as embodied souls that need to be fed both physically and spiritually. We tend to choose what information we want to consume rather than approaching God to be formed.

The information matters, but we need to be more than informed; we need to be formed. We tend to privilege the information over the formation. We privilege the teaching over the ritual. This is an anthropological mistake. It assumes that we are primarily thinking-things, hearers, or, at best, students. It assumes that we are consumers of information. This is a mistake because we are embodied souls. The body matters. Christ comes to us not just in Word but in physical-Word. He knows who we really are despite our modern anthropology.

Let’s think about ritual and teaching for a moment. There are three options when it comes to the relationship between information and formation. Option number one is ritual without teaching. Scripture repeatedly warns us about this. “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (Ps 51:16). This only ends in shallow work-righteousness. We go through the motions, and this somehow benefits us. The second option is teaching without ritual. Theoretically this can work. A person can hear the Word of God and believe it. But this option is mediocre and, I would argue, not possible. We still occupy time and space. Every church is liturgical. The pastor has to wear something! The congregation has to gather somewhere! There must be an order of service even if it is sitting with Quakers in a bare room waiting for the Spirit to move someone to speak. That’s a liturgy and that liturgy proclaims a theology and forms the worshiper. The third option is ritual with teaching. This is the best option because it fully embraces our anthropological reality: we are embodied souls that occupy time and space and are formed not just by information but by art, architecture, movement, song, and prayer.

Forgiveness is not a reminder of an ancient event but a delivery of that forgiveness.

Explaining ritual also provides an opportunity to teach that forgiveness is not a reminder of an ancient event but a delivery of that forgiveness. The saving actions of Christ are not merely for us to recall intellectually but for us to receive in the here and now with real ears from real voices. Forgiveness is a present reality, medicine, and nutrition that continually forms us and maintains our status with God. Absolution is a good case study. I prefer when the absolution is spoken in the first person, present tense, “I forgive,” rather than in the third person, past tense, “God forgave.” I am not arguing that one is more valid than the other. It’s not. Yet there is something special about the pronouncement of forgiveness in the present moment instead of a slight degree of separation between the repentant Christian and the forgiveness. It is as if the minister says to the penitent, “Make no mistake about it, right here and right now, these sins are forgiven.” It is not a reminder of a past event or even a declaration of a present event occurring elsewhere. It’s an event that is occurring right here and right now.

Not only does the different subject in the absolution teach us about the tangible means by which God delivers his grace, but ritual can as well. If taught properly, liturgical actions like kneeling for confession, the sign of the cross employed with absolution, and bowing the head also teach the present reality of the forgiveness delivered through the voice of the minister (Jn 20:21-23). The same can be true of other rituals. Think of an eight-sided baptismal font that points to the eight people in the ark (1 Peter 3:20) and to our eternal life.3 Or consider the musical contrast between the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei? The heavenly “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Rv 4:8) joins the heavenly choir with the choir of worshipers in the local congregation in great anticipation of a foretaste of the heavenly banquet while the Angus Dei sobers the worshiper. Christ must die and we must carry a cross. All of this forms us.

We privilege the teaching over the ritual. This is an anthropological mistake.

With this reality in mind, it seems that the best course of action is to thoughtfully and deliberately plan—and teach—worship so that all five senses are engaged, proclaiming the gospel clearly and boldly to embodied souls. What follows are a few simple examples of how we can be thoughtful about such matters without falling into the trap of empty ritual. As we go forward, remember that we are either formed or malformed. Everything we do matters. It is a heavy burden for the worship planner to carry but a delightful cross at the same time.

Examples

Let’s start with hymnody. What follows is an oversimplification but helpful. Early Reformation hymnody was largely didactic. Think of Luther’s hymns based on the Small Catechism. There was a need for teaching at that moment. When we jump to Pietism, we see a move from the objective to the subjective. The subject of the sentences becomes “I” instead of “God.” These hymns reflect the heart. Then there is the sweet spot exemplified by the hymns of Paul Gerhardt. The doctrine is applied. The information doesn’t only teach but forms as it engages the heart.

Movement and posture matter as well. Whether you sing an introit, process in behind a crucifix, or walk up the steps to the altar at the beginning of the service, this movement teaches the observer about the presence of God. Yes, God is everywhere but he chooses to be sought in certain places. For New Testament believers, it is in Word and Meal, Baptism and Absolution. Our liturgical movements form us. If we truly believe that Christ is present in the Supper, our actions around the elements will form the worshipers’ view of the reality of the Supper. We stand to show respect. We also stand to confess the faith and be counted among the faithful who have gone before us. We kneel to confess our sins and ask for mercy. We sit to receive. Movements and posture matter.

Some congregations no longer “pass the plate.” It is an archaic tradition considering online giving (and COVID), but there is still value in bringing the offering up to the Lord’s altar. Does not this physical movement teach us about stewardship and therefore form us as we watch the movement to the altar?

The Prayer of the Church is a general prayer. It may connect to the theme of the day but also should include petitions for the world, the congregation, and individuals in the worshiping community. It is a good practice to consistently pray for governmental officials by name especially those elected officials for whom some congregants didn’t vote. This teaches us about God’s Two Kingdoms. It forms us. It helps the worshiper broaden their sympathy as well. It is also a good practice to pray for disasters and tragedies around the globe and not just events in America or Europe. Can we pray for Ethiopia as much as we do for Ukraine? This forms us.

Finally a word on preaching. There is a difference between preaching the gospel and preaching about the gospel. The former proclaims, “This is for you!” The latter informs. It tells us about the gospel in an academic way, but there is a subtle degree of separation between the gospel and the listener. It is primarily for the brain and not the whole person. The sermon may be considered an extension of confession/absolution. It terrifies and then heals. This is the dynamic Word Paul speaks about in Romans 1. It is the power (dynamis) to save. It does something. It is dynamic. It is not merely to be learned. If we see the listener as a person with a free will who only needs the correct information to change their lives or make the right decisions, we have the wrong anthropology. We preach to sinner-saints who need to die and who will rise. Perhaps the language should be less “Here is some information” and more “This is who you already are in Christ, a saint.” It is the difference between proclamation and formation on the one hand and mere information on the other hand.

Embodied souls or thinking-things?

Genesis anthropology insists that we see ourselves as embodied souls and not just thinking-things. Biblical worship always involved movement, rituals, a meal or sacrifice, along with hymns, prayers, readings, and preaching. It is healthy for us to examine and critique the anthropology we inherit from our culture. There simply is no such thing as a spiritual but not physical being or the opposite, a physical but not spiritual person. Nor is there such a thing as a church without liturgy or ritual. We are therefore called to plan worship with this anthropological reality in mind with the sober reminder that all we do will form or malform the worshiper. A heavy burden, indeed. But also an opportunity. Let’s teach the ritual. It will bear much fruit as we both provide the nutrition burdened souls so desperately need and help them answer the great anthropological questions that pursue us all.

By Michael Berg

Rev. Dr. Michael Berg is an associate professor of theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College where he teaches courses on Worship, Apologetics, Martin Luther, Christ in the Old Testament, and Christ and Culture. He is the author of Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing (1517), The Baptismal Life (NPH), On Any Given Sunday: The Story of Christ in the Divine Service (1517), and an upcoming book from NPH Peter: Theologian of the Cross.


1 Psychosomatic medicine explores how social, psychological, and behavioral factors affect physical health, mental health, and quality of life.
2 De Sacramentis V, 4, 25. Also AC XXIV, 33.
3 “Early Christian theologians interpreted … baptisteries and pools symbolically. Eight was the number of Noah’s family saved in the Flood. The Eighth Day, Sunday, referred to the day of Christ’s resurrection and the coming of the New Age which we enter in Baptism.” Huffman and Stauffer, Where We Worship, Augsburg (1987).


Cleansed and Fed: The Sacramental Life

Could your congregation benefit from deeper exposure to the ideas in this article? This could happen through comments in sermons or through a Bible class. See WTL 62:a-c for an eight-part study based on a synod convention essay, “Cleansed and Fed: The Sacramental Life.” Free download at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-confessional-perspectives. Selected quotations:

At this meal God will provide us his antidote for sin’s poison. Here he will serve real food for starving sinners. (15)

A preacher may find himself explaining the saving work of Jesus rather than preaching Jesus. Faith does involve knowing things. And yes, it’s true: explanations of Law and Gospel are still Law and Gospel, and so they are still powerful. But if all the preacher ever does is explain God’s saving plan, his listeners will soon gain the impression that faith is primarily a matter of understanding explanations.

But then why should they keep listening to the same explanations about Jesus’ saving work over and over again? In time they’ll begin to think of their pastor as though he were a restaurant that only hands out menus but never actually serves food. They’ll listen to his sermons and say, “Sounds good, but I’m still hungry!” If they’re loyal, they’ll keep coming to listen anyway, out of duty. But no one will gladly listen for long. (18)

 


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Proclamation

More Worship Words to Wrestle With

Proclamation

Can you remember a time when school cancellations were read aloud on the radio station? Truth be told, they probably still are; it’s just that few of us rely on the radio station anymore. Nowadays, everyone just checks their smartphone for an always up-to-date listing of the latest cancellations. Back in the day, however, students actually had to listen through the entire list of school closings, hoping that the name of their school would be announced. And, if you got distracted and missed it, you had no choice but to wait a few minutes for the next reading of the list. “Did I hear my school’s name, or was that just wishful thinking?”

Smartphones are definitely more convenient, but I must admit to a special kind of joy that came from anticipating the news spoken out loud. Not only did hearing good news over the airwaves bring a smile to my face, but there was something else too. If you were the first one to hear it, then you got to run and tell everyone else in the house. “No school today!” Not only was it fun to hear the news; it was fun to tell it too.

As we think about the Word of God and especially as we learn how to preach it, one of the words that comes to our minds is proclamation. The Word of God is for proclamation. As the words painted above the threshold of the Seminary chapel tell us, our work is to proclaim the gospel. Scripture is not merely a book full of information, a spiritual how-to manual of sorts. It is not merely a textbook with lessons to teach and to learn, though it certainly is useful for teaching and a delight to learn. In addition to all that and more, God’s Word is something to be proclaimed. It is the almighty God’s announcement of salvation sealed and accomplished in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Those who have the privilege of speaking that Word are doing more than simply conveying information. As Paul teaches, public ministers of the Word actually get to serve as ambassadors of God Most High (2 Cor 5:20) and proclaim to his people and all the world the good news of what he has accomplished for them in Christ. The good news is a proclamation!

Again and again, the Lord teaches us to recognize the great honor—and the great responsibility—that comes with this charge of proclaiming his Word. We might think, for example, of the Lord assigning Ezekiel to be the watchman of Israel. “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself” (Ezek 33:7-9). Or perhaps we remember Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians that it is necessary that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Cor 4:1). Or maybe from time to time it leaves us in awe to think of Jesus’ reminder that what we proclaim with our mouths here on this earth is valid even in heaven itself (Matt 18:18). Yes, what an awesome privilege God has given us to proclaim his Word. So central is this work to pastoral ministry that oftentimes the “pastor” is simply the “preacher.” It’s why Paul can sum up his encouragement to young Timothy with the simple, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). It’s also why we hear that encouragement repeated in our Rite of Ordination, as we take up that work for the first time as an ordained pastor.

No doubt, proclamation has a special application to the art of homiletics and to preachers; though preachers proclaim God’s Word in many of their ministerial duties, it is particularly in the sermon that they have the privilege of regularly and publicly proclaiming good tidings to the flock entrusted to them.

Giving thought to public worship, however, leads us to recognize that it is not only the sermon that proclaims the gospel. In his classic work, Worship in the Name of Jesus, Peter Brunner explained, “The congregation’s Spirit-effected response to the gift of salvation, conveyed in Word and Sacrament, is itself Word. Also where this response involves a physical gesture, this gesture is not mute, but vital through the words accompanying it. This responding, confessing, thanking, and glorifying word of the congregation will always recall the great and saving deeds of God’s might; it will acknowledge, laud, and glorify them prayerfully, and in this manner also proclaim and present them to others. It is precisely the priestly service of the congregation that thus becomes a proclamation of the wonderful deeds of God.”1 Yes, all of public worship is proclamation, work carried out not only by the preacher but by the people as well.

All of public worship is proclamation, work carried out not only by the preacher but by the people as well.

It is here that we can recognize the treasure that is Lutheran worship as our forefathers in the faith have passed it down to us. Not only in sermon but in in ordinary and proper, in liturgy and hymn, in art and architecture, in confession and creed, historic Lutheran worship is dripping with proclamation of the sweet gospel. While one could fill volumes answering “What does this mean?” consider two points: 1) the importance of the choices we make in respect to the content of public worship and 2) the importance of emphasizing the essential function God’s people carry out in public worship.

The Content of Proclamation: God’s Gospel

It could probably go without saying, but if it is clear that God’s Word is to be proclaimed in public worship and, likewise, that the proclamation of the Word means more than the pastor’s sermon, then the words we put into our people’s mouths to proclaim week after week matter. Recognizing that is nothing new. About hymns Johannes Brenz (d. 1570) wrote, “In accordance with the example given by the Apostle Paul (Eph 5:19), the singing of hymns has been understood and regarded as a form of preaching, a proclamation of the word of God.”2 The song of the people is a sermon too.

The song of the people is a sermon too.

Robin Leaver likewise writes, “Theologically understood, music in worship is akin to the preaching ministry in its liturgical setting. It is to proclaim the word of God to the people of God. Sometimes this is done through the single voice of the cantor or minister, sometimes through the combined voice of choir or instruments, and sometimes through instrumental music alone. And then there is that unique proclamation of the whole people of God when they join their voices in one, in psalmody and hymnody, as they proclaim their response of faith to God and give witness of that faith to each other. All the Church’s great composers have understood the proclamatory nature of their art, that through it the eternal sound of God’s grace focused in Jesus Christ is made known and shared with his redeemed people.”3

Recognizing this purpose of music in public worship calls for the utmost care in selecting the hymns that we sing and the music that we play. Of course, we want to praise the Lord with joyful songs in our worship, but more than that, we recognize that the highest praise we can give is when we proclaim, with specificity, who he is and what he has done.4 The Lutheran hymn writer Carl Schalk (d. 2021) observed, “God is praised when the gospel is rightly proclaimed; and, conversely, the proclamation of the gospel is the way that God is rightly praised. There is no artificial division between songs that ‘proclaim’ and others that ‘praise’: unless ‘praise songs’ proclaim the good news of the gospel, they are not, in any Christian sense, praise songs at all.”5 Yes, we choose all worship content carefully because it serves to proclaim the gospel and the doctrines of God’s Word. As they do that, they serve to summarize and solidify the truths of God’s Word for his people.6

The best of Christian hymnody has always done this. No doubt, our minds rush to the contributions of the church fathers or to the Reformers. As we survey the historical hymns of the Lutheran church, we cannot help but acknowledge how the Lord has blessed us with a rich heritage. The gems of historic hymnody have pointed generations of believers to Christ and his cross on their journey heavenward, and we pray that they not only do the same for us, but that through us, God preserves them and passes them down to generations of believers after us.

At the same time, we also know that proclaiming Christ has never been the arena of hymnody from the past alone. As our new hymnal illustrates so well, Lutheranism has always taken the best hymns, both old and new, and incorporated them into its worship life. Consider how many of the modern selections in Christian Worship have quickly become beloved ways for God’s people to proclaim the gospel beautifully and powerfully. Again, that has always been the hallmark of the best hymnody of every age. Perhaps the most well-known of modern-day hymn writers, Keith Getty observes, “The healthiest congregational environment flourishes when the worship leader/worship songwriter partners with pastors in feeding the congregation well through the songs they sing and the sermons they hear.”7

Yes, the best hymns of every age proclaim the gospel. Sermon and song are not competing interests, nor do they have only a tangential relationship. Rather, music and song work together with the spoken Word so that in public worship Christ is proclaimed.

“All the Church’s great composers have understood the proclamatory nature of their art.”

Keeping that in mind suggests several applications for public worship:

  • Devote sufficient time and attention to selecting hymns for public worship that work right alongside the readings and sermon for the day—both to teach the particular emphasis of a particular Sunday and, more broadly, to proclaim Christ crucified to everyone who attends.
  • Consider also the value of selecting those hymns as far in advance as possible. This enables musicians to plan and practice so that their work on a Sunday morning can really be a well-considered proclamation of the Word (rather than just making sure the notes fall in the right place). But advance planning also allows preachers to consider how the sung proclamation of the Word can complement and enhance the spoken proclamation that day. So often, hymns capture theological truths in particularly effective and winsome ways that, if recognized, can enhance the sermon.
  • Don’t overlook the value of the Hymn of the Day. These hymns are chosen specifically for their rich content and connection to the day’s Gospel. Of course, there is no ecclesiastical law demanding our use of the Hymn of the Day (or any other hymn). Sometimes pastors who know their congregations and circumstances will make another choice for a particular Sunday. At the same time, however, regularly using the Hymn of the Day not only gives musicians an anchor they can count on in their own planning (and means one less hymn selection worship planners have to make), but more importantly, it helps keep the very best of hymnody in regular use across our congregations.
  • From time to time, consider introducing unfamiliar hymns (both old and new) to your congregation. Perhaps it requires a bit of extra effort, and perhaps a congregation will need to grow in appreciating them. With a bit of time and practice (and the wisdom of not biting off more than a congregation can chew), learning and using less familiar hymns equips the congregation to sing a new song to the Lord, and, with time, these can become beloved favorites. If some Hymns of the Day are not yet familiar in your congregation, consider a plan to introduce two or three each year.
  • Of course, hymns are not the only way the gospel is proclaimed in song in public worship. The psalms have been enriching the worship for millennia. Christian Worship, together with the complete Psalter, provide a variety of ways to use the psalms in worship.
  • Finally, in all this talk of hymns, never overlook the value of the ordinary. Singing the songs of the Western Rite has summarized and solidified the gospel for generation after generation of believers. Christian Worship gives congregations the ability to use these songs week in and week out, while still allowing for musical variety. And Service Builder provides even more variety, including a wealth of metrical canticles (canticles cast as hymns). Sometimes pastors and worship planners will make other choices for their particular ministry contexts (and that’s certainly understandable), but do consider how the textual consistency of the ordinary ensures that the gospel is clearly and beautifully proclaimed week after week in a way that connects us to believers of many generations past.

Yes, in public worship, the gospel is proclaimed. It is proclaimed in Word and sacrament. It is proclaimed as it is spoken and sung. That speaks to the importance of the content of public worship. It also speaks to the importance of the participants in public worship.

The Participants in Proclamation: God’s People

In our age, this latter point deserves nearly as much consideration as the former. Increasingly, it seems that some people allow a consumer mentality to drive their thoughts and decisions about worship. They see worship as an opportunity to be stimulated—spiritually, intellectually, emotionally. They come to receive what’s been prepared for them. Of course, that’s true in a certain way. “Nothing in our hands we bring,” we sinners sing. In worship, we are always the recipients of God’s gospel gifts first.

There’s a danger in worshipers thinking of themselves as consumers of a product.

At the same time, however, there’s a danger in thinking of worship as a largely passive experience. There’s a danger in worshipers thinking of themselves as consumers of a product. We see that in the notion that music and sermons are valued first and foremost for their ability to appeal in various ways.

Or consider the rise of “virtual worship.” Of course, in the difficult days of the pandemic, hearing the Word this way was better than nothing, and virtual worship served as a blessing for many. And yet, we would probably all agree that what may be necessary during dire times is not what is best under usual circumstances. Worship in front of a computer screen just isn’t the same as being in the house of God with fellow believers.

Why? Because worship is all about proclamation. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, we encourage one another as we see the day approaching (Heb 10:25). And how do we encourage one another? No doubt, there are different ways of encouraging, but the most important way is the building up of our faith through the means of grace.

In public worship, we speak the Word of God to one another (Eph 5:19). We proclaim the gospel to each other. When I am singing a hymn or speaking the Creed or confessing my sins, I am not only speaking to the Lord (though I am certainly doing that) but I am also proclaiming the Word to brothers and sisters who are, in turn, proclaiming that Word to me. Together, we are proclaiming our faith to the world around us.

That’s an especially encouraging thought when we consider how often following Christ can feel lonely in this fallen world. Christians don’t always enjoy the benefit of being able to mutually share their faith with those around them on a day-to-day basis. That’s what makes opportunities for public worship so special. During this precious time of the week, we come together as Christians and encourage one another through our proclamation of God’s gifts to us.

What a privilege God gives us as we gather. We get to proclaim the gospel. As God enables us, let’s help his people see this vitally important work that they as the body of Christ get to carry out together.

By Jacob Behnken

Jacob Behnken graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2012 and serves as the Dean of Chapel and a Professor of Music at Martin Luther College. This article begins a new series of possibly ten articles and complements a previous series of timeless topics available at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-worship-words.


1 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, trans. M.H. Bertram, CPH 1968, 124.
2 Quoted in Oliver Rupprecht, “The Modern Struggle for Standards in Religious Music,” Concordia Journal v.9, #4, July 1983, 129.
3 Robin Leaver, The Theological Character of Music in Worship, CPH 1989, 11.
4 Johnold Strey, Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts, NPH 2021, 23f.
5 Carl Schalk, “Hymnody and Proclamation of the Gospel,” in Not unto Us: A Celebration of the Ministry of Kurt J. Eggert, NPH 2001, 138.
6 See the recently released hymnal project volume Christian Worship: Foundations, 15ff, 23ff.
7 Emily Brink, “Teaching the Faith, Expanding the Song: An Interview with Irish Hymnwriter Keith Getty,” Reformed Worship #81, September 2006.


Teach the proclaimers

How can we better teach people about their role as proclaimers? Obviously, a Bible class could address this theme. But that will reach only a minority. So look for ways to reinforce the point also in sermons. One pastor instead of saying “God bless our worship” says “God bless this time as we proclaim God’s love to one another.”

 


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Worship and Outreach – In a Mission Restart

I have been asked to share how our congregation’s outreach efforts intersect with our worship life. The first part of this article will be a description of those efforts. How do we reach out to our community? What are our worship services like? To be honest, I am not sure those answers will be especially interesting or insightful. I am not an innovator. Worship and outreach, if viewed separately, remain under our control. But where they intersect, the Spirit blows, and things get more interesting, at least for me. I will conclude with excerpts from interviews I conducted with new members about how they experienced our worship.

Background

“Fish or cut bait.”

That was the directive ringing in my ears five years ago when I was assigned to a mission restart in Knoxville, Tennessee. Dwindling attendance, a lack of leadership, and a massive projected budget shortfall meant that the 40-year-old church would not remain viable for long. “Fish or cut bait.”

The frustrating thing about fishing is that the end results are beyond our control. This is also true about those Jesus called fishers of men. But knowing this didn’t necessarily lessen the frustration. It did, though, lead me to focus on the things I could control.

Outreach: The Basics+

To return to our Lord’s metaphor, I didn’t have to learn how to sew a net when I arrived in Tennessee. During my training I had learned numerous ways to engage my community. As I share some of what our congregation has done over the past five years, there may be little, if anything, new for most of you. That is a great thing.

In no particular order, here are some of what I considered “The Basics” as I led our church to actively reach out to our community:

  • Frequently teaching and modeling the appropriate balance between reliance on divine monergism and recognition of human responsibility in outreach.
  • Frequently teaching and modeling outreach as an essential part of our church’s mission without making outreach the sum total (or even the most important part) of our church’s mission.
  • Equipping and encouraging members to invite their FRANs and to share the gospel with them. (Does that acronym make you groan because you have heard it so often? That is another good thing!)
  • Praying for the Lord to give the increase to our efforts.
  • Maintaining a “good enough” online presence. It doesn’t need to be great, but it should be somewhat active and professional. Post-2020, I believe this now includes a livestream or some sort of video content to give a digital window into the church.
  • Personal pastoral care and follow up.
  • Traditional canvassing (rarely) and door hangers (more frequently).
  • Targeting major services (especially Christmas and Easter) for community invites. We send out thousands of postcards and spend hundreds on online advertising. Most importantly, we encourage and facilitate FRAN invites at these times.
  • Maintaining a clean and attractive church building, including decent signage.
  • Making sure guests are “greeted and seated.” I changed the flow of our foot traffic so I would have a chance to personally interact with everyone who enters our building on Sundays.
  • Clear worship folders.
  • Sharing a brief, clear, and compelling welcome and worship focus each Sunday.
  • Encouraging attendees to fill out some form of worship registration.
  • Gathering that information, reviewing it, and following up on guests within 48 hours of their attendance.
  • Maintaining prospect records. Frequently praying for them and following up as appropriate.
  • Frequently inviting guests to a Bible Information Class.

While the goal is that our congregation understand and share in this work, these basics are largely under my control. If need be, I could make everything above happen on my own.

In addition to the basics, we are blessed with unique opportunities to reach out to our community. Several engaged volunteers offer themed educational playdates for children (Mornings with Mommy—more info at knoxvilleshepherd.com/mwm) and early childhood music classes (Music Makers—more info at knoxvilleshepherd.com/aboutmusicmakers). We train these volunteers to engage the parents and invite them, as appropriate, to church.

Finally, our building has a beautiful education wing. When I arrived, it was only being used for Sunday morning Bible study and Sunday School. It sat empty for six days, 23 hours, and 15 minutes each week. For the past four years, we leased it to a small private school that teaches children on the autism spectrum. This provides a valuable service to our community. It has also led to dozens of connections with teachers and families, a boost to our reputation, and some much-needed rental income.

We have been, in our own modest way, fishing. Has it worked? Sometimes, even for months at a time, nothing seems to work. Other times, it all goes according to plan. (Family gets a flyer, attends children’s music classes, meets the pastor, talks about baptism, attends pre-baptism classes which lead to BIC which lead to membership!) Sometimes, people showed up at church out of the blue. (Knoxville is a growing area. People still church shop around here.) Sometimes, they showed up because a friend invited them. Some showed up because we were the only Bible-believing church they could find that was not shaming people for wearing masks. Sometimes, the voice of the Good Shepherd echoed in the conscience of one of his long-lost sheep, leading him to seek out a church after many years away. One time, that voice of God took the form of a pastor who locked his keys in his car and needed to borrow a phone after going for a run in July. (Definitely my sweatiest evangelism story!)

There is always more to say. Bunches of WELS members have transferred in (a perk of being in a growing area) but some transferring away. The quantitative results are largely beside the point, except to highlight the variety of ways in which God may choose to work.

We’ve been blessed with unique opportunities to reach out to our community.

In fact, and to close this section with perhaps the only unusual part of our approach, we have purposefully avoided opportunities to scale up or streamline our efforts. We limit mass messages to prospects. Post-COVID, I teach most BIC classes one-on-one. (We even treat transfers like a special kind of prospect. They take a four-part course before we accept them into membership.) This comes from a series of convictions: People increasingly hate being marketed to. Every soul is not just precious, but unique. Idols hide well, even in small groups. Assent to a series of doctrinal propositions is only a small part of discipleship. This approach also addresses the immense difference in biblical knowledge and faithfulness found among prospects, a gap that will only increase in size as cultural Christianity fades away.

Worship: The Basics+

Worship, to a significant degree, is the goal of our outreach efforts. We want as many people as possible to hear the efficacious Word of God proclaimed in responses, prayers, songs, and sermon. Worship is also something we can control. That control, even for congregations that most aggressively exercise it, has limits. The Spirit blows where he wishes. Lutheran worship has a distinct flavor and progression. People react based on their backgrounds, prejudices, what they’ve heard youth like, and a host of other reasons beyond our control. Yet we do control, at the very least, the songs chosen, the instrumentation, the sermon text, and the sermon itself. We control the effort we put in as we strive for excellence.

Again, I doubt you will find much exceptional in what we do. I wear an alb. We print the order of worship in the bulletin. We sing hymns from the hymnal. We follow the lectionary. We do not offer a staffed nursery or any children’s programming during the service. If we exercise additional control over the order of worship, we do so in a way that we believe to be judicious. You may, of course, disagree. The following is offered as a description of some of those choices. It is not a defense, nor is it a prescription.

  • We often replace the Kyrie/Gloria with a hymn. We appreciate the opportunity to sing an additional song and tie it in with the season of the church year.
  • We take a fewer-is-better approach to song selection, working toward what the old Germans called “Kernlieder” —core hymns that become deeply embedded into the hearts and minds of God’s people.
  • We have introduced some guitar-based contemporary songs into this repertoire, as well as some more modern versions of classic hymns.1
  • We have a children’s sermon after the Prayer of the Day. It explains one of the readings or tells a Bible story appropriate to the day’s theme.

As with outreach so also in worship: our congregation is blessed with several unique advantages. The worship space is attractive and has good acoustics. In a sea of Bible Belt big box churches, we stand out as a church that looks and feels like a church. The Lutheran emphasis on the arrow-pointing-down love of God stands out, too, as does the fact that we allow children to participate in worship. We also have the personnel to worship well. Our members have always sung strongly. My wife is an excellent pianist and choir director. We have other high-caliber musicians.

In a sea of Bible Belt big box churches, we stand out as a church that looks and feels like a church.

The Intersection of Outreach and Worship

We fish, as best as we can control. We worship, as best as we can control. Yet it is impossible to control what happens next, as worship and outreach intersect. But we can notice, appreciate, and learn from the experiences of guests who do join us for worship.

What were your initial impressions?

I found the congregation’s active participation in the worship service more formal than what I was accustomed to with decades of attendance at a Baptist church but a bit more engaging.

I expected that such a formal service would be stone-cold silent, but instead the ambiance of small children was heard throughout the service.

Certainly from the very beginning I really appreciated the music. While performance quality is a nice addition, what I really appreciated was the substance. (The choice of doctrinally solid hymns over worship choruses.)

I appreciated the sermon the most. It was easy to understand, relatable, and it held my attention. Nothing laced with guilt about what you did or didn’t do or how you missed mass last week. It was all about Jesus and his promises.

Did you find anything especially confusing or strange?

I didn’t recognize very many songs (Lutheran songs tend to be a lot older and more theologically dense). The banners marking the church season were foreign to me as I didn’t really know what the church calendar was. The congregational responses were very strange to me as they sounded a lot like chanting.

Phrasing the absolution as “I forgive you” was strange. Was nearly a deal breaker.

The feeling of “not in Kansas anymore” kept running through my head.

The joint congregational responses made me feel like I was in a room with a cult.

The robes were a surprise to me.

I grew to appreciate the congregational responses. I think there is value in stating beliefs corporately as a body of believers.

Have you grown to appreciate any particular part of the service?

After learning of the biblical and historical reasoning for the Office of the Keys, I grew to appreciate audibly hearing that my sins had been forgiven each week. As I learned the truth about Baptism being the historical moment we were brought into the family of God, the subtle reminders of my Baptism throughout the service (primarily through the invocation of the Triune Name) became really profound to me.

Baptist churches put a huge emphasis on the altar call. It is the point up to which the whole service builds; one final opportunity for us to decide to offer our lives to Christ at the front of the church. The Lutheran church, instead, has the Eucharist at this point where Christ willingly gave himself to and for us. Now I see beauty in every piece of it.

I immediately appreciated that creeds were recited, doctrinally rich hymns were sung, and political power/grievances were not the substance of the sermons.

I grew to appreciate the congregational response; I think there is value in stating beliefs corporately as a body of believers.

It took me a long to time to see, believe, and fully embrace that we’re saved by grace and not by our good deeds.

There is an obvious selection bias at play in this sort of conversation. Prior impressions or ignorance of Lutheran worship may prevent someone from visiting our church. A negative impression may prevent them from returning. This is somewhat inevitable.

That said, I have consistently found discussions about worship to be fruitful. I have learned to appreciate parts of the service to which I hadn’t given much thought. I have learned what some appreciate and what others don’t. Sometimes it’s the same thing! Some people did not return because we’re far too liturgical, and others left because we’re not liturgical enough. Some stormed out because of closed communion; others joined because we practice it faithfully and unapologetically. I have heard, “We love everything about your church except that there is no children’s church. We are moving on.” And I have heard, “We are so grateful to finally be able to go to church with our children. What a gift!”

To return to the metaphor at the beginning of this article, these conversations prevent me, a lifelong Lutheran, from being like the proverbial fish swimming along, ignorant of the water. They help me appreciate the manifold ways the Spirit works and highlight just how much of this is beyond my control.

By Scott Henrich

Pastor Henrich graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2018 and has served Shepherd of the Hills in Knoxville, TN since then. While he states in this article that “quantitative results are largely beside the point,” it’s worth noting that attendance has doubled since 2018 to over 140.


1 A growing variety of resources for both are available at online.nph.net/musicians-resource for both congregations with the new hymnal and those using CW93.


Sierra’s reflection

Sierra is a gifted singer, song writer, and guitarist. She and her husband joined the Lutheran church as adults, along with their children. I asked her to reflect on her initial experience attending a Lutheran church, as well as her work as our music coordinator.

When first visiting a Lutheran church—as cheesy as it sounds—it felt like coming home. The church felt like a group of people who collectively loved the Lord. They sang songs that spoke of his promises that specifically claimed his words. As a Christian I had never experienced the level of sound doctrine in congregational worship songs before. While I had always loved contemporary Christian music, I didn’t know what I was missing until I dove into the heart of the Lutheran hymnal.

I was so shocked at the clarity of the sermon. Growing up in multiple denominations, I was used to a very bland sermon. In stepping into the Lutheran faith, I feel like the level of education of the pastors truly shows in their knowledge of Scripture.

I have had the privilege of becoming the music coordinator, and I’m truly loving it! I get to help Pastor pick music for Sunday services. The biggest factor that goes into music choice is Scripture. I would say that the way that the readings are set up every month as a church body encourages a clear guideline for worship that allows me to plan ahead and connect the hymns with the doctrine provided. I would say that some of the hymns are difficult because they are not bland or made to be simple for first-time singing. They are meant to clearly relay the messages of the Bible. I feel truly blessed to help the church choose these songs to sing weekly and to worship our Lord with my fellow believers.


2024 National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts

Save the dates: July 30 to August 2, 2024, at Carthage College, Kenosha, Wis. (Pre-conference rehearsals for the Festival Choir will begin Sunday evening, July 28.)

A 2020 conference was moved to 2021 to better take advantage of new hymnal resources and to link the summer conference with the fall release of the new hymnal. Then, after the pandemic we planned for 2024 to avoid scheduling in the same year as the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership (2023).

Pastors, please forward this info to various people. See wels.net/worshipconference for details on the following:

  • Who is this conference for? (Not just pastors and musicians!)
  • Were other sites considered?
  • How were the dates selected?
  • What’s the cost for congregations that want to budget ahead?
  • I’m an advanced-level musician who hasn’t been involved in the past. How can I sign up to be
    considered?

 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Worship and Outreach – At Our Redeemer, Madison, WI

In his excellent book of devotions titled Our Worth to Him, Mark Paustian described the music of the church as a “soft apologetic” that reaches out into the world, an apologetic not “of evidence and argument, but of beauty, mystery, and…nostalgia.”1 A “soft apologetic” strikes me as a perfect descriptor not only of church music but of how the whole worship life of a congregation serves in interfacing with the broader public, and it puts into words the approach we’ve attempted to take at Our Redeemer in Madison, Wisconsin. We’ve been careful not to treat the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments as a product in need of marketing, nor do we wish for our services to be subservient to a shopkeeper’s mentality that follows the whims of the customers in order to keep them satisfied. Still, our church doors are open to any and all on Sunday morning, service times and an invitation to come are routinely broadcast to our community, and a channel on YouTube allows anyone who is interested to peer in on what is taking place within our walls when we gather for worship.

In other words, our congregational worship life is public facing, and on most weekends we do have visitors joining us. What will they notice when they come? We hope they will find a soft apologetic—not an in-your-face sales pitch for Jesus, but the quieter witness of a body of believers who are gathered together around Word and sacrament, who believe that Jesus comes to them with forgiveness through these means, and who are engaged in mind and body in receiving the gifts of Christ and offering up prayer and praise in the Spirit. Some specific things might catch their attention right away: I begin the service standing next to the baptismal font for the invocation and confession and absolution, a silent reminder that this is a gathering of believers who are joined by water that runs thicker than blood. They will notice, like the well-known former Southern Baptist Beth Moore did on her visit to an Anglican Church, that we are intent on letting Scripture speak on its own by the inclusion of three readings,2 and that these Scriptures are applicable to our lives today as they are expounded in the sermon. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they can’t miss the importance we place on the sacrament Jesus gave in which the body of Christ gathers to receive the body and blood of Christ.

Our congregational worship life is public facing, and on most weekends we do have visitors joining us.

Since it is these means through which the Holy Spirit works faith when and where he pleases, we make sure that they are front-and-center. But those means never come bare, so we also pay attention to the form in which they are delivered. Not to worship our worship, but so that such things as beauty and mystery and nostalgia might serve, as Paustian puts it, like a John the Baptist, pointing away from themselves and to Jesus, the Lamb of God.3

Beauty – liturgy and music that adorn preaching and the sacrament

Our Redeemer is a mid to large congregation of about 500 souls, and we have a vibrant school and early childhood ministry. That brings a lot of children into our midst, and it is what I have heard and seen from the kids that has reinforced in my mind the role beauty fulfills in worship. For example, for our school Christmas service every year, we have the children sing one of our standard settings of the Gloria that we use on Sunday mornings. Without fail, every year as I am walking through the school hallway some day in early December, I hear children’s voices spontaneously breaking out into that liturgical canticle as they pile on snow gear to head out for recess. They sing the Gloria strong and loud and all together at the Christmas service, but even better is hearing the voices of some of the littlest ones joining with the rest of the congregation on other Sundays throughout the year. The beauty of this great Christian song of praise that grows out of the liturgy has a way of getting into kids’ ears and onto their lips and sinking into their hearts. I love that!

The best hymns, whether very old or very new, are hymns that bring together strong images with powerful and moving melodies.

The children also remind me that beauty is not something that is narrow and rigid by definition. The best hymns, whether very old or very new, are hymns that bring together strong images with powerful and moving melodies. Our school teachers do a fine job of drawing the children into these hymns, but they are aided by the beauty that’s already there. The hymn captures some facet of the gospel, and it also captures the hearts of children. You can see it in the intensity on their faces as they sing those hymns in worship.

There is also a time-tested quality of beauty in the orders of service that have survived the winnowing fork of church history and have wound up codified in our hymnal. The way that the liturgy strings together a coherent path of worship, drawing us in, gathering us together around Word and sacrament, and then sending us out, is something I appreciate more and more with each passing year. Again, I’ve noticed the way this simple beauty makes an impression by what I’ve witnessed among the children of our congregation. Every month we hold a Vespers service on the first Wednesday evening. We just follow the order of service straight out of the hymnal, but we do a few things to draw attention to the where the worship form is leading us: dimming the lights, having an acolyte light the candles during the singing of the Phos Hilaron, burning incense while the congregation sings Psalm 141. For a number of months, now, we’ve had a group of children who ask their parents if they can sit together for the service. But they don’t choose to sit in the back so they can goof off—they sit as close to the front as they can get so they can see the action and participate in it.

We strive in our worship for beauty that is not ostentatious but simple and dignified.

In my mind, that’s the power of beauty, and while I might argue that reaching children is doing outreach to the next generation, I could also add that what appeals to children is not likely to be lost on adults. So we strive in our worship for beauty that is not ostentatious but simple and dignified. We want to adorn the real meat of the service, Word and sacrament, in a manner that reflects the great gifts Christ is giving.

Mystery – worship with a low floor and high ceiling

With its economy rooted in government, university, health care, and technology, Madison is a community of professionals. Every week I’m preaching to people who are a lot smarter than I am. For that reason, one of the important soft witnesses that marks our worship is our embrace of mystery. People who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge need the humbling reminder that there is a limit to human wisdom. None of us can wrap our minds around who God is and what he has so wonderfully done for us and for our salvation. So we strive to reflect this in our worship by crafting services to be accessible but not remedial.

People who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge need the humbling reminder that there is a limit to human wisdom.

I one asked my school principal for advice on teaching Bible study. He gave me an image that has stuck with me. He told me that you want a classroom with a low floor and a high ceiling—that is, no one on the low end of comprehension will be lost, but at the same time no one with a good deal of learning will feel bored or as if they have nothing more to gain. That’s a good way to think of worship. It needs to be accessible enough so that a newcomer isn’t totally lost, but it needn’t overexplain everything nor chop out everything that cannot be understood in one pass. We want worship to offer treasures that even lifelong members (and pastors) can grow into and discover—one good reason to keep coming to church.

There are some practical things we do in this regard. We print the entire order of service, but sing hymns out of the hymnal. That strikes a balance in making it easy to follow along, but also gets the book into people’s hands to show the wealth of resources there for personal devotional use outside of the service. Likewise with hymn selection. We sing a Hymn of the Day that is often meaty and always tied closely to the Gospel, but we select more familiar and crowd-pleasing hymns for other spots in the service.

Thinking of the apologetic of mystery on a deeper level, I see the wisdom in using resources that I did not create but received. Such things as the liturgy and the lectionary are at some level accessible, but they also offer a lot that is yet to be understood or discovered. At least, it has helped me to realize that I don’t need to sweat it so much if a visitor doesn’t “get” everything in a service. After all, I myself don’t get it all, either—and that’s a good thing. It means I have the opportunity to keep on growing into all that liturgy and lectionary have to offer.

So, for example, I had heard the post-communion collect prayed countless times for more than three decades and had myself prayed it at the altar for six or seven years before it dawned on me one Sunday that this prayer includes petitions that look both backwards and forwards—back in thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins that we receive in the Lord’s Supper, and forward to the way this sacrament increases our love and fuels holy living. That Sunday, I realized that the prayer reflects the same ordering of doctrinal truth that is found in articles four, five, and six in the Augsburg Confession. Justification (AC IV) comes to us through the ministry of Word and sacrament (AC V) and leads to good works and new obedience (AC VI). The post-communion collect demonstrates that perfectly, but it took me a long time to see it and appreciate it.

Likewise, the lectionary is a helpful tool that has both a low floor and a high ceiling. People with no church background whatsoever are still acquainted with Christmas and Easter, and they know what they should expect to hear if they come to church on one of those festivals. From there, it doesn’t take much to figure out that the seasons around these holidays fill in the story of Jesus’ life and that the church follows a calendar that makes it impossible to miss out on the main details of God’s plan of salvation. Yet there is always room to grow in understanding how a given Sunday’s readings fit into the broader church year and connect to one another. I think that is the delight of the lectionary—it is always inviting us to see new connections as it reveals the fullness of Jesus and his saving work and leads us through an annual review of all the chief doctrines of Scripture.

These kinds of mystery bear witness to the fact that the God we worship is bigger than ourselves and beyond our ability to comprehend. Yet in grace he has revealed himself to us in his Word, so that all of us might continue to grow into our knowledge of him who fills everything in every way. I’ve found this to be a helpful dynamic in a town like Madison.

Nostalgia – homecoming for pilgrims

Madison is a fairly transient community. People move here for school or work, but just as quickly find a job offer elsewhere and move away. So a lot of our outreach has to do with connecting to Christians who are new to town and looking for a church home. With them in mind, one of the things we strive for is that our worship would evoke a sense of nostalgia in the best sense of that term. We want people who encounter us to feel like they’ve come home, and we’ve had good success in that regard by trying to look and act like a church as we gather together.

Since we’re pretty much worshiping straight out of the hymnal, it’s not surprising that in this regard we do very well with people who come from a Lutheran background. Many of them tell me that our church feels like the church they grew up in or came from recently. But I have also heard similar things from people who have come to us from very different backgrounds, whether former Evangelicals or Roman Catholics.

How might this be? I suppose that former Roman Catholics feel somewhat at home in the format of our service and in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Evangelicals, on the other hand, connect readily with our preaching that is based on the Bible and brings the Scriptures to bear on our Christian lives. Call it the Lutheran middle—or call it what the Christian church at its best has always done in worship. We are at our best when we are gathering people around preaching and the sacrament, and therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that such worship would feel like home for God’s pilgrim people as they make their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

They tell me that they appreciate a church that tries to look and act and feel like a church.

For people who have come to us with no church background, we have the opportunity to start from scratch and give them a solid foundation on which to build future nostalgia, if I can call it that. They tell me, too, that they appreciate a church that tries to look and act and feel like a church. I’d like to think that if they move away they will also readily feel at home in other WELS churches because of what they’ve experienced at Our Redeemer.

A soft apologetic with a personal touch

I am ever-mindful of Eugene Peterson’s observation that pastoral work is geographical and tied to a specific locale—the real, mappable Nineveh and not Tarshish, the dream.4 But I would venture to guess that it’s not only in Madison that worship seems to be less of a front door to the church as it once was—our visitors are largely those whom I described above as already having some Christian background. That means we also need to get out and meet people outside of our services if we wish to reach those with little or no experience in church. We’ve found that opportunities to witness have come simply by training our people to ask their friends or family members, “Do you have a pastor who is visiting you? Would you like my pastor to stop by?” That personal interaction goes a long way—people are hungry for personal touch. It stands out to them when they are not treated as just a number or another customer, but as individual souls worthy of individual attention and care.

Then, when they come to church, they see the same guy who visited them in the hospital or elsewhere. That dynamic, I think, is something we will keep trying to capitalize on. We have the real advantage that the preacher in the pulpit is also the pastor who makes hospital calls and personal visits. Especially in the era of mega-churches where the preacher is inaccessible for the rest of the week, this is something I’ve noticed that really makes an impression. But I suppose we’ve always known this: the old adage about a home-going pastor making a church-going congregation is as true today as ever.

I’ve tried to describe some of the circumstances in Madison that have shaped the worship of our congregation. Situations may vary, but I think that the concept of worship as a soft apologetic will prove a helpful framework for fitting worship to any locale.

By Philip Moldenhauer

Pastor Moldenhauer graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2012 and has served at Our Redeemer in Madison, WI since then. In addition to congregational duties, he serves as the District Worship Coordinator for the Western Wisconsin District.


1 Mark Paustian, Our Worth to Him: Devotions for Christian Worship (Milwaukee, WI: NPH, 2021), 145.
2 https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/march-web-only/beth-moore-book-sbc-church-stranger-anglicans-welcomed-me.html
3 Paustian, Our Worth to Him, 145.
4 Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1992), 122-123.


2024 National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts

A 2021 conference was canceled due to the pandemic. Rather than rescheduling in the same year as the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership (2023), the next worship conference will be in July of 2024. The site and exact dates are not yet firm. For the latest information, see wels.net/worshipconference. Advanced ability musicians who have not previously played at a conference and those whose contact information has changed are invited to submit their information at this site. This information is requested even from those who aren’t yet sure they will attend the 2024 conference. Pastors, please share this invitation with instrumentalists of above average skill who entered or graduated from college since 2017 and with other adult new members since 2017 with similar skill.


Adorn the liturgy for outreach.

Moldenhauer writes about using liturgy and music to adorn the real meat of the service, Word and sacrament. The word “adorn” recalls an essay by Jonathan Schroeder from the 2005 national worship conference—still valuable reading almost 20 years later: worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-and-outreach. When Schroeder wrote this essay, he was serving a small, mission congregation. Since then it has grown to become the largest single site congregation in the South Atlantic District.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Worship and Outreach – In Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin

“I suppose you’re doing ___________ worship.”

In the summer of 2013, a group of about 25 Christians met in a renovated storefront space in a strip mall in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, for the very first time. They called themselves “Good News Lutheran Church.” Most of them had previously been members at the WELS church in nearby Verona. For the first year that they gathered on Sunday, the pastor from Verona, Nathan Strutz, would also lead the service in Mt. Horeb. Eventually I was called to serve as the first full time pastor of Good News and arrived in Mt. Horeb in the summer of 2014.

Not long after I arrived in Mt. Horeb, a man I had met and crossed paths with a few times found out that I was the pastor at that new church that was meeting in the strip mall. After a few polite questions about how things were going at our church, he commented, “I would imagine you’re doing _______________ worship over there, huh?”

The specific adjective he used in front of “worship” doesn’t matter a great deal. Much more important were the logical dots he was connecting in his mind. We were a new, i.e. small, church. We wanted to, i.e. needed to, get bigger. We wanted to reach the individuals and families in our community who weren’t currently attending one of the six churches that already existed in our town. Therefore, it stood to reason that __________________ worship would be the key to reaching them.

Again, the specific adjective he used is beside the point. In the nine years that have followed since hearing that comment, I’ve talked to many unchurched people in our community. I’ve had those unchurched people ask a variety of questions about our church. Those questions have ranged from the deep and theological to the superficial and mundane. Sometimes I’m amazed by things that are on people’s minds as they contemplate going to church. It’s often things you would never think of as being important.

I’d be lying if I said that no one has ever asked about our style of worship. But I’m confident I could count on one hand the number of times that specific question has been asked. When it has been, it usually involved someone who had recently moved to town, who had previously had an active relationship with a church in their previous community, and who was looking for a church in our town that was similar.

However, that’s a rare profile in Mt. Horeb. The much more common profile goes something like this: A person had some sort of religious upbringing as a child, likely Mainline Protestant or Roman Catholic. When they graduated high school and moved away from home, they lost their connection to a church. At the same time, they were likely attending a large, public university where they were exposed to strong influences of secularism. When they entered the workforce, they lived in a fairly urban setting, likely Madison. At some point they met someone and got married. Eventually they had kids. When those kids approached school age, they started looking for a smaller, quieter community with good schools to buy their first home in and continue to raise their family.

So by the time they settle in Mt. Horeb, it has likely been well over a decade since they had an active relationship with a church. The weight of parental responsibility may mean that they are open to the idea of going back. But because of everything they’ve seen, heard, and experienced in the meantime, they also need to sort through with their adult minds some of the things they had been taught and believed when they were children.

What caused them to drift away—and what will convince them to come back—has very little to do with any particular style of worship.

In other words, what caused them to drift away from church in the first place—and what will convince them to come back to church—has very little to do with any particular style of worship. You can fill in the blank however you want. Traditional worship. Contemporary worship. Formal worship. Casual worship. Structured worship. Spontaneous worship. Praise band worship. Polka band worship (yes, we have that in Wisconsin). It wouldn’t really make a difference. I would say, if anything, people seem to desire something that feels at least somewhat familiar to what they experienced when they were young.

If not, then…?

So if worship style doesn’t seem to play a huge role in helping us reach people and grow as a church, what does?

A bit more about our community…

The most recent demographic information for our community indicated that the average household income was north of $80,000/year. Your typical home prices range from $250,000-$400,000. Both the unemployment rate and the poverty levels are below 2%. More than 80% of households in Mt. Horeb have both a mom and a dad who tuck the kids in at night. In other words, life in Mt. Horeb seems to be pretty good, at least outwardly.

But even before the pandemic, mental health struggles among young people were a major focus of attention within the community, and for good reason. A string of suicides and attempted suicides among students suggest that all is not as well as the demographics seem to indicate. Young people aren’t the only ones who seem to have something missing in their lives. Adults may not be losing sleep over where they stand with God or where they are going to spend their eternity. But they do seem to be obsessed with demonstrating that they are worthy of the approval of their peers. There always seems to be some new moral/political cause that people want everyone to know where they stand on.

So if people in this upper middle class, suburban, family-oriented community are going to consider giving church a shot, it’s not likely because they feel as though they have the “Jesus thing” all figured out but are looking for help in making some incremental improvements on the more incidental aspects of life. Instead, it’s because they have the incidentals (job, education, career, etc.) pretty well figured out, but have been living with the results of the “Jesus thing” being entirely absent.

Lutheran worship has a weekly structure and an annual rhythm whose entire goal is to point people to Jesus.

As I get to know them and have conversations with them, it would seem completely unnatural to try to convince them to come based on any one facet or characteristic of our worship style. But it’s entirely natural to assure them that the approval, identity, peace, and hope that seems to be missing in their lives can all be found in Jesus. It’s entirely natural to talk about how Lutheran worship has a weekly structure and an annual rhythm whose entire goal is to point people to Jesus. It’s made me grateful to know that is one thing we can offer our community as well as any church in the world. When we were a new church of fewer than 30 people, there wasn’t a ton we could do in worship. We could, however, deliver Christ and all of the blessings he brings with him.

A bit more about our community…

For as long as I’ve been in Mt. Horeb, the contentious political issues that tend to trend on Twitter and soak up the airtime on cable news seem to keep popping up at the local level as well. Everything from climate change to immigration to school bathroom policies to pandemic policies to race relations has been a source of debate in our community. In a small town, the sides get drawn up pretty quickly. It’s often challenging to avoid getting caught on one side of the debate or the other. Everyone seems to want to weigh in, including Christians and Christian churches.

As a result, people often make assumptions about the political party or platform each church supports, including ours. While doing some canvassing one time, I ended up knocking on the door of our local representative in the Wisconsin State Assembly. We had a very nice conversation overall. But at one point she made the interesting observation that she assumed I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of hers as a politician because I was a religious person.

Living in such a politically charged climate has made it entirely natural to emphasize with people the difference between the church’s mission of winning souls for Christ’s kingdom and winning political battles. It’s been eye-opening—and door-opening—to share with people that the main message of our church is not a political position. In the past three years especially, I’ve found it natural and beneficial to be able to say (repeatedly): I’m not here to change your views about politics, and I’m not here to change your views about public health. When politics seems to dominate the conversation 24/7, it’s a relief for people to know that there’s at least 1 of the 168 hours of a week where the topic of conversation is something else (and far more important).

One last thing about our community…

Our community is situated in a county that was by far the most restrictive in our state and among the most restrictive areas in the country. Public schools in our county kept their doors closed for nearly a full year after the pandemic hit, much to the dismay of many parents. During that same time, online learning gave parents a fuller and sometimes surprising glimpse of what their children had been getting taught when they sent them off to school each day. Many companies kept their doors closed and their workers at home. Many churches didn’t have in person services indoors for well over a year. In other words, it’s an area where people seemed ready to go “all in” on all things online. As a result, it’s an area where many people have seen firsthand the detrimental results of doing so.

The good news is delivered by fully embodied persons to other fully embodied persons in fully embodied ways.

As a result, it’s been very natural to share with people how the good news at the heart of our weekly services is not just content we want them to passively or even virtually consume. Instead, it’s a message that is delivered by fully embodied persons to other fully embodied persons in fully embodied ways. It’s offered a natural talking point for why we opened our doors as soon as we could in 2020 rather than keeping them closed. It’s been natural to share how we hope that our services are places where the whole family shares and receives the gospel together, where we want parents to hear what we are teaching their kids about Jesus, and in fact where we want parents to be the ones telling them about Jesus through their active participation in the service.

Like just about every other church in the world, we started live streaming our services during the pandemic. We’re still doing that, but we try to communicate in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways that, even though we’re happy people can be “flies on the wall” watching from their home, we’d really love it if they were with us in the room.

Emphasize the difference between the church’s mission of winning souls for Christ’s kingdom and winning political battles.

How we fill in the blank

So while there doesn’t seem to be a pressing need to focus on the specific style of our services, there have been plenty of opportunities to share with people the substance of our services. They are Christ-centered and gospel-focused. They aim to effect change in the heart rather than in the ballot box. They engage the whole person, not just the mind. They are communal rather than individual.

None of that probably comes as a surprise. None of that is probably any different from the way any of our churches would describe their services. Maybe you’re wondering about the specifics.

I’m not sure how I’d fill in the blank with the word that best describes our style of worship. I’ve had people describe it as much more modern/contemporary than the traditional style they grew up with. I’ve had people describe it as much more traditional/structured than the casual style they experienced somewhere else.

I don’t think I’ve made many decisions about worship in an attempt to have any of those adjectives fit our style of worship. Perhaps the ways in which our worship might be the most different from what you’d experience in your typical WELS church could be described with words like “simple” and “stable.” In a church where most people don’t have much of a WELS background and where all kinds of families with young children are learning to worship together, I’ve found that simple and stable are huge blessings. We do quite a few things seasonally. We use orders of service seasonally. We often use seasonal opening or closing hymns. We’ll use the same psalm refrain seasonally while speaking responsively the verses of the Psalm of the Day in between. Overall, our repertoire of core hymns is quite small (~125). The different settings of the service that we use is even smaller (two with seasonal variety, especially during the festival half of the Church Year). Simplicity and stability continue to pay dividends. It’s a great joy to see new worshipers get familiar with our service quickly. It’s a great joy to hear children who can’t read yet belting out the simple melodies and texts they hear week after week.

Simple and stable are huge blessings.

Other than that, it’s pretty standard fare—prepared and delivered as well as we possibly can. Yes, it’s printed in the service folder so that people can follow along easily. But when we first started, it was pretty much what you’d find in the red hymnal. Now it’s pretty much what you find in the blue hymnal.

However you might describe our worship, it served us well while we were a group of 30 gathering in a strip mall. It had evolved and expanded a bit by the time we were a group of 80 gathering in our second temporary location: the basement of a multi-tenant office building. And during all that time while we gathered in those temporary spaces with cobbled together chancel furnishings and audio equipment and hand-me-down paraments and banners, it was also preparing us for services in a space that’s actually designed for the very things we’ve been doing all along.

Whether in a strip mall, a bank building basement, or a newly constructed sanctuary, whether the specific style of worship was everyone’s favorite never seemed to matter a great deal. What mattered is that they knew it. What mattered is that they could do it. What mattered is that their kids had something they knew and could do as well. And at the end of the day, they decided to come (and decided to stay) for much different reasons.

(For additional photos of the new church, see 119a. Supplemental Photos at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-worship-and-outreach.)

By Jonathan Bauer

Pastor Bauer graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2008. His first call was to Emmanuel Lutheran in Tempe, AZ. In 2014 he accepted the call to Good News in Mount Horeb, WI, a mission church that recently completed its first building project. Jon serves on WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling and the Institute for Worship and Outreach. He served on the Executive Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project. His keynote address from the recent leadership conference contains some thoughts that are complementary to this article and is available at vimeo.com/801975492.

 


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Worship and Outreach – In Salt Lake City

St. Francis on being a winsome witness: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”1

We know it’s difficult for people to walk into a church for the first time. Many have wounds from another Christian or church. Many have heard that “the church” is at least complicit, if not one of the great offenders, in this world’s evils. “The church” has a history of judgers, haters, chauvinists who are intolerant, and holding back progress.

Anyone who walks in the door on Sunday is a miracle and answer to prayer. We’ve got a little over an hour to love them in the very best way we can.

One miracle is Darrel. I know what I want for him. I want this Sunday morning to open the possibility of another story for Darrel, so much bigger than whatever the world has preached. I want his life to be interrupted—he’s going to be in the presence of God and among divine things. I want him to notice that the front entrance and landscaping are nicer and newer than he expected, a good first impression. I want him to be welcomed at the door with a smile and an easy conversation. Then to be handed a worship folder by someone who is obviously glad he’s here. I want him to be taken aback by the beauty and arrangement of the sanctuary, a space different than he’s used to. I want him to wonder about things: what is that for, how many kids does this church have, will I be able to follow along? But not too many questions. I want him to see the pastor reverence the altar and realize he takes this time very seriously but then to hear a warm greeting from him. I want the bulletin to strike him as simple and attractive and the opening hymn to speak clearly and be sung well enough for him to join in. I want him to hear God named, to be a bit shaken by a confessing of sins and then a touch jarred by the absolution. I want him to wonder about that good news. I want him to sense that this is something the pastor lives for. I want him to recognize he was made for this—to be in communion with God, being filled by the Lord and saying back, “I love you too.”

I want him to not be able to leave without understanding the subject—verb—object combinations that save and define us: Jesus loves you. God forgives you. He has mercy on us. He takes away the sin of the world. He lives and reigns, now and forever. His body is given for you. He shines his face on you and blesses and keeps you. No sacrificing to appease. No bargaining for favor. And what that enlivens us to: we praise and bless and glorify God, proclaiming his death until he comes again.

I want to see Darrel with those people who can talk to anyone, and I want six other people to smile at him. I want Darrel to feel like this is a community where he could belong, and this place could be a home for his soul. In other words, I want Darrel to hear the gospel in words and see it in the love of saints. I want him to come back. Who doesn’t?

Pastoral and practical questions then. What has Darrel really been thinking? Where does this most likely fail? What can I make happen and what will I fight for? Darrel did actually visit us, invited by a friend. He described himself as an atheist, formerly a zealous Mormon missionary. I asked him about visiting our congregation. I share his thoughts below.

Liturgy as Outreach in Salt Lake City

Prince of Peace was planted in Salt Lake City fifty years ago. Today the neighborhood is roughly 50% LDS. Our property is literally adjacent to a Mormon church building. We need a liquor license hanging on the wall in order to have wine at Holy Communion. Many go to churches here that include Jesus’ name but have never prayed the Our Father out loud with others.

Whether they know it or not (and some do), they’re looking for freedom.

I suspect that you know the challenges of speaking the gospel to a Mormon. For example, they use the same words with different meanings. They judge truth by inner witness of the Spirit, a “burning in the bosom.” Many American Christians are looking for something similar. More than once a visitor from a non-denominational background has said, “I felt the Spirit here today.” They’ve been taught to look for a sensation in order to know the Spirit is at work—that feeling authenticates a “real worship experience.”2

Here’s Paul, formerly LDS, later in the worship band at a Reformed community church, and now worshiping with us:

“Years ago we attended one of the services. It was my first time in a liturgical service. I remember being kinda weirded out that everyone was reading out loud in unison. I told Emma, “Seems a little cultish.” Ha! The things we’ve been taught formed in us an expectation that liturgical worship is inferior, that such people must have a dead faith because there aren’t shouts of amen, crying, or swaying back and forth with hands raised in an emotional frenzy of enthusiastic piety.”

Mormons and Evangelicals both attack the means of grace. So what’s the best way to love these restless souls? They’re not visiting for a “spiritual moment” or for moralistic preaching; they’ve had those things in spades. Whether they know it or not (and some do), they’re looking for freedom. You know how soul-stirring it is to watch the gospel find the cracks and work its way in! God be praised.

The liturgy of our divine service is a strong witness; it’s noticeably different than LDS or Evangelical worship, distinctly Christian and Christ-centered. If you’ve come from legalism, Lutheran worship is an escape from the treadmill, for your joy. Everything commanded is done. Enjoy your forgiveness! If you’re used to a service inherited from revivalism where the climax is commitment or decision or testimony, Lutheran worship shocks you with a different telos: it’s all gift! Jesus is here for you, not potentially, but really, already. If you have no worship background, you experience the gospel, historical connection, transcendence, and community—each of which could be an article unto itself.3

Jon Bauer concluded an insightful article in this publication with these lines that are so worth repeating: More than anything else, liturgical Lutheran worship is designed to proclaim the gospel. Our rites tell the basic gospel story weekly. […] Our heritage of hymns aim gospel truths and gospel events squarely at people’s hearts by setting them to poetry and music. Lutheran worship brims with the gospel.4 Lutheran worship preaches the gospel at all times, using words.

Lutheran worship is an escape from the treadmill.

Paul again, who thought our worship “a little cultish” at first:

As the Lord has drawn us in, some of the things that rubbed us the wrong way or that we were weirded out by have become the most precious. A big one is the confession absolution. I was really thrown off by this at first. But as we’ve grown in understanding, it’s become so beautifully comforting. Another topic is the primary direction in worship—from God to us. The main thing isn’t what we do. No, we come in need of being served. We come empty and Christ fills us through the word and sacrament. It’s so different from what we’ve known, upside down. So rich and full and right.5

“It’s so different from what we’ve known, upside down.”

Belonging

Consider some thoughts on two things that are rather universal and work toward what I want for Darrel. These things are part of putting flesh on Christ’s love and preaching the gospel, with and without words: belonging and being real.

Somewhere I heard James K.A. Smith say that in seeking to reach out you may be answering questions that people aren’t asking.6 For example, you speak about the significance life has in Christ, but unbelievers may believe they already have a life of significance and meaning. Maybe they’re involved in a political ideology or social cause; they’re making a difference. They’re not looking for more significance. But ask if they ever feel alone, unloved, or anxious. While not our most unique and important gifts as Lutherans, a sense of belonging and being real seem to resonate with the actual life questions of the guests we’re trying to love.7

It’s hard for someone to visit worship for the first time. We all know this, but it bears emphasizing: a culture of hospitality is love. It is Christlike. It is the gospel preached without words, and it must be part of our culture if we don’t want to hinder our outreach.

I promised the real Darrel’s thoughts. He shared this with me about his first visit:

The liturgy is certainly something I wasn’t familiar with, but it was easy enough for me to feel comfortable with it.

For confession and absolution, I stood out of respect, but I did not participate. I felt as a non-believer at the time it would have been disingenuous. But I remember this being in large part the first e-mail I wrote to you because I felt it very bold to forgive sins in God’s name.

I most remember how everyone went out of their way to make me feel welcome, even though at the time I had no intention of joining.

But he came back. He felt welcomed—even though a bit jarred by the absolution. He had no intention of joining, but the Lord had other intentions. Darrel became part of our liturgical life together first, then a few rounds of BIC. He was baptized and confirmed two years ago and now serves the Lord here in a number of ways.8 He wrote:

The liturgy is awesome because it isn’t what I can do for God; it’s about what he does for me.

Hooked by the gospel, Darrel belongs to our Lord and to us.

Being real

Many visitors come skeptical. Younger people, especially, can smell hypocrisy a mile away. It’s important for us to be real, to be authentic.9 Mitch and Alyssa migrated out of Mormonism and are in BIC with my associate. They came to us after they had vetted us by watching online services. Unsure of the liturgical service, they still ended up visiting, they said, because the preaching is about Christ and what he has done. They added, “It’s obvious you mean it.” It’s one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had as a preacher. It’s as the pastor’s wife always says: “preach from your heart.”

Younger people can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

It’s a reminder that the office of the ministry is not incidental to worship or outreach, but integral. The Lord has chosen this earthen vessel with his particular gifts and personality to deliver God’s gifts. Those reading this have, like me, failed in more ways than we can know. There’s no excuse for laziness. But lest we despair, the Lord picks us and lets us participate in his gathering. And love covers over a multitude of sins. One of the harshest criticisms I ever heard of ministry was from another pastor’s wife: “You preachers are good at preaching it. You’ve gotta work on believing it’s for you too.” The pastor must love the worship, convinced and confident that the Spirit is alive and present and touching lives. Take in the gifts, preacher. Be taken by the gospel.10

I’m not making suggestions in what follows. I just want to give you a sense of Sunday morning at Prince of Peace.

We have a paschal candle, hymnals, and vested acolytes. Some people have coffee mugs in the pews. I often use humor in a sermon to connect with God’s people. I wear a clerical collar. A modern ensemble sometimes leads the singing. We carry a crucifix in procession for select services. Our average age in worship is 35. We celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday. We invite anyone to come forward and receive a blessing if they’re not a member. We can go weeks in a row without a visitor but also had a service once with at least one Muslim family, one Mormon family, several Hindu families, plus Pentecostal and Evangelical families (all part of our school ministry).

I expect that much of the above has neither drawn people in nor pushed them away. I’m grateful to be at a season in life where I’m not interested in criticizing my brothers in ministry. I’m well aware of my weaknesses and share my story knowing that some details might not seem useful for you. What I can say is that this is me honestly trying to serve these people in the best way I can. I hope that our practices make people ask a good question: why do we do that? If they don’t ask, I find ways to explore the question anyway. One member said this about being real: “If our service is too far ‘high church’ or too far ‘casual entertainment,’ most people are probably going miss the message.” Different may be good; inauthentic isn’t.

One more joy of the liturgy is that bodies move. In contrast to worship as a cerebral exercise, a Bible study, or a concert hall, liturgy is multiple modes of participation: sitting, standing, folding hands, coming forward, eating, singing, speaking. These, too, are worship. God chose to redeem us through the incarnation of Christ. He is incarnate to redeem not only my thinking but also the hands I fold and the backside that sits in the pew. Salvation is not an idea ‘out there’—it is Christ, really here among us and in us, his body. A couple in their early 80s were recently confirmed, and the woman hugged me on the way out of church. She said, “You told us we’re the body of Christ, and I think that calls for a hug.” More profound than she realizes. In any case, liturgy encourages bodily worship.

Joel Oesch wrote: “As the Age of Excarnation continues to hypnotize us with shiny new toys and grand promises of pixel-induced bliss, the Christian confession can offer a narrative on human identity that actually addresses the whole person. Our neighbors are not simply minds. They are much more than complicated computers that produce outputs.”11

There’s much here to sort through philosophically and theologically. But this seems easy enough: liturgical worship is in touch with who we really are as the human beings God designed, body and soul. It’s purposefully a rather formal way of worship, but it’s real things, real people, real presence for people who are bombarded with virtual “realities.” It is a habit that forms us, consciously or unconsciously or both.

Loving them in the best way

I know what I want for a visitor. I can’t do the whole list. I wish I were more consistent. I complain about some things and I still do them. I pray it’s something like golf—one good shot might be enough to bring you back. Can I make sure something on that list of what I want for Darrel happens? Obviously.

Make liturgy live. Enjoy it. Jesus is there!

Do I have any tips for you? I’ll share with you what mentors have been saying to me for decades. Make liturgy live. Enjoy it. Jesus is there! If worship has become dull, consider your sacristy prayers. Do the old exercise of sitting in the sanctuary on Saturday night and imagining the struggles of the people who will be there in the morning. Have accessible worship folders, comfortable singing, and strong preaching.

“Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” One of the best intersections of outreach and worship is a Sunday morning where we do both.

By Tyler Peil

Tyler Peil is one of the pastors at Prince of Peace in Salt Lake City, Utah. He serves the Nebraska District as secretary and the WELS Commission on Evangelism as an Everyone Outreach coordinator. He was a member of the new hymnal project’s Scripture Committee.


1 If St. Francis actually said it.
2 Lutheran pastors know about the spirit of the enthusiasts, but I didn’t see the worship connection so clearly before reading Bryan Wolfmueller’s Has American Christianity Failed?
3 Of course, it takes time to grab all of that, as most good things do. I’ve seen it sometimes play out this way: confusion, boredom, curiosity, appreciation.
4 Worship the Lord #106, January 2021.
5 Paul and his wife Emma were confirmed in the Lutheran faith this year, and their three boys were baptized into Christ.
6 Most of his presentations and writing are insightful for a pastor trying to reach this culture with Christ. He’s a Christian philosopher who clearly puts his finger on the zeitgeist.
7 These don’t supersede the richest gifts: full strength gospel, Scripture alone, Christ at the center, sacraments, honesty, history as the holy, apostolic Church, pastoral care, etc.
8 I’m not making an absolute statement here, but I’ve noticed that most often those who are first part of worship regularly and have been loved and found friends here (they belong) are less likely to trail off after confirmation. It’s okay if BIC isn’t immediate; formation in faith and discipleship is more than handing over data, even if that data is the Word of God. Liturgy forms a rhythm of life in Christ—Jesus words, baptismal life, repentance, absolution, prayer, vocation, etc.
9 Jon Bauer referenced this in the article mentioned in endnote 4. Check out Barna polls as well.
10 I’m afraid some Sundays I’ve exuded all the joy of a flight attendant rushing through the safety demonstration for the third time today. It’s definitely possible to see liturgy as something to be used instead of something alive by its content. Lord, have mercy.
11 “Embodied Living in the Age of Excarnation” at www.cuw.edu.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Worship and Outreach – In Suburban Metro Atlanta

I often describe Covington as “Metro Atlanta meeting Old South.” It’s a place where you’re either from here and you remember when the six-lane highway was a dirt road, or you moved out from Atlanta to here because it’s cheaper and you might even be able to have a yard. When I got here 20 years ago, it was one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Countless subdivisions were being cut out of the forest and farm fields, and the neighborhoods were quickly making the county more diverse. Covington is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and those from here remember getting picked up by the buses on Sunday morning and going to the Baptist or Methodist or Pentecostal churches regularly, but then fading away. When Abiding Grace started, we were worshiping next door to one of the longest running annual camp meetings in the nation (think tent revival), a staple to the community since 1828. If you were used to church, you were used to a Spirit-led, Bible-based, fire-and-brimstone worship that lasted all day. But most had walked away from that scene years earlier. Then you add so many start-up churches following the population boom that the county had to make rules about how long they’d allow a church to rent space in their schools.

I’m giving you this background because I’ve been asked to describe worship and outreach in my setting, so it might be helpful to know that setting at least a little. Although, truth be told, worship and outreach are simpler than we usually make them out to be, so the truths we’ve experienced here will likely have application to just about any setting.

So, what does worship look like at Abiding Grace, and how does that work for outreach? Here are some ways our worship has been described.

“Very Traditional” and “Kinda Contemporary”

I know these two are usually seen as opposite ends of the spectrum, but it really depends on where you’re coming from. We use the Western Rite (the hymnal liturgy) and aren’t afraid to have regular variety in the parts of our service, alternating several settings for the Kyrie, Gloria, Gospel Acclamation, etc. We’ll occasionally use gathering rites and our choir tries to present various styles of music to carry the message. We include a children’s sermon in each service and write a local Prayer of the Church, often borrowing sections from those provided in the hymnal resources but including special petitions about what’s going on in the community and in the lives of our members and prospects.

I appreciate the clarity with which grace is proclaimed throughout our liturgy.

Different

This is probably the most common response I get when I show up on the doorstep of the first-time visitor and give them my standard line: “We’re so glad you came to worship with us. I know that sometimes when people worship with us for the first time, it’s exactly what they were expecting. But for others, it’s totally different. So, I just wanted to see if you had any questions about our worship and find out what you thought about it.” More often than not, they cut me off before I get to end of my spiel and tell me it was totally different. That’s when we get to talk about why different is a good thing. After all, they aren’t connected to whatever church they used to be going to, probably for a reason. Would we want to be exactly the same?

We get to talk about why different is a good thing.

But it’s more than that. Church is a different place from the world around us. Our message is fundamentally different from society’s and from most of the churches in our county. Several years ago, after a lesson of Bible Information Class, a retired prison guard pulled me to the side and told me with tears in his eyes that he had been going to church and been around God’s Word for more than 70 years and until that night, he had never understood grace. He wasn’t the first or last person to make a statement like that. I’m constantly amazed at how amazing grace is to those who have grown up with the “obedience” understanding of religion that is so prevalent in churches that claim to preach the Word. Hearing that makes me appreciate the clarity with which grace is proclaimed throughout our liturgy, from the reminder of the gift of Baptism in the Invocation to the power of the Absolution, to the thrill of the Supper and the peace of the Benediction. That’s a good different from worship that is all about me and my response.

When visitors see something different than what they are used to, I hope they ask why. In fact, that was one of the key principles our building committee kept in mind as we worked to design our church building. We didn’t want it to look like everything else in the community. We wanted people to notice that we were different, that we took God’s message for us seriously, that we had a big God and a God of love. In a county full of white clapboard churches with the narrow steeple or movie-theater looking contemporary structures, the powerful stone exterior and stately belltower proclaim that we worship a powerful God that is worthy of reverence, and the stained-glass windows and open doors proclaim that he is a God of love.

So, yes, I’m okay that we are “different.” But that’s not all. Our worship has been described as…

Accessible

We understand that what we do is unfamiliar to some, so we strive to make it accessible. That meant, from early on, printing everything in the bulletin so that it was easy to follow along for those who were new to our worship and for those parents who had simultaneous kid responsibilities. They didn’t need to turn pages in the hymnal and switch sources.

In BIC people are regularly encouraged to ask about whatever they don’t understand in worship.

That means explaining church-speak whenever possible. We regularly put notes in the margins of the bulletin describing why we do what we do and explaining the parts of our service and how they communicate the gospel and tie us to the Holy Christian Church. In Bible Information Class people are regularly encouraged to ask about whatever they don’t understand in worship. I often tell them that everything in worship is designed to communicate the good news of Jesus and his love for us. I’ll say, “If we do something and you don’t know why, it’s not doing that. Please ask. Then either I’ll be able to explain it, and every time you see it from here on out you’ll be reminded of God’s love for you. Or I won’t be able to explain it, and we’ll need to rethink why we do it or if we should.”

The repetition the liturgy provides helps make what we do here quickly comfortable, even as the texts and applications of the Proper change. Our sermons strive to consider the biblically illiterate, explaining our references and including them in the audience. We want to help them realize this is a great place to grow in that knowledge of the Word. We invite the children up for children’s sermons and give them opportunities to serve in the service. Even in our announcements we make sure not to use shorthand (explaining WELS or LWMS every time they are mentioned), encourage all to be involved, and thank the guests for coming.

We want them to know that they are coming to something that is worthwhile, so our worship is also…

Transcendent

In the first year of our work, I remember a pivotal moment in our history. It was a statement made by a lady who had grown up in a Muslim home but had taken us up on a canvassing invitation. Long story short, she was baptized and confirmed and then accepted an invitation to come to our planning meeting for this young church. We had been worshiping weekly from the very beginning of the mission work in Covington, so we were having a meeting about how we worshiped, about what we needed to change to reach the unchurched in our area. We also wanted to maintain our Lutheran heritage and doctrine as we were reaching out to a community who most often responded to our name with the question “What’s a Lutheran?” Several of our mostly white core group were there and a couple of our new confirmands, one black and one Hispanic, to give us the “outsider’s view.” We were talking about the music in worship and lamenting that our music was foreign to the ears of those who didn’t grow up Lutheran (which was more than 99 percent of our target area, really!). People were throwing ideas around about finding what music we should use and how we could sound like what was familiar to our community. One lady said we could grab some of the Christian songs from the radio and play them. The people in our community would recognize them at least. That’s when Najia said it, “I don’t think we need to do that. It’s okay for it not to sound like what’s on the radio when I come to church. It’s church. It’s supposed to be different from what I hear day in and day out. I hear what I hear every day. When I come to church, I want to hear what I need to hear. Church is supposed to be special.”

Plus, the message is different. Our hymns proclaim the greatness of God, not our obedience. The robe, the candles, the acolyte, and banners all have something to say, and a big part of that message is that God is God. He is worthy of our respect and honor, fear and reverence. “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

“It’s church. It’s supposed to be different from what I hear day in and day out.”

Yet even though our worship strives for transcendence, we pray it is not aloof, cold, or detached. It is our goal that worship is also…

Authentic

It’s worship. It is real people coming before God because he is worth something to them. It is a conversation between sinners and a holy God. Satan wants to make it a show, a “going through the motions.” The sameness of liturgical worship makes that a real temptation. The business side of church makes it possible for people to see our outreach in that way too.

A story.

Melvin was a prospect for years. He was always friendly, so I kept coming back and showing up at his door for another conversation. He regularly told me he’d come to church…sometime. And then he didn’t. This went on for years. Then Bill showed up (remember the septuagenarian prison guard above?). I’ll tell it from Melvin’s point of view. I just heard him tell the story again because every time I bring a new vicar to introduce him to Melvin and Melvin’s bed-ridden son, Melvin tells the story about how he got connected to Abiding Grace.

“This guy was bugging me for years. Every time he showed up, I told him ‘Yeah I probably should get back to church.’ Every time I told him, ‘I’ll show up one of these days,’ and then Sunday would come, and I just didn’t. Then he sent the closer. That’s what I call Bill, because well, I couldn’t not come when Bill invited me. I figured Pastor had to do that stuff. He was the pastor, but then Bill shows up and tells me how good it is to go to church there and I told him I’d come, so I just had to. I thought it would be just one time and I’d be able to say I did it.”

The robe, the candles, the acolyte, and banners all have something to say.

The best part is when Melvin talks about what he thought about worship. “Now, don’t get me wrong. It was weird, but Bill seemed to like it and I realized that everything was based on God’s Word, so I came back, and before you know it, I’m in the class and then I’m a member.”

Did you notice what he noticed about worship? It was weird, but Bill, this real man, this “good guy,” was into it. It was real people worshiping a real God using their own gifts, not someone else’s. I guarantee you that on the Sunday he came, the choir wasn’t perfect. The piano had a wrong note or two, and I’m sure I tripped over a word more than once. But it was real. The pattern of the church year, the familiarity of the liturgy, the gifts of God’s people allowed us to worship.

Going along with that, worship at Abiding Grace is…

Flexible

Like I’ve said before, we use the liturgy. We preach on the church year. We make use of many of the resources in the hymnal, we follow the rites and rubrics suggested. Unless we don’t. For a reason.

When we were still in the middle school cafeteria, Linda came to worship with us. We had been visiting her for a while and had great conversations. Then, she promised to come worship with us. This was going to be great. Then she showed up. She worshiped. We talked about it. It was great. She came the next Sunday. Then she didn’t. She missed a couple in a row, so I went to talk to her. She told me she really liked that we were so focused on the Bible and enjoyed worship, it was the kind she had grown up with—but she just can’t do it. The standing and sitting doesn’t work for her. Last Sunday she had grabbed onto the folding chair in front of her to help her up, and she stumbled and almost fell. She wouldn’t have been able to handle that, so she was done. I told her she didn’t have to stand when everyone else did. She told me that would make her stand out and embarrass her. I told her if she came back, we’d stay seated the whole service. She said okay, thinking she was calling my bluff. I emailed my council the heads-up and they said, “Go for it.” So for the next month we didn’t stand for the Invocation or the Gospel or the Creed or the Prayer of the Church. The congregation was happy to help make her feel comfortable. Since then, we’ve brought back standing for the Gospel and the Creed—with Linda’s okay.

Worship is the family of faith being the family of faith. It’s more than you can get from a screen at home, even though that is a nice option to have when necessary. Worship is more than receiving a message or hearing great music. Worship is the family of faith being the family of faith, and that is attractive to those who need a family of faith. In other words, that’s attractive to everyone. Study after study, anecdote after anecdote, social media site after social media site show that we long for connections. We are wired for it. That’s what God said was “not good” about the first perfect human created. He was missing connection. He needed connection. So do we. What suburbanites in the Southeast and people everywhere need is the “gathering together” the writer to the Hebrews tells us not to give up (Hebrews 12:25). Our neighbors can find from other sources more entertainment value than we can provide. They can find plenty of talking heads to tell them they are giving them God’s Word. What they need, and deep down they know it, is a connection with God and his people rooted in and flowing from God’s love for us all.

May God use our congregations, and each of us as individuals, to give people exactly what they need. And may he bless all our efforts to connect with our neighbors and our communities.

By Jonathan E. Scharf

Pastor Scharf serves Abiding Grace in Covington, GA. He is also Circuit Pastor of the Peachtree Circuit and chairman of the following: the seminary’s governing board, the Cottonbelt Conference’s Program Committee, the South Atlantic District’s Commission on Evangelism. He is an advisor for the Synod’s Commission on Congregational Counseling. He was a member of the new hymnal project’s Scripture Committee (lectionary). He has been privileged to serve many new Christians (an average of 25 adult confirmations per year since 2011) in an area where Lutheran worship is rare.


The Service: Settings 2 and 3

Instrumental parts and more for both modern ensemble and brass/timpani are now available from the Musician’s Resource (top right on NPH’s home page). Find these by selecting “Setting Two” or “Setting Three” from the Rites dropdown. For more information, including comments on why Musician’s Resource content isn’t coming at a faster pace, see the Hymnal Highlights from September 30 and October 14 (welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources). September 30 also includes links to Google lectionary calendars.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

 

Worship and Outreach – In a Southwestern Suburb

God had Isaiah say it first, but Peter quoted him. “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Many people have favorite verses or stories in the Bible. This passage has always spoken to me. It has it all: original sin, man’s mortality juxtaposed against God’s eternity, means of grace, and preservation in faith. When you add that Isaiah originally put those words into the mouth of John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ, you also have the summary of our Law and Gospel witness.

Perhaps that verse suggests the nexus of outreach and worship, too. The lifelong Lutheran with a “WELS” tattoo needs to hear “all people are like grass” just as urgently as the “none” granddaughter. The serious-looking octogenarian in the second row needs to hear “the word of the Lord stands forever” so that his heavenly hope rests on God’s eternal word. So does the postmodern millennial who is looking for an anchor in the storm of 21st century culture.

All the souls in your parish and community will wither and fall. Will they do so with the Lord’s eternal promises in Christ? You already know that the application of our gospel witness looks a little different from place to place depending on context in ministry. This is a part of what it looks like in Marana, Arizona.

Context

Redeemer is located in the northwestern suburbs of Tucson, Arizona. Tucson stretches across a valley floor to the foothills of five mountain ranges. It is located roughly halfway in between Phoenix to the north and Mexico to the south. In 1950, Tucson’s population was about 80,000. Today, it has surpassed 1,000,000. The University of Arizona is here. And, because the sun shines here more than it does in Florida, so are a lot of retirees looking to escape the cold and snow. That makes the city an eclectic mix of young and old, as well as a melting pot of people from every corner of the country.

Parish demographics reflect our community. We are close to equal parts ages 0-25, 25-55, and 55 and up, and reflect many different races and ethnicities. We have native Tucsonans, transplants from the west coast, the Midwest, and the east coast. Of our more than 500 parishioners, maybe 40 percent have a WELS background. Among our numbers are many new Christians, recent converts, de-churched who have found a new home, and others who have come to us looking for orthodoxy.

An important part of our context is Marana’s rapid population growth. When Redeemer relocated to our current location in 1998, we didn’t have a lot of neighbors. Now, thousands of homes have been built, and thousands more are planned. On any given Sunday, we will welcome six to eight brand-new first-time guests to worship. In a year we’ll total between 400-500 first-time walk-in guests. Many of them are new to Arizona, new to our area, and are looking for a church home.

Culture

Some congregations are not ready for outreach. That culture needs to be built. My former congregation in Indiana wasn’t ready. Their congregational roots dated back to 1972 when a splinter group left LCMS because of frustrations over Seminex. Feeling burned by their former church body shaped the congregational culture. Their attitude was, “It’s us against the world!” Anytime a guest visited worship, you could feel the coldness and see the suspicious looks from across the chapel. They needed patient teaching that helped them make peace with their past before they were ready to make peace with worship guests.

A similar situation existed when I arrived in Tucson. Redeemer enjoyed rapid growth in the early 2000s, expanding their pastoral staff to four full time men and daughtering a mission congregation. That came to an abrupt halt when the market corrected and the economy stalled in 2008. The so-called “Great Recession” hit Tucson hard. Housing starts stalled. Many who were upside-down on their mortgages were forced to sell at a loss and move to a new city for employment. The parish that had seen impressive growth was halved. By the end of 2011 all four pastors had taken calls away, leaving a once thriving congregation looking forlorn. Some were downright angry. And when you walked into church, you felt it. They needed time to heal. They weren’t ready for outreach.

“It’ll take five years before the congregation trusts me. We need time to heal.”

How do you change that? How do you change a congregation’s culture and prepare them for outreach? You make haste slowly. Just after I got to Tucson, I remember talking to a very faithful man. He was a retired businessman, and bored. He was so excited to have a pastor after an extended vacancy that he walked into my office and wrote me a blank check. “Anything you want, pastor, I will do it.” His noble enthusiasm was tempered by my curt response. “Jim, I accept your offer, but it’ll take five years before the congregation trusts me. We need time to heal.” He looked at me in disbelief! He was ready to go. Why didn’t the congregation share his enthusiasm?

The first thing we worked on was attendance. In Indiana, you always knew who was there; the numbers were smaller. Redeemer was at least five times larger than that parish. I was new and didn’t know anybody. Add to that Redeemer had no system of tracking attendance or differentiating members from guests. After about a year, I called Jim into my office. “I’m still getting to know the people, but it sure looks like we have a lot of outreach potential.” Outreach? He didn’t think so. Neither did many of the other leaders in the congregation. In the absence of accurate data, who really knew?

One of the tools we agreed to use early on was a Friendship Register. Leaders were dubious whether it would be embraced or be perceived as an intrusion. To avoid the latter impression, we came up with an idea. Rather than ask a serious looking usher in a blue blazer to hand them out, we assigned the task to four smiling children in elementary school. Even now we rarely get 100% to participate, but when a pigtailed little girl in a sundress hands you the register, even the most curmudgeonly will usually cooperate. It took time and patience, but eventually it caught on. After we collected attendance data for a season, we discovered that on any given Sunday 25% of the worshipers were non-member guests, either first time worshipers or repeat attenders. Leaders were stunned! We had a mission field right inside our chapel and no one had any idea!

When a pigtailed little girl in a sundress hands you the register, even the most curmudgeonly will usually cooperate.

As leaders began to acknowledge the open door of outreach God was driving into our chapel, we began work on our worship welcome. That meant addressing our Sunday morning culture. As you address culture, this point is critical: the pastor sets the temperature for the congregation climate. Many people already operate with a stereotypical view of pastors that we have to work to overcome; they are stuffed shirts; they’re overly serious, not down to earth or relatable. Many people never see their pastors other than in the pulpit, even on Sunday mornings. Do your congregation a favor and work hard to dispel those stereotypes! Set the temperature. Be visible on Sunday from the time people arrive. Meet them in the parking lot; welcome them in the entryway; visit with them in the nave. Call everyone by name, look them in the eye, and greet them warmly. Carry their burdens. All people are like grass, pastors included. Show them you’re human. Smile, joke, and laugh. When you practice the golden rule, treating people like you genuinely love them, they’re much more inclined to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.

An evangelism professor from our Seminary once noted that guests make up their minds about whether they’ll return to your church in the first two minutes of their visit. Before they hear your carefully rehearsed choir, before they see your professionally produced service folder, before they listen to your homiletical prowess, they’ve already made up their minds. Creating a friendly and welcoming atmosphere is worth the effort. After the pastor leads by example, put your people to work. We placed greeters outside the chapel doors to welcome people with a smile and a hearty “Good morning!” Ushers were carefully trained to answer questions and assist with special needs. We tapped five of our most bubbly parishioners for a special task. Get to church a half hour early, and personally welcome every new face you see in the chapel, whether young or old. Over time, something better happened. The whole congregation began to participate. Now, it’s common for first time guests to comment before they leave, “This is the friendliest congregation I’ve ever visited.”

We tapped five of our most bubbly parishioners for a special task.

Chapel

Our chapel was dedicated in 2002. When I arrived ten years later, our property team noticed the carpet bubbling. “We should fix that.” A year later, transplants lamented that the acoustics were lousy. “Can’t we fix that?” Another year passed, and I followed up on guests who hadn’t returned. They explained they couldn’t see the chancel because of the placement of a load bearing pillar. “Can’t you fix that?” In 2015, a parent who attended school chapel bemoaned how washed out our screen projectors were. “Can’t you fix that?”

Although our chapel was very usable, there were enough needling limitations that congregational leaders resolved to address it. They planned a tasteful cosmetic update that would be done by fall 2019 in time for our 75th anniversary. We selected a designer, made plans, but missed a key vote and our anniversary deadline. The following spring, COVID complicated everything. That turned out to be a gift. Since our timelines were pushed back, we revisited our plans, adjusting its scope to prioritize the chancel. After we suffered through supply chain constraints and constantly pushed off deadlines, our project is now complete.

A stunning makeover that powerfully influences both worship and outreach.

Our color scheme changed from the greens and purples of a Tucson sunset to something warmer. We replaced the carpeting with luxury vinyl tile. The pews were reupholstered. We purchased new LED light fixtures, and the entire chapel was painted white. The music space was reimagined. The biggest improvement, though, was in the chancel. The screens were removed, so now the eye is centered on the powerful visual of a free-floating cross.

What began as an innocuous project to address a punch-list of irritations turned out to be a stunning makeover that powerfully influences both worship and outreach. Our previous chapel was utilitarian, but “meh.” The remodel has a wow factor. It is difficult to describe just how impactful good lighting is on people’s demeanor, their mood, and their willingness to engage in worship. A bright space makes for happy people who want to engage. Replacing the carpet with tile has significantly enhanced our singing. It’s a live room; sound jumps. A retired LCMS pastor who worships with us occasionally commented, “I always knew your people could sing. But now they raise the roof! The new acoustics are a real game changer.” Prior to the remodel, nobody commented about our chapel. Now it’s often one of the first things people notice: “Your chapel is just beautiful.” Happy people, vigorous singing, and a friendly culture connect worship to outreach.

Happy people, vigorous singing, and a friendly culture connect worship to outreach.

Consistency

One of our oft repeated internal sayings is, “Whoever shows the love gets the soul.” You have probably already done the math. With as many walk-in guests as we see annually, shouldn’t we have 4,000 members by now? That’s our next mountain to climb. We’re working on building a consistent, repeatable follow-up program to worship. Here is what we’ve built so far.

Whoever shows the love gets the soul.

Every Monday, a lay-led team visits those first-time guests at their home. They deliver a welcome bag filled with devotion books, coffee cups, magnets, and church information. What’s in the bag is irrelevant. The initiative and the personal, face to face visit is what matters. Since they did us the honor of visiting our chapel in person, the least we can do is say “Thank-you” in person. By the end of the week, a team of ladies with good penmanship has sent off a handwritten note. About ten days after their initial visit, the chairman of the outreach team reaches out by phone or email. The hottest prospects are referred to the pastor. The simple logic behind the effort is that you never know which personal touch will resonate. Whoever shows the love gets the soul.

About a year ago, Joe walked into church. He’s an 80-year-old Marine. His idea of fun is to wake up at 2 a.m. and bicycle 40 miles up Mt Lemmon. After that he lifts weights and rides his motorcycle. When Joe walked into church the first time, he told us he hadn’t been in church in 50 years. But his wife had just died; he was looking for answers. “All people are like grass.” I didn’t meet Joe that day, but our follow up teams ran their program: doorstep, handwritten note, outreach chairman, pastor. A vicar eventually took him through instruction and today he’s an active member. Just yesterday, this 80-year-old Marine approached the woman who delivered the initial follow up bag. He was weeping. “I am so thankful that Redeemer reached out to me. You have no idea how special this church is to me.” Whoever shows the love gets the soul.

This 80-year-old Marine was weeping.

I love that story because I had nothing to do with it. Joe is a victory of our parish, a victory of the consistency of our process, of the Golden Rule. You know that there are no silver bullets in ministry, but this is as close as it gets. Work hard. Take initiative. Be consistent. Follow up and follow through. Show love. Delegate, and train your people for ministry. And then get out of the Holy Spirit’s way.

Conclusion

Nobody has ever been converted because of a shiny new chapel. Nobody repents because of a solid greeter or usher program. No saint who is now in heaven credits the bubbly brunette or the glad-handing pastor. It’s the Word that works.

Consider the alternative. A gloomy environment, dour people, or an aloof pastor are a turn off. Any one of them can undermine a gospel witness, casting a pall over the God we praise. Of course, God can save people in spite of us. Is that really what we’re aiming for?

Understanding your context in ministry matters. You’ve got to play the cards God dealt you in your backyard. Working to improve your ministry culture helps to prepare souls to meet Jesus. That’s what John did. He prepared the way for the Lord by eliminating barriers. He made the path straight. He raised the valley up, he brought the hills down, he smoothed out the rough ground. He made it easy for people to meet Jesus.

Isaiah said it first. “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

“And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).

By Adam Mueller

Since 2012 Pastor Mueller has served Redeemer, Tucson, AZ. Previously he served in Kokomo, IN where he also helped start missions in Lafayette and Greenwood, IN. Besides parish ministry, he has served in various roles on the district level including evangelism coordinator and circuit pastor. On the synodical level, he has served on translation review teams, the Commission on Congregational Counseling, and as chair of the Hymnal Introduction Program.


“The remodel has a wow factor.” The photo to the right shows before the remodel. The after picture is at the beginning of the article. Additional photos are available online in #116a at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-worship-and-outreach. Pastor Mueller also led a significant renovation project in Kokomo, IN. It was featured in #19 at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/wtl-church-architecture.

 


Recent Resources

The Foundation Year A worship planner – PDF and Excel files for the full year were posted in mid-August after Advent through Epiphany was posted earlier in June.

Hymnal Highlights – The June 17 post includes ideas for fall or long-range planning. You can subscribe to receive them, along with other information, at welscongregationalservices.net/subscriptions.

Christian Worship: Service Builder – Six tightly scripted videos are now available at: christianworship.com/resources (under Articles) and at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources. These videos are useful both for those already using Service Builder and for those just exploring—and to help congregational leaders to see the value and potential of Service Builder.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Worship and Outreach – In a Large Midwestern Parish

Worship and Outreach

In a Large Midwestern Parish1

Introductory Matters

Every article has a context. A brother’s words still ring in my ear from a past Call deliberation: “You recognize, don’t you, that the public worship life of the church has been in disarray throughout the course of history?” The topic at hand has been surrounded by conversations, some of which have caused harm and division in church bodies past and present—of this I am fully aware.

If any of this is compelling, God bless it. And, if not, God bless you, dear brother.

So I need to say clearly: I am no expert. My musical gifts are laughable, and I have no advanced degrees in either worship or outreach.2 Nor is this a persuasive essay. I write as a pastor, recognizing the gospel is the lifeblood of the church.3 I am a pastor, daily and increasingly aware of my own shortcomings, and growing, I pray, ever more charitable and enjoying the dialogue with those who think differently about why I do what I do, especially in the areas of worship and outreach, and where they intersect. I don’t claim to have this all figured out, nor do I serve 1,250 parishioners and a number of weekly visitors to the Sunday Service who are completely united on this matter, either.4

My prayerful aim in these few short pages is to give a brief glimpse into how one larger, midwestern parish has sought to serve the lifelong WELSer and the newcomer with the same unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ, to his unending glory.5 If any of this is compelling, God bless it. And, if not, God bless you, dear brother, Called to serve real sinner-saints in your own context. I am thankful that this article and the ongoing conversations have given me a new opportunity to think through these items and to pray for you and your ministry, as well.

“The terrible sin of pessimism, which is the pastor’s greatest temptation, is finished with.”

In No Particular Order
  • Hermann Sasse: “The humble preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the simple Sacraments are the greatest things that can happen in the world. For in these things the hidden reign of Christ is consummated. He himself is present in these means of grace, and the bearer of the ministry of the church actually stands in the stead of Christ. That certainly puts an end to any clerical conceit. We are nothing. He is everything. And that means that the terrible sin of pessimism, which is the pastor’s greatest temptation, is finished with as well. It is nothing but doubt and unbelief, for Christ the Lord is just as present in His means of grace today as He was in the sixteenth or the first century. And ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ [Matt. 28:18] is just as much His today as it was when He first spoke that promise to the apostles. And it remains so into all eternity. Do we still believe this?”6 This has something to say to our time together on Sunday morning, I do believe. For our members. And for those that you have prayed for or worked with, who saw a Facebook ad, who are down on life, or who simply took a friend up on an invitation to join them in worship.
  • Paul ambled up to me after my first Sunday in Mukwonago. “Thanks for the Service, but the problem is this: you had us stand way too much.” If I remember correctly, it was pretty standard fare, a Service from the hymnal; singing “How Great Thou Art” and probably “On Eagles’ Wings” as well7, I was no glutton for punishment! The next week Paul nodded as he passed by: “That was much better.” Same service. Same rubrics. Lesson learned: “How we’ve always done things” is a flexible conversation. Lesson learned: let’s spend a lot of time talking about why we do what we do.8

Do you display care and concern for the entirety of the Service or just the sermon?

  • Sainted pastor and former district president Herbert Prahl was quoted in Preach the Word 26.1 (May/June 2022). “Love your hearers as Jesus loved them.” He also gave the reminder that the sermon must answer a big question: “So What?” I maintain the same goes for presiding. Members and visitors know what is important to you, dear pastor. Are they aware that you want to be there? Do you display care and concern for the entirety of the Service or just the sermon? Have you thought through your movements and your words? Practiced your pace? Does the joy show of standing in the stead of Christ and absolving the sinner in front of you? Would they know this is one of the high points of your week? “Dignified without being stuffy” is a compliment I once received. We’re handling other-worldly things in this place, in this hour. Let them see you reduced to tears as you explain to them the meaning of the salutation; as you marvel at God’s grace to you to serve in the place where he would have you serve; as those sitting there love you in return; to the glory and praise of God. Let them see you tremble as you baptize that child. Let them see you smile as you commune that couple you were quite sure weren’t going to make it; or as you commune that dear widow; or that dear young woman on Mother’s Day who has suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. (A dear brother in associate ministry for the first time: “Today was the first Easter in my ministry where I have not preached. But I did absolve; I read; I prayed; I distributed holy body and holy blood; I spoke the blessing. That isn’t nothing!”) Let them see this as the greatest hour of the week, and that you would not want to be anywhere else!
  • “Sharp elbows cause problems in pick-up basketball games and in church narthexes and in meetings.” What does this have to do with worship and outreach? The visitor can sense when things are on edge. Members, too. Forgiveness and mercy are the rule of the day. The Eighth Commandment looks good on you. If I remembered where I heard it for the first time, I’d surely give credit: “You have found the right church when you can have a little laughter; when you don’t take yourself so seriously.” The gospel is serious business, yes. The work of the church is serious business, yes. But to have a little fun this side of heaven, in bounds, and in service of the gospel, this too is a gift of God. “Oh, how good it is … where the bonds of peace, of acceptance and love, are the fruits of his presence here among us.” (CW 731:1)

To have a little fun this side of heaven in service of the gospel is a gift of God.

  • The children matter. We’ve learned to embrace their chatter. We tell young parents: “Don’t worry, we don’t hear your kids.” We provide a cry room and seats in the entryway if that’s where they find their comfort. But we do all we can to encourage them to have their children with the rest of the church family in the Service. If they learn it for hymnology, I try to remember to have it sung on Sunday. We don’t frown at parents if they sit towards the front and let their kids ask questions. The little ones receive a blessing as their parents commune. We teach the sign of the cross, that is free to be used, or not, at appropriate times in the Service. An ill-timed “Amen” and a “Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!” from the lips of these little ones are welcomed in the ears of Jesus and in our midst, as well.
  • Every one, bring one. Pastor David Rosenau’s “One by One”9 presentation at the 2020 Leadership Conference resonated with how we’ve approached outreach. Everyone Outreach10 from Congregational Services strikes the same chord. When people come through our doors, if they do not have a pastor, we consider that our role until they tell us not to be their pastor. If a parishioner tells us about a family member or friend is in the hospital, we ask if they have a pastor serving them. We have invited some folks to the Adult Instruction Class a dozen times before they have said yes, and many more still keep saying “no.” We recognize that some of our greatest outreach happens before, during, and after the Sunday services.

If a parishioner tells us about a family member or friend is in the hospital, we ask if they have a pastor serving them.

  • March 2020 brought two specific blessings to our worship life. Online Morning Prayer and an online “Prayer and Conversation” meeting emerged. Two-plus years later: a ten-minute Morning Prayer is made available Monday through Friday on our YouTube page. I cannot tell you how many parishioners and non-members have commented how this has changed their daily routine. “I thank you my heavenly Father” and “Lord, have mercy” are on the lips and hearts of dozens every morning. We have now added to this a “live” Morning Prayer on Wednesday mornings during the Advent, Lent, and Easter seasons. It works for some retirees, and for some on their way to work, and for a few school families. The faculty stops in. As the online “Prayer and Conversation” meetings waned, we decided to add a monthly Prayer at the Close of Day Service.11 We’ve used this Service to introduce some of the newer hymns and psalmody. God’s children (and their friend, if they’ve brought one, as they’ve been encouraged) often go home with “I will wait for you through the storm and night” from Psalm 130 in their ears. Blessed be those old words made new again! Some months ago, we brought in a speaker for an evening lecture beforehand.12 I recognize this is not in everyone’s wheelhouse, but if the midweek “Bible study” has become an accepted norm (for which I’m thankful!), I maintain that a regular gathering for Morning Prayer and Prayer at the Close of Day could be an accepted norm, as well.
A few more lessons I have learned

Some people have strong opinions about what they want in worship. Over the past eight years, out of the hundreds who have come from outside of our fellowship to join us, I can count on one hand those who had strong opinions already formed regarding worship. It’s worth a conversation. To the lady with a nominal background in Methodism, I asked her: “Tell me your favorite hymns,” and lo and behold, some of them fit, and I gave attention to those in my next round of worship planning. The new confirmand from Roman Catholicism says: “I’m thankful that I don’t have to give up the sign of the cross—and to now know what it means!” Each denomination, and congregation within a denomination, is going to land somewhere on these questions. “We’ve always and we’ve never.” You could write a book! Our congregation has landed in a place where we are not going to try to “out Baptist the Baptists” or “out Catholic the Catholics.”

A ten-minute Morning Prayer is available on YouTube. I cannot tell you how many have commented how this has changed their daily routine.

This article isn’t a sales pitch for the new hymnal—no royalties for this guy! But what Pastor Michael Schultz says in his Introduction to Christian Worship has been true and, we pray, will continue on in our congregation: “There is something for everyone to appreciate and to use: seasoned worshipers, newcomers, and a generation yet unborn.”13 Our experience has been that liturgical worship and a frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a deterrent to our outreach efforts, but rather, combined with intentional education and “every one reach one” outreach efforts, has been a tremendous blessing, to member and non-member alike!

We are not going to try to “out Baptist the Baptists” or “out Catholic the Catholics.”

Dr. Wade Johnston, writing about preaching, says something that can be applied to our worship and outreach as well: “The church has time, but sinners do not. So we should stop wasting their time. There’s only so long to hear, and so what gets put in their and our ears is crucial. Christ knew that and gave the paralytic what he needed first, whether or not the paralytic or anyone else realized it. There’s a freedom in that realization for the preacher, that everyone’s need is the same: forgiveness.”14

God bless your worship and outreach to that end!

By John Bortulin

Since 2014 Pastor Bortulin has served as one of the pastors at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. In the past eight years, St. John’s has seen over 250 adults join the church family through her Adult Instruction Class. This has created the dynamic of a large, established, congregation with many in the pews who were not previously familiar with liturgical worship. Additionally, John is the Worship Coordinator for the SEW District, serves on our synod’s Board for Ministerial Education and Joint Mission Council, and was a member of the Rites Committee for Christian Worship.


St. John’s intentional teaching of Why We Do What We Do
  1. Every AIC lesson is connected to a part of the Service. The same goes for youth catechism. The catechism student’s sermon study form also asks them to list their favorite hymn and anything in the service that drew their attention. Where do I see this truth when I come to worship? Where does this truth and this worship intersect with daily life?
  2. Lesson four in the AIC starts out: “Any questions about that Service you just sat through?” It’s a good temperature check. Sometimes that lasts an hour. Sometimes it leads to the next lesson, a step-by-step walkthrough of the Divine Service.
  3. Sunday morning Bible study often starts with “Any questions about worship today?”
  4. Utilization of explanatory notes in the Service Folder.
  5. Sermon connections to various parts of the Service, when appropriate.

Recent Resources

Are you aware that the Musician’s Resource (MR) is now live at nph.net? See the upper right-hand corner. Next to “Login” find “Musician’s Resource,” a link to a search tool and simplified site view to streamline the search experience solely to MR resources.

Christian Worship: Service Builder: Another of Caleb Bassett’s tightly scripted videos was posted in mid-June, A Powerful New Paradigm, available at: christianworship.com/resources (under Articles) and at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources. These videos are useful both for those already using Service Builder and for those just exploring—and to help congregational leaders to see the value and potential of Service Builder.

Another new resource: Rethinking the Role of Digital Displays in Worship. Find the article under “View Presentations” at the hymnal intro page above.

Have you seen the Hymnal Highlights? You can subscribe to receive them, along with other information, at welscongregationalservices.net/subscriptions. Or visit the hymnal intro page above. The most recent one (the title includes “In This Holy, Blest Communion”) includes lots of ideas for fall or long-range planning.

Also helpful for future planning: the Year A worship planner PDF and Excel files for Advent through Epiphany were released on June 17.


1 Some of this article flows from previous presentations at the National Worship Conference and at the Mission and Ministry Seminar held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Drop me a line and I’d be happy to share those presentations in outline form.
2 I am, however, indebted to the brothers who have done advanced study and have expertise in both areas. I am the richer for the ongoing conversation.
3 Augsburg Confession V.
4 I write this article smiling about two recent conversations. The first, from a soon-to-be adult confirmand: “You guys sing some weird stuff.” The second, from a midweek Bible study, when a series of comments about the recent selection of hymnody left me feeling pretty good about myself: “Pastor, we just love the new hymns we’ve been singing,” and then quickly brought back down to reality from the back of the room: “You could pick some of the old familiars, you know!”
5 The context matters. St. John’s is a parish founded in 1890. In the past eight years, one-fourth of our membership has come from outside of WELS, many from Roman Catholic, Evangelical, un-churched, and de-churched backgrounds. “How we’ve always done it” and “What I’m used to in worship” could fill volumes.
6 Hermann Sasse, The Lonely Way, Vol. 2, p. 139.
7 I work to find hymns that fit the theme of the day. I also recognize that the parishioner and the visitor will likely appreciate the familiar rather than the hymn that makes a great connection with the second reading in the third stanza. My philosophy here: Do the one without leaving the other undone. I’m guessing a couple dozen favorite hymns get sung 4-6 times/year. The ones that are their favorite and not mine happen to get sung while I’m on vacation.
8 The more I’ve learned about worship, the more I enjoy leading the Service and teaching the Service. If the old advice is helpful, “Read Walther’s Law and Gospel yearly,” I gladly add to that: “Read something decent on worship every year.”
9 welscongregationalservices.net/one-by-one
10 everyoneoutreach.com
11 Pastor Jon Zabell at St. Paul’s, Green Bay has been doing this for years. I think he would tell the same story: this has been a rich blessing for many. A new book, Prayer in the Night, by Tish Harrison Warren has served as an eye-opening guide to the prayers of this service.
12 Topics have included: Vocation; the Family Altar; Witnessing to Mormons; Psalms in the life of the Lutheran Church; Galatians.
13 Christian Worship, iv. One would also benefit from a re-read Pastor Jon Bauer’s article in Worship the Lord (#106, 2021) available at worship.welsrc.net.
14 Wade Johnston, Let the Bird Fly, 1517 Publishing, pp. 45-46. Johnston is on the faculty at Wisconsin Lutheran College.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Worship and Outreach – A New Mission Congregation’s Perspective

This issue begins a new series on worship and outreach. The goal is simple: to encourage all congregations to do their very best in both realms. But isn’t it fair to assume that they already are? Doing their best? By some measurements, yes. But it’s also clear that our churches face various challenges. If improvements can be realized, we are likely under God to see greater blessings in both worship and outreach.

So, this series will share perspectives and ideas from a variety of congregations, hoping to inspire ongoing attention to these twin priorities. Of course, a series of articles alone will not provide all the resources needed. This series joins other resources: a new hymnal suite of resources, welscongregationalservices.net, and much more. As part of this emphasis, readers are also encouraged to review materials from the 2010 symposium on worship and outreach: wisluthsem.org/symposium-archives.


When I was young, my dad listened to talk radio. I used to think, “This is so boring! How can anybody listen to this and not fall asleep?” Yet, ironically, I find myself really getting into podcasts, some over an hour long. The ones that I find most useful are those that pull you into a conversation. The podcast hosts are not trying to give you a prescriptive way to do something, but they are giving you the opportunity to be a passive member of a conversation. As the conversation goes on, you are thinking through your own thoughts on the subject matter and how you might apply things in your specific context.

In a similar way, I’d like to pull you into some of the conversations of a new mission church as they thought through worship, how worship would interact with outreach, and how a church could thoughtfully accomplish several things with a worship service. I pray that it may be edifying for you as you think through worship in your context. Certainly, much that follows is descriptive and not prescriptive. (Goes without saying, but I say it anyway.)

Word-Centered Worship

In an introduction to a New York Times Magazine article, Nausicaa Renner wrote, “There’s nothing more persuasive than the obvious. To appeal to it is to ask people to be bigger, better, more noble—to take a sweeping look at the facts, admit what is plain and do the right thing. Tell me with a fixed gaze and an air of confidence that something is obvious. I will be tempted to believe you, if only to join in the clarity and sense of purpose that comes with accepting what is staring me in the face.”1

Now certainly this author was, in no way, speaking about the Church, the Bible, or anything remotely religious. Yet, this quote makes a case for stating the obvious. In the beginning stages of planting a new church, sometimes it feels as if you are consistently stating the obvious. Let me tell you what I mean.

As a new mission church, we gathered together for almost an entire year before we had our first worship service. This was a unique time in the life of our church, but a vital time. We’d gather for meetings that were part Bible study, part mission meeting, and part fellowship. They were an opportunity to have conversations about the ministry that we hoped to carry out in our area.

Although this Core Group (as we called it) was made up of mostly long-time WELS members, these discussions always started with stating the obvious, grounding ourselves in the obvious. And what I mean by that is the obvious truths from Scripture.

Here is an obvious truth that pervaded our conversations: the Word of God needed to hold the center position of our ministry. We wanted to be and needed to be a Word-centered church.

If we truly believe what we do about the Word, why wouldn’t we make it the center? If we believe that faith is created and strengthened through the Word (Rom. 10:17), then it really ought to be the focal point. If we believe that the Word is active and powerful (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16), then it ought to be utilized liberally.

That certainly has many applications in the life of the church, including its application to the worship life of the church. Whether it was the songs, the readings, the responses, or the sermon, they had to be centered on the Word. Word-centered worship will not only reach out with the power of the Spirit to the new guest, but it will also strengthen and prepare the long-time member to reach out with the gospel that is proclaimed and explained among them.

Through Word-centered worship, both in-reach and outreach may be accomplished. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to create faith in the unbeliever who wandered into your church, to restore faith in the de-churched person who came back, or to strengthen faith in the person who has been in church all along.

We wanted people to know from our worship that the Word of God defines this congregation. We don’t just claim the Bible is important in the “About Us” section of our website, but we  actually carry that out in a real, tangible way.

In a survey sent out to our congregation about worship, it was asked, “What do you think a new guest might take away from our worship services?” One member gave an answer and an anecdote from a different WELS congregation, “[The guest] can see that the Bible is a part of the entire service. I met someone at one of our WELS churches a few years ago that had gone through the BIC and became a member at the church because he had come as a visitor and had never had a church that would back up so much of the sermon with the Bible.”

In this case, it is definitely worth stating the obvious: the Word of God needs to hold the center position in our worship.

I was surprised to find some insights about liturgy-based worship.

Liturgy-Based Worship

I preface this aspect of the conversation by saying that some people in our region are familiar with historic liturgy. This region of South Dakota is largely Catholic or Lutheran, so some people who walk into our services are used to having a set order of worship and likely know many of the components, like creeds, Lord’s Prayer, etc. Yet, as I observed our Core Group’s conversations and sought input from people with zero connection to our church, I was surprised at some of their insights about liturgy-based worship.

#1 – Millennials and Gen Z see great value in things that are historic.

Speaking as someone who does own a record player, I was not surprised to find this article title and subtitle in an online culture page: “Why Are Old Things Increasingly Popular with Young People? Vinyl, calligraphy, and vintage are three of a handful of trends that have little place in the tech age, but are enjoying a resurgence nonetheless.”2 Certainly it was not the goal of our church to jump on something because of a trend or a fad, but it was worth considering: why is there a desire to be connected to something old or historic?

What I found in talking with people inside and outside our church is that they see value in being connected to something that is bigger than they are. When it is taught that the historic liturgy that we use “has been shaped throughout 2,000 years of Christian history,”3 there is this sense that we are connected with Christians of the past and that connection is appreciated.

However, as a congregation, we realized that if someone were to walk in our doors and not understand the connection to historic Christianity, then we are failing to provide them with the opportunity to appreciate it. We’ve found small ways to accomplish this with notes included in the bulletins or explanations in the back of the bulletins or we’ll take time during the service to explain something (even if we’ve explained it before).4

From the survey of our members here is one response: “I appreciate the effort to be connected to past generations of Christians while at the same time speaking to challenges/opportunities unique to this century.”

#2 – In a world that is constantly changing, the stability of the liturgy is cherished.

This point is not unrelated to the previous point. The historic aspect of the liturgy communicates stability because it has endured through centuries. For many this is a precious quality. In a tech dominated world, things are changing so quickly. Stability is coveted and seemingly elusive to many people.

Yet it’s not just the historic aspect of the liturgy that communicates stability. The repetition aspect also communicates stability. The lives of your parishioners may have a lot of instability, and they may go through many changes, but there is a stableness to the liturgy that is different from the world around them.

One of our members said, “I like knowing what to expect when I come to worship. When everything else may be out of control, I know that when I come to worship, I’m going to hear the Word and I know how the service will go.”

Jonathan Bauer made a similar point about how worship can offer a respite from the instability of people’s lives, “Rather than engaging people with the gospel using forms that mirror what people find comfortable and familiar, perhaps the real opportunity presented by modern life is to highlight and excel at the features of historic, liturgical worship that offer people a respite from what is comfortable and familiar.”5

#3 – Repetition is beneficial to the new Christian.

Around Easter of 2021, a single-mom and her son visited our worship. She had grown up around church but hadn’t been back for a while. Her son was baptized but had never really attended church.

This single mom (we’ll call her Sandy) took our Bible Information Class and joined the church. Sandy’s son, Michael, who was 15 years old, started taking Catechism classes individually with me. I had the opportunity to talk with him about our worship from his perspective. Here are a couple of his comments:

“I actually really like the repetition that we get at church because even if something is difficult for me the first time, it gets easier the next time. It doesn’t take too much time to catch on.”

“I also like the repetition, because without even trying to memorize it, I feel like I already know the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.”

We are connected with Christians of the past and that connection is appreciated.

#4 – Participatory worship is beneficial.

Christianity Today released a special pastor’s issue in the early spring of 2022. One of the articles was “As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond?” The article included several stats including answers to this question: “Would you consider a pastor to be a trustworthy source of wisdom?” This study found that 19% of all adults surveyed say “no,” and on the flip side, only 23% gave a definitive “yes.”6

While you could apply the results of this survey in different ways, here’s one takeaway to consider: If pastoral trustworthiness is eroding, then does it make sense to lengthen the sermon where only the pastor is speaking and as a result shorten the parts of the service that are participatory? The answer would appear to be no. It would seem all the more important to make the Word the center of worship and to get the parishioners involved in the service. We certainly aren’t dismissing the importance of the sermon and its role in the service, but we are encouraged to hear a crowd of voices in worship.

Does it make sense to … shorten the parts of the service that are participatory?

Jim Belcher, author of Deep Church, connected this concept to the universal priesthood of all believers. He wrote (regarding worship), “As priests, we are all required to be involved. There are no spectators. Thus, the liturgy should be as interactive as possible. It is a dialogue between the people and God. God speaks to us through his Word and we respond. Throughout the service, God engages us in the call to worship, multiple Scripture readings, the sermon and the words of blessing, and each time we respond in prayer, song or action. It is dynamic, action-packed, thrilling.”7

In our member survey, one person said this, “There is no dominant personality in the room and therefore none are pushed to the margins. All matter.”

Guest Awareness in Worship

When we first started worship in September of 2020, we didn’t have much happening besides worship. We had a BIC starting soon and one other Bible class, but we had zero programs and no big events on the horizon. So, in a lot of ways, worship was it. It was the focal point. This was what our members were inviting people to come and see.

So, the natural consequence of that was to plan and carry out worship assuming that you will have an unchurched or de-churched guest sitting among the congregation. We always wanted to try to see the Sunday morning experience through their eyes. Were they greeted by a smiling face in the parking lot or at the door? Was someone there to direct them to the coffee or give them a worship folder? We considered questions like that, but we also considered what they would see in the actual worship service.

While granting that someone might not understand some element of the service at first, we wanted to make sure that the service was accessible. One way we do that is by offering two methods of following along with the service, both printed in the worship folder and projected on a screen.8

We have also utilized the worship folder to explain why certain things happen in the service. For example, sometimes we include footnotes to indicate the biblical source for some items (e.g., responses, the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria or the Sanctus). Other times footnotes explain historical connections (e.g., the Nicene or Apostles’ Creeds).

The worship folder also helps people to focus on the sermon. We encourage people to take notes and include guiding questions that help them follow along. These questions are also used as a devotional resource outside of worship. We have also provided information on the sermon page of the worship folder to aid understanding. For example, on Transfiguration Sunday the sermon referenced the Old and New Covenants and words like condemnation and righteousness. While these were also explained during the sermon, we also provided a concise definition on the sermon page so that no one would feel lost.

“I like when we take time to explain why we do some of the things we do during a service.”

While these measures were specifically meant to target guests, even long-time members have appreciated such resources. One member said, “I like when we take time to explain why we do some of the things we do during a service. I learn new things or am reminded of things I’ve forgotten.” Another said, “I really enjoy the questions to think about in relation to the sermon. It helps me to take notes, which helps me to retain things better.”

Conclusion

What a blessing! What a blessing that we get to wrestle with how best to carry out a service where God gives his gifts to his people! What a blessing that we get to communicate the gospel of free forgiveness to people who need it! Such a blessing and also an important responsibility.

Since it is such an important responsibility, I pray that the worship conversation continues and that we continually strive to bring God’s gifts to his people. Blessings as you administer those gifts, brothers.

By Craig Wilke

Pastor Wilke graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2019 and was assigned to start a new mission in Brandon, SD. In September of 2020, after a year of preparatory work, Sure Foundation launched every-week worship with 75 people in attendance at their first service.


1 Renner, Nausicaa. “How Do You Explain the ‘Obvious?’” The New York Times Magazine. August 21, 2018.
2 Pritchett, August. “Why Are Old Things Increasingly Popular with Young People?” Study Breaks, June 10, 2017. studybreaks.com/culture/past/#:~:text=Theres’s%20a%20loss%20of%20quality,a%20way%20to%20stand%20out.
3 Strey, Johnold J. Christian Worship: God Gives His Gospel Gifts. (Northwestern: Milwaukee, 2021), 82.
4 See “Worship Service Notations – Sharpsburg 2014” at worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-education.
5 Bauer, Jonathan. “Worship and Outreach.” Worship the Lord. No. 106, January 2021, 3.
6 Packiam, Glenn. “As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond?” Christianity Today: CT Pastors Special Issue. Spring 2022, 34-35.
7 Belcher, Jim. Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 2009), 139.
8 A comment from the editor: If you are not already committed to projecting hymns and liturgy, give careful thought to whether this is really an improvement in your setting or not. Just because Service Builder will export a slide deck doesn’t mean that this is recommended in every situation. See “Projection in Worship” at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-intro-presentations, especially the video linked in the final bullet.


 

 

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Sunday of the Passion

An option for worship on Palm Sunday, used by some churches even before the new hymnal, is to read the passion history. Here’s what some brother pastors say about this custom.

Jonathan E. Schroeder (Sharpsburg, GA): We do an opening procession of palms. Then the entire service is dedicated to the responsive passion reading broken up by hymns. We have done this for five years. The benefits are: 1) more congregants hear the passion history, which is not appointed for Sundays in the lectionary, and 2) one less sermon during Holy Week. I was convinced that having a larger percentage of our congregation hear the passion history was important. For many of our members who didn’t attend midweek services, their Sunday worship path took them from waving palm branches to shouting, “Christ is risen!” without seeing the cross in between. Passion Sunday was a completely positive experience. I had worried that the members who attended every midweek service would find such a practice repetitive. I shouldn’t have worried. Those were the folks who commented most often and most positively. I love to tell the story for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest. (CW 746)

Earle Treptow (Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary): We used this option for my last Palm Sunday in Denver. We began with a procession of palms, followed by a shorter sermon on a Palm Sunday text. Then the passion history. I expected that it would be appreciated by those who did not attend the midweek Lenten services. I heard positive feedback from them. They liked the different feel to the service and appreciated how it set the stage for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

What I didn’t expect was the very positive feedback from those who had attended all the midweek services. They thought it was helpful to hear the passion history in one service instead of piecemeal over several weeks. They also felt it tied the entrance into Jerusalem a little more tightly to why Jesus entered Jerusalem. While I can’t imagine preaching a Palm Sunday sermon without speaking of that, the service made the connection for them powerfully.

The forthcoming Christian Worship: Foundations1 offers the following.

As God’s people arrive at the Sixth Sunday in Lent, their attention is drawn to two sets of related yet contrasting events. The first events are those that took place on the Sunday before Jesus died. On that day, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds covered the road with palm branches and shouted “Hosanna!” Our congregations have long commemorated these joyous events in their celebration of Palm Sunday. Many congregations have incorporated into their Palm Sunday services a re-creation of sorts of that first Palm Sunday procession. Just as the crowds surrounding Jesus on that first Palm Sunday processed into Jerusalem waving palms and singing Jesus’s praises, so God’s people today process into the church sanctuary waving palms and singing Jesus’s praises. Such a procession is a meaningful commemoration and celebration of our Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

But the events of that first Palm Sunday are not the only events that grab the worshiper’s attention on this day. Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem had a purpose far beyond receiving the praise of those who accompanied him. As we sing in one of our Palm Sunday hymns, “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die” (CW 411). On the day on which the people of Israel selected their lambs for the upcoming Passover, Jesus entered Jerusalem as God’s chosen Passover Lamb. In a matter of days, he would pour out his blood to rescue the world from its slavery to sin. Our Lord’s upcoming passion also demands our attention on this day, for it was to suffer and die that he rode into Jerusalem on that donkey.

Since Pope Paul VI’s revision of the Roman calendar in 1969, many Christian churches have combined these two emphases into their worship on the Sixth Sunday in Lent, which also is known as Passion Sunday. Two Gospel readings are in effect appointed for this day. The first is the account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which is read in connection with the procession at the beginning of the service. The second is the entire passion history as recorded in one of the synoptic Gospels. (John’s history of Jesus’ passion is reserved for Good Friday.) This Gospel is read during the Service of the Word. The juxtaposition of these two readings emphasizes for the worshiper that Palm Sunday led directly to Good Friday. Both days were part of our Savior’s saving work. While their tone could not have been more different, their purpose was the same: the salvation of all people.

The calendar and lectionary included in this hymnal provide options for congregations to observe the Sixth Sunday in Lent as either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Full propers for both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are provided. Congregations are encouraged, however, to incorporate elements of both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday into their worship on the Sixth Sunday in Lent. In many of our congregations, it has been customary to read the history of our Lord’s passion during the midweek Lenten services. Attendance at those services has unfortunately waned over the years. As a result, it has become common for many of our people to proceed through an entire Lenten season without hearing the history of Jesus’s passion in its entirety. Including the reading of the passion history on the Sixth Sunday in Lent helps address that concern.

Celebrating Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday together can easily be done (without significantly lengthening the service) by following the pattern that is used in many other Christian churches. The service begins with the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel, which leads into the procession with palms. The Service of the Word then takes place, during which the appointed history of Jesus’s passion is read. The reading can be read by multiple readers and can be broken up with interspersed hymn stanzas. The sermon can be shortened to accommodate the longer reading. In this way, God’s people have the opportunity not only to celebrate their Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem but also to see the purpose for which he rode on in such majesty. In lowly pomp he rode on to die.

To assist with planning Passion Sunday, a Service Builder document is available here: builder.christianworship.com/share/cynJfAb6.2 This allows quick customization within the Service Builder program. The same document in RTF format is available here worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/service-folders-palm-sunday/ with two copyrighted hymns omitted. Those with the digital editions of CW93 and CWS can easily insert them. Additional sample Palm/Passion Sunday worship folders plus ideas for using multiple readers for the passion history are available at the second link.

Will your congregation observe Passion Sunday this year? It’s usually best to give longer lead time for planning something new than allowed by the timing of this article, especially if discussion with leaders seems best. So, if not this year, then maybe next. Either way, the rest of this article offers comments from those who have been observing Passion Sunday for a number of years. Names are attached to these comments in case anyone wants to seek further guidance.

Douglas Van Sice (Huntersville, NC): Many people here are either first-generation Christians or come from a non-liturgical church. So, when we first started doing this, almost none of them had seen anything like it. And now, it is one of the best-loved services we do. People like the Palm Procession (processionals don’t happen regularly here due to the odd configuration of our worship space). They like the flow of the service. One person told me last year, “Pastor, I had heard the passion history before. I grew up hearing it at mid-week services. But I had never heard it read all in one sitting like this. Please keep doing this service every year.” Another person (a relatively new Christian) said, “I knew Jesus suffered on the cross, but I didn’t really know everything that led up to it. Thank you for sharing this service and helping me understand it better.”

We do a Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday combination. We begin outside our worship space3 where everyone is handed a palm and a service folder. The service itself begins with the Procession of Palms (dialogue and the Triumphal Entry according to John’s Gospel). After the procession of palms, we move into Passion Sunday. We use the passion history according to the liturgical year we are in. Between each reading, there is a hymn or solo sung.

The benefits are great. Due to limitations put on us by our rental space, we cannot do all five mid-week Lenten services. So, Passion Sunday allows my people to hear the passion history in its entirety. The second benefit is closely related to the first. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. Having the entirety of the passion history read on the first day of Holy Week sets the tone for what is coming in the days ahead. While the tone of Passion Sunday retains the celebratory notes of Palm Sunday (“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”), it also begins to move us into the quiet of the Upper Room on Holy Thursday and the solemnity of Golgotha on Good Friday.

“Please keep doing this service every year.”

Steven Lange (Louisville, KY): We had been observing the Palm Sunday Procession with Palms before we started observing Passion Sunday in 2015, so our congregation already was used to having a different kind of service on Palm Sunday. This made the transition to Passion Sunday rather easy since it wasn’t hard to connect Palm Sunday with a reading of the history of Jesus’ passion. I have received only positive comments about this from my congregation.

The congregation gathers in the fellowship hall and each participant is given a palm frond. We begin the service there with an opening dialog. We read the Palm Sunday Gospel and then process into the sanctuary while singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” After the Prayer of the Day, we read the passion history from the Gospel appointed for that year, broken into sections with hymn stanzas interspersed. Then follows a sermon (shorter than usual). We omit the speaking of the Creed on this day. We conclude the service with the Prayer of the Church and celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We are able to keep the service to a little over an hour in length.

This practice gives everyone in our congregation an opportunity to hear the history of Jesus’ passion, regardless of whether they have attended the midweek Lenten services. It seems odd that our people could go through Lent and not hear the history of Jesus’ passion. And for those who did attend the midweek Lenten services and have already heard the passion history, I have heard no complaints from any of them that they did not appreciate hearing it again.

Johnold Strey (Hubertus, WI): We used the Passion Sunday concept for the first time in 2019 and then again in 2021, though modified for ongoing Covid concerns. Our choirs hadn’t resumed rehearsing and singing for worship yet. But that modification might give ideas for churches with fewer musical resources who still want to try the concept.

Our service begins with the Palm Sunday entrance rite. We don’t have people gather outside the nave. Rather, the assembly is seated like usual before the service starts. After the bell peal, I invite the assembly to stand and face the entrance of the nave. We begin with the Palm Sunday rite which includes the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel. We then process to the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” with school kids carrying palm branches behind the ministers and making a “lap” around the congregation in some way. After the hymn is the Prayer of the Day and then a Palm Sunday anthem that the school kids sing from the chancel.

We use the Philippians 2 reading. It’s a nice transition from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday. Then we sing the Palm Sunday Hymn of the Day, “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty.” If it’s a Sunday with the Sacrament, these two items may be omitted for the sake of time.

For the reading of the passion history, we use the appropriate synoptic for the year, broken into about 12 segments. Each segment is followed by a musical response—either 1-2 hymn stanzas by the congregation or a solo or choir anthem. The school kids and adult choir can repeat a Lenten anthem sung earlier in the year, often at midweek Lent services, so they don’t have to learn all new music for this service. For 2021, we relied on soloists. We used several of the old NPH Verse of the Day compositions for Lent as anthems woven into the passion history, along with two unison anthems from the old CPH Morning Star choir books. Most of these solo anthems were Scripture verses. For smaller churches with limited resources, this is a simple and practical approach.

We used four different readers for the passion history, which involves more members in the service.

Presenting the full passion history with anthems and hymns gives it a new dimension—not just listening to the text but pondering it more deeply with contemplative anthems and hymns.

Just as we don’t have enough Christmas services to sing all the great Christmas carols, so also even with midweek Lent services we still don’t have opportunity for all the great Lenten and Passion hymns. But hymn stanzas woven into the passion history help us to get more of those hymns on the lips of the worshipers.

One caveat: If a church uses the Passion Sunday concept, then they probably shouldn’t read the full John 18-19 account on Good Friday. Rather, go with the three appointed readings with the shorter John excerpt for the Gospel. Otherwise, two full Passion readings in the same week might feel redundant.

John Bortulin (Mukwonago, WI): We start with Palm Sunday and move to the passion. Without communion we break up the passion with an appropriate Lenten hymn verse between sections. With communion we read it straight through. The day’s sermon is just a commentary, 8-10 minutes. It comes right after Palm Sunday and before the reading of the passion.

We make a big deal out this Sunday. We do palm branches and get as many SS/LES to sing as we can. It’s a full, festive church, and it sets the scene for what’s coming. Our people enjoy the different flow and the “big picture.” After years of doing this, I can’t imagine this Sunday differently.

Jason Hacker (Waukesha, WI): We’ve observed Sunday of the Passion for six years. The benefit I have sensed is that since only about half of the weekend worshipers attend midweek services, many miss out on hearing the passion. The pastor and worship planners might feel that by Good Friday the passion “horse” has been beaten to death. But it does not seem to be that way to the worshiper. Passion Sunday sets the stage well for the celebration of Holy Week. We begin with the Introduction to Holy Week, the Palm Sunday Gospel, and procession with palms. The sermon is likely based on a Palm Sunday reading, but shorter, more devotional. We celebrate the Sacrament each week of Lent, so it’s always included.


“A Service of the Seven Words from the Cross” is another Service Builder item to note. This is found under Occasional/Seasonal Services. (Unlike the Passion Sunday service, it is available only in Service Builder.) It features the new hymn “The Seven Words” (CW 436) that WELS social media videos are highlighting during Lent. Note that one can access Service Builder content on a free trial basis (but without the ability to export content) at builder.christianworship.com.


1 At the time of writing, this pastor’s manual from the Christian Worship suite is not yet available. Don’t confuse it with “The Foundation,” the website from Congregational Services that delivers content to amplify worship as the foundation of the week and of the congregation’s entire ministry: welscongregationalservices.net.
2 This file illustrates the potential for sharing worship resources within Service Builder but including content from beyond Service Builder.
3 Beginning outside the worship space might be a more viable option in smaller congregations or in warmer climes!


 

 

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Getting to Know the Hymnal Really Well

By Bryan Gerlach (Director, Commission on Worship)

It was an unusual couple that inquired about getting married at the church I served—St. Mark, Citrus Heights, CA, a beautiful newer church large enough for their guest list and conveniently located in suburban Sacramento. Farhad was Iranian. He had left the country for grad school before the 1978 revolution and could not return. Samira was the daughter of an Iranian woman and an American Air Force officer. One reason they picked my church was because she thought she had a Lutheran uncle somewhere in North Dakota.

Farhad was a theist without a religion since he had abandoned Islam. I offered the standard encouragement: we’re eager to serve your spiritual needs not only on your wedding day but also before and after. That appealed to them. They signed up for the Bible Information Class and began attending worship. After they had been in worship two weeks in a row, I offered to meet with them to help them understand the logic and flow of worship. Farhad replied that it wouldn’t be necessary because the service was clear enough.

That reply surprised me. I’m sure that there was much he needed to learn—especially the spiritual truths. But I believed him when he said the logic and flow were clear enough.

While there is benefit in making it effortless to follow liturgical worship, there’s also benefit in helping people get to know the hymnal really well. A little effort toward this goal is a good thing. When I saw comments by Kirk Lahmann in the January Forward in Christ (p. 24), I asked him to expand on his thinking and rationale. If two Iranians could comfortably follow the order of service from the hymnal, longer-term Lutherans can as well.

Of course, many congregations will already have introduced the new hymnal by the time you read this article. Still, there are times when the Burlington strategy might serve such congregations: 1) when introducing a new setting of the communion service, or 2) on occasions when there is such little variety planned for the service (like an alternate psalm from the psalter) that the order of service is followed in a fairly straightforward manner.

If two Iranians could comfortably follow the order of service from the hymnal, longer-term Lutherans can as well.

The viability of worshiping “just from the hymnal” is also a useful reminder for those congregations that do not want to obtain Service Builder. With changes in the copyright and permissions landscape over the last decade, the new hymnal project is not able to provide TIFF files as with CW93 and CWS apart from Service Builder. And it is not legal for someone to create their own graphics by scanning something in the hymnal. See more detailed comments in “Service Builder, personal scans, and copyrights” available under Resources at christianworship.com.

Navigating the Book

By Kirk Lahmann (Pastor at St. John, Burlington, WI)

Late 1993. Time for Sunday morning worship, using the brand-new Christian Worship hymnal. Sing the opening hymn. Now find page 12 for the baptism. When that’s done, flip ahead to page 16 and merge into the Common Service at the “Gloria.” Find the First Lesson (and all the lessons) printed on the back of the simple “bulletin” handout. (Think letter paper, folded into a booklet: front page, pretty picture; back page, Scripture readings; middle pages, church announcements, and maybe hymn numbers.) Next, find Psalm 25 on page 74. Back to the bulletin for the Second Lesson; then return to page 18 for the Alleluias. Now things start to feel a little more familiar for a while, until after the Lord’s Prayer. There’s no Communion, so turn to page 25. But wait, there’s a hymn. Sing that, now turn back to page 25 for the concluding liturgy. Finally, page ahead to the closing hymn.

Confusing? A little like one of those choose-your-own ending books? That’s what it was like when the “new hymnal” came out in 1993.

At 10 years old, it didn’t take me very long to figure out how to navigate the book.

Actually, I didn’t think it was all that hard. At 10 years old, it didn’t take me very long to figure out how to navigate the book. I thought it was exciting for our church to be getting a new hymnal. But I remember some adults complaining about how confusing it was to navigate the book. Most of that was probably just a personal aversion to change. And plenty of people dearly loved the old blue hymnal. (Or was yours black? Or red? Our church had red.)

At almost 40 years old now, I’m young enough to have never led worship as a pastor with The Lutheran Hymnal, but I am old enough to remember the transition to Christian Worship. And I remember it well. Before the service started, my pastors would actually practice using the new hymnal with the congregation. Five minutes before the bells would ring, they would teach worshipers how to find and how to sing the psalm. Or the organist would play through “O Lord, Our Lord” or some other new liturgical music, and the congregation would practice singing it before worship. As a student in our Lutheran elementary school, I remember our teachers helping us learn the new hymnal. My class introduced the new “Magnificat” (pages 57-58) in a children’s Christmas service. In school we often used the general and morning devotions (pages 150-152), as well as the personal prayers (pages 134-139). In catechism class our pastors walked us through the Communion preparation page (page 156).

We learned how to navigate the book. We learned that the hymnal is not just a book of hymns, but a collection of devotional resources. Yes, there were some growing pains, and even some complaints. But we learned how to navigate the book.

Now it’s time to learn how to navigate another new book. With the new Christian Worship recently released, and congregations replacing the old red CWs with the new blue ones, it’s time for pastors to teach worshipers how to utilize all the resources the new hymnal provides, so that, whether in the sanctuary or in the home, we know how to navigate the book.

But how? What’s the best way to learn how to make use of this new resource? Should we just print the entire order of worship in a service folder, like we’ve done for several years? That would keep things simple and would eliminate the need to flip back and forth through the book: from this page, to that hymn, back to this page. And should we keep printing all the hymns in the service folder, as our church has done since COVID started? That would basically eliminate the use of the hymnal in worship altogether. And if we don’t even use the hymnal for worship, then why spend $12,000 to stock the sanctuary with almost 500 books? And, most importantly, how will we ever learn how to navigate the book?

Certainly there are lots of good ways to introduce the new Christian Worship hymnal to WELS worshipers. But here’s what my congregation is planning to do, with the goal of learning how to navigate the book.

Instead of printing full service folders, we will produce a simple worship outline. This outline will include the focus for the day, page references for the order of service, Scripture readings printed in full, and hymn numbers. It will be a simple, double-sided worship card, printed on cardstock, that will double as a bookmark, so that when you flip from the order of service to a hymn or psalm, you don’t lose your place. Instead of a large service folder being the primary worship guide with the hymnal as only an assistant, now the hymnal will once again be the primary worship guide, and the worship card will be the assistant.

… so that, whether in the sanctuary or in the home, we know how to navigate the book.

There are, admittedly, down sides to this approach. Full service folders are awfully convenient! And they weigh less in frail hands. And they are customizable. And it sounds like there are many digital resources in the Service Builder app, like additional service settings and many psalm settings from the new psalter, that we won’t be able to use when we print these worship cards.

But the main advantage to producing a simple worship outline, rather than using a full service folder, is this: we will learn how to navigate the book. We will hold the hymnal in our hands as we sing the opening hymn. Together we will turn to page 154 and walk through Setting One of The Service. The Scriptures will be right in front of us on the worship card. After the First Reading we will bookmark page 160, then flip back a few pages to the Psalm of the Day, then easily return for the Gospel Acclamation. Bookmarking will continue for the rest of the service’s hymns. And we will learn how to navigate the book.

We will be patient with one another as we learn the new book. The pastors will give more thorough explanations on which page to turn to next and will give people more time to get there. Maybe before (or during) worship, we will practice singing a new psalm or liturgical music setting. We will listen carefully and follow along with the notes in the hymnal as the organist plays (or the choir sings) the melody before we join to sing. But we will learn how to navigate the book.

We will give copies of the new hymnal to the children in our Lutheran school—many of whom have only ever known service folders for worship—and their teachers will help them learn the book. Maybe the students will sing the new “Magnificat” (page 219) for a children’s Christmas service. Maybe the teachers will lead their students in the Daily Devotions (pages 236-243) throughout the school day. In catechism class the pastors will direct their students to the Christian Questions (pages 295-296), walk them through the church year, and explain the lectionary (pages VII-XXVIII). And they will learn how to navigate the book.

And there may be some growing pains, even complaints. Change is hard, and many people have come to dearly love the red Christian Worship. The new hymnal is new to all of us, and it will take some time to get used to it. So we want to learn it together. We want to page through it together, follow the liturgy from it together, sing the hymns and the psalms from it together. We want to learn how to navigate the book.

For now, it’s time to embrace the wealth of devotional resources that the hardcover hymnal offers.

And we won’t use those worship cards forever. I’m sure we will return to printed service folders eventually. We don’t want to miss out on all the digital psalm settings from the psalter and the additional service settings that Service Builder offers. But we can grow into those over time. For now, it’s time to embrace the wealth of devotional resources that the hardcover hymnal offers. It’s time to teach our young children, our newer members, and our seasoned parishioners how to follow the liturgy in the hymnal. It’s time to learn how to use the new Christian Worship in our homes and in our public worship. It’s time to learn how to navigate the book.

Comfortably introducing new material

In the weeks when this article was being drafted and edited, a new hymn was sung for the first time. The accompaniment didn’t make it clear when to start. There was no soloist for stanza 1. An instrumental descant made it even more difficult for the non-music-reader to discern the melody. It went okay, but it could have gone even better.

A good principle to follow is not “What can I get away with?” but “How many people can I bring along?” Even in a congregation with higher-than-average musical literacy (more people can quickly learn a new tune), it’s best to use a soloist or choir on “stanzas one and three” or when first introducing a new liturgical canticle. Our concern is not only for the fast learners but also for those less able to enjoy their first exposure to something new.

The more we can diminish discomfort, the more every worshiper can concentrate on worship and benefit from the new music and the message proclaimed by new texts.

Pastor Adam Mueller, chair of the hymnal introduction committee comments: “Don’t eat the elephant in one bite, introduce carefully and with patience, use choirs and soloists, preview a new hymn in Bible class where you can also highlight some great thoughts in the text. Our excitement over shiny new materials needs to be tempered by pastoral concern for the person in the pew. We want to minimize frustrating people or leaving them behind.”

The Year C Planner was provided with careful pacing in mind, calling attention to hymns or canticles that benefit from extra introductory effort. It’s available at welscongregationalservices.net/the-foundation.

Avoiding a generic tempo

What is a generic tempo? Stated a bit simplistically, it’s treating quarter notes in every hymn as if they should be played at the same pace. But the pulse of a short common meter English hymn tune like ST. ANNE (820) is much slower than a 17th century German chorale like its neighbor, VALET WILL ICH DIR GEBEN (819). Their half notes are at 45 and 55 respectively.

This problem of singing some tunes too fast has been exacerbated by the idea that a hymn will be more appealing if played faster—more upbeat. It depends. Often the affect isn’t more upbeat but rather rushed or flippant. Hymn singing has been helped in this regard by modern hymn writers. While many modern hymns have an upbeat tempo, some have a slow and meditative tempo: “The Power of the Cross” (423), “Jesus, Ever-Abiding Friend” (536), “Lord, Have Mercy” (652), “Beneath the Cross” (710), “My Worth Is Not in What I Own” (753), “All Is Well” (802), “Now Calm Your Heart” (851). All of these might risk being played too fast without knowing the song or consulting the tempo indication. The same is true for the “Agnus Dei” in both Setting Two and Setting Three.

Organists and pianists can gain a sense of the intended tempo from two sources.

  1. The accompaniment editions for services, hymns, and psalms include metronome markings. Use them! While it is true that a personal preference for a different tempo might be musically legitimate, it’s also good to follow the composer’s intent or a tempo that is somewhat standard.
  2. Recorded examples can help musicians to become comfortable with the intended tempo. Many are available on YouTube. Recordings of the main songs from The Service, Setting Three are posted at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources.

Recorded examples can also help pastors who desire help with singing the “Kyrie” and Preface. See the following from Grace Milwaukee’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/c/gracedowntownorg/featured. Find “Worship Services” halfway down the page under “Created Playlists.”

  • Setting Two, Nov. 28: “Kyrie” at 22:15, Preface at 58:30.
  • Setting Three, Oct. 24: “Kyrie” at 16:30, Preface at 59:15.
Out of the Book

By Jon Zabell (Pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, WI and chair of hymnal committee)

We began introducing the new hymnal on the first Sunday of Advent, 2021. It made our job of introduction easier to make use of our synod’s suggested plan and introductory scripts for worship. Our usual practice at St. Paul is to print the whole service out in the bulletin each week except for the hymns and psalm. But we decided that for introductory purposes we would invite worshipers to follow the order of service out of the book, just for the first few weeks. Since it’s a new hymnal, we wanted people paging through it, becoming familiar with everything between the covers. And it was a tangible way to demonstrate that we’re connected. Bulletins vary from congregation to congregation, but the same new hymnal is being introduced around the synod.

How did it go? Judging by the volume of congregational speaking and singing, people followed along just fine. It helped that we used Setting One of The Service for four weeks in a row. Most of the music from that setting is a known quantity from The Common Service. Worshiping out of the book did mean a few minutes more preparation for the presider. Each week I needed to have my pages marked and ready ahead of time, and I tried to anticipate where people who were accustomed to having everything laid out for them might need a brief verbal cue, especially when moving from first reading to psalm and back to second reading. After the services, a number of people expressed their appreciation for the new book—its look, its pagination system, its content—the book they’d all been paging through together, from invocation through blessing. More important is what we were able to do together that is anything but new. Sins were confessed, the gospel was proclaimed, and prayers were offered in the name of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

A number of people expressed their appreciation for the new book they’d all been paging through together.

 

By Bryan Gerlach

Pastor Gerlach is Director of the Commission on Worship and a member of the WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee and Hymnal Introduction Committee. He previously served churches in El Paso, TX and Citrus Hts, CA. He enjoys introducing new hymnal content from the organ bench in two Milwaukee-area churches.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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The Foundation: for everyone

By now you’ve probably seen some publicity about The Foundation. A video introduction was shared in early October.1 Maybe you’re already making use of resources for Advent. This article makes the bold claim that The Foundation offers something for everyone—for every pastor and every congregation. Why? Because worship is the essential foundation of everything a congregation does.

For everyone

These flexible and varied resources have potential to serve every pastor and every congregation. First, as noted in the introductory video, you can use The Foundation even if you don’t have the new hymnal. You can easily adapt the worship plan for CW21 in the Year C Planner to CW93. The new lectionary is available in the free test drive version of CW Service Builder (builder.christianworship.com) and for purchase from Logos. Since the Gospel readings in the new lectionary are almost always identical to the old, you can still use Planning Christian Worship (worship.welsrc.net) for hymn suggestions if you’re still using CW93. Just watch for any hymns that focus on a First or Second Reading that might have changed in CW21. Or if you use the Year C Planner for hymn suggestions, note that a hymn comparison cross reference index is available.2

You can use The Foundation even if you don’t have the new hymnal.

Second, you can pick and choose what you’ll use. Maybe you start using season and Sunday themes in Advent, but you’re not yet doing social media promotion. So that aspect will wait until Lent or Easter.

Saving time

I’ve often said that it would be a delight to be just beginning my years as a pastor in 2021 rather than in 1983. I know that various cultural changes have put new pressures on pastors. Some of these are different or intensified compared to the end of the last century. But a wealth of new resources and technologies certainly are enriching the way pastors carry out their work, especially related to worship. Instead of being a primary user of those new resources, I will enjoy the fruit of planning by others from my place in the pew or on the organ bench.

But new resources just take more time, don’t they? Where will that time come from? What pastor isn’t already plenty busy? Is there any pastor who doesn’t wish for more time, whether for ministry tasks or family?

That’s what’s so exciting about The Foundation. This collection of resources doesn’t expect you to carve out more time to improve some area of ministry. These resources save you time by giving you things that you don’t have to create yourself. These resources have potential to bring blessings in several arenas.

This collection of resources doesn’t expect you to carve out more time to improve some area of ministry.

Improved content

By using resources from The Foundation, pastors can hope to offer improved content. That content might be sermons or social media publicity/outreach or a long-range worship plan.

In the earliest days of my ministry and certainly during the years of my schooling (NWC 1976), worship planning was kind of an autopilot thing. Lots has changed in the intervening years. A “culture of expectations” changed. People have a higher expectation of excellence in worship (at whatever level is fitting and feasible for each congregation). Denominational loyalty changed. The best worship we can offer will help to deepen people’s appreciation for Lutheran worship. The breadth of musical styles in worship expanded. The new hymnal takes advantage of broader styles while still recommending options within “Lutheran parameters.”

Of course, higher worship expectations might mean higher demands on the pastor’s time for planning worship. Anything that can help the pastor with planning and reduce the time required becomes all the more important. Thus, the synergy between The Foundation, the Year C Planner, and CW Service Builder becomes all the more valuable.

Preacher’s Podcast

The initial podcasts feature Jon Hein, Coordinator of Congregational Services, seminary professors Tom Kock and Sam Degner, and a variety of parish pastors. Kock comments on the podcast:

I expect the Preacher’s Podcast to be extremely well received. The combination of two parish pastors talking through that Bible segment along with a seminary professor (who often has expertise in the book the text is found in, or who has expertise on the subject matter addressed in that segment), all guided by a moderator makes for an amazingly organic conversation. The participants take turns addressing various points in the text: Law-Gospel thoughts which could be preached, illustrations, theme-thoughts, etc. We chose to work a year ahead on these. So, the pastors have preached on that text in their congregations. Because of that, they have had the chance to see what worked and what didn’t work and can bring great suggestions for segments of the text which might need to be more fully explained or illustrated. For those pastors who are already doing excellent exegetical work, the podcast will simply allow for other perspectives to broaden their thinking. For those who aren’t as able to dig into the Greek and Hebrew, or who have faced a challenging week timewise, the podcast will help them to take their text study deeper, allowing their sermon to become even more of a blessing for their people.

Beginning with Easter 2, seminary professor Jonathan Micheel will be involved. He offers the following thoughts about the benefits of these podcasts.

I often found that after doing a text study I got stuck. Not completely stuck, but I would lose momentum—looking at a lot of notes and struggling with how to sort through them, organize my thoughts, and move on to the next steps of outlining and writing. And, of course, at that stage I was also looking for things I had not considered—even if just a fresh illustration, a point for application, or some angle I had not thought of.

This is where the Preacher’s Podcast can help. It won’t replace a pastor’s text study or composition of the sermon. But it may “grease the wheels” a little. Like a circuit meeting where preachers are thinking out loud about a text and how to preach it, the podcast aims to get preachers’ mental gears turning. Maybe a preacher will hear a point he hadn’t thought of. Or maybe he will hear a point that he had already uncovered, but when he hears it expressed in a slightly different way, it will spark an idea. That’s what the preachers who are recording the podcast often report; they begin the recording with their own notes, and then additional thoughts occur to them in the course of the podcast discussion. One thought leads to another. We hope that many preachers will have similar experiences.

Devotional resources for adults, families, and children

The Foundation is for everyone with devotional resources that take a cue from Sunday themes and reinforce them throughout the week. Beginning in Advent this year the WELS Family Devotions provided by the Discipleship office3 will explore Sundays’ themes, diving into them more deeply throughout the following week. These are available in both print (read from a browser) and podcast options. Also, the much beloved WELS Daily Devotions will seek to incorporate the prior Sunday’s theme throughout the week. This will not only bless the thousands of WELS members who use these devotions but will also allow congregations to share them with guests who worshiped with the congregation on Sunday.

Beginning in Easter 2022 Transformed, the weekly youth devotion with a newly added youth Bible study leader’s guide, will also sync with The Foundation’s seasonal and weekly themes.

From the Lutheran Schools office, Heart Imprints offers weekly children’s devotions based on the upcoming Sunday theme. These can be used for a school chapel (LES or ECM), a Sunday School devotion, or a children’s message during Sunday worship. The devotional leader will save time by using these age-appropriate messages that are connected to Sunday worship. Just be sure to coordinate with potential devotion leaders so that the same content isn’t used by more than one person in the same week. Note that options are available each week both for Pre-K and K-8. Since these are still in development, they weren’t all posted when The Foundation website first went live. The Heart Imprints for Advent will be available by November 15 at the latest.

Outreach

The Foundation website helps everyone with outreach. For most worship series, there is a promotional video that highlights the seasonal themes. Additional resources include professionally designed promotional graphics for every worship series and a promotional text for each season and each week. When these resources are featured on your church website or social media pages, members can be encouraged to share them with their unchurched friends.

So, that’s several ways The Foundation can serve everyone. But to be clear, here’s the most important way: the congregation and its guests who worship and benefit from devotions find themselves saturated in gospel-rich messages and worship content.4 Just as the new hymnal offers curated resources for 21st century Lutheran worship, The Foundation offers curated resources that the Lutheran pastor doesn’t have to tweak to make them Lutheran. For example, the Lent series is “Crushed”—not some version of “Try harder to resist temptation, like Jesus did.”

Curated resources that the Lutheran pastor doesn’t have to tweak.

No criticism and no guilt

Over the years some might have sensed a lurking message coming from various programs offered by Congregational Services and other efforts at encouraging professional growth or even from a practical essay at a pastors’ conference: “You’re not doing well enough.” To which a fair response in some situations might have been: “But I’m already overwhelmed by time demands and expectations! Where am I supposed to find time to think through and implement this new and improved whatever?” It’s always appropriate for pastors and congregations to evaluate if they are doing everything they can for the cause of the gospel or how they might adjust use of time to target higher priorities. Self-assessment and goal setting are important. But it was never the intent of various past programs merely to criticize or induce guilt. And yet some programs were not as immediately practical and out-of-the-box usable as The Foundation. Some might have offered lots of good ideas that were more conceptual than practical. They required a lot of effort back home after being introduced at a workshop or consultation.

Immediately usable resources at a highly affordable price: totally free!

The Foundation is not like that. It offers immediately usable resources at a highly affordable price: totally free! Here are some comments from pastors who have taken an early look at these resources.

I wanted to thank those who worked on The Foundation. What a resource and major time-saver for the busy pastor! I used to do all that stuff on my own (minus the video—I just never did those). I’m not sure where the impetus came from, but all of you should be commended for making it work out so nicely. I’m going to be pushing to incorporate it here where I serve.

This is excellent! I appreciate how it is ministry driven, worship centered, and freely available.

This is exactly what synod is for. Love to see us using our potential. Thank you so much.

I was so excited when I saw this and will be sharing the resources!

The sermon helps in the podcast is gold. Listening to that right after my text study will be part of my weekly sermon preparation.

What a resource and major time-saver for the busy pastor!

Those who are producing resources for The Foundation hope that you can find something, many things, to use either to produce a better “product” or to accomplish goals in a more efficient way. Or both!

And please give us your feedback. This is a new venture for us in Congregational Services. What works well for you? What doesn’t? What else could be part of The Foundation package? We plan to conduct a survey sometime after Easter, but your feedback is welcome at any time.

By Bryan Gerlach

Pastor Gerlach is Director of the Commission on Worship and a member of the WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee and Hymnal Introduction Committee. He previously served churches in El Paso, TX and Citrus Hts, CA. He enjoys introducing new hymnal content from the organ bench in two Milwaukee-area churches.


1 welscongregationalservices.net/the-foundation

2 The file “CW21-HymnComparisonCrossReference” was posted on The Foundation website on October 28. This provides pages from Christian Worship: Planning Guide which might not be available in print until January. Click on a link below the video preview, Download Worship Planning Materials, to access the hymn cross reference and the Year C Planner.

3 wels.net/serving-you/devotions/family-devotions

4 Yes, of course this is possible without The Foundation. It’s just that planning and implementing are so much easier.

5 Search NPH’s website for the following to find keyboard and choral music based on new tunes: cw21keyboard, cw21choral.


Introducing new hymns

Not every new hymn is entirely new. Some new texts use familiar tunes. Some old texts from CW93 and CWS have been retuned and paired with a more familiar tune. So don’t rule out a hymn title because you associate it with a tune that is unfamiliar. Fifty-one “old” hymns from CW93 and CWS have been retuned. You can quickly find these by noting tune names in green highlight in the Tentative Hymn List. This chart is available at christianworship.com/resources: #6, under “Look Inside.” You might want to download or bookmark this chart for quick access along with other important worship planning files.

While some of the retuning makes use of a tune not previously used in CW93 or CWS, most of the retuned hymns use familiar tunes. Some retuned hymns move from one familiar tune to a different familiar tune. Why? It was never just “change for the sake of change.” Sometimes it was to use a tune most widely associated with a text. Sometimes it was to avoid overusing a tune. And, of course, some retunes move from a CW93 tune that did not catch on adequately.

Even if a hymn tune is unfamiliar, you can plan for its introduction using ideas in the Year C Planner or your own ideas. Here’s a sequence that you’ll find in the introductory scripts for the new hymnal but that you can use throughout the year, long after the dates for those scripts have passed.

  • A Sunday before the congregation sings: organ, piano, instrument, soloist, or choir features the new hymn.5 If the choir learns a new choral arrangement, consider whether the text might fit on more than one Sunday just before the congregation first sings the hymn. That arrangement can be sung in the regular anthem spot, as a call to worship, during the offering, or during communion distribution.
  • The first Sunday the congregation sings: in addition to using a soloist or choir, take three minutes just before the service starts (maybe at 7:58 if time constraints are important, and so that most people are seated already) to practice the first stanza that everyone will sing: first the soloist sings it, then everyone repeats it.
  • Use a similar approach with new liturgy songs. For example, a new Gloria could be played as the final preservice selection—after the pastor announces it and invites people to turn to the appropriate page in the new hymnal and follow along. A solo wind or string instrument may double the melody. Or, on a modern digital organ, use the “solo” feature that automatically doubles the melody to make it prominent.

Use soloists, choirs, and instruments often in this way. This is helpful not only to make new tunes more familiar but also to make old tunes more interesting and to give the congregation a break in singing a longer hymn. With longer hymns, it’s nice for people to have a breather while the soloist or choir sings a special arrangement—or even the standard setting. This is good not only for people who don’t like to sing that much but also for everyone as their minds focus on meaning in a different way when they can listen instead of sing.


Latest hymnal project updates

NPH provides the latest information on shipping dates for various volumes here: online.nph.net/cwshipping.

A series of blog articles on Service Builder began October 21 here: christianworship.com/resources.

Search on “Some perspectives on tune-only hymns” in the Q&A at christianworship.com/resources for more details about the decision to include 102 such hymns.

Scripts for introducing the hymnal and a dedication rite were posted in late October at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-introduction-resources.

 


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Humane Technology for Lutheran Worship

There are plenty of reasons to be interested in the upcoming release of Christian Worship: Service Builder.

I could tell you how much time you’ll save. Producing a worship folder from a service plan takes mere minutes. I know you’ll want to use the extra time on visiting more prospects, memorizing your sermon better, preparing a better Bible class, or even getting home to your family earlier each day.

I could explain how Christian Worship: Service Builder will put the entire Christian Worship: Hymnal and Christian Worship: Psalter at your fingertips in a powerful and intuitive planning interface. I know you’re probably ready for a better way to work with a database of your thousands of digital worship files.

I know you’re probably weary of making slideshow decks every Sunday. You’ll be glad to hear that Christian Worship: Service Builder does that job for you as well. Of course, you also know you aren’t required to use that feature.1

I think you’ll also like the fact that Christian Worship: Service Builder supports custom libraries. All those files of yours scattered to the four winds of Dropbox and Drive will be organized into the unified planning and production engine at the heart of your congregation’s worship ministry.

At the launch of Christian Worship: Service Builder later this year you’ll be able to watch training videos that detail the delightful power the software delivers. You’ll even be able to set up a free trial to test drive Christian Worship: Service Builder yourself.2 And, really, that’s your best bet. You need to know what it’s like to use it. And once you’ve gotten a sense of what the software is and does, you’ll be happy to subscribe to the service. I won’t spend 2,000 words trying to convince you of something you just need to see for yourself.

I won’t spend 2,000 words trying to convince you of something you just need to see for yourself.

I will, however, spend 2,000 words on something that doesn’t fit nicely in the typical marketing materials for this kind of product. I want to explain how Christian Worship: Service Builder is a tool that stands in stark contrast to the way we typically encounter technology today. This is a tool that can be put to use building up the people of God instead of hollowing them out.

Technologies are not neutral

Technology seems to be a natural expression of our humanity. Already in Genesis 4 we meet Tubal-Cain, “who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” From tilling fields to constructing homes, such implements were put to use cultivating civilization.

Humans also use tools to kill. In the same chapter of Genesis we meet Lamech who boasted, “I have killed a man for wounding me.” While we don’t get the details, it seems safe to guess that Lamech had something either sharp or blunt to take care of the man who injured him.

This is a tool that can be put to use building up the people of God instead of hollowing them out.

But we don’t need a biblical narrative to confirm a truth that most people intuitively sense to be true: technologies are not neutral. They carry with them a kind of intent, but not something that arises from the nature of the tool itself. No, the intent arises from the human mind that designed the tool for a particular purpose. A plow tills not because the plow wants to till but because a person designed it to till. A blade kills not because the blade wants to kill but because a person designed it to kill. Tools are made for a purpose and work best when they are used according to their intended telos. Anyone who has tried to clean their ears with a screwdriver knows this.

Tools are powerful because they extend the relatively feeble capacity of what the human body can do. There’s a curious fact about mankind evident already in the beginning: the human mind can conceive far more than the human body can do. In this light, we can judge that the best technologies are the kind that not only aid us in our tasks but also invite us to participate more deeply in the kind of skillful effort that is both rewarding to the laborer and a benefit to others. This is humane technology in the formal sense of the word.

Discipleship in the attention economy

You can sense, as I do, that not all of our technologies are humane. In fact, the most lucrative and influential technologies of our day tend to be quite the opposite. The chief culprit right now is, of course, our social media. These technologies have been invented and engineered for a very particular purpose: to convert our time and attention into a commodity to richly benefit a few huge companies in California. We are beginning to see the harmful effects of such an all-out engineering effort. In fact, the whole topic has recently begun to stir the political pot in the United States. We’ve delegated that particular responsibility to our elected representatives, but we pastors do need to work out the implications of this so-called attention economy on the flock of Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that faithful discipleship requires believers to pay faithful attention to what matters most, usually in the form of, among other things, reading the Scripture, intercessory prayer, and then serving those for whom we pray. But reading, prayer, and service are not revenue-generating activities for the makers of our ubiquitous manipulative technologies. For all their claims to the contrary, companies like Facebook are not creating anything remotely close to what Christians have historically called “community.”

Furthermore, because the attention economy is so huge it feels like an inevitable fact instead of a contingent and deliberately-designed state of affairs. I also suspect that since so many of us have ourselves been converted into attention economy commodities we tend to discount the important counterexamples and counterarguments that point to the possibility of a different, more humane, approach to how technology fits in our lives and the lives of the people who belong to our congregations.

So you have the seemingly-invincible conclusion that in light of all this (here I gesture with my hands vaguely at, well, everything), what churches really need to do is get into the game and compete for attention. I suspect this is one reason why what was only an idea pre-Covid has gained serious traction ever since: that our churches now feel some degree of compulsion to transform themselves into media ministries.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. There is a vital place for modern media in the work of a local congregation. I’m not suggesting that you pull the plug on your website. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we think we’re going to compete with the likes of Facebook and Netflix at their own game, then we’re almost certainly mistaken.

The market for attention is a race to the bottom.

I’ve heard it said that Christians who see the church as a market are usually quite adept at sensing the winds of culture and setting the sails of ministry accordingly. This has produced some of the world’s best consumer churches, including some churches with charismatic leaders capable of getting a lot of attention in the form of likes and subscribes. But it also means that such Christians are largely unable to produce a consistent, counter-cultural witness when such a thing is needed. The market for attention is a race to the bottom. And the problem with a race to the bottom is that eventually you get there. The wiser course of action is to stay out of a race you can’t win and instead to train for one where you might have a real competitive advantage.

Technology to aid and invite the work of the church

So, what does this have to do with Christian Worship: Service Builder? Am I claiming that this hymnal software will somehow turn the tide and help churches cultivate faithful ways of living in our modern milieu? Sort of. And here’s why: Christian Worship: Service Builder is humane. Christian Worship: Service Builder is a technology that has been designed and engineered from first principles to be the kind of technology that aids and invites the kind of work that really matters, especially in the church.

Some of this is simply practical. I haven’t spent as much time as some of my colleagues trying out various worship planning and production systems, but I’ve kicked the tires on enough of them to reach some provisional conclusions. I’ve seen spreadsheets admirably refashioned from number-crunchers to worship planners. I’ve tested some of the more popular worship planning platforms out there. I’ve attempted to invent my own ways of automating the whole process. But nothing works quite the way I’d like it to. In the case of popular planning platforms, the cause is usually the design. Most programs assume the primary model of Christian worship is preparing a setlist of popular but often ephemeral Christian songs for a band to perform before the pastor comes on stage to talk for 45 minutes. The idea that there are texts to be read aloud or spoken by the congregation is foreign to the typical worship software available today. Entire aspects of Lutheran worship don’t fit because they were never part of the design conversation. And in the case of spreadsheets and databases, you can certainly do a lot with them to plan worship, but the production side of things still requires significant effort in other applications like Word or Pages. (Some are even still using Publisher, or so I hear.)

Christian Worship: Service Builder dramatically simplifies the worship planning and production process by providing automation where it’s needed most: in the busy work that isn’t the real work. Does anyone really think the real work of worship is cropping TIFFs? Do we really need to spend time copying and pasting texts? You may like the system you’ve cobbled together, but is your job title really Systems Administrator? (The answer to each of these questions is no.) By delivering significant productivity gains to aid the production side of things, Christian Worship: Service Builder is able to invite the pastor planning worship to put his skills to use in a way that is more rewarding for both him and the people he is called to serve.

Does anyone really think the real work of worship is cropping TIFFs?

Consider someone with gifts in planning excellent services. Christian Worship: Service Builder will free him to work more creatively with the rich resources available in Christian Worship (and his congregation’s custom library of materials). Now consider someone whose gifts lie in other areas. Christian Worship: Service Builder will allow him to rely, by default, on the wisdom and skill embedded in the content of the hymnal and the recommendation engine within Christian Worship: Service Builder. And because Christian Worship: Service Builder has powerful sharing tools, pastors and other worship planners will be able to share worship plans with one another easily. I envision healthy cooperatives in which a pastor with a well-deserved reputation as a good worship planner shares his gifts with others via Christian Worship: Service Builder. This is the good kind of sharing; not a lazy commons of miscellaneous materials but the genuine fruit of professional craftsmanship. This kind of sharing can free colleagues to do what they are better suited to do, like preaching, teaching, counseling, evangelism, and the like. A technology that aids with busy work and invites skilled effort will be a benefit for many.

Now, before I conclude, please allow me to point out the philosophical forest that consists of these practical trees. At the heart of this whole endeavor is the conviction that what’s needed for the people of God to flourish is not just automation and efficiency but invitation and embodiment. Indeed, one result of Christian worship is the cultivation of something in God’s people that cannot be outsourced, digitized, automated, or commoditized.

Consider this. Why do we call the mountains “lofty”? Why do they inspire us? In comparison to the total scope of the universe, mountains are anything but lofty. But we call them “lofty” because our perception of them is shaped by our own embodied stature. Because we are five-foot-something or thereabouts we experience mountains as the kind of places where we can enter into their beauty—but only with significant, yet rewarding, effort. For a disembodied consciousness the idea of “lofty” is emptied of its meaning and becomes nothing but a pure formality with all the excitement of an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. Apart from embodiment we have no real capacity to know what it’s like to call mountains “lofty” in this way.

Much the same applies to an array of Christian concepts. Take the command to show love and mercy to the weak and vulnerable, for example. A person who grows accustomed to disembodiment will have, over time (and maybe even quite quickly), a diminished capacity to show such mercy. Why? Because that person’s capacity to understand what mercy even is will be diminished. Looking into the eyes of a vulnerable person is a valuable Christian practice because doing so is to see yourself as you might be, indeed, as you will be. To gather together over the long years of Christian life is to see one another suffer from calamity, to succumb to illness, to grow weak with age—or maybe just to have really bad breath.

One of the central myths of our society is to pretend that such things don’t happen. We devote untold resources to shielding ourselves from the reality of suffering and weakness. And all this investment in avoidance yields a society that might prefer the death of the weak and suffering rather than to care for them. We must see these things in the flesh if we want to grow in our capacity to show mercy. We need to understand what “weak” means by knowing what it’s like to see weakness, to be weak. Weakness is a sight, a sense, a smell, not just a data point or definition.

Of course, worship is about more than seeing each other grow old; this is just one aspect of a multi-faceted subject. But, please, reflect on this deeply if you want to understand a bit more why the Holy Spirit instructs his church to not give up meeting together. This isn’t about moving your worship statistics from in-person to online. This is about inviting God’s people to grow in their ability to be, well, humane—as God has called them to be.

Core Lutheran intuitions are engineered into the interface.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the upcoming release of Christian Worship: Service Builder, not the least of which is that this is software designed for the particular purposes of Christian worship. This is a tool that matters not because it’s clever or trendy or economical. This is a tool that matters because it supports the redemptive invitation of Christian worship and the Lutheran tradition. Deep Christian convictions are baked into the assumptions of the program. Core Lutheran intuitions are engineered into the interface. It’s built to aid and invite the pastor in his work so he can invite the people of God to learn more and more what it’s like to be the people of God. This is no small thing.

Put technology to use, especially the humane kind, the kind that helps to make congregations into outposts of Christ’s kingdom on earth, the places where there is more than good content to consume online, the places where there are warm fires and comfortable chairs and generous meals and merciful people who know and serve one another even as they know and serve their Lord Jesus Christ.

By Caleb Bassett

Pastor Bassett serves at Redeemer, Fallbrook, CA. He is a member of the WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee and chairman of the project’s Technology Committee.


1 See “Projection in Worship” at welscongregationalservices.net/hymnal-intro-presentations for resources to evaluate pros and cons of projecting liturgy and hymns. The editor’s congregation is currently building a new church. Design criteria for projection include: 1) positioning does not detract from focus on the primary symbols of the means of grace in the chancel, and 2) design/location must not suggest that projection should regularly be used for liturgy and hymns. (Large monitors that dominate the chancel beg not to be empty). Inquiries are welcome. B Gerlach.

2 Last summer a very modest early release of Service Builder was made available to assist those who do long-range worship planning. This release provided the new lectionary—readings, psalm, Prayer of the Day, Gospel Acclamation, and Hymn of the Day. This enables even those who are not yet purchasing the new hymnal to use the new lectionary.


Service Builder and Books

With Service Builder’s remarkable power to include everything in the worship folder, why use printed hymnals at all? And why sing hymns from the book rather than a worship folder? An article on this topic is available at the link in the first endnote. Here’s a short summary.

  • The new hymnal is expertly designed and the content is carefully curated. These attributes communicate to worshipers and visitors alike a sense of rootedness in the church.
  • Hymnals are durable and last many years in a variety of worship settings.
  • Hymnals allow singing in harmony. Copyright restrictions prohibit the printing or projection of harmony parts in hymns.
  • Hymnals are a one-time investment that also reduce the annual cost of Service Builder.

 


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Christian Worship Lectionary

When the Church gathers around Word and sacrament, it does so in the freedom of the Gospel. A congregation can choose worship forms from anywhere on the continuum that lies between what is commanded and what is forbidden in worship.

The commanded elements are: “that the Word be proclaimed; that the Sacraments be administered rightly; that the gatherings be done in Jesus’ name.”1 At the same time any word or action that is inconsistent with the Gospel must be barred from worship. Simple enough, right? “The peculiar problem in the formation of the worship service is posed by the wide area that remains between the two boundary lines of the absolutely forbidden and the absolutely commanded.”2

So while we enjoy great freedom in our worship, we also seek to be wise in our use of that freedom. How can we order our services to provide the best culture of the means of grace? How can we plan our public worship so that the congregation is fed by God, encourages fellow believers, and witnesses to the world in the best way we can?

For many centuries the Church exercised such wisdom by ordering its public worship around a tool we inherited from millions of other Christians across time, culture, and geography: the lectionary. These readings, prayers, and psalms appointed for Sundays and seasons are called the Propers. While the ordinary of the service remains stable, the lectionary provides the moving parts. Along with the Christian calendar, the lectionary provides the basis for the Church’s proclamation and the foundation on which its services, seasons, and songs are built.

When the development work on the new Christian Worship hymnal began, our church body was provided the opportunity to review and revise the lectionary from CW93. While many Christian denominations make use of a three-year lectionary, and while they share many common elements, there is no single three-year lectionary that is shared by a majority of Christians. The three-year lectionaries in use across Christendom often share the same Gospel reading, but after that they have become increasingly divergent.

So without a standard three-year lectionary to follow, the Scripture Committee set out to propose a revision. The goals for the CW lectionary were to be:

  • Historical. We wanted to respect the wisdom of the Church that has gone before us.
  • Ecumenical. Where we could share readings and seasons with the wider church, we would. If we had to choose between faith traditions, we would choose confessional Lutheran traditions.
  • Gospel centered. The Gospel for each day would set the theme for worship.
  • Thematic. All the proper appointments would thematically match the Gospel.

The results that CW offers to the Church are a revised calendar, a historic one-year lectionary, a three-year lectionary, a lectionary for minor festivals and occasions, and three volumes of Commentary on the Propers.

Three-year lectionary

The vast majority of WELS congregations use a three-year lectionary. This provides a set of readings for each liturgical year (A, B, C). Each year presents the Gospel in the voice of a different evangelist. Year A features Matthew; Year B, Mark; Year C, Luke. John’s voice is heard in Year B and in the Time of Easter in all three years. Christian Worship’s publication date means that the first liturgical year of its use will be Year C.

Calendars years divisible by 3 are always the beginning of Year A. So Advent of 2019 was the beginning of Year A; Advent 2020, Year B; and in November of 2021 Advent begins Year C.

Thematic Sundays are a chief feature of the new lectionary. In CW93 continual readings in the epistles meant that often there was no connection between the Second Reading and the theme for the Sunday. In the new lectionary, the second reading was selected to fit the theme for each Sunday. But what about all the other appointments? In the CW93 lectionary, especially in the Season after Pentecost, the Prayer of the Day, the Verse of the Day, and the Psalm of the Day often lacked connections to each other or the appointed readings. In the new lectionary all the following appointments will match theme of the day:

  • Readings 1, 2, Gospel
  • Prayer of the Day
  • Psalm of the Day
  • Gospel Acclamation
  • Hymn of the Day

The new lectionary largely retains the Gospels as they exist in the CW93 lectionary for historical and ecumenical reasons. The readings from the Gospels have the most correspondence to other lectionaries in use in wider Christianity. For example, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year A, the same Good Shepherd Gospel (John 10:1-10) will be read in WELS, LCMS, ELS, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian, and other liturgical churches. Such commonality is a good reminder that while there are proper reasons for denominations to be divided now, all who call on Christ as Lord are united in the Holy Christian Church and will one day worship undivided before the throne.

The Gospel sets the theme for the Sunday, and every other appointment seeks to undergird that theme. The result is a lectionary that uses both the old and the new: While the Gospels didn’t change much, the rest of the appointments did. Of the over 400+ appointments in Year A, 45% differ from CW93.

While the Gospels didn’t change much, the rest of the appointments did. Of the over 400+ appointments in Year A, 45% differ from CW93.

Compared to the current lectionary, the First Reading in CW will offer more narrative in balance with prophecy. Many of the important Old Testament stories provide great preaching texts, and they will be found on Sundays where they support the theme of the Gospel. The First Reading will continue to feature readings from Acts during the Easter Season.

The Second Reading will no longer feature continual readings but will present the important content in a thematic context. While having a set of readings from a single book across several weeks provides an opportunity for preaching sermon series, this lectionary has gone away from that. Instead it seeks to provide a tightly coordinated set of propers for every Sunday. The central point of the Gospel will be reinforced by every appointment, lending a cohesiveness to the appointments that was often lacking in CW93. Of course, the Church is free to continue to use a lectio continua but this effort seeks to have series preaching based on the lectionary’s patterns (see Commentary on the Propers below).

The Prayer of the Day has a long history, and some of those prayers have been used by the Church for fifteen centuries. The new lectionary sought to preserve all the historic prayers, but to arrange them to ensure a thematic agreement with the Sunday. This is most noticeable in the Season after Pentecost. In the CW93 lectionary, the same prayer was appointed for each Sunday in years A, B, and C. Even though the readings were all different, the prayer was the same over all three years. This meant that if there was a connection between the Prayer of the Day and the readings it was serendipitous. The new lectionary features historic prayers, some newly translated ancient prayers, some newly written, but all in line with each Sunday’s theme.

The same is true of the Gospel Acclamation, which we used to call the Verse of the Day. This thematic statement from Scripture is meant to prepare the congregation to hear the reading of the Gospel. It is to be sung with alleluias, except during Lent. The hymnal provides easy to use congregational responses so you can sing a thematic, proper Gospel acclamation on any Sunday.

New items to note

While much of the new lectionary will feel familiar and comfortable, some changes to terminology, practice, and purpose did occur.

Some terminology changes are minor:

  • Readings instead of Lessons
  • Gospel Acclamation instead of Verse of the Day
  • Holy Thursday instead of Maundy Thursday
  • Season after Pentecost instead of Pentecost Season

More significant changes follow.

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

The lectionary retains traditional Palm Sunday readings. However, it reintroduces the 500-year-old practice of appointing the Triumphal Entry as a choice for the Gospel on Advent 1. This corresponds to historic practice, restores the Palm Sunday connection to many Advent hymns, and allows for a new practice called the Sunday of the Passion.

The idea comes from the fact that some of the most significant portions of the Gospels—the parts that tell the sufferings and death of our Lord—are not appointed to be read on Sundays. Certainly, they are read during Lenten midweek and Holy Week services. But what percentage of your congregation attends those? Could it be that for a majority of your worshipers, their Holy Week worship takes them from waving palm branches on Palm Sunday to shouting “Christ is risen,” on Easter without hearing a word about the sufferings and death of Jesus?

The Sunday of the Passion places the entire Passion History in front of God’s people on Palm Sunday. For example, the reading appointed for Year A is Matthew 26:1-27:66. Some congregations preach a sermon; others use a responsive reading of the Gospel in place of the sermon. In our congregation, the service begins with the procession of palms, then the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel, and then the service continues with a responsive reading of the Passion History as appointed. This means that every Sunday worshiper hears the whole account of Holy Week annually in the voice of the evangelist for that year.

Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost

The Christian Church year has three divisions: the Time of Christmas (Advent to Transfiguration), the Time of Easter (Ash Wednesday to Pentecost), and the Time of the Church (Trinity to Last Sunday). The 1993 lectionary ended the Time of Easter with Easter 7 and began the Time of Pentecost with the festival of Pentecost. The new lectionary moves more in line with wider Christianity and puts Pentecost as the end and culmination of the seven weeks of Easter, as the last festival of the festival half of the Church Year.

The Time of the Church begins with the festival of the Holy Trinity on the first Sunday after Pentecost. So the name of the season changes. It’s not called the Pentecost Season, but instead the Season after Pentecost. In the Season after Pentecost there are 27 Sundays and the Last Sunday of the Church Year.

Proper system

The lectionary makes a major change by using the proper system to determine readings for the Sundays after Pentecost. The benefits of using this system include ties to wider Christianity, and the ease of determining the propers for the Sundays after Pentecost simply by their calendar date.

Here’s how it works. After the First Sunday after Pentecost (Holy Trinity), the assigned readings are determined not by a Sunday’s distance from Pentecost but by the calendar date on which it falls. The set of Sunday propers run from Proper 3 to Proper 28. (Propers 1 and 2 are used on weekdays, and so are not appointed in this lectionary.) If there are any propers that are not used because of the date of Easter, they come at the beginning of the season rather than at the end. Often, Propers 3-4 will not be used unless Easter is very early.

Each proper is assigned a range of dates by which it is paired with the Sunday on which it is used. For example, in the year 2021, the date of Pentecost is May 23, the date of Holy Trinity is May 30, so the next Sunday after Pentecost happens on June 6. This date falls in the range for “Proper 5— Sundays on June 5-11.” You would use Proper 5 readings on June 6, and then the Proper 6 readings on June 13, and so on.

Please note: Don’t call the Sunday “Proper 5” in the service folder. That’s just a reference to the set of readings. Definitely save or file your service folders and resources according to their Proper reference. It’s just not the name of the Sunday. In my congregation our service folder simply refers to them by their date in the Season after Pentecost. So next year the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost is July 17, 2022. We’ll list it in the service folder as “Sunday, July 17, in the Season after Pentecost.” But when we save a copy of the service folder it will be named “C-Proper11-2022-07-17.”

If this seems confusing, take heart. We will produce annual lectionary calendars that do all this work for you. It will look like the example shown here.

End times without End Time

The End Time Season was unique to WELS. Introduced in the 1993 hymnal, it was meant to create a fitting end to the Church Year with an eschatological focus. The new lectionary’s goals of historicity and ecumenicity led us to drop that uniquely WELS season. We want our church year to be ecumenical in the best sense of the word.

There is no End Time Season in the new lectionary. We definitely still remember the end times, just in ways that correspond to the wider church. The trajectory of each set of Gospel readings inevitably leads the Church to a focus on the coming judgment during the closing weeks of the Church Year. We recommend observing Reformation on the last Sunday in October and the Festival of All Saints on the first Sunday in November. The last Sunday of the Church year has two options: Last Sunday or Christ the King. The worship planner’s choice on the Last Sunday will dictate the choice of options for the following week on Advent 1. So on Last Sunday if the primary proper is used (Christ’s second coming), the primary proper is also used for Advent 1 (Christ’s triumphal entry). If the alternate proper is used (Christ the King), the alternate proper is also used for Advent 1 (Christ’s second coming).

Historic, Minors, and Occasions

The historic one-year lectionary in Christian Worship restores features that had been removed in our last hymnal. The pre-Lent –gesimas are back. So, too, the Latin Sundays of Easter. Quasimodo Geniti lives again. The Trinity season ends with Trinity 26 and Last Sunday.

Newly appointed occasions include Sanctity of Life, Military Service, Witness, Marriage and Family.

The minor festivals and occasions are fully resourced. The occasions that are frequently celebrated are given three sets of readings (Reformation, All Saints, Christian Education, Confirmation, Father’s Day, Missions, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Stewardship, Thanksgiving) to provide ample variety. Newly appointed occasions include Sanctity of Life, Military Service, Witness, Marriage and Family.

Commentary on the Propers

Worship planners performing long range, seasonal, or weekly planning benefit from having an understanding of the whole lectionary, the liturgical seasons, the direction of upcoming readings, and special features of each of the appointments. The Commentary on the Propers provides the tools needed.

This set of three books provides commentary on the propers assigned to each Sunday or festival. Designed to be the first resource pulled off the shelf when planning worship, each season, Sunday, and festival is treated in terms of its connection to the theme of the day and its place within the Church Year. This resource helps the worship planner know where they are, where they’re going, and what it all means.

Many pastors like to preach sermon series. These commentary volumes show that you don’t need to abandon the lectionary to do it. Special attention is given to the natural series that occur in the lectionary. In fact, there are sermon series provided for the entire Church year.

Logos Bible Software

The new lectionary will be available natively on Logos Bible Software. Simply search for Christian Worship and you will see two new options: Christian Worship One-Year Lectionary and Christian Worship Three-Year Lectionary.

 

By Jonathan E. Schroeder

Pastor Schroeder serves Faith, Sharpsburg, GA, a suburb of Atlanta. His duties beyond the parish are numerous: member of the Synodical Council, moderator of the Institute for Worship and Outreach, consultant for Schools of Outreach and for Schools of Worship Enrichment, and WELS Hymnal Project Executive Committee. He chaired the committee that produced the new lectionary.


1 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, 221.
2 Brunner, 225.


See also FIC

See another article by Jon Schroeder in the August Forward in Christ. The FIC article focuses on the benefits of the new lectionary; this WTL article focuses also on understanding the design of the new lectionary and other propers.

Planning Advent through Epiphany

To assist those who do long range planning in summer, the Hymnal Introduction Committee has posted a planning tool for Advent through Epiphany. This tool includes far more than the new lectionary. It also contains:

  • Series themes and themes of the day (with explanations)
  • Hymn suggestions
  • Notes on new hymns that might benefit from advance planning
  • Two plans for introducing new musical settings of various canticles, one “conservative,” the other “ambitious”

Please note that no new canticle settings are suggested until Epiphany, giving musicians ample time to learn new settings.

Find this planning tool, Year C Advent through Epiphany, in the Look Inside section under the Resources tab at christianworship.com. At this location see also comments from Jon Hein about forthcoming resources from WELS Congregational Services that capitalize on this planning tool and new hymnal resources.

Supporting musical arrangements

At NPH (online.nph.net) search on ‘cw21choral’ to find arrangements of new hymns. Future information will assist with finding piano and organ service music settings.


 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Earliest New Hymnal Adopters

As I write this article in the last days of March, at least 50 congregations have already preordered the new hymnal (or decided to do so), sometimes also with a quantity of the psalter. In contrast, a few people have asked how they can be expected to consider purchasing something they haven’t yet had a chance to thoroughly review. I’ll speak to that a bit later. But first some thoughts about my assumptions and some comments from the earliest adopters.

Not every congregation

Pressure and anticipation for a new hymnal in 2021 is simply not as high as it was in 1993. So leaders from both the hymnal project and NPH recognize that adoption will likely be at a different pace than the rapid and almost universal adoption of CW93 in the mid-1990s. And that’s perfectly fine. No one is saying that all good synodical team players should quickly jump on board.

Further complicating decisions is a year of pandemic. So here, again, is a comment from the September 2020 WTL: “Hymnal project leaders recognize that not every congregation will want to or be able to adopt the new hymnal in 2021. Reasons include COVID uncertainties, tightened budgets, and uncertain futures. This article isn’t meant to ignore those realities but only to encourage review and planning in whatever way seems appropriate.”

But as many as possible

Granting that not every congregation will adopt the new hymnal in 2021, there still is benefit in many doing so—benefit to the congregations, not merely to the success of the project.

A few years ago, the Commission on Worship and its consultants were busy with Schools of Worship Enrichment. Over 12 years we served 291 congregations, coast to coast, large and small, young and old, growing and declining. Those who served these weekend events noticed two contrasting challenges to implementing a vision of creative, flexible, and satisfying liturgical worship. The obvious challenge came from some who wondered if we needed to abandon a liturgical format and heritage hymns to reach or retain the people we want to serve. The less obvious challenge came from those who seemed content with varying degrees of uncreative and inflexible implementations of liturgical worship. It’s not surprising that some would want “something more” than that approach to worship.

The resources were always there for enriching Lutheran worship with alternate canticles and new hymns in varied musical styles accompanied by instruments far more diverse than the solo organ that commonly led worship. But many pastors and musicians didn’t have the vision or ability to implement this “enriched Lutheran worship.”1

Now the new hymnal suite richly provides options that can help both of the challenges described above—as well as support congregations without either challenge. The church that prefers an ensemble to an organ (or both in rotation on different weekends) will find the music they need for two musical settings of the primary Sunday service. Same for many hymns. A church that formerly relied mostly on organ, whose musicians lacked time or ability to involve other instruments, will find a wealth of resources.

Such options reinforce a healthy bias that project director Michael Schultz mentioned in the previous article in this series: “I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.”2 In the past such a bias might have been heard to support a narrow musical bandwidth that wouldn’t be labeled flexible and creative. That was never the intent. But now the new hymnal suite makes it far easier to implement goals of flexibility and creativity.

So I urge “as many as possible” with conviction that it’s good for congregations across a synod to share a worship philosophy and core worship resources.

It’s good for congregations across a synod to share a worship philosophy and core worship resources.

NPH and the Commission on Worship

These two synodical entities have different if complementary roles. NPH is a business and a ministry, your ministry partner. From them you have received promotional materials and a preorder option. They sell products at price points that enable them to continue serving in their role.

The Commission on Worship is not a business but only a ministry partner concerned with many aspects of worship enrichment. One of the biggest opportunities for worship enrichment comes along only every 30-40 years: the release of a new hymnal. So communications from the C/W will share introductory resources and urge adoption of the new hymnal. We do this not from a business perspective but purely from a ministry perspective.

Comments from earliest adopters

To assist congregations that have not yet ordered the new hymnal, I polled some that have already ordered and asked three questions. Various answers are included below with the hope that they might be helpful to other congregations. The congregations represented are from all over the country and range in average attendance from 38 to 560. State abbreviations follow most comments.

How did you build consensus to make an early decision, long before able to review the pew edition and other volumes?

We started early singing songs we understood would be included and made a point of telling people the song would be part of the new hymnal. We talked about it in our leadership meetings and with the congregation that this was just what we do: new hymnal comes out, and so we will be using the new hymnal. People were looking forward to new songs and sounds, so it was a fairly easy sell. ~SC

There wasn’t much of a debate as to whether we would adopt the new hymnal. We participated in multiple field tests for the hymnal, plus the congregation was aware of the work I was doing on the Scripture Committee. We already have ordered hymnals and psalters to put in the pew racks (enough to make sure we meet the minimum for the Service Builder discount). We also plan to subscribe to the Service Builder. The only item that caused some discussion was the number of physical hymnals to order, since we have for a long time printed the entire service (hymns included) in the service folder. However, the combination of needing to purchase a certain number for the Service Builder discount and the understanding that having physical hymnals in pews for people to look at and use in addition to the service folder is valuable for members and guests alike made that discussion rather brief. ~KY

How much longer do we need to wait?

Our two pastors and staff minister decided early on they wanted to purchase the whole shebang, and took it to our elders, and it was easily approved. We are paying for it mostly with memorial money that was donated specifically for this purpose. As I’m sure is the case with many congregations, we removed all our old hymnals from the pews for COVID-related reasons, which will make the physical transition even easier! We’re also going to open it up to any members who want to personally purchase anything, and add their orders to our one big church order. I feel everyone at our church has been really open to the switch! ~WI

The process for building a consensus to make an early decision began more than ten years ago. We are liturgical in our worship style but have adopted any number of songs and services over the years to introduce new formats. For Advent and Lenten services, for example, we started with Compline 2, found a version of Psalm 91 that we liked better, and mixed and matched a couple of other elements and/or changed pieces for one year along the way. The people like these services, so it isn’t hard for them to be excited about a new hymnal which will facilitate trying some additional new services. ~MI

Our decision was never really a struggle. The congregation has a long history of making use of the musical resources that the synod makes available. Our people here have embraced many of the hymns and liturgies from the supplement, and are already familiar with many of the Getty tunes that will appear in the new hymnal. For our congregation, it wasn’t ever really a question of “Will we choose to get the new hymnal?” but “How much longer do we need to wait?” ~GA

What was your funding process? Budgetary over two years, plus special gifts, or what?

Purchasing the new hymnal was part of our five-year plan. We had little discussion. 47 out of 100 hymnals are paid for as of early March with the methodology pictured above. Strictly special gifts. Many of the other books have also been purchased for the church. ~IL

We started at least two years in advance by setting aside $2000 in our ministry plan and then made it part of our special projects list. (We share this list with people who want to make a special donation or give a memorial.) We had planned to use a special “buy a hymnal” drive this year, but a member gave a large gift as a memorial and covered the cost. Another member recently contacted me to offer to pay for the new hymnal and other volumes. So in our case, it was just something people were drawn to support. Blessed! ~SC

We were going to do “combination of budget/congregational gifts” over this year. But someone was very blessed in the recent stock market run-up and came in wanting to make a gift and paid for the first batch of hymnals/psalter/resources in one shot. So, I was able to say at elders, “Well, this is the cost I’d ask you to approve…and please know that it is already paid for…” which made the decision easier. They would have said yes anyway, but they also simply assume (as I think our council does) that our synod is putting out a new hymnal and a) we’ve been using some of those resources already and b) we’d of course just go along and adopt it. ~WI

Please know that it is already paid for.

We had talked about “every member buy two,” one for them and one for the pew. Decided not to go that route as we’ve received gifts already of $9,000 for it without it even being advertised outside of Elders/Council. We are all in to the tune of about $12,000. ~WI

A few years ago a member left a gift to the congregation in his estate. He had a deep love for worship music. We used a portion of his estate to purchase a grand piano. When the hymnal’s budget planning worksheet was made available, the council realized that the remaining portion of the gift would cover the cost of the new hymnals. At the same time, we do plan on inviting people to use the offering envelopes to make a special gift to the hymnals in the expectation that we can stretch our worship budget a bit further yet. ~GA

Are you ordering the psalter? If so, for pews or just choir?

We are ordering 25 copies to start for choir and small group use. We plan on purchasing 300 hymnals for the sanctuary and choir. We will subscribe to Service Builder and purchase multiple copies of the hymn and liturgy accompaniment books. We will purchase 30 copies of the psalter for the choir. ~MN

Any other unique stories that would provide interest for the article or quotes from members?

Nothing really unique, except our people are very excited. ~TX

Our worship committee was very excited to see the wealth of materials available at a substantially lower cost than first anticipated. We had committed early on to books in the pews for a number of reasons; the pricing structure made that a no-brainer from an economic standpoint, as well. ~WI

There is a bit of frustration expressed in that there are a number of TBD items and details connected with the new Christian Worship. Yet, I know the project is very ambitious in its scope and timetable for publication.3 ~MN

The pricing structure made books in the pews a no-brainer.

The National Conference on Lutheran Leadership [January 2020] was an incredible help. We were able to bring five members of the congregation, including our office administrator and two council members. We all left the conference deeply impressed with every aspect of the hymnal showcased there: the support volumes, the Service Builder, and above all, the worship services. It allowed those members to be strong early advocates for the hymnal. ~GA

It’s been decided we will gift all our organists/pianists with their own copies of all the accompaniment books (we have six accompanists), which I thought was super generous of the leadership. ~WI

We all left the conference deeply impressed with every aspect of the hymnal showcased there.

We look forward to many instrumental parts already prepared. I play trumpet, we have an occasional violinist, a couple of guitar players, some hand drums, a flute, a penny-whistle player, if you can believe that, and some other people we are trying to get involved with occasionally playing a piece. Pre-transposed pieces and other various options are exciting to the special music people who are looking forward to getting their hands on these resources.4 ~MI

At Trinity, Waukesha, we are at an advantage since we’ve been almost exclusively using new service music, hymns, psalms, etc. for all our services since Advent (Year C, one year ahead of other WELS congregations to help prepare planning resources for other churches next year).5 There have been many positive comments on the new hymns, revised texts, and service music. ~WI

Confidence in the project

Now, back to a question posed in the first paragraph: how can a congregation consider purchasing something they haven’t yet had a chance to thoroughly review? Perhaps the comments above from diverse congregations around the country can help to answer the question.

Another confidence-building factor is the caliber of those serving on the hymnal project’s Executive Committee. It has been a highlight of my almost 40 years in the ministry to work with these men, people with both sound theological grounding and practical parish experience. It is a testimony to the confidence that our synod can rightly have in this committee that one member was a seminary professor, two others accepted calls to the seminary during the project, two others have declined calls to the seminary, and two others have served as professors or administrators at synodical schools. Furthermore, every word in the new hymnal has been scrutinized by a doctrinal review process.

In closing I emphasize again that the hymnal project recognizes that congregations are in different places as far as decisions and timelines. This article doesn’t intend to lobby but to provide perspectives from the congregations cited. Still, whether you preorder soon or don’t even think about the new hymnal this year, we hope that eventually the vast majority of congregations will adopt the new hymnal just as we did in the years following 1993.

By Bryan Gerlach

Pastor Gerlach, a member of the hymnal project Executive Committee, has served as Director of the Commission on Worship since 1996. Previously he served parishes in El Paso, TX, and Citrus Heights, CA. He regularly plays organ and piano in two Milwaukee-area churches.

 


As far as the funding process goes, this is the announcement we’ve been running in our bulletin.

Pass on the Legacy with Our New Hymnal

If you could make an investment that would positively impact someone for at least 30 years, wouldn’t you want to do that? You have that opportunity with the release of our new hymnal. Christian Worship will be released for the fall of 2021. This new hymnal will be the staple of Eastside’s worship for the next generation. Combining the best from past traditions with the best from current resources, Christian Worship keeps the gospel at the heart of our worship, kindling the joy of worship on every page. To fit our congregation’s needs, we need 400 hymnals. That’s a $9600 investment. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of our hymnal for the past 30 years. Wouldn’t you like to be part of this new 30-year investment? Could you prayerfully consider donating one hymnal to Eastside for each member of your family? Think of the impact you can make! If you have any questions, please speak with Pastor Berg.

By early March, we’ve raised over $8000 of $9600. That’s without any special drive. Those are just individual gifts above and beyond regular offerings. As of right now, we are only ordering a few copies of the psalter. But if we receive more than $9600, we will order copies of the psalter for choir use. ~WI


1 This is not a careless and unfounded generalization. Survey data from those 291 SoWE congregations clearly supports the observation.
2 “A Wealth of Accompaniment Options,” March 2021. Back issues are available at worship.welsrc.net.
3 Most of 20 resources are coming out at the same time in the fall of 2021. Compare that to the years following 1993 when only the hymnal and manual were released. The Handbook came out in 1997, the Altar Book in 1999, Occasional Services and Pastor’s Companion in 2004.
4 Instrumental parts with transpositions will be provided by CW: Musician’s Resource.
5 The hymnal project director is a member of this church. The planning resource mentioned will be released in summer. For a detailed analysis of this church’s needs, see “Trinity Hymnals,” a supplemental online doc at the link in note 2.


New at christianworship.com

“Why a New Hymnal?” This bulletin insert is newly added to a ZIP of other bulletin inserts. It came about from a pastor’s request for something very simple as opposed to “visit the website.” It may be useful to share before a decision-making group meets or simply to build interest for the arrival of the new hymnal. Find it in the Publicity Toolkit link under Resources.

The Wedding Rite in the New Christian Worship” – an article by Prof. Jonathan Micheel from the Spring 2021 issue of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.

Coming later this year: a variety of introductory videos useful not only for evaluating and understanding hymnal project choices but also for exploring and using various resources.


 

 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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A Wealth of Accompaniment Options

Church acoustics consultant Scott Riedel is in the habit of saying that an ideal geometric shape for a worship space looks like a shoe box turned on its side. Horizontally it has a definite long and short axis, and vertically it has enough ceiling height to provide a proper reverberation. Carpet is minimal, if not absent. If newer, the floor might be tile or finished concrete; if older, it likely is hardwood planks. I’ve been in a few sanctuaries like that, including the one I first frequented as a young child. Today, when I take a seat in a live acoustic space like that, I look forward to enjoying one thing in particular—you can hear the people sing.

Liturgical ensembles

These days, more often than was the case a decade or longer ago, the seat I take in the worship space is occasionally a 24” high, four-legged stool. A guitar is on my lap and a music stand in front of me. Nearby are an amp, a piano, and a mic stand or two for the cantor(s). I occasionally play with the ensemble at Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha, WI, or I’m on the road for a conference or Bible class, sampling psalms, hymns, and ritual music from the new hymnal resources.

Years ago, it was rare for me to participate from my four-legged stool. While serving as a parish pastor for 24 years, my guitars and amp most often stayed at home. Part of that was for personal reasons. I had no desire to “feature myself” as far as playing guitar for worship. Nor were either of the two congregations I served necessarily ready for that kind of instrumentation. They had been in “organ-only” mode for virtually all of their existence. Piano was not used for congregational singing, and I would still say that, in most cases, a single acoustic guitar, even when amplified, is not well-suited to lead congregational singing.

But there was another issue, one that Don Chapman (hymncharts.com) wrote about: “In 2002, as a new music director at a church plant, people in my congregation were complaining that I wasn’t including hymns in my praise sets. I wasn’t including them because back in those days, there weren’t any! So I started arranging my own.” I don’t have raw data to cite, but anecdotally, I get the impression that two to three decades ago, Lutheran musicians who played instruments other than the organ were in some cases channeled toward commercial Christian arrangements, in great part because those were the only arrangements available for their instruments. There were, of course, a few hymns found in Lutheran hymnals, known by Lutheran worshipers, sung across a broader swath of Christianity, and arranged for ensemble instruments. But twenty years ago, just a few.

The scope of this article does not cover the difference between commercial worship songs and familiar hymns. But if it did, a key point would be the difference between songs that are more suited to trained singers and hymns that can be sung by the whole assembly. I, of course, have a bias, and it’s not just against worship songs that tend to be more soloistic and in favor of hymns that are familiar and were written for group singing. I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.

I am strongly biased toward having the congregation predominantly (not exclusively) sing the hymns, psalms, and ritual songs that have been curated and published by our church body.

In recent decades, that’s where the rub has been. Liturgical ensemble arrangements of “our” materials have not been available in any kind of abundance at all. By no fault of its own, our publishing house has not published individual hymns arranged for a liturgical ensemble. In the past, the few resources in this genre were typically found in collections in which some titles would not be found in our hymnal. Such a small supply of resources can, of course, result in the same kind of overboard repetition that some Lutheran congregations have run into with non-Lutheran arrangements—twenty songs that get repeated every six or seven weeks. I hope that’s not an inaccurate caricature; it’s what I have heard that some of our congregations have discovered. Oddly enough, it’s the very same thing that congregations can run into when using liturgical ensemble arrangements of our curated and published materials—there isn’t enough to go around, i.e., to go around a whole church year’s worth of worship planning.

The new hymnal project will change that. And that’s not just because we think it’s a good idea to balance organ-led services with piano/guitar/ensemble-led services. That’s not just to put to good use the skills of the pianist/guitarist/instrumentalist the Lord has brought into our membership (though we certainly want to be good stewards of such gifts). That’s not just because some think that the ensemble can sound more upbeat or because they subjectively prefer it over the organ (and why wouldn’t we want to keep them happy?). No, our plan to provide a wealth of curated materials for a liturgical ensemble is because God’s grace in Christ has made us want our sacrifice of praise to be the best it can be.

One element of “best” can be objectively defined. Can you hear the people sing?

With organ music, the servant on the bench needs a keen sensitivity toward the interrelated items of organ registration, worship space acoustics, number of people in the sanctuary, intended mood of the service, and worshipers’ familiarity with the materials that are on the musical docket. All of that and more will come under consideration as the organist goes about his or her task of supporting the song of the assembly. It’s no different when the liturgical ensemble is providing the worship music. Sufficient rehearsal, congregational cueing (especially for introductions or inter-stanza turnarounds), dynamics governed by number of worshipers present, attaining the proper mix through the soundboard, mic levels and overall volume level of amplified voices and instruments properly adjusted, small ensemble or large—there are plenty of things to look out for. But one consideration rises to the top of the list: can you hear the people sing? The Lord has good hearing. Be it barely audible or raising the roof, he will always hear the praise of his people. The question to ask is, “Can the people hear each other?”

Can the people hear each other?

Whether you bring together two musicians or ten in an ensemble, share with them that our goal is to let the people’s song be heard, because that’s where the general scripture truths and the specific gospel message reside—in the lyrics of the assembly’s song. Instrumentalists need sensitivity to volume control and willingness to be a team player (aka, trusting the sound tech to get the mix right). Cantors need to understand (and also the congregation by educating them on this point) that they are not singing primarily to the assembly or for the assembly but along with the assembly. Instrumentalists and vocalists serve to strengthen the assembly’s song.

So back to the opening paragraph of this article. I’m in a sacred space where music is going to lift the life-giving gospel around the room, direct it into ears, and anchor it in believing hearts. I look forward to hearing a room full of people singing the gospel. To pull this off with an organ, there are pallets and pallets of music to enliven the pipes and fill the room with the godly music of saints and angels. God be praised for that! Three volumes of our new hymnal products (Accompaniment for Hymns, Accompaniment for the Psalter, Accompaniment for Services) will bring together an abundance of those organ arrangements for the hymns, psalms, and rites we have compiled. By comparison, rather than pallets and pallets, it seems we may have not much more than a partial filing cabinet drawer of arrangements for the liturgical ensemble. Let’s see what we can do to address this situation.

Accompaniment Editions

As you may have noticed from mock-ups at christianworship.com, the accompaniment editions are 8.5×11, portrait orientation, spiral-bound. For the most part, they contain only keyboard arrangements. In a number of cases, however, there are both organ settings and piano settings. For a majority of the hymns that were originally written for piano, an idiomatic organ or general keyboard arrangement was added. For some of the hymns that are regularly played on organ, an idiomatic piano arrangement was added. (See below about many more piano arrangements, along with auxiliary instrument arrangements, available in CW: Musician’s Resource [CW:MR]).

In addition to upscaling and reformatting the pew edition hymns to fit on a letter-sized page (which, incidentally, make the music easier to read for some), many of the hymns in Accompaniment for Hymns have multiple keyboard settings: alternate key; alternate setting; modulation to a festive final stanza; soloed organ setting; alternate piano or organ arrangement. For a total of 683 hymns (656 in the pew edition and 27 appearing only in CW: Service Builder), Accompaniment for Hymns offers an additional 447 auxiliary keyboard settings of the various types just mentioned. Similarly, Christian Worship: Psalter includes 470 musical settings of the 150 psalms. The Accompaniment for the Psalter offers 93 additional keyboard settings. Some of the piano arrangements in these accompaniment editions will have corresponding instrument files in CW:MR.

Besides accompaniments for the lectionary psalms that appear in the front of the hymnal pew edition, Accompaniment for Services includes the keyboard scores for all of the ritual music. This includes The Service: Settings 1-3, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Settings 2 and 3 of The Service and the Compline setting have both a complete organ setting and a complete piano setting. The piano arrangements of Setting 2 (Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen) are simplified piano arrangements, intended to make the piano setting accessible to the vast majority of pianists. More complex arrangements will be available in CW:MR. Auxiliary brass/timpani arrangements for the organ setting and auxiliary ensemble arrangements for the piano versions of Settings 2 and 3 will be available in CW:MR. Additional settings of The Service, available only in Service Builder, will be similarly resourced with organ and piano settings and auxiliary instrument files available in CW:MR.

Accompaniment for Hymns offers an additional 447 auxiliary keyboard settings of various types.

Additionally, a greatly expanded aspect of ritual music in the new hymnal suite of materials is the music of the Gospel Acclamation. (See a sample at christianworship.com/resources in the “look inside” section.) Formerly called the Verse of the Day, the Gospel Acclamation consists of an opening and closing alleluia refrain with a seasonal or proper verse of the day in the middle. Accompaniment for Services provides 230 pages of Gospel Acclamation music. Each of the three settings of The Service has its own Gospel Acclamation setting, and there are an additional 21 Gospel Acclamation settings for the entire church year. All of these acclamations are written for general keyboard (organ or piano). Some acclamations use additional instruments. For example, Irish Alleluia, published by GIA and arranged by Richard Proulx, has a version for organ, brass, and timpani, but it can be performed just as well with piano, guitar, and other instruments. A 7×10 spiral bound edition (Christian Worship: Gospel Acclamations—Cantor’s Edition) will be available for presiding ministers, cantors, choir members, and instrumentalists. (This edition allows users to avoid illegally copying the keyboard edition for singers and other musicians.)

Musician’s Resource

Most of the music for the liturgical ensemble will reside in Christian Worship: Musician’s Resource. The NPH website will add a section dedicated solely to searching for, reviewing, and purchasing auxiliary keyboard and instrumental music that supports the hymnal and psalter. Thousands of pages of music will be available at this location.

For example, the most basic liturgical ensemble is a piano accompaniment with another instrument playing the melody. If that other instrument is a clarinet or trumpet, additional music is needed since these are pitched at B-flat rather than C. To match keyboard music, trumpet music has to be raised a whole step. If the keyboard music is in F Major, the trumpet part must be in in G Major. We have already done the foundational work on over 500 hymns, so that the various instruments which play at different pitches have a musical score to work with the pew edition setting of the hymns. Each SATB hymn ends up with 16 pages of transpositions. That means we already have 8000 pages of instrument transpositions for the pew edition hymn settings.

But most of the Musician’s Resource is comprised of arrangements that go beyond the pew edition settings. Not always but most frequently, the liturgical ensemble is looking for music that has been arranged with other instruments in mind, not just “SATB hymnal versions.” The Musician’s Resource will include a variety of these resources: vocal descants; instrumental descants; lead sheets; alternate choral stanzas; alternate harmonizations; full modern arrangements; modulations (transitioning to a higher key for a festive final stanza; roughly 5% of the hymns in Accompaniment for Hymns have such an optional modulation).

More often than not, the liturgical ensemble is looking for full modern arrangements. One strong advantage of these arrangements is how they can fit almost any size ensemble. These arrangements may have parts for eight different instruments, but they also work if you have only piano and guitar. We are aiming to offer a full modern arrangement for every hymn, and eventually more than one. Since CW:MR will be a living resource, we can continue to add to it long after the hymnal has launched in the fall of 2021.

Christian Worship: Supplement (2008) included Divine Service II, a service that made use of metrical canticles. These are songs of the liturgy where the text has been recast as rhymed verse and the tune is that of a familiar hymn. Christian Worship: Service Builder will include several dozen metrical canticles for those who wish to build such a service. Our goal is to arrange also these metrical canticle hymn tunes for liturgical ensembles. Such arrangements can, of course, serve double duty for both a hymn text and a metrical canticle.

We use the term liturgical ensemble because the ensemble is supporting the congregation as the congregation participates in the liturgy.

Looking forward

Liturgical worship makes use of the church year with its appointed lectionary and propers, it has a regular celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar, and it follows a historic order which includes the ancient texts of several songs that tell the story of our deliverance through Christ. We use the term liturgical ensemble because the ensemble is supporting the congregation as the congregation participates in the liturgy. The ensemble may consist of anywhere from two to ten or more instrumentalists and anywhere from one to four or more cantors. So the term liturgical helps establish some healthy parameters: this is a group that assists the assembly in singing the ritual music (canticles), the Psalm of the Day, the Gospel Acclamation, the Hymn of the Day, and other selected hymns.

It would sadden me if I were writing this article solely because there might seem to be a trend toward piano/guitar/instrument ensembles and away from organ accompaniment. With a fitting registration, the organ does a magnificent job of supporting the song of the assembly. The many organ resources that are queued up for our new hymnal will continue this fine heritage. I wholeheartedly support both organ accompaniment and ensemble accompaniment. I also do not hesitate to say that we need and are preparing more resources for the latter. I look forward to having a six-stringed instrument on my lap and an abundance of music on the stand before me, composed for a liturgical ensemble. I look forward to accompaniment editions and a Musician’s Resource that put those ensemble scores in front of a host of WELS instrumentalists, affording them the high privilege of leading God’s people in song.

And soaring high above all that music, I most look forward to hearing assembled voices clearly singing that Jesus Christ is the LORD, Our Righteousness (Jer. 23:26).

By Michael Schultz

Pastor Schultz has served 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 the new WELS Hymnal Project. As a member of Trinity, Waukesha, WI, he plays guitar for worship and occasionally preaches.

A small liturgical ensemble (pictured above) provided music for a COVID-era Easter service recorded in the seminary chapel. That video is still available here: https://wels.net/together-at-the-empty-tomb-this-easter. The socially distanced musicians performed in an empty chapel without a congregation present.

Another excellent companion video to the topic of this issue is at welscongregationalservices.net/worship-led-by-a-modern-ensemble. Some of the new songs and arrangements in both videos are included in the new hymnal project.


Correction

The printed version of the previous issue, Worship and Outreach, was missing its second paragraph. Please reference the online version at worship.welsrc.net if this issue is used for group discussion or in a Bible class setting.


 

 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Worship and Outreach

“This hymnal won’t just benefit your congregation’s worship. It will also benefit your congregation’s outreach.” Without the ability to go back in time and scan every piece of publicity produced, I would imagine a claim like that was seldom made in advance of the 1993 publication of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal. At the time, the latest iteration of the megachurch movement was just starting to pick up steam. Churches like Rick Warren’s Saddleback and Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek were still in their infancy. Andy Stanley’s Northpoint had not yet been founded. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church and Sally Morgenthaler’s Worship Evangelism, both influential in the “worship as evangelism” movement, had not yet been published.

As our church body prepares to publish its next hymnal, I’m confident I’m not the first one to say this nor will I be the last: This hymnal won’t just benefit your congregation’s worship. It will also benefit your congregation’s outreach.

What I mean by that, however, might surprise you. The primary benefit this hymnal provides to a congregation’s outreach efforts has nothing to do with the time during which the hymnal is actually in use. It has nothing to do with what happens in that sacred space we call a sanctuary and that sacred hour we call a service. The primary way this worship resource will also benefit a congregation’s outreach has very little to do with worship, and that’s probably how it has to be. Let me explain.

From “Seekers” to “Nones”

There was a time when, due to various factors both spiritual and societal, a considerable portion of our country’s population could be described as “looking for a church.” They likely identified as religious, even Christian. They did not attend services regularly and/or had not committed to a specific church home, but they would be willing to do both assuming they found the right church. They have often been referred to as “seekers.”

To whatever degree and during whatever period of time that was true, most would agree that it is no longer true today. James Emery White has thoroughly chronicled the rise of the religiously unaffiliated, a group often referred to as “nones.”1 In 2020, “nones” comprise almost a quarter (22.8%) of the population according to the Pew Research Center.

Many of these religiously unaffiliated Americans are now raising members of Generation Z. Generation Z, also referred to as iGen, consists of people born between 1995 and 2010. As you might imagine, a generation raised by people who are increasingly religiously unaffiliated will be likely to have no strong connection to religion themselves. Jean Twenge points out that, while about a quarter of the overall population is religiously unaffiliated, a full third of young adults (ages 18-24) fell into that category already in 2015.2

A “none” is the opposite of a “seeker.” It’s not that they don’t believe in God. It’s not that they are hostile to religion. They simply have no strong feelings about either. In a May 2003 article in the Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch made famous a term to describe this mindset: apatheism. He wrote, “Apatheism—a disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.”

As one might imagine, the decline of “seekers” and the rise of “nones,” has had an impact on the way Christian churches view the connection between worship and outreach. In a world full of “seekers,” worship and outreach work together in services that are “seeker-friendly.” James K. A. Smith summarizes such an approach this way: “If the church was going to feel welcoming, it needed to feel familiar, accessible, and ‘cool,’ characterized by the sorts of professional experiences people associated with consumer transactions together with the thrilling enjoyment of a concert. The seeker-sensitive church would feel like the mall, the concert, and Starbucks all rolled into one—because those are places that people like, where they feel comfortable.”3

Jared Wilson calls these attractional churches. He points out the increasing naivete of such an approach in today’s world: “As cultural Christianity fades, so does the potential customer base for attractional churches.” Wilson predicts that the attractional church will “slowly grow further out of touch with the surrounding culture” by “assuming its neighborhoods are looking for church, but different; religion, but relevant; Christianity, but cool.…”4

As a result of this cultural shift, our weekly services will likely bring us into contact with fewer and fewer people for the first time. Whether that service is publicized as “casual, relevant, and engaging” or “rooted, reverent, and transcendent” will make little difference to an apatheist. Rather than designing our gatherings to bring people in, more and more we will need to disperse from those gatherings and seek people out. Pastors and laypeople will need to invest in relationships with the people around them, build trust by demonstrating genuine love and concern, and look for opportunities to share the gospel.

The tools and resources provided … allow pastors to get out of their offices to spend more time engaging people with the gospel and equipping their members to do the same.

That’s the primary reason I say what I’m saying: This hymnal won’t just benefit your congregation’s worship. It will also benefit your congregation’s outreach. The tools and resources provided don’t just allow congregations to do more in worship. They allow congregations to do it with less time and effort. They facilitate and streamline many of the time-consuming mechanics of worship planning and preparation. They allow pastors to get out of their offices to spend more time engaging people with the gospel and equipping their members to do the same.

In a world of “nones” rather than “seekers,” that’s inevitably where more and more gospel conversations will have to take place. In the end, that’s probably a good thing. When we are faithfully reaching out with the gospel the way our world needs us to, we won’t feel the burden of trying to design our worship to do outreach for us. As Wilson observes, “You don’t have to treat the worship services like a coffee shop conversation if you’re actually engaged in coffee shop conversations with unbelievers.”5

“You don’t have to treat the worship services like a coffee shop conversation if you’re actually engaged in coffee shop conversations with unbelievers.”

What If They Actually Show Up?

But what happens when someone actually shows up? We might be tempted to think that worship that follows a historic, liturgical structure will feel increasingly foreign in a world that continues to drift from any discernible Christian moorings. That might be true, but that might not be an entirely bad thing.

As we become more aware of some of the effects of “life as we know it” in our modern, technology-driven world, many of the effects we are starting to observe are quite disturbing. On the one hand, our technology allows us to interact with people all over the world in staggering numbers. However, those virtual interactions are poor substitutes for the full, rich relationships God created us to enjoy. Our connections increase exponentially, but true intimacy is a scarce commodity. Loneliness and isolation are on the rise. Cal Newport makes this comparison: “Much in the same way that the ‘innovation’ of highly processed foods in the mid-twentieth century led to a global health crisis, the unintended side effects of digital communication tools—a sort of social fast food—are proving to be similarly worrisome.”6

In addition to connecting us to a staggering number of people, technology connects us to a staggering amount of information. As a result, however, the task of separating what is important from what is trivial, much less what is true from what is false, becomes staggeringly difficult. A single platform, YouTube, hosts both the pastor’s sermon from last Sunday and the “Charlie Bit My Finger” video (and the latter, not the former, briefly held the title of being YouTube’s most-watched video of all time). A single platform, Facebook or Twitter, delivers sourced, verified news from trusted media outlets and every conspiracy theory under the sun. A single pipeline, my email inbox, delivers announcements from my church and my children’s school and scam requests from Nigerian princes who need my bank account information. Alan Noble points out the effect that the information age can have on our ability to identify what is important: “Our frenetic and flattened culture is not conducive to wrestling with thick ideas, ideas with depth, complexity, and personal implications.”7

Finally, our device-driven world may be the greatest reflection and reinforcement of a post-Enlightenment, “brains on a stick,” view of humanity. Smith describes that view this way: “We view our bodies as (at best!) extraneous, temporary vehicles for trucking around our souls or ‘minds,’ which are where all the real action takes place.”8 We often operate as if every problem is caused by ignorance and solved by information. Content is king, and our devices deliver it in virtually limitless supply. The more time we spend with our screens and inside our own heads, the more detached we are from God’s physical creation around us.

It shouldn’t surprise us that these same problems can find their way into worship if it is designed to mirror “life as we know it.” The same forces that so easily isolate members of the human race even as they are superficially connected are quite good at atomizing the body of Christ. Noble argues: “Part of the challenge of contemporary services is that our focus is directed to the stage rather than to one another. Volume levels rarely allow us to hear ourselves clearly, and certainly not our neighbors. The result is that we experience worship much like we experience a concert. It becomes an individual, emotional, and spiritual exercise wherein I try my best to think about the words and praise God. But even though I am surrounded by the saints, I remain comfortably in my own head.”9

The same technologies that deliver limitless information, entertainment, and advertising to us can easily be used to deliver content to worshipers. When the same media and platforms that deliver the trivial and the untrue are also used to deliver the gospel, however, the difference between these things is flattened. Noble observes, “We’ve tried to communicate the gospel with cultural tools that are used to promote preferences, not transcendent, exclusive truths. We see [these trends] at work in high-production church services that feel more like a concert and a TED Talk than a sacred event.”10

It should not come as a surprise that the same young people who are most inundated by the content delivered by our devices are the most disinterested when similar media are used to deliver the gospel. Wilson observes, “From Gen Y on down, generally speaking, those interested in local expressions of Christian community are less and less interested in programmatic, consumeristic approaches to spirituality. This is somewhat counterintuitive, because younger generations tend to be the ones most readily embracing technology and innovation. But the issue is not the use of technology or innovating new ideas; it is the lack of authenticity they sense in an overproduced spirituality. They tend to respond negatively to pop-song covers, movie-clip illustrations, and cheeky sermon series titles.”11

Finally, when the same forms and media that pump endless information into our heads are utilized in worship, the same “brains on a stick” view of humanity reinforced by so much of life can also be reinforced by our worship. Worship can give the impression that every spiritual problem is caused by ignorance and every spiritual solution is information. Noble argues: “Our church services (especially in evangelicalism) involve less liturgy, less focus on bodily participation, and greater emphasis on disengaged reason…. We have made communion with God a thing that happens inside our heads, not with our whole selves, including our bodies.”12 The pandemic of 2020 has been a revealing experience in this regard. As churches were forced to close their doors and go exclusively online for a time, it became evident how many people concluded that a service delivered in their home through a screen was in no way inferior to one experienced in person with other Christians—and how many churches seem to have concluded the same thing.

Perhaps the real opportunity presented by modern life is to highlight and excel at the features of historic, liturgical worship that offer people respite from what is comfortable and familiar.

Rather than engaging people with the gospel using forms that mirror what people already find comfortable and familiar, perhaps the real opportunity presented by modern life is to highlight and excel at the features of historic, liturgical worship that offer people respite from what is comfortable and familiar. At its best, liturgical Lutheran worship is a truly communal exercise where the proclamation of the gospel is carried out not just by the experts or professionals up front but by the person sitting to my left and to my right. At its best, liturgical Lutheran worship conveys the fact that something important is going on during the hour between invocation and benediction. It delivers the palpable gravity the gospel deserves. First time guests may walk out our doors using a variety of words to describe a liturgical Lutheran service. “Trite” is not likely to be one of them. At its best, liturgical Lutheran worship takes disembodied minds and reorients them to the physical world God created, redeemed, and will one day glorify. It engages their senses and involves their bodies. It aims not just to fill their heads but to move their hearts with the flesh-and-blood saving acts of the Son of Man and the bathing-and-feasting sacred acts he instituted. Rather than trying to fill up the outward shell of “life as we know it” with the gospel, Lutheran liturgical worship delivers the gospel within a shell that can give people a taste of “life as it was meant to be.”

In other words, “strange” and “foreign” might actually be valuable features of Lutheran worship rather than flaws. Talking specifically about reaching today’s youth, Smith observes, “These strange historic rites of the church catholic serve to reenchant the world for those immersed in our secular, disenchanted age…. The very similarity we wanted in order to keep young people entertained is precisely what makes them suspicious that there’s nothing really transcendent going on here.”13

Historic, liturgical worship will not do a congregation’s outreach for it. In a world full of more “nones” and fewer “seekers,” no worship style will. However, a Lutheran congregation can be confident that Christ-centered, liturgical worship will support, not stunt, outreach efforts aimed at taking the gospel to the people of its community rather than waiting for them to come to it.

One Thing’s Still Needed

In the meantime, the realization that our worship can’t do our outreach for us will enable us to keep our eyes squarely on the bullseye we are aiming for in worship, namely, to let the gospel have center stage. If more and more people are living without the gospel, more and more people are living with the consequences of life without the gospel. More and more people are looking not just for a little help to improve some facet of their lives. They are looking for something that can adequately serve as the foundation for their lives. They are in search of an identity and a sense of worth. They are looking for unconditional approval and belonging. They are in desperate need of a solution for their guilt and shame. They need what the Bible calls righteousness. Even secular anthropologists are noting how much this search drives human behavior. Jonathan Haidt writes, “An obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational.”14

The gospel is not just what someone needs in order to go to heaven some day. The gospel is what someone needs in order to get through each day. “It is the chief article for a reason. Not only is this the chief article on which the Church stands or falls…, but this is also the chief article on which individuals stand or fall. Restless hearts and anxious minds find peace in justification. Frenetic lives of self-justification have rest in the salvation of Jesus Christ.”15

The gospel is the one thing people need most both for heaven and earth. It is the one thing needed by both the first-time worship guest and the lifelong Christian. And more than anything else, liturgical Lutheran worship is designed to proclaim the gospel. Our rites tell the basic gospel story weekly. Our calendar of readings puts tissue on that gospel skeleton by repeating the works and words of Jesus annually. Our heritage of hymns aims gospel truths and gospel events squarely at people’s hearts by setting them to poetry and music. Lutheran worship brims with the gospel. Lutheran worship is above all else Christian worship. It was Christian worship in 1993. It will remain Christian worship in 2021 and beyond.

By Jonathan Bauer

Since 2014 Pastor Bauer has served at Good News Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, a growing suburb of Madison. Good News is a mission congregation that was started in 2013. In addition to his service at Good News, he is a member of the Institute for Worship and Outreach and the WELS Hymnal Project’s Executive Committee.


More on Worship and Outreach

An interview at christianworship.com (under the link For Worshipers) offers additional thoughts on worship and outreach. The interview is moderated by Eric Roecker, WELS Director for Evangelism, and features Jon Bauer, Caleb Bassett, and Jon Schroeder. The interview and this article—along with other interviews, articles, and videos—can be recommended for advance viewing and reading for a leadership group or open forum that discusses the new hymnal.


1 See James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014).
2 Jean Twenge, iGen (New York: Atria, 2017), p. 121.
3 James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), p. 103.
4 Jared Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), p. 34.
5 Ibid, pp. 95-96
6 Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), p. 136.
7 Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2018), p. 24.
8 Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 3
9 Noble, Disruptive Witness, pp. 137-138.
10 Ibid, p. 122.
11 Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church, p. 30.
12 Noble, Disruptive Witness, p. 130
13 Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 148.
14 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (New York: Pantheon, 2012), xii.
15 Gene Edward Veith and A. Trevor Sutton, Authentic Christianity (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), p. 98.


 

 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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There Is Room in the Choir

There Is Room in the Choir

Hymn selection criteria and variety

Every fall throughout my ministry, it has interested me to see who would come out of the woodwork to join the choir and who would continue to opt for a pew downstairs. A musician in my first parish was a National Endowment for the Arts scholar. He received that prestigious award to study jazz at New York City University. He never missed church, but his gigs often kept him up to the wee hours of the morning—ensuring a late service attendance. Consequently, the most musically gifted man in the parish never joined the choir.

A quiet, private woman with a thick Spanish accent from Guatemala did. Her background was not in jazz, but in costume design. She was never at the center of conversations in the commons. But in the soprano section, she sang Bach, Getty, and Gerhardt with all her heart. A man with a post-doctoral degree in organic chemistry joined too. He sang bass. His profession was pharmaceuticals. His passion was singing. A hard-working delivery driver usually sat next to him. The choir was always a fascinating blend of the family of believers—young and old, white and blue-collar, life-long WELS, and brand new to the faith. There is room in the choir for all of these people and more!

This cross-section of the faithful on earth is a miniscule, yet precious, sample of the heavenly choir. There, the music will always be in tune. There, the labor of long days and longer nights will not keep us away. There, the harmony will be perfection—a symphony of praise to the Savior: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” To quote the Christmas hymn, “Oh, that we were there!”

Do you ever wonder what that will sound like? Everyone dreams of heaven just a little differently. What will it look like? What will our reunion with loved ones be like? What will our bodies be like once they are unchained from the shackles of sin and decay? For me, I often dream about the sound. This comprehensive, heavenly music, what style will it be? Will we recognize it? Scripture obviously does not give us the answer. What it does give us, however, is a template—of sorts—for what the Church’s music can strive to be on earth: Comprehensive in scope, Christ-centered in content.

Comprehensive in scope, Christ-centered in content.

Think of our new hymnal as a “choir” of sorts. Specifically, a choir that has 683 members. Unlike an eager choir of musical novices, each and every member of this choir had to pass a rigorous tryout with at least six separate stages of text and tune analysis and development. 15,000 hymns tried out for a seat in the ensemble. 683 made the cut. Why such an exacting process? Because scriptural truth and stewardship of musical treasure demand a bar that is deliberately set high. This choir, after all, will sing, teach, and impart Christian truth to the Church! It will do so for hundreds of thousands of people, in thousands of weekly services, in dozens of countries, states, and territories, over the next thirty years.

15,000 hymns tried out for a seat in the ensemble. 683 made the cut.

These rigorous standards for membership in the choir were already embedded in the Hymnody Committee’s “Hymn Criteria List” that was unanimously adopted by the Executive Committee and guided hymn tryouts for the next five years. To be included, a hymn must…

1. be Christocentric.
2. be in harmony with the scriptural faith as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord. (Especially, but not restricted to, means of grace focus, justification centered, law/gospel dichotomy, receptive view of worship, proclamatory/didactic function of hymnody, etc.)
5. be superlative examples of their genre in regard to both textual content and musical craft.

An exceptional choir is made up of top-shelf talent. Many members of the choir may indeed be—in and of themselves—musical standouts. But a choir of musical standouts is a choir that will quickly standout as unpleasant to listen to! A choir is not a choir of soloists doing their own thing. A choir seeks blend and balance across all members and sections. The many seek to present themselves as a united voice.

Profound theologians who won’t wow you with esoteric knowledge.

So too, our hymnal is a book for the many—not just the standout musicians of the congregation who are usually called upon to sing the solos. It is meant not primarily for the members of a band, but for the band of believers that sit in the pews of the church, the desks of a classroom, and the comfy chairs of the living room. Many of the members of our new hymnal’s choir are profound theologians, but they won’t wow you with esoteric knowledge that is meaningless to most. Many of these hymns have sung in the grandest buildings of Christendom, but they will never refuse an opportunity to sing at bedsides and sickbeds too! The members of our new hymnal’s choir are not musical specialists. Their pictures are not hanging on the wall of a museum. Instead, they have been sung by multitudes of God’s people over the years and, therefore, the hymnody committee is convinced, will continue to be sung by multitudes for years to come. (This assumes, of course, leaders and parents willing to invest the effort to teach them to members and children!)

That’s why your hymnody committee spent six years of their lives painstakingly looking for hymns that would…

6. be accessible and meaningful for God’s people at worship in both public and private settings.
7. be useful for those who preach and teach the faith.
8. be part of a corpus that will find wide acceptance by the vast majority of our fellowship.

A good choir has a certain knack for singing a wide repertory of music—and does so convincingly. Thirty years ago, I had the experience of sitting in on a rehearsal for a community choir in Annweiler, Germany. They sang the songs of their homeland in a wonderful way. I smiled hard, however, when they began to sing a spiritual, “Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.” Buxtehude himself could not have sung it more squarely! But they tried. But as they sang, a little bit of our American experience was experienced in the rolling woods of the German Palatinate, and the audience loved it.

The choir of our new hymnal has been very deliberate in casting a wide net for members that are our very own from Lutheranism’s heartland and members that will become our very own from around the world. Looking back, several more of Paul Gerhardt’s children will be in the choir. Looking forward, many hymns by newer talents from Getty Music will sing as well. The new choir will sing the seasons of Christ’s life that are unfolded in the seasons of the church year with a distinct expertise. We will hear much that resonates with the various seasons of our lives. It is impossible for one book to be a one-stop resource for every ethnicity and culture. But the law of Christian love and the doctrine of the holy Christian church caused us to be deliberately inclusive of the nations, tribes, people, and languages with whom we will sing in the heavenly choir.

That’s why we invested thousands of hours of time and effort in recruiting choir members that would…

3. be rooted in the Church year with its emphases on the life of Christ and the Christian’s life in Christ.
4. be drawn from classic Lutheran sources and deliberately inclusive of the Church’s broader song (including so-called international or global music).

The choir in my first parish was a wonderful cross section of the congregation, which, in turn, was a good representation of our community. Demographics are of interest to church leaders as they make plans to find the lost and strengthen the found. What do the demographics of the hymnal choir look like? They look much like a church that is both deliberately rooted and reaching.

An important group of hymns that predate the Lutheran Reformation serve as an important reminder that we are no cult! We are a continuation of the one, holy Christian and apostolic Church. It may be of interest to know that the ancient hymn, “O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel” was the most sung hymn in WELS in our data. Not surprisingly, a significant number of the members in the hymnal choir sing with a decidedly German accent. WELS members will be pleased to hear that we invested significant effort into helping our German friends improve their English by means of fresh translations! When appropriate, we also dressed some of them up in a tune that was a little less continental.

We invested significant effort into helping our German friends improve their English.

Germany fought two world wars with the English and Americans. But in the hymnal choir, they all get along wonderfully well. The hymns of England and America are well-represented. Almost 100 members come from the British Isles. They come from soaring cathedrals and pleasant meadows. Roughly 50 members sing not the Queen’s English but with an American accent. Our American experience—folk, revival, and spiritual—is well-represented.

Our hymnal choir is well-represented by the elderly members that we love and cherish! But what is different about this choir is the number of youth that have joined! The Hymns Committee gave tryouts to literally hundreds of hymns and contemporary songs with a fresh, modern sound. “Fresh,” “young,” “contemporary,” and “modern” are words that mean many different things to different people. No matter what your definition, as you page through the hymnal, you will notice about 10% of the faces will fall into those categories. They have not yet stood the test of time. But they have been properly vetted. Their talent holds promise for a long and fruitful future. It is our hope that Gerhardt and Getty will make beautiful harmony in the choir for years to come.

What is different about this choir is the number of youth that have joined!

Rounding out the membership in the choir, one sees faces from the Islands, Africa, and Latin America. They hold an important place in the choir. Their inclusion will help us all remember that vision of heaven’s choir—a vision that is desperately needed in an age where racial harmony has often spiraled into a sinful cacophony! We are all members of the body of Christ. If for only that reason, they need to be represented in this hymnbook.

This brief demographic survey shows that we have a hymnal that is decidedly rooted in the Lutheran tradition, but is certainly trending younger and younger. This has always been the Lutheran Church’s way!

Perhaps the best way, however, to get to know a choir is to stop talking about the different members and simply listen to them sing. We will get to know this choir best by attending a concert or two. So what’s on the program? A useful program has been compiled titled, Christian Worship: Hymn Preview. (See the sidebar.) This preview highlights 54 hymns. Each of these hymns illustrate the concepts that led to inclusion in the choir. It is a program that will be certain to impress, no matter what expectations you bring with you.

You became immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its multifaceted beauty!

Take some quality time to read or even sing the preview in its entirety. You can’t judge a book by its cover, nor should you. You certainly shouldn’t judge a book based upon what other people have said. Experience the hymns for yourself, lots of them. Experience them with an open mind and open ears. Let your preview serve as a prelude to a renewed appreciation for, fascination with, and commitment to Christian hymnody. You might sit down at this concert thinking you will just experience a choir. Instead, you will become immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its multifaceted beauty!

Page through the preview. Look at all the hymns—each of them is unique. “Lift Up Your Heads” has gone on a diet and looks lovely in her new tune. “Dawning Light of Our Salvation” is one of the younger members of the choir. Her composers were youth confirmation age when our current hymnal was published in 1993. “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” sings in a section with about 22 other American folk tunes. (Spoiler alert: “Thou” is not an accident in her title. A careful read will reveal a bit of bias in bringing back some thee’s and thou’s in the “new” hymnal. This choice reflects common usage among American Christians in 2020.) In the Christmas section, can you hear some familiar carols that weren’t part of the CW93 choir? The preview contains a carol from Poland (“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”), one from England (“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”), and one from France (“Love Has Come”). Finally, a member with a widely-recorded voice rounds out the Christmas section, “Joy Has Dawned” by Getty and Townend. In just these first several hymns, one already sees a Christ-centered cross-section of old and new from the Old World as well as the New.

A Christ-centered cross-section of old and new from the Old World as well as the New.

And WELS will be blessed. Grandmas and grandpas will be blessed as they continue to sing their old favorites and teach them to their children’s children. The children will be blessed by a gospel heritage in song that has now come to them. The 683 singers in CW21 will be with us for thirty years. How wonderful to know that they will gladly serve as they always have: spreading the good news, teaching the truth that sets us free, inviting the lost, strengthening the found, encouraging the living, and comforting the dying. Until…

Until we join the hosts that cry,
“Hosanna to the Lord most high.”
Then in the light of that blest place
We shall behold you face to face. (CW93 230:3)

 

By Aaron Christie

Aaron Christie began service this year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary where he is Professor of Worship and Homiletics and Dean of Chapel. When he served as the chair of the hymnal project’s Hymnody Committee, he was pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, WI. In addition to his training as a pastor he holds the Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University Wisconsin. He has served the synod at large as a member of the Commission on Worship and the Institute for Worship and Outreach and as a presenter for the Schools of Worship Enrichment.


More New Hymnal Information

Several new items are available at christianworship.com. A new article under the Resources link, What’s New, gives quick access to all the new content. Christian Worship: Hymn Preview shares 54 of the approximately 200 new hymns planned for the new hymnal. Each hymn is accompanied by a brief comment on its origin, spiritual meaning, usage in the wider Christian church, or other interesting detail. Some samples from Christian Worship: Accompaniment for Hymns are included—options for both piano and organ. CW: Hymn Preview is available only as a viewable (not printable) PDF. This is due to restrictions placed by copyright holders.

The following chart shows the new items available.

CW: Hymn Preview54 hymns with comments, as described above.
Hymn listsA comprehensive list of 683 hymns and liturgical songs from both the pew edition and CW: Service Builder. Available in three formats: Excel, RTF, and PDF. The list is tentative, pending copyright permissions.
There is Room in the ChoirThis issue of Worship the Lord is also available online.
A Liturgical Philosophy for Christian WorshipThis article by Prof. James Tiefel is from the forthcoming Christian Worship: Foundations, a companion volume to the new hymnal. This volume is a pastor’s manual that provides rationale for the services in the new hymnal. It will appear in a forthcoming issue of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.
“For Us and for Our Salvation, … He Became Truly Human” (The Translation of the Nicene Creed in Christian Worship)In this article Pres. Earle Treptow offers an explanation for the wording of the Creed. This is a preliminary draft of an article that will appear in a forthcoming issue of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.

 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Anticipating a New Hymnal

Anticipating a New Hymnal

During a Pandemic

Worship looks different in a pandemic. From the middle of March through the middle of May, most churches were not permitted to meet publicly. Some were shuttered even longer. In their holy zeal to feed their flock with the Word, congregations took their worship online. Although most churches have reopened, only a fraction of people who were habitually in the house of the LORD have returned. Many who attend do so wearing a face covering. Those churches with robust choirs and diverse instruments have scaled back their programs; some musicians are not ready to return. Communion distribution has been adjusted, and bottles of Purell are now as common as Bibles and hymnals.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Human nature will quickly lament what has been lost. Worshiping online lends itself well enough to the spoken word, but it has limitations. Singing is a challenge. It’s easier for dad’s clunker notes to be absorbed in the nave than the living room. When the pastor picks a less familiar hymn, family members glance uncomfortably at one another in silence while they wait for verse five to finish. And what about the sacraments? Technological distance makes the congregation’s promises at a baptism feel less personal and doesn’t enable Holy Communion at all.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Sure, worship looks different in a pandemic. But what has been gained? How about a noble yearning to be found in the house of the LORD? You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. How about a renewed sense of appreciation for the worshiping body of believers? One woman quipped to me, “I never realized how important these people are to me.” How about a new online presence for hundreds of our churches who are reaching souls they would never otherwise have reached? It’s as if God sent a pandemic with a memo: “When I told to you make disciples of all nations, I meant it! Get the Word to the world!”

No other parish ministry has the reach of public worship.

Pastors and congregations will always find hundreds of things to do, but they all serve the main goal of touching the Gospel of Christ to as many people as possible as often as possible. A church may have dozens of ministries that serve dozens of people, but no other parish ministry has the reach of public worship. Perhaps that is because worship skillfully weds the means of grace with oratory and music while joining believers from the past to the present in praise of God. God will bless every effort to spread his Gospel throughout the world. Since worship is a primary vehicle through which we proclaim God’s grace, we can count on him to bless our best efforts in worship.

For some time now, our best worship minds and most talented musicians have invested countless hours to produce a suite of worship materials tailored for all kinds of churches, from mission congregations to large congregations. Headlined by a new hymnal and comprehensive psalter, 20 unique products in this suite of worship tools are slated for release in fall of 2021.1 Like a movie preview, leaders gave a sneak peek of hymnal project content at the January 2020 WELS leadership conference. Copies of Christian Worship: Preview were distributed to every participant. Forward in Christ articles and the February WELS Connection generated enthusiasm. Near the end of February, copies of Christian Worship: Preview were mailed to every congregation. And then the pandemic hit. Public gatherings were suspended; schools and churches moved online; elders and church leaders scrambled to find alternative ways to serve the flock. Evaluating a new suite of worship products was relegated to the back burner.

If your “pandemic parish” looked anything like mine, Christian Worship: Preview found a cozy corner of the copy room to rest undisturbed. Let this article be an encouragement to wake them from slumber. Inside that 60-page booklet is a wonderful walk-through of the treasures you will find in the new suite of worship resources. Permit me to break those treasures down into the following four parts.

Treasures old

When you hear “hymnal suite of products” and “nearly 20 volumes of worship content,” are you intimidated? Don’t be. At the heart of the 2021 project is a hymnal that includes so many familiar treasures that you can use it with confidence immediately.2

So many familiar treasures that you can use it with confidence immediately.

Worship will continue to follow the time-tested pattern of the church year that has served well for centuries. The three-year lectionary has been retuned so that the readings and psalm support the thrust of Gospel. All readings unify around a central theme, making it easier for worshipers to see how the Scriptures are interconnected and to benefit from one central theme each Sunday.

Christian Worship (1993) offered two communion liturgies, “The Common Service” and “The Service of Word and Sacrament.” Those beloved services served the church well for years. However, certain texts, canticles, and even the logical flow were unique to each liturgy. Communion liturgies in Christian Worship (2021) will be unified by a familiar format and flow.3 Titled “The Service,” it will provide opportunity for us to invoke the presence of God, confess our sins and be absolved, hear the Word, confess the faith and pray together, and receive the Supper. Interspersed throughout we will sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. Three musical settings of “The Service” will be included in the printed hymnal.4 Setting One makes use of music from “The Common Service” that Lutherans have been using since 1941, but with four-part harmony restored for the canticles.

It is difficult to describe the connection that people have to hymns. In adulthood, both men and women remember wistfully their grandmother singing “Abide with Me” as they put them to bed. As they wait to meet God in the ICU, pastors sing “Be Still My Soul” or “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” Two thirds of the 2021 hymns are favorites that have served Lutherans for generations. Luther’s insistence that hymnody proclaim the Gospel is another old treasure that is retained. Christian Worship: Preview spends more than twenty pages (pp 32-52) detailing the kinds of hymns that will be included.5 Reviewing those pages will be time well spent.

Treasures new

Just because an 8-year-old boy likes Legos doesn’t mean he wants his mother to repackage an old box and “regift” it to him for his birthday. Similarly, Lutherans who enjoy the familiarity and integrity of our rich worship heritage also expect that there will be new treasures to unpack as well as old. They will not be disappointed.

First, while the text of “The Service” remains the same, worship leaders can easily incorporate meaningful variety through various musical settings. In addition to the settings that are included in the pew edition, Christian Worship: Service Builder will include several more musical settings (more on Service Builder later). The diversity of musical settings provides an ability to bring musical freshness to worship within the context of a familiar pattern of worship.

Secondly, the psalms are significantly expanded. Congregations that have grown to love chanted psalm tones will have many options. But the hymnal and psalter will also include additional psalm styles: hymn type, melodic folk tunes, call and response format, and lyrical. Lyrical psalms lend themselves to solo or choral singing. So many excellent settings of the psalms exist that the best ones will be curated in a separate volume, Christian Worship: Psalter. This volume is worth consideration first for your choir or even just a cantor. Over time, people will grow to love the new treasures in psalm singing. CW: Preview gives details on pages 19-31.

Worshipers familiar with Christian Worship: Supplement quickly grew to love a modern hymn, “In Christ Alone.” It even serves as the introductory music to our monthly WELS Connection. No new hymnal is truly new unless it includes new hymns. Twentieth and twenty-first century hymn writers, American composers, and modern favorites have been carefully vetted. Offerings from Getty Music are plentiful6, as well newly composed music for time-tested texts. Congregations will have many new hymn treasures to unpack and enjoy.

Treasures in the home

When the LORD repeated the law in Deuteronomy, he enlisted parents to hand the faith down to their children. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). It’s no secret that the family altar is hurting, with devastating effect on our families and churches. Inside our upcoming hymnal, however, are treasures ready for the home. Can we encourage our parents and families that hymnals are not just for church anymore?

On the first three pages of CW: Preview you are introduced to the Scripture section. In addition to the church year lectionary, a daily lectionary will be included. Readings are chosen to harmonize with times and seasons of the year, and are easy to incorporate into another hymnal treasure for the home: the daily office. Brief devotional rites for various times of the day (dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, and evening) when paired with the daily lectionary, provide fathers and families a ready-made tool to build the family altar.

Famously, Luther introduced his Small Catechism thus: “As the head of the family should teach them in the simplest way to those in his household.” The Small Catechism will be printed in the hymnal, yet another devotional treasure for parents to use in the home. Between the text of the catechism, devotional hymns, ready to use psalms, the daily lectionary, and many other treasures old and new, busy parents will be able to incorporate a regular devotional life in the home. Pastors will find it easy to recommend the hymnal for home use.

Pastors will find it easy to recommend the hymnal for home use.

Treasures for leaders

Worship planning has matured from what it was in past generations. Sending Sunday’s hymn selections to your keyboardist on Saturday and asking the assembly to open to page 15 the next morning maybe once passed muster. (But shouldn’t have!) Now, worship leaders are expected to plan worship out at least month or quarter in advance. That good practice allows better lead time for your instrumentalists, vocalists, and choirs to prepare their musical offerings for the LORD and his people. Advanced planning also accommodates wider variety in worship. Even simple efforts help feed the flock and attract more sheep. Attracting more sheep—or not frustrating them in worship—has been the logic for another shift. Producing the entire service in a printed folder allows everybody to follow along seamlessly. Preparing a short “bulletin” might once have required only a small investment of pastoral time; now it can take many hours a week to prepare a true “worship folder.”

When we published our first hymnal in 1993, Windows 3.1 was ubiquitous. Technological advancements now make it possible to reduce the time needed for advanced worship planning. A cloud-based software solution, Christian Worship: Service Builder, is an obvious treasure for worship leaders. Planning services, including variety, making changes on the fly, allowing for widespread communication, automated copyright reporting, and producing service folders are all tasks that Service Builder can handle in a matter of minutes.

Smaller congregations might benefit the most from advanced technology. In churches without a keyboardist for live music, digital keyboards and computers have led worship via MIDI or HymnSoft. Technology has advanced to the point that any smart phone or tablet plays high quality music. Hymnal project resources will be provided in high quality digital format for use with a new tool called Christian Worship: Playlist. Leading worship will be as easy as compiling a playlist and clicking play.

Musicians will appreciate another technology tool. You are planning to sing the Gloria, aware that an eager teen would like to play her clarinet to the glory of God. Where do you find clarinet music for the Gloria? Inside the online Musician’s Resource! This online tool contains alternate settings, musical arrangements, and instrumental parts to serve the unique needs and gifts of your church.

Technology levels the playing field for churches of different sizes.

Technology levels the playing field for churches of different sizes. Sometimes pastors or members experience well-done worship in person or online, but feel deflated because “you can do that sort of worship in a big church, but we can’t in our small church.” When the content of the hymnal suite of products is paired with technology, every congregation will be able to enjoy the treasure of producing professional looking service folders, employing artistic variety, and leading worship with high-quality digital music. You can learn more about new hymnal technology in Christian Worship: Preview on pages 53-55.

Putting tools to work

Put a hammer in a mason’s hand, and the framing will take longer. Put a trowel in a carpenter’s hand, and the project will cost twice as much and take twice as long. The right tool for the job is essential. Since worship is the primary vehicle through which we build the faith of the flock, it’s worth our best efforts. It also deserves our best tools. Over the past eight years, almost 100 of our brothers and sisters have invested thousands of hours to produce tools beneficial for worship.

Of course, a tool is only as good as the person who uses it. Some of the tools will be ready to use right out of the box. Others will take time and practice to master. Just like a skilled craftsman, some tools you’ll use every week, while other tools you’ll employ for special circumstances. It is heartening and reassuring to know that whatever the job, you have the tools necessary to carry it out without a dozen trips to the local hardware store.

You will also find it heartening and reassuring to know that the 2021 hymnal suite of products will provide you with the tools you need to lead and feed the flock. Like the hammer your dad gave you in your youth, there will be treasures old. Like the shiny new tool you received for Father’s Day, there will be treasures new. Add to that the practicality of home use and time-saving technology. Congregations large and small can anticipate the new hymnal with excitement.

If your copy of Christian Worship: Preview has found a place in the corner of the workroom since the pandemic, grab a copy and familiarize yourself with the treasures inside. Work through it with your worship committee, your elders, and your council so that they also can appreciate the good things to come.

By Adam Mueller

A 1998 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Adam Mueller began his parish ministry at a mission congregation in Kokomo, Indiana. In 2012, he began to serve Redeemer, Marana, Arizona, a congregation of about 500 souls. He has served a variety of district and synodical positions. In January of 2020, Mueller was a keynote speaker at the WELS Leadership Conference where hymnal resources were previewed. He currently serves on the Commission on Congregation Counseling, and he is the director of the Hymnal Introduction Program.


Evaluating, budgeting, and special gifts

Here is one possible process leading to a decision to adopt new hymnal resources—with all respect for the realities noted in the first endnote.

  • In advance of a first meeting members of the worship committee or some other subcommittee review CW: Preview (content also available online) and additional material at the hymnal Web site (christianworship.com), especially the Q&A section under Resources. Start with viewing again the February 2020 WELS Connection, available under the Preview option.
  • The committee recommends to the church council the initial resources to obtain and others to consider in the future. The Q&A section includes helpful information about the CW: Service Builder software. At the bottom of the Resources page is a budgeting spreadsheet.
  • If the council approves the plan, the next step is budgeting (this fall yet for calendar year budgets, or early next year for fiscal year budgets) and encouragement of special gifts.
  • Use items from the Publicity Toolkit to inform members. Consider a special presentation after worship. Note that special offering envelopes are available from NPH; see CW: Preview page 60.

If leaders feel that more information is necessary, additional content will be posted to the hymnal Web site later this year and early next year. And for those who need a thorough review with new hymnal in hand, introductory workshops are being planned for fall of 2021.


C20 – Christmas 2020 resources

C20 is a synod-wide initiative to encourage and equip WELS congregations to invite the unchurched to worship this Christmas. Download promotional, outreach, worship, Sunday school, social media, graphics resources, and more at welscongregationalservices.net/c20. Don’t forget to order postcards by Oct. 23. Information about ordering and printing is in the “Introduction” document under “Getting Started.”


1 Hymnal project leaders recognize that not every congregation will want to or be able to adopt the new hymnal in 2021. Reasons include COVID uncertainties, tightened budgets, and uncertain futures. This article isn’t meant to ignore those realities but only to encourage review and planning in whatever way seems appropriate.
2 Plus it isn’t necessary to jump in and buy all resources at once. At christianworship.com under Planning Ahead only three items are listed as basic resources.
3 A rationale and outline of The Service was posted at christianworship.com in September 2020.
4 More information about these musical options plus additional settings mentioned below is available at the rationale/outline document in note 3.
5 CW: Preview content is also available at christianworship.com.
6 A partial list is at christianworship.com under the Q&A section.

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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NPH Is Your Partner

NPH Is Your Partner

I have enjoyed a partnership between WELS Congregational Services (CS) and Northwestern Publishing House as we have rolled out synod-wide initiatives in recent years, like C19 for Christmas. Feedback from pastors says these programs have been highly appreciated.

I’ve especially enjoyed partnership with NPH’s Jeremy Bakken. He composed a new gathering rite for C18. He stocked a choral arrangement of Getty Music’s “Oh, How Good It Is” for Welcome Home. After that program had passed, I asked for sales data on that piece. “260 copies sold to 21 purchasers, about 3% of WELS congregations with an active adult choir. And that was a good performer compared to other pieces in their first sales run.”

Now I certainly don’t suggest that every choir director should pick a recommended piece. The worship plans for CS programs aim to give many flexible options. And not every congregation participated in Welcome Home. But this anecdote and others suggest that our churches could improve their walking together partnership with NPH. This article shows why and how one church musician partners with NPH.

This article is … a call to action to strengthen a ministry partnership that serves us all.

This article is not a NPH ad masquerading as a WTL article. It’s a call to action to strengthen a ministry partnership that serves us all. My prayer is that this article will build understanding and awareness so that congregations will intentionally partner with NPH.

Bryan Gerlach
Director, Commission on Worship


From Jeremy

Why Northwestern Publishing House? Hopefully that question piques your curiosity. “Why NPH?” could be qualified in many ways. Why that name? Why that ministry? Why shop there? Which one will this article address? Read on.

Buy American

In today’s consumer culture, what, where, and why we buy are topics on the minds of marketing researchers, retailers, and consumers. “You need this,” expressed in any number of ways, identifies the what and the why according to the marketer or retailer. Once that seed is planted and accepted by consumers, where we buy it is the last step in the process. And that fact is not lost on marketers and retailers either. Once they’ve convinced us to buy, they hope that we will buy from them. Where we buy has its own why.

Amazon has wired us to believe that we should buy from them because we don’t have to leave home and they deliver “free” in two days. (It’s not free; it comes out of your Prime fee). Many a company has used guilt, pride, or patriotism to convince us to “Buy American.” The customer gains an advantage or does some good by purchasing from said company. We neglect a greater good or meaningful identity if we don’t. What and why we buy may be first on our minds, but where we buy isn’t far behind.

The Bottom Line

What does this have to do with worship and gospel ministry? WELS has “a subsidiary corporation named Northwestern Publishing House.” This publishing ministry must “function as a self-supporting, self-funded operation” (WELS Constitution and Bylaws, 7.00f). WELS’ ministry of the Word includes a ministry of the published Word. But NPH is not funded like other ministries of the synod, by gifts and offerings distributed from the synod’s operating budget. Rather, it has a business bottom line. Consider that again: the publishing ministry of WELS is funded on a business model.

The synod has a publishing ministry only if people buy materials from their synod publisher.

Here enters an interesting conundrum. The what, why, and where of NPH are of two natures: ministry and business. The what and why of ministry are not hard to understand: publishing biblically sound materials. The what and why of business are also not hard to understand; they are the same as the what and why of ministry. But where . . . where is the key. And it is the key to both facets of the nature of NPH. From a ministry standpoint, NPH is where you find biblically sound materials. That’s so important; every resource, every time—biblically sound. But from a business standpoint, NPH will continue to be the place for biblically sound resources only if WELS people purchase resources from NPH. Yes, NPH has a business bottom line. But the bottom line—the most important reality—is that the synod has a publishing ministry only if people buy materials from their synod publisher. Often. Consistently. Intentionally.

A Different Ballpark

NPH has a ministry partnership with WELS members but also a business-consumer relationship. Which one is more important—for NPH and for the members of WELS? When the only relationship is one of business-consumer, where we buy is based on factors like price, brand, and loyalty earned from the consumer. Where you buy groceries, clothes, cars, lightbulbs is based largely on a business-consumer relationship. “Give me the best price and high quality. Woo me into giving you my business. Make me the center of your universe, and I will patronize you.”

A business lives or dies on customer purchases. From a business standpoint, this is important to NPH as well. Your synod’s publisher wants to give you the best price it can. It wants to offer you quality. And because this publishing ministry is funded on a business model, the ministry lives or dies on ministry partners’ purchases.

But do you notice something about that last statement? We’re in a different ballpark. Though funded on a business model, NPH is a ministry. Though funded by sales, our customers are also ministry partners. And that casts a very different light on purchases from NPH. Now the “consumer” isn’t supporting a business so that its employees stay employed and its owners make a profit; the ministry partner “consumers” are ensuring that the ministry of the printed Word flourishes. Additionally, customer ministry partners are not just benefiting their own world; profits from their purchases go back into producing more resources that benefit others throughout the world. And this benefit is spiritual; it’s eternal. Yes, we’re definitely in a different ballpark when we view NPH not only as a business but more so as a ministry; when we view ourselves not as consumers, but as ministry partners.

Though funded by sales, NPH customers are also ministry partners.

What Does This Mean?

It’s the Lutheran question, right? Let’s get to nuts and bolts . . . everyday purchase decisions about music and worship resources (and other ministry resources).

One of the best commissions from the 2017 WELS worship conference was “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” by John Behnke. It’s masterfully crafted, combining original but highly complementary material (both music and biblical text) with a cherished Luther hymn. It is accessible without being simplistic, artful without being esoteric. And it was published by Concordia Publishing House. Solely from a business-consumer standpoint, a WELS choir director could order directly from CPH—the order might arrive faster. Or they could order this and music from other publishers through a one-stop-shop reseller like J. W. Pepper—it’s convenient.

Or they could order from NPH. The price is the same, but it might take longer. And it might require placing multiple orders during the year. So if some of the business-consumer benefits don’t seem to be there, why purchase this title from NPH? Enter the ministry partner aspect. A portion of your purchase through NPH remains with NPH, supporting its publishing ministry. It helps NPH publish more of its own music titles, composed by our own WELS composers, designed with WELS worship doctrine and practice in mind. It helps NPH publish other worship materials, like hymnals and seasonal kits. It even helps publish broader ministry materials—devotionals; Bible commentaries; personal evangelism growth books; focused ministry resources for dealing with addiction, cancer, pornography, challenges to the Christian worldview. Wider selection and one-stop shopping at J. W. Pepper is a nice consumer benefit; supporting the work of your synod’s publishing ministry is of great spiritual benefit.

Consider a more intentional ministry partnership with your synod’s publisher. NPH is a reseller. We carry and are able to order music from the following publishers:

  • Alfred Music
  • Augsburg Fortress
  • Beckenhorst Press
  • Choristers Guild
  • Concordia Publishing House
  • Floeter Music
  • GIA Publications
  • Hal Leonard (and subsidiaries, like Shawnee Press)
  • Hope Publishing
  • Kjos
  • Lorenz (and subsidiaries, like Word Music, Sacred Music Press)
  • MorningStar Music

Whenever you find something from one of these publishers that you wish to purchase, order through NPH! It doesn’t even have to be listed on the NPH website. Simply call us (800.662.6022) or email us ([email protected]), and we can special order the titles you want. Our retail price is the same as the source publisher. Planning ahead ensures that you can compensate for any extra delivery time. Most importantly, a portion of your purchase supports the NPH publishing ministry—your publishing ministry as a member of WELS.

Some statistics may help to drive home this point. Regardless of whether the music was published by NPH or elsewhere, two statistics are striking. A 2018 survey conducted by NPH revealed that about 70% of WELS churches have an active church choir. But a review of five years of purchasing activity by WELS churches revealed that only about 20% purchased choral music from NPH. Again, what does this mean? To be sure, it is unreasonable to expect lock-step loyalty, to expect that every church will purchase their worship resources only and always from NPH. But is it reasonable to expect that a majority will? Think of how much more sacred music publishing ministry could be done if 60% of WELS churches with active choirs intentionally partnered with NPH for their choral music ministry by making their music purchases through NPH.

Is the business-consumer experience at NPH as good as elsewhere? Perhaps not. But here is a reality: When your synod publisher is first and foremost dedicated to materials built on sound doctrine, that means your denomination constitutes your primary supporters. Running a top-notch publishing house costs the same whether for 100 people or a million people. Historically, the WELS “customer base” has supported the baseline funding needed for its publishing ministry to be a premier publishing house. But there are some realties to be aware of. WELS is shrinking, which means fewer people partnering with NPH. The digital age has affected NPH, making it much easier for WELSers to compare NPH to other publishers, and at times, to be disappointed with NPH or envious of what other publishers offer. Some have even become content with using other publishers’ materials, requiring vigilance for doctrinal error or (hopefully not) being content with “I guess it can be understood correctly.” These factors mean fewer people partnering with NPH.

Why do I share all this? Because I want you to know how deeply your publisher cares about our ministry relationship. We don’t want your business. We want your support, even as we exist to support you. We want your partnership, even as we exist to partner with you. We want ministry to flourish—your personal ministry, your local ministry, your synod’s publishing ministry. And we do that together—ministry partners via a business-consumer relationship.

What does this mean? NPH will continue to make available music and worship resources that are biblically sound, excellently produced, and carefully curated. Your synod publisher does this so that you have resources to use with confidence, ease, and joy. Joy not because you got the best deal or the fastest service (though we will strive for these), but joy because together we’re bringing the Word of God to a world that so desperately needs it.


My Ministry Partnership with NPH

From David

In my early years at Pilgrim, I worked with church leadership to establish a sufficient budget to support a growing and vibrant music ministry. I was very conscious about getting the most “bang for my buck,” so I’m definitely guilty of trying to shop smart by ordering directly from some other publisher or heading over to J.W. Pepper for the one-stop-shop experience that Jeremy referenced.

Fast forward a few years. Our congregation now has a supportive music budget. This, combined with a few members who work for NPH, got me thinking, “Why don’t I order all this music through NPH and support our synod’s publishing arm?” NPH and Pilgrim are ministry partners, so why not support NPH for providing excellent resources to use in both church and school?

I plan all my choral music during the summer months, so I am in no rush to receive it unless a last-minute change arises. Thus began a relationship with Jeremy and NPH. The “slower part” of the church year is ideal for advance planning. Work with your pastor(s) and other musicians to develop some sort of worship grid that allows everyone to be on the same page. The best worship takes place when planning is done in advance; not at the last second.1

Jeremy and I have worked on various music projects for WELS which have led me to order both junior and adult choir music directly from NPH. Our choirs sing regularly for worship, so we need a healthy music library each year. NPH has always been extremely reliable and professional. Once the order has been fulfilled, I am able to go directly to CMM to pick up the music or have Jeremy bring it to Pilgrim when we have a recording session for the hymnology curriculum.

This article includes a link to a simple order form (worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-hymnal-introduction-series/) that I have sent to Jeremy. Some choir directors might see this as extra work. It really isn’t. You are already taking time to explore various websites to find music that you need. Why not take a few extra minutes to support NPH? The benefits of walking together certainly go far beyond a dollar amount.

Most of our congregations average less than 100 people in worship each weekend. This often means limited musical resources. So how does this article apply to small congregations? In addition to serving as choir director, I am also one of the congregation’s organists. I keep up with new releases from various publishers. NPH does a marvelous job of filling orders for my personal keyboard library. A similar order form like the one mentioned earlier could be used for adding new music to your personal or church collections. Note the list of publishers below and order new music from these publishers through NPH. Minimal effort and planning can allow any church musician to walk together with NPH.

If you serve in a setting where you play organ or piano for no compensation or honorarium, this article can serve as an encouragement for your congregation to provide a line item in the budget for purchasing new keyboard music. All too often I hear from church musicians who feel that their church doesn’t support their work. My encouragement to fellow musicians is to practice patience when working with church leadership. A congregation’s budget is pulled in many valuable directions. A healthy music budget is not going to happen overnight or during one or two budget meetings. Congregations need to know why a healthy music budget is important and how this budget is vital for ministry. Church leaders need to be educated by their musicians on the cost of choral octavos and piano/organ/instrumental resources. Solid communication will alleviate frustration and confusion when budget time comes.

May God continue to bless our congregations as we walk together in all aspects of ministry.


Pastors, I encourage you to have a meeting with the musicians who serve your church. Send them a link to this article in advance. Then discuss the article—leading, we hope, to agreement: “This makes perfect sense. I’ll order as much as possible from NPH in the future.” David Porth is happy to answer questions from pastors or musicians: [email protected]. He can walk musicians through the process of developing a music budget.

Musicians, when you purchase musical resources from NPH—both items published by NPH and items from other publishers via special order—your walking together with others from over a thousand congregations will increase NPH’s ability to provide supporting products for everything from synodwide initiatives to resources that support a new hymnal. – BG


By Jeremy Bakken and David Porth

Jeremy is Director of Worship and Sacred Music, Curricula at NPH. He is a published composer and founding member of Branches Band. He holds music degrees from Wisconsin Lutheran College and the University of New Mexico and is a dissertation away from a DMA in choral music from the University of Southern California. He serves Trinity, Waukesha, as choir director and plays piano or bass in their modern liturgical ensemble, Trinitas, for which he has contributed many arrangements. For the WELS hymnal project he is a member of the Hymnody Committee and chairs the Musician’s Resource Committee.

David teaches Grades 7-8 and is Music Director at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Menomonee Falls, WI. A graduate of Martin Luther College, he also holds the Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University, Wisconsin. He has been ordering all choral and personal music through NPH for the last few years.


1 Find help for worship planning here https://worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-planning/

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Crises, Hymns, and Faith

Crises, Hymns, and Faith

This article covers several themes and purposes. It shares thoughts and resources related to the COVID-19 crisis. It calls attention to the power of hymns—especially in a time of national crisis and private anxiety. It shares some resources planned for Christian Worship: Hymnal (CW21). It points to two new Congregational Services video resources.

By the time this article reaches readers, the crisis may be resolving. But that’s not how it feels while writing on April 5. And even if we are on the downside of the infection rate when you read this, the spiritual themes covered by hymns mentioned below will continue to strengthen and comfort God’s people and witness God’s truth to a broken world even as it returns to normal.

All Is Well

A well-received new song at the WELS leadership conference last January was All Is Well, by Steve and Vikki Cook. The final verse affirms “…with newborn eyes we will behold the glory of the risen Lord.”1 Consider how this song might fit in a (streamed) service during the Easter season. If a soloist or small group sings this song after the sermon and the preacher has intentionally referenced it’s meaning during the sermon (All is well—in spite of global pandemic and personal anxiety—because of God’s promises and Jesus’ resurrection), it will be a powerful synergy of sermon, song, and context.

A powerful synergy of sermon, song, and context

This song is featured in a new video resource: Worship Led by a Modern Ensemble. This video features the Trinitas ensemble from Trinity, Waukesha, WI. It demonstrates leading worship with an ensemble of piano, guitar, and other instruments. The focus is on songs of the liturgy, psalms, and hymns. Some settings of the liturgy, slated for CW21, are crafted to work either with organ (and other instruments) or with a modern ensemble; the melodies remain the same while the musical accompaniment varies.

The video, available at welscongregationalservices.net/download/w014/, includes interviews that can help parish musicians and leaders to think through rationale and best practices. All Is Well begins at 16:28.

By special arrangement, a melody/text graphic for All Is Well along with an organ accompaniment is available at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-hymnal-introduction-series/. The song works best with piano,2 but not every church has a good piano for leading the entire congregation. If a soloist sings the song with piano accompaniment, the organ version can serve as preservice music.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

The hymnal supplement (CWS) includes David Haas’ hymn by this name. It will also be in CW21. The text gives valuable comfort in time of crisis and echoes the Gospel for Easter 5, Year A. The first verse points to something far better than “safer at home”: “In God’s [eternal] house there are many places for you alone to dwell in safety.”

In the cantor/responsorial tradition from which this hymn comes, verses are sung by a cantor with the congregation singing the refrain. This custom grew out of reforms in the Roman Catholic church instigated by the Second Vatican Council in an attempt to encourage more participation.3 But Lutherans, accustomed to being “the singing church,” often want to sing the whole song, whether Gloria or hymn. A challenge for some, then, is that the CWS accompaniment doesn’t support congregational singing of the verses in the usual way—by placing the melody in the top voice of the accompaniment. That’s because the original intent was to accompany a cantor.

A congregation very familiar with the verses or with stronger than usual music reading skill can certainly sing the verses to the original accompaniment. To make it easier to sing this song in other congregations (and in those without a good piano), the accompaniment edition for CW21 will include an organ accompaniment that clearly states the melody. By special permission, this arrangement is available for free download at the previous link. The organ version can also be used as service music, perhaps with a gentle registration during the offering or communion distribution.

Vital hymn singing—and playing

While it’s no secret that the Getty movement has popularized modern hymns, some might not realize that the Gettys are champions of old hymns as well. I attended the 2019 Getty Sing! conference in Nashville and was struck by the frequent use of old, traditional hymns often in old, traditional arrangements—even a cappella. I’ll never forget hearing 10,000 people singing Holy, Holy, Holy unaccompanied and in harmony without printed music! And the same for O Sacred Head, Now Wounded about which one wag has said that American Evangelicals, who so love this old German hymn, think it’s an early American tune. Hans Leo Hassler (d. 1612), composer of the tune, might be amused.

10,000 people singing O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

The Trinitas video champions a “both/and” approach to musical variety for the congregation. An entire service led by an ensemble is for the entire congregation, not a niche audience with a musical taste preference. It’s not “contemporary worship”; it’s just worship for the united body of believers in a given place that Sunday. Same for services led by an organ.

If organ accompaniment feels draggy or lacking in pulse, an organist can gain insights and improve skills from another new video resource: Effective Service Playing: The Partnership between Organist and Congregation, presented by David Kriewall (welscongregationalservices.net/download/w013/). This is an online masterclass for organists, delivered by a video and a PowerPoint file or PDF. This masterclass seeks to improve performers’ ability to play in a way that best supports congregational singing. This video serves both for those who have had years of lessons and those who are self-taught. It’s not a video to view quickly in one sitting. It’s something to study and ponder with hymnal in hand and trying out some of the performance examples during a practice session.

A draft for the preface to one of the new hymnal accompaniment volumes discusses the musician’s privilege in worship.

Our worship this side of heaven is a foretaste of the feast to come, a highpoint in every Christian’s week, the “event” that drives congregational health and vitality because here God again delivers salvation to his people. It is a high calling and privilege for musicians to assist worshipers in this most central and important activity—to help them sing out about salvation that comes from our God. That’s why attention to hymns and liturgy is always more important than preservice music and postludes. In hymns and liturgy God’s people actively participate in proclaiming his salvation.

We hope that Effective Service Playing will help organists to improve, whatever their current skill level.

Theologia crucis

“All is well because of God’s great love.” Is it easier to trust the truth of Romans 8:28—“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”—in hindsight? Perhaps. But the ability to “validate” God’s promise in this way is not necessary to trust his promise even when we can imagine no reason for hardship or disappointment. “The sun beams on behind the clouds, and in the dark still grace abounds” (from All Is Well).

“Don’t let worship be wiped out.”

As theologians of the cross, it’s good to ask “What shall we sing about?” What is the content of songs during a crisis? There are many themes, but a particular Lutheran emphasis flows from the theologia crucis. We can gain insight from Lutheran choral music during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). American Christian perspective on life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness knows that God doesn’t promise health and prosperity. These are not inalienable rights. If they vanish, we don’t blame God but rather trust his working “for the good” in a world broken by sin and its consequences. One song from that three-decade war prays in part: “O God, we thank you that you have alleviated our pains through your dear Son, the pains brought to us by filthy sins.” This doesn’t mean that a specific sin caused a war or any other crisis, only that we live in a sin-damaged world. Another song makes us thankful for streamed worship when it prays: “Grant us again your heavenly peace; don’t let churches and schools be destroyed, don’t let worship [Gottesdienst] and good order be wiped out.4

It’s probably true that many people prefer to sing happy songs. But note the frequency of lament and penitential themes in the psalms, the hymnal of the Old Testament. Even in our culture there are “popular” examples of musical lament, whether the Blues or sad Country-Western songs. So it’s valuable now and then to give a rationale for the sad and serious hymns we sing, whether by verbal or printed comment.

It’s valuable to give a rationale for the sad and serious hymns we sing.

For not a few of us a Thirty Years War perspective on the fragility of life has been reinforced. It is good to speak in both sermon and song to the temptations faced by us who live in a comfortable “first world” context. Am I really worried that I’ll get the virus? Or that the market and my 403b won’t rebound, if not this year then certainly within my retirement horizon? God’s promises in Christ are our ultimate confidence, not the wonders of pharmaceutical rescue and economic recovery. One of the new Getty/Townend hymns begins: “Still, my soul, be still and do not fear though winds of change may rage tomorrow. God is at your side; no longer dread the fires of unexpected sorrow.”

One day we will face death, but not in despair or defeat. Rather, with the confidence found in All Men Living Are but Mortal. This hymn from TLH, updated by Hymnal Project director, Michael Schultz, is included in CW21 with the tune to which the text was originally sung, JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN (CW 114). The author, Johann Albinus (1624-1679), was born during the war. He lost his father at age 11 and his stepfather at age 19, five years before war’s end. Consider these stanzas in light of our current crisis:

All men living are but mortal
and will surely fade as grass;
only through death’s gloomy portal
to eternal life we pass.
When this body here has perished,
then will heav’nly joys be cherished
where the saints, in glorious dress,
live and reign in righteousness.

Therefore, when my God shall choose it,
willingly I’ll yield my life,
nor will grieve that I should lose it,
with its sorrow, pain, and strife.
In my dear Redeemer’s merit
peace has found my troubled spirit,
and in death my comfort this:
Jesus’ death my source of bliss.

Jesus for my sake descended
my salvation to obtain:
death and hell for me are ended,
peace and hope are now my gain.
With great joy I leave earth’s sadness
for the home of heav’nly gladness,
where I shall forever see
God, the Holy Trinity.

This hymn is posted for free download along with other resources mentioned in this article. The text most people associate with JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN, is Christ, the Life of All the Living, which will also appear in CW21. Not a bad association! “All men living are but mortal,” but in faith we affirm: “Christ, the Life of all the living, Christ, the Death of death, our foe.”

Funeral

A “new to us” funeral hymn is Now Calm Your Heart. One hymnal committee reviewer commented, “Time to beef up the Death and Burial section with quality hymnody.” This comment referred to the text. But pairing with the tune HAMBURG (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross) caused other reviewers to rate it low, even a blunt “no” as in “forget it!” Then WELS composer Jeremy Bakken, moved by the text, submitted a new tune that easily gained approval. Thus we have a very old hymn with Latin and German roots paired with a 21st century tune. If there are COVID-19 funerals in your church, familiar hymns are the first choice. But this hymn is available for free download (along with an mp3 audio file), perhaps best rendered by a soloist for now.

And this peek into the editing process: The original first line, from other hymnals, was “Now hush your cries and shed no tear.” Really? A health-care professional in your church has died, and you say to grieving friends, “Stop crying, no tears”?5 The revised first line is not only more pastoral, it’s also faithful to the original ancient hymn by Prudentius (d. c.413), Jam moesta quiesce querela, which comes to us via a German translation by Nikolaus Herman of Joachimsthal fame.6

Gerhardt

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) became an adult during the Thirty Years War. Some details of the war’s impact on his life are in CW:Handbook. His difficult life was aptly described by an inscription on a portrait, which reads, “Theologus in cribro Satanae versatus”—“a theologian strained in the sieve of Satan” (CWH, p717). His hymns help us to sing God’s promises in the face of tragedy and disruption.

Someone recently asked me about the new hymnal Web site’s emphasis on hymns from Getty Music: “I hope we’re not giving up Gerhardt to make room for Getty.” No, we aren’t. There are more Gerhardt hymns than Getty. In fact there are more Gerhardt hymns in CW21 than in CW93. One new Gerhardt translation with a “new to us” tune is Entrust Your Fears and Doubting. Like so many Gerhardt texts and others from his era, this text speaks powerfully to our current crisis. It is paired with the tune originally associated with Gerhardt’s text and bearing the name of his hymn in German: BEFIEHL DU DEINE WEGE. This hymn is also available for free download, along with an mp3 audio file.

Now and then one hears the objection that old German hymns can’t speak to our modern world. It’s certainly true that complex poetry and archaic language can be a barrier. So this hymn allows Gerhardt to speak in a 21st century idiom.7 Some also wonder about old music connecting with modern people, but so much depends on presentation and familiarity. Who would say that Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel, from the 12th century, doesn’t connect? To gain an impression of how adaptable BEFIEHL DU DEINE WEGE is, search YouTube to find a remarkable variety of settings in various styles.

So much depends on presentation and familiarity.

The Trinitas video mentioned above starts with God Himself Is Present (CW 224). At 22:40 you can also hear We All Believe in One True God (CW 270) with just one voice, piano, and guitar. This is immediately followed by mention of sources for arrangements. Gerhardt gets a 21st century boost from the Hymnal Project in another way beyond fresh translation. The Musician’s Resource will include arrangements for modern ensemble similar to those featured in the Trinitas video. Some were used at the January national leadership conference, including arrangements for Gerhardt’s Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me (CW 428) and My God Will Never Leave Me (CW 418) with text by Ludwig Helmbold. CW:Handbook points out that Helmbold wrote this hymn to comfort friends who were fleeing Erfurt in 1563 to escape a plague.

Since so much depends on presentation and familiarity, how might you introduce Gerhardt’s hymn? I can hear a certain female vocalist at my church singing the first two stanzas. I know that most people would find this first exposure to a new tune to be utterly compelling as an expressive soprano sings words of comfort and prepares the congregation to join in on stanza 3, maybe with a clarinet or other instrument doubling the melody. Then back to soprano for stanza 4 and congregation for 5. You don’t have a capable soloist in your congregation? Then use three people singing unison.

This article has focused on a present crisis and a future hymnal. In closing, some words from Hymnal Project chair, Jon Zabell, from his plenary address to the 2008 WELS worship conference, introducing CWS.

“The early Christians faced persecution to the point of death for their faith. Martin Luther had a weight of responsibility on his shoulders I can’t even begin to imagine, and he had powerful enemies and a tender conscience besides. Paul Gerhardt lived through war and poverty and buried his wife and four of his five children. Open your hymnal. Open your supplement. You can sing what they sang. You can trust what they trusted.”

By Bryan Gerlach

New at ChristianWorship.com

Under Frequently Asked Questions

  • Replacement for HymnSoft
  • Why Service Builder and pew hymnals?
  • Rationale for Service Builder pricing

A spreadsheet for calculating costs is now available. “Budgeting for Christian Worship” links from two pages: Resources (top of homepage) and Looking Ahead (bottom).

 

1 Full lyrics are available online. Some online performances of this and some of the more upbeat modern songs are often “too much” for typical Lutheran worship. But as the Trinitas video demonstrates, an ambiance suitable for Lutheran worship is easily achieved. Note also that this song, like so much of the Getty Music repertoire, is eminently singable by a congregation—in contrast to the soloistic and rhythmically complicated style of much “contemporary Christian music.”
2 Purchase the piano or ensemble accompaniment if you want to use these options before the new hymnal is published.
3 More participation in contrast to the deficit implied by the title of Thomas Day’s book, Why Catholics Can’t Sing (Crossroad, 1990; updated version 2017).
4 CD 2, tracks 6 & 17 from Friedens-Seufftzer und Jubel-Geschrey / Music for the Peace of Westphalia 1648. CPO, 1998.
5 To be fair, the original text can be understood as “you will be able to find comfort….”
6 Brown, Christopher Boyd. Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation. Harvard, 2005. He spoke on this topic at the 2008 WELS worship conference.
7 Compare a 19th century translation at hymnary.org; search for “Thy Way and All Thy Sorrows.”

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 4

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 4: Hearing Assistance

Welcome back once again! Let’s review where we have been thus far:

  • Room acoustics and the sound system are forever intertwined in what we call the electro-acoustic system.
  • The room’s acoustics must be held in check—no excessive reverberation, no slap or flutter echo—in order for the room to sound right for speech or for acoustic music.
  • The sound system must be designed and implemented properly in order to have a chance at working well to communicate speech and, when needed, to properly support music.
  • Microphones and loudspeakers must be carefully selected and applied properly in order to pick up the voice properly and to “spread the word” so to speak, evenly, clearly, and naturally to every worshiper.

Okay. Let’s assume that we have done all of the above. Most people report that they can hear very clearly at worship. However, there are a few people who report that although the sound is much better now than in the past, they still have trouble hearing. For them, both volume and clarity are lacking.

Uh-oh! What did we miss? We have gotten everything right up to this point, but one important system design element needs to be accounted for. You see, Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie can hear just fine now. They are very happy. The friends they sit next to at worship, on the other hand, are not so happy … yet.

Rose and Harry are getting up in years, and for both of them hearing is more difficult than it used to be. Rose has hearing aids. Harry will be getting them soon. They have also heard that some folks younger than they need help as well. They are not complaining about the new sound system; they just realize that they need some more help than others to hear well. For them, the ambient noise in the reverberant space is too much. The sound from the loudspeakers seems distant. Again, not the fault of the speaker system. These folks just need some more help bringing the sound directly into their ears.

How do we provide assistance for these people—young and not so young—so that they, too, can hear clearly at worship? The answer is to provide a hearing assistance system for them.

There are two prominent methods of delivering the needed assistance: the FM-based system and the inductive loop system. Many pastors and others already know the FM-based method well and have it in their churches. The loop system is becoming well-known and popular. Let’s take a look at both and see how they fit into sound system designs.

But first, a hearing assistance “gotcha.” Folks complain that they cannot hear well at worship. The pastor and church leadership approve the purchase of an FM-based hearing assistance system. It works well. A number of folks who use the system are quite satisfied with the improvement. But other people still complain that they cannot hear well. Turns out, the problem is with the sound system itself. The church leadership fell into the trap of buying the hearing assistance system as a cheap “band-aid” which in reality did not solve the root problem: a bad overall sound system.

Implementation of a good sound system meant that some with mild hearing loss no longer needed special assistance.

I have been in several situations where implementation of a good sound system meant that some with mild hearing loss no longer needed special assistance. Here’s an anecdote to illustrate the point.

The first installation that I was involved with was 35 years ago: St. Paul’s in New Ulm, MN. Our company was under contract to install a new sound system at the church. It was for its day (1986) a very good system (though admittedly not visually attractive by today’s standards)—a central horn cluster designed to cover the space evenly, which it did well. An elderly gentleman in the congregation donated the funds for the addition of an FM-based hearing assistance system. He said that he and others needed the help.

We completed the installation enough to where we could debut it—including the hearing assistance—for Thursday evening worship. The donor gentleman came to worship and was met at the door with a hearing assistance receiver. After worship, he returned the receiver and said, “I don’t need the help. This is the first time in 30 years I’ve been able to hear the sermon.”

The moral of the story: Make sure that your sound system is up to par first, and then implement the hearing assistance system for those that really need it!

Who really needs the help? As stated above, Harry, Rose, and some younger folks are experiencing hearing issues at worship. Younger folks? Really? Are they just not paying attention?

I’ve attended a number of seminars dealing with hearing loss, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and sound system design. Presenters throw around statistics without referencing anything. But a quick Google search leads to the World Health Organization Web site with a wealth of up-to-date information. A few highlights and another anecdote:

  • Specific to the United States, over 36 million people (more than 17% of the population) experience measurable hearing loss, or the inability to hear sounds of 25 dB or less in the speech range (referenced to 0 dB as the threshold of human hearing and 70 dB as normal speech from about two feet from the talker). The numbers balloon when expanding to a worldwide view. This compares to about 1.4% of the U.S. population with physical disabilities and 0.14% with visual disabilities.
  • Hearing loss results from a number of causes: genetics, infectious disease, use of drugs, chronic ear infections, exposure to excessive noise, and aging.
  • Hearing loss affects not just older people. Worldwide, 1.1 billion young people age 12-35 either suffer from or are at risk of measurable to debilitating hearing loss due to noise exposure in recreational settings (concerts and listening devices with earphones top the list of causes).
  • It is reported that 60% of hearing loss in children is preventable.
  • Over the past 30 years I have had to bring bad news to more than a few teenagers who were willing to help run sound at church or at the high school. I could not allow them to operate the mixing console. The simple reason: those kids could not hear feedback above 2000 Hz. The admitted cause: hours of listening to their devices with earphones. 30 years ago it was the Walkman cassette player; today it’s the smartphone or iPod). The constant pressure on the ear’s mechanics had severely impacted their ability to hear high sounds such as consonants, ‘s’ sounds, and even feedback in a sound system.

Hearing loss issues are real, and they are not exclusive to older people.

So yes, hearing loss issues are real, and they are not exclusive to older people. It is critical that we a) get the sound system right, and b) add hearing assistance for those who need it, because they do need it. And the number who need it grows by the day.

How does the hearing assistance system work? In simple schematic form, we route a feed directly from the mixer or signal processor to the “driver” of the assistance system (see below).

Diagram of a hearing assistance system

That direct connection is critical to the success of any hearing assistance system. Let’s now get into the FM-based and the loop type systems. How do they work? Is one “better” than the other?

First, the FM-based system. “FM-based” means exactly what it says. The system “driver” is a transmitter that operates on a single FM radio frequency. It’s a single-channel radio station. The sound signal is transmitted through the air to a pocket-sized receiver used by the worshiper. There are several types of antennas to attach to the transmitter based on the size of the space to be transmitted into. On the receiver end, the user can choose from several types of earphones based on preference and health concerns—ear buds, headphones, etc.

The advantages with the FM system are ease of setup, potential broadcast range, relative convenience, and cost-effectiveness. In terms of setup, the FM system is basically plug-and-play. You turn up volume and position the antenna properly. Depending on the physical structure of the building and the presence of interference-causing electrical devices, the FM system may not be limited to just the church proper. Going back to the church in New Ulm, the pastor’s mother was in town for Christmas but was limited in terms of mobility. The FM system “reached” across the street to the parsonage so she could hear the Christmas service. That scenario is not typical, but radio is radio. The FM system is generally very cost-effective, ranging from $1,800-$2,500, including professional installation.

The downsides to the FM system are interference and inherent misuse by the user. First, the FM system is a very small, limited-range radio station and radio receiver system. As such it is subject to all of the things that annoy us when listening to the car radio. If the “air” is not “clean,” interference may be problematic. Reflections of radio waves off metal support structure can cause distortion and dropouts. And since this is simple radio, the FM system at your church may at inconvenient times receive from a similar FM system at the church down the street, and vice versa.

Second, many FM assistance users with hearing aids actually misuse the system. The proper use is to remove the hearing aid and “plug” the ear bud or earphone into the bad ear. Many folks, however, plug the earphone into the good ear and then turn it up. Since the hearing aid has a microphone built into it, the sound from the earphone creates a feedback loop with the hearing aid which is often audible throughout the church nave. There are “loop” type necklace accessories that will plug into an FM receiver, effectively turning the FM system into a loop system for that user. However, keep in mind that the interference and other issues that arise with FM are transmitted through that necklace device.

A third downside to FM is that it transmits sound that is not colored or tonally equalized. The user has hearing aid(s) that have been tuned for that person’s ear(s) to compensate for hearing loss at specific frequencies. Without the hearing aid to “tune” the sound, the sound quality may not be adequate to significantly improve clarity for the user.

Lastly, people have become very conscious of how the earbud looks. The fear with many users is that they will stick out in the crowd because they have this earphone or earbud with its cord hanging out for all to see. That aesthetic stigma prevents many from using the FM system.

There are variations on the FM theme today in which wi-fi adjuncts to the system are utilized. Using wi-fi and Bluetooth with a smartphone, the user can receive very good sound quality without the wires. For older users who have difficulty with smartphones and wi-fi technology, this may be cumbersome. For younger users who embrace technology, this may be a cost-effective option.

Let’s move to the inductive loop system. While still fairly simple in concept, there is a bit more going on here than with the FM system. We still directly connect a sound system mixer output to a “driver.” But in this case it is not a transmitter. We are actually using wire to create an electro-magnetic field to transmit the sound signal. The photos to the right show a church re-carpeting project of which a hearing loop is system is a part. The white strips on the floor are tape covering the loop wire.

The wire is routed in either one or multiple loop circuits around the seating area. The electro-magnetic field is picked up by the telecoil in one’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. The signal is then converted back into acoustic energy by the telecoil, tuned by the micro-electronics in the hearing aid, and transmitted into the user’s ear. Hence, one advantage with the loop system: the user wears nothing extra. He or she simply switches on the telecoil in the hearing aid, making use extremely convenient and inconspicuous, while delivering sound to the ear that is “tuned” for that ear.

But…the loop system is not plug-and-play like the FM system. Because we are dealing with electro-magnetics, we must study the space. What is in the floor structure: concrete, rebar, metal ducts, electrical wire and conduit, large water or gas pipes? These metal objects in the floor will actually “compete” with the loop wire by generating their own current fields. The “competition” manifests itself in buzz and hum that is audible to someone using a hearing aid. We can measure and hear that using an app with a telecoil adapter, which enables us to see and hear any noise before laying out a loop system. The photo below shows the app screen. If the needle goes into the green range, we are good—very little or no noise/hum. When we get into the yellow and then red, then the hum would be significant and render a loop system unusable. That’s the benefit of testing before installing the loop.

A reading of background noise heard as a buzz on a hearing aid

The loop may be a simple single-loop system or it may be a figure-eight loop, or many smaller loops overlapping in what is called a “phased array” to create one field. The complexity of the loop is dictated by noise/hum in the floor, and by the presence of electronic instruments such as guitars and keyboards that might be used within close proximity of the loop. These instruments will generate significant amounts of noise/hum, which only a more complex loop will overcome.

Measuring the hearing assistance system after installation

If I or another loop designer has done the job properly, then the result will be an “invisible” system that allows the user to walk in, flip a switch on the hearing aid, and hear the service clearly with sound tuned for the user’s own ears. The “after” measurement of a completed system is shown in the photo to the right. Green on the meter is always very good!

The advantages are as stated above: invisible equipment, no wires or extra “stuff” that could create an aesthetic stigma for the user, and the ability to pick up sound tuned for their ears. By the way, pocket-sized telecoil receivers are available for those who need assistance but do not have hearing aids. Additionally, the range of the loop system is limited to the area within the loop. We will not be able to transmit to the parsonage across the street. But on the other hand, we will not be susceptible to interference from the church down the block.

The downsides to the loop system are cost and labor. The best time to lay a loop system is during a construction or a renovation project. Otherwise, cutting of existing floor tile or carpet is necessary. (Some loop installers have installed systems to floors with tape, but this is unsightly to say the least.) Necessary testing and the loop layout/design must be carried out by a professional. The installation requires trained technicians. In some areas, certified audiologists may wish to certify the installation. This all comes at a cost. A well-designed and installed loop system will cost $7,000-$20,000, depending on room size and the required loop complexity.

My job here is not to pick a best option for you. I am simply laying out the two most prominent options for your consideration. For performance and aesthetic reasons, I believe that the loop system holds the advantage over the FM system. But the loop may not work in some churches. (We just completed a major sound renovation at the Basilica at the University of Notre Dame; the loop system was not an option due to the floor structure.) The congregation must ultimately decide which is best for its purposes.

For performance and aesthetic reasons, the loop system holds the advantage over the FM system.

My strong opinion, however, is that to not provide hearing assistance is not an option for churches. While technically the ADA does not apply to churches for this purpose as they are still considered private spaces, the real issue of hearing impairment is here to stay. And it is growing. It is our duty to enable Harry, Rose, and all those who need help to hear the Word clearly, just as we provide good sound systems with good loudspeakers for Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie.

I have seen “happy tears” in the eyes of people who finally can again hear the liturgies and sermons that were becoming more and more unintelligible. I look forward to seeing many more of those kinds of tears!

 

 

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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 3

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 3: Sound System Layout and Setup

Welcome back! We have talked about acoustic principles that directly impact how successful a sound system will be in the worship space. We have also talked about sound itself and how best to project it for clear hearing within the worship setting.

In this article we go one step further and explore system setup in two ways. First, initial setup: how we lay out the sound system from input (microphone, electronic instrument, or playback device) to output (loudspeaker, recording device, or video feed). Second, we look at what a good sound system designer and tuner strives for when setting up the system after the physical installation is complete.

I will include several “gotcha’s” along the way. And, Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie are still with us. You see, they try to hear the message when they go to worship. But they haven’t been able to hear it clearly. They’ve been following our discussion. They want to know more so that they can talk to their pastor and congregation leaders about improving the situation. Let’s get to it!

Sound System Layout

In its simplest form, the sound system consists of several basic components: the input device, the mixer, the signal processor, the power amplifier, and the loudspeaker. The signal follows a path as shown in the figure to the below.

Diagram of a basic sound system.

How do we “make” sound through the sound system? Think of baking a loaf of bread. The “bread” is our sound. The “ingredients” are the signals we put into the system via the input devices, from microphones to playback devices to electronic instruments. The mixer is just that. This device, which comes in various forms and sizes, takes those sound ingredients and allows us to mix them together in the needed proportion—more vocal than drum in the modern liturgical ensemble, for instance—and produces the signal or “dough” that will eventually be finished.

However, we must do something more with that dough. We must prepare it, or “process” it, so that it comes out right when projected from the loudspeaker. Does the sound need more or less bass or treble? Do some frequencies produce feedback due to reflection off walls, microphone choices, loudspeaker positioning, etc.? The signal processor provides us with all the tools we need to prepare that sound properly so Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie will be pleased. The processor, back in the 1950s, was as simple as a tone control on a car radio. It then became an equalizer in the 1960s and 1970s as engineers such as Charles Boner and Bob Coffeen (a mentor of mine) and companies such as Altec Lansing developed the tools that allow us to break the “dough” or raw sound into many pieces and have finer adjustment control over the signal.

Aunt Tilly and Uncle Charlie will be pleased.

In the late 1990’s we witnessed the advent of digital tools that now allow for precision far beyond what early pioneers ever thought possible. A digital signal processor is not just a fancy tone control but a virtual toolbox that allows remarkable control over a number of factors:

  • Adjust frequency response (tone).
  • Synchronize multiple speakers in time using time delay.
  • Set limits on the strength of the sound coming out of the device in order to protect the loudspeakers.
  • Internally mix and route the signal to device outputs of choice such as the main loudspeaker, the cry room speaker, the recording device, the audio-for-video feed.
  • Setting memory presets to recall things like system configurations for varying worship settings, differing attendance levels, and speaker zone on/off.
  • Automatic mixing for voice mics to keep levels consistent and to minimize the potential for feedback from excessive volume.
  • Wireless remote control that allows for simple control without the need for a mixing console where one is not required.

Digital tools allow for precision far beyond what early pioneers ever thought possible.

Once we have prepared that sound “dough,” it is sent to the power amplifier. This is the oven that makes the sound level rise like yeast in the bread to the level (volume) we need to deliver a pleasing “loaf of bread” which we call “sound” for Aunt Tilly and her fellow worshipers to hear from the loudspeakers.

The rudimentary schematic diagram above can be simple or complex depending on a number of variables. A good system designer will use information regarding the size of the worship space, the number of loudspeakers required to provide good coverage and clarity, the number of inputs required from microphones and such, and the number of output devices required—such as feeds to video recording, live streaming, audio recording, subsystems such as musicians’ monitor speakers, feeds to fellowship/social halls, etc.

In a simpler system design where there is no modern instrumental ensemble (or only a very small one), with a limited number of microphones, the mixer and signal processor may well be one unit. Coupled with a wireless remote device (some are simply wi-fi based as opposed to a specific Apple or Android app), all the mixing, signal processing, and signal routing can be handled from that one device, saving cost and operational complexity.

On the other hand, a mixing console may be required for a larger liturgical ensemble. In that case you need the ability to mix sound from a much more hands-on perspective. But be prepared! With that console comes the need to have a trained operator who is willing to learn its features and make adjustments on the fly. And that console will need to be located in a place where the operator can hear as the congregation hears. If you stick the operator in the corner of a balcony, then you have placed your control in another room where levels and tone will most likely be different than on the main floor. In that case Aunt Tilly will not be happy.

Going to the output side of the signal flow, notice the colored dotted lines going toward the output devices. These help me to address a common and significant “gotcha.” I get calls from pastors and church system operators complaining that the levels are bad on the audio recording. Sometimes they tell me that the level is low and that turning up the level results in feedback from the loudspeakers in church. From this description I can tell the caller that the system is configured too simply. The issue most likely stems from the fact that the signal to the loudspeakers and the signal to the recording feed come from the same control. The system designer did not build in flexibility to allow for separate control of main loudspeakers and other feeds. A separate mix and master level control are needed for the recording feed (or other feed) apart from the mix for the main loudspeakers.

A design using the “best bargain” method is a waste of money.

Sometimes this “gotcha” is due to a perceived budget limitation. “We can’t spend much on the system.” So the congregation settles for gear that is not flexible or not expandable. The result is that the system will not do what is needed. And the solution is to start over, which means spending the money twice to get the job done right once. The real solution is to be honest about needs and have the system designed to the need rather than to say “This is what we are going to spend.” This doesn’t imply spending a fortune on a sound system. But it does mean that a design using the “best bargain” method is a waste of money and never ends well. Design the system to the need, and make it expandable so that additions can be made without the need to start over. It costs a little more on the front end but saves a great deal in the future.

Another “gotcha:” The pastor calls and reports a hum in the audio going to our video recording. After I complete my groaner joke (“It hums because it doesn’t know the words.”), I ask questions about how the hookup is accomplished, what the devices are, and other qualifiers. The cause and solution are common. Outside of a cable that has gone bad, the most common cause for the hum is that a cable is not right for the situation. Most “off-the-shelf” hi-fi type cables with phono type connectors accept noise from other sources, induced into the line. Or the grounding is not right. The hum is the result. Make sure that you are using high-quality cables that will ground the devices properly, and make the proper connections to prevent outside noise from getting into the line.

One more “gotcha:” The level is strong coming out of the audio device, but is weak or nonexistent going into the recording device (may also be from playback device or electronic instrument going into the mixer). This is almost always an impedance mismatch. Simply put, there is an electronic roadblock that prevents the signal from getting to where it is supposed to go. In such cases, you need a transformer device that will correct for the mismatch. Since there are varying levels of quality, contact your sound professional for advice on which device to use. Make sure that you are using high-quality devices, both audio and video.

Books have been written on the subject of system layout. The brief description provided here will suffice for now, along with this summary: figure out what you need, design to that need (by a professional), build in flexibility and expansion capability, and utilize the right loudspeakers and microphones.

Sound System Setup

I state up front that the following discussion is not a “how-to-guide” so that you can tune your own system. Just as it takes education and experience to be a good pastor or music director, it takes education and experience along with a trained ear to be a good system tuner or “setter-upper.” Below I point out goals to accomplish when tuning a system. Remember: go to a professional for system design and for system setup/tuning!

Recall from our previous installments that there are some fundamental “must-do/must-have” matters when considering sound system design and setup—and ultimately tuning:

  • Good acoustical character that matches the worship setting.
  • Avoid destructive “slap” and “flutter” echo.
  • Balance reflective, absorptive, and diffusive elements in the space.
  • Design loudspeaker system to work in the acoustic space.
  • Use the proper types of microphones for the various applications within the worship setting.
  • Use proper mic technique.

I assume now that we have followed all of these principles of good design. We have good mics in place. The loudspeakers have been carefully selected and located. The mixer and signal processor are appropriate for the situation. We’re ready to tune!

First, what is my goal? Assuming that we will have good loudspeaker coverage, our goal is simply to deliver the most natural sound possible, clearly and without feedback. If there are supplemental speakers, under the balcony for example, then we also must synchronize these speakers in time with the main speakers so that every worshiper perceives the chancel as the source of the sound.

Second, achieving the goal. Clarity will result in part by having a well-behaved acoustic space and in part by selecting the proper loudspeaker. Notice I say nothing about the prettiest loudspeaker or the most invisible. We always work hard to blend the speakers into the architecture and make them as inconspicuous as possible. But if we lean too far toward aesthetic priorities, then clarity will nearly always be compromised.

To achieve natural sound without feedback, we start with a high-quality speaker that is proven to deliver smooth frequency response “out of the box.” Look at the graph below from a recent project where we measured the balcony support speakers. It shows an even frequency response from the lower-midrange frequencies through the upper end of the speech range. Frequency is shown on the bottom/horizontal axis, and level in dB is shown on the left/vertical axis.

Frequency response graph showing natural sound

Notice that there are no jumps or peaks in response across our measurement range. The graph shows me—and my ears heard—that the sound is natural. And since there are no big peaks, feedback will not be an issue.

Why no issue with feedback? Feedback occurs when sound is allowed back into the microphone. It could be from a reflection, or it could be from poor mic placement. If there is a big peak in response (greater than 2 or 3dB above the average), a significant amount of energy will be allowed back into the microphone, creating a loop we hear as a screeching sound—feedback. Since there are no peaks here, we have no issue with feedback.

While in the tuning process, I will check to see how direct the sound is. What is the level of the sound coming to the ear directly from the loudspeaker as compared to reflected sound? The graph below shows a measurement of the direct sound. The left/vertical axis is level, and the bottom/horizontal axis is time in fractions of seconds. I want to see a very strong initial sound arrival, and either no or very little late arrival from reflection.

Graph measuring direct sound – shows no echo

Notice the tall vertical line just to the right of ‘0’. The ‘0’ point is the loudspeaker’s place in time. The tall line is the first sound arrival. There is a second line close to but far down in level. This graph shows me (and again, my ears heard) very clear sound with no audible echo from any other source.

In the last graph below we have an example of how poor things can get when our basic principles are not followed. Notice the initial arrival followed by arrivals that are nearly as strong. This client hears the same syllable distinctly three times. In that case, I had to report to the client that “we have issues” with room acoustics or with loudspeaker layout or type. In this particular case the issues were with both room acoustics and loudspeaker layout.

Graph measuring direct sound – shows and echo

I have included a good deal of information here. It may be difficult to process it all, especially for those not familiar with all this “audio geek” stuff. If I have helped you to think a bit about your goals for sound in worship, what your real needs are, and how to meet your needs and goals, then I have accomplished my goal.

Sound design involves science, art, and experience.

Additionally, I hope it’s clear that far more goes into this sound thing than just going to the local music store (or going online), buying some stuff, and sticking it in the church. The process of sound design involves quite a bit of science (laws of physics that the good Lord gave us and has not yet repealed) as well as art and experience. Yes, it is a process. And knowing just a little about the process, from design to setup to proper operation, can help you to ask the right questions and to budget appropriately. Then you can be confident of achieving the best results, and God’s Word both spoken and sung will be clear to the congregation.

Knowing just a little about the process … can help you to ask the right questions.

A fourth installment will conclude this series. It will focus on assistance for the hearing impaired. We will review a few simple statistics to show that assistance is no longer just for older people. We will study two major methods for providing assistance—how they work and the benefits of each.

If you have something to ask or an issue to deal with, let me know at [email protected]. I will respond as time allows and might even prepare another WTL article in the future.

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 2

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 2: Acoustic Definitions and Implications / Microphones

In our first installment we discussed basic acoustic principles to maximize sound quality, tone projection, and speech clarity in the worship space.

In this installment we get into the sound system. Coined as a tongue-in-cheek statement by a sound industry icon, the following statement hits home: “If bad sound were fatal, audio would be the leading cause of death.” Fortunately, bad sound is not fatal. But it can be upsetting both for listeners and for pastors on the receiving end of complaints from members who cannot hear clearly.

“If bad sound were fatal, audio would be the leading cause of death.”

Just what is sound? How does sound behave in the worship space? What does a designer look to accomplish when laying out a sound system? How should I place the microphones? Which microphone designs are used for which purpose?

And the dreaded “gotcha’s.” Why is the audio quality bad on recording feeds? Why do we have “hot” and “dead” spots in the space? Why do we have feedback? Why is the sound just not clear?

The goal here is to give you things to think about. These will help you to have an idea of what questions to ask and the knowledge that good sound can be achieved. Note: I invented the fictional characters Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie some years ago to personalize my talks. I have brought them along here. They, like any worshiper, have one thing in mind when they come to worship: they want to hear the Word—clearly. My job and yours is to make that happen. So let’s dive in and see how we can prevent audio pain, futility, and fatality.

There are a few simple goals that any good sound system designer will strive to achieve. But first, an important definition:

Decibel – The decibel (dB) is a comparison with some point of reference. It is not a unit of power like a watt or volt. I can say that the electrical power in my house is 110 volts. I can’t say that it’s 110 dB. What I can say is that normal human speech is measured at about 65 dB. That measurement assumes a reference level of 0 dB, which is the threshold of human hearing. A difference in level of 3 dB is audible; 6 dB is very noticeable, and 10 dB is considered twice or half as loud, depending on an increase or decrease in volume. I cover this definition first because it is at the root of everything we discuss regarding audio design. Following are other clusters of definitions and their implications. These all are inseparable for achieving a goal of optimal sound quality and for microphones to perform well.

Loudspeaker coverage – We seek to deliver even sound levels throughout the seating area. The standard we use is plus-or-minus 3 dB from front to back and side to side in the seating area. If we keep the sound levels within that window, then there will be no audible volume level differences. The “gotcha” will be intelligibility, or clarity.

Intelligibility – How clear the sound is.

Volume – How loud the sound is.

“Gotcha”: There is a distinct disconnect between volume/loudness and clarity/intelligibility. Aunt Tillie approaches an usher or the sound operator during worship and says, “I can’t hear.” The usher or sound operator turns up the volume. But did that make a difference? The sound is louder, but how clear is it? If the ambient sound is too loud, if the worship space is excessively reverberant or fraught with slap echo issues, or if the loudspeakers are not directional enough, then volume is not going to help. We need to ask Aunt Tillie, “Is it volume or can you not hear clearly?”

Loudness 15 dB above ambient noise level – The clear sound levels from the sound system must be more than twice the level of background or ambient noise. Recall our case study in the previous installment. The ambient noise level from the HVAC system was measured in excess of 70 dB. Normal human conversation is measured at about 65-70 dB, depending on male or female talker and strength of voice. We want the sound from the sound system to arrive at the listener’s ear at about 70 dB in order to make the sound comfortable. If the ambient noise level is already at 70 dB, then the sound from the sound system is totally masked or covered up and needs to be at nearly rock ‘n’ roll levels, at least 85 dB, in order to be heard above the ambient noise. Those levels will drive people away.

“Gotcha”: You can count control of HVAC and other ambient noise as major. If you don’t control that ambient noise, the sound system, no matter the quality of components, will not be able to make up for it without irritating the listeners. Keep that ambient noise level at about 55 dB. Then I as a designer can deliver a most comfortable 70-75 dB to the congregation.

Direct Sound – The sound we receive directly from the sound source before reflections.

Early Reflected Sound – The sound we hear very soon after the direct sound, maybe off a wall near the loudspeaker. This is usually not a deterrent to intelligibility and is desirable especially for good music projection for choir and organ. (This is why we see shell type walls to the sides of choirs and organ pipe chests.)

Reverberant Sound (also Late Reflected Sound) – The ambient sound, which is made up of HVAC noise, people whispering and rustling paper, and other acoustic and loudspeaker sound that has reflected off walls, balcony faces, and ceiling.

Deliver primarily direct sound – God designed our ear/brain mechanism to receive a syllable, process it, then receive the next syllable. Aunt Tillie, Uncle Charlie, and all of us need to hear the syllable once and let it pass so we can get the next one. When we hear echoes or when the background noise is too strong, then that God-designed hearing process gets messed up. Our ears get tired, our brains shut down, and we tell the usher, sound guy, or pastor that we can’t hear.

There is not a written standard to tell us that we need “x-amount” of direct sound for maximum clarity. Experience has shown me and other designers that we need to achieve at minimum 75% direct sound as compared to reverberant sound in order to deliver good speech intelligibility. As mentioned above, we like to have some early reflected sound as well to give us depth for music; this can give dimension to speech as well.

How do we deliver 75% direct sound? We get this result in two ways. First, recall the acoustic principles discussed previously. We need to get the room acoustics right: live but not excessive reverberation, no slap echo and no flutter echo, and control of mechanical noise from HVAC, fans, etc. Secondly, we need to ensure that the sound system receives energy directly from the talker into the microphone, and then that it emits the sound as directly as possible from the loudspeaker to the listener’s ear.

How do we make that happen? Let’s get into a few more definitions and principles. I think that the answer will become clear with this slightly deeper dive into sound principles. It will also answer some more “gotcha’s.”

Sound – Sound happens when something vibrates. Stretch a rubber band and pluck the elastic. The elastic moving back and forth creates air pressure zones, like the high- and low-pressure zones you see on a weather map. The sound is carried along in waves (hence the expression sound waves) along those pressure zones.

Frequency – The speed at which the elastic moves back and forth, or more specifically, how many times the elastic vibrates in one second. The faster the elastic vibrates, the higher the frequency which is labeled “hertz” (Hz). The slower the vibration, the lower the frequency. We can see those sound waves and their speed on an oscilloscope. The scope will show us wavelength.

Wavelength – the portion of one second occupied by a single vibration. The longer the sound wave, or wavelength, the lower the frequency. Moving in that direction takes us into the bass range. The shorter the wavelength, the higher the frequency, and we move into the treble range.

The table below shows how wavelength and frequency relate:

The table may not mean much to many people, but it’s important when we discuss acoustics and audio. And I think it brings clarity (pun intended) to the whole direct sound and intelligibility discussion. Paying attention here eliminates a myriad of “gotcha’s” before they can happen.

The longer the wavelength, the stronger it is and the more difficult it is to deal with. As you read the following points, think of wavelength simplistically as a beam of light with finite edges projecting out from a source.

Example A. The lower we go in frequency, the wider and stronger the beam and the more difficult it is to block or absorb those frequencies. The obstruction required to fully block the frequency must be about equal to the size of the wavelength.

Acoustically speaking, the material thickness and density required to absorb lower frequencies must be substantial. A felt banner or thin drapery will be invisible to a sound at 1000 Hz and below.

A pillar of three feet in diameter will not block a sound at about 400 Hz or below. On the other hand, that three-foot diameter pillar will cast a “shadow” and block sound from 500 Hz and up.

“Gotcha”: The installer just mounted thin column speakers on the front pillar in the church. People seated behind the subsequent two-foot diameter pillars say they cannot hear. The reason? The frequencies in the upper vowel range and consonant and ‘s’ ranges are blocked by the pillars. People seated behind those pillars will not hear clearly. The installer needed to locate support speakers at the subsequent pillars.

Using the table as a guide, we can see that an obstruction of as little as six inches can damage intelligibility. We need to keep that in mind as we go about achieving our design goals.

An obstruction of as little as six inches can damage intelligibility.

Example B. In audio systems, the lower we go in frequency, the more difficult it becomes to control, aim or “steer” those frequencies. Conversely, it is easier to control higher frequencies. In simple terms, we need “acoustic buckets” large enough to contain the frequency range we want to control.

Typically we use horns or other highly directional array type loudspeakers in a space, no matter the size. The horn or array dimension will dictate to what extent we can control where sound is aimed. We can use a small horn or device with mouth dimension of about 8 inches to control from about 1,500 Hz and up. That’s good for consonants and ‘s’ sounds. In order to control the projection of a 500 Hz sound (the vowel range), we need a device (horn, array height, etc.) of 28 inches; for 100 Hz we need a 10-foot horn!

“Gotcha”: The installer just installed one or two loudspeakers, suspended from the ceiling. The total dimension of each enclosure is about 26 inches. The installer tells you that the speaker will deliver very good clarity. He is right—to a degree. What he failed to tell you is that the enclosure contains a high-frequency horn that measures about six or seven inches. It will control the consonants well. There is a 15-inch diameter bass speaker in the enclosure as well. The midrange and bass frequencies will be well-supported but not controlled. At 15 inches in diameter, that woofer cannot contain the wavelengths below about 1000 Hz, meaning that the vowel sounds are allowed to bounce around the space. Those vowels now mask the consonants and develop excessive reverberant sound. In a reverberant space, Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie won’t be happy.

Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie won’t be happy.

How do we make them happy? We need to utilize loudspeakers that are directional not just in the high frequencies, but also in the mid- and low frequencies. If we can control from about 500 Hz and up and deliver even coverage, then we have a very good chance at making every worshiper happy.

Okay, we’ve spent a lot of time on loudspeakers and direct sound. We needed to because if we don’t get that part right, what we do with the rest of the sound system will not matter. But now let’s move to microphones.

There is a difference between microphones. You will get what you pay for.

There are a lot of brands and types of microphones available at virtually every price point imaginable. I need to encourage you up-front that there is a difference between microphones. You will get what you pay for. Many microphone issues are caused by one or more of three basic “gotcha’s”:

  1. Very inexpensive microphones were purchased. Usually, the very-inexpensive microphone is not articulate or clear in the consonants. It may not sound natural. And it may not pick up well for what you need it to do.
  2. The wrong microphone type was chosen for the application. A typical handheld microphone will not work well at the lectern, pulpit or ambo, or for the choir. They are designed for up-close solo work. Unless your talker can position their mouth within about three inches of the microphone, this is not the right mic.
    Use a good long gooseneck microphone for the lectern, ambo, or pulpit. Use a similar type on a stand for the choir when needed as they are more “forgiving” in their pickup pattern and more sensitive and so will pick up from a greater distance—about eight inches at the lectern, pulpit, or ambo; and with greater gain (volume) applied, about two feet from the front row of the choir.
    Use a good discrete headset/ear mic (definitely not inexpensive) that fits well for the pastor’s wireless. These are designed for live sound, as opposed to lapel mics which were designed for use in TV news studios many years ago.
  3. The talker is not positioned properly. The talker must be within the clear operating range of the microphone. This means within about three inches of a handheld solo mic, no more than eight inches from a gooseneck microphone, and two feet from the front row of the choir. Within these distance windows the sound pickup will be full and articulate. The sound level will also be strong for feeds to recordings and distributed speakers in cry rooms and such. Outside these windows the sound will become thin, volume will be low, feedback may occur when trying to increase the volume, and Aunt Tillie and Uncle Charlie will wonder why the sound is bad.
  4. The talker is not talking to the microphone. This relates to the former point, but deserves its own block. You must address the microphone. In other words, the mouth must be pointed toward the microphone head. Just like we need direct sound from speaker to listener, we need direct sound from talker’s mouth to microphone. If we talk “away” from the microphone, or physically turn away from the microphone to make eye contact somewhere, we will turn out of the microphone’s pickup pattern and sound level and clarity will be lost.
    This is why the headset/ear mic has become popular and even better than a lavalier/lapel mic. But if you have a mounted mic, maintain a distance and position relationship with the microphone. When turning to make eye contact, turn your body about the microphone so that you can look the other way without looking away from the microphone. As was stated in the former point, this will help everything: sound levels, clarity from the loudspeakers, recording feeds, and even hearing assistance systems.
  5. The microphones are placed ahead of the loudspeakers. Feedback occurs when sound from the loudspeaker reflects around the room and back into the microphone. It can occur when the microphone is placed in front of the loudspeaker. If that speaker is too close to the microphone, or if the overhead speaker is turned up and microphone is out front, feedback will be an issue. Proper system tuning (next installment) can help somewhat, but the needed clarity and volume levels will not be realized. And feeds to recordings will suffer as well.

My design philosophy has always been simple: use the right microphone and loudspeaker, set them up properly, and the sound will be right at all destinations. I won’t need to play tricks to try to get the system to work right. If you follow the same philosophy, you will be successful as well.

Use the right microphone and loudspeaker, set them up properly, and the sound will be right at all destinations.

Next up: system setup—good stuff and “gotcha’s.” Also, the hearing assistance system: why do we need it, and which type is best?

Written by David Hosbach

David Hosbach is President of DSH Audio Visions LLC, Milwaukee, WI. A 1983 graduate of Dr. Martin Luther College, his clients include: the Chapel of the Christ, MLC, New Ulm, MN; Peace Lutheran Church, Hartford, WI (WELS); the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, AL; and hundreds of parish worship spaces of all sizes. For more information visit www.dshaudiovisions.com.


 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 1

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 1: Acoustics

Our company is a design consulting firm. We design audio, video, and acoustic systems primarily for liturgical churches—Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, etc. With 30-plus years of experience, we have worked with many situations both in new construction and in existing buildings.

In this series of articles we will explore room acoustics along with sound and video systems, noting how these elements are inseparable. To accomplish the goal of clearly communicating the Word at worship, these elements must work together. We will give tips and pointers about things to look out for, to take caution against, and things to pursue in the quest for developing the best spaces possible for worship. Finally, we will look at operating system “gotchas.” We will investigate problems like bad audio quality from a video, audio feedback, unclear or washed-out video images on a projection screen.

Sound and acoustics are inseparable.

Everything we discuss—design concepts and operational things alike—is based on the laws of physics. These laws provide the foundation for everything we do in system design and operation. We must follow them. After all, the good Lord gave them to us, so it’s our responsibility to work with them and not try to get around them!

As happens far too often, we get the call from a congregation needing a “fix” for a bad situation. The issues vary: poor speech clarity, feedback issues, “hot” and “dead” spots from the sound system, poor video images, poor sound quality from a video. The issue might be unfulfilled needs from when the current system was installed or when the building was constructed, or something more sinister.

A common misconception is that a problem is isolated and that a simple inexpensive “fix” like a new microphone is the solution. Sometimes that is the case. Unfortunately, in many cases the solution is not so simple or inexpensive. Allow me to tell a story, a true story. We’ll use this story as a backdrop to talk about how sound and acoustics are inseparable, how they must work together for a successful worship space.

In many cases the solution is not so simple or inexpensive.

Case Study

We were called to a church several years ago to solve issues with the sound system. It was a good-sized congregation and worship space. The building was five years old at the time. The premise was that they needed help with their sound system. There were some feedback issues, and worshipers could not always hear clearly. The committee felt that if we retuned the system and possibly provided some help with using the microphones, the problem would be solved.

When we arrived at the church, we found that the issues ran much deeper than just retuning the sound system. When the building was constructed, the congregation declined the recommendations made by a reputable acoustic engineer. They took the lowest sound system bid and required that speakers be either completely recessed or as invisible as possible.

At first glance the space was very bright and inviting. Loudspeakers were tucked into inconspicuous cavities. But reality was extremely unfortunate. The congregation was worshiping in a literal echo chamber. Coverage from the speakers was blocked by the sides of the cavities that made them so inconspicuous. Air handling system noise was loud enough to require one to shout to be heard. Feedback was common. The spoken word echoed like a bad surround sound system. Vocal solos sounded awful—though not the fault of the soloist!

Members were leaving the congregation. What was the purpose for coming to worship if one could not hear the pastor or a soloist because of feedback, echoes, and poor speaker coverage?

This congregation thought they had two simple issues to resolve. In reality those “simple issues”—feedback and lack of clarity—required a major rework of both room acoustics and sound system. No sound system was going to work with a room “misbehaving” as badly as that one. And the sound system was poorly laid out. When we visited the church for evaluation and testing, we stayed for weekend worship. People came out of the services asking hopefully if we could help them. “Can this be fixed?” they asked. It was an expensive “fix,” but after two years of planning and implementing sound and acoustic renovations, we heard members exclaiming on our return visit, “We finally have a church!”

It is surprising how often this sort of scenario plays out. It is equally surprising how many building committee meetings I have sat through where the committee has spent an hour or more discussing the paint color or the light fixtures for the narthex but only a few minutes about what in my opinion should be the overriding priority in the church: How are we going to effectively and clearly communicate the Word at worship? I understand that we want our worship spaces to look the best they can in honor of our Lord. But don’t we want people to hear clearly when they come to worship?

The question seems simple enough. But whether discussing a new building project or seeking solutions for an existing one, the answer is multifaceted. And it takes time, effort, and talking to the right people to answer questions properly. There is cost involved, but the key is spending money once on getting sound and acoustics right as opposed to spending money two or three times in search of a “fix” for unwise decisions of the past.

Let’s dissect what happened in this church: the “bad stuff,” the causes, and solutions to fix the “bad stuff.” The laws of physics will be intertwined in the discussion as we travel from a really bad situation to a much improved one. As we proceed, you may be reminded of or discover a similar situation in your own church.

As stated earlier, this church in appearance was inviting. Light yellow color splashes the walls. The space is open; it does not feel “closed in.” A cruciform shape with chancel platform at the cross-section lends itself to a closer view of the clergy.

Acoustically, the space should be conducive to sound/tone projection from front to back. The ceiling is peaked and open, which should further aid tone projection. Floor and walls are hard-surfaced. Pews have a thin cushion on the seat only, which has the potential of providing some acoustic balance between room empty and room occupied.

The hard surfaces are indeed desirable, especially for conducting liturgical worship with a need for speech clarity along with pleasing choral and organ music. But in order for that music to come alive so that the worshipers can understand song text and clergy sermon, there are several principles to follow.

Design Principles

One principle is that the hard surfaces on the side walls must be “diffusive.” That means the surface needs to be broken up, or uneven: slanted surfaces in varying degrees, wood slats up to four or six inches deep, or uneven brick. All of these will break up the sound waves that hit those surfaces and alleviate the “flutter” or echo from side to side in the space. Doing this will not reduce reverberation, but it will make the reverberation more pleasing.

A second principle is that the rear wall surfaces must either be diffusive or even somewhat absorptive. The rear wall can be a staunch enemy of spoken word clarity and musical quality if left untouched. Sound that hits this wall will “slap” back into the nave, creating a distinct echo for speech and a “smear” effect with music. Treating the rear wall will prevent that “slap” from occurring and will make the entire listening experience better.

A third principle is that some absorptive element in the space is necessary. The amount and placement depend on the room size and shape. But the objectives are to a) create an environment that “comes alive” for music while also allowing for articulate speech sound, and b) create an environment that is acoustically consistent between unoccupied and occupied—for example, a small wedding or a full Easter festival service. Pew cushions (seat only) will help, and sometimes absorption on wall surfaces is necessary. Acoustic plaster or fabric wrapped or other absorptive core panels are examples.

However, in this church, the walls are smooth and parallel; sound waves that hit them bounce back and forth unhindered. The rear walls—central nave and transepts alike—are tall, hard, and smooth. Consequently, sound waves that hit these surfaces bounce back to create a distinct echo in the worshipers’ ears. There is not enough absorptive property to the pew cushions to make them effective. The end result was a worship space that acted just like an empty gymnasium, with measured reverberation in excess of 3.5 seconds and sound echoing and “slapping” with no mechanism in place to dissipate the sound.

And the choir and soloists? They are located in a transept, arranged to sing directly into the opposite transept wall. There is no direct path for their sound to travel into the central nave, so they must be supported by the sound system.

Another principle to follow in worship space design is to keep the HVAC system as quiet as possible. HVAC noise has several sources: rumble caused by vibrating duct work, the hissing sound created by air trying to move through spaces in grates that are too small, blower fans moving too fast for what is needed in the space. The goal is to produce no more than about 50 decibels (dB) of ambient (background) noise in the space. This level is less than average normal conversation, which is usually measured at about 70-75 dB.

The HVAC system in this particular congregation hit a home run in the wrong direction. Shortcuts were taken with duct work that was not insulated well. Vent openings were much too small to allow air to pass through quietly, and blowers were much too strong. The result was rumble, hiss, and whistles that added up to over 70 dB of ambient noise.

When this church building was designed, the architect enlisted the aid of a good acoustician to recommend solutions to create a good acoustic space, solutions that would follow the principles listed above. The desire was for a worship space that would come alive for music but also deliver good speech intelligibility without too much ambient noise, aided by a well-designed sound system.

Such a sound system would feature loudspeakers of a size and type to aim the sound into the pews without allowing too much sound to reflect off walls and ceiling, especially rear walls. It would need to support the clergy clearly and support the choir without the obvious perception that they were being mic’d. And since the choir needed to be mic’d, the system would need to be designed so that some speakers—those that face the choir so they can hear the liturgy—would be shut off when the choir sings.

Besides these functional needs, principles in good sound design need to be followed. First, speakers need to be seen in order to be heard. We can’t “bend” sound around objects and walls on the way to the listeners’ ears; we need a direct path.

Second, to have the best chance at delivering good intelligibility, the sound system must be driven at a level at least 20 dB above the ambient noise level. For example, if we reach the goal of 50 dB ambient noise level in the space, then the sound system must be driven to a minimum 70 dB.

Third, the speakers need to be located as much as possible between the listener and the talker—in this case the clergy in the chancel. This helps the listener to associate the source of sound with the source of action. If the speakers are too far to the sides or are facing in from the rear, then more echoes like a poor surround sound system are created, and intelligibility is damaged.

Did the church get a good sound system? No. Many of the feedback issues we were asked to address were the result of the choir “singing to itself” because the speakers were playing directly into the choir microphones. Other feedback issues were the result of trying to overcome HVAC noise and a large cupola over the altar that reflected sound back down to the chancel and into microphones. They tried to turn up the sound system level, but the needed level was 90 dB or more. The space acoustically could not handle that level, and neither can the worshipers’ ears since this sound level is like a loud home stereo or a small bar band.

In an attempt to conceal the loudspeakers, cavities were constructed to house them. The cavities were small enough that much of the sound from the loudspeakers was blocked by the cavity walls. And the sound that did get out from the cavities was aimed mostly at the walls as opposed to projecting directly toward the pews. In short, the coverage was poor, echoes were abundant, and feedback was prevalent.

Well, all righty! This was quite a mess! How did we get from “can we fix this?” to “we have a church again!”? Let’s walk through the solutions.

Solutions

HVAC Noise. Without a major building renovation, we could not do anything with the HVAC system since duct work was underground and/or concealed in walls and with grates built into floors. The church’s working solution was and is to heat or cool the room before worship and then shut down the blowers at least during the sermon or for longer depending on room temperature fluctuation. This flawed HVAC system is a strong testimony to achieving a good design in new construction!

Room Structure and Acoustics. The walls were built. We could not change their shape. But we could add things to make them uneven. Again, the principle is to have uneven surfaces and some absorption to avoid the “flutter” between side walls and the “slap” from the rear wall.

It is also critical that, whether new construction or a retrofit, we preserve the aesthetic value of the worship space. We do not want anything looking like an afterthought. With that in mind, the congregation enlisted the aid of the building architect to turn the “fixes” into architectural elements in the space.

We added wood panels with slats perpendicular to the nave and transept wall surfaces to provide the diffusive element. This helped break up “flutter” which had been an issue even 85 feet between the transept end walls. We also added fabric wrapped absorptive panels to the nave rear walls and to the side walls to knock down the “slap.” We added absorption inside the large cupola located above the altar to break up and absorb the sound that was echoing down from above and causing more feedback.

Sound System. Our next article will go into detail regarding sound system applications (microphones, loudspeakers, and such). But I summarize here by saying that new, more articulate microphones were utilized for clergy and choir. And new loudspeakers were deployed—still low profile but outside the cavities and with better ability to aim the sound directly to the pews. And the speakers were split into zones so that the choir is no longer “singing to itself.”

The end result was a “new” church. Reverberation was reduced somewhat to alleviate the “smear” that damaged musical sound; yet the space still was very much “alive” for choir and organ music. “Slap” and “flutter” were nearly completely eliminated. Now the worshipers’ ears could hear as the Lord intended: receive and process a syllable once, then bring in the next syllable with no echo. The sound system was now feedback-free and sounded natural and clear for every worshiper.

It pays to get it right the first time!

This story is no fairy tale, but there is a moral: When looking at church acoustics and sound, it pays to get it right the first time! Take the time to plan for the right combination of wall shapes and diffusive and absorptive surfaces. Get the sound system right. Budget the funds to make it happen, including bringing the professionals on board who can do the complex design work. When you add in all the work you put into light fixtures, paint color, and wood finishes, the end result will be a worship space that “is a church!”

Next up: the sound system. What is sound? How do I get it right? What are the “gotchas”?

Written by David Hosbach

David Hosbach is President of DSH Audio Visions LLC, Milwaukee, WI. A 1983 graduate of Dr. Martin Luther College, his clients include: the Chapel of the Christ, MLC, New Ulm, MN; Peace Lutheran Church, Hartford, WI (WELS); the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, AL; and hundreds of parish worship spaces of all sizes. For more information visit www.dshaudiovisions.com.


 

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Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 2

Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 2

Martin Luther’s Pastoral and Practical Revisions of Worship


Creativity is careful to honor the arts.

Though Luther considered Karlstadt’s experiments to be troubling (see part 1), he realized that they weren’t unique. By 1524, worship experiments were underway all over Germany, many initiated by reformers who were becoming increasingly estranged from Luther in the wake of Karlstadt. In Allstedt, Thomas Müntzer—in addition to propagating Anabaptism—was composing a vernacular service1 and vernacular translations of ancient hymns. Nearer-by in Zwickau, Nicolas Hausmann, the very pastor to whom Luther had dedicated the Formula Missae, sent Luther in 1525 some new German masses for critique.2

Luther felt that they all suffered from the same problem: the old tunes didn’t fit the translated texts.3 While pragmatic, these mass experiments lacked artistry. While aiming at re-formation of the service, they were nothing more than “loosely connected amalgams of prayer, preaching, and singing.”4

Luther’s solution, a German service for Wittenberg, aimed for a higher standard. To achieve this, he enlisted professional help. In October of 1525 as the Deutsche Messe texts and tunes were nearing completion, Luther requested the Elector to dispatch court composer Conrad Rupsch and his protégé Johann Walter to collaborate with him. For three weeks, they scrutinized texts and tunes.5 By mid-November, completed drafts were sent to Torgau for electoral approval. The texts were clean, the notes well-matched and well-tuned. Whether or not he intended it, Luther was putting church musicians on notice: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Luther also put preachers on notice. “I think that if we had a German postil (a biblical commentary in sermon-form) for the entire year, it would be best to appoint the sermon for the day to be read entirely or in part out of the book—and not just for the benefit of those preachers who can do nothing better. …otherwise we will reach the point where everyone will preach his own ideas and instead of the Gospel we will have more sermons about ‘blue ducks.’”6

Luther’s critique can seem confusing until we realize the sad state of preaching in and around Wittenberg. Preachers were either so clumsy in explaining a text or so eager to offer their own ideas that sermons spun off into nonsense. Luther’s sharp critique boils down to this: those who can’t appreciate the art of preaching ought to read and imitate someone who can.

Luther’s expectation for excellence in artistic craft appeared throughout the Deutsche Messe and its accompanying resources. When he translated ancient prayers,7 he did so in ways that recognized and appreciated their ancient form. When he enlisted the most respected poets to translate old hymn texts and compose new ones,8 he expected clear and elegant language. When he commended pastors to chant the lessons, he gave them specific instructions to ensure it was done well.

Why was Luther so adamant about art forms? The preaching problem is illustrative. When a preacher bungles a text or, worse, ruminates on something foreign to the text, what is happening to the gospel message? When a poet bruises the language or a composer mis-matches the tune, a disservice to the gospel is taking place. Luther’s concern for the arts in worship is not art for art’s sake. “In Luther’s view, music in the church functions as viva vox evangelii.” How do music and art carry out this task? “By faithfully reflecting in its own terms the honesty, integrity, truthfulness, and winsomeness of the gospel.”9 Luther’s pastoral heart expected any tool used to express the gospel to be expertly handled and any tune accompanying the gospel to be expertly crafted.

Luther’s passion for the arts is an extension of his foundational principle. Once the creative arts have been placed into the service of the gospel, it follows that our creative impulses would also be placed into the service of the arts. Luther was acquainted with prominent musicians who were working to define and explore new musical techniques and innovations. Luther’s humanist contemporaries used the term ars (“art”) to describe the rules and techniques that could be taught and learned, and the term ingenium (“genius”) to describe the musician’s original and creative impulses. Both concepts are not only important to music, but required.“Ars without ingenium is insufficient, and ingenium alone is despicable, since it places itself above all musical order.”10 There are thus two temptations to avoid: the first, to basically reproduce artforms with no passion or creativity; the second, to simply ‘do our own thing,’ preferring our own genius rather than realizing the rules and working within the limits of the art.

Luther might unleash his good-natured wit on us against these two temptations: “Your passion for the past is commendable. And your plan to preach like I preach is well-intentioned. But art without genius won’t do!” Alternatively: “Your genius is a gift of God. Your next sermon series might be a creative gem. And your new ideas for adapting a service may be great. But have you taken the time to appreciate the form of art that you are improving or replacing? Or are you simply offering an “ape-like imitation?”11

Luther’s carefully crafted service is a reminder that the pursuit of excellence through artistic standard and craft leads each individual (preacher, player, planner, and more) to appreciate their role as a steward of God’s creative gifts and to acknowledge that God has blessed us with far more than our own cherished “tavern tunes,” “tin whistles”12 and “blue ducks.”

Creativity is careful to serve the community.

Hausmann’s letter to Luther wasn’t the last request for Luther’s pastoral advice. Luther became aware of a troubling situation in far-off Livonia (present-day Estonia). This time, it had nothing to with artistic integrity. A new fanatical preacher, Melchior Hoffmann, was causing the same kind of upheaval that Karlstadt had started in Wittenberg three years earlier. Hoffmann was soon toe-to-toe with the disgruntled church council who sent him to Wittenberg for advice from Luther. They also sent a letter to Luther asking, in effect: “Tell us what we should do!”

We can only speculate about what they expected to hear. On the one hand, Luther could have prescribed a precise format of what was appropriate and what not.13 On the other hand, Luther could allow every congregation to determine its own way,14 based on the consensus of the pastor, the council, and the people.

But Luther offered neither of those solutions. Instead, he wrote, “I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of  disorder—one thing being done here and another there—lest the common people get confused and discouraged.”15 In other words, ‘do what seems best to you; but please, do it together with your fellow churches.’

Luther offered pastoral latitude within limits.

This thread of regionally-determined liturgical unity rather than congregational independence is woven into the fabric of the Deutsche Messe. “I do not propose that all of Germany should uniformly follow our Wittenberg order…. But it would be well if the service in every principality would be held in the same manner and if the order observed in a given city would also be followed by the surrounding towns and villages.”16 Luther then also offered pastoral latitude within limits: “It shall be understood that such communion, hymns, readings, and preaching are under the responsibility of the pastor, and may be increased or reduced according to the circumstances of the day.”17 Pastors were free to make various choices within a liturgical framework shared among churches in the district.

Luther was defending pastoral and congregational freedom while at the same time advocating that the freedom of a particular pastor or congregation be limited by love which serves their neighbor. The freedom of the individual submits in love to the needs of the neighbor. In this way, congregations would avoid falling into the ditch of legalism while at the same time avoiding the ditch of faddism or creativity-run-amok.

So much for the principle. But how could such a balance of freedom and love be struck, especially among German people known for their streak of independence?18 Luther’s practical solution was peer review. Anything newly created for worship should, as a matter of course, undergo careful scrutiny. Luther then offered as first specimens his own paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer and his exhortation to the Lord’s Supper. “[How] this paraphrase should be read, I leave to everyone’s judgment…. I would, however, like to ask that [it] follow a prescribed wording … for the sake of ordinary people. We cannot have it done one way today, and tomorrow another different way, letting everybody parade their talents and confuse people so that they can neither learn nor retain anything.”19

Luther’s practical solution was a peer review.

Incidentally, neither of Luther’s specimens would survive. In Wittenberg’s first church order (1533), neither idea was included. Pastors and people simply returned to the familiar patterns of the Lord’s Prayer and Preface.

Nevertheless, Luther’s practical principles took hold. Worship patterns were codified in church orders and the concept of regional unity cemented in the language of the Lutheran Confessions.20 It wasn’t until the 20th century that some Lutherans were taken up with the idea of “absolute congregational autonomy in all matters liturgical.”21

This article does not suggest or imagine that all the congregations of a 21st century synod adopt a uniform and identical worship practice. Nevertheless, we also cannot ignore how important it was to Luther and the Lutheran confessors that congregations work together in adopting and adapting worship patterns.

Perhaps we can be encouraged that the Livonian problem did resolve. In 1530, only five years after their letter to Luther, their neighbors in Riga (modern-day Latvia) wrote: “So far as is possible and helpful to our people, we may agree not only with the people here in Livonia, but also with our neighbors and other states in the German lands in which the Gospel of Christ is also proclaimed clearly and richly—especially in the principal matters pertaining to outward divine service or ceremonies.”22

Creativity is careful to serve the congregation.

As the busy year of 1525 closed, Luther had nearly completed his worship revision project. The gospel had been carefully taught and translated in words and actions. The tunes had been professionally assessed. But would the Wittenbergers sing? Luther, the pastoral pragmatist, had already worked to ensure that it could be done.

Luther was a musical theologian. He received musical training from a young age, long before he entered the monastery. At the same time that he was learning the Latin chants in school, Luther was learning German folk tunes from his copper-mining father Hans and his mother Grete. He reports that during his early years “his father would relax with a beer and break out into song.”23

This pattern continued in Luther’s own family life. In a famous scene by Gustav Spangenberg, Luther is strumming away, teaching songs to his children from a printed manuscript. Since Spangenberg’s painting is from 1875, some dismiss it as unrealistically idyllic. But this activity would have been common in the Luther household.

Also interesting is the person glancing over Katie’s shoulder. Philip Melancthon was a frequent guest in Luther’s home. But why is he featured in this painting? In my estimation, Spangenberg was portraying an idyll of Lutheran musical pedagogy. Melancthon, the praeceptor Germaniae, represents the idea of Christian education. If the Reformation would endure, it would require musically trained theologians and theologically trained musicians.24

Lower altar panel at St. Mary’s – Lucas Cranach the Younger

How Luther implemented this musical training in Wittenberg isn’t as clear as we might like it to be. One hint comes from another allegorical image from 1547 by Luther’s colleague Lucas Cranach the Younger.

We see the gospel of Jesus at the center, Luther in the pulpit, and the people gathered to listen, pray, and presumably, sing. We notice that men and women are separated into groups (as Luther advised for the communion distribution), but we also notice a congregation of several generations worshiping together. We don’t see a choir, even though we know they used one. How much did the congregation sing? How much did the choir sing? What did a service in 1527 sound like? These questions will remain under debate.25 But if we step back and listen, some key notes emerge.

Luther oversaw publication of a congregational hymnal in Wittenberg. Though the earliest known copy is dated to 1526, evidence suggests that the laity had hymnals in their hands—an Enchiridion—as early as 1524.26

Luther also invited Johann Walter to compose three- to five-part concerted settings of the same hymns listed in the Enchiridion. This Geystliche Gesangk-Buchleyn was also published in 1524.

Luther relied heavily on the scholia (school choir) for modeling the new texts and tunes to the congregation. Students trained in singing during the week were placed centrally among the congregation when the hymn was sung.

With this information, we realize that the two scenes above complement one another while providing a clear picture of how pastor and people worked together in the instruction of hymnody, liturgy, and song—to grow in faith. “For this, one must read, sing, preach, write, and compose. And if it would help matters along, I would have all the bells pealing, and all the organs playing, and have everything ring that can make a sound.”27

The enduring importance of careful creativity.

Ten years after his famous walk to the Castle Church door, the brilliant professor, no longer a bachelor, sat up late one night to compose another document—not to an archbishop but to a good friend. Instead of venting about indulgences, Luther laments medical needs.

“My dear Amsdorf: A hospital has started up in my house. I am very fearful for my Katy, who is close to delivering, for my little Hans has also been sick for three days now and is not eating anything and is doing poorly; they say he’s teething, but they also believe that both are at very high risk.”

The letter to Amsdorf wouldn’t cause the stir of the 95 Theses. The letter’s lasting significance is found only in Luther’s closing salutation: “Written at Wittenberg on the Day of All Saints, in the tenth year after the indulgences had been trampled underfoot, in memory of which we are drinking [Wittenberg beer] at this hour.”28 The date was Tuesday, November 1, 1527. Had it been Sunday or Wednesday, Luther might have been leading worship. Had it been Friday or Saturday, he might have been preparing a sermon or hearing confession. But Luther was commemorating All Saints’ Day with Gemütlichkeit.

Luther provided a pastoral and practical manual for careful creativity.

How much had changed in the previous decade? One need look no further than the All Saints’ Church. The thousands of meaningless private masses had been abolished by the end of 1521. The ten aisles of relics had been removed by 1522. By 1524, the people who had once only stopped to look were now starting to stay and sing, with forms and hymns that they could understand. The results, of course, would be seen and heard far beyond Wittenberg.

Did the brilliant professor realize what he was doing? In 1523, Luther began by revising an old order of service for the sake of the gospel. In 1526, he advised a new order of service for the sake of the gospel. But far from a mere ‘alternative service’ Luther provided a pastoral and practical manual for careful creativity. The wisdom and principles evident in his approach continue to guide pastors and worship planners today.

Written by Mark Tiefel

 


The picture in the heading is “Luther Making Music in the Circle of his Family” by Gustav Spangenberg.


For full citation information for some notes, see part 1 of this article.

1“Deutsch Evangelisch Messze.” Cf. Leaver, Sings, 84-88.
2 The story is explained in Luther’s “An Exhortation to the Communicants,” LW 53:104.
3 “To translate the Latin text and the Latin tone or notes has my sanction, though it does not sound polished or well done. Both text and notes, accent and melody, and manner of rendering ought to grow out of the true mother tongue and its inflection, otherwise all of it becomes an imitation in the manner of apes.” “Against the Heavenly Prophets” LW 40:141.
4 Leaver, “Deutsche Messe,” 331.
5 The professionals didn’t feel Luther needed much help. Praetorius records a visit by Rupsch and Walter. “Herr Luther had composed the Sanctus in masterly fashion.” Schalk, Paradigms, 27.
6 Lange, Annotated Luther. Cf. LW 53:78
7 Cf. LW 53:127ff and LW 53:153ff
8 Cf. Luther’s Letter to Spalatin (end of 1523), LW 49:68-69, cited in Schalk, Paradigms, 26.
9 Schalk, Paradigms, 51
10 Hoelty-Nickel, Theodore. “Luther and Music” in Luther and Culture, Luther College Press. 1960, 147-148.
11 LW40:141, cited in Leaver, Sings, 86
12 This is not to say that a well-played Irish tin-whistle isn’t proper art! The reference is from Martin Franzmann, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, CPH, 1966/1994, 92 or 96. Cf. Aaron Christie, “Excellence for Christ in All Things,” Worship the Lord #42 (May, 2010).
13 Other reformers, such as John Calvin, would take this approach.
14 This path was advocated by Johannes Brenz. Cf. Elert, Structure, 333.
15 LW 53:47
16 AL 3:139, LW 53:63
17 For a fuller discussion of latitude and limits, cf. page 6 in Stephen Valleskey, “Lutheran Worship Reforms of the 1500s that We Can Still Use Today.” WELS South Central District, January, 2010.
18 “We Germans are a rough, rude, and reckless people, with whom it is hard to do anything, except in cases of dire need.” AL 3:142. What would Luther think of Americans?
19 AL 3:155; LW 53:80
20 By 1580, the pattern of uniform regional church practice had spread throughout Germany. “The confessors were willing to work out their issues of freedom and love for the sake of unity. They saw the exercise of ‘discretion’ … as completely in accord with the very confessions they penned and confessed. They went about exercising that discretion not only by defending it in the confessions, but through active efforts of visitation and through extensive publication of church orders.” Matthew Harrison, “Luther, The Confessions, and Confessors on Liturgical Freedom and Uniformity,” in Chemnitz’s Works, Volume 9: Church Order for Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Concordia, 2015, xv-xvi.
21 Harrison, xxi
22 Leaver, “Deutsche Messe,” 333-334
23 Leaver, Sings, 28
24 Cf. Hoelty-Nickel, 149
25 As they currently are. Joseph Herl’s Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism asserts that the choir played the major role, almost to the exclusion of the congregation. Robin Leaver makes the case for a singing laity. Cf. Luther’s Liturgical Music, Fortress, 2017, 209ff and especially Sings, 102ff.
26 Leaver provides an engaging narrative of its development in Sings, 106ff.
27 AL 3:140; LW 53:62
28 The second quote is referenced in Leaver, Church, 2. The first can be found in WA 4:4, #1162.

 


 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.


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