Accessible Worship - Community 

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:23-25


COMMUNITY


Last month, I shared that one of the reasons we invite people to church, one of the core ideas for why we encourage people to be present in public worship is because of the intentionality within worship of "Communion" with God. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was to give us life to the full and the only way that happens is when we are in a Common Union with God through Jesus. Worship is a place where we act on our need for a Savior through confession and absolution as well as Holy Communion. That the deepest core of our humanity is based on the relationship we have with the God that desires an intimate relationship with us. We were created for Him. Sin makes that relationship dead and damaged, repentance and forgiveness renews and restores our true selves - a daughter, a son of the King of Kings

But there is another reason to gather in worship and that is the Common Unity that we have by being alive in Christ. We may be very different, have different likes and dislikes, skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, and economic realities. But at the foot of the cross, all are equally needy, all are equally redeemed and that common reality gives us the common ground that we need for true Community. Being on our own may be less messy at times, but we were made for community. Our gifts are not meant only for us, but are meant to contribute to the better functioning of the whole of society.

Yes, you can worship in your car, at home, by yourself and you should do this. Yes, you can worship with your family, in your Bible study, and in your small group and you should do this. But there is nothing quite like when people come in a common belief in our need for Communion with God, hear of his great love for us individually and then celebrate with one voice the truth of who Jesus is... There's just nothing like it.

And it's not just in the 1 hour on a Sunday, but the accountability, friendships, affirmations, encouragements, and hard conversations that come from trusted Christian friends. One author has said that sin makes us less human, a step further away from what it means to be truly made in the image of God. In a world hellbent on destroying the humanity of the individual and turning community into a cancer, being part of the Body of Christ, remains one of the greatest tools to stay connected to God in deep relationship with him. Rooted in the extravagant love of Jesus as we seek to live out life to the full.

Going to church isn't about a religious duty. Going to church isn't about relationship with an institution. Going to worship, being part of church, being part of the Body of Christ, is one of the most human things that we do. Made to be image bearers of Jesus who we love, God is conforming us to Christ's likeness - that we would be little Christs in the world, helping others find healing and life in broken and dead places. There is no better place than to be connected to God in Communion with him in a deeply personal way. And there is no better place to be connected to the mission of God and making his glory known, than to be in Community with others who have that communion unity through Christ.

Why go to church? For communion and community, it is ultimately what we were truly made for!

Accessible Worship - Communion 

Why do you go to church? Seriously, I assume you're reading this, but I'd like to know why you go to church... or why you don't go. What did you hope would happen there? How did you hope you would leave the worship service? All of us are on a journey when it comes to faith and that is the same for Christian faith as well. I really would like to hear from you on this, it's not just a question to the air, it's a question I ask a lot of people, and I'd really appreciate hearing from our readers too.

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COMMUNION

If you've grown up around church, this is the one thing that we are encouraged to "invite" people to. Worship is what we encourage people to commit to. We teach "going to church" to our young kids, we drag our older tired teenagers, we sometimes bribe our friends to come with us and for many it really is something we look forward to, but... WHY?

I've been thinking and praying over this quite a bit over the past 5 years and as I've wrestled with the notion of "intimacy" and the 18-25 year old time of life. I have started to see more deeply that God's greatest desire is intimate relationship with us as individuals so that we would function fully human (God's definition - made in the image of God) with the people around us. Intimacy requires that I reveal myself and trust that when I do, I will be loved and not humiliated. Intimacy, I believe, is the starting point for why we come to church and why worship is so important for us. The opportunity to experience "Communion and Community"

Communion - a common union. A deep connection between two people or better yet, between the Created and the Creator. Best yet, a deep and eternal connection between a loving Father and a dearly loved child. Worship offers the opportunity to experience this communion between you and your heavenly Father in two very special places that are intensely personal. Confession and Absolution and the sacrament of Holy Communion

In Lutheran worship, we take time for "confession and absolution".It is a moment where we are invited to, spiritually and in reality, to take off our masks before God. To confess all the ways I've tried to hide from God because of the things I have done to offend him. As we stand naked before our heavenly Father in the admittance of my lack of living a life to God's standard and for his Glory, God answers our repentance with love. We can look our Father in the eye because he has invited us to do so. In repentance he turns a loving face to us, forgives sin and encourages us to choose life and not death. By the faith given us and the power of the Holy Spirit in us, choose God's way, rather than sin. The reason God can look at us with love is that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin. God turned his justice and judgement of sin from us to his Son who bore the penalty for us. He died the death we deserve so that God could look at us the way he could only look at his son. Intimacy. We share our reality with God, who forgives and shows us the face of love. As Saints in Christ, we confess our sin and need for a Savior, and we are "absolved" or forgiven of our sin, assured of our good standing with God because of the sacrifice of Christ.

In Lutheran worship we take time for Holy Communion where the Bible teaches that Jesus is actually present in, with and under the bread and wine. Translation? What we believe, by faith, is that in Communion, God comes to us PERSONALLY and gives us personal assurance of his love for us and his common union with me... with you. While the confession and absolution portion of a worship service is personal to a degree, it often feels far more communal. We can hide in the community and we can feel far from. In Holy Communion, that gift is intensely personal "For YOU, for the forgiveness of YOUR sin" and for YOUR relationship with Jesus.

One of the great reasons to "go to church" is that it is one of the few places on earth that we can experience this common union with our God. While we can and should be with Jesus everyday in prayer, in the word, in the quiet moments of meditation and in private worship, the worship service offers us a unique opportunity when we gather with others who need that communion with God. And it's that common need for Grace that makes us a unique community, which we will cover next month!


The takeaway? One of the great reasons for going to church is for the strengthening and restrengthening of that union we have with God. The God who craves intimacy with you. Who desires for you to be fully known and loved. The God who knows that the only way that we become fully alive and fully human is in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. A relationship that was won by Christ alone and is renewed the same way.

COMMUNITY

Last month, I shared that one of the reasons we invite people to church, one of the core ideas for why we encourage people to be present in public worship is because of the intentionality within worship of "Communion" with God. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was to give us life to the full and the only way that happens is when we are in a Common Union with God through Jesus. Worship is a place where we act on our need for a Savior through confession and absolution as well as Holy Communion. That the deepest core of our humanity is based on the relationship we have with the God that desires an intimate relationship with us. We were created for Him. Sin makes that relationship dead and damaged, repentance and forgiveness renews and restores our true selves - a daughter, a son of the King of Kings.

But there is another reason to gather in worship and that is the Common Unity that we have by being alive in Christ. We may be very different, have different likes and dislikes, skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, and economic realities. But at the foot of the cross, all are equally needy, all are equally redeemed and that common reality gives us the common ground that we need for true Community. Being on our own may be less messy at times, but we were made for community. Our gifts are not meant only for us, but are meant to contribute to the better functioning of the whole of society.

Yes, you can worship in your car, at home, by yourself and you should do this. Yes, you can worship with your family, in your Bible study, and in your small group and you should do this. But there is nothing quite like when people come in a common belief in our need for Communion with God, hear of his great love for us individually and then celebrate with one voice the truth of who Jesus is... There's just nothing like it.

And it's not just in the 1 hour on a Sunday, but the accountability, friendships, affirmations, encouragements, and hard conversations that come from trusted Christian friends. One author has said that sin makes us less human, a step further away from what it means to be truly made in the image of God. In a world hellbent on destroying the humanity of the individual and turning community into a cancer, being part of the Body of Christ, remains one of the greatest tools to stay connected to God in deep relationship with him. Rooted in the extravagant love of Jesus as we seek to live out life to the full.

Going to church isn't about a religious duty. Going to church isn't about relationship with an institution. Going to worship, being part of church, being part of the Body of Christ, is one of the most human things that we do. Made to be image bearers of Jesus who we love, God is conforming us to Christ's likeness - that we would be little Christs in the world, helping others find healing and life in broken and dead places. There is no better place than to be connected to God in Communion with him in a deeply personal way. And there is no better place to be connected to the mission of God and making his glory known, than to be in Community with others who have that communion unity through Christ.

Why go to church? For communion and community, it is ultimately what we were truly made for!

Accessible Worship - An Introduction 

Accessible Worship

How Worship styles, languages and environment help to make the Joy and Peace

that comes from the Law/Gospel message accessible to people.

An Introduction

My heart hurt.  I had a chance to walk with a couple of individuals who had a heart for sharing Jesus through an alternative worship service at their local church.  The traditional service had become difficult to connect to for them and for people they had brought.  It wasn’t the content, it was WELS through and through, which means bible, solid ground doctrine, but at the end, they had a hard time explaining why they were struggling to connect to the worship of their church.  They had seen forms of contemporary worship done well and had a desire to bring it into their local church.  They weren’t reaching some of the people in their community and they were wrestling with how their current worship environment communicated to unchurched people as well as some of their own. 

They asked for and were given permission to seek advice and wisdom on how they could incorporate contemporary music and communicative elements into worship in a WELS setting and they reached out to a number of good people who I know are pursuing this idea with excellence.  They put together a master list of songs, developed a one year process of growing into songs and worked out an implementation schedule to work with the musicians they had.  They asked the right questions, they had the right heart, they weren’t asking to change everything, but to consider adding a blended/contemporary worship service Saturday evening.  That way, people who really enjoyed the traditional liturgical setting would be able to worship in a service that they understand and connect with.  And then hearts began to break.

The Pastor enjoyed the liturgical setting and the value of the symbolism, beauty of the historic rites and songs, the language of the church he had grown up in and believed had such great power and ability to communicate the Gospel.  His heart hurt because it wasn’t enough for some of the people in his church and wanted to know what he was doing wrong.  He wanted so badly for the people who wanted contemporary/blended to find the same joy in what they were currently doing well.  My friends hurt because they saw the pain in their pastor’s eyes and heard the comments that hurt them back.  The feelings and response implied that something was wrong with them, yet they were slowly dying inside every time they went to worship.  It wasn’t the doctrine, it wasn’t that they wanted to no longer be WELS, it wasn’t the people.  In the end, the fear of division among other things, drove the congregation to a “no go” decision and my friends couldn’t help but feel discouraged.  There were no WELS alternatives in their town and so they were left with hard choices.  Stay and try to get along after they were given signs that their work was appreciated and would be implemented on some level or move on. 

Perhaps you can relate to one of the two groups of people in this story.  The Pastor whose heart breaks for the people who want something that he can’t or doesn't know how to provide or perhaps you are like one of the individuals who are slowly dying in the pew and can’t explain why.

I hope this blog series will be a helpful conversation starter that will move us beyond the worship war mentality and will give even the hardened soldiers on both sides of the conversation an opportunity to come out from their bunkers and talk with one another from a different perspective.  To see that traditional, blended, contemporary and modern worship supporters will find ways to celebrate the various worship languages, praise God for the freedoms we have in praising and proclaiming Jesus, while also helping to hold one another to a Confessional Lutheran balance of Law and Gospel and their place in worship. 

Accessible Worship - The Heart of Worship 

Accessible Worship

The Heart of Worship

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Luke 2:10

I love what my WELS Pastors have instilled in me about the worship life of the church.  The simplicity of worship in a corporate setting (and even a personal one) always starts with God.  In its simplest form, Worship is: God’s coming to us (in word and sacrament) and his people respond to him and to one another about him.  If you are a lover of traditional worship settings, it is what the liturgy is all about.  It is the formalization of quality biblical texts that have lasting value to the church for nearly 2000 years.  It is God coming to us in his word, psalms sung about what he has done for us and how his faithfulness has impacted our lives.  It comes from baptism when he comes to us with grace and reminds us repeatedly of the gift that was poured out to on us that grants faith and the capacity to even call him God and Father.  It comes from Holy Communion, the union of body and blood that comes to us in a tangible form with the promise and strength of the Holy Spirit and the promised forgiveness of sins that both strengthens faith and reminds us of who Jesus is and what he’s done and the life he’s given us to share.  We then have a chance to respond with sayings, prayers, songs and actions as we lift up united voices to proclaim that Jesus is Worthy of our praise because he was slain that we might receive the rights as a son.

One of the things, probably THE thing that separates Lutheran worship from others is the public opportunity to confess sin, a need for a Savior and the formalized profession of forgiveness of sins for those who confess and believe that Jesus is the Christ.  The content of a Lutheran worship service includes the main key elements of Songs of Praise, Confession of Sin, Absolution of Sin, Confession of Faith, Reading and Hearing of God’s Word, A Law/Gospel message based on biblical text, Holy Communion, Baptism and Prayers.  But just like the bible has everything to do with Jesus and how he fulfills the plans and desires of God, our worship also points to, lifts up, acknowledges and confesses who Jesus is, what Jesus did and is doing and the overarching message that without Jesus we are dead in sin, but were made alive because of the finished work of the cross.  And now we have a new identity, a new heart, a new destination and a new purpose through this relationship that Jesus alone made possible.  Worship is all about Jesus.  It’s not about seekers, sinners and saints, it’s about Jesus and what his life and relationship with him means to and for seekers and sinners and saints.

So if many can agree that this is the primary purpose of Christian worship, why is the conversation about forms of worship so contentious in Lutheran settings (and many other denominations as well)?   Great fear and concern over an erring of doctrine often is at the heart of the conversation, but is not always discussed openly and honestly.   There is great fear and concern over divisions that may develop in the church and in families from different languages.  There is the question of effectiveness for non-church people connecting to the Jesus we celebrate in our worship settings.  The conversation brings concern and defensiveness over attendance and budget numbers as one church grows and another declines.  There is often great fear and concern over past mistakes and perhaps the sins of others who have passionately and even with the right heart, led a church down a path that wound up costing them more than they thought it would.  From the traditional and blended to the contemporary and modern service settings, fear and concern are a part of the conversation, but in my experiences, fear and concern are often what drives the heart and motive of the conversation.

And yet into difficult discussions comes the bible’s most quoted command of God – “do not fear”.  Interesting that when we get our focus on “doing” church and worship we often get fearful and defensive.  Perhaps it’s due to putting our focus on DOING church instead of the ONE we worship.  And yet there it is… “Do not fear!”.  In many respects it is the “so that” of the Gospel message.  Jesus came, died for sin, rose to life, gives faith, and grants forgiveness – so that we do not have to fear.  Hey Matthew… come follow me – do not be afraid.  Hey Peter, yes you can walk to me on the water – do not fear!  Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people alive and we have an awesome opportunity to share the peace and joy that comes from the Gospel in our worship settings.  With that heart in mind here’s the next chapter.

Accessible Worship - Encountering Jesus 

Accessible Worship - Encountering Jesus

“Leaving her water jar behind…”  John 4:14

She was a broken woman in search for something to quench that unrelenting thirst.  Like a person who is always thirsty, there just isn’t enough to fully satisfy or to last much more than a day.  Coming during the heat of the day, when others might not ridicule her, she made her way to a well to get what she needed to quench her thirst.  Except that on this occasion she would meet a man, one she shouldn’t talk to and one who really shouldn’t talk with her.  All he asked her for was a drink.  At first glance this has the feel of a bar story and yet this is an encounter that would change this woman’s life forever.  Married 5 times and living with a man, she had come in shame to get water during the heat of the day out from under the scorn that comes from a scarlet letter that this woman carried.  The man talked about a “living water”, one that would satisfy her thirst and unlike the empty jar she carried, this water would never run dry and never run out.  She was hooked.  Awareness had driven a discontent within her and she wanted to know more.  The man’s reply?  “Go call your husband”.

It’s such a strange request.  Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman who had a tabloid reputation as a woman who couldn’t keep a man or perhaps find the right one.  She was “that girl” and Jesus was talking to her.  Note the water jar that she comes to fill up and Jesus seizes on this example.  Water could quench her thirst but only for a day.  Fill up that empty jar and in a short time it will be empty and need to be filled again.  He was promising an end to thirst.  This empty water jar is a big deal.  What are the wells that you and I run off to in order to quench a momentary thirst, both sinful and clean, yet temporary.  A man or woman’s love, fame, power, sex, the right job, a family, money, need of compliments etc…  What is THAT thing for us?  Make it personal… what is it for you?  Jesus put his finger right on that thing for her when he said “Go call your husband”.  As you read John chapter 4, you will come across an amazing story of a woman who unknowingly runs into Jesus.  He talks about living water.  She’s wanting what he has to offer, but doesn’t yet understand.  He puts his finger right on a sin problem that is leaving her empty.  She confesses (sort of) and Jesus simply acknowledges her lack of a husband.  She tries to change the subject by asking a “religious” question (where should we worship).   Jesus gives her a seminary answer.  She clues in that this guy is a prophet and says that she knows a Messiah is coming and will explain everything to them.  And THEN?  He reveals that he is in fact that Messiah – Jesus.

“Then leaving her water jar behind” I have always been struck by why this historic detail was important to note.  Was it simply because she was excited or overwhelmed about this encounter that she forgot about it?  It seems to be a pretty trivial detail to be left in and yet we know that every word of God is useful (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I see this image of her coming with an empty water jar looking to fill it with what can't satisfy.  Meeting Jesus and then leaving that water jar that can't satisfy, behind.  Yes it's historic, but it is also a picture of what happens when Jesus becomes the water of true life and it is what Jesus is patiently working usu through - that we would leave behind the empty unfulfilling sinful life.  After leaving the water jar behind the woman runs to her town exclaiming “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did, could he be the Christ?”  And the bible says people put their faith in Jesus to saving faith because of this simple testimony.  Furthermore the people come out to see Jesus for themselves and Jesus stays two more days after which the people exclaim – now we don’t only believe because of your testimony, but because we have heard it for ourselves.  The woman encounters Jesus and she can’t help but tell people and in turn, people believe and come to faith and then grow in faith as they dig in for themselves.

Why is this important to Accessible Worship?  I share this story because it is what all professional ministry/Christian people are hoping for in our worship settings.  That people would see so clearly the emptiness of sinful choices and that they would see so clearly the grace and mercy of Jesus whose forgiveness brings new and eternal life.  That our proclamation and communication of this law and Gospel in worship would have the same effect that it had on this woman.  That people would encounter Jesus in such a way as to respond with a message to the world “Come see a man!  Could he be the Christ?”  I certainly hope that in our music, in our art, in our stories and scriptures, in our hugs before and after church and in the word and sacraments, people would encounter Jesus and not just shrug it off as if they need to get their Jesus fix for the week, but that the encounter with their Savior would be so powerful as to kindle that same flame as it did in the woman at the well.  To leave the empty jar, our empty choices and cracings behind and go tell the world “Come and see!”

Praising Jesus and proclaiming Christ is what our worship is all about and one of the hopes we have is that through our worship, people may hear and know the joy and peace of the full Gospel message.  This is the essence of what I mean by Accessible Worship, that through our content and the various languages or styles of worship, people may hear and know the peace and joy of this Gospel of Jesus.  If it is one of the hopes we have, then we bear some responsibility to do everything we can to communicate that Gospel message so clearly that the people hearing it have access to the peace and joy that comes when we move from dead in sin, to alive in Christ.  Yes, it is only the Holy Spirit who works faith through the hearing of the word and God gave us the opportunity to be one of the agents that his faithfulness would be made known.  Doing our best to understand and to grow in how we communicate is a key part of this idea - "Accessible Worship"!

Accessible Worship - Let's Be Honest 

Accessible Worship
Let’s be honest
“kindest possible way…”

Worship is sacred.  It is divine.  It is solemn.  Worship should be what I think is best.  Worship should be what we’ve always done.  Worship should be different.  Worship is boring.  Worship doesn’t speak to me.  Worship is what we do on Sunday.  Worship is…  Well, what is it for you?  Don’t just give the text book answer, what’s the personal one, the one you actually believe right now?

As we established earlier, worship, especially formal church worship is God’s coming to us in word and Sacrament as a gathered people around the name of Jesus.  In this gathering, as God comes to his people, his people respond to him directly in prayer, song and petition and respond to one another about God and his story of redemption and faithfulness in the form of exhortation, praise and celebration.  Yet fear, both right and wrong kinds of fear, often drive the conversations, debates, battles and wars over what is appropriate in formal worship; over what is God pleasing and what is unacceptable.  (We will discuss Fear in another blog post down the line)  It splits families, it splits schools, it splits churches and it splits synods.  Both sides dig in battle lines and find bible passages to prove their viewpoint and how the other is wrong, dying, ineffective, unimaginable and downright sinful. 

So to dig into a topic like this I want to just put out a reminder concept that so many, including Martin Luther have encouraged us to remember.  That while we acknowledge there are going to be differing stances on this topic, that as Christians we take each other’s words and actions in the kindest possible way and that we do our best to listen and understand the person before we rush to defend a position.  In the advice of many older and wiser people than me “God gave you two ears and one mouth – use them proportionally as it pertains to listening and speaking”.

So here is the basic premise for this blog series now that we have laid the foundation just a bit.  Accessible worship is the idea that we want to do everything that we can to make the peace and joy of the true law/gospel message accessible to as many people as we can in our neighborhoods, families and communities and congregations.  We don’t need to water anything down, but we need to do everything we can to clearly communicate the need for a Savior from sin, what sin is and does and that Jesus is that Savior and the bible is the testimony to God’s faithfulness and the basis for “life to the full” as Jesus himself made known to us.  We want to communicate this message in ways that the people can understand and we want to give people in public worship the ability to have a response to the Gospel message so that words, songs and prayers are personal as well as congregational.  In order to frame this topic with better insight and to move us to perhaps some better conversation regarding traditional/liturgical and contemporary/non liturgical settings, I am going to address some key divisive words to help us re-center and deepen our conversation when it comes to acceptable and agreeable forms of worship in our Lutheran settings.

I hope you’ll pray with me and hang with me long enough that God can use his word to encourage all of us who believe so strongly in the concept of Jesus Church and the formal and personal worship that happens in corporate and private settings and the tools that God has given us to share and proclaim Jesus!  There are a number of topics to get through so I ask your patience as I lay out some of these practical pieces with the hope that the various worship styles/languages/settings may all be seen as viable forms of making God’s word known while giving people a chance to respond in worship.  In other words, I hope we can all practice this advice to “take each other’s actions in the kindest possible way”.

Accessible Worship - Words Matter 

Accessible Worship
Words Matter

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”  Matthew 11:29

 

The Pen is mightier than the sword, so some would say.   The idea that written word communicates ideas, history, thoughts, movements and moments.  The old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” was one of the early lies most of us believed as a child only to be amazed at how deeply the sting of words can be.  And at the same time we have received great comfort from words spoken by friend.  Words have the power to crush and to elevate and for many people, physical scars heal long before the emotional scars that words bring.  James warns us all about how we use our words and we understand the power that is at our disposal with the use of our tongues.

In my time as an artist in contemporary Christian music in the WELS, I’ve had a chance to be challenged in ways that are not always easy.  Biblical challenges that I had never really thought about 10 years ago, what worship really is, what differentiates effective worship practices in various settings and just how much variety and change actually exists within the culture and community of a local church in different parts of the country.  I have led classical music programs, blended worship, contemporary music concerts and had a chance to help develop worship for what some might call “modern” worship settings (the ones with the stage, lighting and screens).  I work in campus ministry and I wrestle with what it means to walk with college age young adults and what I have found, seen and experienced have led me to where I am today.  That there is a space, a place and a need for all four worship environments and languages (Traditional, Blended, Contemporary, Modern).  So I will admit, I see value and receive value from traditional liturgical settings and I understand the limitations.  I will also admit that my worship language falls more in the contemporary to modern worship environments.  It’s where I hear more clearly and where my heart sings more loudly.

There’s a chance that some of you have stopped reading at this point.  I hope that you’ll continue on the journey because I don’t think it is as bad as some might fear.  I’m not here to say that traditional is bad or irrelevant.  I’m not even going to say that one is better than the other. But I will say that, depending on the circumstances, one will be better than the other for your context and I hope a look at some of these words will help people in the traditional camp see the value of contemporary/blended and modern worship settings when they are done well and that the other camps will also be reminded of the significant history within the church and to see and appreciate what traditional liturgical worship adds to the Christian community and to the glory of God and the story of his Grace.

Over the next several posts we’ll dive a bit more into words that I have found people find to be very divisive or have an overly simplistic definition of what they mean.  My hope is that we can just look harder at and think through more thoroughly what they mean for our people, communities and context and then apply them to our worship settings.  A lot of good people have said harsh things and acted sinfully when it comes to the different environments of worship related to these words and we should try to understand a little bit more about the value and meaning of these words in our context.  They are: Worship, Communication, Language, Entertain, Performance, Relationship, Evangelism and Encounter.

I’m excited to share some thoughts on things that I have learned as a person sitting in the middle of this debate, conversation, war – whichever way you see it.  I believe God put more peace maker in me and that means hearing both sides and trying to understand and communicate within the context of the experiences that God has brought into my life as a WELS Lutheran Christian.  I hope the coming posts will be a benefit to all of us.

Accessible Worship - Worship 

Accessible Worship

Words Matter - WORSHIP

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  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 6:6

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of my favorite definitions that I’ve been given of worship from my Lutheran Pastors is a simple way to understand it.  Worship is God coming to us and his people respond – to him and to one another about him.  One of our realities is that we were all created to worship, to esteem something, to “worth” something and to serve it with our time and attention and respond to it.  We were perfectly wired for this in creation as only Adam and Eve could have known.  A perfect union between the creator and the created who worshiped God with their lives in perfection.  Sin enters the world, it brought death.  First if brought death to that worship relationship.  It put the created things before the creator.  Eventually it brought physical death, a promise that the bible states this way “The wages of sin is death”.  And because some people could not put the Creator God in his rightful place as most important and the only one worthy of worship, people die eternally convinced that life without their creator is better, when in fact it is what we know to be hell.  We were made for worship and to worship and it’s no wonder that God made the first commandment “You shall have no other gods before me”.  Because it always brings death if you get it wrong.                                                                 

If the story stopped at “The wages of sin is death”, then this would be a short piece and we would be done talking right now.  The truth of the matter is that the passage goes on to say “but the gift of God is eternal LIFE”.  The story of Jesus, the story of the bible, is how God was not content to simply leave mankind to permanent death and be done with it, but to rescue it from itself.  To do for us what we could not do, atone for sin against a perfect loving and just God.  We couldn’t fix this, only Jesus could.  This is what the cross of Jesus is all about.  The perfect life, the innocent suffering, the payment for all sin, once for all.  The resurrection from death to prove that his sacrifice was accepted and was enough in the sight of God and then given to us as a gift of faith through the work of the Holy Spirit that we might have a right and an eternal relationship with God.  That we would see and be capable of that right worship relationship.  The cross is what gives us the clarity we need for proper worship.  The fact that Jesus had to endure its shame and pain in our place, but that through it, he rescues all who believe in him and call on his name for forgiveness and for life.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Worship is a lifestyle”?  I love this picture and it helps us understand the heart of worship as something that we live as much as we participate in.  Three passages for our consideration related to the idea of worship as God coming to us.  From Moses time God gave us this command from Deuteronomy 6 says it this way “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  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.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  Here God impresses to all that we are to know the words of God, specifically in this text, his commandments.  Psalm 119 is another great reference for “the law” as the all-encompassing word of God.  I love the picture of this, every moment of every day we are to know God’s word well enough to see it, speak it and apply it throughout our everyday.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 brings this into a very blunt focus.  The word of God is living and it is active and it is applicable to the everyday.  You and I will SEE the word of the Lord at work and it will impact the way we make decisions, share words and live life. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning “.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  These passages from John chapter 1 remind us that Jesus is the word.  In fact the whole bible is centered on the promise of God through Jesus Christ – Jesus is the whole point of it and as we consider worship as an everyday reality, Jesus is the focus of this living word, which is why the bible and mediation on scripture is so important.

Lastly, Jesus (the Word), before he ascended back into heaven shared these final words with his people, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Jesus left us with two thoughts, one being that we are to use this word to make disciples of all nations, bringing the mission of Jesus and his hope that we and so many others might know “life to the full”.  He also said that he will never leave us and he will not forsake us.

For many of us, the one hour church service was the time when we formally thought about worship and even then were and are often distracted.  In our experiences we have seen the disagreements over what kind of style is best and what music and preaching style is most Lutheran.  We argue about the carpet color, the seat cushions in the pews, what people should wear and how often we should go.  I have a hunch that if we understood worship to be part of our everyday, our Sunday opportunities to gather as a community would be even more impactful, special and beautiful.

Worship is God coming to us and his people respond – to him and to one another about him.  The encouragement then is this.  That God is always with us, never leaves and never forsakes.   His word is bound to our hearts as we read and study the bible publicly and privately as we learn to hear our Father’s voice.  Because the word of God is living and active, we will SEE it in the world around us.  In that event, God is ALWAYS speaking and coming to us, whether in the beauty of a sunrise or the tragic news of the day.  God is always speaking.  What makes it worship is that we have an opportunity, in relationship with him by faith through Jesus, to respond to him (prayer and direct praise) or to others about him (proclamation and praise)

Bottom line, God is always talking to us, it’s why memorizing and knowing the bible and the stories of faithfulness are so important.  It begs the question.  If God is always with us and his word is always at work, living and active, what is our response?  In personal space?  In community with others?  In corporate worship?

How might God encourage us to respond to his Grace and coming to us.  How about these passages from Zephania, from God himself:

“Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel!

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;  never again will you fear any harm.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;  do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

When the gravity of this sinks in, what God did to change our identity from sinner to saint, how do we respond?  As we get older and we become more aware of the magnitude and amount of our sins and then see that Grace was always there stretching further than our sins and covering us by God’s grace when we turn in repentance, how do we respond?  When we see with joy that God then purposes to tell the world of the hope and story of God’s ultimate faithfulness, how do we respond? 

 

Accessible Worship - Communication 

Accessible Worship
Words Matter - Communication

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do this all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings”  1 Corinthians 9:22-23


As I’ve had a chance to tour around the country and talk about and help lead worship in a number of different worship service settings and buildings, I have to say that the topic of communication is one of the most important ideas of “Accessible Worship”.  At the end of the day, what we are talking about is making the peace and joy of the Gospel message, accessible to all people without changing or watering down the biblical message that sinners need a Savior and Jesus is the only one that can bring us to life.  Communicating this message is of vital importance and for WELS Lutherans from traditional to blended, from contemporary to modern worship settings, communication is ultimately the driving force and heartbeat behind these different worship styles, settings and environments. 


As an artist leading from the stage, as a meteorologist on radio and a bit of TV and as a public speaker/coach and communicator, I have learned a lot about communication with some excellent advice and education over the years.  One source is from Tom Jackson who is probably one of the world’s best performance coaches working with artists from every genre and who also happens to be a Christian.  As I’ve read and heard others speak on the topic, the percentages may change a little bit, but the idea is the same.  Communication is, at its simplest level, the idea that I would be able to transfer a thought or understanding to you and that you would receive it exactly the way I’m thinking it.  In other words you will fully understand what I am telling you without confusion or indifference.  There are then three key pieces that make communication a reality: content, vocal inflection and what people see.  A poor understanding of the way these three play together will lead us to confusion and miscommunication.  To understand what true communication is, gives us the best chance to have a chance at connecting with people in a way that communicates clearly.

While the percentages vary a little bit, most professionals that I have heard speak or write on this topic all agree that communication carries the three parts with these basic percentages.  Communication is made up of

 

15% = Content    -    30% = Vocal Inflection (how words are said)   -    55% = What People See

 

For all of us who lead with our words, this is a bit of a frustration when you see the percentages.  Especially as Christians, we would say that the words are THE most important piece in the whole of it (and we would be correct).  But remember we’re not talking only about the quality of words, we’re talking about the transfer of information and the meaning of those words from myself to someone else by means of “communication”.  In order for that to be done effectively, these three elements are always present.  If you remove one or two, you come away with problems.  Let me demonstrate.


“I’M SORRY”: When my daughter was younger, she did not like to be wrong (who does).  If we caught her in something that required discipline and apology, we would explain it to her and then tell her she needed to say she was sorry.  Eventually she would finally whip up the courage to do it and out would come a yell of “I’M SORRY” accompanied with a scowl and a foot stamp and then a pout.  If you have kids, or maybe you can remember doing this yourself, but you know the scene.  Let’s review what was communicated.  CONTENT:  She got the content right, the words “I’m sorry” were spoken, which is what we need to do when we are wrong.  Check!  VOCAL INFLECTION:  Well, if we were to take words and actions in the kindest possible way, the best construction we could put on it was that she was passionate.  WHAT PEOPLE SEE:  From the scowl to the violent footstomp, it is pretty clear that the purpose of the content is not being backed up by what we’re seeing.  While the correct words were spoken, what was communicated is actually just the opposite of the content.


“YOU’VE GOT MAIL”: Email is another great example of this.  Most of us who are a little older know that if you are going to reply to an email that is emotionally charged, it is best not to send that reply in the heat of the moment.  If you are younger, here is a huge tip:  Email is always taken in the worst possible way.  You can count on it.  Even a simple “How are you doing man” can have a reply of “fine” and you’ll be wondering what’s wrong with them.  In email, we basically have 15% of communication happening.  Emoticons (the smiley faces) came about to try and take the edge off of the words by letting people know a little more about the emotion behind the words.  “Fine J” looks a whole lot nicer doesn’t it?  We get into trouble with email because it is often missing voice inflection and it’s missing the visuals that help to inform the other person what is truly being communicated.  This is why email and texts tend to communicate less efficiently.


“WORSHIP EXAMPLE 1”: We need to apply this concept to worship as well, because it is a key component of understanding why some people connect or don’t connect with a church or a Pastor or a group of people.  For some people, a traditional church communicates beauty.  It communicates the grace of God and the Gospel message ornately addressed in stained glass windows, paintings, baptismal fonts, altars, pulpits, communion elements, pews, hymnals.  A Pastor that stands in one place for his sermon, speaks in clear deliberate tones and wears a white or black gown with vestments for the church year.  The law and Gospel is preached, people hear and appreciate it because the whole of worship is communicated well.  For other people everything they see communicates the wrongs and arrogances of the church.  They don’t see the beauty and story because of the Pastor who overzealously communicated the law, the see the headlines of the priest who raped a boy, the congregation of people who hate gays and a place for only people who have their lives together.  They wonder why the person up front is wearing a dress, can’t understand the writing style of the songbook and sit uncomfortably in their ripped jeans while they witness “closed” communion.  What they see and hear is not received the way that the church hopes they will receive it and those people leave feeling they have not worshiped.

“WORSHIP EXAMPLE 2”: Let’s go the other direction toward the modern setting.  Some people will see a comfortable place with a bright and friendly entry way and people who are friendly.  They hear a music style that is not too dissimilar to what they listen to in their private lives.  The speaker isn’t preaching at them, but talking in more of a conversational tone, screens clarify and help tell the story.  The refrain based songs are easy to connect to the bible teaching of the day and the darkness of the room makes them feel more comfortable, especially if you’re a guy.   The law and Gospel is preached, people hear and connect the message to their lives because it is communicated well.   For others, the blaring music and style of dress is exceptionally irreverent.  The casual atmosphere and lack of symbolism communicates that this place is lax on biblical teaching.  The lack of formal liturgy and historic content to worship feels more like a concert than a worship service and the “Pastor” won’t sit still.  In a similar way to the first example, those people walk away feeling they have not worshiped.


Communication is important and it is more than the words that we speak and sing.  So often the content is interpreted through how those words are delivered and in this manner, people are very different.  Remember that basic definition of worship as a “conversation”.  God coming to us and his people respond.    What happens if the content of the law and Gospel is correct, but it is not communicated well to someone?   Can that person truly worship if he hasn’t heard correctly the law and Gospel message?  Can she respond by loving the Lord with all her heart, soul, mind and strength?  What happens when we communicate the law/Gospel message well, but the response and words we give them to communicate back to God do not allow them to speak the content in a language that comes from the heart?  Perhaps this is part of the reason why Jesus says to the woman at the well, that it’s not about a building and location.  Temple worship starts in the heart, because that is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  We want to communicate this great message to the people God has put in front of us and to communicate it in such a way that is true to scripture, but also clear to the person so that the peace and joy that flows from that message would be realized.


One last point to consider regarding communication.  If I want you to understand something, then the burden is really on me to tell it in such a way that you can understand.  This is really important.  If I want you to “get it”, then it’s ultimately on my shoulders to do everything I can to understand how I can speak your language so you understand it.  I need to understand how you receive information, process it and use it.  My communication is not what changes hearts, it is the content of God’s word alone that does it.  But it is my responsibility to do everything that I can to communicate it effectively to remove the barriers from a person’s ability to understand it.  If we want to reach people with the Gospel message, it is imperative that we understand the language of our local community and be willing to understand what means of communication work for the people we are serving and reaching.


If a person is offended by the law and rejects the Gospel, we can’t control that.  It is our job to preach it faithfully and part of that is to wrestle with effective communication amongst the people we have in front of us to the best of our abilities.  It is important for any of us who are leading from the front to be a constant learner when it comes to communication, what communication means and how we employ communication in talking with others.


THE BODY OF CHRIST: For those of us who worship in traditional settings to modern settings, it is important for us to understand the value that both have when the content is correct.  It is also important to understand that there will be limits to who we are going to reach and communicate with in our public worship services, because at the end of the day, it’s really hard to make communication happen across all the various types of people in our community.  Rather than beating each other down about how “they” don’t do it the WELS way or “they” aren’t reaching anyone, we need to recognize that some churches will reach people based not only on their message and quality of music/facilities, but how and what they communicate.  Just as the church likes to call itself the body of Christ where there are hands, feet, fingers, brains and toes working together in the local congregation, so too within a synod setting, we have churches that will reach different types of people.  It’s important that we encourage each other to faithfully declare that Jesus is the only way to a right relationship with God, to forgiveness, to peace that lasts for eternity.  How communication works is a driving force in how various churches share and worship publicly.  Those who want to share with a person or a community bear the responsibility of communication.

Accessible Worship - Launguage 

Accessible Worship

Words Matter - LANGUAGE

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.”  Acts 2:5-6



I studied Latin for two years in high school because my parents felt that I had some potential to possibly be a Pastor one day.  So instead of Spanish, I took Latin with the awesome Mr. Schneider my freshman and sophomore years at Wisconsin Lutheran High School.  All these years later, the only words I could remember to say were “Ego tu amat”, which means “I love you”.  This was never going to be an investment for romantic evenings with my wife nor will it be very good at communicating those words to her, but at least I know how to say it to someone I loved in Latin!  In America today, bilingual skillsets are on the increase as more and more students learn Spanish at a fairly young age.  It is seen as extremely valuable to have so that you can communicate with more people because of the increasing dominance of Spanish as a secondary language with Chinese becoming an increasing focus as well.  For some, that ability isn’t just nice to have, it is mandatory.

We would all agree that if we are going to communicate with a different kind of people group that don’t speak our language, visual expressions will only get us so far.  While it is true that visuals are a big part of communication and are extremely helpful if you don’t know the language, we also know that the content of the conversation makes all the difference in avoiding confusion and getting to a quicker understanding.  Those words are important and we all recognize the value they have for conveying a need, an expression, a thought or even feeling.  Not having that common language greatly diminishes the opportunity for people to deepen a relationship and it often leads to frustration and miscommunication.

In the conversations around worship “styles”, much is made about what people see and think about those environments.  Harsh judgments can often be thrown out as people compare and defend their own worship style preferences.  We insist that it must be one way to be true worship or it must be another to truly communicate.  We look at style and we attach words to it like: showy, entertainment, boring, relevant, irreverent, divine, liturgical, watered down, disengaging, exciting… you get the point.  Depending on where you are on the worship map, you and I will use words to defend and deepen what you believe is right and best and you and I will often use words to tear down the competing “style”.  But if the message is the same Christ centered, Jesus centric and if some people connect better to traditional, or modern, or contemporary, or blended – what is really going on here?

In a similar way to the notion of communication, I believe what these different environments provide is the language that some people find is more natural to them, both for listening and for responding.  Contemporary worship is labeled that way because certain people value that communication style because they can hear, perceive and understand what is being said and can then respond to God and to others about God within that language of worship.  Similarly many people appreciate the language of hymns and liturgy, the symbolism and church architecture as well as the order of service.  When a person who naturally speaks, sings and processes information in a traditional service moves to a contemporary or modern environment, they find it hard to hear and connect to the content.  The language is foreign, even though the content may be identical.  Likewise a person who speaks contemporary/modern, finds it very difficult to follow the hymns and the communication style of the Pastor in a traditional setting making it difficult to connect to and understand the content of that worship.

Rather than seeing this as a right and wrong, thou shalt do one or the other, I think it is important to acknowledge that because of how communication actually happens, that worship “Style” can often be more about a person’s native language.  Before we reach for the defensive statements, it is wise for us to wrestle with language when it comes to worship style, especially when the worship content pieces are similar or the same (confession of faith, sin, absolution, readings, message, prayers, songs etc…)  May we look and be willing to consider them with an eye for taking words and actions in the kindest possible way as we seek to speak and enable the languages of the people around us.  May we be a church that is willing to learn other languages as well as the one we own.

Events

Jun12

Concert @ Camp Phillip Family Fest

Camp Phillip Family Fest, W9944 Buttercup Ave, Wautoma, WI

It's a ways away, but we're excited to put a date on the calendar for Camp Phillip's Family Fest in June 2020!  Get there in 2019 and we'll see you in 2020!!

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