How Worship styles, languages and environment help to make the Joy and Peace
that comes from the Law/Gospel message accessible to people.
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.