The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Worship in the 21st century

We've truly enjoyed the articles pertaining to "Insiders and outsiders" in The Lutheran magazine (February) and "Not so fast" (May). We believe, however, our discussions need to be focused around inclusion versus exclusion when it comes to worship styles.

What is it going to take to get our leaders to see that reaching the lost is not about contemporary or traditional worship? It's about change. But it's not about changing the message we preach. It's about changing the supporting elements in our worship experience that support our message of hope, grace, peace, love and faith.

When he first started out, Henry Ford sold cars in any color you wanted as long as it was black. Would Ford Motor Co. be in business today if it only sold black cars? Probably not. How many of our mainline denominations are growing? Is it safe to say that most of us have continued to do worship as usual?

We would never say we shouldn't have traditional worship — many of our people love it. But let's move into the 21st century by introducing audio and video equipment, movie clips and skits to reinforce our sermons. Play hymns that don't sound like funeral dirges or those that no one is familiar with. Encourage your organist to play with enthusiasm and bring other musical elements into the service to add variety and excitement into your worship experience.

There is so much to say on this topic, but the bottom line is this: If what you are doing is bringing more people to Jesus Christ, then keep doing it. If not, please go back to your congregation and discuss what needs to be done as the people of God to help others find and follow Jesus Christ. If it means challenging your organist, then do it. If it means introducing audio and video equipment or starting a new service, then do it. We exist to help people find and follow Jesus Christ. Our job isn't to change Jesus' message. Our job is to explore how we present his message in a world that is always changing around us. 


Katherine Harms

Katherine Harms

Posted at 3:08 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/15/2012

I have visited churches with audio, video, skits, and etcetera. I always assume the people who are using them love them, but they are mostly distractions and interruptions in my own experience. I didn't grow up Lutheran and came to this denomination as an adult. The form of worship has always been a huge element of my sense of fulfillment as a Christian. I won't be happy, for example, if somebody is showing video alongside the sermon or flashing a slideshow that supposedly illustrates the sermon points. I have seen it done, and it just seems silly. I want to hear the preacher and pay attention to what he is saying. The pictures flash, lure my eye away from the sermon, and I find myself wondering how that picture fits in. Before I know it I have completely lost connection with worship.
There are good reasons that our worship forms have survived the way they have. I know we don't worship today as Christians did two thousand years ago, but I do know that changes in liturgy and forms have been slow and thoughtful. I think that is a good thing. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Garland Kneten

Garland Kneten

Posted at 7:23 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/15/2012

Music in the best sense of Lutheran worship always hides behind the Word. Worship music which calls attention to itself with rhythmic or melodic seduction no longer serves corporate, participatory worship and falls prey to becoming entertainment only.

Current culture is noisy enough aurally and visually without the "in-your-face" amplification of drums, instrumentalists,  and soloists assaulting worshippers and busy multimedia screenings which jaundice the eye distracting from corporate worship. In contrast to our cacophonous world, the church can provide moments of peaceful and prayerful silence---something which most worship environments no longer promote and few worship services incorporate. Perhaps, this is the reason so many invest money and time taking yoga and meditation classes searching for aural and visual quietude.

Regarding exclusion and inclusion: 1) Worship should not be designed solely to attract outsiders. 2) Liturgy should primarily serve as vehicle for the community of faith---insiders---to worship God in spirit and truth.3) Worship should be judged not for its glitzy and glamorous “sit-back- and-enjoy” entertainment-value but for it participation-value. 

Hymns---old and new---need not be played or sung like drudges. I have yet to hear too many contemporary Christian hymns that provide more soulful excitement than a rousing congregational rendition of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” “Now Thank We All God” or “Praise to the Lord the Almighty”.


sig arnesen

sig arnesen

Posted at 10:37 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/15/2012

Worship in the 21st Century! Exactly. Let's use our coming together to engage the issues of our day. Seems to me we talk/sing too much about glorifying Jesus in music or liturgy while dismissing what Jesus calls us to do, beyond,"Y'all love one another." Let's address war, abortion, death penalty, American 'Empire', sexuality, Occupy Wall St., racism, wealth, just to name a few. I think we have become afraid to address real issues and young people have opted out as a result. (And not only young, either)

Keith Gatling

Keith Gatling

Posted at 6:17 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/17/2012

Let's not forget that when they were new, and even at the beginning of the 20th century, many denominations considered hymnals "distracting" and "unnecessary technology," because you should already know those songs anyway.

And as for the melody and rhythm of the music being seductive and drawing attention to itself, I have to tell you that I find the rhythms and melody of Bach very seductive!

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February issue


Embracing diversity