On Being Welcoming, Relevant (& Contemporary?) in Worship

I have a great job – I get paid to visit Lutheran churches.  Actually, that’s not what I get paid for, but a large part of my job involves traveling to Lutheran congregations and meeting with their pastors and lay leaders.  I have visited congregations from Northern Virginia through New England, and have been blessed to see the Lutheran church in its diversity.

I just returned from New England, an area better known for its Congregational, Roman Catholic or Christian Science churches rather than its Lutheran churches. Three of the Lutheran churches I visited have thriving "contemporary" worship ministries – rock bands lead music, words and graphics and videos projected on the wall, etc.. Yet if these churches have taken a multimedia page from the Evangelical or Willow Creek book, they hold fast to the theology and sacramental practice of our Lutheran tradition. The pattern of worship at each of these churches follows the shape of the traditional rite, and Holy Communion is celebrated regularly, if not weekly. For the most part, these churches have achieved what I’ve been looking for – Lutheran congregations rooted in our theological and liturgical tradition yet using new technology, music and cultural idioms within that tradition.

I’m intrigued by this way of doing ministry. Perhaps more than the "contemporary" element, I am glad to see congregations that identify what is essential in worship – a certain order of worship, the celebration of the sacraments – and then strive to embrace those core elements in meaningful ways for their communities.

And that is perhaps the most important part of this – each of these churches have been intentional (and successful) in reaching out to their communities. New England is not an area rich with Lutherans – one pastor told me that their church had grown to a certain point but then stopped, "because we had found all the Lutherans in the neighborhood. We could either try to get more Lutherans to move to town, or we could change the way we were doing things. We changed so that we could reach out to people who weren’t raised Lutheran or who weren’t raised in the church at all. Since then, we’ve more than tripled in size."

I don’t think that the "contemporary" element is why these churches are going. I think it is the "welcoming" element. Each of these congregations were willing to change from their (perhaps stale) ways to rethink worship and ministry and life in Christ. When they did – when they adopted an outsider-friendly way of doing things – these churches grew.

Mark 2:27 – "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath." An imperfect analogy to a Biblical story, I know, but it seems to me that our gathering around the Word and Sacrament are in large part for the benefit and comfort of humankind, of God’s people. As such, our Sunday gathering should be conducted in culturally relevant ways for the people of God today, rather than unreflectively continue using the worship practices and cultural idioms of prior generations.

I could go on a million tangents at this point, but I’ll leave it for now. Have a great weekend!

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