Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Contemporary Worship

I will have to admit that I have certainly changed over the last 5 years in regards to my thoughts on worship.  I started out as a gung-ho advocate of contemporary worship and exploring all kinds of worship options to coming around 165 degrees on those ideas.  Now I find myself instead of being a gung-ho advocate to hopefully being a more conservative watchdog on practice and doctrine. 
After debating for so many years on the subject, many warnings and pitfalls were espoused to me over those early years.  I tended to imagine that they were the warnings and pitfalls of worry-warts and pessimists.   However over time I am seeing that the dangers are real.  Other congregations in the WELS have in my opinion gone over the top (jumped the Lutheran shark if you will) and left the realm of the reasonable and prudent.  They should just declare themselves a non-dom and then at least their confessions will match their practice. 

I have noted some of the dangers that have been noted in the blogosphere in the past do crop up here and there at Victory.  With so many new Christians in the church the spiritual maturity is just not there and left unchecked that could steer a church in the wrong direction.  I stay at Victory because I believe the Pastor keeps a good doctrinal discipline even in the face of a large number of members who are not very doctrinally astute.  Victory also prominently and regularly provides the sacraments, has confession and absolution, a rock solid message with a good balance of Law and Gospel, and uses traditional hymns (albeit in contemporized form of a band) in its service.
I will admit that of the warnings and such I have heard over the years there are a few things I just don’t worry about.  On-screen projection of the order of service, hymns, readings,  etc are not a problem.  They are quite helpful.  I don’t care if it is for a smells and bells traditional service or a contemporary service.  It’s just a good way to guide people through.  Yes they can use the front of the hymnal.  Yes they can use it listed in the bulletin and Yes, it can be on the screen.  I will admit that I like that our Pastor does NOT put up graphics in his sermons except very very rarely.  I think this makes a big difference in how his messages come across and minimizes distraction.

The second thing I just can’t get worked up about is contemporizing hymns.  I don’t think playing classic Lutheran hymns by a band makes the music “evangelical” or anthropomorphic or less focused on Christ as the center of worship.  I suppose there is always someone or some artsy fartsy person who is “feeling” the music or someone noticing the devil’s chords or deciding that distortion on a guitar in some interlude is taking the focus off of Christ.  But for me personally, I don’t see the difference in the song being played by a band or a church organ.  It’s the words that count..not the style. I’ll be honest here, although I recognize the dangers in the warnings of music style affecting worship, I believe the problem of letting this happen is simply weakness or Christian immaturity.

However, this leads me to what I have come to dislike a decent amount and that is in finding good modern songs. So I have no problems with modern styles but I have a growing problem with modern song content.  Except for a few modern songs we do that I totally dislike for their over sanctified messages( with no reference to the justification that would prompt such sanctified activities) , the songs we play are reasonably acceptable in content (yet certainly not rich in content…but they don’t totally fail).  However I think I dislike the praise song format more and more.  The endless refrains and repetition…OMG.  Is it bad if the sound guy loses track of where we are and just is waiting for a song to mercifully end? Yeah if I never heard another song in church written after say…1940 I would be happy.  I would love to transform Victory to play band versions of TLH.  That would be sort of Koine-like I suppose.  I know I am in the minority at Victory on this as I get older and more curmudgeon-like.  I hear people asking for more modern content and asking the questions why we keep those old hymns in there.  Sigh.  The irony is that I have been in traditional services where the music is focused and on message but the sermon was often poorly focused.  Here I get great sermons but our music is poorly focused.

In another post I will put down my thoughts on larger debates within the WELS as I have also transformed a bit on some of these brewing issues as well.

Victory Update

To refresh your memories, just over 5 years ago we left our large congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran in Muskego to join a small band of people which was about 12 in size at the time to start a mission congregation in Franklin, WI.  This congregation was started as a daughter congregation of St. Paul’s and is a bit different from most other congregation starts in the WELS.  The first goal was that this church would not be the typical daughter congregation which simply became a new regionally convenient church for existing WELS members.  This mission was chartered to be a church trying to reach the unchurched in a rapidly growing suburban area.  This mission was started with only a few people and hardly any money.  We called a pastor who had hardly anyone or anything as resources to help him get going. 

However God has blessed this mission and it is growing and doing what it has been chartered to do.  The list of weird things that can happen to a nomadic mission church is becoming ever longer. The Polonia Soccer Club provided many such stories involving sewage, furnaces, power outages, and the dealings with the aftermath of countless QuinceaƱera’s.  Now we have been meeting in Showtime Cinema for a couple of years and our troubles are different.  Now we have to change our Bible class time because of the theater’s contractual obligations to show JarJar Binks the proper number of times per day.  Seriously..who needs to see JarJar Binks at 11:30 on a Sunday….or ever.
I continue to help with the sound system control and more recently in beginning our webcast streaming. It was unfortunate that right when I was beginning the streaming, that Marcus Cinema’s bought Showtime and discontinued the internet connection. So now I am creating a webcast after the fact and posting it instead of being able to stream it live. Oh well. I still host and maintain the website and podcasts etc. Katie is an active member of the Bible Quest team at least for seven more weeks.
However the congregation continues to evolve.  We have been self-supporting for the last three years. We have added a half-time pastor and a half-time Children’s Ministry Director.  We have roughly 200 members and even our 270 person theater is getting more and more crowded each Sunday.  We have incorporated and are in the process of separating our books from big mamma St. Paul’s, Muskego who has graciously been providing bookkeeping and office staff support for us all this time.  We are in the midst of finalizing a 17 acre land purchase at the intersection of Loomis and Ryan Road.  This will be exciting to begin the next phase in finding a permanent home.  Honestly it is tough to find space to accommodate this many people in southwestern Franklin.  Also it will be nice to not have to pull out an entire church from behind the screens and setup up everything every Sunday morning and then take it all down after the service.  However I’m sure the building part will still be another 5 years away if I was to guess.