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.


Anonymous said...

Awaiting your next post!

I'm in a similar situation and have a similar attitude. Are the sermon series at Victory originals of the Pastors or are they modified from a reformed source?

Tim Niedfeldt said...

Yeah I'm sort of sucking at keeping up on posting. New job has kept me very busy.

To answer your question, yes, for the most part the series have all been original series. You will find that many of the series follow the lectionary readings. Although granted they are not necessarily in order. But our Pastor does plan and work in a group of pastors to develop them. It started with working off the series created by St. Paul's, Muskego because our congregation started as a daughter congregation of St. Paul's. Pastor would do his Bible Study and use the worship plans they had. Although I think there is the possibility that the planning may start diverging as we are now separate from St.Paul's, I think as of now we follow the same Sermon Series.

I manage and run the website and my graphic artist (and friend) provides all the grpahics for each series. Although the Sermon series are developed by only the 4 pastors (3 from STP and ours from VOTL)it is distributed to an ever growing number of pastors who have by word of mouth asked to be sent the worship plan and graphics.

Now the various pastors use them in whatever way they see fit. For some it's just information. For others they may use a series only here and there. Sure Foundation in NYC uses them only occasionally for example.

The only thing the pastors get though are exactly what you see on the sermon series pages because that is what I use to build the page.

I know our pastor also has 2-3 other pastors that he will collaborate with in the Bible study and sermon outline prep.

In full disclosure there are a couple of series that are loosely based on some non-dom books. such as the 8 Dumb Things and the Chritian Atheist. Although I'm not a fan of this, my Pastor knowing my thoughts on the matter came to me, told me what he wanted to base the series on and assured they would be only very loosely based on the Thesis of the books and would be fully original and Lutheran. He challenged me to review each one and test him to make sure. I did that. I think he did a reasonably good job in that respect although they clearly are not the best ones. They just don't carry the best balance of Law and Gospel as his series such as the current one or the Lenten one we had this year.

So there is a very long answer to a short question but perhaps the insight will make it clearer. You will notice that each sermon has the sermon text as a PDF and the podcast of that sermon attached and goes back nearly 3 years. So feel free to check them out. Also I think there is an irony in the site statistics that show Sermons are by far...and I mean by a LOT...the most popular landing spot and searching terms. From all over the world. So one day I want to see if these sermon series are being replicated around the world. It'd be nice to be a source of sermons coming from a Lutheran source for a change.


Anonymous said...

I like the idea that they are networking together across the synod.

Basing a sermon on a non-dom book might be a little tricky. I don't think we'd want the book to be necessarily endorsed to the congregation by having a sermon based on it.

My biggest issue would be using the actual outline of a sermon from Life-church or similar even if the actual sermon is completely different then the outline. This crosses the "mark and avoid" line for me.

I also prefer the sermon series to follow the church-year celebrating Pentecost, Reformation etc. Thanks for sharing how the process works at Victory.

Tim Niedfeldt said...

Although the series were based on the concepts of the books, there was no endorsement or mention of them. No encouragement to find them and research further or use any of the material. That's why the graphics are different. The series are named differently and the content is original. Also they are based on themes of books...not off provided sermon outlines.

Something Pastor has shared with me is the inherent weakness of the sermon series put out by such places because they essentially are grabbing a set of bible passages and assembling them into a sermon series that suits their theme. Whereas he likes the idea of using the lectionary of readings as a basis to pull out the concepts being presented from the Word. A push into the Word for the Pastor rather than a pull out of the Word.

I think that is evident sometimes in comparing the sermons of the various pastors using the same sermon series and find how different all their sermons become even though they all started from the same breakdown and scripture lessons.

On the otherhand I have seen a few instances where after a collaboration of pastors studying together that their sermons do start sounding similar. The important part is that it is a collaboration of WELS pastors working together. That doesn't bother me too much.