Deeds lead to Thoughts -or- No, you really can't worship like a Baptist and expect to stay Lutheran
An Alert Reader has sent us a clipping from Concordia-Seward's student newspaper. This is my alma mater and my own dear wife used to edit this paper, The Sower. Alas, how things have changed. I will reproduce the entire article and comment on just the bit I will put in bold, which is the key to understanding more than just the "disco ball" (as our Alert Reader put it). I have deleted any student names because, hey, if somebody went looking in past issues of The Sower they'd probably find a lot of stupid things I said when I was 19 as well.
NEW EQUIPMENT COMPLEMENTS WORSHIPLighting and software makes a multi-sensory experienceby [Student A] Staff WriterPraise on Wednesday evenings and chapel on weekday mornings offer opportunities for students to worship outside of the typical Sunday morning tradition. With the beginning of a new school year, the way Concordia is worshiping is changing with the introduction of new lighting."Lighting is a gift from God, and in this community, he's given us lighting to manipulate," said Assistant Professor of Music Peter Prochnow.According to Prochnow, there are many components that make up the new system. These include the lighting, sound [Ach! where's the Oxford comma? Is there no decency, sanity, and clarity left in the world? - +HRC] and production software called ProPresenter. ProPresenter allows the images to move on screen behind the lyrics for songs.In order to get the system started, Concordia partnered with Inspirmedia, located in Lincoln. The company has helped with the 2010 National Youth Gathering and with the Room 211 worship services offered at Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln.According to Junior [Student B], before the first night of Praise the student-led Praise team was worried the lighting would seem more like a performance of be a distraction.He said the team was nervous that the new technology might not work the way they needed it to. According to [Student B], during sound check something was loud and seemed "off.""God showed Himself on the first night," said [Student B]. "People are still focused on worship and who we're worshiping. In that respect, it's been a success."One aspect of this success, according to [Student B], comes from the amount of energy he saw in the first two Praise services. he felt that there was more focus on worship and learning from the speakers. He also said there was more participation in worship, rather than just sitting back."People were more interested in being a part of worship rather than letting worship happen to them," said [Student B].According to Prochnow, these types of changes are happening in LCMS churches across the country."I haven't run into a church that isn't doing or trying to do this," he said. [Sic! Some Assistant Professors just don't get out much! - +HRC]Prochnow said the system creates more of a concert atmosphere in worship services, but instead of being excited about the performance, the excitement is about the message of what God is telling the student body.Campus Pastor Ryan Matthias said [that when] he first began working at Concordia three years ago, Weller auditorium [NB: Seward has never had a dedicated chapel. - +HRC] was almost "devoid of sensory experience." [Almost - before, there was only hearing the Word, seeing the ordained servant of God carry out his duties, and smelling, touching, and tasting the Holy Communion. - +HRC]"What we do with the lighting is to enhance the beauty of what God does with light," said Matthias.Matthias compared the smoke machine used in Praise to God appearing to the Israelites as a cloud of smoke. He said the fog gives the light something to reflect off of."Our God is a creative God. He does things in an elaborate way," said Matthias. "The beauty in worship is a constant reminder that this is the God we worship."[Picture of three students, one with a guitar, one at a trap set, and one holding a mic. Caption: As one of the Praise team leaders, junior [Student B] introduces and closes each Wednesday evening worship gathering.]
The most important bit in this article is the first line that I put in bold. "God showed Himself on the first night," says Student B. Where did he learn to talk like that? The same place where he learned to worship, to sing, and to think about how men interact with God (i.e., worship): not from Lutherans. Lutherans are rather sticklers for how we talk about theophany. This quotation is simply off the Lutheran farm. It's how Pentecostals and Evangelicals talk and think about God. How does God show Himself for these folks? In the "amount of energy" that one "feels" in the crowd.
And, as Dr. Nagel might say, who is running the verbs? This young man at Seward has learned - no doubt from his home parish - that we are not to "sit back" in worship and "let worship happen to us" but instead be full of "energy" and "participate." What does he mean by this? What is not participatory in DS III? What is more participatory about a "concert atmosphere"? What is worship for? Sitting back and receiving, or "feeling" "energy"? In what proportion to each other, etc?
The Campus Pastor seems no help as he feels that worship before the stage lighting and fog machine was "almost devoid of sensory experience." And the Assistant Professor of Music can't say that he knows even one parish that isn't striving for lights, camera, smoke machine, action. The mind boggles.
My kids are a long way off from college, but here's my thinking at this point. Small private liberal arts school are really expensive and based on my life experience since I graduated, I don't think they educate any better than cheaper schools. It might be worth shelling out the bucks for a truly rigorous Lutheran education - bu, well, you read the article. Is this the sort of education about worship you want for your kids? At 20 grand a year? But it might still be worth it - remember how I started this post, about meeting my own dear wife at Seward. Hard to put a price on that. But in these latter days of Higher Things campus ministries and online match making - perhaps there are more efficient ways for Lutherans to find each other.
I dearly love my alma mater and know that it prepared me very well indeed for seminary and a life of service to the Church. But it is also clear that today it is not the place I graduated from just over a decade ago. And then there is this argument: if students from strong, Confessional parishes and families stop going to the Concordias they will only get worse.
Well, as I said, I've got quite a while to think about it yet. But for those readers who currently in the college market, what have been your thoughts? Where are your kids going or looking to go to school? How did you go about evaluating each choice when it came to the spiritual prospects of each school?