Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Technology of Change...

It does not take more than a few seconds to search for articles and videos (click here for a very informative video) on change and technology. You can find churches with names that capitalize on the rapidly evolving landscape of technology (epichurch, relevant church, etc.). Even more, you can find churches whose worship is shaped by and dependent upon this very technological change (video, twitter, industrial architecture, instrumentation, communication, etc...).

The change is dizzying -- not just to an old fogy like me but to young people as well. The rapid pace of change is felt beyond technology into fashion and family, work and worship, recreation and resources. It is nearly impossible to keep up with all the change. I know personally of people who fear that rest time will leave them behind as change continues while our minds and bodies sleep. What will I miss if I am not tuned in to the internet, tweeting, facebooking, etc... For example, I learned of the status of a person having surgery through her facebook page postings done on her I-phone in pre op, recovery and her room following the surgery...

But all this change can leave people vulnerable in ways that past generations could not imagine. Because of the rapid pace of this change and its immediate impact upon people (for good or for ill), we are all tossed about on this sea of change without much control about where things are headed and without much time to reflect upon where things have been. Almost instinctively, many young folks have sought to balance this rapidly changing landscape with an anchor in worship forms that draw upon the rich treasures of the past -- things like chanting, incense, elaborate ceremony and ritual, and silence.

I do not think this is a fad. I think that it is a cry for stability and security in a world with little of either. Their faith is finding a home in the yesterdays that so much of Christianity has forgotten and so many Christians had written off as old fashioned or irrelevant.

But for those who rush to add Evening Prayer with incense to the list of services offered at the local Baptist, non-denominational, or emergent church, I suggest caution here. These folks are sophisticated enough to know when something is not authentic -- when things are being done without meaning or connection to what is believed and taught.

For those in liturgical traditions like Lutherans, it is a call for us to stop trying to be techno churches with generic worship forms driven by the latest rage and to start being true to who we say we are in our Confessions. Not because it is in style but because it is authentically who we are. In the face of such rapid change, it is time for us to wake up and smell the roses. When we act like half-baked Baptists, non-denominationals, and emergent whatevers, that is exactly what we are half-baked wannabes sort of like the Platte River in Nebraska (where I come from) -- a mile wide but only an inch deep.

I believe that this techno moment of rapid change is a kick in the pants to us as Lutheran Christians -- be who you are. Can you hear the voice of Obi-wan Kenobe saying to Luke "Trust the force?" You should. Trust in who you are. Word and Sacrament people... Law and Gospel people... Creedal and Confessional people... Ritual and ceremonial people... Catholic and evangelical people... For too darn long we have felt the pressure and sought to be something foreign to us in order to be missional, to embrace a new paradigm, to be transformational... It ain't working. We are even more adrift, divided, and confused. We cannot keep up with all the new things some are doing. BUT... we don't have to...

All we need to be concerned about is being faithful to the Word and Sacraments, to the Law and Gospel proclamation of the Word, to the Evangelical and Catholic identity of our confession and history, and God will bless us. Granted we need to connect with people, welcome the stranger, incorporate the newbie into our astonishingly rich liturgical life, and assimilate people into the family of faith and community of Christ which is the Church... we need people seek out the folks around them, who like them are dizzied by the rapid pace of change and desperately seeking an anchor for their faith and life... we need Pastors comfortable as apologists for the faith in living rooms and coffee houses as well as liturgists within the house of God...

Lets be practical. In my home town here of 130,000 people there are a ton of churches doing the techno, cutting edge, happy clappy, with it style of Christian worship and only 2-3 congregations sticking with the liturgy. Those sticking with the liturgy are not declining. We have people who come here for the first time and return -- why, they cannot explain, but they have to be back, to sit in the pew, to see what is happening, to hear the Word of the Lord talking about sin and forgiveness, death and life, and to witness the mystery of the meal where heaven's food becomes our earthly eats... and still they come... and they will continue... not because of me but because of the Word and Sacraments which do God's bidding and return to Him with the fruits of their gracious work...

I think it is time for Lutherans to put away the Halloween costumes that mask our identity in order to look like the latest in thing and to be content with who we are... Remember the wise old saying, "the church that marries the spirit of the age will be a widow in the next generation..." We can try all the face lifting techniques available but how many times will we change before we will not remember who we really are?

6 comments:

Janis Williams said...

AMEN AND AMEN!!

From a former half-baked Baptist!

Zelwyn Heide said...

Thank you for this, Pastor Peters. It is refreshing to hear such things.

As Janis said, Amen!

revfish said...

Great post. Wow.
Ben

Rev. Tony Masinelli (LCMS) said...

I thought you were in good shape at first, brother, describing our culture well, but then worship bias began to seep into the article. I'm saddened by your use of disparaging references like "happy clappy." That's more than just flippant; it's hugely disrespectful - not to mention factional - toward those who are using Lutheran praise worship as a vehicle for communicating Law/Gospel to the lost and bringing them to the cross of Jesus Christ. (After all, we're called to be fishers of men, not swappers of fish between aquariums.)

Bottom line: We live in an mp3 world, yet some people are still pushing vinyl records as the only "authentic" way. That assertion isn't true, and the market (just carrying the metaphor) is responding accordingly: "See ya'!" Note that I'm talking about the vehicle itself, not the content.

As a denomination, we're in decline, and it's not by accident. We bear a degree of responsibility for putting an idol of cultural Lutheranism before the Gospel. Now, I'm not saying we should do away with the older form. We should use what communicates the Gospel clearly to given audiences. At my church, that means services are 9 a.m. traditional, 10:30 praise, and 12:30 bilingual praise (Spanish/English). Want to guess where all the growth (640%) is, and which service is declining as the people who like it grow older and pass into the arms of the Lord?

Reaching the lost must be a higher priority that merely being comfortable. The command we received is to gospel all nations, not create churchy country clubs where you or I merely feel affirmed. In some places, traditional worship will work. In others, praise worship will. In still others, more than one form will be needed. As a vehicle for communicating the Gospel, no one form is always more "right" than another, any more than speaking German is more "right" than speaking American English. The speaker has to know who the listener really is and communicate accordingly.

If anyone can show me in the Bible where more than the core elements of worship are delineated - or where an exact form is commanded - I'll agree that there's only one way to do church. Until then, I'm going to advocate that we should not shackle the Gospel to any one form. It's not biblical.

Traditionalists need to remember that the things they regard as standard practice (including organ music) once had a beginning...and there were people who at that time termed these things "fads" and empty innovations, too. They mocked what they didn't understand. Please, don't make the same mistake today.

Rev. Tony Masinelli
Senior Pastor
Messiah Lutheran Church, LCMS
Naples, Florida

Janis Williams said...

To pastor Masinelli,

I am the 'half-baked' (yes, that is scriptural) Baptist who came from the 'happy-clappy' type worship. I'm sorry, but style is NOT neutral.

I don't doubt that you are reaching folk in your ministry. I just wanted to say that there are people out there who are tired of the type of worship 'everyone wants.'

You asked for scriptural proof. Of course proof texting is a big thing with Baptists. I don't have one. But if Jesus saw fit to remain within a Jewish liturgical tradition throughout His ministry... I would guess the rabble weren't traditionalists like the Pharisees (of course I can't KNOW), yet Jesus didn't cater to them. He ate with them, ministered to their needs, but He attended synagogue, and even participated in that traditional worship. Jesus din't give His listeners what they wanted; He gave them what they needed. Yes, the Gospel of the Kingdom was given, but did He adapt it for them? I think not.

Of course, they didn't have mP3's...

Anonymous said...

Rev. Masinelli: To your post on Oct. 8; I have a theory that unfortunately the church is moving in a more "Let's do it to please humans, not please God" type of service, Lutheranism included. Our church does two and two services, two traditional, two contemporary each month. This past Sunday, while sitting in church and participating in the contemporary services, I started noticing the years the contemporary songs we were singing were written. The earliest song we sang was from 1978. What are the 80s and 90s generations known as? The ME generation. If you look at the songs written after the late 1970s, early 1980s, you're going to find the majority sing about what it feels like to worship God and what the individual can do for God and what God can do for the individual. After thinking on this for a couple of days and looking at other contemporary Christian songs during this time, it became more and more evident that the church is swinging to focusing on what the individual does to worship God instead of God sending his Son and Grace to us to save us. Go back and look at the 1942 Lutheran Hymnal and you are going to find very, very few songs with this theme. The majority, I dare say, are of us praising God for sending his Son to redeem us and God's everlasting love for us as sinners! I use these songs and traditional services to edify my faith and my belief. Believe it or not, the old, stogy songs of yesteryear are the ones that gratify my soul the most! The songs of today leave me feeling empty with a smile on my face. They're upbeat, but they do nothing to feed my soul. We as a church should be worried about the edifying of a member's soul and not if a song makes us feel good about worshiping God! I don't need to be entertained when I go to church. That's what the secular world (i.e. movies, music, etc.) is for ...