Update on Our Liturgical VBS, by Pr. Rossow

I was disappointed during LCMS Convention debate yesterday to see an amendment fail that would have required new starts to use Lutheran liturgical resources. For some reason many in our church body have bought into the myth that using non-Lutheran liturgical resources is beneficial. People like this will object to kneeling or making the sign of the cross because doing such is too Catholic but they do not hesitate to use, and even chase after, basic Protestant resources (Methobapticostal as many like to call them) that are born out of an unacceptable theology that rejects baptismal regeneration and God’s gifts in the Holy Supper. Why would Lutherans not want to use Lutheran liturgical resources? It just does not make sense. We here at the Brothers of John the Steadfast use and promote the historic Lutheran liturgy.

What does make sense is how wonderfully the children of our VBS sang the liturgy this past week at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois. This year we changed our VBS worship by dropping the typical camp-song format and using the same Morning Prayer liturgy that our children use for our Day School chapel each week. They sang it wonderfully. Someone on an earlier comment string quoted Pastor Cwirla as saying: “Give them something to grow into, not something to grow out of.” That truism was on clear display at Bethany this week.

In my previous post I shared a few insights on how effective the liturgical approach was. Here are a couple mpre thoughts, this time from our closing VBS chapel service.

  • On the closing day yesterday we had two chapel services within three hours and the kids did just fine. As a matter of fact, they sang even better at the second service. Speaking of Rev. Cwirla, I felt like I was at a Higher Things Conference with so many chapel services.
  • The pre-service song was LSB #930 “All you works of God bless the Lord.” That song became so popular during the week that some of the kids started singing the refrain while the pianist was merely introducing the hymn. They were so enthused about the song they could not wait to sing.
  • Speaking of piano, as I stated before, the combination of piano and organ for our instrumentation had a quieting effect on the children. Most every LCMS-er knows the uncontrollable buzz of a VBS opening chapel. I was amazed that once the organ or piano started playing each morning the buzz stopped. It is not that way with the camp fire/strumming guitars approach. (Strumming guitars have their place by the way. We use them occasionally at our chapels and even in the Divine Service but not as the primary instrumentation.)
  • The office hymn was LSB #578 “Thy Strong Word.” It was also the theme hymn, It fit well with our week long emphasis on creation. We only sang verses 1,2, 3, and 6. The children liked the hymn so much that some of the boys complained that we didn’t sing verses 4-5! Are you kidding me? How wonderful to have children asking for more hymn verses. Maybe the adults will get to that point some day.

Speaking of strumming guitars in the Divine Service, in the coming weeks I will have our Cantor, Phillip Magness, newly elected member of the LCMS International Ministry Commission, write a series of articles for BJS on our approach to worship at Bethany. We are not “traditional.” We are not “contemporary.” We are not “blended.” The best way we have come up with to describe it is to call it “Authentically Lutheran.” We use a variety of instrumentation (numerous choirs, conga, tympani, strings, brass, bells, piano, accordion, etc.), hymns and liturgies all coming from LSB. The Lutheran Service Book is a great resource for rich, varied Lutheran liturgy reflecting culture from around the world (Chinese, African, Hispanic, etc.). It is far from stuffy and ancient. It is living and breathing but it is Lutheran and historic. Another great example of this approach to worship in a congregation much smaller than ours is Hope Lutheran Church in De Witt Michagan where Cantor Nicole Lepella has worked a model similar to Bethany. As President Elect Harrison begins his year-long program of unifying the LCMS we hope he will take a close look at this approach to the liturgy as a model for the LCMS.

It was a wonderful week. The children sang the liturgy as well and in most cases better than the informal camp “liturgy” that we used in the past. This is not just happening in Naperville and De Witt. In a day or so I will be posting a video from a liturgical VBS at Pastor Heath Curtis’ church in southern Illinois. Like our kids, they sang the catechism songs (see my earlier post) and sang them well. We are Lutherans. Lutheranism is the purest expression of the Christian faith. Let’s not go running after other mixed (heterodox) expressions but be who we are, be proud of it and continue to preserve the faith with these Godly expressions.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Update on Our Liturgical VBS, by Pr. Rossow — 65 Comments

  1. While you’re at it, everyone, here’s an excellent article from the current issue of LOGIA (Holy Trinity, 2010): “Proclamation and Communication in Lutheran Worship Resources,” by Brian Hamer. Much food for thought, and some unequivocal recommendations. A “10”.


  2. Thanks for the mention of our worship in DeWitt Pastor Rossow. We are continually encouraged through the gifts we receive in the Divine Service to teach about our Lord Jesus and His death on the cross for our salvation. We not only teach through the readings and sermon each Sunday, but through the hymns and liturgy.

    Using instruments with organ and/or piano with solid introductions and support throughout the hymn, helps encourage confident hymn singing by the congregation. It also makes those less than “popular” hymns become the “new favorites.” I would always encourage congregations to find and use the talent within their midsts to help support congregational singing. We have a dulcimer player who loves to play with the hymns and is often used (with piano or organ) to introduce some well known hymns. He also plays voluntary music at the offering and during communion. It can be a very meditative time for those in prayer during these times of the service. (it is important to note that when using instruments in worship, they should never detract of the message)

    Churches that do not spend time on teaching hymns through solid musical accompaniment (introductions, hymn studies, and the like), often times find themselves with less than confident singing by the congregation, there by receiving a poor response. The solution then in these churches is to replace congregational hymn singing with “leadership” behind microphones to “take over” and the congregation then become the followers. Having a choir that is confident in singing both the hymns and liturgy can be an asset to a congregation that has strayed from the historic liturgy, but trying to find their way back. Putting the Word of God back in the mouths of the congregation should be a priority. Unfortunately this can be a painful process but in the end the gifts received are rewarding.

    It is a joy to attend a worship where the congregation sings boldly and vigorously the treasures in our Lutheran hymnal (this includes the children!). Other resources such as Liturgy Solutions, provides settings of the Psalms and Hymn Stanzas with accompaniment that encourages participation by even the most timid church goer and choir member.

    I agree with your point about VBS and Sunday School–the children absorb so much when given the opportunity to sing the hymns and liturgy. Teaching the hymns and liturgy to the children is not always easy. It is always “easier” and more comfortable to teach the “regular” sing-along songs to children, though who is it really benefiting? Teaching Christ to the children using the hymns and liturgy gives the opportunity to grow-up steadfast and confident in the Lutheran faith. I have already seen it working in the teens at Hope, it is amazing how they can discern errors in preaching and in song–and they will ask questions about it! Many congregations are filled with youth that play instruments and these congregation should encourage them to play with the hymns. (resources for using instruments in worship can be found at CPH) Using your children in worship through children choirs including handbell and handchime choirs is also a great for teaching us older members about congregational song and participation- hey, if the kids can do it, why can’t we?!

    From one grandfather’s church member to another, thanks again for the mention –

    God’s Blessings-
    Nicole Leppala,
    Director of Music, Hope Lutheran Church-DeWitt, MI

  3. I’ll tell ya. My boys, were raised in “blended” LCMS. Slim pickin’s here,we tried, trust me. They know all the CW lyrics. And yet….they grew in Faith…why?!

    NOT, because of CW, or by the “this isn’t relevant today” crowd. That is how P.T. Barnum made his name & millions.
    It was because of Him who bought those boys & His Holy Spirit..& because they were taught at home, saw their parents reading the Bible & the Concord & singing HYMNS, just because.

    Our sons, “know” when they sing the hymns it is worship, true worship. And they know what they get in “emotional/entertainment” buzz, from CW. My 11 & 12 year olds sons, prefer the Hymns. Adults, take note. Kids are wiser & more discerning than we think!

    I asked why, and their answer was, when they sing the hymns, they “know” the “Bible Stuff” in or behind them.

    What does the “fad” of CW, have to offer them? Not much, & trust me, they know it.
    CW should not make the mistake of answering for those, who they know not. They know the world, not those which belong to Him, already.

    I have been asked to sing in 2/3 Praise Bands. I went, once, for another’s sake. I saw the same issues in 2 out of three. (the third had so many personality conflict of self importance, I knew after 10 min, I’d say no.)

    Personality issues, arrogance issues w/who sings how often, who’s pieces get picked, who stands next to whom or whom stands behind whom. It is about
    THE PREFORMANCE IN CW, not praise, not worship, not Gift. It is about the talent the individual has or thinks they have. There is a grand difference betwixt the two!
    “ME not Him, I’m at the front & it’s about me”. I have never sung w/one. I have sung ancient carols, hymns, in Latin, French, German, & English. CW is cheap, taudry, & pales in the face of what has gone & BEEN TESTED.

    CW is a feel good fix, not worship or praise. A free pass, to feel, believe & spew false & fake doctrine & Scripture.
    Unless the one you praise is Creator & you or any reference to you or humanity is not present, you are not worshipping, praising, or walking humbly with your God.

  4. May God help President (Elect) Harrison to bring people together. Certainly the truth is the truth, but if congregations are told “you’re wrong and we’re right”, they certainly will rebel. We need patience as the current generations learn what they should have learned before about worship. It wouldn’t hurt us to sit in on a refresher class, either. Let us not be quick to condemn others. We can pray that they will observe what we have observed over time. Let’s remember, please, that with a great deal of patience and time studying God’s Word (and not just about God’s Word) we can all grow together in appreciation and understanding of what worship is about, What God gives us through the Gottesdienst, how to gauge what might be reverent and what might be inappropriate in a worship setting, and why. We can also teach the children, and let the children help teach the adults. God can do great things. Let us pray that He will do them among us also.

  5. @Concerned LCMS Lutheran #54

    dear "concerned" and other,.

    If you have not read or listened to all of It's Time by Rev Harrison, please do before making comments implying that Rev Harrison or the new leadership in the LCMS would do anything like "congregations (being) told “you’re wrong and we’re right”.

    This is where Rev Harrison differs from the current leadership. He is a healer, a uniter and he believes that his Koinonia Project, also known as the 85-15 plan will bring 80-85% of the synod into unity in a process similar to that which developed the Formula of Concord in the 1570's.



  6. I agree with you entirely on teaching the children good material. I have taught the children at our church some hymns from the hymnal. A couple of the other Sunday school teachers objected that these hymns were too difficult for the children, especially after the kids didn’t do well with “Alleluia, Song of Gladness.” (tune: Lauda Anima) But only a few weeks later, the children did wonderfully with “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” (tune: Ellacombe). The latter hymn, with some significant melodic intervals, is much harder than the former. The kids just plain liked it better. The kids can basically sing anything they set their minds to singing. Never under-estimate them.

  7. @jim_claybourn #55

    Jim Claybourn,

    I’m afraid my comments were misunderstood. I have read “It’s Time” by Rev. Harrison, and was in no way implying that he would do anything like “congregations (being) told ‘your wrong ad we’re right’.” I was concerned that some posting here would love to see Contemporary Worship (CW) disappear overnight. It was to such posts that I was expressing that we need to give this time, so God can heal and unite this synod through President Harrison and everyone else willing to promote unity around God’s Word. We need to be patient with those who believe differently from us, and I see President Harrison as one who has good judgement as to what is too quick and what is taking too long. We as a Synod also need to discuss together just what contemporary music is better and which is worse and why, and we would do well to help children in our congregations learn a wide variety of musical instruments, so we can enhance worship with cello, flute, oboe, fingerstyle guitar, recorder, and other instrumentation to enhance liturgy and hymns–not in a stand-in-the-front performance style.
    More importantly, we must encourage Bible Study which includes actually opening one’s Bible, learning how to use it, and using it; and a thoughtful discussion of our Lutheran Confessions. Jim, are we on the same page?

  8. @Concerned LCMS Lutheran #57

    Before anyone misunderstands my above post, let me please explain the following line: “We as a Synod also need to discuss together just what contemporary music is better and which is worse and why…” By this, I am here using the term “contemporary music” in a broad sense to refer to any liturgies, hymns and songs that have been written in recent times. I am not using the term to polarize people, but rather I believe that in the last several decades there has been some ecclesiastical music which has redeeming qualities, which is Christ-centered and cross focused. We should celebrate that God gives musical and compositional talents to believers in every age, including ours. But part of the discussion is that some songs are not best for us, due to poor theology (opposes the teachings of the Bible), and other songs might be fine in a non-worship setting. Rather than assuming everything fits a certain stereotype, let’s be fair and admit that there is some good church music out there that is not hundreds of years old. Perhaps we can have irenic conversation with other pastors and lay-persons if we begin with what types of music are edifying in the context of the Divine Service, and how and why Lutheran worship differs from other approaches (eg. Methodist, Baptist, etc.). We can celebrate a form of worship that focuses on God giving us His gifts to us in Word and Sacrament, rather than focusing on us bringing our worship and praise to God (even our best works are like filthy rags). In this discussion and others, we need to speak the truth in love.

  9. it might gladden you to know that the people who sing the historic liturgy the loudest in our church are the children. i have no doubt they enjoy singing/shouting the liturgy. if only for this, i am truly blessed.

  10. @Kim Schave #8
    Try selling this to some of our district presidents. They don’t believe we can do successful church plants without the bands in the front and the pastors showing up with jeans and flip flops on.

  11. We left our former Lutheran church to attend a confessional traditional Lutheran church (best move ever).

    The former was on path of CW and seems embarrassed by being Lutheran — it wants to be hip, cool and mega. Amongst our family, we have an ongoing bet as to how soon it will drop the word Lutheran from its name. But…was it liturgical? You tell me: their CW service OPENS with communion and then moves to the rock music.

  12. I hope and pray that many Lutheran pastors will not assume that children don’t like/can’t learn Lutheran liturgy and hymns. I was brought up in a Lutheran school (many years ago). I LOVED our music and the words as a child. The words in church taught me just as much as what I learned in classes in school. I can enjoy some contemporary music today, but I do not like a steady diet of it. It can be beneficial as “praise,” but not for learning. Thank you, pastor Rossow, for remembering that children can learn this. This is the time to teach it. This is where it “sticks” to you for the rest of your life.

  13. @Walter Troeger #60
    Oh, I know! This church plant was carrying out the DP’s idea from years before when he served a neighboring congregation. The divine service was used, and outreach was accomplished through human care. We didn’t wait to begin worshipping at the 100-in-attendance mark, either. Amaziningly, the congregation grew! Of course the credit for the growth all goes to God! People are desperate for something solid and want the truth, and we’re foolish to think they’re not intelligent enough to see through the gimmicks.

  14. My small congregation is on the verge of dying. I rejoice that we have 18 to 20 worship every Sunday. All are retired. Nobody lives in the immediate area. The area surrounding God’s house is surrounded by gangs and folks who speak Spanish as their only language. My group is happy to just have pot luck Sunday’s, worship and a few attend my Study of God’s Word prior to worship.

    We have a few children that come to church but, only if their grandparents bring them. The greatest need I see in our neighborhood of course is to feed them God’s Word. Reaching them is the struggle. We have a local school that is struggling and I wanted to open our church to bring in the kids and help them with their studies (while playing our liturgy in the background). However, even something that simple is rejected because of zoning laws. Our church cannot even afford to pay a full time salary and so they certainly cannot afford to upgrade the old building to create handicap accessibility and other issues such as electrical and plumbing.

    I have created invitations with scripture and with cane in hand, placed out a number of them. Every young couple that comes to our church walks in, sees the small group of people, and turns around to walk out. I am totally at a loss.

    Our church is the only inner city church that is LC-MS and I want to keep this presence alive. We are out of sight from main traffic. The little leadership I have within thinks programs are the answer and wants to do a picnic or something, thinking that it will bring people in. I do not agree yet I am also at a loss as to how to reach people beyond continuing to preach to ears that have no energy to do much more than listen.

    Years ago I used to walk around the halls of hospitals with my clergy collar on and minister to people who had need. Often I was called to emergencies because I was the only person available to provide the Word. Nowadays that freedom has been taken away and my health limits me to do that for any length of time.

    When I took the call to this church I knew the hardship. The pastor before me told me he could not be paid enough to survive financially and so he took a call. I saw people that still needed ministering and saw an opportunity to reach the community with God’s Word. Yet we cannot afford to put an LC-MS sign on a main road, to let people know we even exist.

    I am looking for prayer and direction from any of my faithful brothers. About 70% of the members are part of one family and their grandmother is quite advanced in years. When she is called home to our Lord, I have a feeling the rest will no longer come to worship. This has happened already when she was in the hospital for a month, very few came to worship.

    Upon my first call out of Sem, I was sent to a congregation where all the circuit pastors pleaded with the council of presidents not to send a candidate. They did anyway and I was forced to come up with a way to merge our congregation with another LC-MS congregation, instead of letting it just die and close its doors. I have been there before.

    My comfort: While I am here I am able to preach God’s Word and minister to the sick. Even if that is all I can do, it is a good thing. However, I know that if I see things to the possible end, I will be placed on CRM which as you all know, is a death knell for pastors. So I walk by faith and pray that God can help me to reach others with the word.

    Brothers, it seems to me that people today look for size and activity and what “you can do for me” activities. While serving a vacancy I saw increase in membership because people just showed up and stayed due to membership size, then once they heard God’s Word via Law and Gospel, they stayed. They did not have an active outreach plan. Some of my own members said they needed more for their children and went off to one of the larger LC-MS churches.

    Is the small church destined to fall? I feel like Jeremiah at times, like I am the only one who see’s this and I am at a loss. I know God has me in his hands and that all things work for Good for those who live in Christ Jesus. However, I keep wondering if I am missing something. Your thoughts?


    P.S When I was serving the vacant church prior to serving my present congregation, the president and the calling committee asked me if I was willing to be on their call list. Then suddenly, after they talked to the circuit pastor who holds contemporary services, I was suddenly off the list. So by God’s Grace I was able to take this call to the 20 active member congregation and want so much for God to use me to reach the community…I am just at a loss at what else I can do.

    I am looking for prayer and direction. Any ministry I attempt beyond the walls of the church ends up on me to do alone. Any attempt meet a local physical need in the community is met with money tie ups and so I continue to do what I can, preach the word faithfully, teach and equip. That is what is most important of course, yet

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