More on Screens

(from Pr. Preus) In a recent blog I made a comment about the use of projection screens during services which solicited no small amount of response. In a private conversation, one of the pastors in my district made the same argument to me that was made in one of the responses to my blog. He argued that the use of a screen will get people’s noses out of their hymnals, force them to look up and therefore project their voices more (Pun intended). OK, let’s grant that singing loudly is better than mumbling the words of a hymn or song looking face down into the book.


That being the case it would seem to me that those who sing the praises of the use of screens during the divine service would devise other ways by which to get the people to look up during the divine service. Let’s see, how could we do that? I know. We could use the same liturgy week after week so that after a while all the people would know it by heart.


It happened in my church last week. I looked out at the congregation during the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis. We were following Divine Service III from the LSB. It’s the one that is basically the old P. 15 from TLH. No one was looking down. The grandmas were swaying in the third row. The moms and dads in the back were fussing with the rug rats, eyes unable to focus on either book or the front of the church where a screen might have been. And they sang. The high-school kids, having just returned from the Higher Things conference where such fare is offered thrice daily, were singing without looking down. Even the middle aged men who have been trained to mouth the words without making a sound were mouthing without looking down. Most were singing loudly and no one was looking down. It made me feel like the shepherds who must have eventually looked up and away from the ground during the first Gloria and perhaps by the third refrain were humming along.


Of course I’ve heard the counter arguments. The uninitiated or visitors can’t sing the liturgy initially without looking down. So the screen will help visitors sing. Well, I don’t think so. Visitors who already know the Gloria will sing it whether it’s on the page or the screen. Visitors who are not familiar with the liturgy might actually have to learn it before they can sing it. But the same applies to almost anything else on the screen. People who don’t know the songs won’t sing them until they do no matter what the vehicle of their presentation. I’ve been in churches which use the screen and when people don’t know what is projected they don’t sing. It’s no different than when stuff if printed on the page.


The best way to get people to sing is to surround them with all sorts of other people who are singing. Every decent choir director knows that. You surround the weak with the strong and they become strong. So in the divine service; if you consistently sing the same liturgical pieces, then, in time, everyone will be able to sing – the old, the young, the uninitiated and the partially initiated, the seeing, the blind, the shepherds and all the heavenly host.


Screens are not inherently wrong or right. They are superfluous in churches which consistently use the liturgy.  

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.


More on Screens — 21 Comments

  1. I was one of few who did not have great disdain for the “screens” but I guess it is because I have gotten used to NOT having the same liturgy every week (I’m not sure where it comes from)and the hymns are not from any hymnal known to Lutherans so I guess without the screens we wouldn’t be able to sing along with the “worship team” and the recorded music at all. Fortunately I am able to attend the “traditional” services now with the LSB and the organ and everything-sort of.

  2. I can’t understand why anyone would want to play Karaoke when they could be reading Gods word which we return to him. I read somewhere that Gods word will not return void. To me reading, saying, chanting and singing the Liturgy and Hymns is more of a bible study. Most of the time I participate but sometimes I just read and think about the words.

    You can’t do that looking at a bouncing ball on a video screen.

    That’s my $0.02 worth,

  3. A church I was member of had screens and they could not project the notes with the verses. When we got the new hymnal I found it a bit difficult at times to follow along without the physical hymnal in front of me so that I could read the music while learning new hymns and liturgical settings. In the end it didn’t matter though, because the historic liturgy and most new Lutheran hymns were undesirable to the powers that be.

  4. it saddened me deeply to visit my old church(now newly rebuilt)and at sunday worship at a contemprery service,to witness what went on,both with the bouncing ball on the screen,and the band with 5 electric guaitars full brass,drums& “6 lead singers”. my parnets both over 70 think its wonderful. But it saddens me because its to much on what we do , not what GOD has done and contuies to do .
    I may be wrong but i feal thant a joyfull noise may be a single voice insted of a modern orchestra. thanks be for my present church an my pastor at ST PAULS an pastor Hein
    ron lockport IL

  5. We use LSB for everything. We still have variety, using settings 1,2,3 & 4 in a rotation of several weeks with each setting. Last summer we had a series of Wednesday evening services and all of us were “forced” to learn Evening Prayer. We can all sing each of the liturgies well enough that we are starting to add Compline to our “repertoire.” We look up, we look down, we sing loud, we sing soft, we mouth the words, and we wrangle children. We do all sorts of things, but we all know whose actions we are there to recieve. Christ is first and foremost at the heart of the worship, the cause for the praise, and the reason we show up at all.

  6. The best thing about a hymnal and a memorized, familiar liturgy, is that neither go blank during a power outage.

    Let’s face it, the projection screen on Sunday morning is technology for technology’s sake. Churches use them because they seem “cool” and “cutting edge.” Most of all, churches use them because the big mega-church in town is using them. Monkey see, monkey do.

    All “reasons” for using projection screens are just ex post facto excuses.


  7. Having worked cross-culturally with deaf people for a quarter century has given me a unique perspective on this issue. In a deaf church, the pastor (and sign-language interpreters, when available) literally are both the “screen” and the musical instrument. Whether a song is fast or slow, contemporary or classical, projected or not, the congregation must keep their eyes on the signer to know what is happening in the service.

    Often the hearing people in our main-streamed worship service will comment on how much more meaningful the service was, when they experienced it in English and sign-language. Some have asked if I would sign the service even if no deaf people are present. Accurately handling, interpreting, and faithfully communicating the Word of God is the goal and the challenge every week. When a hearing person blinks or looks away, they can still follow along. When a deaf person blinks or a deaf-blind person breaks contact with their contact signer communication is interrupted or corrupted.

    Over 96% of deaf people in this country are unchurched. Last year synod spent about $6/congregation to reach all of the lost deaf people in the whole world. Many districts are responding to the Great Commission by eliminating ministry to people whose ears don’t work. While all of us who live long enough will lose some of our hearing, deafness in these United States is a low-incidence handicapping condition. Do you know how the hammer of God’s Law is being translated to lead deaf people in your area to despair of saving themselves? Do you know what your district is doing to reach terrified sinners with a Gospel that doesn’t require them to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, heal or save themselves?

    The next time you see a deaf person, the odds are 96/100 that they are unchurched. http://WWW.DeafJesus.Org and http://www.LivingWordfortheDeaf.Org are sites with LCMS resources for reaching the lost and discipling the saved whose ears don’t work the way hearing peoples’ ears do.

    God’s Blessings in Christ,

    Rev. John Fritz,
    Pastor, Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church
    Aurora, Illinois
    Pastoral Advisor for Living Word for the Deaf

  8. Pingback: » More on Screens | Outer Rim Territories

  9. As someone else mentioned, usually only the words and not the music are projected onscreen. How does this make things easier? I’m not going to sing if I don’t know the notes!

  10. Could it be that screens are just another case of the dumbing down of America that Christians are just now discovering? Don’t teach them how to read music–take it away. . . Don’t teach the liturgy because it doesn’t fit on a screen. . . Don’t teach the hymns because they don’t work on a screen. . .Don’t teach anything too complicated because they’ll never learn it. . .
    Maybe we need to promote learning, not giving in.

  11. I guess I’m a bit grumpy today, but I see video screens as little more than pacifier for TV addicts. Think of it as the adult version of a zip lock bag of cheerios and a small toy.

  12. Video screens create a captive audience. (I suspect that may the motivation for them in some cases.) You have no choice but to watch them because even if you know a hymn by heart, you never know when someone is going to throw in something different and make you look foolish if you aren’t following the screen. I observed this a few weeks ago when I attended a service at an non-denominational church. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the screens even during the monotonous repeated refrains. Sure enough…every once in a while there was a slight variation in the refrains so you had to keep watching.

    The same is true of services printed out in the bulletin, but they are a little less insidious because you can at least look ahead to see what is coming and judge whether or not there is a surprise. I don’t understand why it is better for people to be looking hypnotically at screens rather than glancing up and down from their hymnals.

  13. This entire discussion is a waste of time and a complete distraction from anything eternally significant. Is it really more important to sit in a pew and read from a hymnal because that’s how we’ve always done it?
    Isn’t God much more concerned about the state of our hearts than the mode by which we worship. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Why are people so passionate about manmade issues and so lax when it comes to people actually following, loving and serving Christ???

  14. JD,

    You make a very good point about lips, hearts and genuinely serving Christ.

    Pastor Preus has the same concern you do. He wants people to worship God with their heart and not just with their lips. He also wants people to follow, love and serve Christ.

    The video screens are a part of a larger issue in the church. Video screens in the Divine Service are not in and of themselves evil. However, they are an innovation that is instrinsic to a movement in the church which has chosen to dumb down the worship and preaching of Christ in order to accomodate the secular culture. Overall this movement has led congregations to worship Christ more superficially in doctrine (less meaty, more entertaining sermons) and in practice (follow the bouncing ball as we sing praise songs that are less doctrinally rich than what the church has always sung and sound more like catchy jingles in a McDonalds commercial).

    This overall movement has led the church away from true heart worship and towards a more superficial, culturally relevant worship of the lips.

    Pastor Preus has not claimed that we need to do things the way we have always done them. Like you he is concerned about true worship of Christ with the heart and through a careful study of church history, scripture and church practice, has discerned that the video screens (and other inovations) are harmful to genuine worship of Christ.

    Pastor Rossow

  15. The Divine Services is where our doctrine is manifest. Whenever we gather for corporate worship we sing and speak words that are given to us whether via a hymnal or a video screen. To have hymnals in the pews and hymnals in the home means that I will not have words put in my mouth that I am not familiar with, that cause me to doubt and wonder later. And should I not understand I can open my hymnal in the privacy of my home and read them again, and if I still do not understand I may ask my Pastor to please explain them.
    When I visit a congregation I have never been to uses LSB or TLH, I can be confident that what I will say and sing in the Divine Service will not only be orthodox, but I will be able to worship with fellow Christians (though they be strangers) with every bit as much familiarity as my own congregation. And so a hymnal in the pew is a mark of unity as well, and in my opinion unity is more of a reason why hymnals have fallen into disuse than is preference for contemporary music.

  16. jd This discussion is very important to me anyway. i am reminded of the bible story of the man praying in the middle of the temple an tearing his clothes,wile another prayed in the dark shadows. God look upon the one with the quite prayer with favour. To me this is like the current big band, big video, relly big show type of church service.
    no i dont need a video screen to sing hymns or a big band to feel the messege of Gods holy Hebrews 12 vs 28
    let us be thankful,and so worship GOD acceptably with reverence and awe ,for our GOD is a consuming fire. also with paslm 96vs 9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness, tremble before him,all the earth. that is why this is very important to me. thanks ron

  17. JD,

    Your comment contains three straw men, two false dicotomies and one ad hominem.

    Straw Man One:
    “Is it really more important to sit in a pew and read from a hymnal because that’s how we’ve always done it?” Read the other comments again. No one is arguing for hymnals or liturgy “because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

    Straw Man Two:
    “Isn’t God much more concerned about the state of our hearts than the mode by which we worship.” No one is aruging that the God is more concerned about the mode of worship than the state of the heart.

    Straw Man Three:
    “Why are people so passionate about manmade issues and so lax when it comes to people actually following, loving and serving Christ???” No one is arguing that we should be lax in following, loving and serving Christ.

    False Dicotomy One:
    The Mode of Worship vs. the State of the Heart. The two can’t be separated. As another comment pointed out, The mode of worship is determined by the state of the heart. And if the state of the heart is all that matters, why not give up both hymnals AND screens and let each person sing his own words to the music?

    False Dicotomy Two:
    Concerns about Worship vs. Serving Christ. Again, the two go together. Proper service to Christ is receiving His Means of Grace. This means that we will always be concerned about the form and substance of worship.

    One Ad Hominem (and a very tired one at that):
    You quote our Lord, “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’” Rather than dealing with the concerns and arguments on this thread, you are trying to dismiss their authors as Pharisees and hypocrites.

    Jesus spoke these words against those who, “break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition” Matthew 15:3 and “leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” Mark 7:8. Unless you can show that any of those who have commented here are breaking or leaving the command of God in favor of tradition, you should refrain from making such accusations.

    Remember, screens are as much “traditions of men” as are hymnals. Jesus did not condemn the tradition. He condemned those who held to the tradition and disregarded the commands of God.


  18. WOW, Screens. Who would have thought that so much can be discussed from a starting point of projection screens being used in our churches. Now, what about the use of the screens to project movies and recorded dramas, in the place of the Reading of the Day or the Sermon? (yes an LC-MS parish)
    Lex Ordandi est Lex Credendi

  19. 1)nothing sounds better than a good “Lutheran” hymn sung in good Lutheran 4 part harmony. How do you learn that harmony with only the words on the screen?

    2)I also like to go back and re-read some hymns that have a great message. Sorry, can’t do that if the words are gone from the screen, can you?

    3) If you aren’t holding a hymnal what do you do with your hands? That’s right, you wave them around in the air, distrscting everyone around you, or maybe you even start clapping, distracting everyone in the church. Oh yeah, that really adds to the “worship experience”, doesn’t it??

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