Great Things Found on the Web — Straight Schlueter

I happened on this from Pastor Schlueter’s blog, Straight Schlueter.

Contemporary Worship and the Gospel of Relationship

by Rev Paul Schlueter

I recently had the opportunity to attend the LCMS Model Theological Conference on Worship. During the conference there were a schedule of worship services that were intended to be examples of different styles of worship; the first was entirely traditional, the second was traditional liturgy accompanied by a praise band, the others began to rearrange portions of the liturgy, substitute custom elements for those prescribed by the hymnal combined with a greater array of contemporary worship songs.

As I was observing the different worship options, one thing that was pointed out (ironically by one who practices contemporary worship) was that during the traditional worship service the pastor was impersonal. The man and his personality were divested from the service. And, sure enough, as the contemporary worship forms were in use the personality of the pastor was on greater display.

This alerted me to an interesting reality; in classical Christian worship (ie. “traditional worship”) the personality of the pastor is muted. The man is there, but the personality of the man is inconsequential and it is unnecessary. What is important is that the man is present mainly to be the one who points the worshipers to Jesus. Who he is, how funny or clever he is, is ultimately of no effect. The thing that makes the worship service work has nothing to do with the man. It does have every thing to do with the Word. The man speaks the words and promises of Jesus. The man holds out the forgiveness of sins given by Jesus. The man is merely a vessel, empty and worthless except for the words given him by the Gospel.

Contrast this to contemporary worship. There is of course a continuum in place here, there are extremes. Let’s consider Lakewood Christian in Houston an extreme. The thing that makes that worship work is the personality of the pastor. Joel Osteen’s personality is fully on display. He is clever. He is witty. He tells stories from his own life, about his relationship with his wife, his children, his parents. His jokes and his stories draw the people in so that they are included in his life. Thus the effectiveness of the worship is directly connected to his personal life. The personality of Joel is the key for making the whole experience work.

In former posts I have mentioned what has been termed a “gospel of relationship”. As I have defined this “gospel”, one thing it does is reduce the Christian life to a relationship. The gospel takes on less of the character of forgiveness and instead is defined according to relational categories. It is emotive (a feeling), it is subjective, it is personal to an extreme. Jesus is discussed as a friend or even a lover, God is a daddy, the Holy Spirit is sensory.

If the gospel is truly reducible to “having a relationship with Jesus”, it is then only subjective and relational. Therefore the entire worship service must be structured around those things that are subjective and relational. Take, for example the music. The music style is akin to the genre of the rock ballad, a genre that communicates feelings and ideas of love to the listener. The lyrics of the songs fall in step so that they carry the freight of a love songs to Jesus. (I could swap out the name “Jesus” for the name of my wife in many of the songs and sing it to her without changing anything else). Often during times of prayer there is “mood music” softly playing in the background. Many of the sermon topics have to do with either your “relationship” to Jesus or you relationship to your spouse or to someone else (eg. “Making Your Marriage Work”, “Christians and Sex”, etc.).

Very often, the pastor and his personality is the lynch pin. If the pastor is clever, funny, if he knows how to work the crowd, then the service works. People are attracted, seekers come to check it out and then come back in the following weeks. It is not enough for the pastor to simply point the way to Jesus and His objective means of forgiveness, the pastor has to be a performer and an entertainer.

Perhaps this is why there is so often an awkwardness to Lutheran contemporary worship. The forms don’t fit together. In Classical Lutheran worship the pastor is a vehicle. The personality of the pastor can get lost in the liturgy because Christians haven’t come to see the pastor. They have come to see Jesus. Granted, Jesus is hidden. He hides himself in the Word. He hides himself in, with, and under the bread and the wine. He hides himself in the proclamation of the absolution. But that is where Jesus is. Evangelical worship denies that Jesus actually and physically arrives when Christians gather to worship, so there is the need to conjure him up. Ambiance created through the right music, the quick wit and appropriately timed jokes of a clever pastor provides just the right stuff to set the mood for the romance with Jesus to begin.

This was found on Straight Schlueter by Rev Schlueter.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Things Found on the Web — Straight Schlueter — 10 Comments

  1. Brilliant post!!!!!!
    How do I miss the days (sniff, sniff, ya can’t miss what you never knew), when this was so in LCMS. My pastor/s knew me, very well indeed, but…when he stood in that pulpit…it was about the Solas, not about what he knew or how he knew… us. That was private, that was shepherding ! As any good, right & true, shepherd should be. Duty is duty, but you know, love, encourage & scold, each sheep, by name!

    It makes me so sad, to know, that my sons, will never know, what us kids, knew growing up. (’70-’00). It thrills me to no end, that the stories I relate to my son, of his lineage, my upbringing, and the blessed Pastors my family knew…really knew & were known by…and that blest call, driven by our Lord’s Hand, has lead him to become a Pastor. Even in days & the realm in which we dwell! He, that 12 year old, hasn’t known, but hangs on what was once known, and wants to continue that “first love”. And that, only from his parents & grandparents!!!!
    He, I can only imagine, cannot be the only one, like that. What are we doing, do encourage, those in our own wee midst, in our own congregations?
    Oh, those bygone days of yore…I do so long & miss them.

  2. Hits the nail on the head. The one thing I will add is what happens to these churches when that “leader” pastor departs? Can they go on as effectively (I hate that word in this context) as before? Or will they crash and burn?

  3. Something I noticed at my former church, which had a ‘traditional’ early service and CW second — some of the CW methodologies bled over into the traditional service. In particular, it was never enough to just read or recite the liturgy, but everything had to have some free-form commentary around it to make it more “relevant”. For example, after the confession (slightly modified from LSB), but before the absolution the pastor would offer comments that encouraged the congregation to “truly believe” the forthcoming absolution was valid. This would also occur during the words of institution (sorry if that should be capitalized) and really became more distracting than anything.

    This bridging commentary seems to be an indicator of exactly what Pr. Schlueter is talking about — it is the insertion of the personality, the opinions, the reasonings and the feelings of the pastor into a liturgy that stands very well on its own foundations.

  4. Darren: This sounds like something that you should have talked with the pastor about — your preference for the traditional service and the desire to not mix the two. You may have done this and it fallen on deaf ears, but the sheep are to judge the shepherd and if he is doing a traditional service it should be fully traditional.

    I know I as at a church that had a majority of “lutheran-in-name-only” members who kept pushing for CW type things .. the pastor was very traditional and kept trying to teach the faith, but this was a group led by a bunch of university prof types who thought this was their church.

  5. The good old anthropocentric vs. Christocentric debate rages on. This shouldn’t even be a debate in Lutheranism. “… in the STEAD and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ…”

  6. What really bugs me about the relationship Gospel and its accompanying worship is that they use the right words but in the wrong way.

    They speak of having a personal Savior, by which they mean we are to have a Savior with a personal relationship unique to each one of us – as in, “my relationship with my Savior is unique and personal to me,and not exactly like anyone else’s relationship with their Savior.” A very subjective point of view.

    The ancient Church also spoke of a personal Savior or personal God. But by that phrase they meant that God is not an impersonal force but a personal being, unique unto Himself, rather than unique to each of us.

    The historic Church also has a concept of a relationship with Christ. But the relationship exists because of Christ and because He not only paid for our sins but works through the means of grace. Christ is not the object of the subjective relationship, but the subject of the objective relationship. In the historic Church the focus of the relationship is Christ as He is and as He serves us. As was pointed out, the personality of the pastor is divested so that Words of the Gospel may speak.

    In the relationship Gospel, the whole thing is reversed. the focus of Christ is the relationship He produces. Christ Himself become secondary to the relationship and may be replaced with any subjective fantasy you may imagine Christ to be.

    In the end the relationship Gospel actually destroys the relationship itself just as if a man believed he could have a relationship with his wife by substituting her with a woman of his fantasy.

    The relationship Gospel is neither more nor less than (forgive me) theological masturbation.

  7. I am coming to the conclusion that, like two masters, a pastor cannot serve two types of worship. Either he will love the one, etc., etc. The casualness of contemporary worship will flow into the Divine Service, or the CW will be tainted by Creeds and Confession & Absolutions, etc., right from DS. Typically. most often, the former seems to be the case.


  8. @Norm Fisher #4

    Good point, Norm, but a practical and daunting challenge. A corollary of Gresham’s Law applies as much to worship, teacihing and practice as the original does to Economics, and, last time I looked, Congress had not yet succeeded in repealing the Laws of Economics. Of course, they continue to attempt it, just as the church attempts to mix oil and water and serve multiple masters. The original and its corollaries still stand. You could look it up, by Googling Gresham’s Law. The corollaries you’ll have to dream up on your own, though. Shouldn’t be too difficult.


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