Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Our Liturgical Supper? The Sound Board Operator from a Local CoWo Church, by Pr. Rossow

A few weeks ago a young man in his mid 20’s, dressed in an understated post-modern, Elvis Costello sort of look, starting showing up at our mid-week Lenten services. He told us that he was from a local CoWo church (Contemporary Worship). We were kind to him but as we do with all such visitors from other parishes, did not encourage him in any way to join our church. We are straight-forwardly unapologetic to all of our visitors about our meat and potatoes/traditional and liturgical approach to church but with members of sister churches, even CoWo ones, we are careful not to encourage “sheep stealing.”

This young man gave a two-fold reason for attending our Lenten services. First, it was convenient for him to come from work to our parish. It was on the way home. Secondly, he mentioned that he was a little concerned about some of the things going on in his home parish.

By the time we got to Holy Week, still without an invitation from us, he decided to join our parish. He told us that compared to his own church he was now being fed more richly on the Word of God. What I find ironic is that he is one of the sound board volunteers at his old church, and as such was instrumental in them pulling off their CoWo.

I realize that the CoWo churches can put up plenty of their own conversion stories of folks leaving liturgical churches and joining their pop culture churches. They might even be able to win if we turned it into some sort of contest. There is however plenty of anecdotal evidence and even some hard facts showing that there is a lot of shuffling of members amongst the CoWo scene. The hard fact is that despite the claims that CoWo is needed to grow the church to reach the masses, the Church in the United States is shrinking,  not growing. CoWo does not work as it is claims.

The gist of this post is not to point to more converts to liturgical worship than the CoWo people can point to. We live under the cross, not by a theology of glory. The point is that this young man figured out, by comparing one of the local CoWo parishes to ours, that the traditional, liturgical approach to liturgy and preaching, was feeding him a better meal. Guess who’s coming to the liturgical dinner of Holy Communion? A CoWo sound board guy and a wide variety of folks from all sorts of backgrounds, all of them in need of the Divine Service which focusses on sin and the forgiveness given by Christ in Word and Sacrament.

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.

Comments

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Our Liturgical Supper? The Sound Board Operator from a Local CoWo Church, by Pr. Rossow — 37 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this!

    CoWo is the self-conscious teenager trying to fit in with the culture. The culture determines how they dress, what music they listen to, and unfortunately also, what they say.

    The young man of which you speak is seeking adulthood!

  2. I will admit even as one who believes CoWo can be done in a confessionally sound manner, I scoff at the idea that CoWo is necessary to reach the masses. As I have told my own parishioners, the masses outside the church could care less if the band was rocking or the organist put you to sleep. More often than not a person who comes in only cares about the fact this is the church their friend/family member goes to. BTW, the intellectually honest proponents of CoWo have already started to admit CoWo doesn’t work as originally promised. In the past few years articles written by CoWo advocates have been coming out stating CoWo is not evangelism.

  3. I also thank you for sharing, because this reinforces the statements I made on the contemporary Christian song parody thread that seemingly got unnoticed — that the Divine Service, the main service of the week, should not be viewed or used as an entertainment/evangelism/outreach tool, a tool to reach out, bring the masses in, and enable the participants to feel good about themselves and in the process the church “gives ’em Jesus,” but rather the Divine Service is to feed and nurture those attending with the whole counsel of God … Law and Gospel, rightly divided … so that the attendee emerges from the service fully equipped to meet this sinful world with all of its spiritual challenges.

    Again, I contend that much of this folderol and nonsense happening in some of these “out-there” churches in our midst would greatly diminish if we were to realize that the proper role of the church service on Sunday morning (or whenever) is NOT evangelism, BUT the building up of the faithful.

  4. @Kantor Dennis Boettcher #3
    Dennis – Honestly, I don’t think that too many folks think the Divine Service ought to be used for entertainment. Rather, as you suggest, the appropriate use is to equip the saints. At the same time, if Divine Service is to fulfil that purpose, it must be approachable by the saints wherever they are in their faith journey.

  5. John,

    As usual you are all screwed up. “Faith journey” (gag) is a silly and dangerous phrase, not to mention non-biblical. Based on your metric we ought to take the lowest common denominator and fit the service to that level so that we meet everyone where they are. That is silly, just like you. (Reader, feel free to replace the word “silly” with your own perjorative. I simply used “silly” to maintain a certain level of civility with our liberal friend who apparently likes coming to this site to hear himself “type” and to drop dumb comments.)

    I have a seventh grader in my Lutheran Day School religion class who is Eastern Orthodox. His weekly church service is two and one half to three hours in length and all in Greek. He does not complain about it. It is edifying for him. Based upon the fact that an English speaking seventh grader of average intelligience is able to be edified by a three hour service each week in Greek, and given he is at such a low grade and intelectual level, I propose we use where he is at on his “faith journey” (gag) for our lowest common denominator.

    I guess we all have some work to do to bring everyone up to that low level.

    TR

  6. What attracted him to the liturgy? Was it legalistic condemnation of cowo, or sarcastic potshots about praise bands, or was it the experience of hearing the Word properly and reverently preached?

    I’d guess the latter, and suggest that focusing our energies on that, rather than the former, is the confessional way to go.

  7. Boaz,

    Help me out. I am not sure what legalistic condemnation or sarcastic potshots you are talking about. I think it is me you are referring to but maybe not. Seriously, please point out what you are referring to.

    In our preaching at Bethany we do on occasion point out the threat of CoWo in the church today so the gentleman in question most likely did hear such from the pulpit but not as a legalistic condemnation or as a pot shot. Maybe a rim shot, but not a pot shot. 🙂 (Sorry, I could not resist that last comment.)

    TR

  8. @Rev. Mike Trask #1 Or as my 16 year old son and his friends have said of CoWo; “a bunch of old folks trying to be cool”. You see when you try to beat the culture at its own game or even to adapt some of it you come off looking phony no matter how much you try. Besides so much of the CoWo is not very Co given that the music they sing comes out of the 70s which morphed out of “The Jesus freak” movement. Lots of repetition ( then used to try and get the attention of their eastern mystic friends). I remember being on the campus of University of MI in the early and mid 70s and I could always tell the phony mysticism of the Jesus Movement from the real thing among the eastern mystic crowd or the peyote cult of the American Southwest. Weren’t all of us told by mom and dad to just be yourself? We are to be in the world not of it and a Christian will always be somewhat foreign to an unbelieving world, even the CoWos.

  9. @Pastor Tim Rossow #5 For the record “faith journey” is a direct corruption of the Buddist “path”. Besides when one looks at their faith to determine where they are in this “journey” their faith always disappears because our faith is nourished from without and not from within. “The son of man must be raised as the serpent in the wilderness…” Our sanctification is also an up and down affair, which, thank God our salvation is not dependent on.

  10. @Kantor Dennis Boettcher #3
    I don’t think the “is it for building up the faithful or for evangelism” dichotomy is helpful, on *either* side. What you said in the first part is exactly right, and exactly enough. “but rather the Divine Service is to feed and nurture those attending with the whole counsel of God … Law and Gospel, rightly divided ….” Whether they came in as a believer (which I cannot absolutely know) or not, or even whether they came in as a confessing Christian or not (which I *can* observe and judge).

    I think one of our problems is that we have made too much of the distinction between Christians and non-Christians. Is worship/the Divine Service for Christians or for non-Christians? Yes! Because it is Christ’s Service of Himself to us, for our salvation. And beyond that, even a Christian is, at the same time, an unbeliever, in his own old Adam, who needs daily to be drowned and die.

  11. The hard fact is that despite the claims that CoWo is needed to grow the church to reach the masses, the Church in the United States is shrinking, not growing. CoWo does not work as it is claims.

    And when will the LCMS leadership have a quiet and confidential discussion regarding this topic. Koinonia, perhaps? If church is considered a business, and CoWo strategy promoted by the business is failing, then………….

  12. Dennis,
    Thanks for your comment:
    “that the Divine Service, the main service of the week, should not be viewed or used as an entertainment/evangelism/outreach tool, a tool to reach out, bring the masses in, and enable the participants to feel good about themselves”
    Too often we see this played out when the children sing in church – if they sing from the front, the members LOVE IT! (And even may clap!!) If they sing from the back or balcony, the members complain that they “didn’t get to see Johnny sing”! They want the entertainment. So sad!

  13. “By the time we got to Holy Week, still without an invitation from us, he decided to join our parish. He told us that compared to his own church he was now being fed more richly on the Word of God. ”

    Dear Pastor Rossow:

    First of all, thanks be to God that this man is now being fed more richly.
    Could you please clarify a couple of things:

    1. Is his old church a Lutheran church, or even LCMS? What is there stated theology?

    2. Can you put a finer point on what this person means about being fed more richly? For example, is he now in a pastoral-led bible class instead of a small group? Does he credit the liturgy? Could you maybe get him to write something directly for us to read?

    Thanks, and peace.

  14. My comment was directed only at the many such comments and posts that are regularly found here about contemporary worship. Maybe too snarky, but I didn’t think it was necessary to again voice my opinion that we shouldn’t be binding consciences to particular worship practices not clearly required by scripture, as that is a misapplication of our doctrine, and instead not condemn less than ideal practice and focus on promoting good practices in love.

    My comment was reference and in continuation of those previous discussions, it was not criticizing anything in this item, except perhaps the implication that tradition or human ceremony has any merit apart from the word contained in it.

  15. DA,

    Ask my friends and associates and they will tell you finer points are not my specialty but here goes.

    His old church is LCMS. They have been a “church growth” parish since the 1980’s. Since his only experience with us is some chats with the associate pastor, six weeks of mid-week services and a couple of weeks of Sunday services it is safe to say that it is the liturgy and law/gospel preaching that has moved him.

    What I wrote in the post above is based on my one conversation with him and conversations with our associate pastor who handles most of our new member interviews.

    We have dozens of members like him. Most of them are not comfortable writing out this sort of stuff. As I get to know him better I will see if he is one who is.

    TR

  16. Thank you all for your responses.

    I was probably a bit too strong on the dichotomy between edification and evangelism, because, as Rev. Mueller points out, the Divine Service is open to all people. Even though only the faithful and the catechized can partake of the Supper, all who come to the Divine Service are open to hear, and are welcome to hear, the Word of God, Law and Gospel, rightly divided. This same word “evangelizes” (proclaims the Gospel to the unbelievers in attendance) as well as “edifies” (strengthens the faith of those who are already Christian).

    The point that I was trying to make here is that in contemporary worship, so often the rationale is presented that a CoWo service is necessary to “reach out” to those of a “younger generation” who would respond better to something that sounds like the pop culture. Oftentimes such an approach precludes the singing of hymns, reading of Scripture, and preaching from the “wherever” that confronts the people in their sinfulness.

    Allow me to share an example of what I’m talking about: For Good Friday, my church choir sang “O Darkest Woe.” (LSB 448) Now, they could have sung “Were You There,” (LSB 456) which in the eyes of some would be a more CoWo-friendly song than “O Darkest Woe,” but it has nowhere near the impact on the soul of the sinner. Yes, WYT “causes you to tremble” — but why? The song never really says. OTOH, “O Darkest Woe” does tell us, in no uncertain terms, that “Our God is dead,” and why? “I have wrought disaster!”

    Again, why the “watering down” of music and such? To “reach out” to the unchurched … but, in so doing, there are times that the edification loses out to the evangelization.

    Rev. Mueller, you are right. We need both evangelism and edification in our services — not one at the expense of the other.

  17. The head elder of a nearby United Methodist Church start attending our Advent and Lent services because he remembered them from his childhood but they had been dropped at his “contemporary” church where they no longer follow the church year or observe Advent or Lent. For a few years he just attended every Advent and Lent, then took instruction and joined our church, and now he is a very faithful elder in our congregation. His favorite service is Divine Service III–because the words and music remind him of the order of service used in his youth. (If you check the 1964 Methodist hymnal you will see a similarity.) So many churches–sadly including many LCMS–are driving away their most faithful members like this man in a misguided effort–and often fruitless even by their own criteria of numbers–to reacht he unchurched. If we will “Only hold on to what you have” (Revelation 2:25) there are so many people–INCLUDING the unchurched–that are hungry for the spiritual substance found in sound Law and Gospel preaching and our rich heritage of liturgy and hymns.

  18. @A Beggar #13
    Too often we see this played out when the children sing in church – if they sing from the front, the members LOVE IT! (And even may clap!!)

    Sadly true. Our school puts on a musical [performance] in the shape of a worship service.
    The program says, in fine print, “Please do not applaud until the end.” Unfortunately, the director does not announce or insist on this; therefore I label it “performance”.

    A pianist last year, during part of the program, quietly demonstrated that with a few musical links between pieces the congregation/audience could be kept quiet. It was a great improvement! (I think I’ll ask if that pianist will play this year before I decide to attend.)

  19. “His favorite service is Divine Service III–because the words and music remind him of the order of service used in his youth.”

    Many many generations of people labored many years to preserve that service to bring it to him when he was young. Now that he is older, he appreciates their work. How many of our impressionable youth will not be able to say the same?

  20. John :
    At the same time, if Divine Service is to fulfil that purpose, it must be approachable by the saints wherever they are in their faith journey.

    What means “approachable?”

    The Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Church is quite approachable by a wide variety of people. We have several new converts besides ourselves, and most of them are former Evangelicals. I became a Lutheran 10 years ago in a Church with a very high level liturgy and found it imminently approachable. And at that time, I was nowhere on my “faith journey” — we were recovering Baptists used to the very happy clappy worship under discussion. And we didn’t leave because of the worship or the style (I still get chillbumps watching that youtube video of Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill singing How Great Thou Art, because we sang that every week when I was a Baptist). It was the theology that was rotten. We were tired of being told how great the pastor was because he didn’t drink, smoke or chew or go with girls who do.

    So how did we, happy clappy modernistic praise band folks that we were, find the Liturgy “approachable?” Precisely because it was real. It was authentic. It wasn’t trying to please us, it aimed rather to deliver God’s gifts to us. When we left the Lutheran Church, it was precisely because that authenticity was missing in our locale. I find it incredible that some folks are so willing to throw it away with both hands.

  21. @Kantor Dennis Boettcher #21
    How “Were You There” ever made it into “Lutheran Worship” is a mystery to me, yet once there, it is no mystery why it was included in “Lutheran Service Book”. My problem with it is not that it fails to tell the story of Christ’s atonement for man’s sin. It sort of does that by means of the four questions but I do have two concerns regarding its use as a Lutheran hymn. First, it preaches about the gospel only in a roundabout way (questions heavy laden with emotion that may easily lead one to seek an “internal word”) instead of actually proclaiming the gospel – always a poor substitute for proclamation. And second, the direction is all wrong. I can only go to the cross for my salvation by faith and that faith only comes to me as gift from God through his proclamation and the proclamation is never about my response, feelings, trembling, etc. but of the truth of God’s goodness in the offering up of His only begotten Son for my guilt and condemnation. God becomes man and he comes to man to save him. He gets as low down and as dirty as it is possible to get in the process. Man does not go to God by his feelings no matter how hard he works to convince himself that he has made himself worthy to be lifted up into God’s presence and he never gets himself saved or participates in the saving of himself in any way.

    My answer to the questions of “Were You There” is this: No, I was not there nor can I get there from the tomb into which I was conceived and born. God must come to this rotting corpse and thanks be to the Holy Trinity that He did exactly that in my Baptism whereby He took all my sin and put it into the tomb of Jesus and then raised me up with Him for everlasting life! More thanks to God that through His external Word He continues to nourish the faith that grasps those promises.

    In contrast, “O Darkest Woe” proclaims the death of the innocent Son of God, the sinner’s guilt for the same, the fact of the atonement and the resurrection. While emotionally powerful, there is no overt emotional attempt to manipulate the singer’s focus away from Christ and onto himself, a move that is always sure to wreck true faith in Jesus Christ no matter how much one may tremble in the process. Dennis, a hearty thank-you for not using “Were You There”.

  22. >> … My answer to the questions of “Were You There” is this: No, I was not there …

    Not disagreeing, but I’ve always taken “were you there” in the same sense as “oh, say can you see”

  23. @Joe #14
    Joe–for example: “Das ist warum–wir sind alle pettlern.” (or however it was actually written on that scrap of paper in Luther’s pocket).

    We are *all* beggars. Too much evangelism is done (both by “liturgical/traditional/conservative/confessionals” and by “missional/contemporary/etc-ers”–though I would argue one of the two sides at least has the foundation straight, even if they don’t pay attention to their own words) from the perspective of, “You pagans/unbelievers out there! We are so wonderful that *we* love *you* and want to give you this unbelievable opportunity to become *like us*–*True Believers* who, even if we’re smart enough not to actually say it in so many words, definitely have *our* acts together more than *you*! Come and be like us!”

    Better is, “Dear friend, I may not have the same specific troubles as you, but I know I’m no more worthy of God’s love and grace than *anyone* else, much less you, but a Gift has been given to me that is given to you, too. I simply want you to have it and rejoice in it with me. Come and be with me as our beggar-bags are filled to overflowing by our Father, for our Brother’s sake.”

    I’ve said it more than once in my sermons: If you are not present at the Divine Service because you know, despite what you want to see in yourself, that you are a desperately poor, mean, useless, sinful, disgusting slimeball whose only hope is in the promised grace and favor and forgiveness of God, purely for Jesus’ sake, poured out, lavished, flooded upon you through the gifts/Means where He promised He’d do so, then Jesus simply isn’t for you. “Useless were for thee My passion, If thy works thy weal could fashion. This Feast is not spread for thee If thine own savior thou wilt be.”

    In addition to that, see what I said toward the end of that post–every person who is simul justus et peccator–at the same time saint and sinner–is therefore, also, at the same time believer and unbeliever. For sin is, at its essence, unbelief.

  24. @Kantor Dennis Boettcher #21
    A bit more on that beautifully painful hymn: O Darkest Woe. Did you ever look at that line through the English hymnals? My mom told me once that the first English hymnal for the LCMS it read, “O Sorrow dread, Your God is dead.” In TLH it was/is: “O sorrow dread! God’s Son is dead.” *Very* slightly softened, and yet, *softened*. (Remember George Burns in O God: Yes, Jesus was my son. Buddha was my son. Mohammed was my son….) Then, in LW, imo, it was weakened a touch further: “Deep, deep the pain! God’s Son is slain.” thanks be to God, we grew some intestines and put it back where it belongs: “O sorrow dread, Our God is dead!”

    To Joe–re: #28. Okay. But you still get the good Kantor’s point, right? The content of “O Darkest Woe” is much meatier and clearer than “Were You There”. He’s not saying we should never sing WYT, just that the more worldly popular WYT doesn’t *edify* people (anyone) as well as ODW. I could build a good sermon on the idea of “Were You There”–based on Colossians 3:3 and Romans 6:3–great Baptismal stuff. But *I* would have to fill WYT with its salutary meaning. The words of the song themselves are *not* full of that salutary meaning.

  25. @Pastor Tim Rossow #17

    Thank you Pastor Rossow. If and when there is a chance for this person to tell their story, it would be interesting to hear. It would also be interesting to hear the stories of those who have transitioned the other way.

    I have another question. You have said: “The gist of this post is not to point to more converts to liturgical worship than the CoWo people can point to. We live under the cross, not by a theology of glory.”

    Can you put a finer point on what you are getting at here as well? Not about the difference between the Theology of the Cross and the Theology of Glory, as most people here know that or can look it up. What I would like to know is how you are applying that when you say “The gist of this post is not to point to more converts to liturgical worship than the CoWo people can point to.”

    Thanks again.

  26. To David at #26,

    I get chills when I think of Vince Gill leaving his wife to be with his true love Amy Grant. Guess the theology of the song didn’t take and his wedding vows were only meant for his “true love” which sadly must have not been the first Mrs. Gill.

  27. Our God Reigns :
    To David at #26,
    I get chills when I think of Vince Gill leaving his wife to be with his true love Amy Grant. Guess the theology of the song didn’t take and his wedding vows were only meant for his “true love” which sadly must have not been the first Mrs. Gill.

    I completely agree, and my recollection is the (ahem!) dainty Mrs. Grant left her husband as well.

    I was making the point that my sentimentality lay (and still lies) with that style music more than with anything I have received in Lutheranism or Orthodoxy. And yet I was able to embrace Lutheran Liturgy and, later, the even more quirky Eastern Liturgy. Why? Content, authenticity and depth. Sentimentality is not “approachable” on anything but the most shallow level.

  28. “Were You There” really is questionable because of clarity. It never answers the questions. Is the song about imagery and the feelings we have because we visualize the horror Jesus went through? A christian ,after some thought, would probably respond with Romans 6:4 or the fact that our sins died there with Jesus. Would children or a visitor or a new member or someone singing the song for the first time be able to answer “correctly”? That’s the problem with most contemporary worship music. It is so vague so unclear that a Lutheran “could” understand it correctly but others could also understand it incorrectly.

  29. @Rev. Ken Zoeller #27 — You’re welcome, and thank you so much for your words! I fully agree with what you said.

    @Rev. David Mueller #30 — I was aware of the “mis-translations” of TLH and LW, and am also happy that LSB got that part of the hymn RIGHT. What a marvelous witness to those who deny the divine nature of Jesus, or deny how God could die on the cross. Yet he did. For us.

    @Anonymous #34 — My point exactly. For those of us who had the privilege of interfacing with Kantor Resch at Fort Wayne, you heard on more than one occasion the plain and simple fact that hymns are teachers. The hymnal is like the “second (or, I guess, properly Lutheran-ly stated, the third) catechism;” it further teaches and reinforces the faith that is taught from the pages of Scripture. If you routinely utilize hymns such as “Were You There,” you develop Christians with a wishy-washy, emotion-based faith. OTOH, if you routinely utilize hymns such as “O Darkest Woe,” you develop Christians with a strong, Christ-centered faith.

    It is especially important for the visitor to hear solid, Lutheran hymns that teach the faith correctly and without comprimise; yes, hymn-singing may be one of the best, if not the best, way for the church to evangelize at the Divine Service!

  30. @A Beggar #13

    So, like, I mean, what happens when the praise team is located in the balcony? I know of one church (E–A, but “Lutheran” in name”) where that is done. Never attended worship there, but I wonder…

    @revaggie #2
    “In the past few years articles written by CoWo advocates have been coming out stating CoWo is not evangelism.”

    So, what IS CoWo? Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves [the musical question], “What IS evangelism?”

    I’m intrigued, tho, about just what CoWo is, if not “evangelistic?”

    Johannes

  31. @johannes: I wouldn’t consider either a CoWo or a traditionalist who says that worship service is not evangelistic very seriously, and for sure not accept their statement as a general truth about either form of worship service. Hope you feel the same.

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