Category Archives: Worship

Organization and Organism

The conventional wisdom these days in our society is to say that the institutional church is old hat, out of date and doesn’t matter any more in these “modern times.”

That’s why I am happy there are people like Kevin deYoung, who sets the record straight for us in his insightful book co-written by Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion:

going to churchThe church, as the elect people of God, is both organism and organization. The church is a breathing, growing, maturing, living thing. It is also comprised of a certain order (1 Cor. 14:40), with institutional norms (5:1-13), doctrinal standards (15:1-2), and defined rituals (11:23-26). The two aspects of the church—organism and organization—must not be played off against each other, for both are grounded in the operations of the glorified head of the church through the Holy Spirit. Offices and gifts, governance and the people, organization and organism—all these belong together. They are all blessings from the work of Christ. (p. 170).

The structure, order and governance of the institutional church is important to the development of the faith and in helping the faithful to serve in specific ways that are in line with their God-given gifts and abilities. The church as an institution defines us and reminds us of who we are and whose we are through regular worship, the recitation of the Creed, the gathering for baptisms and the providing of our Savior’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

So much in our world today is defined by what is fun, what makes us feel good, what is exciting and new. But that is not what the Church is designed to provide. The Church is meant to show us our sins, to remind us our need for repentance and our forgiveness in Christ, things our world is not all that willing to face. So it is no surprise that there is resistance to the concept of organized church. But the ultimate goal is far beyond the immediate desire for instant gratification. The ultimate goal of the Church is to show us our salvation—life eternal with Christ forevermore. I can think of no other thing that is more fun, makes me feel as good or is more exciting and new than that.

So with this in mind, let us follow the advice of St. Paul who said this, long before our “modern” era:  “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near ” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Go to the Tape

video camera in churchAt the Best Practices conference, Joy Hamann and TJ Winters of Concordia-San Antonio in their session Using Video in Ministry, talked about creative ways to incorporate video into your worship and church life. In their particular church they have found that video has been useful in three categories:

  1. Announcements, 2. Testimonials, 3. Sermons. Let’s take a look at each:


You know how every church service either begins or ends with a series of announcements that a pastor reads from a sheet of paper while people fidget in their seats. Haman and Powers have turned that often boring necessity into something that parishioners look forward to. They create 2- to 3-minute videos about an upcoming event or a ministry in the church in which a representative of that event or ministry is filmed talking about how excited they are about the event or the ministry, even sometimes through song or a funny poem. Haman and Powers do not run the same video twice, even if it is for the same event, so that there is variety in the video announcements. Hamann and Winters have seen that people now look forward to the announcements in church and doing the videos ahead of time helps services to move along because they know how exactly how long the announcements will be and they do not have to worry about a speaker running to long or forgetting certain points. People who tape the announcements also are more relaxed when they are asked to do the video because they know that it can be redone, if there are any mistakes or flubs. Here is an a example of a video announcement:


Another way to use video in worship is through testimonials. So often we do not know much about the background and the lives of those in our congregation, but by filming testimonials from people who are willing to share their faith lives on tape, we can get to know each other better. These testimonials can even become part of a sermon on a particular topic or theme or they can be used simply as a way for people to be made aware of a ministry at the church that had or has a significant impact on the life of a brother or sister in Christ. Here is an example of a testimonial video:


Taking videos of the pastor’s sermon each week is a wonderful way in which a church can reach out to the community to those who are sick or homebound or otherwise unable to attend worship in person on Sunday mornings, and sermon videos are also an avenue for spreading the Gospel to those who are seeking the Lord and those who do not have a church home of their own. In many aspects in this technological, internet age, each church has in effect two congregations: the people in the pews on Sundays and those online, and putting sermons on youtube or other media outlets is the perfect start to draw someone into learning more about what a Christian means, Many pastors tell of how people have reached out to them because of something they heard that pastor say on an online sermon and how those pastors were then able to minister to those people. Here is an example of a video sermon by Pastor Bill Tucker at Concordia-San Antonio:

God is truly at work through video to fulfill the Great Commission to go ye, therefore, and preach the Gospel to every nation—even the computer nation!






The Power of Hymns

At the end of my time at the Best Practices conference in Phoenix, I experienced something unusual and unexpected: I wept.

It happened during the closingsinging hymns worship service when all participants were gathered in the traditional worship space and we sang with the organ from the hymnal (or from memory) the beloved hymns: “Lift High the Cross,“ “Thy Strong Word,“ “Hark the Voice of Jesus Crying“ and “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” (in harmony and a cappella). That’s when I lost it.

“So why the tears?” I pondered.

Hearing the participants sing with such gusto and experiencing the sounds of the 2000 voices echo through the vaulted space of the church brought out an emotional response in me in a way that the wonderful contemporary music I had been listening to and singing with over the previous days of the conference had not elicited.

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Packaging is the “in” buzzword in marketing these days. It means the presentation of a product to the public in a way designed to build up a favorable image. While it may seem strange to hear the term packaging as it relates at a church conference, Rev. Jeff Scheich in a session at Best Practices, explained that packaging is fundamental for churches to use to build interest in a worship series they are introducing.

movie posters

Movie posters like these are an example of packaging.

Like with the launch of a movie, it is important to “get the word out” in various forms of media: posters, banners, videos, special events, even trinkets like cups, lanyards and little flashlights. Most every parish has a member who is a vendor for items like this and would be willing to provide them at a discount or free of charge. Continue reading →

Modern-Day Parables

In “Parable Preaching,” another session I attended at the Best Practices in Ministry conference in Phoenix in February, presenter Pastor Jeff Scheich of Lincoln, NE, talked about the power of parables that Jesus utilized in his time on earth, and the power of a good story we can still use in our day to preach the Gospel message.

projectorIn an interesting wary of looking at things, Scheich explained that the parables that Jesus taught in the first century were related to the things that the listeners were interesting in, talking about and involved with: planting, farming, shepherding, going to banquets, attending weddings, etc. And the points that Jesus made from stories about things that people were familiar with would stick with them.

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Common Denominators

In Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive, Thom Rainer relates the sobering statistic that as many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death.

In his study of fourteen churches that actually shuttered their doors and disbanded, Rainer came to see some common denominators present in the parishes that closed. His findings serve as a wake-up call to all churches, struggling or not.

church door lockedOne of the common denominators was that in each of the failing churches the past was the hero. Members remembered fondly the “good old days” and generally desired to do things “the way we used to.” This is not to say that nostalgia in and of itself is a bad thing. It is a good thing to remember “where we came from,” but churches need to be willing to move on and adjust to the changing needs of the congregation and the community in order to survive.

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Environmental Projection

stained glass

Here is a simple (natural) example of environmental projection within a worship space.

When I was at the Best Practices in Ministry conference in Phoenix, AZ, last month, I attended a breakout session called, “Environmental Projection: Telling a Visual Story in Worship.” The moderator, James Lavendar, a worship leader at a church in Arizona, presented ways in which he has projected images and colors, both moving and stationary, onto all the walls of his church’s worship space in order to bring out certain feeling or highlight a particular theme or season in the church year.

The possibilities seem endless. There could be snow falling during a Christmas service. Twinkling stars could bring out the message of the Epiphany star that led the wise men to the baby Jesus. Various shades of red could be used to indicate the blood Christ shed on the cross in a Lenten service. The rising sun could warm the room with the joy of the resurrection. The session was crackling with good ideas.

Yet beyond all the bells and whistles of the technology that can make all this happen, my thoughts turned to what we can do as leaders in the church to build a certain atmosphere within a worship space? What thoughts and/or feelings do we project or elicit by anything that is visually present in a worship space?

Stained glass windows were the long-standing traditional way to set the tone in a church. They made the parishioner feel a sense of holiness, peace and reflection. (Projection of the imagery of stained Continue reading →

Are Screens Savers?

At churches all across the country, the entire order of service now appears only on screens at the front of the sanctuary, not on paper bulletins.

The conventional wisdom is that this transfer from paper to screen has been a life-saver for pastors and secretaries who no longer need to print bulletins, and a case could be made that screens serve as savers because they reduce the amount of paper and ink and other natural resources that fill our landfills and contaminate our earth.

church screens

Most churches today have screens like this in their worship space.

But what I have encountered in worship many times is that screens can often be a distraction to our experience of worship. When the person at the controls of the screen does not flip to the next screen fast enough, I become annoyed. When the words that appear on the projection do not match the words or the information that a pastor is discussing, I start to get agitated. And when the screen just goes blank, I find I am confused about what to do.

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Filling the Pews

When I was home over Christmas last December, there was a beautiful moment when all the members of my entire immediate family fit into one long pew at my parents’ church. My mom and dad were celebrating their anniversary that particular day (Dec. 27) and it was especially moving for them to see all their children with their spouses and grandchildren being together in one row in the house of God. It was a wonderful picture to me of what passing on the faith means.

pewsThe love and the faith that began with my mother and father were carried on in my life and in the lives of my brother and sister and their families. The baton has been passed, and we now are called to carry on the faith to our future generations. But as we know, the pews are not as full as they once were in “our day.” Attendance at traditional worship is not as much a staple of our weekend schedule as it once was in our Christian families.

That is not to say that people are not religious. It is just that they are expressing faith in different ways: at home, through online streaming worship services, through small groups at coffee shops.

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The Candle Effect


Have you experienced the candle effect on Christmas Eve?

When I was worshiping at my parents’ home church in Iowa City, IA, on Christmas Eve, one of the most touching moments during the service was when we all lit candles while singing “Silent Night,” which is a beloved tradition in many churches around the world. And I got to thinking about what makes it so special to people and to me.

What I attribute it to is what I call “the candle effect.“

The light of candles in a darkened space instantly makes us feel warm and happy inside and has a holiness about it that cannot be replicated in other ways by such things as battery-powered lights, etc. The flickering and waving of the candle light has the ability to make us sense the power of God Continue reading →