By Pastor Bill / My wife Sandy is a gifted communicator and has focused recently in her occupation on how the brain works especially when it comes to how we learn. Recently she did a presentation for my Conference clergy colleagues called, “Why the Lutheran Church is Brain Friendly.” She gave a similar presentation to SLC back in 2016. It is exciting to see that our particular expression of Christianity actually has a lot going for it according to current brain research. One particular point she made has really made me think. For us to learn or for something to “stick” or have impact, it needs to be relevant to our lives. When it comes to relevance, understanding the “why” of what we do helps us make that vital connection between what we are doing or learning to our everyday life. I’m thinking specifically now of what we do in worship. As I’m sure you know, Luther, and for the most part, Lutherans, over the last 500 years, have not tossed out the order of worship used in the church since the 4th and 5th century. Changes were made in the theology and content but the process was and is, for the most part, retained. The problem though, is that this process is very foreign to our current entertainment focused culture and many people, even people who have worshiped liturgically their whole life, have a real disconnect when it comes to worship. Do people understand why we do all the things we do? Do people make a connection between worship and their daily lives? Is our liturgy and Sunday morning relevant or just going through the motions? I will never forget hearing someone who left a liturgical church call liturgy “lethargy!” This disconnect is most acute in many of our youth who see little relevance between our worship and their everyday lives.
What can we do? We could jettison our worship process and tradition and come up with something easier, more entertaining, more user friendly, that better connects with people. Many churches have done this. But if I’m understanding relevance correctly, we actually don’t need to toss out all we do (especially because the brain likes patterns! i.e. liturgy!) but rather help people connect our worship actions and beliefs to their lives. One powerful way to help with this connection is to communicate the “why” behind what we do. I still remember when this happened for me. After growing up in the Lutheran Church at the end of high school and the beginning of college, my worship life had become pretty “ho hum.” Had there been the plethora of churches choices doing high volume multi-media worship like there is today, I’m sure I would have tried them out. Then while attending California Lutheran University, I came across a seminar offered by Dr. Paul Egertson on Lutheran worship. In the class, he explained all the whys and wherefores of each part of our liturgy and even more importantly, communicated the philosophy behind our liturgical worship. A light bulb came on for me like never before. I learned the meaning behind all the actions we do in worship. For example, the reason we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” right before Communion is because those are the exact words Isaiah heard the heavenly Seraphim singing when he had a vision of the Lord in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-7). We sing those words at that particular moment in our service because we believe in the Lord’s Supper, God the Son, is coming before us in tangible way. In other words, we believe in the Lord’s Supper we are receiving a similar experience of coming before the Lord just as Isaiah did. Moreover, Dr. Egertson helped me see that all the particular things we do in our liturgy are actually ways we practice living out our faith in our daily lives! A connection was made between worship and everyday life that endures to this day. Now I think of each part of liturgy as practicing what I am to do daily whether it be sharing the peace with those around me, praying, telling the story of the faith (Creed), or listening to the Word. I could go on and on.
What happened for me in that class changed my life and I think that experience is what Sandy was talking about when it comes to relevance and learning. In my Basics/Foundations class I focus a great deal on the “whys” of our worship. In fact, a new member attending the a recent class, with tears in his eyes, shared how for the first time in his life, what we do in worship made sense to him. He is in his 70s. He said it has total enlivened his worship life.
When I think about those attending worship and especially those not attending or only attending infrequently, I want desperately to help them understand that even though our liturgy is counter-cultural, it is immensely relevant to their lives. I so want worship to be meaningful! I especially pray and hope for this connection for our youth. To that end, I have three short “talks” from the Basics Class on both the process and content of worship online. They are nothing fancy and mostly content from that class I had way back in college but if you or someone you love struggles with worship, I would think about providing some incentive for them to watch these talks. I have no illusions that they will help everyone with relevancy but I believe they are worth a try, especially given we hold that worship and receiving the Word and Sacrament, are essential in both creating and nurturing faith. I pray we will do some work and see how relevant and meaningful worship is. Amen.