Some megachurches have been hiring rock star worship leaders (RSWLs) and are finding out they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. A megachurch is a unique breeding ground for a RSWL—he probably couldn’t survive in a smaller ministry. A typical church music director is a busy guy or girl who schedules volunteers, conducts rehearsals, writes charts, arranges music, and plans Christmas and Easter events. Some megachurch rock star worship leaders surprisingly can’t even read music, let alone create a chord chart.
So why are they hired?
hey often don’t have musical training or organization skills, but they look and sound good on stage. This will blow some of your minds — I know of one rock star worship leader who makes about 100K a year by going to a weekly staff meeting and picking out six songs for the praise set. That’s it. He has a full staff who does his work for him—making charts and tracks, scheduling volunteers, and even leading rehearsals. This type of RSWL could only exist at a megachurch—he’d be helpless if he had to do everything himself in a smaller ministry.
Why Rock Star Worship Leaders Are Getting Fired
The RSWL unfortunately tends to inherit bad habits from his secular counterparts.
A famous rock star making millions from his music can afford to be self-absorbed and narcissistic—it even enhances his mystique. Narcissism doesn’t go over so well in a church, and people start resenting the guy. A Google search on the subject showed me it’s a growing topic among fed-up churchgoers.
Here are some thoughts I found on a blog by a disgusted person about their RSWL that sum up what congregations are thinking:
Worship leaders are like reality TV stars: They’re regular people with a disproportionate sense of self because people are looking at them. They’re rock stars without the fame or talent … or money (all things that redeem rock star behavior). But ultimately, it’s the disparity that kills me. So many of them are spiritually/emotionally/socially immature, but just because they can sing, they’re placed on this ridiculous pedestal.
One megachurch claims their narcissistic RSWL is to blame for an attendance drop of almost one-third (at least until they fired the guy—attendance is on the way up again).
One RSWL candidly told me he approaches ministry much like a CEO runs a company—you never fraternize with your employees (i.e., hang out with your praise band members after rehearsal when they all go out for pizza).
I could go on and on with rock star worship leader horror stories (I know a lot of churches), so it was no surprise that over the past few months I’ve started noticing a rash of RSWL firings in the megachurch world. (In polite company, this is referred to as, “We’ve decided to part ways due to philosophical differences.”)
In most cases, it looks like the RSWL’s shenanigans have come to a head and the church has said “enough.”
My suspicions of this firing trend were recently confirmed.
A friend of mine is using a church job-placement agency to find a worship leader position for himself. The representative mentioned they’ve never had so many worship leader job openings. When asked why, the representative explained that churches are finding the performance worship leader thing isn’t working out so well. It seems congregations are tired of being performed to instead of led in worship.
The job my friend found is with a megachurch who just fired their own RSWL. This guy hopped around stage during worship, trying to drum up enthusiasm like any good rock star would in concert. As my friend looked at the rock star worship leaders set list from the past six weeks, he noticed not a single song was repeated. Typical RSWL behavior—they’re performing worship songs, not leading them.
One big reason my friend’s church fired their rock star worship leader was that they were concerned their congregation wasn’t worshipping during the music. Of course they weren’t—they didn’t know any of the songs!
Bottom Line: If you’re interested in a full-time worship leading job at a megachurch, now may be a great time to start looking. If a church was willing to pay 100K a year for someone who simply smiled, sang and strummed on Sundays, just think of what they’d pay a down-to-earth and skilled worship leader who knows how to work for a living.
The following is from Gorgy Buzsaki Scientific American, June 2022 pp 38-42a neuro scientists about aspects of the brain. One part struck me, that its often thought that the brain grows and expands as it learns. Buzsaki seems to be saying that instead, the brain is already pre-programmed. Through our own actions we can mess it up, but instead of the brain being tabula rasa, it looks like God pre-programs how our brain functions, and still leaving it so we can mess it up.
“…Most students were happy with my textbook explanations of the brain’s input-output mechanisms. Yet a minority – the clever ones – always asked a series of awkward questions. ‘Where in the brain does perception?’ ‘What initiates a finger movement before cells in the motor cortex fire?’ I would always dispatch their queries with a simple answer: ‘hat all happens in the neocortex.’ Then I would skillfully change the subject or use a few obscure Latin terms that my students did not really understand but that seemed scientific enough o that my authoritative sounding accounts temporarily satisfied them.
Like other researchers, I began my investigation of the brain without worrying much whether this perception-action theoretical framework was right or wrong I was happy for many years with my own progress and the spectacular discoveries that gradually evolved into what became known in the 1960s as the field of ‘neuroscience.’ Yet my inability to give satisfactory answers to the legitimate questions of my smartest students has haunted me ever since. I had to wrestle with he difficulty of trying to explain something that I didn’t really understand.
Over the years I realized that this frustration was not uniquely my own. Many of my colleagues, whether they admitted it or not, felt the same way. There was a bright side, though, because these frustrations energized my career. They nudged me over the years to develop a perspective tha provides an alternative description of how the brain interacts with the outside world…
…The contrast between outside-in and inside-out approaches becomes most striking when used to explain the mechanisms of learning. A tacit assumption of the blank slate model is that the complexity of the brain grows with the amount of experience. As we learn, the interactions of brain circuits should become increasingly more elaborate. In the inside-out framework, however, experience is not the main source of the brain’s complexity.
Instead the brain organizes itself into a vast repertoire of preformed patterns of firing known as neutonal trajectories. This self-organized brain model [??? -mine, self-organized, how does that happen?] can be likened to a dictionary filled initially with nonsensical words. New experience does not change the way these networks function – their overall activity level, for instance. Learning takes place, rather, through a process of matching the preexisting neuronal trajectories to events in the world.
To understand the matching process, we need to examine the advantages and constraints brain dynamics impose on experience. In its basic version, models of blank slate neuronal networks assume a collection of largely similar randomly connected neurons. The presumption is that brain circuits are highly plastic and that any arbitrary input can alter the activity of neuronal circuits. We can see the fallacy of this approach by considering an example from the field of artificial intelligence. Classical AI research – particularly the branch known as connectionism, the basis for artificial neural networks – adheres to the outside-in, tabula rosa model. This prevailing view was perhaps most explicitly promoted in the 20th century by Alan Turing, the great pioneer of mind modeling: ‘Presumably the child brain is something like a notebook as one buys it from the stationer’s, ‘ he wrote.
Artificial neural networks built to ‘write’ inputs onto a neural circuit often fail because each new input inevitably modifies the circuits connections and dynamics. The circuit is said to exhibit plasticity. But there is a pitfall. While constantly adjusting the connections in its networks when learning, the AI system, at an unpredictable point, can erase all stored memories – a bug known as catastrophic interference, an even a real brain never experiences.
The inside-out model in contrast, suggests that self-organized brain networks should resist such perturbations. Yet they should also exhibit plasticity selectively when needed. The way the brain strikes this balance relates to vast differences in the connection strength of different groups of neurons. Connections among neurons exit on a continuum. Most neurons are only weakly connected to others whereas a smaller subset retains robust links. The strongly connected minority is always on the alert. It fires rapidly, shares information readily within its own group, and stubbornly resists any modifications to the neurons’ circuitry. Because of the multitude of connections and their high communication speeds, these elite subnetworks, sometimes described as a ‘rich club,’ remain well informed about neuronal events throughout the brain.
The hard-working rich club makes up roughly 20 percent of the overall population of neurons, but it is in charge of nearly half of the brain’s activity. In contrast to the rich club, most of the brain’s neurons – the neural ‘poor club’ – tend to fire slowly and are weakly connected to other neurons. But they are also highly plastic and able to physically alter the connections points between neurons, known as synapses.
Both rich and poor clubs are important for maintaining brain dynamics. Members of the ver ready rich club fire similarly in response to diverse experiences. They offer fast, good-enough solutions under most conditions. We can make good guesses about he unknown not because we remember it but because our brains always make a surmise about a new, unfamiliar event. Nothing is completely novel to the brain because it always relates the new to the old. It generalizes. Even an inexperienced brain has a vast reservoir of neuronal trajectories at the ready. Offering opportunities to match events in the world to preexisting brain patterns without requiring substantial reconfiguring of connections. A brain that remakes itself constantly would be unable to adapt quickly to fast changing events in the outside world.
But there also is a critical role for the plastic, slow-firing-rate neurons. These neurons come into play when something of importance to the organism is detected and needs to be recorded for future reference. They then go on to mobilize their vast reserve to capture subtle differences between one thing and another by changing the strength of some connections to other neurons. Children learn the meaning of the word ‘dog’ after seeing various kinds of canines. When a youngster sees a sheep for the first time, they may say ‘dog’. Only when the distinction matters – understanding the difference between a pet and livestock – will they learn to differentiate….
…neurons devote most of their activity to sustaining the brain’s perpetually varying internal states rather than being controlled by stimuli impinging on our senses…”
At 2:30 a.m., on November 19, 2002, I stood on our deck gazing up at the night sky. Above me was the Leonid meteor shower, the finest display of celestial fireworks until the year 2096. For someone who has enjoyed meteor showers since he was a kid, this was the celestial event of a lifetime.
There was only one problem: clouds covered the Oregon sky. Of the hundreds of streaking meteors above me, I couldn’t see a single one. I felt like a blind man being told, “You’re missing the most beautiful sunset of your lifetime. You’ll never be able to see another like it.”
Was I disappointed? Sure. After searching in vain for small cracks in the cloud cover, I went inside and wrote these paragraphs. I’m disappointed, but not disillusioned. Why? Because I did not miss the celestial event of my lifetime.
My lifetime is forever. My residence will be a new universe, with far more spectacular celestial wonders, and I’ll have the ability to look through the clouds or rise above them.
During a spectacular meteor shower a few years earlier, I had stood on our deck watching a clear sky. Part of the fun was hearing oohs and aahs in the distance, from neighbors looking upward. Multiply these oohs and aahs by ten thousand times ten thousand, and it’ll suggest our thunderous response to what our Father will do in the new heavens as we look upward from the New Earth.
Imagine sitting around campfires on the New Earth, wide-eyed at the adventures recounted. Yes, I mean telling real stories around real campfires. Why not? After all, friendship, camaraderie, laughter, stories, and cozy campfires are all good gifts from God.
On the New Earth we may experience adventures that make our current mountain climbs, surfing, skydiving, and upside-down roller coaster rides seem tame. Why do I say this? It’s more than wishful thinking. It’s an argument from design. We take pleasure in exhilarating experiences not because of sin but because God wired us this way. We weren’t made to sit all day in dark rooms, watching actors pretend to live and athletes do what we can’t.
In Heaven, we will be able to do as we wish and go where we wish, never wondering if our wishes are wrong!
Want to see the crossing of the Red Sea? Want to be there when Daniel’s three friends emerge from the fiery furnace? It would be simple for God to open the door to the past. Because God is not limited by time, He may choose to show us past events as if they were presently happening. We may be able to study history from a front-row seat.
Think of friends or family members who loved Jesus and are with Him now. Picture them with you, walking together in this place. All of you have powerful bodies, stronger than those of an Olympic decathlete. You are laughing, playing, talking, and reminiscing. Now you see someone coming toward you. It’s Jesus, with a big smile on his face. You fall to your knees in worship. He pulls you up and embraces you.
At last, you’re with the person you were made for, in the place you were made for. Everywhere you go, there will be new people to meet, including Charles Spurgeon and his friends Charles Stanford and Hugh Stowell Brown. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (11:13-16, NLT).
There will be new places to enjoy, new things to discover. What’s that delicious aroma? A feast? A party’s ahead. And you’re invited.
Here are some further thoughts about our coming adventures on the New Earth:
In the glimpses afforded of [Jesus’] life beyond resurrection we find . . . freedoms even further enhanced. At the physical level he can appear, disappear and then reappear at will (cf. John 20:19, 26; Luke 24:15, 31, 36, 51); at the moral and spiritual level there is a freedom from the awful burden of responsibility for the completion of his mission; at the relational level there is a new freedom to indwell and personally identify with all who belong to him. Such is the promise of the heavenly life—an existence of boundless freedoms.
Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven and Hell
We are partly “Heaven-blind” because the worldview our culture has adopted has made it hard to see supernatural colors.
Daniel Brown, What the Bible Reveals about Heaven
Their souls being on fire with holy love, shall not be like a fire pent up, but like a flame uncovered and at liberty. Their spirits, being winged with love, shall have no weight upon them to hinder their flight. There shall be no lack of strength or activity, nor any lack of words with which to praise the Object of their affection. Nothing shall hinder them from communing with God, and praising and serving Him just as their love inclines them to do.
Jonathan Edwards, Heaven: A World of Love
If it brings glory to God and increases our knowledge of Him, you will indeed be able to engage in some form of time travel.
Larry Dick, A Taste of Heaven
We want to serve God more, but we have to sleep. We want to pray and study the Bible, but we grow weary. In Heaven, bodies will do whatever we want them to do. We will possess boundless energy with which to serve God.
Steven J. Lawson, Heaven Help Us!
Actually, we will do many of the same things in Heaven that we did here on the earth—just perfectly.
Steven J. Lawson, Heaven Help Us!
This voice of joy [in Heaven] is not like our old complaints, our impatient groans and sighs; nor this melodious praise like the scoffs and revilings, or the oaths and curses which we heard on earth. This body is not like that we had, nor this soul like the soul we had, nor this life like the life we lived. We have changed our place and state, our clothes and thoughts, our looks, language and company.
Before, a saint was weak and despised; so proud and peevish we could often scarce discern his graces; but now, how glorious is a saint! …Happy union! Now the Gospel shall no more be dishonored through our folly.
Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest
I haven’t been cheated out of being a complete person—I’m just going through a forty-year delay, and God is with me even through that. Being “glorified”—I know the meaning of that now. It’s the time, after my death here, when I’ll be on my feet dancing.
Joni Eareckson Tada
If Jesus’ resurrected body is a clue, along with accounts of angels appearing to a host of other biblical worthies, I surmise that we will transport ourselves not only across but also through space—and with what by earth standards would seem incredible speed. Anyone who has envied a hawk’s ability to soar or a whale’s to dive can get enthusiastic about heavenly release from present limitations of mobility.
Arthur Roberts, Exploring Heaven
These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else—since He has retained His own charger— should we accompany Him?
C. S. Lewis, Miracles
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
Throughout eternity we will live full, truly human lives, exploring and managing God’s creation to his glory. Fascinating vistas will unfold before us as we learn to serve God in a renewed universe.
Edward Donnelly, Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell
There will be new planets to develop, new principles to discover, new joys to experience. Every moment of eternity will be an adventure of discovery.
When my wife and I first attended a Lutheran service, we were impressed with how formal it was, a far cry from what we were used to in the mainline Protestant denominations we grew up in and in the evangelical congregations we attended in college. So we came back next week, only to find both the congregation and the pastor chanting. We thought we had been transported back to the Middle Ages.
It turns out, that first service we attended was the one informal service that was held on months with five Sundays. We came to learn that when Lutherans try to be informal–or, more recently, contemporary–they are still more formal and less contemporary than just about anyone else. But the definitive Lutheran worship, which we learned to treasure, is to be found in what they call the “Divine Service,” which is called that because in it, Lutherans believe, God serves us.
Patheos has asked its writers to respond to some of the most frequent questions about the various religious traditions that they receive. What most puzzles Patheos readers about Lutheranism is its worship. They wonder what they need to know in order to understand what is going on. Specifically, as the Patheos editors summarize the inquiries, “What should I keep in mind when visiting a Lutheran church?” So it falls to me to try to explain.
What follows is an account of the traditional Divine Service, which can be dressed up or down, made more elaborate or more simple. Even contemporary Lutheran services will tend to have the same structure and most of the same elements–from the confession and absolution to the Law & Gospel sermons–so that what I describe here, except for what I say about music, will mostly still apply.
(1) The Liturgy Consists Mostly of Words from Scripture
The first reaction of many visitors is, “This is Catholic!” Or, “This is too Catholic!” Yes, the liturgy goes way back through church history and is similar to that of Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and, among Protestants, Anglicans, whose Book of Common Prayer was greatly influenced by Lutheranism.
But the Lutheran liturgy also shows forth the principles of the Reformation. Luther wanted to reform the church, not start a new one. Later Protestants would want to start, more or less, from scratch, but the work of “reforming” means changing what is problematic, but leaving what is good. For Luther, everything that pointed away from Christ and the Gospel should be eliminated, but what does point to Christ and the Gospel should be retained.
So the Lutheran liturgy leaves out elements in the Catholic mass such as praying for the dead and invoking the saints. But it retains the overall structure and the ancient liturgical set-pieces, such as the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy. . .”) and the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”). In fact, those set pieces and nearly all of the responses of the congregation are taken straight from the Bible. When someone objects to our liturgy, I ask, “Which words of God do you think we shouldn’t say?”
The sanctuary will also demonstrate the Reformation principle of retaining elements that point to Christ. There will typically be quite a bit of art in the sanctuary. Lots of crosses. That will include pictures of Jesus and other representational art. This is not idolatry, since that means worshiping false gods and Jesus is the true God, who came as a visible, tangible human being discernible by the senses (1 John 1:1). Lots of crucifixes, depicting Jesus on the cross. Some Christians say that one should only use empty crosses because Jesus isn’t on the cross any more–He rose! Well, Lutherans certainly believe in His Resurrection (and also have empty crosses), but we need to keep a constant focus on “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:2), upon which which our salvation is based and which Lutherans apply in a host of ways in their “theology of the Cross.”
(2) Chanting Lets Us Sing Prose, Such as Texts from Scripture
The Divine Service is mostly chanted by both the pastor and the congregation. This may be the aspect that seems the most “Catholic” or “Medieval” or just unusual to visitors. But chanting, with its flexible meter and flowing melodic line, is simply the way that a person can sing prose.
Most of our songs today–whether hymns or raps–are metrical, with fixed patterns of rhythm and rhyme. That is to say, they put music to poems. But it is also possible to sing any sequence of words. That requires music that flows along with the pattern of speech. This is what chanting is.
Some of my friends who are Reformed (a term Lutherans never use for themselves), belong to Psalms-only congregations. Using their principle that Christians may only do what the Bible specifies (while Lutherans believe they are free to do whatever the Bible does not forbid), they do not sing hymns, just Psalms. But what they sing are really metrical paraphrases of the Psalms, forced onto the Procrustean bed of meter and rhyme. But we Lutherans sing the Psalms right out of the Bible by chanting them.
Lutherans do sing hymns that will be familiar to most visitors, including some of those metrical Psalms, drawing on the vast and varied musical heritage of the church universal. Perhaps stranger to some visitors’ ears are the hymns from the Lutheran tradition, particularly those from the 16th and 17th century, often in the baroque style of vivid imagery and achingly beautiful, but complex, music.
(3) The Pastor Will Forgive Your Sins
What most puts off quite a few visitors is at the beginning of the service when the members of the congregation confess their sins, first reflecting silently and then reading a prayer of repentance, after which the pastor says this or something like it:
Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“I forgive you?” some say. “The pastor can’t forgive sins! Only Jesus can do that!” Well, right, only Jesus can forgive sins. But Lutherans believe that God works through human beings. That is the doctrine of vocation. Notice the wording: “As a called and ordained servant of the Word.” “Called” refers to vocation, which is simply the Latinate word for “calling.” God forgives sins through pastors, just as He gives us our daily bread through farmers and creates new life through mothers and fathers. The basis of the pastor’s forgiveness, also known as “absolution,” is “the grace of God to all of you” and the fact that He “has given His Son to die for you.” (Lutherans reject the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, so all have access to this grace and atonement.)
And the Scriptural warrant for human beings forgiving sins is pretty explicit. After His resurrection, Jesus breathes on His disciples, saying,“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).
(4) You Will Hear a Law and Gospel Sermon
The sermon may also be different from what you are used to. There will be no politics, no pop psychology, no Biblical principles for successful living. (Lutheranism, with its theology of cross-bearing, is pretty much the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel.) The sermon will be based on one or more of the three Bible readings (an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading as determined by the Lectionary, a plan for Scripture reading tied to the church year), but it will be handled in terms of the distinct Lutheran hermeneutic and preaching paradigm of Law and Gospel.
The moral law in the Scripture will be proclaimed, but in a way that precludes self-righteousness. Listeners will be persuaded that they do not, in fact, obey God’s Law, with its multiple ramifications, and that they are in sore need of repentance. Whereupon the sermon will move to a proclamation of the Gospel, namely, that Christ has fulfilled this law on our behalf and has paid the penalty that we deserve for breaking it with His atoning death and resurrection. When we know that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves and believe that Jesus has died for us and offers us new life, we have saving faith, which, in turn, bears the fruit of love for our neighbors.
This is not “cheap grace” the pastor is teaching. A skillful preacher can really make you feel guilty, which tempers our bad behavior. And, by preaching the Gospel, he really make you feel free. Lutherans speak of three uses of the Law: the first, the civil use, is to restrain our external sinful proclivities; the second, the theological use, is to convict us of sin and drive us to the Gospel; and the third, the didactic use, is to teach Christians how to live in order to please God, which, motivated by gratitude, they now desire to do.
You will find no altar call in a Lutheran sermon. Coming to faith is not a one-time decision. Rather, the pattern of repentance and faith is repeated throughout the Christian’s life, and is enacted throughout the Divine Service. The point at which you objectively became a Christian is when you were Baptized, even as an infant, a purely passive experience in which God called you by name and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, just as that infant must be fed, be taught, and grow, the baptized Christian must be fed and taught and grow by means of the Word and Sacraments. Otherwise, faith will die.
(5) You Must be Catechized Before You Go Up for Communion.
If you are a visitor to a Lutheran church, observe what is happening and, if you want, go up for a blessing. (Bow and cross your arms when the pastor comes your way.) But if you are not a Lutheran and if the pastor doesn’t know you, you should refrain from taking the consecrated bread and wine. The liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would probably let you, but the more conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and smaller and independent church bodies practice “closed communion.” Sometimes this is phrased as “close” communion, meaning that those who commune together should be close to each other as in being part of the same congregation or church body, but it means the same, that the altar is “closed” to those who have not been catechized and confirmed in the host church, its denomination, or a denomination with which it is in formal fellowship.
Please, please, do not be insulted, as many visitors are. Lutherans are not denying that you are a Christian. Anyone, of any denomination or non-denomination, who confesses faith in Christ is considered to be a Christian, and Lutherans do accept all Baptisms, of whatever mode or at whatever age. It’s just that Lutherans hold to the Biblical teaching that no one should receive the Lord’s Supper without examining oneself and without “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).
“Discerning the body,” of course, means different things to different theologies. Catholics believe the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ and so is no longer bread; Calvinists believe in a spiritual presence that depends on the faith of the person receiving it; most Protestants, again, hold it be merely symbolic. But Lutherans believe that the body and blood of Christ are really present in, with, and under the bread and wine. More than that, Christ gives His body and His blood in these physical elements “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Evangelicals speak of “receiving Christ” at their conversion. Lutherans believe they “receive Christ” every time they take Holy Communion.
Some say that “discerning the body” refers not to the bread and wine of Holy Communion, but to the Body of Christ that is the Church. Well, fine, and maybe it refers to both, since the two senses are intimately connected. But that too is an argument for “closed” or “close” communion, since it requires awareness of those with whom you are communing.
Catholics and the Orthodox also practice closed communion, in line with their similarly high view of the Sacrament. I have had occasions—weddings and funerals—to attend a Catholic mass, but it never bothered me that I couldn’t take communion. I didn’t want to. If I presented myself for communion, I would be participating with a church body that I don’t belong to and that I don’t agree with. This is also why most Lutherans won’t commune at other churches that practice “open” communion. It’s a matter of respecting differences. And this respect can co-exist with a spirit of welcome and good-will.
So, please, visitors, know that you are welcome to a Lutheran service and don’t let our quirks be an obstacle. I think you will appreciate, as my wife and I did, the sense of transcendence and holiness that we found there.
Results of a new large-scale study by the Springtide Research Institute have seemingly confirmed decades of previous research pointing to a positive relationship between religion, spirituality and mental health.
And Josh Packard, the organization’s executive director, has suggested ways churches can ensure they remain relevant institutions for the younger generation as physical church attendance dwindles.
The study found that during the pandemic years, most (53%) of the respondents reported that mental health was their biggest challenge. Only 34% of them reported being comfortable talking about their struggle with adults.
Some 57% said new spiritual practices helped them endure the pandemic and more than half (51%) said they turned to prayer. Others turned to activities like reading, yoga, the arts or being in nature.
The study found that while religion and spirituality “can be strong antidotes to much of what contributes to mental-health struggles among young people” and that “people who are religious are better off mentally and emotionally,” only 35% of the respondents said they are connected to a religious community.
Respondents connected to a religious community were found to be more likely to say they are “flourishing a lot” in their mental and emotional well-being (29%) than those not connected to a religious community (20%).
Respondents who say they are “very religious” were more likely to report that they are “flourishing a lot” (40%) compared to those who say they are not religious (17%). Respondents who are “not religious” were more than twice as likely to say they are “not flourishing” (44%) than “very religious” respondents.
While the study indicates that religion can have a positive impact on mental health, Packard notes in the report that “solutions to mental-health struggles are more complicated than just ‘give young people more religion'” as about 20% of “very religious” respondents report they are “not flourishing.”
“The reality is that without addressing mental-health issues, a young person who is mentally and emotionally unwell won’t be able to really engage with or understand the depth, beauty, power, awe, and love that can come with religion and spirituality,” Packard wrote. “As Jeff Neel, the Executive Director of Northern Colorado Youth for Christ, puts it, ‘Young people have to heal and belong before they can hear and believe.'”
When asked how churches could be more mental-health positive, Packard told The Christian Post that churches must first get more involved in the general conversation about mental health.
“There is a step zero before you start digging into that, which is that a lot of religious leaders and organizations sort of opt out of this conversation because it makes the older [generations uncomfortable]. There is more of a stigma around mental health for people my age, for example, than there are for 15 and 16-year-olds,” Packard said.
“A lot of times, churches might not think that this is their thing to do. I’m not sure that rabbis are running around the country thinking my job here is to support the mental health of young Jews. … Increasingly, the more that we can see that as part of the work that we do and see really faith as instrumental in that work is really, it’s going to be important for young people.”
“One of the things that comes through so clearly, which is I think a lot of people are astonished by this, whether its academic research or the big report that Gallup just released or even our own data about flourishing, is that religious young people are better off,” he continued. “They’re simply better off in all aspects of their life than their non-religious or even less religious peers, including their mental health.”UnmuteAdvanced SettingsFullscreenPauseUp Next
Packard said young people need to see faith as a “resource for solving the biggest challenges in their lives.”
“And if they see faith as disconnected from that, they’re just going to be less likely to engage,” he stressed.
“Acknowledging that there is a real role to play and this is not parallel at best alongside your real mission. This is actually a part of the sort or real mission for existing in the world especially when it comes to engaging young people.”
Packard said the evidence showing a positive relationship between mental health, religion and spirituality is “pretty overwhelming.”
“It’s not just [religious youth are] doing a little bit better. They are doing significantly better,” he said.
The Springtide leader suggested that churches can focus more on bringing the Gospel to young people instead of waiting for them to come into the walls of their church community to connect.
“If we were to draw some lines, I want to be really careful. The things that worked to lead to those data outcomes currently might not be the things that will work for this generation. In the past, what mosques, synagogues, churches have done really well is connect you to a real physical in-real-life community in this neighborhood, in this part of the city that knows you well. And that’s still really, really critical work,” he said.
“We might need to move that a little bit outside of that space. One of the things that has shifted in our society over the last 50 years is the level at which people trust institutions of all kinds, not just religious institutions.”
Packard contends the “idea of building a community for a young person to walk into is just not going to have the same impact that it might have once had because not only young people but their parents are just less likely to trust those institutions to do that kind of work.”
“And so we’re going to have to do some more sort of like moving forward with this generation to have that same kind of impact and effect, we’re going to have to do some sort of outside of the walls,” he argued.
“I’m using walls here kind of metaphorically. … There are lots of Christian campus ministries, for example, who, I don’t know if they have offices or they’re just working outside of their house. Maybe they spend their entire time in coffee shops or out in public with young people, and so we start to see the engagement that places like that get, we start to see some of the pathways forward to retain the positive effect that religion has.”
You are only complete in Christ in His Body which is His church, which is His community.
You can carry on with all your blather about being personal, between you and God can worship anywhere, blah, blah. This is sheer disingenuousness, i.e. you don’t know what you’re talking about and you’re just making it up.
That’s a dangerous, in the genuine sense, not the overworked phony sense of the world. You want to play with your eternal destiny and keep testing God? He told us what we needed to know, the Bible, yet, we continue to make it up and think we are the masters of our fate. So wrong and playing an eternally dangerous game.
Christian community can be problematic. Unfortunately you have too many people in the church, clergy and laity, who don’t know what they’re talking about. Jesus gathered together a few very close followers, then many hundreds, thousands of disciples of varying closeness. This is the church, this has been passed down and this is what will be raised up at the final judgment. If you’re not part of that you will not be judged to be saved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “Life Together” p 29 writes: “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. With great yearning the imprisoned apostle Paul calls his ‘beloved son in the faith’, Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life (1Tim 1:2). He wants to see him again and have him near. Paul has not forgotten the tears Timothy shed during their final parting (2 Tim 1:4). Thinking of the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays ‘night and day … most earnestly that we may see you face to face’ (1 Thess 3:10) The aged John knows his joy in his own people will only be complete when he can come to them and speak to them face to face instead of using paper and ink (2 John 12). The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living too much in the flesh. A human being is created as a body; the Son of God appeared on earth in the body for our sake and was raised in the body. In the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected community of God’s spiritual – physical creatures. Therefore, the believer praises the Creator, the Reconciler and the Redeemer, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of other Christians.” (quoted in “A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer edited by Carla Barnhill p 308)
And it is within the Body of Christ, His Church that you are saved. You want to make your own rules and decide it’s all about your own personal preferences, likes and dislikes it will not go well with you. God has made it so that His people can be saved in the most magnanimous manner imaginable You turn down God’s offer of His Son, who gave His life for you in His Church, His Body, all for you. Your eternal fate is your own responsibility. You have no one to blame but yourself.
The peace of the Lord that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Jesus. Amen.
“More Light on the Path, daily devotions”, makes a great observation about God and sin: “There is something crazy about the way we are afraid of God, the One who gives us life and whleness, but we aren’t afraid of sin, the thing that kills us. To reverse that order is to rightly fear the Lord.” (p 293)
If we are not in Jesus, sin will ultimately kill us, condemn us into eternal punishment. That’s the way it is. You may not like it, or think that somehow it doesn’t apply to you, but you are wrong..
Do we fear God? Yes, in the sense of respect, trust, we know He is entirely about giving us His eternal best. He already has in Jesus. You can keep putting your trust where it will lead you to doom. Or put it in Jesus who is the source of eternal life.
Dr Catherine Hart Webber writes extensively on the effects of Christian practices and community. In an article in Christian Counseling Today (Vol 24 No. 2 p 48, 49) she discusses some of the positive effects of consistent prayer and also how we greatly benefit by being in community .
“Many scientific studies have proven the benefits of prayer and meditation. They increase trust and offset the adverse health effects of stress. Prayer and meditation calm the limbic, primitive reactive stress center in the brain. Just 12 minutes of focused prayer and meditation can have positive results. Those who intentionally use their minds to train their brains through daily prayer and meditation can literally go from an anxious, fearful mood state to another more peaceful, joyful one that can be seen on a brain scan.
Prayerful reflection on Scriptures like Psalm 23 helps train us to rest and trust in the great Shepherd. ‘The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough. He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love’ (Ps 23: 1-2, TPT)
Also, a simple breath prayer that you can speak in a single breath and repeat throughout the day can be extremely beneficial. An example breath prayer could go something like this: ‘With God as my shepherd, I have everything I need. And so, I can relax'”
“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31: 25, ESV
…Research proves that we are better together and knowing that we are not alone. It is a beautiful thing when we can feel safe, be honest and share the truth of who we are. Attuned communication and confession communities allow one to ‘see that you see me.’ This type of sanctuary modulates fear, regulates the body, integrates the brain and leads to emotional balance.
Listeing and sharing together also releases oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), which lowers stress and perceived pain, increasing peace and joy. So do smiles, hugs, and holding hands. Who are the safe people and communities you do life with – those who calm, encourage and inspire?…”