Lutheran Worship in the 21st Century: What Works?, Rev. Aaron Christie
American Christianity is unraveling. WELS is not immune. Churches everywhere are looking for the silver bullet—the ministry tactic that will quickly turn things around and refill the pews. For many church leaders, worship has become that panacea.
One woman implores, “If we want to keep our young people, we need to embrace contemporary worship.” She gives the example of a nearby church that is full of young adults. A brother in Christ responds, “But I’ve seen studies that say Millennials and Gen Z appreciate the traditions and rituals of the church.” Perhaps he can even provide anecdotal evidence of some young couples who joined a very traditional church.
Here is the reality: No matter what you think about worship style, just take a walk through Google and you will find an article by a “church expert” that will reinforce your viewpoint. Moreover, if you take a tour of WELS, you will find growing congregations that use keyboards and guitars to lead worship. However, you will also find growing congregations that use organ and processional crosses. Likewise, with every type of accompaniment—piano, guitar, and organ—there are examples of congregations that are plateaued or in decline. A critical thinker would conclude that worship is not a silver bullet after all.
In this session, we are going to wrestle with that intentionally provocative title: Lutheran Worship in the 21st Century: What Works?
The discussion begins with us wrestling with what is meant by the question “what works?” What are the distinctive aims, actions, and aesthetics of Lutheran worship? How do we define “working?” How do we assess if worship is edifying our members and accessible to our guests? What does Lutheran worship excel at? Are there issues in our churches that are blamed on worship, but really find their root cause somewhere else?
This will allow us to look at some best practices for Lutheran worship moving forward. Included in this discussion:
- The priority of preaching. When anyone—a member or worship visitor—assesses how much they benefited from the worship service, 90% of their assessment will come down to whether they believe they benefited from the sermon or not.
- Making worship accessible for the unchurched. In 1 Corinthians 14, St. Paul says we should expect “inquirers and unbelievers” to come to our worship services. How will we conduct ourselves and our services in a way that welcomes them?
- Ensuring that worship is both rooted and relevant. Worship can demonstrate a connection to multiple millennia of believers. It can illustrate that mankind’s greatest problem is ancient and universal, as is the solution to that problem. It must be rooted. However, it must demonstrate those things using form that communicate with the current culture. It must also be relevant.
- The mysterious draw of the sacrament. In an age where one can catch a good sermon on YouTube and hear a comprehensive collection of Christian music on Spotify, one might wonder “Why should I go to church?” Part of that answer lies in the administration of the sacraments.
The goal of this session is to help leaders plan to make the worship service the time of the week that is most vital to the edification of the saints and to help them not see it as silver bullet that removes all challenges before the Church.
Rev. Aaron Christie
Rev. Aaron Christie was born in Bay City, Michigan. He received his elementary education at St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Bay City. He began taking piano lessons in the fifth grade.
Pastor Christie received his high school education at Michigan Lutheran Seminary. While at MLS, Pastor Christie attended summer-long music camps at the Interlochen Arts Camp, Interlochen, Michigan and the National High School Institute (music) at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
Although a career in music seemed obvious, a decision to study for the holy ministry surprised many. Pastor Christie enrolled in Northwestern College, Watertown, Wis., in the fall of 1989. Pastor Christie was active in the college choirs, band, and regularly played organ for chapel services. While in Watertown, he studied organ with Mrs. Bethel Zabell. He graduated from Northwestern in 1993 (B.A.) and continued his ministerial studies at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. While at the Seminary, he served on the worship committee, was student director of the Seminary Chorus, and regularly played for morning chapel services. His vicar year (pastoral internship) was spent at St. Matthew’s in Benton Harbor, Mich., where he had the opportunity to regularly preach in German for the weekly German service.
Pastor Christie graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (M. Div.) in 1997 and was assigned to be associate pastor at Faith Ev. Lutheran Church (WELS) in Antioch, Ill. At Faith, he served as Pastor for Worship and Adult Education, directed the Sr. Choir, and regularly played organ. While serving at Faith, Pastor Christie earned a M.C.M. at Concordia University, Mequon, Wis., where he studied organ under Dr. James Freese and Dr. John Behnke.
In the summer of 2010, Pastor Christie transitioned in ministry to Trinity, Waukesha, Wis., where his responsibilities include administration, a Lutheran elementary school, adult discipleship, and worship. In that last capacity, Pastor Christie plans worship that spans a wide spectrum. Worship at Trinity regularly includes the sounds of a significant Martin Ott pipe organ with brass and choir. At least once a month, all weekend services are led by Trinity’s liturgical ensemble Trinitas, that includes piano, guitars, keyboard, instruments, percussion, and soloists. At least one service a year seeks to utilize a significant piece from the church’s history with choir, soloists, and orchestra. Worship at Trinity deliberately seeks to include “treasures old” as well as “treasures new” without categorizing services according to niche musical styles.
Pastor Christie serves the church at large as a regular presenter for WELS Schools of Worship Enrichment, member of WELS Commission on Worship, Treasurer for the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Alumni Society, Member of WELS Institute for Worship and Outreach, chairman of the hymns committee for the new WELS hymnal, and as guest preacher and essayist for local, district, and national conferences and conventions. Some of his presentations include:
- “Worship in the Confessions: Christ at the Center” presented to the 2005 National Conference on Worship, Music and the Arts.
- “Blended Worship Within Lutheran Parameters” presented to the 2008 National Conference on Worship, Music and the Arts.
- “The Quest for New Treasure Can Be Treacherous” presented to the 2008 South-Atlantic District Conference.
- “Worship and Outreach: An Observable Synergy” presented at the 2010 WLS Symposium on Worship and Outreach
- “Passing the Torch” presented as the keynote address to the 2011 National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts.
Pastor Christie and his wife Kristin live in Waukesha, Wis., with their three children. In his free time, Pastor Christie enjoys travel, reading, cooking, and fishing.