Tag Archives: Discernment

A FRESH TAKE ON CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN MUSIC by Amy M. Heinz, Final year M. Div.

“I detest contemporary Christian music.” This comment, from one of my lunch partners immediately after I had finished presenting on that very topic at a worship seminar, drew me up short. I thought I had presented the case for utilizing truly new Christian music quite well, but I recognized that mind-set. Two years ago, that had been me. In my opinion, there was so much wrong with contemporary Christian music that I could not have imagined myself even investigating the topic, much less speaking about it.

Christian worship draws attention to the work of God in Jesus Christ by calling us out of our separate lives to participate communally in Word and sacrament. Worship is a bold statement that we as Christians place God above all powers of this world, including and especially our own. So, if worship is about the incarnate presence of God in our lives, I feel it should reflect the contexts of our lives…including geographical context, theological and denominational context, historical context, and global context.

With this in mind, I wanted to see if it would be possible to honor the past by utilizing a previously established—though by no means binding—Lutheran liturgical format for a service of communion, while inserting current popular contemporary Christian music (CCM) songs in place of those which are in the various collections of hymns and communion settings most often being used. I concentrated only on the songs Lutheran parishioners were sure to have heard on Christian radio stations, and focused on whether or not these songs could be utilized in a Lutheran worship setting containing traditional liturgical elements such as the Kyrie, the Hymn of Praise, and the Great Thanksgiving. The result was that I spent one month listening to and theologically evaluating the top songs from 2014 through 2016 as presented by Billboard Magazine on their website. Although the website categorizes Christian music in several ways, I utilized the category of “Christian Airplay,” as that would reflect the most popular songs on the radio during those years. I also chose to evaluate only the top 20 from each year, as there is some carryover from year to year in songs which ranked lower in the previous year.

It wasn’t an easy task. Much of Christian contemporary music is not gender-inclusive, and appears to use scripture either as “proof texting” or as a catchy sound bite. In addition, as Mark Allan Powell points out, it is permeated by “triumphalism, commercialism, [and] individualism…”.[1] Most bewilderingly of all, I found far less mention of Jesus Christ than I had expected in music labeled “Christian.” I discovered a tendency for songs of hope, stick-to-it-tiveness, and militant growth in a general “faith,” all without mentioning the reason for hope or how we are enabled to grow in that faith. In evaluating 59 songs (although I listened to far more than that number and read lyrics from even more)—20 from each of three years with one overlap—I found only 17 which could be useful in an ELCA worship service. Several of those which I deemed “Lutheran” in theology as well as “singable” would need minor rewrites in places. And although Christian contemporary music is a different subgenre from contemporary worship music (commonly referred to as “praise and worship songs), it is what parishioners who are interested in this genre are listening to in their homes, cars, and at work.

“Christian music often occupies a major, even defining role in the lives of its more ardent listeners. The music…becomes a soundtrack for people’s lives. Individualistic piety and crass sentimentalism can be innocent enough in small doses, but some fans and performers seem to think that faith consists of little else.”[2]

If one is a congregational leader in a place where many parishioners listen regularly to Christian radio stations, then I feel it is imperative to address some of the shortcomings of CCM with one’s congregation, just as it is important to celebrate and utilize those CCM songs which are familiar, easily learned and sung, and theologically faithful to the gospel (using a Lutheran lens). People need to know what they’re hearing and be able to evaluate it for themselves. “This requires teaching and has to bear some relation to the musical language that is in the ear of the people.”[3] That doesn’t mean one ought not to sing a rousing chorus of “Move (Keep Walkin’)” by TobyMac, but one should be able to discern the theological content and whether or not the song points to Christ and not to ourselves. I could even see this being an interesting small group or adult/youth education topic. Mark Pierson, a pastor in the Baptist Church of New Zealand, calls this discerning approach “slow church.” In this ideal, a congregation will take the time to discern prayerfully the central things of worship and what it means to worship in that particular place, at that particular time, with the particular resources of that culture.[4] Dr. Gordon Lathrop supports this view as well; “While the pattern of the action has a long history in many places, it always becomes local.”[5]

One of the better resources I discovered for the discernment process is Sound Decisions: Evaluating Contemporary Music for Lutheran Worship by Dori Erwin Collins and Scott C. Weidler. Published by Augsburg Fortress, this thoroughly Lutheran look at CCM is well-organized and accessible to anyone—whether or not they have a seminary background. The authors lay out a four-step discernment process:

  1. Agree upon foundational principles of Lutheran worship.
  2. Apply a set of questions to a specific song in order to determine its textual and musical characteristics. The purpose of this step is only to gather information, not to make judgements.
  3. Compare the characteristics identified in step 2 with the principles in step 1, always taking into account the particular worship context. (emphasis added)
  4. Discern the song’s suitability for use in worship.[6]

Collins and Weidler rightly emphasize the importance of correct performance practice which facilitates learning and singing CCM. This is an issue of great importance that needs to be fully addressed when considering adding this genre to worship rotation. As someone with experience in both “contemporary” and “traditional” performance practice, I will point out that there is a big difference between accompanying worship out of a typical hymnal such as Evangelical Lutheran Worship and deciphering the charts, lead sheets, verses, choruses, and bridges of CCM.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as “contemporary worship” as we tend to define it—worship utilizing musical instruments other than organ, and songs which have a more upbeat tempo and/or a back beat. Indeed, in my home congregation, contemporary worship for years was defined as the Saturday night service which was exactly like the Sunday morning service but accompanied on a keyboard instead of the organ! Contemporary worship is just…worship. I cannot overstate the importance of acknowledging this fact. Discerning the music used in our worship of God may need differing processes depending upon when the music has been written or where it has originated, but the criteria are still the same. Does the music we choose lift up the gospel message for all? Does it point to Christ? Is it singable within one or two iterations of the tune? Does the music address the culture, context, history, and personality of the particular congregation? Does it remind us that we are part of a global church and one body in Christ? These are questions which should be asked of all music used in worship, whether one toils over spreadsheets of the most popular CCM songs or chooses hymns based on the topical suggestions in the back of a hymnal.

It is extremely important to note that CCM is not a magic bullet that will “bring the young people back to church,” nor is it the only element of import in worship (that would be Christ and his real presence in Word and sacrament!). If congregation members are not inclined to listen to, and appreciate, CCM then it may not be the appropriate context for going “all in” on worship which features that genre of music. People respond to almost all types of music when performed to promote assembly participation. When worshippers feel confident in their musical participation (regardless of natural musical talent or familiarity with a particular genre) and the music reinforces the proclamation of the Word, then Martin Luther’s stance on worship is upheld: “We can spare everything except the Word.”[7] In the end, it is our enthusiasm for being brought together as a community of faith, our joy and sorrow expressed in honest ways through words and songs, our ears and hearts opened to the Word, our partaking of the sacraments, and our deep growth in faith and relationship through the work of the Holy Spirit that produces lively and enthusiastic worship.

[1] Mark Allan Powell, “Jesus Climbs the Charts: The Business of Contemporary Christian Music,” The Christian Century 119, no. 26 (December 18, 2002): 26.
[2] Ibid., 22.
[3] Paul Westermeyer, Paul Bosch, and Marianne Sawicki, What is “Contemporary” Worship?, vol. 2, Open Questions in Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995), 11.
[4] Mark Pierson, The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader (Minneapolis: Sparkhouse, 2010), 72.
[5] Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 87.
[6] Dori Erwin Collins and Scott C. Weidler, Sound Decisions: Evaluating Contemporary Music for Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 6.
[7] Ulrich S. Leupold, ed., Luther’s Works: Liturgy and Hymns, American Edition, vol.53 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 14.

A VOICE KEPT SAYING … a poem and photo by Tammy Barthels, Final Year M.Div. Student

A Voice Kept Saying….Lake Superior

It took many years to find my voice.

Years of digging through the rubble that was dumped upon me.

A  Voice kept saying “You cannot be silent.”

So I dug.

My fingers bruised and scraped, bloody from pulling and tugging.

A Voice kept saying “This is not right, do something!”

A spark of light was revealed through the cracks of rubble.

I grasped toward the light.

A Voice kept saying “You must speak your truth.”

The light shone brightly as I stood upon the pile of rubble,

wearing a coat of courage given to me by my Beloved.

The Voice said “You are a beloved Child of God.

You have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

You must speak your truth!”

And the Voice kept saying “Expose the darkness, so that the Light may be seen.”

RISE ~ SPEAK

“Do not be afraid for I am with you”

So I found my voice, and began to speak of the injustices being done.

~Tammy K. Barthels

Dr. Norma Cook Everist Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

Consecrated as a deaconess in 1960, I served Ascension Lutheran Church in St. Louis for 4 years (Before 1959 deaconesses had to choose between service to the church and marriage) In the early 60’s Concordia Seminary opened its doors to Lutheran teachers (which included women). I went over and enrolled, 1 woman among 800 men, and received an MA in Religion in 1964. However, that very year, when Burton and I adopted our son, Mark, I received a letter saying, “Thank you for your service.” I was removed from the roster because I had become a mother.

 For twelve years my call to ministry was as a community organizer in the inner cities of Detroit, MI, and New Haven, CT, as a bridge between church and world. Yale Divinity School is in New Haven. One day I went up the hill and enrolled. Yale welcomed me and Concordia’s degree.  After receiving an M.Div in 1976, Yale invited me to teach there as a lecturer in the Area of Ministry. Meanwhile women in our deaconess community took on leadership, and passed a resolution that all consecrated deaconesses were still deaconesses.  I became the first woman president of the LDA Board of Directors. In the early 70’s the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod went through a schism. I became a member of the Board of Directors of Seminex in the AELC.

 The ALC and LCA began ordaining women in 1970; my deaconess community area conference encouraged me to seek ordination, particularly since I was now teaching women and men who were studying at Yale to become pastors. The path to ordination was difficult, however.  I was approved for ordination by Wartburg Seminary. An LCA pastor tried to stop the ALC from ordaining me.  Dr. Roger Fjeld, prevailed, and I was ordained at Yale Divinity School in 1977. I believed if a door opened a crack, I should walk through and open the doors wider for others to walk through, too. I continued to be part of my deaconess community.

Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Norma Cook Everist,
Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

 In 1979 I received a call to Wartburg Seminary, becoming the first woman to teach in a tenured position in a seminary of the American Lutheran Church. I received my Ph.D. from The Iliff School of Theology and Denver University.  Even though other opportunities presented themselves later, I have been blessed and privileged to continue to serve Wartburg, and through Wartburg, the larger church and world.  I believe in collaborative ministry and the partnership of women and men, ministries based, not on gender, but on gifts. Thanks be to God.

Dr. Gwen Sayler Shares Part of her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

I remember… being told as a child that for a woman to become a pastor would be a sin while at the same time relishing access to Luther’s Works;

I remember… the excitement of being allowed full access with the boys to university theology classes even while realizing we girls were allowed in them on the assumption we’d never really use the theology we were being taught;

I remember… the male students who mocked me every time I raised my hand to speak at Seminary as well as the male students and faculty who bravely welcomed and incorporated me;

I remember… being told as the first woman theology instructor at Valparaiso University that the Dean was counting to see if I could attract male students and that I could neither counsel students nor lead in chapel worship as well as the male and female students who filled my classrooms and the brave colleague who invited me to preach in his chapel week;

I remember… the sheer joy of graduate school at the University of Iowa, where gender counted not at all;

I remember… as newly ordained in 1982 some parishioners leaving church when they saw I was preaching that day as well as developing a relationship with them and and later officiating at their funerals at their request;

Gwen-Sayler

Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible, The William A. & John E. Wagner Professor of Biblical Theology, Director of Lifelong Learning, Wartburg Theological Seminary

I remember… the hostility of some male students when I first came to teach at Wartburg as well as the many men and women who warmly received me;

I remember… as I celebrate how far we have come and begin to prepare to let go to the female and male leaders who will take the next steps toward full partnership in the 21st century.

Dr. Ann Fritschel Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

While I was a pioneer in attending the Military Academy at West Point, I was not a pioneer as a woman attending seminary. I am extremely grateful for those who went before me and bore pain, prejudice and sorrow. I was among the first 100 women at Wartburg, but the way had been paved well before I came. It was still a time of transition though. I had classmates who did not believe women could be pastors. Professors made biblical and theological arguments supporting women’s right and privilege to be ordained. It was still enough of a time of transition that we needed space in the community for us to gather separately as women to discuss our lives, experiences and what was happening in the church. For a while there was even a women’s room for us to use. Some of the men always wondered what the women were “plotting”, but most were gracious to give us space. We also benefited greatly from the wisdom and modeling of Norma Cook Everist as a faculty member.

For internship I was sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The congregation had asked specifically for a woman intern. Several families took the year off and went to a different Lutheran church because I was there. Actually, they had to take two years off because after I left the congregation asked for another woman intern. Not because I had done such a good job, but so I was not the standard by which future women pastors would be judged. They understood women pastors, as well as men, would be very different and offer different gifts. I often heard at that time, “We had a woman pastor and she did a horrible job.  We’ll never have another one.” And yet I wondered if the congregation had a bad male pastor, would the same thinking apply?

Dr. Ann L. Fritschel, Professor of Hebrew Bible, The Rev. Dr. Frank L. & Joyce S. Benz Professor in Scripture, Director of the Center for Theology and Land, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Ann L. Fritschel,
Professor of Hebrew Bible, The Rev. Dr. Frank L. & Joyce S. Benz Professor in Scripture, Director of the Center for Theology and Land,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

When seeking a second call, there was one congregation that refused to interview me or look at my paperwork because I was a woman. At my first sermon at my second call, some people kept waiting for God to strike the church with lightning. I can see the harm of stereotyping and prejudice the isms produce and unfortunately many types of prejudice are still active in the church today. Fortunately as more people got to know me, they relaxed and pondered how God might be at work in the world. Yet all of this was not possible without many people standing up for women’s ordination and willing to change the system.​

Dr. Kris Stache Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

The year is 2002 (yes, this century). I was just finishing up a master’s in lay ministry when I felt a call to continue my education and earn a PhD. Like any discerning student, I did my research and sought out conversations with the administration of potential academic institutions of study. At one particular place I was advised by the Dean of the Graduate programs not to apply. He stated, very bluntly, that a PhD program was not the place for a woman with four children. Clearly I would not be able to find the time needed for doctoral level work. (I was so shocked and appalled by his comment that I didn’t have the courage to ask if he had ever said that to a male parent.)

Dr. Kristine Stache, Associate Professor of Missional Leadership & Director of Learning for Life, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Kristine Stache,
Associate Professor of Missional Leadership & Director of Learning for Life,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

In some respects, that comment sealed the deal for me. I knew then and there that if female parents were not encouraged to study, there must be a desperate need for me and other women like me (and different than me) to have a presence in these learning environments. As much as I had to learn, I felt then that others might need to learn from me. We need the voices of different people, with different commitments, and different experiences and backgrounds present at the table, to learn and challenge one another.

I did finally earn my PhD, within five years of starting the program. Not too bad for a mother of four children, if I do say so myself.

25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PERSISTENT VOICE: Articles from the First Issue

The Persistent Voice began as a networking newsletter January/February 1990, and has continuously published for the past 25 years, becoming an on-line newsletter in 2008. A woman graduate waiting months for a call, initiated the idea of a newsletter to keep those graduates in touch and supported. At that time there were 8 women and 2 men waiting call. Over the years the mission of The Persistent Voice has expanded to include many issues of “Gender and Justice across the Globe.”

Some articles from the first issue:

EXCERPTS FROM A MESSAGE FROM WARTBURG SEMINARY PRESIDENT ROGER FJELD

It is a commentary on our church that we are simultaneously preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the decision of our churches to welcome women into ordained ministry and at the same time seeing the beginning of a newsletter which has a concern for the lack of welcome. More than l000 women are now part of the clergy roster of the ELCA and uncounted thousands participate in various forms of professional lay ministry in the church. Their ministries have been overwhelmingly positive. Their contribution is undeniable. Yet there are those who deny women the opportunity to serve—either in first calls or in succeeding calls. Together we need to address this. In the meantime, this newsletter will be one link. . .  . I lament its necessity and I support its mission.

 

ELIZABETH LEEPER INSTALLED

Elizabeth (Beth) Leeper was installed as Assistant Professor of Church History November 10, 1989, bringing the number of women professors at Wartburg to four: Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Educational Ministry and Church Administration; Dr. Anne Marie Neuchterlein, Contextual Education and Pastor Care; Dr. Patricia (Patti) Beattie Jung, Social Ethics. Two women teach part-time in the Biblical division: May Persuad and Cindy Smith.

 

THE GLOBAL SCENE

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zimbabwe is planning to ordain its first two women pastors when they complete seminary this year. In Tanzania the faculty of Makumira Lutheran Seminary is urging the church to ordain women.

 

ASSOCIATE IN MINISTRY IN RESIDENCE

Rebecca Grothe, a 1981 MA graduate of Wartburg, was recently Wartburg’s first “Associate in Ministry in Residence,” spending a week on campus, addressing classes, preaching in chapel and speaking informally with students. Becky is Senior Editor for Leadership Education at Augsburg Fortress in Minneapolis. She previously served as Director of Christian Education at Bethel Lutheran in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and at Zion Lutheran in Luckey, Ohio.

 

MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR MONTREAL

The Wartburg Community held a Memorial Service for the 14 women killed Dec 6 at the University of Montreal’s engineering school by a man walking into a classroom yelling, “You’re all a bunch of feminists!” Wartburg’s “Liturgy for Women” was planned and held the evening the news was released. The Homily was entitled “The Extravagance of Violence.”

 

POEM BY Ray Blank

FREEDOM
Freedom to be,
All that you can be
Unless that offends me.
All that I allow you to be,
Is what you can be,
Says ME.
OPPRESSION.

FREEDOM
Free to be,
All that you can be.
You challenge growth within me.
To reach to be able to see,
All that I can be.
Together WE.
LIBERATION

(Written in WTS Feminist Theology and Ministry Class, 1989)