The subject is worship. What is it? How should we do it? Is worship really something we do? What do young people expect of worship? What kind of worship is “good, right and salutary” to use some words from the Lutheran Divine Service? Why is there so much controversy about worship? Why are so many people arguing about it?

An editorial is hardly the place to answer all the questions people have about worship. But worship is an issue near and dear to my heart. In fact, Concordia Publishing House is about to release a new book I wrote called For All the Saints: Ideas for Involving Youth in Worship. If you want the whole story, this book might be helpful.

From a Lutheran perspective, worship is not really something we do. It is something God does for us. Thus the words “Divine Service.” It may sound a little weird, but it is God’s words of forgiveness that are announced in the absolution. It is God’s Word that is read for our instruction. It is God, active in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, who assures us of God’s love for us and His grace and mercy in our lives, day by day. In return, we offer God our thanks and praise and prayers. When we gather for worship, the true active actor, the one who does something, is God.

So, what is the best kind of worship? Traditional? So-called “contemporary?” Is it important to have screens and power point? What is the best music? With an organ? With guitars and drums? And what about the songs? Hymns or praise choruses?

I don’t believe that God would limit His people to any one style of worship and He certainly doesn’t limit the instrumentation (Check out Psalm 150). He commends worship with “psalms (using God’s Word itself), hymns (tradition), and spiritual songs (praise choruses).” In fact He gives this encouragement twice, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.

There are a number of indications that young people are returning to a more traditional worship style. That means an appreciation of liturgy, meaning an ordered and even more formal style of worship. Liturgy, based on ancient rites, connects them with the roots of the church, which becomes important in a world where things are fleeting and temporary. Liturgy becomes foundational. For that reason too, there is a new interest in hymns but not to the elimination of the more contemporary praise choruses. Teens expect worship to be respectful and spiritual. They like it done well. No sloppy performances. They like things like candles, incense, symbols and images, organs, paraments, and vestments–things that link them to the ancient mysteries of the faith. They wouldn’t eliminate power point projection of songs (although most could probably give a better production) but most also wouldn’t eliminate the hymnbook where they can sing any hymn any time the Spirit strikes them.

Ultimately, for teens, it’s not a matter of one right way to worship. It’s about being in the presence of God and being impacted by His love, grace and mercy. It’s about being reminded of how God has saved us, empowers us to be His witnesses in this world, and guarantees our eternal future. That’s something to worship about!

Published April 2005