For the love of liturgy

When I began my first job in youth ministry, the church I worked at was in the midst of worship wars: Fighting constantly about whether to have “traditional” or “contemporary” music.

Young, naive, and convinced we were right and traditional music was old and stodgy, my husband and I fearlessly ran into the midst of these worship wars. At one point, my husband even went so far as to rewrite parts of the old Lutheran liturgy to the tune of “American Pie”, hoping to liven things up a bit.

When we left that church and I began working at a very contemporary church, we rejoiced. We continued to do so for quite a while... But eventually, the novelty of that style of worship wore off as we realized we were simply singing the same songs over and over again. We also began to realize that despite their popularity, many of these songs lacked theological depth.

Needless to say, by the time we left that church and returned to a traditional congregation with liturgical worship, we rejoiced. To say we've fallen in love with the liturgy would not be an exaggeration.

I was reminded of this when, recently, I heard a guest pastor preach on the story of Jesus' baptism without mentioning Jesus.

I know, I know... In the wake of publishing a book about what high school teens believe about Jesus, I'm a bit hypersensitive about this. 

But still, on that day, as the music for the next hymn started, I sat in disbelief, astounded that a pastor could essentially ignore Jesus in a Scripture passage that was literally about him. To add to my frustration, I was irritated by the hymn selection. It wasn't a song I knew well, nor was it one whose tune I particularly liked.

But then I started to read the words of this song. In them I discovered a theological richness, a clear proclamation of Jesus and the Scripture passage that had been ignored.

Moments later, we entered into communion – the centerpiece of weekly worship in my congregation. Here, again, I was struck by the richness of the words of our liturgy. Every single one boldly proclaims Jesus. 

As people began to go forward for communion, I sat down, continuing to reflect on the clear proclamation of the Gospel in our congregation's very traditional hymns and lyrics. As I did, I found myself remembering the trip my husband and I took to St. Petersburg, Russia. While there, we visited St. Isaac's Cathedral. During communism, this cathedral was closed to worship. We were also told it was converted into a museum / monument for atheism.

As we toured the cathedral, we couldn't help but laugh at the very notion of such a thing.

Every element of this Cathedral clearly pointed to Jesus. Without ever using a word, it's art – windows, sculptures, paintings on the ceilings, and carvings in the doors themselves – told the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Try as anyone might, there was simply no way Jesus could be removed from this building without actually destroying it.

So it is with liturgical worship. Jesus simply cannot be stripped from a liturgy wherein every element, every song, and every word points to Jesus.

The theological depth of liturgical worship is simply stunning.

Perhaps that's why, seven years after returning to a liturgical congregation, the novelty of the liturgy still hasn't worn off.

How can it when Jesus is so distinctly at it's center?

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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