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What Luther Says

'Worship Evangelism' Only Leads To 'The Great Omission'

With Easter only a few days away, and what is sure to be another year of churches delivering blasphemous and heretical sermons designed to entertain rather than confess Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind, I wanted to take a quick look at the important relationship between worship and evangelism.

For starters, what is worship? More precisely, what is Christian worship? We know that doctrine defines and determines practice (at least it should), but what is worship really and how does the way we worship actually preach the Gospel to us?

What is worship? How do you worship? Well, the word worship literally means to ascribe worth to someone or something. And this is certainly what we do when we worship God. We ascribe to Him worth. We confess that He alone is worthy to be praised. But true Christian worship does not come from us giving things to God. It rather comes from God giving to us salvation from our sin and eternal life. This is why God came in the flesh -- to give His life as a ransom for all. Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) So true Christian worship is God’s gift to us. He is the one who gives us our worship. He does this by giving us faith through His Word. So to worship God means to trust in His mercy, receiving from Him what He gives. 
This is why we often call worship “Divine Service.” It is God serving us. We cannot properly worship God unless He rescues us from our sins. And this is what He does. This is why we gather for worship. We gather around the Word of God, which reveals Christ our Savior to us and strengthens our faith in Him by His Holy Spirit. Even our hymns, Psalms, and songs of praise speak of what Christ has done for us. They aren’t just us telling God how much we love Him. They are filled with the teaching of our Lord, Jesus -- by the pens of the prophets and apostles -- that comforts us with the forgiveness of sins bought by His very blood. To worship God means to receive from God salvation from our sins. 
This has always been the nature of true worship. God’s people have always worshiped in this way. The Psalms were the songs of the church, written by David, Moses, Solomon, and certain priests in the Temple. They were written for worship. And they speak of the salvation that God reveals, delivers, and promises for the sake of Christ. 
Many people argue that how we worship really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s done to God’s glory. They will say that it isn’t necessary for us to hold to the way our fathers in the faith have worshiped, because the style is not what matters. But they miss the point. We retain the historic liturgy of our church not simply because we like the style or that it is “our way” of giving glory to God. No, we retain the liturgy because it clearly confesses the Gospel. This song has been sung by Christians during the Service of the Sacrament for over 1500 years. When Martin Luther reformed the liturgy he only removed the parts that obscured or attacked the purity of the Gospel. But he kept this part in because it so beautifully confesses the Gospel, and until maybe a generation ago, all Lutherans everywhere sang this song for that very reason. So to remove this song from the Service of the Sacrament is to remove the comfort that generations of Christians have received as they belted out, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest!”  
But we don’t remove it. We don’t get bored by it. We keep this song in our worship, because this is how we worship: We welcome our Lord who came in the name of the Lord to give Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins, and he now invites us to eat and drink the body and blood that won for us salvation. This is a part of the liturgy that has always been sung by Lutherans, because it is what we confess. It expresses what we receive through faith and hold onto in confidence. Our Holy Lord and God, who has come to take away our sins, comes to save us. 
*- Pastor Andrew Preus

How we worship says a lot about what we believe about confessing the Gospel. What we believe about confessing the Gospel says a lot about what we believe about evangelism.

Ok, so what is the connection between worship practices and evangelism then (if any)? Does the way we worship actually decrease or increase the likelihood of converting souls for Christ?

Those questions made me recall a piece I read several months ago that was written way back in 2010 that I think needs to be revisited by all of us for immediate prayerful consideration.

The following article was written by Dr. Roger Paavola, Senior/Administrative Pastor at Heavenly Host Lutheran Church, Cookeville, Tenn., and Mid-South District Second Vice-President and Secretary (Region 3). It was first published in the Mid-South insert to The Lutheran Witness. Reprinted with permission.

"The Great Omission!" 
There’s no other Bible passage more memorized than Christ’s last words to His disciples, those words we call the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). “…Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (KJV). They define the essence, purpose, and direction given by Christ to His Holy Church on earth. Yet, by and large, the Church has misunderstood, ignored, or discounted Christ’s words. 
It has become “The Great Omission.” First, the ultimate authority over all things was given to Christ, the resurrected and glorious Lord. His words shouldn’t be disregarded as an utterance of some idealistic footnote to His ministry. Rather, we should realize the total authority of heaven and earth is the underpinning for the validity of Christ intended for the Church to grow and become strong. Yet, these words have become grossly misunderstood because the English translation brings the casual reader to a wrong turn in its interpretation. 
Grammatically, the passage has only one imperative (command): “to make disciples.” All the other words—“go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching,” are participles that modify the passage’s only command “to make disciples.” A better Greek understanding says, “As you go from here, make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by teaching them to observe all the things in which I have instructed you.” 
The purpose of the Great Commission is "to make disciples." That's a tall order; an order that can only be accomplished by Jesus' command through the means He offers. 
The recent history of the Christian Church on earth indicates that we're not doing very well at following Christ's instructions. The Pew Report of the last decade of the 20th century indicates that the Christian Church is not growing. In proportion to the American population, Christianity is shrinking. 
Recently, the Church Growth Movement (CGM) came to a shocking realization that the mega-churches that grew over the last generation merely shifted nominal church-goers from mainline denominations to "community, non-denominational" churches. In a 2007 article in REV magazine, Sally Morgenthaler states that the CGM has not grown the total number of Christians, but only changed their seats. 
That’s why we’re faced with a great Omission, and not the great Commission. In our own Synod, not unlike all other mainline denominations, we see an erosion of membership. Except for Roman Catholicism’s immigration boost, all mainline denominations lost total membership in the last three decades of the 20th century. That’s even more dramatic compared to America’s population growth. Since 2000, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod lost an increasingly alarming number of members—equal to the total membership of the Mid-South District each year! 
What has been omitted in the Great Omission that has passively allowed the Church to fail at the Great Commission? Morgenthaler’s article makes it apparent we’ve missed the particles of the Great Commission—means by which the Great Commission is accomplished. CGM had one great objective in mind: Getting more people into the Church. In itself, it’s a good motive, but incomplete. Getting more people in the seats omits the particles of the “what and how” Jesus commanded. He clarified HOW disciples are to be made—by baptizing and teaching them to observe all things He gave to the Church. 
Outreach (or evangelism) alone is not the answer! It’s only a first step of what Jesus gives. Outreach must include assimilation—making the unchurched person included in Church fellowship. Merely making a social relationship as the foundation of one’s membership in any congregation is a sociological illusion if the unchurched person doesn’t embrace a theological reason for belonging. Simply stated, that’s why Jesus said that making disciples (our Great Commission command) is accomplished by baptizing (entry into the family of God) and teaching (assimilating) all that Christ gave to His Bride, the Church. Not doing outreach and evangelism isn’t an option. 
Yet, evangelism cannot be a “bait-and-switch.” Getting people to be active and faithful members of the Holy Christian Church requires faithful pastors and teachers who touch the lives of the people “where they are” and make the Gospel pertinent to their spiritual and eternal needs. Changing lives and communities is an admirable objective, but pales in the light of the central doctrine of Christianity: Our justification before God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That requires an OAR—outreach, assimilation, and retention. 
If entertainment, social satisfaction, sensory excitement, or any other thing brought an unchurched person to our fellowship, the long-term result won't have any more effect than any other social service organization or entertainment venue. If the guitar band or the electric light show down the street are more exciting, our ability to retain membership will be in jeopardy. 
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has not failed in outreach. We continue to receive new members. Similarly, assimilation isn't our weak underbelly. Retention of membership—building one's relationship with Christ—is where we've lost. How many churches could we build from our friends who left the Lutheran Church "out the back door"? Were they faithfully taught to be faithful? 
When the scriptural doctrines and Confessions of the Lutheran Church are dismissed as nothing better than any other denomination or "non-denominational congregation," we find the source of our Great Omission. Unlike any other church body, we embrace a treasury of God's grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. There's no greater message, and surely no other way by which a person is made a disciple. People may scoff at our corollary of the principle of the chief doctrine of the Church—that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, and not by works of ourselves—but it is the only sound doctrine by which disciples can be made. 
If our desire turns to look like, sound like, act like, and teach like all the others, what do we have left to offer? If we determine that those others are just as good, we may as well quit fooling ourselves, pack up our tents and go home. Yearning to replicate a mere numbers game turns us toward a covetous sin of chasing numbers at the expense of the means Christ offered—the only particles by which true and faithful disciples of Christ can be found, made, and treated. 
We have a mother lode in the Lutheran Confessions that made the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod the most vibrant and growing denomination in America. Borrowing from business parlance, that "market differentiation" is Christ's pure Gospel, faithfully taught and embraced by His people. Without paying attention to "all He has commanded us," our work to accomplish the work of His command will simply mean we truly have discovered our Great Omission. 

To put it another way, the so-called "Great Omission" is the removal of on-going Lutheran catechesis from our churches. This is also precisely why catechesis should not end once you are confirmed!

The sheep need to bed fed the Word of God both from the pulpit and from any misguided addiction to small groups that might exist within a particular congregation.

The source of our spiritual food should be the Word of God rightly divided and the Sacraments rightly administered. Anything else is akin to being fed a steady diet of "empty calories" in my book.

Pastors, please feed us with the Word of God sprinkled throughout your sermons and remove the quaint anecdotes. Feed us with the words from our Confessions and Creeds and forget about creating a 7-week study around the latest Christian bestseller or movie.

It doesn't just begin and end there (although that should be all that we need to do).

Look, we all know that the "Worship Evangelism" movement (i.e., the notion that if you change your worship style, then you'll really, truly reach the lost and the unchurched) is severely flawed and that it simply doesn't work.

There's enough empirical evidence that has filled entire books on that fact and you can easily find this information for free by doing a quick Google search yourself.

So then why are so many LCMS churches still acting like a one-trick pony when we have such a rich history of confessional, orthodox Christianity on our side complete with the means of grace that are the Word and Sacraments, which are the only means of grace that God promises will grow Christ's Church?

In a Lutheran layman's terms, it's quite ironic, because the constant belly-aching about the need for strategies that incorporate "Worship Evangelism" only leads to "The Great Omission" instead.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.


  1. Thanks for sharing this - more great stuff!

    To focus on just one small part - I wholeheartedly agree that catechesis should be a continuous process. So many in our churches have no idea what we confess...it seems like those with the most appreciation for our confession and doctrines are those who, like you and me, came to the church "late," and were not confirmed as kids...it makes me wonder if the confirmation "process" is inherently flawed somehow?? Like it's a hurdle to jump and then you're "done"?

  2. jwskud,

    Sadly, it's treated like a "finish line" far too often by far too many. In my case, I was confirmed as a kid (pre-teen), but I wasn't catechized in the proper and right things! I had no idea there was a Small/Large Catechism, a Book of Concord, etc. Wish I did. I believe Pastor Mark Surburg has an EXCELLENT and recent series of articles on the history of confirmation with commentary on pros/cons regarding it back then and as it exists today so you might want to check that out (http://surburg.blogspot.com/). God bless you and yours!

    Grace And Peace,


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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