Martin Luther: Prioritize Seekers and Young People

Martin’s 9 Mottoes for Worship


A few years ago a young Bill Hybels launched a new church with a revolutionary concept: Plan worship services for the seeker. Tens of thousands of people have joined his congregation—Willow Creek. Thousands of churches have adopted his model and joined the Willow Creek Association. Meanwhile pastors, worship leaders and church councils discuss and debate seeker-targeted services, seeker-sensitive services, traditional services, blended services, contemporary services.

When we plan a service, whom should we have in mind: the committed core, the congregation in general, or the broader crowd of those on the fringes of faith? What age demographic should we target? Perhaps Bill Hybels and current revolutionaries have been studying Martin Luther.

Many Christians are surprised to read Brother Martin’s own words: “In short, we prepare such orders [worship plans] not for those who already are Christians…. But such orders are needed for those who are still becoming Christians or need to be strengthened….” (emphasis added, Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, Worship and Liturgy, p 62) The high-priority group in planning worship is “those who are still becoming Christians.” That sounds an awful lot like seekers.

Luther identifies another high-priority group for worship planners to keep on the front burner in their decision-making—young people. “It is best to plan the services in the interest of the young and such of the unlearned as may happen to come.” (LW 53:89)

The natural tendency of worship planners is to fit worship to their own taste. With the best of intentions, Great Uncle Ben (That’s me.) may aim to recreate a worship setting that touched his own heart decades ago. However, music and other cultural elements that softened a soul back then may find little resonance with children, teens and young adults today.

Worship planners need to adopt a missional mindset, a cross-cultural strategy. They themselves are doubly disqualified in what they are doing. They are not among “those who are still becoming Christians.” They are frequently not “the young.” They are, however, those whom the Holy Spirit will guide to bring the Gospel to these precious souls.

Feedback time: Who do you think is the primary target participant in your church’s worship services, the deeply committed or “those who are still becoming Christians” and “the young”? Which aspects of your service are the least understandable to outsiders?

Martin’s 9 Mottoes for Worship:

About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in Church, culture, theology, worship and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Martin Luther: Prioritize Seekers and Young People

  1. Pete says:

    Some worship-Nazis are so rigid in their traditional worship styles that, never mind the unbelievers, even an enthusiastic believer like me feels unwelcome. It may be traditional, but that doesn’t make it sacred. Having grown up in (what I saw as) a rote & rigid worship format, I have deliberately attended congregations that do not follow that tradition. When I took my kids to a church where I grew up, they were so lost in the r&r order of service that they swore to never again attend that denomination. I wonder how my curent church comes across to visitors? Simply having lyrics projected does not guarantee that we are helping them feel welcome. Ben, you make me think too much.

  2. Ray Moore says:

    Without Martin Luther, We would have no freedom today.

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