Media and Worship – Careful Contemplation

Technology  Our culture is obsessed with media, and the journey into this obsession developed at lightning speed.  I mean think about it: we went from vinyl phonograph records to radio to broadcast television to computers, cellphones, smartphones, and seemingly infinite variations on these themes in a very short time.  Lest you think I am just a non-comformist, old fashioned stick-in-the-mud who refuses to keep up, I am, after all, writing this on a blog, ok?  Twenty years ago none of us had ever heard of the term, “blog.”  Give me a little credit here.  This is not some kind of a “burn your cellphone” rant.  Rather, my appeal to the church is for us to think about the implications, ramifications, and longterm impact upon our culture of these “advances” and more particularly, I would call for serious consideration of how embracing their use effects our worship, and how it might impact the spiritual lives of the worshipers.  Certainly, very careful evaluation as to how technology effects worship when it is used in the gathered worship event itself must be a concern for church leadership.  The field of media ecology has evolved into a field of study of which more Christian leaders, and particularly worship ministry leaders, must take note.  Let’s think a moment about the cultural dilemma and then we will come back to the gathered worship context for some comparative consideration.

Is it possible that rather than living our lives we have taken to creating virtual worlds through technological devices that allow us to place ourselves at the center of our own universe?  Social media allows us to literally project an image that we choose for ourselves, making public some facts and pictures to affirm that projection, while selectively omitting other aspects of who we are.  We can sorta be whoever we want people to think us to be.  What’s more, we can even develop and project multiple personality projections.  With multiple screen-names could come multiple personality presentations.  “Danny the Pleasant,” a mild mannered Christian gentleman by day could become “Dane the Devious,” a prowling sexhound by night with relative ease.  No one in either world, Danny’s or Dane’s need know of the other.  Human tendencies to compartmentalize our lives anyway are far too well served by the opportunities to foster the dichotomy.

For some there may have developed an inclination to observe life on a technological screen rather than to live it.  Young persons can now entertain themselves by obliterating pixelized humans in video games where they can blowup bodies leaving a screen-generated bloody mess, but have nothing to clean up, and no bothersome guilt to assuage.  Some people can no longer read or speak in complete sentences, but rather reduce communication to tweets, posts, and bullet points.  Extended logic, or reasoned dialogue may be too taxing for us, because it just takes too long, and seems hardly worth the effort when Wikipedia and Google are as close as my fingertips.  And we have not even ventured to the most blatant problems of pornographic virtual realities, cyber-bullying, or theft.  These horrific realities, however, have become part and parcel of modern life.  In the face of vulgar realities, the Christian community tends to toss combative words at Hollywood and politicians.  In some cases this technique may be simply deflection.  What seems to have developed is a kind of moralistic deism, in which Christians pretend that all who traffic in this stuff reside outside the church walls.  Little, if any, consideration is given to how our own practices of technological gluttony might be feeding an addictive monster.  Virtual reality is no reality at all, except for the real deception that occurs as our imaginations weaken to the point of non-existence.  So many of us disengage with the real world that God has given for us to steward.

And now back to consideration of our worship environments.  I am not necessarily advocating an abandonment of technological devices in our gathered worship.  Like anyone I could provide a significant list of ways technology can and does contribute to the worship environment.  What I am positing is a need for prayerful, careful consideration of any and all technologically induced and produced materials in worship.  This is not exclusive to video screens, projectors, amps, and electronic instruments or sound reproduction devices.  Indeed, hymnals, printed litanies, and even the lights in the room that allow us to see are all produced by mechanical means.  What if Christian leaders engaged in meaningful meditative contemplation of every aspect of worship prompts?  Perhaps such actions would lead us to reset biblical norms in the ethos of our worship setting.  Careful reflection might call us to pause before we substitute an edited video clip of a testimony that meets our time restrictions, and dare I say may then convey what we want it to say, for the live presentation of personal testimony in worship.  Should we not examine why we are so concerned at the risk of the new believer going overtime in their unprofessional sharing about what God has done in their life in order to save time in order for the professional ministers to extend their performance of music and/or sermon?  And what is the tradeoff when we opt for worship words on screens in eight to twelve word bites that disappear instead of printed resource to which the worshiper can return his or her eyes for extended reflection and meditation?  Again, I am not advocating adherence to use of one or the other, but rather calling for more careful reflection on the use of either.  How are they effecting our worship and worshipers over the longterm?

For a number of years our church leaders, especially worship leaders, seem to have been motivated by presumed relevancy.  While we try to impress the world that we are “keeping up,” evidence is strong that the world is unimpressed.   What is more critical is that in chasing cultural relevancy we run the risk of leading our church worship environments to leave their first love.  Lord, help us!

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

8 Comments on “Media and Worship – Careful Contemplation”

  1. Good cautions, Paul. As an example, I’ve often wondered about the effect of having the scripture passage projected on the screen each week. I know that there are some positives to this, as it means that everyone can participate in the reading of Scripture. But I wonder if it makes it less and less necessary for the congregation to read on their own. Does not having the full weight of a substantial book of books in your hand erode a sense of context, causing us to increasingly see passages as stand-alone scriptures? Does not feeling the need to bring a Bible with you to church further damage the sense of personal responsibility in worship? I appreciate your call to care-full-ness. Thank you.

    • Precisely the point, Stacey, and the questions you raise speak to the very heart of our worship, the Word. Thank you for being a voice joining the call to serious thoughtfulness in handling the holy. Grace & peace.

  2. Zach Says:

    Paul, this is such a timely article for me. Our Sanctuary projector died three weeks ago. As you know, we sing from a variety of sources in our worship services. Even though we often will sing two or three selections from the pew hymnal along with modern hymns and choruses, the words to every song are projected. We include the hymn number on the slides, but very few people open the hymnal and use it. Strangely enough, even those who read music rarely crack open the book. However, it has amazed me to hear the favorable comments from parishioners of every age (mainly UNDER 50 yrs old!), and to observe visually and aurally what the exclusive use of printed material has done to our worship services. For songs not printed in the 1991 hymnal, I have created bulletin inserts that include text AND music. For that I have received words of gratitude expressing how much easier it is to sing a new song when the notes are available. Again, this is not from the stereotypical anti-projector generation. Plus, I did not tell the rhythm section to stay home until we got a new projector. They still get to play. Basically, the style, form, and content of our services didn’t change much. This proves that it is possible (with some extra time on Finale or Sibelius) and even beneficial to use hymnals, Bibles, and printed song sheets within the context of any musical style. “Hard copies” don’t have to be relegated exclusively to the domain of “formal/liturgical” environments. The one downside is that I have had numerous moments of angst and anger against my computer as I’m re-learning Finale software. Oh well. I hope that even after we get our projector situation resolved, I will not get lazy again, and thereby foster laziness among our people. In this age of media bytes, I think it’s important for folks to see song text phrases, melodic lines, harmonic progressions, and yes, verses from the Bible, in the context of the whole. As I tell the choir often, sometimes it’s nice and comforting to chew on a “nugget.” We need simple expressions of basic truth handed to us in small bites, especially in times of hardship or grief. But nuggets come from a chicken, right? There is no farm that raises nuggets. They raise whole chickens. Instead of gorging ourselves on cheap, processed nuggets week after week, It’s time for us to back up and admire the whole chicken. Roast it slowly with grandma’s unique recipe, and savor every bite. Crude analogy, but it works for Baptists. 🙂

    P.S. Some of your comments on virtual reality echo those of Os Guiness in his book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It. The book was written 20 years ago and was prophetic in its prediction of the numbness and ignorance that will come from the generations raised on sound bites and excessive visual stimuli. I just stumbled across the book a few weeks ago. A fascinating read.

    • Zach, it always thrills me when one of these articles presents itself in a timely manner for someone in worship music leadership as you are at your church. I so appreciate your thoughts and response in letting me know that our sharing has helped meet a present need.

  3. […] Media and Worship – Careful Contemplation […]

  4. LT Says:

    In response to the comments (particularly Stacey and Zech), the problems you address are modern ones. To Stacey, having a Bible to carry to church has historically been impossible. No one, prior to recent times, would have thought to argue that people are better served by carrying a Bible. It was impossible. And to Zach, no one would have considered that music is better learned with notes to see.

    That’s not to say that either of those are bad things, but to point out, ironically in view of the this article, that they are technological solutions to problems brought on by technology. We, living in our own age, do not realize it sometimes. We tend to view people carrying their Bible or singing from hymnbooks as “the old way,” when it reality it is the new way.

    I don’t put Scripture on the screen for the most part, aside from an opening verse, and one occasionally in the message. We do sing off the powerpoint using words only. But let’s not lose our own historical situatedness.

    • LT – I think your definition of “recent” is a little different than mine. I don’t consider 1382 (Wycliff translation of Scripture) or 1450 (Guttenberg Press) particularly recent. 😉 And the problems I’m speaking of in the comments are, of course, modern problems… because that’s what this blog post is about! Can you clarify for me why speaking of text vs. screen results in losing “historical situatedness”? I would have thought this is precisely the historical situation we are in (i.e. movement from text to screen).

      • Again, Stacey, you are right on point. My call in the article is for careful and prayerful consideration in our present. It is, of course, in light of the past, but we face dilemmas that could hardly have been imagined by previous generations. As worship planners and practitioners, we now have options we did not have in prior generations. As stewards we must surely ask, “How might this form us as worshiping community?”

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