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Will worship-tech supplant "real-people" leaders?

Please offer your perspective on the current trend toward computer graphics in worship services.  I have seen "worship arts" job ads that need computer-graphic skills as much/more than they need musicians.
Currently, as Acting Music Minister for a very small church,  I'm expected to provide projection-friendly text to hymns that I choose.   ( The young pastor and  assisting members have recently installed a projector and screen.)  I generally get them from a website, to save typing time.  I almost sent a Youtube presentation of "Gift of Love" (Hopson) which was complete with lovely waterfalls, wood and farmlands, lovely accompaniment, a soloist, intermittent readings of 1 Corinthians 13 (from which the song is taken) and quite readable, hymnal-matching text. 
But I "stopped in my tracks" yesterday.  Could this type of creation become too attractive?  Could short-sighted committees, faced with budget challenges,  not realizing the gift of a music minister with a pulse, deem the church musician "non-essential"? 
Replies (5): Threaded | Chronological
on October 14, 2011 10:23am
Lucy:  "Plus ça change, plus la meme chose."  The place of music in worship was a major subject of debate in the early church, debated once again with a great deal of heat during the Protestant Reformation, debated following Vatican II in the early '60s, and we're going through it again now.
 
My thinking is this (and others are certanly free to disagree).  Much that we take for granted in church services and in churches themselves was originally adopted for teaching or illustration purposes.  For a mostly illiterate population, the beautiful stained glass windows represented not "art," but the parables and stories from the Bible that were considered important.  Music was selected to enhance the message of the day or the season.  Fancy vestments were worn on special occasions to remind everyone that God is served and worshipped as a "Lord," as in the Lord of the Manor, the Lord Duke, or the King, in societies where those designations had real everyday meaning.  The Christian Calendar is, in fact, the same kind of "King List" used to keep track of Egyptian dynasties or Roman Emperors, except that it has only a single King!
 
I may not care for much in the Contemporary Christian movement, since it strikes me that borrowing so MUCH from secular society tends to secularize worship rather than setting it aside as something extra special and extra meaningful.  But if the ancient goals of teaching and illustration are carried out with new technology and new approaches and are successful in doing so, I really can't argue against them.  Of course I can choose not to attend such services as well, as can we all!  Could it be that we're heading for a culture in which, when it comes to meaningful worship, "there's an ap for that"?!!!!!
 
All the best,
John
on October 15, 2011 5:42am
I'm only middle aged but I'm wondering if I'm a dinosaur sometimes.  I'm in a church with both traditional and contemporary worship and I'm in charge of the music for both.  In order to spice up the Power Point presentation of the contemporary service, I spent a lot of time online gathering a wide variety of PP backgrounds so you don't keep looking at a blank background with text.  I often use several different backgrounds to a single song and each song has it's own set of unique backgrounds, sometimes even with some additional pictures pasted in that illustrate the text on that slide.  For me, this adds visual interest since we're adding that technological element as part of the service.

But traditional worship is my first love, and I always worry that with our contemporary worship presentations we're forcing people to lose the ability to read music.  Even people without reading skills at least get to see that the contour of the melody goes up and down when they use a hymnal.  (Why do they need the words on a screen if they have hymnals?)  Add to that the fact that many of our "praise band" musicians have no music degrees and little formal training, if any, and that you can buy electronic hymn accompaniments and download apps for playing instruments on your iPads and iPhones, I wonder if someday the actual trained musicians will be considered obsolete.  

Plus, just this week I read a list of the top 20 worthless degrees (measured by job openings/movement and apparent needs), and "musician" was listed as number 7!  Equally disconcerting was that "Journalist" was number 1, so since everybody and their brother can blog away and newspapers are dying, I wonder where we'll get thoroughly researched, unbiased news stories.  It appears that someday you won't need a degree for almost anything, because everybody can depend upon technology to give them the information and life that they want without thought to accuracy or quality.  I wish we'd stop this march towards over-dependence upon technology and realize that warm bodies with knowledge and skills derived from formal education and experiences still provide a quality and level of service that an app can't provide.
on October 15, 2011 6:03am
John's argument makes a lot of sense to me. However, what Lucy describes sounds like issues that certain members of my church are wrestling with. A certain faction wants the church to purchase and install a projector and screen in the sanctuary in order to have a service close to what Lucy describes. However, the traditional service attendees myself included) think such inclusion of technology is abhorrent and will have none of it in the sanctuary. 
 
About 5 years ago the church expanded by adding a new kitchen and fellowship hall. In this new area were installed a projector and theater-style lighting where monthly coffee houses are staged. The Traditionalists point out that the Contemporaries should move their worship to that space if they have such need for technology, but they refuse.
 
I find that the people who attend the Contemporary service tend to be younger and with children, but I truly don't believe they attend that service simply due to it being "contemporary", but that the contemporary service begins at 11am vs. 9am for the traditional. We have yet to try reversing the times to see what effect that would have on attendence, but the numbers always run fairly even right now, +/- up to five any given Sunday.
 
Craig
 
on October 15, 2011 5:05am
John, you've put your finger on a very sore point, as has Lucy.  I tend to be far more in (what I think) is your court than on the other side of the discussion.  There are far too many "securalizations" going on.  At Ft. Belvoir, where I worship and lead the choir, the chapel is a common-use building - we share it with a Gospel community.  They have screens, and cameras, and all sorts of electronic glitz and glitter (which, incidentally, keeps getting fried or misused or misapplied, or whatever), whereas the Catholic community (three Masses in this building on a weekend) does NOT use any of this, except for amplification of lectors and celebrant.  First off, I'm just as happy not having to deal with all the electronica - I have a direct responsibility for one Mass's music, and an overarching responsibility for the other two Masses.  It's simpler.  Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, the electronica has not become God in our services.  It's not the point of the exercise - rather, it's raising our voices (gee, if there were an app for that, would we use our iPhones or Blackberries to sing for us???) in praise of the God who made US - not the electronica, the gizmos - that's our world.  Sure, our creativity (or the late Steve Jobs', if you will) is something to celebrate and thank the Lord; but it's not and should never be the focus during worship.
 
Back some months ago, there was a forum thread that was started by the music minister at a big Methodist church in San Diego, who was worried about the issues involved with bringing large-format screens into the sanctuary during services, etc., etc.  Most folks focused on the copyright and public performance issues, which was understandable and even, to an extent, proper.  But they all missed the point:  he was concerned that the electronica would become the focus of the worship, not God.  Even the clergy would look at him strangely when he brought up this concern during liturgy planning meetings.  His point, though, was cogent:  have the external fripperies taken away our focus from the point of the exercise, God?  What happens to our worship if the apps don't work, or the electricity goes out?  Do we have "less" of a service and worship?  And I think you both have raised the same point:  has our fascination in this society and culture with the electronic been leading us to "worship" the wrong thing?  I'm a fan of the "less-electronica-is-more" school.  Obviously, there are places for it to help enhance worship - hearing amplification for those with hearing problems, large-print media for those who have trouble seeing, and so forth - but it ought not be the center of the exercise.
 
Now I can hear those who are concerned to bring in the "future of the Church," the young, expressing concern about speaking their language, of dealing adequately through their culture.  I remind those, though, that the Church is supposed to be addressing issues beyond time and place - it is, of course IN time and place, but not OF time and place - and that if the message isn't worthy, the messenger won't be effective in any way.  I hear the counter to this:  but if the messenger doesn't speak the language of those to whom we address the matter, we are ineffective, and their salvation is jeopardized.  "None so deaf as will not hear; none so blind as will not see."  The message of the Church transcends time, place, culture, circumstance:  the disposition to understand the Word and the Life depends on the hearer and seer (and the grace of God), much more than on the messenger.  Remember, even though Peter and the Apostles spoke in the languages of those who had gathered in Jerusalem on the first Christian Pentecost, it was the message of salvation which resonated with all these people - and that disposition was placed on their hearts by God.  So, for me at least, keep the electronica at home.  Emphasize the necessity of human-sized contact and human-originated messaging.
 
Ron
on October 15, 2011 1:30pm
Ron and all:  What we're talking about here is basic human nature:  progressive thought vs. conservative thought; relatively open minds vs. relatively closed minds; oversimplified understanding of the past vs. oversimplifed goals for the future.  In the Episcopal Church they waited too long to update the Prayerbook, so when they finally did it was a big enough shock to split some congregations and send part of them (usually the more wealthy part) to found "Anglican-Catholic" congregations.  (Of course they started ordaining women at about the same time or a little earlier, which ALSO split many congregations even more than does the current question of gay clergy.)
 
This isn't musical, but it sort of applies.  About 15 years ago we had a big blowup here in Virginia because the Virginia Miliatry Institute (VMI), a state-supported military college, refused to admit women.  The case finally went to the Supreme Court and they now admit women, since the alternative was to lose their state funding, and the case stopped the rather promising career of our woman Attorney General in its tracks.  But the philosophical argument was between tradition and history.  Tradition teaches that nothing CAN change and nothing SHOULD change.  History teaches that EVERYTHING changes over time.  At one time women were not admitted to MANY prestigious American colleges and universities.  Now even traditional women's colleges are admitting men because otherwise they will go broke!
 
That's exactly what we're seeing in the battle between traditional and contemporary church services.  Change WILL happen; the real questions are what KIND of changes, and how quickly they will take place.  Candlelight is beautiful and effective, but electric lighting doesn't seem to have made services less effective.  Neither has heated churches, long unknown in Europe.  And church services have always had an element of show business to them; a good, effective service is good, effective theater!  But I doubt that absorbing everything in pop culture is going to be the best way to handle one's individual relationship with God in the long run, although it's certainly the only present alternative, which makes it the "easy way out" for too many in church administration.  For one thing, styles and fashions change much too fast in pop culture.  (Personal opinion, of course.)
 
John
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