Tools, Toys, Theology

For clarification as we continue on, let me share the foundational  premise I’m working from:

Gathered worship is the verbal outpouring* of the redeemed people of God – offered, led and carried out by redeemed people – not hirelings, not machines.

It is Redeemed Images of God responding to their Creator, King and Redeemer.

This has been a guiding approach throughout my ministry years and heavily influenced by mentors.

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We are in a very unique point in church history where the risk of the perceived excellence of the band verges on idolatry.

Yes, pride and musical idolatry have existed and tempted the Church in the past, yet it is uniquely widespread in our generation.  Why, you may ask?

Technology.

Previous generations may have attended a worship service or event (cantatas, etc.) and fallen into the trap of, “we should sound like that”. A possibly well-intentioned desire to bring excellence can become an elevation of the quality of the music to a degree that supersedes serving the congregation.

Today, our internet & on-demand generation, coupled with the mass commercialization of “worship product” makes it a more easily accessed and more subtly embraced idolatry.

Consider the double edged sword to ministry of this means of sharing info, audio and visual:

• We can pull up virtually any song on YouTube. Every song – with its opportunity for deep truth or subtle heresy available at a click.

• Along with this comes a “designer image” for those who lead
church music as well as their gathering spaces.

• Whole websites exist with chord charts, lead sheets, choral, brass, and full orchestrations for a fee**

• Video tutorials are readily available to learn specific parts.

• Downloadable, purchasable, audio resources allow keyboardists with MIDI/laptop/software functionality to not only exactly replicate sounds, loops and drum patterns from a recording, but queue and trigger virtually any instrument or voice of a music group, the projected lyrics, and lighting changes.

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With all these tools available, we must ensure they are used not merely as toys… or worse, begin to be seen as essentials in the eyes of those serving, or the wider congregation. 

This is not a hard and fast line to draw, nor an easy one, and necessitates humility, dependence, and discernment on the part of those in leadership. We are not, after all, called to asceticism.

It would be wrong to say:
– All musical technology / resources are merely toys
– Projected lyrics with artful backgrounds are an excess
– Aesthetic room beauty is merely emotionally manipulative
– colored lighting only indicates performance***

Sadly, however, many churches can fall victim to the idol of professionalism and musical worship can become a “shiny hook” to capture and keep attendees….rather than the Gospel and genuine worship to exalt our Father.

When are we in danger? Comments like these should be warning flags:

“People hear these songs on YouTube / radio so we should do it exactly as heard on the recording”

“We need to ensure our music is the quality people hear at (insert mega church name here) or they might leave, so we need to (buy tool, hire talented non believers****, etc)”

“I can only really worship (engage) with a full band / drums”

“I need (low, warm, colored, moving) lighting to worship”

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For all our toys, are we teaching, encouraging and training people to be full-hearted worshippers if when the app crashes, the click track fails, or the power goes completely out?

Are we a people who will still lift whole-hearted voice if we come to a point where society dictates the only place we are allowed to gather for worship is in a cave with zero electricity?

Obviously Psalm 33 calls us to skillful service, and musicians should hone their skills, but does the Gospel alone compel us to full-on worship? It should.

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In the West we can sometimes bemoan the fact that gathered worship in other cultures is so much more vibrant or engaged than ours.

Having experienced worship gatherings in remote India, under resourced Peru and seen video from underground churches in Asia and believers in Haiti – it is clearly not technology that impels whole-hearted outpouring.

The Gospel alone should and must be the source and propellant for our worship.

May it ever be so!

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* of adoration, praise, trust, truth, lament, gratitude, celebration – ultimately centered on the Gospel

** I am not disparaging these services, just indicating that they are businesses that did not exist even in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. I fully believe those who produce these resources should be paid fairly for their work.

*** stained glass creates colored ‘lighting’ in churches and cathedrals and is typically a welcomed beauty

**** I’m all for including people warm or near to belief in certain musical roles. I am firmly against paying non-believers to ‘provide excellent music’ for the people of God. Worship is witness.

 

 

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