Is “tech” ruining our worship?
Worship is a serious business, and calls for our full-minded attention and concentration. Tech malfunctions are so distracting - could dumping the tech altogether just possibly be a way ahead for some churches? By Colin Sedgwick
In retirement my wife and I have joined a church which has many excellent features. One of them is that the “tech desk” generally works very well: the songs and hymns come up on screen as they should, as do sermon bullet points and other graphics.
But I am discovering as I go round preaching in various churches that this is in fact quite rare. Recently a congregation-member in a happy, quite lively church shared with me a frustration: “There’s never a Sunday when there isn’t some kind of glitch! It’s really annoying”.
I could only share his feeling. True, not all churches are that bad, but I’m afraid it’s far from uncommon. You’re happily singing a hymn and - oops - up pops up the wrong verse, or possibly no verse at all. An announcement is being made and - oops- up pops another announcement on a completely different subject. Sometimes the system suffers a complete nervous breakdown and - oops - up pops that wonderful message “no input detected”.
Cue embarrassed looks all round while somebody tries as unobtrusively as possible to correct what’s wrong. He (it’s usually a man with a wonky smile) doesn’t seem to realise that, sorry, but you just can’t be unobtrusive while tip-toeing around at the tech desk. The congregation battles stalwartly on - it’s not so bad if you know the words by heart - but I’m sorry to say that a few less than friendly looks are directed at the poor sap sitting at the desk (yes, even good, spiritually-minded Christians can get irritated...).
Of course, we all love one another as Christians should, so we make light of it and treat it as a joke. We are family, after all.
But it isn’t a joke: worship is a serious business, and calls for our full-minded attention and concentration. And this kind of thing is just so... distracting! What happens to any sense of the presence of God? What happens to a mood of prayerfulness and worship? What happens to any attempt to follow the thread of a song?
The big question: Why have churches become enslaved by this fashion to have this “tech” at all? Don’t quote me on this - it may just be a dark rumour - but I even heard of a church that cancelled one of its regular services because “we don’t have anyone to man the tech desk”. Once I had stopped spluttering with disbelief, rage and fury there were one or two questions I wanted to ask. In fact, I found myself playing through an imaginary conversation in my mind, a bit like a dream. It went something like this...
Me (grabbing hold of my helpless victim by the throat and banging his head vigorously against the nearest available wall - in Christian love, of course): Did I hear you say you have no-one to man the tech desk?
My helpless victim: Er, yes.
Me: And is that really such a problem?
My helpless victim: Well, all the best churches these days seem to have it. I mean, it wouldn’t be right to try and have a service without it, would it?
Me (continuing to tighten my grip - still in Christian love, of course): Why not?
My helpless victim: Er...
Me: May I ask if you have any Bibles about the place?
My helpless victim: Oh yes - they’re on a shelf near the door.
Me: And hymn or song books?
My helpless victim: Yes - they’re probably in a cupboard somewhere.
Me: But they could be got out?
My helpless victim: Well, yes, I suppose so...
Me: Do you have anyone who can speak on a Bible passage?
My helpless victim: Yes - we usually call him our minister, actually.
Me: Very good. And is the Holy Spirit known in this church?
My helpless victim (after a long pause): Oh, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of that... Yes, I’m sure it (oh, sorry, he) is. But (ahem) we don’t mention it (oh, sorry, him) very often.
Me (kindly relaxing my grip just a touch): Mmm... Anyway, let’s be clear about this... You have Bibles, songbooks, a preacher - and the Holy Spirit?
My helpless victim: Er, I suppose so, now you put it like that.
Me: Well, may I respectfully suggest you reinstate your cancelled service? And that you cheerfully bin your tech, at least pro tem? And that now we sit down and have a nice friendly cup of tea (we are, after all, united in Christian love)...
At this point I wake up from my dream.
I started by asking if “tech” is ruining our worship. If you belong to a church where it runs well, the answer is probably No (though there may be other issues I haven’t touched on). But if not, I wonder if dumping the tech altogether could just possibly be the way ahead.
The Bible tells us, after all, to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” - not in a maddening, stressful lather of mouse-clicks and error-ridden screen displays.
Anyone with me?
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com
Image | Greyson Joralemon | Freely
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