Last week I finished writing a piece for Fuller Seminary's 3x-yearly magazine of theology & commentary, Theology News & Notes. This particular issue's theme is the place of music in worship, and I was asked to contribute a piece on the effect of technology on worship music. My thesis, simply put, is a truism borrowed from the computer industry -- hardware drives software:
As the church seeks to make the most of certain hardware technology – amplification, lyric projection, and looping DJ software, for example – we can expect that our worship software, i.e. the style of our worship itself, will also change. It may expand in potentially wonderful and creatively enculturated new ways, following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Or it may be narrowed in ways that are hip, but historically, and even theologically, suspect.
The article then examines the three aforementioned technologies, pointing out the good and the bad, the helpful and the heinous.
The idea for the piece arose arose out of a seed of an observation about hardware and software and the composition of some contemporary worship songs:
I have begun to see signs that some songs are being composed, perhaps unconsciously, not just to take advantage of the technology, but bounded by its peculiar limitations. The structure of the songs and the shape of the melodies are being molded to fit the size of the screen and the super-sized words projected onto it. Thus, we no longer get lyrical lines of melody and text; we get textual phraselets and melodic motifs -- mere musical fragments, not bearing repetition, but repeated nevertheless. And repeated.
Lest I appear a Luddite here, I hasten to add that in the article I have many good things to say about amplification, projection, and yes, DJ looping software. But I am concerned that we are less discerning than we might be. I challenge you, for example, to visit this website and find a single theological insight brought to bear on the use of technology in worship. Sigh. There's a lot of work to be done.
I am quite interested in hearing from others who read this blog: what effects on worship style/software do you see as a result of the church's adoption/adaptation of certain hardware technologies? Do you have examples of really wonderful and fitting uses of technology?
For example, I have seen pastors use video clips in sermons, sometimes well, sometimes not so much. But the time I really thought a video clip was used well in a service was when the sanctuary went dark just before the congregational prayer, and we saw a 5 minute home-made video that had been taken the week before by the pastor going to visit some of the elderly folks at the nursing home and a couple of shut-ins. These people told little bits of their stories, and said what they wanted prayer for. Some couldn't talk, and then the pastor did a bit of voice-over. It was a powerful introduction to congregational prayer - reminding us again that we are a body of Christ, united with many others, present and not present, as we gather together to pray.