It’s been interesting to have to run worship services two weeks in a row recently without the benefits of technology when the power was off in our area. That meant no amplification for either the guitar or for the voices of readers and preacher. It meant having to dig out the hymn books again – just as well we didn’t get rid of them! It also meant there were no recordings of the worship services for the sick and the shut in on that Sunday.
In the first instance our guest preacher was our visitor from New Zealand, Rev Andrew Nugteren. The way Andrew handled the mini-crisis was a credit to him and may even have won him a vote or two in the election for calling a new pastor…!? In the second instance our newly retired Rev. Kevin Rietveld handled the situation with equal confidence and skill.
I mention this in the context of a culture that is increasingly fascinated and preoccupied with things technological. And in the Christian Church we follow suit. Most churches now have overhead projectors for displaying songs and Bible readings. The average church has a large sound mixing desk somewhere in the back corner. And while we may have some good old-fashioned woodwind instruments we are also accompanied by electric pianos and electric guitars.
Please… I’m not criticising these tools that we use to aid our worship. Technology can be a good servant… but it’s a bad master.
For starters the two Sundays without electricity were a good reminder that our worship of the Lord God is not dependent on technology. Although one could quibble about the definition of technology. Were the hymnbooks we were holding in our hands those two Sundays really any less technological than the songs we sang off the wall on the Sundays prior and following? In both instances technology aided our worship. In one instance the older technology of the printing press; in the other instance the newer technology of an overhead projector.
On reflection both the old and the new technology have advantages. It was good on those two Sundays to be able to read notes again – and for those who could, to harmonise by singing one of the parts of the four part harmony. I’ve always regretted that on the overhead projector we only have the words. For that reason I keep a hymnbook on the pulpit so that I can sing the tenor part of some familiar hymns. On the other hand there is certainly some benefit in lifting up our heads to sing instead of singing down into a book – the voices carry much better.
There are a couple of concerns I have about technology and worship.
First there is the matter of priority. I recall a discussion with a colleague some years ago. We were talking about the resources we use for sermon preparation. My colleague was quite excited about some new software that he was using. I expected him to mention some tools that helped him with the study of the Bible text in the Greek or Hebrew. Instead he mentioned some software for producing very professional looking overhead transparencies that he used while he spoke. Well, good on him. But I wish he had demonstrated the same kind of excitement about Bible-study software as he did for his power-point software. My fear for him is that content is going to be sacrificed in favour of presentation.
I have a similar concern for singing and praise in worship. It’s possible, isn’t it, to be preoccupied with the music and the instruments – to make sure we have a good “church band” with modern instruments that appeals to young people, while the lyrics are often trite, emotive and at times even heretical.
We can be thankful for the technology that is available to us as we worship but we need discernment to keep our Biblical priorities in place as we glorify and praise the God who has made technology possible.