Sunday, September 30, 2007

Children of the I-God

The church I attend is a typical, large, evangelical church. It's contemporary, technically savvy, and relatively young; demographically speaking. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I appreciate its openness. It does its best to be accessible to modern culture...and therein lies my criticism.

The heavy reliance on modern media concerns me. We have incredible lighting. We have slick bulletins that tie into a huge graphic displayed behind the worship musicians. It changes every six weeks as the pastor develops new preaching series. We have specially produced video bits that are comical, entertaining, and convey the point of the message about to be preached. We have occasional dramatic skits. We use every piece of technology known to man.

I worry that as people come through the doors, our church will seem like merely one more performance or show, a thing to be observed, not partaken of. I know that is the furthest thing from what the leadership wants, and by which they are motivated, but it still floats in the back of my mind.

But, what can you say? Hey, maybe the lighting should be a little more crappy. Or, maybe the worship leader should sing off-key every once in a while. Perhaps, the pastor could trip and fall on stage. You know, just to remind everybody that they're humble people and following Jesus has nothing to do with looking good, being "perfect", or producing "a really good show"--as Ed Sullivan would say.

The church has made some strides in trying to incorporate a more worshipful attitude. They have recently set up areas throughout the sanctuary where people can pray, take communion, write down prayer requests, etc. The concept is to allow people time to participate during the last part of the service as the congregation is singing. People can stay where they are and sing, or move to one of the other areas if they desire to worship in a different way. The idea is to offer opportunities for people to worship in a way that is meaningful to them.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I have always missed communion when it is only offered sporadically in evangelical churches. Having it available every week should have been an improvement.

I haven't taken it since it has been offered in this manner. For some reason, I kept avoiding it. Each Sunday would come and go and still I wasn't using the opportunity that I had, and I wasn't sure why. I couldn't come up with a reason other than thinking that it "didn't feel right".

Today, when we reached that part of the service, I realized why.

Our large church, in an effort to make things easy and convenient in a church of a couple thousand people, had turned communion into a Self-Serve station. Instead of it being given purposely and deliberately to the entire congregation, eaten at the same time, unifying the whole congregation in a simple action, it had become something to take or leave like an ala carte menu item. We had transformed communion from a communal act to an individual act.

As I thought about this, it reminded me of the choir rehearsal I had attended a couple of weeks beforehand. The worship leader had set up a computer specifically for the purpose of collecting prayer requests from the choir members. The requests would be sent to everyone on the choir e-mail list in order for them to prayed over. I am sure it seemed like a convenient way to deal with the possibility of dozens of prayer requests without having to use up half an hour of choir rehearsal time--an already brief span of 90 minutes.

Are these technical and stylistic innovations sinful? I would say, not necessarily.

Are they wise? I would say, emphatically, no.

The more we infuse our techno-savvy tendencies into our churches, the more we lose the sense of a cohesive community. In a culture which already lacks a sense of wider community, and carries a strong sense of individuality, these innovations take us one step further from each other. A single sentence prayer request, prayed for anonymously, does nothing to establish a relationship between the person praying and the person being prayed for. There is no chance to hug that person, look them in the eye, speak to them clearly, and encourage them with your presence.

Providing chances for individuals to partake of different worship opportunities all at the same time, appeals to our uniqueness, but it focuses our worship clearly on ourselves and what we are feeling in that particular moment. We lose the rapport of being of one accord if we're all doing different things. We lose the ability to forget about ourselves and meditate on Christ and His Body, the church.

We have become children of the I-God, shuffling through the various tunes that we want to hear, oblivious to those around us as we move to our own beat, separated and withdrawn into our own minds and preferences.

1 comment:

Jazzki said...

Hmmnn, "I-God." Any resemblance to the weirdo on our dollar bills?

Seriously, excellent post, Terri. Reminiscent of various Emergent-church critiques I've read online.