Living in a Folk Digital World

Living in a Folk Digital World:
Resourcing God’s Church with media in the 21st century

Recently my daughter Lexi, a junior at the University of Hawaii, posted a short tribute video on Facebook celebrating her sister’s thirteenth birthday. Okay, I’m a very sentimental and proud father, but to me, the video shared via Facebook, texts, and email was mashed together brilliantly, comprising a variety of creative sources and media. Lexi accomplished all of this on her Mac, an invaluable tool for integrating and platforming the communication tools she uses to connect, collaborate, and create with students, professors, family, and friends from around the world—including, of course, her teenage sister right here in San Juan Capistrano, California. 

Now what’s so unique about this story? Absolutely nothing. I mean, I might be proud of how my daughters were able to create and communicate, but in the flood of digital devices and applications, creation and distribution of messages has become second nature or “habit” for many. And “habits” as my cultural anthropological prof. taught me, “are the building blocks of culture.” Who would have thought just a decade ago that the number of wireless phones in the US would surpass the number of people living in the US? Maybe you did. But did you consider that your phone would actually function as a personal computing device that you could voice-command to set your alarm for 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning? That you could furnish it with a constellation of apps that together perform just about any task imaginable? 

This issue we tell a little bit of Keith and Kristyn Getty’s story and shine a light on their ministry and passion (particularly Keith’s) to elevate the theology in the songs we sing. His passion is right in line with what has been occupying my mind recently, that of the role of the hymnal in our churches today. “Hymnal”… an antiquated term you may say. But what do you think the files of songs, parts, and arrangements stored on your computer are if not your church’s hymnal? A hymnal doesn’t have to be a book, in the same way a hymn doesn’t have to be written with Elizabethan poetic style. But there is an important difference between our current song lists and the hymnals of history: the hymnal used to be accessible to the entire community. People carried them around along with or as part of their Bibles. The original Jewish hymnal now comprises the largest book of the Bible.

So in the mashup of hymnody and communication, I’m wondering where is the hymnal app? I suppose before that gets created we have to return to an understanding of hymnals as each individual church or faith tradition’s curated prayer book. One owned by the people and one that they can refer to in times of joy or struggle. A treasured collection of words and music that instills and inspires a broader understanding of the songs each person sings week in and week out. In fact our worship leader partners at Planning Center Online have given you the home for your hymnal. I’m sure there are others who have created/accomplished similar things, a nest for songs and songbirds. But how are we using these tools to integrate the music we sing on Sundays into the weekly lives of our communities? How are we using our music to teach and transform? We have the capacity to familiarize our congregations with new songs before we try to teach them in a live setting—to link the lyrics with history and Scripture, so the truth is assimilated and sticks. 

So back to habits and communication. Our new habits have created what some have been calling a digital folk culture. A digital folk culture “levels” the playing field regarding the ability to create and circulate. Just like with my daughter’s birthday present to her sister, creating a film or producing a song is no longer just in the hands of professionals. Folk culture is a curated culture. It is a participatory culture. It is a local culture. It is the kind of culture that could create a hymnal that is fully owned by a community. 

Each of the previous pages of this magazine highlight tools for you to use in the new folk digital world. These are exciting times, to be sure. And the role of the worship leader as curator, artist, creator, teacher, pastor, and collector is more important than ever before. May you choose and use your tools with God’s wisdom and grace.


This is full article from the feature in Worship Leader’s October, 2012 issue. Subscribe today to read more articles like this one.


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