Recently, I was driving to my church for a Wednesday night Bible study and noticed search- lights beaming the sky from the parking lot. As I entered the sanctuary, the whole motif on the platform communicated the message of flying. The pastor was beginning an overview of the Bible “from 30,000 feet.” And the whole production was impressive.
Sensational packaging of the gospel message is not a new thing.
One can argue that the lightening, thunder and earthquakes of Exodus 19 represented the original pyrotechnic-illustrated sermon, which ultimately brought home the lesson of Exodus 20:20, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come in this way to show you his awesome power, so that from now on you will be afraid to sin against Him!”
In the modern era, the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, created a sensation with street singing and brass bands. Following in the footsteps of Booth, the founder of the Foursquare Church, itinerant evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, created dozens of innovations in order to attract attention to the gospel message—including the pioneering of the use of radio and stage plays. The esteemed historian Edith Blumhofer chronicles these methods in her biography entitled, Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister. Blumhofer writes of banners on trolley cars, colorful handbills, megaphone-equipped sup- porters shouting announcements in the streets, and generally all of the colorful pageantry that surrounded a McPherson meeting. Blumhofer adds a careful note that the meetings themselves were highly controlled.
The object of the attraction was to gather a crowd that could listen. In our present era of electronic text and media, the issue is not getting the word out concerning our meetings; it’s getting the Word heard. The reformers of the 16th century had a different problem. They dedicated their lives to the development of putting Scripture into the vernacular via the new technology of the printing press.
Prior to the press, Scripture was heard primarily through the sermon. We have a different problem today. It is not the production of God’s Word in the vernacular, not a problem of information; it’s a problem of attention. With all the competing messages in our culture, how do we attract attention to God’s house? And once people are in God’s house how can we maintain an “attention deficit disorder” society’s focus long enough to hear the Word of God?
Moralizing about the issue or saying, “People should learn to sit and be quiet and participate in the liturgy or service,” hides a deep cultural issue. That is, our habits of listening are formed by the society we live in, not by the hour or so that the average Christian may spend in the house of God in a given week. The building blocks of culture are habits.
Our listening habits are built elsewhere. It is the recognition of this issue of “attention” that leaders of Christian communities are facing, and it carries a challenge of becoming media literate in the presentation of the gospel. Again, the production of information is not enough. This new literacy involves understanding how to use the visual with speech as well as music. It is part of the challenge of this magazine to serve you in this time of change with insight from the new teachers in this field. Learning to use technology to serve God’s Text is not easy. In fact it can become an obsessive, overwhelming task that distracts us from God rather than helping us dialogue with Him. Nevertheless, this new literacy has become part of the core curriculum of the worship leader today. We look forward to learning from you.
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CEO/Publisher of Worship Leader magazine, Song Discovery, and National Worship Leader Conferences