Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Rethink" Human Connection

An interesting article on a conference helping leaders, Christian and not, to 'rethink' how they use technology at the expense of relationships.

"Rethink" Human Connection (The Christian Post)

The first idea that popped into my mind is the over-saturation of technology in many church services. We need another company's inspiring video (which is impersonal). We need a band to perform for us all plugged into megawatt speakers (which is impersonal). We cannot hear our own voices, nor the voices next to us sing (which is impersonal). We need satellite services with the 'pastor' beamed or hologrammed in (which is impersonal). We only have one leader that cannot be known by the majority of the congregation (which is impersonal). We segregate services (which is impersonal).

There's a lot to 'rethink.' I do believe people crave that human connection. We don't want church and church services to encourage passivity by it's mere structure. The television does this well. But should the church?

Notice the 'comments' after the article. One decried that non-believers shouldn't be sharing with believers the effects of technology. Yet I wonder if that critic forgets how much of of the 'world' is already in us at a more profound level. Quakers didn't even allow music in their churches. The human connection found in earthy communal worship was profound enough.


Amy said...

I visited my old church a few weeks ago to see one of my college-aged friends perform a solo in the traditional service. There were old hymns, a choir, and all that good stuff they don't have in the "contemporary" service (which is really just a service for baby boomers anyway). Then when it came time for the sermon, the pastor popped onto the big screen at the front of the sanctuary.
Apparently, he was talking to the folks in the "contemporary" service and being broadcast live to the rest of us in the sanctuary. I thought it was ironic, given that we were the "traditional" service, and what's more traditional than actually seeing your pastor at the pulpit? I later learned that he trades off--each week he's live in one of the services, and this week it was the contemporary service's turn.

You want to scream, "Can't we all just sit in the same room and listen to the sermon together?" But, no, we can't. In fact, the issue of music almost divided the church to the point of splitting.

It's not just that--I don't even have to carry my Bible to church anymore because the verses are right in front of me on the big screen. We don't have to talk to each other because we have that whole obligatory greeting thing going on. And yet we're still lonely and depressed.

In fact, some of my loneliest moments have been sitting in the pew. I agree with you--we need to rethink the human connection. If we can't even connect with other Christians, who are are supposed to have "citizenship in Heaven" in common with, then how on earth can we get along with anyone else?

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks for the story, Amy, and the insight!

It does seem the 'system' needs lots of rethinking.

I was speaking to a friend of mine recently about the Willow Creek confession that 'maybe we got it all wrong.' He commented how they fallaciously believe it's up to them to lead the charge for making it right.

It's like they can't help but be in charge. Can't help but be a marketing machine. They think it was the technique that was wrong. Maybe it's actually thinking one church in one community can lead every church in every community. Maybe its actually thinking they need to be the leader... maybe that's a deeper part of the real problem.

My church in Steamboat is actually part of the Willow Creek association... and I think, "Why?" What's wrong with just being yourselves, as quirky and grass roots as it is, and see what the Holy Spirit can do?"

Wait, there is such a thing as a Holy Spirit, right? :)


Amy said...

Stop bringing the Holy Spirit into this! That's crazy talk!

Dale Fincher said...

lol... :D

Philip said...

The Holy Spirit is such a mystery to many Christians. It wasn't until I read Schaeffer's "True Spirituality" that I was really engrossed with the idea of the Holy Spirit's power and living in it.

Side note: have you heard Andy Gullahorn's new album? It is really good and unique.

Paul F. said...

What!? You believe there is a Holy Spirit? I thought us AG folk are the only ones that believed that!

Seriously, even though I only attended a couple of times, I think of your church in Laguna as a model of a church that actually "gets it." We're going to stick it out at our church now, but mostly because we figure why start at a new place if we're going to move in a year. At least they're starting to move in the direction of less focus on style and more focus on substance and we have really good relationships with people in our small group.

Philip said...

I finally got to read this article. Technology is a tricky issue. It can be used very well to help along a service such as microphones and speakers and so on. I think it gets dangerous when we view technology as active or a part of the service instead of a mere tool. Using intelligence lights in a service are very active - "We want to set up a worshipful mood" I've heard people say. Once we think we can engineer "moments" within a service, it becomes dangerous.

At my church, they decided to do this thing in the service that looked really cool and it was emotional by the very visual aspect of it. The pastor said in the second service, "We're going to create a moment...I mean God is going to create a moment..." This is when it gets dangerous.

But also technology can be quite good. I see nothing wrong with showing a video to help illustrate something and being creative in conveying the message, but when you loose sight of the message and all you can say in the end is "that was really powerful and moving" or "I love it when you get to this certain part in the song" is where it all goes sour.

And there is nothing wrong with having a fun service. I enjoy going to services where we just have fun, but we do not need to mistake a fun or sensational service with a spiritual one. They can be the same thing but they certainly are not necessarily the same thing.

Paul F. said...


I think I agree with much of what you said, but thought I'd ask a clarification question. Do you think there is room in the service to use modern technology as an act of worship? Many think that the arts have a proper role in worship, if you are one of them, then couldn't technology also have a part?

I'm trying to ask if you think technology can only play a role in doing something else (illustrating a point, etc.) or if it can have an intrinsic element of worship in it.

Philip said...

Thanks Paul for the question. I haven't thought too much about how the arts within the church should actually look. I'll give you some of my thoughts, and maybe we can go from there.

I think it depends on whether you can have art that is not illustrating something. Art is a form of communication so I think any art (pictures, paintings, music, etc.) is communicating something. If this is the case, then the question that should be asked what is meant by the art, what does it focus on, and does it end up distracting or encouraging the congregation.

The church should meet with a Christ-centered attitude. This is not to say we should not care about how to help the needy, or work on our relationships with our fellow brothers and sisters, but it is to say that to do the latter properly we need the former. So I think that the art should never distract the church from what they are there for, but I have no problem with art "illustrating" or communicating to the church in a new, fresh light.

I have a lot of experience in the music area, and I have been burned out by it at times. Music is emotional and that is quite all right, but, when the emotive aspects of the music become the focus, we have lost our focus.

I take what Rich Mullins said about sensationalism in the church and how it has become synonomous with spirituality, and this is dangerous. Mullins went onto say that what is spiritual is the breaking of bread, prayer, fellowship, and having all things in common. I think the arts can have a role in the worship of the church but, like technology, it needs to hold a more passive role than it has recently. I do not go to church to be entertained, and it is a thin line to walk when you start to think you have to entertain; youth ministers especially have this temptation.

Dale Fincher said...

*Beware* long comment:

I think we want to be careful with the arts in church, in part, because they are so often misunderstood.

As a performer, I hate being pinned as 'drama guy.' It isn't because I don't think stories have intrinsic value, but rather churches use it as a 'device' or a 'trapping' to support the 'message' the pastor will be preaching later. It is treated as a supplement.

My view is that art is the message and if it is used as an illustration in a 'message,' it should be as two equal weights supporting the whole.

Merely doing skits in a church service isn't art to me. I call them 'skits' or 'vignettes' or 'sketches' and leave them at that. When people tell me they have a 'drama department' at their church, this is usually what they mean. And they are free to do what they do. But it doesn't usually carry the same weight as doing art and telling humans stories.

I'm not a big fan of showing spotlights of movie clips in a sermon. It does something to an audience, abstracts a story, takes them into a different mode, may even perhaps assault the imagination that the speaker should be building up with his words. I have used video myself, but usually complete works, like from YouTube.

Philip, you mentioned that the illustration must be communicating something. I agree. And I agree that goes for EVERYTHING going on in church. But it doesn't have to communicate propositions all the time. Often it is communicating human experience which cannot be communicated through propositions (something the evangelical church has largely missed by not listening to the art community).

When I think of the Psalms, I think of David communicating something, but it isn't often to communicate teaching or doctrine. Yet they carry a paradox of human experience with a God that overlays the texture of all our experiences with meaning. And that's what we want. More than truth, we want meaning.

A good primer on a Christian view of art is L'Engle's, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Then I'd recommend a subscription to Image journal.

When people ask me to do a story for a service, I often joke if it will take the place of the sermon. I want it to. It is a sermon in itself, at least that's my goal... to tell a good story well, an idea that can be felt. And the feedback 90% of the time, was that it was better and more memorable than the sermon. We should be paying attention to those kinds of comments.

I think we should also remember that 40% of the Hebrew Scriptures is written in Narrative. And much of Jesus teaching was spoken as parables. God isn't concerned, it seems, about perfectly cut and dry doctrines, when he hasn't communicated them to us in that way.

What is more, I think an illiteracy with metaphorical intelligence (Kathleen Norris has a great essay on this) has led much of modern evangelicalism to focus primarily on the didactic teachings of Paul (as if that is EASIER to understand!).

And even when Paul uses metaphors, we tend to interpret them as literal rather than as metaphor. We don't give them play. We don't give words permission to be ambiguous--which is the way life is. Look at the different ways Paul uses 'head' as a metaphor and how many metaphorically illiterate evangelicals are ready to suppress women beyond Biblical subordination because of it....

So, yeah, the arts have intrinsic value and the role of metaphorical intelligence and imagination are just as important as reason and proposition. If we lost one, we lose the other.

Paul F. said...

I regularly attend a local Catholic church before heading off to my Protestant, non-denominational church. One thing that always strikes me (especially when visiting both so close together) is how the Catholic church evokes a sense of awe and grandeur within me as I approach and enter the building while my Protestant church evokes a sense of faddishness and thriftiness (a bad pair I assure you).

It seems to me that you are right Dale about the role of the arts in a worship service, but we should also extend the role beyond just the designated time we all meet together (I think you'd agree with that).

What is one of the main reasons, if not the only reason, we attend church? To worship our maker. Utilizing the arts to evoke proper attitudes toward our God seems to have been looked over by many evangelical churches. Instead of beautiful buildings that point to God and remind us of his beauty, we have tin boxes that point to nothing and remind us of Wal-Mart.

Thanks for the book recommendation.

Dale Fincher said...

Paul, absolutely... not just church by all of life (I didn't know you were frequenting a Catholic church). In fact, my philosophy of church is that it is a bubbling out of all of our normal daily experiences... as we worship in the mundane rhythms of life individually, so we share our voices and celebrate God and his Revelation and our history corporately.

On the spaces you refer to, Paul, my friend Jeff LeFever has been doing a lot of thinking in that area, photographing european cathedrals the last few years. He's working on starting a non-profit toward that end of educating and inspiring consecrated spaces. He says there is consecrated space and integrative space. The former is what you refer to in the cathedrals. The latter is more functional and multi-purpose. Both have their place (think of house churches as integrative). But the gospel does seem to entail us making of things beautiful for the worship of the king. Israel had her temple and we would do well to at least make shadows of that illustrative presence until the real one is rebuilt.

We don't understand arts in the church because we don't understand it in real life. Hollywood panders to the evangelical audiences, not because we have great taste, but because we have money. That the missing heart of the meaning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe went with little comment is telling that we, in general, are poor at metaphor or imagination in any of our walks of life, not just for church services (and then we leave the 'arts' up to church staff in general who has the same miseducation on the arts as we do). We are blessed to be poor in spirit... but we are deprived when poor in imagination.