This blog is an archive of Gordon-Conwell's (GCTS) faculty blog, Every Thought Captive (2008-2012). It contains posts of Dr. Jeffrey Arthurs, Dr. Maria Boccia, Dr. Roy Ciampa, Dr. John Jefferson Davis, Dr. David Horn, and Dr. Sean McDonough. Other posts with information of interest to alumni of GCTS may be listed occasionally by the Alumni Services office.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
“The medium is the message”
By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus
I am actually going to quote Wikipedia: ‘"The medium is the message" is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.’
I recently visited a church in which the medium used in the presentation of “worship” led me to think about this idea. When the service began, the lights in the auditorium were turned down, and spotlights on the stage and the worship team members were turned up. There was stage smoke billowing on the platform so that the spotlights created a visual line to the musicians. Four giant screens broadcast images, first of a meditation, then of the words of the songs the musicians were playing. As the singing progressed, a camera focused on each musician so that their image was projected onto the four giant screens as they played or sang. The background of the stage was composed of white and gray cutouts that were arranged in such a way as to resemble a house of cards stacked on one another. At first I did not notice the cross. But as I looked around me, I noticed that far above on the rim of the ceiling structure that held the spotlights was a cross. At the end of the set of songs, appropriately, the audience burst into applause. My husband leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I’m waiting for Tina Turner to appear.” It was quite a performance.
I have also attended churches where everyone was encouraged to “make a joyful noise.” Some have been so committed to this that I have heard choirs sing off key, singers sing out of time with each other, and been subjected to a variety of screechy trumpets and violins, all of which have so distracted me from the worship of God that I could not focus on why I was there. Clearly, the church I just described was committed to not allowing these kinds of distractions from attendee’s worship experience. The musicians performed professionally and the quality of both instrument and voice were excellent. And yet, it did not lead me to worship.
Worship. A most central activity of my faith, and yet so difficult to define, capture, and facilitate.
I have noticed a trend in churches to have people lead worship who have no training in theology, church music, congregational singing, and sometimes even musicianship. Sometimes they are songwriters. Sometimes they are singers. It seems to have become quite rare for them to be trained worship leaders. As a consequence, the experience I described above is becoming more and more common.
One of the challenges, of course, is that many people find themselves joining a church with people from many different backgrounds, church traditions, and preferences. What one person needs to lead worship is different from what another needs. This is one of the things I see valuable about the multitude of congregations we have today. The variety of church cultures provides the possibility of each of us finding a church whose leadership provides a worship context that leads us into the presence of God. But, can we get it wrong? My reflection is not about the “worship wars.” It’s not about contemporary or traditional or blended or whatever. It is about worship and how the media we choose influences our worship.
It is a tremendous responsibility to stand in front of God’s people and lead them into his presence so that they may praise, honor, and glorify him in an act of worship. James writes “let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). This is the verse that drove me to seminary because I realized that if others were turning to me for leadership or instruction, I needed to be responsible about being adequately prepared to honor God and be faithful with the responsibility entrusted to me in the form of these people’s lives. So too should worship leaders be cautious and careful about how they lead others in worship. The medium through which we choose to express ourselves is a part of the message. It shapes the message. It is, as quoted above, symbiotic with the message.
I want to believe that the goal of every worship leader is to direct God’s children to enter into his presence and worship him. To do this, however, is not a simple task nor a small task. It is one that carries great significance, and requires much thought and preparation. If God gives you the responsibility of leading his people in worship, I pray that you will consider James’ words and ensure that your gifts and calling are strengthened and grown rich with adequate preparation. Formulate your theology of worship and ensure that it is consonant with your theology of God and church and spiritual formation. Use your theology of worship as a foundation for how you plan and lead worship, choose setting and context and instruments and songs and psalms, and everything other aspect of the experience you give to the people God has entrusted you to lead in worship. Anything less is a disservice to God’s people and disrespectful of the worship God as due.