Worship Experiences

Several times during the past year I’ve mentioned worship experiences from church that really spoke to me. I am blessed to be able to help behind the scenes in Sunday morning worship at my church. I operate the video mixer or run media or lights for our services, with a great team of other people and an awesome band and worship pastor. Surprisingly, helping with production has also created a couple of great worship experiences, and taught me some things about worship. Running equipment to help in worship means that I am there for a practice on a weeknight, a practice on Sunday morning, and two worship services, and I can tell you that even though the band is singing the same songs in worship and the pastor is preaching the same message, I often get different things out of each of those two services even though they are basically the same.

It is with the production knowledge I have been gaining, along with some reading and studying that I have been doing, that I offer the following thoughts. The general idea was coined from Jeremy Begbie who contributed a chapter on the future of arts in worship in a book called “For the Beauty of the Church” edited by W. David O. Taylor. Jeremy Begbie said that “the Spirit unites the unlike”. (Begbie, 2010 p. 167). He talks about the miracle on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 where Peter was preaching and many people of many nations were together, and each heard the message in his own language, and comprehended it, and 3,000 people accepted Christ that day. This was a crowd of people who had nothing in common and couldn’t even speak the same language.

This happens in modern churches as well. God uses different things to speak to different people in different ways. Words and music are the “languages” that I speak and understand, and so God usually speaks to me through either of those. I have a friend who dances. I personally don’t really understand dance, but that’s the “language” that she speaks and God can speak to her through dance, and other visual displays, whereas visuals often just leave me confused. Anyway, Begbie says to take the Biblical account in Acts 2 and insert the word “media” where the word “language” is used. (Begbie, 2010, p. 170).

So, that passage would look something like this (passage from the NIV with my changes in italics):

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be different media that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to produce other media as the spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one saw them performing in the style of media that they most understood. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are performing Galileans? Then how is it that each of us sees them in our own media? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judiaism); Cretans and Arabs – we see them performing the wonders of God in the way each of us understands it most!” Acts 2:1-11 (NIV), italics mine.

Please know that I am not trying to change the Bible and make it say something else here, I’m merely trying to illustrate a point. I have spent the last two years studying different media and writing techniques, and I have spent the last couple of months learning how to operate production equipment in the context of worship services. I’ve been studying technology and culture and I’m interested in its uses in Christian culture, for the benefit of the church, and for worship. I believe I want to focus my master’s degree research in this area.

The thing is different types of media speak to different people in different ways. None are “better” than the others; the fact is that God uses all forms of media and popular culture to speak to people. While we corporately worship together in church and sing praises to God, our acts of individual worship may indeed be much different. Only God could bring together a group of people who are so different, who have different lives and different stories and from different socio-economic backgrounds and have different preferences and different ways of understanding things, and have one worship service speak to many people in many different ways. 

Begbie, J in Taylor, W 2010 For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.