Thursday, April 26, 2012

Technology and Worship

A few months back the Canadian Mennonite (February 6, 2012 Volume 16 Number 3) published a feature article by Andy Brubacher Kaethler on the use of technology in worship

 It is an interesting article that uses as its touchstone the usual critical positions of Grant and Borgmann.
While his article is worth reading, and I encourage you to do so, if you do, you should also read the comments.

Brubacher Kaethler uses a couple of examples to highlight in his mind the poor use of technology.
At "the youth summit at the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Paraguay in 2009" ... he observed "the worship leaders from some continents adopted an American Idol-style, egoistical, sexualized and audience-pandering stage presence.Other continental worship leaders simply felt inadequate and deferred to the worship band".

Later, after listing some excellent question on how we use technology in churches he answers those questions with "seek lower tech or electronic-free worship and fellowship experiences, observing the difference between technologically mediated relationships and incarnational relationships. Technology is morally disorienting. It hides the complexity of issues under a veneer of efficiency and coolness (and lets face it, some gadgets are really cool)".

This leap from good questions to the low tech answer is quite troubling for me because the author makes a hidden point of reference the key goal of worship. All through the article what actually matters to the author is not the technology but the worship experience. Much of the article confuses culture with technology and that confronting these two dimensions require different questions. In the example above, the exact same scene may have been evident with much more rudimentary technology available. Deference to western culture is rampant and has been for a long time.

But the bigger point is that the article continues to reinforce the recent notion that technology = digital / audio / visual technologies. But we live in societies that operate on multiple layers of platforms of technology that form stratas that we no longer perceive.

Not all of us, but many particularly in Canada worship in relatively modern buildings with central heating. I'm not saying we should not have heating but we should at least be aware that heating definitely changes the worship experience. One church I have attended was particularly problematic to heat due to large (inappropriate) glass walls and church was not that enjoyable. Many of us drive to church - we want to attend a Mennonite or Baptist or whatever but there is not one nearby so we drive. This changes the worship experience. We now get to choose. In the post reformation England once things had settled back down there might be the Church of England and a Catholic church in your village and that was pretty much the choice. Building technologies change worship experiences. The Gothic revolution of Cathedrals with their high jolted ceilings and huge internal spaces changed the experience for some from small tiny village churches to massive Cathedrals.

If we are going to set the standard for our worship experience purely on experience it will be difficult to come to any agreement on the role of technology. Nevertheless there are important questions. We must be critically aware of our technologies and our culture. These are not separate silos but indeed are intertwined, although they need judged independently and interdependently.

I'll close with some of the better and less loaded questions of the piece.

Will using this device help or hinder my relationship with creation?
Would a change in my behaviour be a better solution than a technological change?
Will using this device help or hinder my relationships with family, friends and the church community?
Will this device really deepen communication, understanding, empathy or compassion?

With these I am in agreement. We can not blindly reject or assimilate technology - choices have consequences.


  1. Good words, man. Enjoyed your thoughts.

  2. Another way to think about this is to start with what technology is required for worship:

    1. Lee, I kind of agree but without defining 'worship' we get the performances like the one in the video you posted. We need to be constantly developing good questions so that we can always be in a position to critique our cultures - inside and outside of the church.