Just a note: I’m really loving this Throwback Sundays series because it’s like a virtual conversation over a good cup of coffee reminiscing about what was but in doing so always dreaming of what will be. And that is one of my favorite things in life.
On with this week’s post. This Sunday is still one of the most memorable Sundays in recent memory for me. Technology failed miserably that night, but worship went on without it. And for me as a visual worship leader being forcibly pushed over the cliff of visual silence and realizing it wasn’t nearly as scary as one would think made me more willing to walk over that cliff on my own.
And I always appreciate when God gently reminds me that He’s bigger than any light, any camera, any projector, or any microphone. He is God. And He has blessed us with those tools but He doesn’t need them and neither do we.
Have you ever experienced a major tech fail during worship? What was the result?
The conclusion I’ve come to is this: getting the congregation to understand the visual elements we as visual worship leaders use during worship is not our job.
Art is by nature open to interpretation – each person is going to walk away with a slightly different understanding. The same is true of the message given by the pastor on a Sunday morning – each person, based on where they’re at in their journey, their past experiences, etc., is going to walk away with a slightly different understanding. And that’s okay!
I’m not sure we’re asking the right question when we ask “How do we help the congregation understand?” Perhaps a better question is “How do we help the congregation engage with visual media?” Although I think we have to be careful in defining what “engaged” looks like as it too looks slightly different for everyone. And while I contend that understanding isn’t our job, I think we do have a responsibility to invite people to engage with the visual media in worship…to create an environment where people feel free to worship with their eyes and through their eyes. I think without that we fail to lead…without the invitation to participate I think it can quickly become a show for ourselves. It is no different than the invitation a musical worship leader offers for people to join their voices in song.
So what exactly does that look like in a service? There are as many answer to that question as there are churches. But, based on my experience, here are a few things I’ve seen work:
- A couple of sentences in a bulletin or program of some sort literally inviting people to engage with the visuals and helping them feel free to walk away with a meaning that is significant to them.
- A similar message to the above but one that appears on the screen before the worship service.
- I think the most powerful is an announcement from the “stage.” Whether that announcement comes from the pastor or the music worship leader, taking two minutes to invite people to engage visually in worship and conveying the freedom to find meaning in the visuals is extremely powerful.
Whatever it looks like in your environment, don’t worry so much about understanding…that’s something we can’t really control, but don’t forget the invitation.
Have you seen this done in your church’s worship environments? If so, how?
A couple of weeks ago, Stephen Proctor wrote this post about 3D Worship. The idea is that worship has 3 dimensions – up, across, and out. If you haven’t read it, you should. I think we are pretty good at expressing the up dimension most of the time and even doing well with the across dimension. The whole out dimension, however, I think the Church struggles with. We sing a lot of songs about “out” but how often do our visuals reflect that? I don’t think they do a lot of times. How often does worship flow from being focused on the out? Sadly, I don’t think very often. I would contend that part of that is because we aren’t living the out. When we live the out, the out dimension of worship flows naturally – both as we worship corporately and how we as visual worship leaders lead.
Last week I had the opportunity to lead some visual worship for just under a 100 teens at Hope Experience in Memphis. First, let me say, if you don’t know Paul Briney, you need to! Truly an example of a worship leader. Not someone who stands up to perform but someone who stands in front of a group of people broken and humbly pouring out his heart to lead others to worship freely from their hearts. That makes an incredible difference. If that isn’t happening, I’m not sure that what I put up on a screen is going to matter a whole lot. Leading and serving with Paul and all of the others involved was truly an honor. There were some incredibly powerful moments in worship but I wanted to share my top three. Moments that I look at and say “Thank you, Jesus! This is how it should all work together.” Moments where the music and the images on the screen become the backdrop and people are truly worshiping freely and with their whole hearts.
Song: You are Here (Same Power) by Hillsong
Media: Christ in Me Longplay from worshipVJ
Context: The constant prayer for the week was “Christ, may you live in us. May we reflect your love. May you be glorified.” As we were serving the community, that was our focus – to share the hope that we have because Christ lives in us. We prayed it, we lived it, then we sang it and saw it on a screen. We worshiped.
Why it moved me: First, I simply LOVE this longplay. LOVE it! On this particular night we were worshiping and I looked at the three slides that were coming up and where the video was at. This was one of those God orchestrated moments where the words & the video timing matched up and I paused the video on this screen. Sure, the image wasn’t crystal clear & polished as a result but it fit. It worked with the mood and couldn’t be more perfect for the words. And we all worshiped – fully, freely, from our hearts.
Song: God of this City by Bluetree
Media: Walking Street Sample (I think I got this for guessing the fact that Proctor didn’t like the use of Papyrus in Avatar:)) You can find a similar loop on the new Playback Drive though. As well as self created photo video.
Context: Serving the city of Memphis every day – taking Christ’s light to the darkness, His hope to the hopeless, & His peace to the restless. We lived it then we sang it and saw it on a screen.
Why it moved me: I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve sang that song. And on different occasions in different contexts and at different points in my personal journey it has had unique significance. But, last week I think tops them all. When you are spending your days serving a city like Memphis and you see the darkness and have the chance to bring Christ’s light & hope this song takes on a whole new meaning! We sang this on the last night of worship. Paul encouraged everyone to worship freely – some gathered together to pray, some wrote prayers on posters outside that had been filling up throughout the week, some reflected silently, and some sang their hearts out. During the last Chorus we cut the lyrics and put up some images from the week of the hope that had been given. Wow! Talk about out. Talk about brining it home. What a powerful moment to be singing “You, God, are the God of this city…you are the hope to the hopeless,” while looking at images of how He had used us to give hope to the city of Memphis that week.
Moment #3: Acoustic Worship
One night we turned it all off. Lights off. Candles. Very few background images – lots of white text on a black screen. Everyone seated in a semi circle surrounding the candles – not facing the worship leader. A guy and his guitar. It was beautiful. We sang many of the same songs we had sung throughout the rest of the week but it’s amazing what a different feel they take on when you curate a completely different worship environment. My favorite part about it was the set up. Paul came to me about two hours before worship and told me what the plan was. He pointed to a box of candles and said he wanted them put on a platform around the projector and then the chairs arranged in a semi circle. I asked what the platform was going to be. The answer: whatever you can find. What I could find were three bread crates/trays, two empty coolers, and a case of bottled water. Arrange these items and you get a platform with some height variety. Cover it all in a couple of black sheets and place the candles on top. Done.
Did I mention our screen for the week was a full size white sheet pinned and duck taped to the wall? And that we had to cover the to windows behind it with black garbage bags to kill the light? It was great!! Seriously, it all reminded me once again that the tools are only part of the equation. Having a full stage sized, professional, triple-wide screen can be great and a powerful tool in leading worship. But so can a simple projector on a simple white sheet pinned to the wall in a gathering room with terrible acoustics at a camp outside of Memphis. At the end of the day, it’s about the heart and the focus. Through the words that were spoken, the Scripture that was read, the songs that were sung, and the media that was used people’s attention was directed not only up and across but out. And really the three dimensions intersected because one amplified another. As Proctor likes to say, the screen became a window to the world, not simply a mirror. But I think in order for that to happen we first have to live it. Then, we can sing about it and see it on and through a screen while worshiping fully and freely from the heart in a whole new way.
Photography is something that inspires me. Don’t get me wrong, I love motion and video but there is something unique and magical to me about the ability to capture a single moment in time. I could spend hours browsing the Creative Commons materials on Flickr looking for inspiration. So, I decided I would do something with that time and share some of what I find here on Fridays.
This week: Old School Visual Worship
Tonight was one of those nights. The kind where I just have to throw up my hands and laugh because I am not in control.
We turn the projector on for worship tonight. It comes on. Moments later it goes black. A couple more minutes go by and it comes on again. It goes black again.
Repeat this for over an hour.
In the meantime, we checked the filter. Dust it off, but it looks fine. Reboot entire system. Same thing.
So, we ended up with tech fail imposed visual silence. And you know what, it all turned out just fine. We still worshiped. God was still glorified. And His Word was still preached.
Sometimes I love it when technology fails. It is an awesome reminder that God is so much bigger than a screen or a computer or a light or a microphone. They are great tools, but He doesn’t need them…and neither do we. His Word works without those tools and sometimes in spite of.