Now, I have to admit I am long since tired of the song "Shout to the Lord" but it was a pleasant suprise to hear it as a featured song on last night's "Idol Gives Back" show and as the lead performance of the result show tonight. What struck me the most about the song was hearing performed in the "Idol" setting. It was the perfect example of how the lines between the sacred and secular are blurring. Sure, there were probably some that were offended at the blatant use of Jesus' name in a popular television show, but I think for most it probably seemed quite natural. People are open to Jesus and open to spirituality but are becoming more and more skeptical of the church as we know it.
I try very hard to observe culture deeply and I am working hard at learning to ask better questions. So as I was observing this collision between church and pop culture and the question that I can't help but ask is, what can we learn about being the Church from something like "Idol Gives Back?" I'm not talking about musical styles or light shows or over the top personalities. I'm talking about things like where the Church should be spending our time and resources beyond the worship gathering. We don't have a platform the size of American Idol, but how might we through the efforts of our local church communities impact the world, using our blessings to be a blessing to others?
I am very interested in the use of electronic media and technology in the church. Yesterday I came across this short bog post that sparked a few thoughts.
Click Here for the full post.
Mark Batterson is the Sr. Pastor at National Community Church in Washington DC. They are a large multi-site church that meets in movie theaters along metro stops around DC. The only permanent meeting space they have is a coffee shop called "Ebenezer's" on Capitol Hill. Last year I spoke to one of their pastors who shared that their primary evangelism efforts are done via internet. He called it "e-vangelism". They are very intentionally going into the "virtual" world where people spend ridiculous amounts of time and trying to connect with them through the internet. They webcast their service as part of that outreach.
I don't believe that watching a webcast of a worship service is anywhere near the same experience as physically gathering in worship, but I also think that we might learn something from those folks who are using this powerful medium of the internet to plant the seeds of relationships. In the blog post Batterson says,
"For what it's worth, 54% of our attenders visited theaterchurch.com before coming to a service. This is old news but a healthy reminder: your website is the front door to your church! It's your first impression. Especially with our demographic–about 66% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings."
Those stats are particularly striking to me considering the results of the recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Our natural tendency as human beings, I think, is to look at technology and immediately (and sometimes only) consider what it is going to make obsolete because it often threatens our comfort zone. Email is going to make snail mail obsolete…electronic books are going to make "real" books obsolete… chat rooms are going to make face-to-face conversations obsolete…PowerPoint is going to make hymnals obsolete…etc. There are certainly cases where this is true. The new medium is simply more effective or more efficient than the old and the old becomes obsolete. Cassette certainly made 8-track tapes and Vinyl (although some would argue vinyl has never adequately been replaced) obsolete and then CDs have done the same to cassettes. The question of what a particular technology or medium will obsolesce, however, is only one question to ask of our media and technology. Marshall McLuhan (google him if you don't know who he is) identified four things to consider when evaluating the use of any technology:
- Determine what the technology enhances.
- Find out what, if anything, the technology makes obsolete.
- Figure out what the technology retrieves.
- Determine what the technology reverts into when pushed to the limit.
I think all of these are important to consider when we think of using technology in the church or in any frame of life. Looking again at the internet, you would be hard pressed to find any church leader that would say the preferred way to be the church is on the internet. Even LifeChurch.TV who has an "internet campus" ultimately views the internet as a means to make connections with people that will hopefully lead to face-to-face meetups. Going back to the question of "what does this technology obsolesce?" If this is the only thing we consider in our use of technology, then we may miss the possibility of what that same technology might enhance or retrieve that was lost with the use of any prior technology.
This is turning into a book. Sorry. If you want to read a book on the subject, I highly recommend The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church by Shane Hipps.
Basically there is a building in Seattle that is being protected from demolition because a local preservation organization fought to have declared a local landmark… and succeeded. It turns out that the architecture of the building is in the "Googie" style, which is the same style as the famous Seattle Space Needle (and every Stuckey's at highway exits across North America). The building is in pretty bad shape and the landmark status doesn't require the owner to restore the building so he plans to let it remain in disrepair. His plan, until meeting this recent roadblock was to demolish the building and build condos. "'We've heard the arguments before from people saying it's ugly, it's
this, it's that,' says Eugenia Woo, a preservation consultant who
worked to save the Denny's. 'We're not just looking at high-style
buildings or buildings for the rich and famous as buildings that should
be preserved. Seattle was a working-class city, and Ballard's history
comes from that.'"
This whole thing got me thinking a lot about the things to which attribute value. Obviously, some people really care about things like a dilapidated Denny's enough to halt "progress" (I'm not sure if building condos really counts as progress…but whatever.) Or maybe they don't care and it's just a ploy to prevent the condos from being built. Whatever the case, I wonder what we cling to as the Church that might better serve the kingdom if it was knocked down to make room for something new. I hesitantly type those words because I certainly do not want to promote simply scrapping what appears to be old for the sake of whatever new trend might be gaining momentum. I am really trying to consider this with consideration for the Kingdom. For the folks that fought to save this Denny's, its style is symbolic of what they value…the historic working-class nature of that particular community. They are not willing to part with that as a piece of their identity. As the Church, what are we not willing to part with? What defines us to the point that we cannot imagine ourselves as the Church apart from it? In theory its pretty easy to set aside most things and claim that we will follow however Jesus leads. In reality, however, there are local churches all around us that are stuck partially because their identity is wrapped up in something that is no longer life giving. Do we define ourselves by our buildings or our programs or our theology? What are some other things that impede progress? Are we even to be concerned with progress? What is it that we should rightfully stand in front of the wrecking ball for, and what is it that we are doing so that doesn't really matter in the long run?
I'm always curious as to what folks are using to keep there lives in order or to work more efficiently or things that are just functional and cool. These can be online tools, gadgets, whatever. What do you use and how do you use it?