I’ve been reading Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out without Dumbing Down : A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time and want to use it as a spring board to do some ‘verbal processing’ about the way we facilitate worship in our church services. ‘Worship’ is not just ‘singing songs’ and so this is a much bigger picture. However, as a musician charged with the task of leading sung worship in the context of leading the whole church service, music and singing will play a big part in how I look at this issue.
Just so you know.
I haven’t yet made it to the end of Marva’s book – its not quite the easy read of Now let’s move into a time of nonsense by Nick Page – but if I don’t start to write about it, I’ll give up! My general impressions thus far are somewhat muddled.
I heard Marva Dawn give some seminars once in Belfast a few years back and was mightily impressed and challenged by what she had to say. I also have several friends I respect who respect her greatly. So I guess that off the bat, I was expecting to feel the same about this book. I have to admit, though, I can’t help feeling sometimes that she’s just a little bit grumpy and cynical when it comes to what she thinks and says about the state of things. She’s particularly NOT fond of all things technological (tv, internet, popular culture…) and constantly points the finger in that direction for everything that is wrong with the church (I’m slightly overstating for sake of argument). In saying that, her observations and conclusions are often right on the money and she draws some ‘prophetic'(?) conclusions about the consequences these things have on individuals and therefore church communities and their practices or lack thereof.
So my starting point is that – to outline some of the consequences she highlights of our modern culture on church culture…
1. Television etc bombarding us with so much information about so many different people/places/issues that we are rendered impotent – being overwhelmed then diminishes our ability and motivation to act on what we see and hear. This therefore impacts how we view the world in general and then, of course, faith – its easy to listen to sermons, enjoy the information but do nothing with it. This has a knock-on effect with our ability/motivation to think critically about the information we are presented with which in turn impacts the foundations of how people learn and grow in faith, or not as the case may be.
2. Loss of intimacy skills due to internet etc – so we try to whip up this feeling of intimacy in sung worship. “Lacking sincere intimacy in congregational fellowship we often put false pressue on worship to produce feelings of intimacy” p28 “Now a great number of people know they need community and do not know how to create it authentically.” p33
3. Playing up to the culture of entertainment.
This is the one I’d like to focus on just now…
I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to ‘up front’ things. In the context of a church service, I like things to run smoothly, be clear so as not to distract people from the ‘journey’ of a service. But I’ve long been uncomfortable with church events that run so smoothly and are lit so spectacularly and with music practiced so down to the last ‘millimeter’ of sound that people feel like they’re attending a concert rather than participating in corporate worship.
In different chapters in her book (eg 4,6,7), Marva Dawn, talks about how what we do in a worship service models and forms the character of the people participating (and therefore impacting the ‘culture’ of the community). On this point of worship services like concerts, or “Entertainment Evangelism” as she calls it, she says this :
“If people are saved by a spectacular Christ, will they find him in the fumbling of their own devotional life or in the humble services of local parishes where pastors and organists make mistakes?” p50
When we create perfection and ‘slick’ worship times, what picture are we painting of the daily Christian life? What expectations are we engendering of what it looks like to follow Jesus when there are no guitar solos, no fancy lighting and no spine-tingling cymbals and only busy traffic, a flickering computer screen or a baby crying?