Thursday, October 15, 2009

iPods, Idols and the Technology of Worship

A friend of mine (Eric Herron, a former staff member at NewSong, now missionary worship artist—who still leads worship for us from time to time) writes, “Is technology appropriate for incorporating into worship? If so, how much and toward what end?” He continues, “Simply put, worship is the dialogue between God and humans, in which God initiates the conversation and humans respond in cyclical fashion. The goal, then, would be to facilitate this dialogue (to the extent to which we can).  Once we have agreed upon our goal or definition of worship, there are more questions to ask that are specifically relevant to evaluating the technology in question. For instance, we might ask: How will this technology help us ‘hear’ what God is saying to us?” I think this will remain a vital question for leaders and participants in a worship community.  We must keep aware of our ends and means in worship. Another way to state what Eric is saying is that we need to critically pay attention to both our functions and forms in and of worhip. Our function (to worship God, and enjoy Him forever) is logically prior to the form (reading a psalm, singing with a worship band). As Eric states, some in the contemporary church have thought that we can use whatever form we want as along as it accomplishes our function. Yet this is not the case, and great harm can come as a result in buying into such an idea. Just as the ends do not always (or ever) justify the means in ethics, a similar principle may apply in worship of our God. Some forms shape us in ways that are antithetical to our function/goal. Such consequences may be unintended but it surely happens and we must repent (that is, change our ways). For instance, a person can become accustomed to listening to his personally selected playlists of worship songs on his iPod or mp3 palyer. She may then arrive at a gathering (church) to worship with other Christians. She may discover a difficulty in submitting to the selection of songs the worship leader has chosen or the order and hymns the liturgy dictates for that particular day. Feelings of disconnectedness, discomfort, and dislike can arise in her soul and she can become dissatisfied and critical of the so-called “worship time.” This seems to be harmful albiet an unintended consequence. The iPod in the case becomes a modern day idol, standing for authority and supremacy of our individuality, preferences, and choices over others.  Surely there are disciplines that can counteract its affect, such as fasting, submission and confession. Perhaps we can generate a list of contemporary forms and describe the unintended ways that some of those forms can move us away from our goals. We may then suggest spiritual disciplines that can help place us in a posture where God can help change us, shape us, keep us on the road of walking and worshiping rightly with Him–while still using some the technologies we have learned to like and cannot seem to do without.  In our journey through the technological lanscape we must be mindful of our modern idols and how they come to us, because they can subtly be rationalized and justified as a means to us worshipping God.

George Haraksin II
Pastor of Christian Formation
NewSong Church October 2009