January 11, 2013 Leave a comment
Creideamh (pronounced ‘kray-jif’), Gaelic for ‘Faith’:
Since losing the bulk of my books in my study fire a couple of years ago, I have become increasingly appreciative of the amount of material suitable for a preacher’s library which is available online.
In particular, Amazon Kindle and Logos have been regular friends of mine in the past couple of years. Not only does e-publishing allow me to carry my library with me almost anywhere, but it affords me the ability to compress a thousand volumes into the size of a handheld mobile phone.
Not, of course, that there is any substitute whatsoever for the printed page. I still find myself searching for the hardcopies of books which I imagine still to be on my shelves, only to find that they are gone; I am still grieving their loss. On the other hand, with a couple of clicks on a keyboard, books can be located, searched and incorporated into great sermons. And into bad ones too, of course.
But I recently received notification from Logos – an oustanding developer of Bible software – that they are to make it possible for congregations to participate in the worship experience from their seat via their mobile phone.
I kid you not. Picture this scenario: I am in full flow unpacking the depths of the biblical narrative, with a power point presentation to accompany my sermon (and make it more interesting). I could stop at a slide and survey the congregation; a piece of software in my computer could send a signal to a special app on the mobile phones of my technologically-savvy congregation; they, in turn could feed back their answers to me in a milli-second and I could incorporate their views into my presentation!
Well … much as I appreciate the power of technology and the revolution that has taken place in the electronic processing of information, I do want to pause for a moment. I’m not convinced that power point is an aid to worship in the first place; and nor do I think that the time it consumes to prepare the slides necessary for a sermon-accompanying presentation is worth it.
I may be old-fashioned, but if a sermon is good it needs no visual aid to support it; and if it is bad, no power point presentation can salvage it. This is not to decry those who feel that it is a necessary aid to worship in the twenty-first century; no doubt some preachers use it very effectively. I know I could not, and will not be in a hurry to introduce it to my church services.
And as for audience participation via mobile phone? I think not. For one thing, such a thing would require everyone to possess the proper equipment; how shall the have nots be included in the electronic participation? I am not sure that the costs of keeping abreast with all the technology and incorporating them into worship services are worth it. It is a bit like fighting Goliath in Saul’s armour.
But I would be afraid that the whole thing would spiral out of control. What’s to stop people being distracted by their handheld computers while the preacher is engaged in the the art of sacred rhetoric? Could the provision for audience participation via mobile technology become a cover for listening to some other, more attractive preacher? And what if the congregational feedback was not what you expected? The ability to adapt quickly to the response of the congregation is not anywhere listed in the New Testament as a requirement for ministry.
And nor is expertise in the use of modern technology (although I guess St Paul’s wish to become all things to all men comes close). Helpful as the new science is, it can be a good servant but a bad master. It demands financial investment, technical expertise and patient preparation if it is to function as a means of communication rather than an end in itself.
Now that I am in my fiftieth year, I can start sentences with ‘I remember when….’; and I certainly remember when bulky tape recorders – in the churches that were prepared to admit them – made their first appearance. That was as much of a concession to technology as some churches were willing to make. And it was a good concession, extending ministry to the housebound, as well as preserving an archive of the best material.
I just wonder whether, in our modern age, we have allowed our gadgets to dictate our behaviours, even in so fundamental a matter as worship. I have a copy of the Psalms and several versions of the Bible on my phone; I would have no hesitation in using it as my pew Bible. But that’s all. Faith comes by hearing, and I would still rather have my mind stretched by articulate, fluent, logical preaching, than achieve my self-worth in worship through the use of my mobile phone just for the sake of belonging to a cutting-edge church.
Having said all that, I shall now go away and see what is happening on Twitter; I may even come across a quotation or two for next Sunday’s sermons, and add a couple of books to my electronic library before the week is out. But when it comes to morning worship next Lord’s Day, I shall enter the pulpit as a herald of heavenly things, not a connoisseur of modern mobile technology.