Soulless Sundays: Being Authentic in a Programmed Age
Five years ago I was leading worship every Sunday in a gym with no moving lights and a basketball hoop over my head. I could add a song on the fly and write a song backstage to play in the next service if my heart desired. I also had little thoughts of anything outside those walls.
Next week I will be leading worship in a state of the art building designed with a “worship experience” in mind. The lighting is programmed to the music 3 days before Sunday and the camera shots are rehearsed so that everything is flawless. I will lead within the time frame I am given and if I go over, many other environments in that church building will be affected.
Which scenario is right? Which is wrong? Can we walk the line?
These are valid questions, but they aren’t the right questions. The question should be…
“How do we create an environment that allows the attendee to feel connected to God through the tools and people He has chosen?”
When that becomes the question, style and over-analysis go out the window. Conversations become less about transitions and more about the message. Worship leaders begin to feel safe to be used to actually lead worship – even within a time frame. Producers begin to build a service with doors and windows that allow access while maintaining the walls that make the service strategic.
This is a hard balance to find. And honestly, I don’t think it will ever be perfected. But I do think there are some practical steps that can be taken in order to allow for authenticity while striving for excellence.
Build a house and not a castle.
A house is a place where people are welcome to come and go as they feel. Windows allow light to come in and air to be circulated. It is an inviting place where community can take place while being protected from the elements.
A castle’s ultimate purpose is protection. There’s usually a moat and a drawbridge – and quite possibly a princess chained to a room at the top of some tower. A dragon keeps watch over the princess to make sure she doesn’t get away.
No light is let into the castle and no windows exist. The castle is secure and safe.
Many church staffs are beginning to program their services more like a castle than a house. Worship leaders are chained to a tower and are watched closely by the staff so they don’t “escape” their confines. (Not that I don’t think all worship leaders are princesses. But some are closer than others. And not that I think all producers of services are dragons. But some are closer than others.)
The service is built with no room for authenticity and it’s evident to everyone standing inside. The service is built with great intentions; mind you – protection being number one.
But we believe: “Protect against mistakes and you will have a great service.”
I think this is the wrong way of going about it. Let me give you what I consider a great solution for the over-programmed church service where they are looking for authenticity in structure: Build a house instead.
A house is a building that has a framework. Did you producers hear that? Framework. This means structure. This means programming. Yet, while this house/service is being built, windows and doors are put in to allow freedom and authenticity to come in as well. The people inside the house feel like they are protected but they don’t notice the 2×4’s holding the house together. Instead they notice the host/worship leader and their genuineness about having them over. The home is decorated/programmed beautifully and real community can actually take place.
So as you structure your services with all the great tools and people that God has blessed your church with, focus on the doors and windows as well as the walls you put up.
Play your faders like instruments.
With all the technology at our disposal we can almost program a service to run itself. Pro Tools, HOG Consoles, Pitch Control…all of these things are beautiful tools that make things look and sound great. We just have to make sure we leave some humanity in it all.
There is something to be said about a well-programmed light show. The lights go up when the vocalist sings, “rise.” The mood is red as we sing about despair. But I often wonder if maybe one song out of three should be run on the fly as opposed to preprogrammed.
The obvious dilemma is the person running the console. They have to be “excellent” at their job in order to pull this off. But once you have a volunteer or staff member who knows the console like the back of their hand, make them run a song or two live.
How does this add to authenticity? When there is a heartbeat that fuels a soul that feeds a mind to push a fader, humanity is involved. It might be a second late or a smidgen early, but it feels real. And real feels good.
This is a good step in bringing some authenticity into the technical side of the service.
Another example is your front-of-house tech. Find someone who plays that board like an instrument. Who knows the song as well as the band does. Suddenly the band has another member. And they sound amazing.
Note that you can accomplish all this even while having things preprogrammed. Just allow some freedom to your techs and the next thing you know, they are creating art alongside the band.
These are just two of the concepts that I try to wrap my mind around while programming a service. I trust that authenticity will happen when the right people are entrusted and the right structure is in place. Some of you might sway farther one way than the other. That’s great! Find the right balance for you and your community and I promise that your attendees will be talking about how God touched them in the service before they mention how great the service looked and felt. You should strive for both compliments, although I hope the foremost is your goal.
Remember that your goal should be that His name be made famous and lives and hearts give in to His authenticity. He has entrusted us with much so prepare in such a way that lets Him work.