"We don't want to be one of those churches with a projector screen."
"But if we post the service online, then people will just stay home and they won't come to church."
Don't get me started. Well, I guess I got myself started because I'm writing this blog post.
First of all, projector screens are terrible if they are used weekly and just for screen lyrics. But they can be invaluable tools for making worship feel more inclusive, more visual, more synesthetic, more spiritual, more church if they are used with some artistic sensitivity. And no. Stock photos of someone's feet walking along the beach at low tide does not count as artistic sensitivity.
More importantly, for this post, I want to talk about our fear of posting our services online.
This is something my church is currently discerning.
Beyond the basic logistics of technology and funding, and beyond making sure we have the appropriate licensing (PSA: MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE APPROPRIATE LICENSING!), there is something really important being said here for us to reflect on as a church.
I have talked with many a lay leader and many an ordained colleague who have expressed this worry. In trying to enrich our ministry, are we making it easier for people to just stay home? That question carries with it the implicit consequence that worship attendance and thus the offering plate will dwindle. Are we investing in something that will weaken our institution?
My response is always the same: "If that becomes a problem, then maybe it's a sign that we need to do a better job leading worship." If sitting at home in your jammies with your cup of coffee by yourself and listening to the podcast version of the service sounds better than the authentic and in-the-moment feeling of being surrounded in person by a community and spirit of worship, then we have to do some serious self-reflection about the way we do worship together. And to be honest, even just writing that description now, as I'm trying to write in support of real-time church worship, I would definitely choose to be curled up on the couch listening to a podcast.
Even at the high school level of sports, before big games, they're watching tapes of the competition. And after each game, they're watching tapes of their performance. They're constantly self-analyzing to see where they can improve.
Confession time here: I haven't listened to a recording of myself preaching in well over a year. That's a problem. It may sound egocentric to say that I should listen to tapes of myself preaching, but anyone who has been made to watch tape of themselves in a preaching class can tell you that we preachers take no pleasure in it. That discomfort in self-analysis, that unease is a sign. In order to grow, we need to be self aware. We need to watch the tape.
I just don't have time for it. That is a problem. As ministers, a lot of us fill our schedules so that we are just barely making it all work. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. As congregants, in response to centuries of ministers just barely making it all work, a lot of us are learning to embrace mediocre worship. This problem of mediocrity is becoming a problem of mediocracy. Church is a weekly ritual, not a place I go to be transformed. Sunday School is a place I send my child each week, not a place I expect to change their lives. It's an unspoken deal we make, and the sign of our covenant is a firm handshake accompanied by an insincere, "That was a lovely sermon, Pastor."
Mediocre worship is my biggest pet peeve.
I've been so judgmental my entire career. I disdain nothing more than a mediocre minister leading a mediocre worship service, especially when that mediocre minister is me. That disdain has gotten harder and harder to bear since my child was born. I find myself renegotiating this whole work-life balance thing and life is winning a lot more than it used to, which is probably as it should be. I'm trying to teach myself that sometimes mediocre is enough because otherwise I don't have anything left to give my daughter or my wife or my parents or my four sisters or my friends. I barely have time to get through next week, so forget about watching the tape from last week. Forget about the deep self-analysis that is needed to continually improve my craft.
I guess it's "that was a lovely sermon, Pastor" for the rest of my career. I guess it's people choosing to stay home in their jammies to watch well-written-produced-and-edited shows and podcasts instead of hastily written sermons delivered by a minister who is half-asleep.
This is literally my nightmare. I actually have dreams about this and the anxiety from these dreams lives in my shoulders. This is how it is. This is how it is going to be. Mediocre Ministry is the only way.
Or maybe there's another option.
Maybe we can do better.
Maybe we can hold each other to higher standards.
Maybe we can create the kind of work environments where we make time for improvement.
Maybe we can create the kind of professional development groups that watch the tape together.
Maybe we can offer each other honest critique without taking it so personal.
Maybe we can work together to be better. Not for our egos. Not for the church. But for God.
But for the grace of God go I.
How can we preach the gospel, how can we preach grace, how can we preach the Spirit, if we don't stop to listen for it? We have to watch the tape.
I studied Indian classical music in college. My teacher learned from the most world-renowned players of Sarod, Tabla, and Sitar. I'm talking about the musicians with whom the Beatles traveled all the way to India to study. My teacher once talked about when he was young, he was so eager. In tuning his Sarod he would pluck a string, turn the peg, pluck the string, turn the peg, without pause, pluck the string, turn the peg, pluck the string, and he just couldn't get it in tune. His guru would walk by and reprimand him, "If you want to tune your instrument, you have to listen."
He plucked the string.
And he waited.
And he listened.
And then he turned the tuning peg.