Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Epic Churches for Epic Times


The lesson for the church is simple: images generate emotions, and people will respond to their feelings. Postmodern culture is image-driven.

-Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 86.

We are a print-saturated, word-based church in the midst of visual technologies that are creating a whole new visual culture.”

-Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 91.

That is why the Jesus method of communication was not the exegesis of words but the exegesis of images: ‘the kingdom of heaven is like…’”

-Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 95.

Who would have thought that Madonna would have something to give to the church? Madonna is driven by images. She has an above average voice. She isn’t the most beautiful woman in the music business. She doesn’t have the greatest “body” among singers. What does she have? She understands the importance of images. The way she looked and dressed for her “Blond Ambition” tour has become legendary. Her current tour has a “crucifixion” scene—it made news around the world. No one is talking about her songs. The news is all about the image of Madonna being crucified on a cross. The power of “image” or “metaphor.”

The Christian church has the most powerful images in history—but we are trapped in an ocean of printed words. Pastors quote knowledgeable authors. Other pastors read their sermon—composed of words that have been carefully chosen. The “Lord’s Prayer” is used so regularly that people mechanically say the words. Words. Words! Printed words!! A printed “Call to Worship.” A printed “Prayer of Confession.” Worshipper’s eyes are glued to the hymnal to be sure that they sing each word correctly. Words. Words! Printed words!!

Worship snobs seek to tear down modern worship songs. I have heard it said that the songs are “so shallow.” Many of these “shallow” or “simple” songs paint pictures. They allow the worshipper to focus on the one being worshipped—not getting lost in volumes of “words.” At our Saturday night worship we have recently learned the final song from the new “Passion: Everything Glorious” cd. The lyrics for the song are, “Our God reigns. Our God reigns. Forever your Kingdom reigns.” That’s it! Nothing more! The song starts quietly with just one instrument. Additional instruments are slowly added as the volume builds. It was powerful to see people worshipping God during the singing of that “simple” song. Eyes closed. Hands raised. Hearts opened. The picture that song paints is powerful.

The Psalms have been loved throughout the ages. Why? Because of the pictures they present. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.” (Psalm 69:1-2a - TNIV) Can you see the picture? Can you feel the despair? Powerful! “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1 - TNIV) Do you feel the parched, dry throat of the deer? Of the Psalmist? Powerful!

Last year we add several thousand dollars of new spotlights to our sanctuary. Why? Was it for show? No… it was so that we could craft visual “pictures” to enhance worship. Some of our older worshippers just don’t get it. That’s ok! We have plenty of “words” to communicate to them. Recently, I preached a multi-week series using the book, “Blue Like Jazz,” by Donald Miller. On Saturday nights I preached in jeans, black t-shirt, backwards-turned English driving hat and leather jacket while sitting on a “bar stool.” The only lights on in the sanctuary were two blue spotlights. The picture it painted went along with the book, scripture and messages. Images. Metaphor. Communication. (Note: This would not have been a good communication style for Sunday morning worship so it was not used there.)

What images has your church used in worship? (Don’t use the obvious ones like communion, baptism, etc. – we use those all the time.) Start thinking outside of the box.


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