Anyone who plans or thinks about worship on a regular basis will likely pause at the title of Michael Bausch’s book Silver Screen, Sacred Story: The Use of Multimedia in Worship. The title raises an issue that has become increasingly divisive among congregations and worship leaders.
Some have long used technology to implant film clips and popular music into worship as a means of interpreting our cultural experience through the lens of faith. The same folks argue for the practicality of projected hymn lyrics and announcements. Those on the other side of this divide see the use of such material as a cultural invasion of the long-standing worship practices of the church.
Perhaps most of us are somewhere in between. In Sacred Story, Bausch wants to reach those who have not crossed over to his side of the argument, urging us to invest in laptops and video projectors while we hustle across the bridge.
Bausch is passionate about using technology to enhance worship. He cites testimonies of churches, including his own, that have incorporated technology into their worship practices and benefited with increased potential for reaching the unchurched, particularly men and the generations born after 1960. He argues that these generations, one of which he is a part, have grown up in a popular culture that has made the visual image a common method of understanding.
To his credit, Bausch gives careful recommendations for implementing technology in a church’s worship. It comes both in practical instruction and in the story of his church’s journey into the technological milieu. The book includes example upon example of various types of multimedia in worship.
He reminds the reader of the church’s history with art and visual images in worship, and he calls us to renew that tradition and technological imagery.
Bausch encourages using the images to promote diversity and artistry. He discusses copyright laws, placement of video screens and policies regarding the set-up of the clips used in worship. He also includes an exhaustive list of Internet and book resources.
It is, in many ways, a perfect how-to guide for anyone who wants to begin using multimedia in worship, right down to how to have a dedication service for your sanctuary projection screen. This is both the book’s strength and its weakness.
Sacred Story begins with promise for those of us who are still unsure about using multimedia, particularly technology, in our worship services. Early in the book, Bausch notes common concerns, consistently reminding the reader to balance the embrace of worship technology with its criticism. He also warns against letting the technology become about performance or entertainment.
He, while quoting another author, wants us to believe that arguing against technology in worship should be relegated to the same category as previous arguments against scripture in common language and the pipe organ. Unfortunately, he leaves these issues as quickly as he raises them.
Bausch’s book disappoints because it never gets to the heart of the question nagging many of us when we consider using bits of popular culture in worship. How much should our culture inform our worship practice?
In one instance, Bausch discusses using a scene from the film Austin Powers in a sermon. Yet, Bausch fails to consider the ethical issue of using a movie noted for its vulgar sexual humor in worship. This begs the question: If we embrace multimedia as Bausch suggests, how do we keep young children from begging to rent Austin Powers on Sunday afternoon because they saw it in Sunday morning worship. Or, for that matter, should we even do so?
While he does point out that none of the audio and visual clips used in his church include vulgarity, he does make specific reference to the church using scenes containing violence from the film Gladiator.
Bausch ignores the problem of maintaining the balance between cultural relevancy and endorsing the worst parts of our culture. This could even include the battle between the values of expensive gadgetry and the simplicity of worship valued by Quakers and the like. It’s what makes many of us question multimedia in worship, and Bausch never really takes us there.
Let there be no doubt that, for any reader who has already decided to use technology and multimedia in worship, this is a great place to begin. Bausch’s insight and experience will be a great source for sailing the rough waters of transition.
However, if you are still somewhere across the bridge, Bausch’s book, which begins with great promise, is of little value in wrestling with the major theological and ethical issues that split his view from a more traditional one. That is a shame.
Johnny Lewis is pastor of Kendalls Baptist Church in New London, N.C., and a student at the divinity school at Gardner-Webb University.
Buy Silver Screen now from the Alban Institute.