New-found knowledge can shatter an attitude of passivity. The college student, now semi-educated in the field of communication, returns home with an eager eye for all things impractical and outdated. This critical outlook immediately places Sunday morning worship services on the dissection table. An immediate change is noticeable—the church recently installed a beautiful projector system. While an exciting purchase for the small Christian community, the expensive equipment has become nothing more than a glorified overhead projector. The occasional typos and outdated, “stock photo-esque” graphics showcase the general lack of professionalism. As the worship service plods along, the college student stares at the large screen and wonders if a beloved church is clumsily wielding a powerful medium.
Grappling with this issue, desiring to correct the misspelled worship lyrics and reinvent the PowerPoint presentations, the student must wonder if concern is misplaced. After all, it can be argued that a small church in a rural community has no obligation to explore the creative potential of media. “Don’t take apart a clock that’s ticking,” the old saying goes. Sleek presentations and eye-pleasing graphics, these things are impractical and unnecessary, perhaps even distracting. However, this thought is haunting: What about excellence, and what about beauty?
Is it even acceptable to flash images onto a screen during a worship service? Does modern church media (e.g. video, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) tastefully embellish the previously established traditions of the church? Are there standards to be met when selecting media to incorporate into weekly worship services? Most importantly, is the use of visual media within the context of weekly church gatherings even validated by Scripture?
Obviously, videos and PowerPoint were never mentioned by biblical writers. No prophetic word specifically concerning modern media has been given to the church. However, Scripture does paint God as the Creator of all things beautiful, a God who equips His children with unbridled imaginations and artistic abilities. As Francis Schaeffer aptly argues, “[I]t is important to note that on Mount Sinai God simultaneously gave the Ten Commandments and commanded Moses to fashion a tabernacle in a way which would involve almost every form of representational art that men have ever known” (20). These events are recorded in the Book of Exodus, and years later, we find similar circumstances surrounding the construction of the temple, as recorded in II Chronicles. Clearly the Lord values artwork which reflects His own originality, creativity, and beauty. If the tabernacle and temple, both places of worship, contained representational art, then visual media may have its place in the modern church.
What about graven images? Is it appropriate to display artwork during a service which is devoted to the worship of God alone? Francis Schaeffer offers excellent commentary on this issue, explaining that the commandment forbade the Israelites to worship artwork, but did not forbid the creation of art itself (19-20). The problem lies not with the graven images, but with the value which man attaches to them. If an artist forgets the source of his creativity, if a church becomes obsessed with cutting-edge media, if a congregation exchanges the exposition of the Word for fleeting entertainment, then the biblical mandate has been broken. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (ESV Study Bible, Matthew 22:37). If the church is heeding these words of Christ, then media which is wisely and sparingly incorporated into worship services will serve to encourage the body and honor the Creator.
Though the biblical justification for the use of visual media within the church has been established, other questions remain. How do church leaders decide whether or not an image, PowerPoint slide show, or video is appropriate for the congregation? Have any standards been set in place?
In an article entitled, “Should There Be A Video Standard For Churches?” Gary Molander addresses the difficulty of wisely incorporating media into worship services. He presents these three questions, “Does the video convey theological integrity? Does the video offer artistic beauty? Does the video add to what God already wants to do in your service?” These are well-crafted criteria. If the church honestly adheres to these standards, then the congregation will be spared from exposure to videos which potentially contain theological error, embarrassingly poor craftsmanship, or an uncomfortable disjointedness to that particular church community.
Francis Schaeffer provides four similar judgments concerning works of art: “1) technical excellence, 2) validity, 3) intellectual content, the world view which comes through and 4) the integration of content and vehicle” (62). These standards can certainly be applied to the selection or creation of church media. Of course, every congregation is different. Factors to consider include size, cultural influences, previous exposure to media, and general openness to change. Incorporating visual media into worship services is no easy task, and it is impossible to please everyone. Each video, slide show, music composition, and graphic must be carefully evaluated before being thrust before the church. Prayer and the seeking of counsel are essential to success in this area.
There are still more questions than answers. Small-town churches are usually—and often willingly—behind the times. Is mediocre church media acceptable in the eyes of God? Are the initial attempts at improvement in this area, though feeble and often disastrously unaesthetic, better than no momentum at all? This newly articulated biblical view will be indispensable to the process of answering these questions.
ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Print.
Molander, Gary. “Should There Be A Video Standard For Churches?” Collide. 5 Jan. 2009. Collide Magazine. 10 Apr. 2009 <http://www.collidemagazine.com/article/163/should-there-be-a-video-standard-for-churches>.
Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2006. Print.