A VJ’s Perspective of Emerging Church Part 2
After hearing some of your thoughts about my previous article, I have decided to write a follow up article that addresses some of your responses and helps to explain and to expand upon my points raised. I also feel the need to clarify my own standpoint.
I realise that nightclub styles of worship are here to stay, probably for as long as nightclubs themselves continue to exist. As a result I do not want to be someone who buries their head in the sand, pretend that it is not happening by way of having nothing to do with it. But neither do I feel that it is currently an ideal platform for what I am personally working towards with my ideas for visuals in Church. And don’t get me wrong, I do believe there is great value in connecting with the existing club culture. I believe that there is a huge amount of middle ground for us to creatively explore as we reach across the void of where club culture is, and what we as representatives of God’s Kingdom should be. The purpose of my previous article was also to point out that there are real issues that need to be acknowledged and addressed, and my concern is that if such issues go unchecked, the results can easily become detrimental despite the good intentions to just get on with worshipping God. I am wrestling (like a lot of us) with the challenges that we face in pioneering work for the Church. Truth is what I aim to find & follow, regardless of how that effects my reputation, emotions or wishful thinking. Despite what you might assume from the last article I wrote, I am putting my efforts into developing ways of worship that are open to the possibility of containing many of the positive elements involved in DJ-led worship. I find that club style worship has real potential, room for improvement and expansion – But I feel that worshippers are very vulnerable to being stifled due to its current format. In my essay, when I said that I do not support it, I was referring directly to my personal VJing involvement. I am not saying that I want to wash my hands from the whole movement, but that I do not feel at peace to be contributing to it with my visuals in its current format. However, I am more than willing to be involved in something that could be described a cousin of its current form. The way I am now approaching things with my visuals is through a more teaching/sermon angle, with which I hope to also incorporate music and worship involving DJ’s and MC’s.
I think it is fair to say, that in an attempt to create a less potentially troublesome way of worship (and I don’t think this is a bad thing to aim for), I may have come across as being overly cautious. Anyone who knows me well will know that I’m not a naturally conservative person, but I am doing my best to follow what I believe God would prefer, not what I would prefer (and I’m not at all saying that God would prefer the conservative opinion for everything!). It is a very fine line between trying to stop the wrong kind of expression (such as inappropriate ways of behaviour) while not being legalistic at the same time. Also, there is just as much danger in becoming legalistic in leadership of church as there is in being overly liberal. We can’t dictate to people exactly how they must express themselves to God in worship; such as what to shout out, or how to dance, or what to wear, as this would be completely missing the point of a personal expression of love towards God. Neither should we tolerate someone spontaneously stripping off naked during worship just because they find it freeing (an extreme example, but hopefully you get my point). This leads us in a difficult position and responsibility of leadership to guide people the right way without coming across as being overly prescriptive. My hope is that it might be possible to create forms of expression that minimise or even eliminate the areas of risk that I brought up. Regarding my comments about visual distractions, the simple solution of closing your eyes, or moving away from the distraction seems to be the obvious realistic option as things stand now, and maybe this is a good enough solution, but it should not hurt to question and experiment with other more creative solutions.
The questions I am raising, and the principles I aim to implement transcend the different forms of worship/church. There is a strong parallel here with the martial arts world: All styles of martial arts have their unique strengths as well as weaknesses. A good martial artist should not be overly precious with just one style. In knowing that no single style alone is better than any other in every aspect, there are lessons to be learned from all forms, and therefore it is possible to learn to be adaptable and prepared for any eventuality. I believe we should be adaptable in our thinking of how to do Church so that we can adapt to differing cultural circumstances. For example, there is a difference between a private closed door meeting and an advertised public worship service. It was precisely this difference in circumstance that lead me to some of my conclusions.
My first experience of DJ led worship was while volunteering at NGM in 1999. Andy Hunter had the idea, which he named ‘Exodus’. It was born out of a closed door environment when he experienced a very real and genuine connection with God though worship using his decks at home. We first tried ‘Exodus’ out at NGM in a staff worship meeting, and it was great!
This worship concept was then used in the youth services in Thornbury, where NGM were (and probably still are) very good at making sure that there were plenty of staff members ‘policing’, looking out for the young people.
My concern is for what happens when this way of worship spreads around the globe and is taken up by people without the experience and rapport that NGM has with the people attending it’s events. I know that it is the role of an individual church leaderships to help in such areas, but often these leaders/elders are alien to the dance culture. So, in an attempt to guide such churches in this relatively new form, it might be a good idea to have some kind of guide lines drawn up by the Christian DJ community (if such a thing does not already exist).
There is a world of difference between the closed controlled environment such as an NGM meeting in Thornbury, UK, compared to a publicised event at a secular nightclub in Ibiza or Rio de Janeiro for example. I was simply looking at the different challenges we face for such contrasting situations when we take one way of doing something and put it through such a transition.
Continuing the analogy of the martial artist; the most effective way to improve their ability is to objectively look at their own weaknesses, then to work hard to devise ways of strengthening those weaknesses. The same can be said when we apply this principle to all forms of church. I am not talking about the fundamental beliefs that we as Christ followers all share, but I am talking about the vessels/wineskin’s/structures in which the truth is held and presented in. Although an important tool, we should not be overly precious about such a transient thing that is always in need of change in such a rapidly changing culture as ours. It is this over protectiveness to the ‘wineskin’ that has caused religious traditions to formed, which in turn has always lead to division amongst believers. DJ led worship has it’s strong points, and I would like to involve these aspects in a collaborative effort to form other culturally relevant forms of church.
There is something else that I would like to throw out there for debate: In many peoples minds, with DJ led worship there is a blurring of the lines between worshipping God and simply having a party. Is having a party something that we need and is lacking in the Church? Are there any problems if we do fuse the two concepts? Should it be encouraged? And If so, should it be called worship or something different?
So, just to set the record straight:
I am NOT saying that DJ’s should not have a place at all in church.
I am NOT saying that dance in and of itself is somehow evil, or that it should not have its place in church.
I am NOT saying that I do not want to collaborate with Christian DJ’s in the progression and development of Church.
I AM saying that I see some inherent problems and limitations in DJ led worship, and as a result we should be thinking about ways to resolve such issues and also to improve this form of expression. I think it is possible for us to find solutions to these inherent problems through debate, co-operation, creativity, accountability, and an attitude of the right heart and a maturity of spirit towards God, fellow believers, and non-believers.
I go to a church where I struggle each week with its antiquated worship format. But I still go because I know that I should be able to worship God in all circumstances. It is far from ideal, but at least I know that I am worshipping God & not the ‘wineskin’. Even though for every service I have to face the cultural hurdle to jump, and my difference of opinion of worship format, it is still not a good enough reason to stop me from connecting with God and with the fellowship of people around me who actually enjoy such a format. And at the end of the day, although I have a very strong drive in me to improve the way church is done, it comes a very second place to the core beliefs that I share with all followers of Jesus.
What is worship? I would say that it is basically a sincere expression of love towards God, irrespective but not in denial of how we are feeling at the time – A response to God’s love for us. It is essentially a very simple thing, but because of our sinful nature it can very easily become a complex thing. Therefore, because we all sin, there will never be a perfect form of worship as long as we remain in an imperfect world. But we should never give up from giving God our very best. So I respect the efforts that people are making in the many different forms of emerging Church. However, it is important that we are all able to question what we are doing and to think about how things can be bettered. There should not be a fear to do this, knowing that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. The results of healthy debate are great.
The importance in all this is that we need to create culturally relevant, but healthy environments where we can know God both intellectually as well as experientially, and be able to sincerely express our love to God in many ways, and to build healthy communities that demonstrate God’s Kingdom.
A still taken from one of my moving image VJ compositions called ‘One Way Only’.
On a more personal level, as a Christian and a VJ, here are my main objectives and where I plan to head with my area of ministry:
- To make teaching/sermons and worship a more culturally accessible, engaging and informative experience.
- To learn from the many forms of Christian church, to apply the positive aspects in creating something new and culturally adaptable.
- To explore the ‘digital wineskin’ through VJing, the Internet, DVD’s and other emerging technologies.
I think it is possible to have worship & teaching alongside one another, rather than always having the two compartmentalised and separated. I think it would be great if the two were combined, and also giving the option to flow in and out of the music and dancing during a sermon. It is this kind of format that I am working towards.
Another still of mine from a moving image composition titled ‘ What we are is…’
I plan to develop my ideas for Church during my masters degree in Moving Image/Motion Graphics. I have already been accepted by the University with a proposal to do so, and depending on funding, I hope to begin my studies either this year or the following year.
In Jesus, Rob Creet (aka Bluerinse).