Worship, eyes closed or eyes open

May 9, 2008

I’ve been to two large Christian events recently. Worship Central‘s visit to Glasgow and the CWW National Gathering.

Unfortunately in both cases I wasn’t able to get to the whole thing – life has just been too annoying lately with the amount of stuff that gets in the way – so I didn’t want to post too much about either, but one thing I’ve been going over since Worship Central is how much the total lack of visual stimulus distracted me from worship.  How can the lack of something distract me?

If there were awards for worship services (please don’t tell me there are), then the one at Worship Central would have won across the board.  Great worship leaders, good band, fantastic mix of songs well arranged and structured across the set and a ‘congregation’ of worship leaders and musicians who had waited for this sold out event, queued outside, anticipated and were ready to go.  So a win-win situation, what could possibly go wrong.  Me, apparently.

Yes, I did ‘enjoy’ the worship if you are aloud to say that sort of thing, and yes it did help me to focus on, think about and I suppose ‘meet with’ God, which I guess is the point.  But I just got so bored of staring at white text on a black background.  The church we met in had some banners up – these were all just text – and there was a nice big stained glass window (which had three characters in it that I have no idea who they were, it wasn’t obvious to me).  I got so bored I realised that I was looking around (while singing) looking for something that pointed to God and I couldn’t find it.

Jump forward two weeks – Church Without Walls National Gathering at Ingliston.  Again, I could only make part of the last day and I know there were lots of different styles of worship, singing, praying, service, etc. all going on but I only managed to get to two (more or less).   Sunday evening’s closing session for the national gathering was in the program as “Worship with Jonny Baker, Praise with Stuart Townend” which was interesting because we often use the words ‘Worship’ and ‘Praise’ to mean the same thing – singing.

Jonny Baker has posted here about what he did in that hour with an outline of the order things happened and links to resources.  Very useful if you were there but it doesn’t give the feel of what happened and neither can I. What I can say is that the visual stimulus which matched the music style and almost ancient chanting style of singing I found really helpful to quickly focus, become still and be with God.  Some of the visuals were specific to match what was being said, sung or read others less so but even on this scale (2-3000 people in a large venue with a stage fit for a rock concert) there was still an intimacy and sense of interaction.  This style of led worship with mixes of readings, liturgy, stories, etc. included asking for our physical participation in response to what was being said, it included a time to reflect what we wanted prayed for and to take away something to pray for a stranger – it was in other words, very well structured and rounded time of worship (not just singing songs)

Following this I stayed for the first song or two in the “Praise by Stuart Townend’ section, but I was too distracted, had a headache and wasn’t able to focus at all on it.  When I realised I was just singing the words for no good reason I left to go and think more about what had happened earlier.

So, are these the two extremes of contemporary worship – a guitar based band, leading song after song with the aim of getting us to think about God (presumably) and a bloke with a Mac using chilled music, singing, visuals and written words.  Perhaps it’s not just a visual thing as I had in mind when I started this post, not simply a case of eyes opened or eyes closed – perhaps it is that I’ve got a short attention span and prefer to have multiple things happening (visuals to look at, words to think about, music to listen to) and not just look at the band playing their instruments.