Monday, December 10, 2007

Visual Worship

About five weeks ago, I had the chance to play alongside singer/songwriter Mark Miller ( in a concert in Tokyo. Sadly, it was Mark's final concert in Japan before he moved back to the United States, and he is already missed. It was one of the most fun concerts I have ever played in (I played djembe), with Mark, myself, and two other very talented musicians. However, the thing that made it most memorable was not just the great music, but the great art that accompanied it. Graham Fleming ( added his skill to the concert by making works of art while the music was playing. Using a mixture of chalk and watercolors in order to produce the art in a short amount of time, he created 8 drawings over the course of 9 songs. I have included the eight pictures (plus a pre-concert test) right here:

Graham's experiment during the concert filled my head with thoughts and questions. Specifically, it made me think about worship. A commonly accepted definition of worship is that it is "the act of coming into God's presence and responding to Him on the basis of who He is and what He has done." Bruce Leafbald expands this by saying that worship is "communion with God in which believers, by grace, center their minds' attention and their hearts' affection on the Lord, humbly gloryfying God in response to His greatness and His word."

The phrase that jumps out at me is "center their minds' attention." As I mentioned in my last post, I am an English teacher. As such, I have learned about various teaching and learning methods. One of the most widespread theories is the theory of learning modalities, which says that each student has a particular modality, and if information is presented in a way that resonates with their modality, they will be able to easily comprehend it. The modalities are as follows:
Audio - responds best when information is verbalized or presented via sound. They have a hard time gaining information from books.

Visual - responds best when information is presented visually, whether that be through graphics or diagrams. Learning that occurs solely through sound is very difficult for them.
Tactile/Kinesthetic - responds best when information is associated with movement and hands-on activities. These people generally have a hard time with reading and listening, but will immediately understand when they can walk through the process.

Now, let's connect this with "centering their minds' attention." To me, it only makes sense that a person's learning modality is directly connected with how they are able to channel their thoughts and center their minds' attention. I don't think that worship is an exception. I think that audio learners will naturally be able to express themselves to God most fully using sound, and tactile kinesthetic learners will naturally express themselves to God with movement.

The problem is, our worship services are not set up to favor anyone except the audio learners. Think about the elements of the service. In any service, there are active and passive elements. Generally stated, the active elements are the parts of the service where the congregation directly interacts in the service. The passive elements can include sermons and times of prayer (both audio by the way) as well as the church environment. I am not a pastor, so I am not going to qualify on the passive elements. Let me instead focus on the active element: the worship time.

Most worship times consist of two things: singing and responsive reading. These two things highly favor the audio modality. The advent of computers and slide-show presentations have added some visual element to this time, but it is passive. I am looking for things people can participate in. In some churches, dancing is acceptable, which is a blessing to the tactile/kinesthetic people out there. In other churches, the T/K people have to resort to clapping and sometimes (gasp) raising their hands. As far as the visual people go... well... I'm drawing a blank. I can't think of any commonly accepted elements to the service that allow visual people to actively participate in a response to God. This is sad, even tragic! If worship is about centering our minds' attention and our hearts' affection to God, then we are neglecting a sizeable portion of the body without realizing it! How do these people learn to focus on God when the active congregational times are all conducted in a way that doesn't allow them to center their minds' attention?
This is where Graham comes back in. He was a participant in the concert through the visual element, and it was powerful for us musicians, him, and many people in the audience. Is it inconceivable to bring that same idea into a worship service? Here is a small picture of what it could look like: Set up a table on one side of a sanctuary, and on the table to have blank white paper, small amounts of colored paper, old magazines, crayons, markers, scissors, and glue. During the time when the worship team is playing (especially for extended 3-4 song sets), people are free to come to this table and worship God, centering their minds' attention visually. Whatever is produced can either be taken by them or displayed after the service. Think of how that could transform the worship experience for some of the people in our churches! Just last Sunday, I was sitting next to a friend, and when the pastor was talking about advent, she started scribbling the word "Anticipation" in various fonts all over a stray sheet of notebook paper. It was her way of entering into the worship experience. I questioned her about it later that day, and the short conversation that followed was engaging, heartfelt, and meaningful. I would like to see that story repeated every Sunday.

One final note. Adding the visual element to worship is not a new concept. People who practice Lectio Divina have been discovering this for hundreds of years. I have seen this concept transform campus meetings, where instead of a message, an artistically minded student will lead their peers to meditate on a passage of scripture and respond to it visually.

1 comment:

Paul Nethercott said...

Scot really good to have you as a fellow author on this blog.

Thanks for this good report on Mark's concert! I have video footage from the concert, would be neat if we could post some video...? Lets talk and see if we could work it out.