But occasionally I see people point out this article, 15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals, and I get frustrated by the simplistic nature of its praise of hymnals. So I'm going to try a little satire and re-write the article to make the opposite point. Again, I love hymns and hymnals. But I'm going to take his argument too far the opposite way to illustrate there is a balance somewhere between. So, here are 15 Reasons Why We Should Use Screens for Worship.
- Screens teach new music. By using the newer music, we are using a wider diversity of artists' work. Their music is easily accessible on playlists everywhere. More worship music is being created today and shared with others than at any other time in church history. Using hymnals locks us in to one time period.
- Screens don't set a performance standard. Contemporary worship music is based on recording instead of notation. This allows the Holy Spirit to move, and it opens each song up to individual interpretation. Without notations, it is much easier to sing well as a congregation in a way that makes sense for them. Hymnals ruin that. Everybody has the same notation, so we have to sing the song the way it's supposed to go.
- Screens don't have musical notation. Words on a screen give no musical information. Hymnals ruin that. Singers can learn the song by rote and don't have to depend on the notes.
- Screens allow you to sing anywhere. When you depend on the hymnal for hymn texts, you’re bound to do your music making in a space outfitted with hymnals. The proliferation of screens, Spotify and playlists allow you to sing anywhere.
- Screens allow people to take possession of the music. I know congregants that love to find out the next Sunday’s songs during the previous week, so they can look them up, listen to them, and refresh the words so they’re prepared to lend their voices. Preparation like that is one of the ways music making becomes a worshipful activity. Screens make it possible for people to have easy access to the best songs.
- Screens can be easily fixed when something's screwed up. Proofreaders let us down all the time, and if it happens in a hymnal, you’re stuck with that error for the next 20 years.
- Screens are as helpful as the singer needs them to be. It’s hard to ignore a hymnal, no matter how well I know the song being sung. Its mere presence forces an immobilized body as you try to hold it in place. There are times I must pay close attention to the lyrics. At other times, I know the words and I can enjoy the beautiful background that displays the wonder of God's creation. I am free to look out into the congregation, making eye contact, sharing the ethos of the experience with others.
- Screens allow a local church to shape their theology around the Bible. Hymnals are a theological textbook unto themselves. There is no perfect hymnal, and hymnals force us to be stuck with what some committee in a denominational office thinks is reliable theological information.
- Screens don't require tactile action. Hymnals make the people work. Picking up the hymnal, finding the right page, and holding it up to sing grounds you in time and space. Feeling the weight in your hand disengages you from the activity. Having your hands and body free to move around allows you to fully focus on praising God more than staring at pages ever could.
- Screens are not distracting. Hymnals are actually very difficult to follow. Whenever I’m forced to read the tiny words with musical notes, I am easily lost in the sea of verses stacked on top of each other. In projected text, I am engaged by the colors, backgrounds, and movements. I find myself relaxing, not worry about holding something at the right angle. When I’m using a hymnal, my arms get tired, and I'm worried about finding the page in time to start. Then I get lost and forget which verse we're singing and embarrassingly start the wrong one.
- Screens provide better aesthetics for the Sanctuary. There is rarely a good place to put a hymnal. Book racks are a visual nightmare. Screens allow us to focus on the beauty of what God created rather than the cold, hard lines of man-made architecture.
- Screens confront us with new songs. We tend to go back to our favorite songs too often. It’s easy to fall into a rut. Hymnals lock us in to only a few songs. Screens allow us to explore fresh and new music.
- Screens validate new music. Screens will introduce us to new songs. Waiting for twenty years so that these songs can be sandwiched in between hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” does nothing to add to their validity.
- Screens make songs more accessible. In our mobile society, you never have a hymnal when you need it. Newer music is always available on our mobile screens to find lyrics and listen to. There’s as seamless integration with life. But hymnals are symbols of disconnection and environmental waste. They are only accessible at certain places and times and kill trees. Screens give life and breath to the great songs. They demonstrate that what we sing is worth keeping with us all the time.
- Screens give congregational singing back to the people. Congregations looking at hymnals are at the mercy of the committee that created the hymnal. Looking at a screen symbolizes the fact that the voice of the congregation is the primary instrument in corporate worship.
Bottom line, the praise of exclusive use of screens or hymnals is an exercise in ethnocentrism. People throughout history have used many methods to transmit music in their communities. But the heart of worship is not a focus on what I like and what makes me feel good. The heart of worship is to focus on giving praise to God.
We worship a God who became flesh and dwelt among us, taking upon Himself the cultural forms and experiences of his time and place. When we insist on making our own subculture and making it "the way", we are imposing barriers that make it difficult for our un-churched friends and neighbors to engage with us. We are not reflecting the way God made His home with us. If we love God in total surrender, we will seek to do all we can to make our worship and church culture accessible to the surrounding community. Flexibility with musical styles is an important part of that flexibility. Our theology, being Biblically-grounded and Christ-centered, those are the non-negotiables. Our cultural forms are where we can be flexible.
-John M Troyer
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