We live in an increasingly technological age, and media of all types are playing an ever-growing role in church worship services. How large a role should modern media play in the church? Ask a hundred people, and you will get a hundred different answers. Millennials will likely have a different view from Baby Boomers. Pentecostals will have a different view from German Baptists. Obviously, the Bible does not mention using media, such as PowerPoint and videos, in church. We need to consider several factors before we can make a wise decision regarding the place of media in worship services.
The format of worship
In Deuteronomy 12:1–5, God told the Israelites that they were not to worship in pagan places or adapt pagan worship practices into their worship. God also commissioned the temple with very specific instructions as to its size, dimensions, color, contents—everything was specified. Approaching God by entering the Holy of Holies (the inner chamber that contained the Ark of the Covenant) was severely restricted and regulated by many exacting rules.
But it was impossible for us to fulfill all the requirements necessary to worship God in holiness. No amount of animal sacrifices could take away our sin (Hebrews 10:4). So God sent His Son to be the perfect sacrifice. When Jesus died, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two from the top down (Matthew 27:51). God allowed us direct access to Him and freed us from the ceremonial law. He then gave us the Holy Spirit so we can “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).
In the days of the early church, Christians partook of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), prayed (1 Corinthians 14:15–16), sang (Ephesians 5:19), read Scriptures (Colossians 4:16), and gave offerings (1 Corinthians 16:2). Basically, they used whatever they had that would honor God the most. There was nothing in their worship practices that is directly anathema to the use of modern media.
The purpose of worship
In order to discover if we should use media in worship, we must know what the purpose of worship is. The Bible gives guidelines in Hebrews 10:19–25:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
In a church worship service, then, we are commanded to:
1. Draw near to God with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith
2. Hold fast the confession of our hope
3. Consider one another to promote “love and good deeds”
4. Encourage one another
These should be the basic qualifiers for media in worship. If media can draw the church closer to God in faith, remind individuals of the hope that lives in them, encourage them to serve others, and generally exhort God’s people, then it is appropriate.
Media in the New Testament
Of course, neither Jesus nor the early church had sound systems or video presentations. But Jesus often spoke in parables—stories to illustrate His teaching (Mark 4:34). Following Jesus’ style, a message that includes stories that illustrate biblical truths would be appropriate in our worship services. So would a suitable movie clip. Jesus’ stories explained kingdom truths and the character of God in a way that the people could relate to. The same should be true of any story, video, graphic, or sermon note.
Media in modern worship services
At the same time, we must consider the needs and convictions of the people in the church. It is not loving to indulge in media if it does not serve the needs of others.
Is the media divisive? There is nothing sinful about modern technology. Using a device to project lyrics on a screen is not wrong. However, some congregations—and individuals within other congregations—prefer to use hymnals. There is nothing wrong with either preference. The “pro-projectionists” should not confiscate the hymnals, and the “anti-projectionists” should not unplug the projector. There should be peace within the body, and we are all called to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Dialogue, wisdom, and compromise are needed in churches dealing with this issue.
Is the media conducive to worship? Our worship is to be God-focused, and it follows that everything in our worship services should be designed to promote a focus on God. While a cutting-edge video may really grab an audience, sometimes a less-is-more approach is more appropriate. After all, the goal of using media in a worship service should be to promote true worship, not just to stir emotion or to make an impression.
Is the media edifying? The apostle Paul stated, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23–24). A movie clip may perfectly illustrate a point in the sermon, but if the movie it comes from is vulgar or profane, it would be unwise to expose everyone in the church to it. If the media in question is meant just to entertain or to make the church appear “hipper,” then it is not profitable. If it glorifies God, edifies the body, and stirs up good works, then it is profitable.
Is the media used appropriately for the audience? Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” This is a good filter for every aspect of media in worship. Is the audio too loud? Too soft? Are the sermon notes or song lyrics available in print form for those who need them? Will the congregation understand the context of the movie clip? Are there young children who will cause a disruption during an academic, forty-five-minute sermon? It is a sign of love and maturity to give up personal preferences in such trivial matters if another option will bless someone else.
It is impossible to give specific, universal guidance as to the use of media in worship services. The above are some basic ideas to consider. The purpose of the worship service is to learn about God, worship Him, and build up the church. It is not to entertain a passive crowd or to be “edgy” for the sake of “edginess.” In choosing media, it is important to consider the needs and expectations of the congregation and then to serve one another in love. If movie clips or special music can accomplish that, we are free to use it. If not, we should prayerfully consider what would best honor God and benefit the people in the church.