Why We Project the Scripture Readings

FullSizeRender 5Earlier this year, my church began projecting the text of our scripture readings on Sundays. In our Anglican service, we have at least two readings from Scripture at each service. There are Bibles in the pews, and most people can now access a Bible on their own phone/tablet, so why project the Scripture text too?

We have at least four reasons:

1. Our international/English-as-a-second-language community has asked for it. Those who don’t speak English as their first language still really want to follow along and be engaged in our services, in English. The readings are difficult for them, because by the time they find/turn to the scripture that’s being read, it’s over! Seeing the scriptures read while they’re being projected is an immense help to those for whom the English language is still new.

2. We want people to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures as much as possible. The Bible is the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). The more we can get people hearing and reading the Word of God, the better. There is power in actually reading the scriptures together. Hearing them is absolutely essential. We think reading them is essential too. Besides, getting the scriptures to be readable by lay people (in their homes, much less in church services) was a pretty big part of the reformation, and we think that it’s still important today.

3. We project almost everything else in our services, except for some of the liturgy the pastor prays before communion (since it’s printed in our Liturgy Books in the pews). By not projecting the Scriptures, we might inadvertently send the signal that they’re not as important as the song lyrics, creeds, prayers, responses, etc., when, in fact, they’re more important than all of those things combined.

4. We consistently attract non-believers, or new believers. We hear reports every week of people coming to church who have never been to church before, or haven’t been in decades. Through the Alpha course, and through relationships, we are regularly seeing a smattering of people in our services every Sunday who are non-Christians and/or non-churched. They don’t know what the big numbers mean (i.e. a chapter), what the little superscript numbers mean (i.e. the verses), or when Jesus is talking, or when he’s telling a parable, or whether “the Word of the Lord” is in the Bible, or just an extra thing we add. They are complete newbies to the Bible. How wonderful! Projecting Scripture makes it accessible, more follow-along-able, and less intimidating.

We want to encourage our congregation to read along on Sundays, either in the Bibles in the pews, or on their phones/tablets, or on the screens. Or all of the above!

In the words of Thomas Cranmer:

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Oh Magnify My Face With Me

1On Monday I posted “Are We Headed For a Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship“. In addition to being the longest title for one of my blog posts over, it’s also garnered the most discussion. It’s been a good discussion, and a few people kindly disagreed with a few of the things I encouraged worship leaders to do: lead their original songs in moderation, keep the lights in the room up, and get their faces off the big screen. I wanted to explain more of why I think worship leaders should get their faces off the big screen.

In case you don’t know, in many evangelical churches (and conferences) around the world, particularly large ones, the screens are used not only to project the song lyrics, but also the people on stage. During the sermon you’ll be able to see a magnified image of the preacher. And during the songs, you’ll be able to see a magnified image of the worship leader, and the band members, with occasional close-ups (perhaps) of the drummer, or the electric guitarist’s hands, or the bass player’s tattoo, all while the lyrics to the song are projected on the bottom of the screen, in one-to-three line segments.

Here’s why I think it’s a bad idea for the worship leader’s face (and the musicians too) to be projected during worship.

It constantly keeps you in people’s consciousness
Throughout the time of singing, everyone in the room is constantly aware of you, your movements, your mannerisms, your outfit, your sweaty nose, and your personality.

It forces people to look at you
They have no choice but to look at your face. They can either close their eyes or look at your face. What if they don’t want to look at your face? Too bad for them.

It detracts from the focus of the songs
For about 15 – 25 minutes each Sunday, worship leaders have the weighty privilege of deciding what to focus their congregations on. If you happen to employ your screens during those 15-25 minutes, the odds are that your congregation will focus on what’s on them. Gospel-drenched, God-glorifying, Jesus-exalting lyrics? Or your face?

It makes you even more of a celebrity
People are conditioned to treat a person on a screen as a celebrity. Worship leaders are already on enough of a pedestal as it is, that having a congregation stare at their magnified face can only make it worse.

It changes the way you behave (and not in a good way)
I’ve led worship in settings where my face is projected and it just plain out feels awkward. Oops I just licked my lips. That looked weird. Will this shirt look good on screen? Oops they just caught me looking over at myself. Oh wow I really am losing my hair. For goodness sake, there are enough things for us to worry about while leading worship, that how we look on a massive screen shouldn’t be one of them.

It changes the way your team sees themselves
Now your worship team is thinking about all of those same things. They already feel self-conscious enough, and now they have to worry about looking camera-ready. That Mom who just gave birth four weeks ago, that electric guitarist who spilled coffee on his shirt, that drummer who sweats profusely in the shape of a T-Rex on his back, now they’re all thinking about their appearance. 

It prevents you from decreasing
It’s awfully hard for you to decrease when your face is the size of a Honda Civic.

It ensures that you are central
For the duration of the sung worship time, your face is the number one trending topic in the room. 

It necessitates breaking the song lyrics up
The context of the lyrics we’re singing matters. “Upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin” makes more sense when we can see what precedes it: “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me the guilt within”. It’s helpful to let people see the different chunks of the song in context. It already flies by as it is, and even more so when we chop the chunks up even smaller.

It’s completely unnecessary
So your room is large. So people standing in the back won’t be able to see you very well during worship. So what?

Let me try to preemptively try to answer some questions/address some disagreements:

What about when you’re talking or praying?
This makes more sense to me. When you welcome people, or when you speak to them, or when you’re praying/transitioning in between or after a song, it can definitely be helpful for your face to be projected. At that moment you do want a connection. You do want people to pay attention to what you’re saying. You do want your leadership to be more present. But when the song begins again, the screen can fade to full-screen lyrics. At that moment your role changes and you need your face to disappear.

But why is it OK to project the preacher?
The role of a preacher is to preach the word of God. To communicate the Word of God to the people of God. It is very much a communicative role (duh). The role of a worship leader is not the same. Yes, it’s a pastoral role, but it’s not a preaching role (though songs do preach). Our role is the role of a facilitator. And an effective facilitator facilitates. Facilitating and communicating are two very different roles. Having your face on a screen indicates that you’re on the screen to communicate. Having your face off the screen indicates that you’re there to facilitate. So get your beautiful face off the screen and do some facilitating.

But people will feel so disconnected from the worship leader
First, so what. Second, that’s the point.

But people need to see who’s leading them
They can see you just fine. And if you want, they can see you projected during the speaking bits. But when the singing starts, they don’t need to see whether or not you shaved this morning.

But it’s so boring just to project lyrics
Then make sure you’re projecting lyrics that pack a punch.

So what do you do if your church is currently projecting your face during the songs?

Stop doing it
It’s not a good practice. It’s something that’s increasingly prevalent in large evangelical churches and conferences, and it’s adding to the trend towards performancism that’s resulting in tuned-out congregations. 

Use it as a huge teaching opportunity
Imagine a congregation hearing something like this:

“For years here at (insert your church name here) we have projected the worship leader and worship team on the screen during corporate worship. Our tech crew have done an excellent job at this, and we know that in this large room, many of you have appreciated being able to see what’s going on on stage. But, starting today, we’re not going to project the people on stage on the screen during worship anymore. You’re going to see full-screen lyrics. You might see the worship leader’s face when he speaks or prays, but when we start singing, you’ll just be seeing lyrics only. Why are we doing this? Three reasons. First, we don’t want you to think that you’re coming to a show on Sunday mornings. We want you to come to worship God. Second, we don’t want to distract you from the amazing truths we’re singing, or the amazing gospel we’re proclaiming, or the amazing God we’re encountering. And third, we want to encourage you to be more engaged with God in worship and less focused on who’s on the screen. So, we’re going to keep the lights up, we’re going to ask that you commit yourself to actively engaging in this time, and we’re going to pray now that the Holy Spirit would help this church worship Jesus with more and more freedom in the weeks and months to come.” 

Sounds good to me.