Church Leadership

Focus and the worship service

We use lights, microphones, seating, and position to focus attention towards the platform during a worship service. People who are attending the service may come with a million words to say, a lot of things on their hearts, and a lot of individual motives… but those putting on the service easily gain control and retain control of the room tactically. 

  • Lighting – By illuminating the platform and darkening the seating area, this draws your attention to the light, humans are built that way. The darker you make the seating area, the more you focus attention on the platform and visa versa.
  • Seating – By point all of the pews/chairs towards the platform, it is more comfortable to put your back against the pew/chair and your feet facing towards the platform than it is for any other seated position. With seating pointed towards the platform, eyes naturally go there.
  • Sound – By amplifying the human voice you can communicate to the ears of everyone else in the room that you are more powerful than they are. Music, voice, video… all of that done at 80-105 decibels will typically focus all of the audience attention.
  • Height – By positioning people on a platform or a stage, especially while you are in the seated position, you are forced to “look up” to whomever is up front. This tells your brain, “that person is in control.
  • Position – As people of faith, we already have an assumption that the people on the platform have some level of authority over us. This is right and good. We ought to give that person our attention.
  • Schedule – By controlling all of those factors, you control the schedule. People will stand when you say so, sit, be quiet, and be dismissed. These are cultural cues, defined by mores. We all know, intuitively, that it’s rude to stand and talk to the person behind us when someone with a microphone is speaking in front of us.

From a moral perspective all of these are neutral. Nothing about having or even creating that tactical advantage is either good nor bad. But it is a tactical advantage that most churches utilize on a week-to-week basis. It’s what they know how to do as they’ve copied and refined it over the years.

This has inherent advantages and disadvantages, like all tactics. 

  • ADVANTAGE: This allows you to start/end services according to a prescribed time.
  • DISADVANTAGE: That only works if people show up on time and are willing to stay.
  • ADVANTAGE: The person on the platform is rarely interrupted.
  • DISADVANTAGE: That only works if the person on the platform doesn’t need to be interrupted.
  • ADVANTAGE: As a worship service planner, you can set the theme and manage the content of the service.
  • DISADVANTAGE: The service is limited to the planning teams creativity and listening to the Holy Spirit.
  • ADVANTAGE: You can build the whole service towards a theme, anticipate a response, and even manipulate the audience psychologically to respond the way you want them to. (Yes, I went there.)
  • DISADVANTAGE: There is an opportunity for abuse of power, position, and the temptation to sin is great.
  • ADVANTAGE: You can make a worship service clean, orderly, and (for the service planning group) predictable.
  • DISADVANTAGE: It’s easy to forget that the Spirit is wild, untamed, living and active in the hearts of the audience.
  • ADVANTAGE: The audience knows what to expect from the worship experience.
  • DISADVANTAGE: That predictability makes it easy to tune out.

I’d encourage you to continue with this list of advantages and disadvantages in the comment section.

So what’s the point?

The point is that we need to think about these things, be reminded of them, and ask hard questions about our motives. As leaders we know it’s relatively easy to gain a tactical advantage over our audience. But, in doing so, we are also intentionally limiting the input and community aspects of our congregations.

Again, these are morally neutral. But what happens in our heart as we utilize these advantages must be regularly checked.

Historically, the Bible was not meant to be studied in private. At the time of its writing no one had private access to scripture. The New Testement authors couldn’t have even envisioned that one day people would study the Bible privately, it was outside of the realm of possibilities. They would argue “Why would you even want to do that?” The notion of privately owning sacred texts is a 16th century innovation. (Gutenberg, Wycliffe)

It was never meant that the speaker would prepare in isolation and reveal his teaching at a service with such a physical tactical advantage. Even the notion of a personal application and an individual dividing Scripture and then sharing it publicly is not a historical position, but a remnant of the Reformation and Enlightenment. (Evangelicalism is really the perpetuator of this today, most mainline denominations and our Catholic brethren lean on a common lectionary.) Likewise, from a historical perspective few messages could/would ever be shared outside of a small context. In today’s technological age it’s very easy to hear messages that were never intended for your context, and a lack of specific local contextualization is a general assumption for those preparing messages/sermons today.

Again, So What?

For me, as I personally struggle with focus and distraction during worship services, I’m left with this thought about the impact of the modern worship service:

Are attempts to control and limit focus in worship services killing creatively looking at the potential impact of the Gospel message on a community? Research shows that distraction leads to creativity while focused attention leads to mere productivity. And in many churches we are very productive at some things while largely ignoring the major problems our communities face.

illustrations management

The Machine & The Magician: What you need to know about distraction

I’ve been learning a lot about the creative process lately. Like you, so much of my life is built around the concept that sometimes I need to be highly productive and other times I need to be highly creative. But, at all times, my work is best when it is both on time and creatively completed.

The Machine

Since childhood, we’ve been taught that there are times to sit down and focus all of our efforts on a task. I remember being rewarded as a 6 year old in kindergarten for my ability to sit down and do my work. My teacher had it set up so that each child, during a segment of the day for learning, could work at their own pace. I was really, really good at doing this. But if you looked at someone or whispered to your neighbor or suddenly got up and did a wiggle dance, that was inappropriate & bad.

In college, you were probably truly challenged academically for the first time– you had to learn how to study and knock hard projects out quickly. Further, you learned that there were times that if you disciplined yourself to focus that you could turn your brain into a task-master machine.

I knew that I could disappear into the corners of Moody’s library for four hours with a mug of coffee and emerge with a 10 page paper, 25 definitions memorized, a test prepared for, and 2 chapters of a book read with annotated notes for later review.

The machine is the opposite of creative. It pounds out work. It produces. And when the grades came out the one with the most powerful machine often won the highest grades.

As an adult I depend on turning on this machine. It takes me a while to get to that “machine” space, but if I put my headphones in with some improvisational jazz, turn off social media, and get into a project I can get there– knocking out a lot in a short amount of time.

The Magician

Have you been around babies & toddlers? I’ve had 3 of them crawl around my house in my lifetime. They are born magicians… incredibly creative in what they do. Turn your head for a second and BAM– they’ve done something amazing. Children can take two seemingly unrelated things and tie them together magically. In an instant they can disappear into a pretend world full of adventure, they can create stories out of thin air complete with backstory and plot twists.

You don’t have to teach a child how to be creative, it’s intuitive. If you allow them to just be themselves they are automatically creative.

To Review

The Machine is learned behavior to concentrate hard on a task, it is good.

The Magician is your natural creative self, the part of you that sees clay and stcks and smiles, it is also good.

Distraction isn’t bad

When I am in work mode I tend to think distractions are bad. Positive reinforcement from teachers and success in college taught me that. I get somewhere quiet and predictable. I work very well after the kids go to bed or at my office. Interruptions and distractions feel like the enemy. Phones, texts, Facebook, Twitter, visitors, going to the bathroom… all feel as though they will disturb the machines production.

But that’s not how it works. Your best work happens because an idea is sparked. When I get peer review of my work and overlay positive feedback with the timing of its production, the things that are most often the best– a creative solution, a breakthrough, an insight, a great paragraph— most often are in my work because the machine got turned off for a time and the magician was allowed to play. Perhaps I was in full machine mode and needed a lunch break? While walking there, my mind still churning on the work, I’ll get an idea or a solution or a insight into that work that I add. But sometimes this happens because a phone rings in another room, or a someone at a coffee shop drops something. Those breaks from Machine mode allow the Magician to play with the thing I’m working with and mix it with something else.

In fact, I’ve learned that intentionally allowing myself to become distracted can be an excellent way to generate new ideas. Taking a walk, shower, phone call, checking Facebook, listening to a sermon, catching up on the news, pulling weeds in the garden, playing with my kids, goofing off, even doing a small task like packing a box– all of these things allow me to turn the Machine off and allow my naturally creative mind, the Magician, to begin playing with ideas.

The Machine and the Magician are Playmates

I’ve learned that the Machine and the Magician are not adversaries. I will not truly be productive if I see the Machine as the winner and the Magician as the loser. (Though many people perpetuate that myth & it certainly seems productive.) My work is at its best when I foster interplay between getting things done and getting things done playfully. My work is best, not when I have hours and hours of uninterrupted Machine time, but when I have concerted time which builds in intentional distractibility so that the Magician has his voice.


Missing the Moneyball

The movie Moneyball brought to light something that has happens in a lot of areas of our culture: We make decisions all the time based on information that doesn’t really impact the result we are trying to get.

Two examples from today’s newspaper:

  •  Only 80,000 jobs added in October, but unemployment rate drops. The unemployment rate is accurately measuring an old standard while missing a cultural shift. Think about all the people you know in the past 5 years who have gone from gainfully employed to gainfully self-employed. The unemployment rate doesn’t measure people who are starting their own business. I think if we measured that you’d be encouraged by economic growth.
  • Home building spent another year in the cellar. This is an economic indicator? New home starts? Sure, the population is growing a little bit every month and this implies new homes should be built to house them. Because that’s what I’d do, right? Wrong. People don’t get married and live in an apartment until they have a kid and build a house anymore. Our society isn’t that simple, maybe it never was. We should measure the homelessness rate instead. That’s what really matters.

Other examples from this weeks news:

  • A lesbian couple at Patrick Henry High School was elected homecoming king & queen. I’m not even sure why this is a national news item. I know adults have an unhealthy fascination with adolescent sexuality and their interest in particularly peaked in the seemingly new phenomenon of LGBT students on campus. But this is measuring the wrong thing. Here’s a school that is safe and supportive of all of its students. Since when is that a bad thing? And what does this story have anything to do with education? Here’s a newsflash: Most people under 25 are completely over culture wars. 
  • Bank of America Eliminates Plan for $5 Debit Card Fee. Do people who work at banks think this has anything to do with $5? What they should be reporting is a trust index. The light bulb has gone off and people have realized that a $200,000 mortgage, some credit cards, some home improvement loans, some school loans, and a car payment is completely stupid financially even though banks says “good for your credit rating.” The real win was for credit unions. Measure the growth of credit unions vs. the decline of traditional banking and you’ll have an interesting index.
  • NCAA stipend not a lean towards “pay-to-play. This is a classic cover-up to get you to measure the wrong thing. While you’re debating the ethics of giving college football and basketball players $2000 each to offset living expenses, you’ll never notice that ESPN is the quiet majority voice dictating the changing landscape of conference play. (And blocking a playoff in football. Did you know they own a lot of the bowl games?) They have you measuring the wrong thing.

What are some things in your life that are measured using an index that doesn’t really effect the outcome?