Sunday, July 17, 2011

If Our Brains Have Changed, Should Our Worship Change Too?

One of my summer vacation books was The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr.  I wrote more extensively about that book in this post on my creativity blog.

I've been thinking about this subject from a variety of angles.  My quilting group met yesterday.  I really should start calling it our eating group, because we don't get much quilting done.  I talked about an idea I have for a novel.  One of my friends, who also read Carr's book, said, "Would you really write a novel after having read Carr's book?"  Yes, I might.

I've also been thinking about these issues in terms of education.  I listened to this NPR show about changing our approach to classrooms and delivery systems for a net generation.  I had all sorts of questions, of course.  Why do we let relatively unformed youngsters dictate these things?  Do we really think the brain itself has changed, even though we understand how long these evolutionary changes take to manifest themselves?  What about the students who don't learn well with technology gadgets?

This morning, as I'm getting ready for church, I started wondering about our brains and our traditional church services, for those of us who still have traditional church services.  How long are the sermons in your church?  Is it realistic to expect that congregations can pay attention for 20, 30, 40 minutes?  Lots of brain researchers would say it is not.

I continue to be drawn to the ideas in Mark Pierson's The Art of Curating Worship (see this post for a review).  Why have a sermon at all?  Gone are the days when the pastor was the only person with a graduate education in the room.  We don't need the pastor's brain to navigate the text for us, to tell us what to think.  It would be nice to get some background, some history, some linguistic information about what the text looked like in its original language--but I've heard precious few sermons that actually do this.

What I'd like, and what I expect many others would like, is a chance to interact with the text.  Let me create something.  Let me be part of a larger happening.  Get me up and out of the pew.  I'm tired of being a passive observer!

No, don't give me a PowerPoint presentation.  Please, God, protect me from PowerPoint!  So few people do those well.  I want to move my hands, move my feet.  I want my brain to fully engage.

Those of us in mainstream churches have been slow to understand what our Pentecostal siblings have always known--we want all of ourselves to be fully engaged.  Mainstream churches are in the early days of this experiment.  Brain researchers would tell us it's time to hurry up--that one reason why we're losing so many members is that we're acting as if it's 1947, but it isn't.  Not in terms of people's brains, their educations, their desires, and their hopes.

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