Producing Worship

A Theology of Church Technical Arts

 


About the Book

Over the past two decades, the church has sought to incorporate technology into its worship services in ways that mimic modern society; professional audio consoles, stage lighting, projection screens, and theatrical sets are now customary. Because how people experience sacred space forms their views about it, what technical artists do in practice also shapes the congregation’s beliefs about God. This book is the first exegetical discourse aimed at establishing a theology of church technical arts, and examining how a biblically informed theological understanding might help better shape praxis for contemporary church technical artists. The tabernacle construction narrative (Exodus 35:30–36:1), Christ’s mediation from within the church (Hebrews 2:12–13), and Paul’s exhortation to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16) are viewed in light of current practice to form a portrait of the technical artist, establishing that those who serve their local church through the audio, video, and lighting ministries are “producing worship.”


About the Author

Josiah Way (PhD, University of Birmingham UK) is the Director of Multimedia Services at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA, and serves as a regional Technical  Director at Saddleback Church the Aliso Viejo campus. With over 25 years’ experience in pro-AV, working in live production, TV, film, studio recording, sports, theatre, and church tech, he holds a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Birmingham UK, Master’s in Applied Biblical Studies from Moody Theological Seminary, Bachelor’s in Philosophy from the University of Southern California, and AVIXA CTS Certification. Joe serves on multiple boards in both the higher education and pro-AV industries, speaks and consults regularly worldwide, hosts the Higher Ed AV Podcast, and is a contributing writer for various trade publications including Church Production Magazine. He and his wife, Amy, reside in Lake Forest, CA, and have three children between them.

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FOREWORD

I wanted to title this foreword: “Why I committed academic suicide on my first book.” After spending four years of PhD study and two years of Master’s work, the next step—I was told—was to “find a legitimate publisher” to disseminate the doctoral thesis as a manuscript, or people won’t “respect” your work. And I admit, having a published academic work has always been a dream of mine. So, I have to first say to the two traditional academic publishers who accepted my thesis and were willing to “sign me” and my crazy idea of publishing a theology of church technical arts, thank you. I am honored and humbled. But I decline.

So why would I turn down the opportunity to make a dream come true? To steal the opening line from The Purpose Driven Life, the #1 bestselling book of all time after the Bible, because it is not about me. It never was. It is about God and one another.

Technical artists are dear to my heart; I have a deep respect for those who dedicate their lives to serving their local churches, often doing so from the dredges of the church, back in the corner, stuck in the dark. They show up before everyone else, and are often the last to leave. When the job is done well, they go unnoticed. And often un-thanked. But they do it because God has instilled in them a unique talent and shaped them to serve in that capacity.

The initial purpose of this research was to explore what the Bible says about church technical arts and to answer the question: how might a biblically informed theological understanding help better shape praxis for contemporary church technical arts? The pursuit of knowledge was an important journey, and it resulted in the everlasting “doctor” title. However, knowledge is useless if not shared. I committed academic suicide in order to build a bridge between the theological study of technical worship and the practical application of it. This scholarship needed to get into the hands of church techs, pastors, worship leaders, scholars, academic institutions, church creatives, and lay servants. As a new author, the price point would have been prohibitive for mass dissemination. While my dream would have been reached, the purpose would not have.

I look forward to this book informing the theological choices we make in the application of technically generated sound, light, and visuals within our worship services as well as being able to set the table for church leaders and their creative staffs to better serve God, one another, and their congregations.

CONTENTS

Endorsements

Dedication

Table of Contents

Foreword

Acknowledgements

Chapter 1 – Setting the Stage

Chapter 2 – How Did We Get Here? Where Exactly Are We?

Chapter 3 – Exodus 35:30–36:1: Bezalel, An OT Technical Arts Model

Chapter 4 – Hebrews 2:12–13: Jesus and the Technical Artists’ Parallel Roles as Mediators of Church Worship

Chapter 5 – Colossians 3:16: The Use of Multimedia “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs” to Teach and Admonish One Another

Chapter 6 – Conclusion: Producing Worship, A Theology of Church Technical Arts

Chapter 7 – A Final Word to Church Technical Artists

Selected Bibliography

About the Author

CHAPTER 1 – SETTING THE STAGE

INTRODUCTION

In 1985, renowned physicist Freeman Dyson cited technology as the greatest gift from God after life itself. At that point the first Macintosh personal computer was only one-year old, and Windows 1.0 would be released just a few months later. Reflecting on the power of nuclear energy and basic flow of information, Dyson concluded that it takes fifty to one hundred years for a new scientific technology to catch on and that even though technology is often thought to be growing more rapidly than in former times, this is an illusion caused by our current perspective. Undoubtedly, the invention of the microchip changed that forecast: technology today is advancing exponentially—doubling nearly every two years according to Moore’s Law. It is no surprise then that as a society just over thirty years removed from Dyson’s proclamation that record rates of technological consumption have resulted in generational segments that are now more often defined by technical innovation than decades or political movements. As a result, the contemporary church, which remained relatively stagnant in its liturgical worship methods for centuries at a time, has had to answer to how it will embrace modern technological advances. Quentin Schultze suggests that “the idea of technological adaptation brings us to the biblical basis for human use of technology, namely, our calling as caretakers or stewards of God’s creation.” This technological calling has historically been overlooked in both contemporary scholarly research and everyday church practice.

The product of a skilled technical artist can present the biblical narrative in the same imaginative and meaningful way as other great works of art utilized by the church throughout history. Just as an artist once realized the telling of God’s story could be enhanced through converting a standard window into stained glass, Michelangelo forever impressed the creation of Adam onto humanity through a paint-brushed fresco upon the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel. David’s physique is immortalized in our modern minds through stone. So, too, the method by which the church would deliver its message forever changed when Emile Berliner combined his microphone invention with a modified Thomas Edison phonograph to create the first usable tool for recording and playback of sound to large groups of people at long distances simultaneously. When C. W. Rice and E. W. Kellogg patented the first loudspeaker in 1925, technology entered the realm of everyday public speaking and, in turn, the pulpit and pew. Church art became a technological endeavor. Over the next forty years, as affordable lighting and video capabilities developed for the general public, the church sanctuary became a living theatre for God. To the chagrin of some, sanctuary projection screens have become the cross and stained glass for the electronic age, constantly creating and forming religious imagery that was previously represented by architecture and icons. And thus, high-tech, digital liturgy is now the contemporary church’s art form and vehicle for presenting the gospel message to a technological generation.

Even with nine decades of technological assistance in presenting the pastoral message, the study into the theology of church technology has been glaringly absent. Thus, this book moves us towards a theology of church technical arts and the practice of “producing worship.” It performs a theological examination of church technical arts, developing a technological metanarrative through three key relevant texts: Exodus 35:30–36:1; Hebrews 2:12–13; and Colossians 3:16. In practice the texts can be read to view technical artists as serving as Christ’s mediators between the stage and congregation (Heb 2:12–13) for the purpose of building up one another in the church through multi-medium worship (Col 3:16) and that technical artists are defined by artistic excellence through craftsmanship, skill, creativity inspired by the Spirit, and performance through a heart of service possessing the characteristics of intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, and the ability to teach their craft to others (Exod 35:30–36:1). The characteristics of ability, artistry, wisdom, craftsmanship, and technology are demonstrated through the Old Testament artisans Bezalel and Oholiab and the construction of the tabernacle. The New Testament verses of Hebrews 2:12–13 and Colossians 3:16 first clarify the use of technology in contemporary worship practices by presenting Jesus as the perfect intercessor between the worshipers and worshiped and, second, by offering the purpose for how the church should institute technological worship, namely, the sanctification and building up of the congregation. Last, the findings are viewed in light of current practice. The view presented formulates a portrait for contemporary sound, lighting, and visual techniques, as well as the technical artists’ purpose and position within the church. In this way, the technical arts become representative of larger theological principles when engaged within the church context.

This book forms a portrait of the church technical artist. It is not for those looking for a light work of praise or excuse. It is an exegetical work exploring the biblical text with practical application. Chapter one is contextual; chapter two historical; three, four, and five are textual, and chapter six is practical. Each chapter builds one pillar of the theological tower that is formed in chapter six. As a reader, be prepared to explore the texts as would biblical scholars. The remainder of chapter 1 establishes the purpose and aim and its relevance to the modern church. Working definitions of relevant terms are presented, along with explanation of the various research methodologies utilized. … …

CHAPTER 2 – HOW DID WE GET HERE? WHERE EXACTLY ARE WE?

INTRODUCTION

To establish how the technical arts fit into church practice, this book springboards off the current discussion within the realm of theology and the arts. Due to this being an artistic medium not yet formally explored in academic circles, the natural avenue to open the conversation on technical arts is from related foundational theological work already underway, by contextualizing how the technical arts relate to other art forms within the church arena, first historically and then specifically in the area already associated with music and aesthetics: contemporary worship leaders and songwriters.

In the twentieth century, North American fundamentalism used the new mediums of radio and television to shape the views of both the boomer and millennial generations. Idealistic debates over style and how church is supposed to be done lead to the largest obstacle the contemporary church had to overcome in achieving acceptance of today’s new way of doing church. During this time of introducing the technical arts into the current arts, music, and theology conversations, a wide gap was created between the purists and the technological progressives. Even while modern society is exceedingly fascinated with the “latest and greatest”—with new technologies defining nearly every aspect of modern life—many churches are still balancing the pros and cons of integrating technology into their structured liturgical practices, either in fear of the service being watered down or the inability to integrate it appropriately. Marva Dawn suggests, “drastic changes in social fabric, caused by the onset of the technological milieu are intensified by the psychological reverberation of societal events.” These technological “tremors” were extensive, shaking norms of comfort. Advancements in technologies, music, and art have a record of challenging the church’s views on worship ritual. Many in the church have been left wondering what to do with this new and exploding medium their congregations are interacting with daily outside the church walls. Do we embrace it or ban it? This question is not new; every new technology from musical instrumentation, artistic sculpture, stained glass, religious paintings, and architectural styles all faced this challenge before becoming the new norm.

Many “purists” are critical of modern church music, asserting that today’s music and technological practices are inferior to classic hymns and hymnals of the previous century and that the church is dangerously close to losing an essential part of church history, due to the lack of theological content in today’s songs. They claim traditional hymnody and psalm-based worship are to take priority in liturgical practices. Moving lights, loud thumping bass, and spoon-fed lyrics run dangerously close to transforming worship services into experiences of entertainment rather than reverence. Purists often call on the church to return to an older—and in their understanding—more “authentic” mode of practice. … …

CHAPTER 3 – BEZALEL AN OT TECHNICAL ARTS MODEL

35:30–36:1 – Then Moses said to the people—the sons and children—of Israel, “Behold! The Lord has specifically called by name Bezalel (son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah), and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, in regards to: skill and wisdom at heart, intelligence and understanding, knowledge and expertise, and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs for masterful work . . . in every skilled craft (by any sort of workman or skilled artistic designer). And the Lord has inspired he and Oholiab (son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan) to teach their skills to others. He has filled them with skill to do every kind of work . . . and given ability and skill in the hearts of all able and gifted artisans, so that they may make all that I have commanded. Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled craftsman in whom the Lord has personally put skill, wisdom, intelligence, and understanding, to know how to perform any and all work in the construction of the sanctuary—and all that is Holy—shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.”

INTRODUCTION

Twenty-six times in Exodus 25–40, the section describing the construction of the tabernacle, the word “skilled” is used to refer to the way something is made or a characteristic it possesses. The narrative of Exodus 35 (cf. Exod 31), where the tabernacle is commissioned for construction, specifically paints a picture of the relationship between the craftsman and the church as well as between the craftsman and God. Through the description of the biblical characters Bezalel and Oholiab, the text presents a portrait of a biblical artist and the six distinct attributes he or she is to possess: Spirit, skill, intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship, and teaching ability. In Exodus 31 God informs Moses at Mt. Sinai that he has personally selected Bezalel to construct the tabernacle. In chapter 35 Bezalel responds to the call. Bezalel is the master builder and chief artisan of the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the clothing; Oholiab serves as his anointed assistant. Eugene Peterson comments regarding Moses and Bezalel’s relationship in the final chapters of Exodus: “Bezalel is in charge. And what he is in charge of is making provisions for worship. . . . At chapter 35, Moses steps aside and hands things over. . . . Bezalel provides the people with the material means for worshiping through the wilderness and living in the promised land.” The Lord gave the instructions to Moses; Bezalel responded to an internal calling. Moses fully recuses himself, so that Bezalel can perform his inspired tasks.

The purpose of the tabernacle is for God and humanity to commune with one another. Not since the garden does God create for himself a physical place to dwell with his people. It is the earliest record we have of something constructed for the worship of God, with instructions that come from God. The general idea was that God had become a wanderer with his wanderers; he became the “tent” for his fellow tent-dwellers. He came down to humanity so they may have fellowship with him. The tabernacle served as the portable home for YHWH until Solomon built the temple on Mount Moriah approximately two hundred years later.

The tabernacle narrative is split into four parts: (1) the list of building materials; (2) identification of the builders; (3) the construction and making of furnishings; and (4) the census and tax levy to support the tabernacle’s cultic functions. If God desired, he could have either built the tabernacle himself or made anything anywhere to be the meeting and worship place of God. Instead, he chose inspired artists to create his dwelling space while equipping them with the necessary skills, along with the Spirit, for a task that would meet his holy standards. In this way, the arts received divine approval. To an untrained reader, the passage contains endlessly monotonous details, yet it is essential to recognize that an architect could not effectively build the tabernacle based on the description given; the proper details are not present. God gave the instructions to build the tabernacle—not instructions for the tabernacle—and bestowed upon the artisans the ability to do so through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Bezalel—the first person in the Bible said to be “filled with the spirit” (Exod 35:31; 31:2)—is an often-overlooked character in the biblical narrative. Modern commentaries often skip or summarize the ten chapters pertaining to the construction-commissioning account, while focusing on the earlier works of Moses. Yet, Bezalel is a significant character for NT Christians because of the parallels between him and Christ. The tabernacle is a central space for Israelite worship wherein Bezalel’s actions play a significant role in how God’s people worship and experience God. Bezalel produced Israelite worship through an artistic creation of divine inspiration. This chapter explores the tabernacle construction narrative specifically focusing on the person of Bezalel and his assistants, Oholiab and the tabernacle artisans. For contemporary church technical artists, these biblical characters offer a template for the qualities necessary to perform their craft within the confines of God’s sacred space. … …

Look what people are saying!

Well done and thank you Dr. Joe Way! With the rapid expansion of technology, we need help in utilizing the modern tools of communication to assist the Church with the great commission. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the one who reaches and changes hearts toward Christ and with each generation there are new ways to communicate God’s heart. In “Producing Worship: A Theology of Church Technical Arts,” Dr. Way gives every leader, Pastor, and tech team vital insights on how to maximize the potential of new technology to help transform and equip The Church to proclaim the timeless message of Jesus Christ.

Paul Baloche, Multi-Dove Award Winning & Top Selling Singer, Songwriter, and Worship Leader

In an age of technology and increased digital engagement in the Church and the world, Dr. Way provides a helpful and hopeful theological framework for understanding and using technology in the worship of our Lord. Dr. Way’s book is a must read for all those who desire to lead faithfully God’s people in worship. It is a compelling, original work from a scholar with great biblical and theological acumen, as well as an expertise in producing worship.

Dr. James Spencer, Theologian and Vice President, The Moody Center Online

We don’t often think of modern technology as being part of what happened in the early Church. It has always been there, from the design of buildings, to works of art that express worship. This book is so much more than just a book about the use of today’s technology in worship. It is a deep dive into how ‘technology’ has always been used since before the time of Jesus. Joe has expressed how today’s technology is the next logical step in using what we know today in order to help people find Jesus. A great explanation the our true purpose for technology and how we arrived to where we are today, using it for the same purpose that has lasted for thousands of years: reach people for Jesus, using everything we have to offer.

Greg Baker, Technical Director, Saddleback Church

This is a splendid book filled with wisdom, insight, and experience that every church can use.

Quentin Schultze, Ph.D, Author and Theologian, High-Tech Worship?

I can think of few things that people complain and divide over more than the ‘production’ of a church. Sound. Lighting. Song selection. Instrumentation. All of it. And our preferences in these areas tend to rule in our hearts as to whether Jesus is still worthy of worship, based on whether or not the church service fits our preferences. Yet all the while, the perfect, flawless, matchlessly glorious Savior stands ever worthy of the greatest praise we could give and more. I am grateful that Josiah Way has written this resource to equip the church in this critical area that so few have written on. I pray it will spur on conversations that end in God getting the glory he deserves.

Stephen Miller, Worship Pastor and Author, Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars

With technology advancing rapidly, it’s all too easy for church technical artists to get caught up with all the gadgets and the technicalities and forget the spirituality. Joe’s really important study, Producing Worship, engages this challenge with enthusiasm, insight and theological rigour, offering a helpful new perspective on the role of the technician in worship which will be an inspiration to many.

Dr Andrew Davies, Reader and Director, Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham UK

Joe Way’s new book ‘Producing Worship’ peels the onion of the church technical artist in ways I had not really thought of. As someone who served in full time ministry for twenty years, I love the way this book lays out what we do and why we do it in solid detail. It also gives validation and a Biblical footing to what church technical artist accomplish every week. Most of all I love the heart of this book. Joe truly loves those who serve the church and accomplishes the fine art of encouraging the ones in the back of the room, in the dark. I challenge not only technical artists to read this book, but Pastors, and senior leadership as well.

Van Metschke, Church Relations, CCI Solutions; Co-Host, Church Tech Weekly Podcast; Founder, Church Tech Arts Online

This is 🔥🔥🔥! It must be published! Josiah Way’s work has shown that the church audiovisual technician is more than just the person who runs the slides on Sunday morning. Using sound exegesis, Way shows us how this person is an artist created in God’s own image and imbued with God’s wisdom to develop a craft for the glory of God and good of his people. Way’s work should usher in a new emphasis on the AV technician as an artist and core aspect of the worship experience. 

Russell L. Meek, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Louisiana College

Producing Worship is a must read for pastors, tech directors, and anyone serious about working in the church technical arts.  Church tech production is the most unique ministry and requires the highest level of craftsmanship – where scientific knowledge, technical know-how, and independent creativity are equally important.  It’s also a ministry that confuses a lot of people, from pastoral staff to congregants to even those within the tech arts community, because they all struggle with the same question.  This question is one Josiah has tackled and answered; “How does God want the tech arts used in my church.

Chris Huff, Author, Audio Essentials for Church Sound; Host, Behind the Mixer Podcast

Love. Love. Love. As someone who’s worked in church production for 20+ years, I’m so excited to finally see this discussion being brought forward, and in such a spectacular way. Joe has put together a well-reasoned and biblically-sound correlation likening church technical artists to the skilled craftsmen as referenced in the Old Testament, using their very best to help communicate and teach the message of Christ through the use of technology. Thank you for putting a voice to many of the thoughts I’ve had in my time in ministry. I want my whole team to read this book.

Rob Mortenson, Production Pastor, Saddleback Church

Having spent many years in the tech industry reading manuals, learning technology, and producing shows I have never run across a book or seminar that challenges technical artists to look deeper into why they do what they do and how they fit into the mold of the larger Church. Because of this, I have seen a lot of burnout among techs. Joe Way’s book, Producing Worship, is a necessary look into the how and why of church technology through an exegetically biblical lens. This book is a great resource for the church whether you’re a tech, a pastor, a music director, or just another attendee with questions about the growing technology in church.

Randy Murphey, Manager of Multimedia Services, California Baptist University

I am excited that Dr. Way has put into words what many leaders and artists in the church need to hear. Since the Church has been called to be salt and light in this age of unprecedented technological development, I believe that the need for this book is long overdue! Pastors, leaders, and those serving in the technical trenches will greatly benefit through devouring this content. Producing Worship is not only instructional, it will also bring encouragement and focus to the calling of the technical artist.

Chaz Celaya, Professor and Director of Commercial Music, Point Loma Nazarene University; Author, The Sound Guide

As those who place their hands to the sacred duty of helping create space for many to worship through songs, creative elements, and experiences, this book helps lift our eyes to the holiness within what we get to do as church technical and production teams by bringing a fresh theological perspective on what the Bible teaches around what we see today in our production and technical services.

Daniel Scotti, Central Production Director, Saddleback Church

Something that all church staff and worship/tech volunteers should read.

David Jordan, Creator, Church Sound & Media Techs Conference

Though we may not like the sound of it – a Worship Experience is a production. It is an art to take an audience on a journey from beginning to end. Dr. Way beautifully captures the biblical foundation for worship and details how technical arts fit within the context of the modern church. A rare foundational look at the inner workings of what it takes to craft a dynamic, engaging Worship Experience. Producing Worship is a must read for any creative church staff or volunteer.

Carl Barnhill, Owner, Twelve:Thirty Media; Host, The Church Media Podcast

If you have served in a church tech ministry for any length of time, you know Sundays are more than PowerPoint, cables, or social media posts. Joe not only give a specific understanding of how church tech is rooted in Scripture, but furthermore gives a Biblical model of how we can serve by honoring God with the mediums we produce onstage, through the camera lens, and produce worship that may win the hearts of those we reach. For anyone who is wanting to do more than show up for church tech, this is a book you must explore.

Jeremy Smith, Author, Rebuilding; Host, ChurchMag Podcast

The use of technology has always been a part of those on the cutting edge of worship. Joe’s book helps us see this and also expands our vision of worship for the church

Phil Thompson, StreamingChurch.TV

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