November’s issue of Worship Leader Magazine is all about… VISUAL WORSHIP!
I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to see the “visual worship conversation” spread to so many places and to be embraced by the world of (musical) worship leaders. Though visual worship is usually stewarded from the shadows and led off-stage from the back of the room, vision and leadership must come from the worship pastor. If those both on and off-stage aren’t on the same page, you won’t get very far. So for Worship Leader Magazine to dedicate an entire issue to visual worship, well, it puts a big smile on my face! Thank you, WLMag, for illuminating visual worship!
You can read the digital version of WLMag’s November issue “Illuminate” here.
“Curating a Visual Liturgy”
For this issue, I was invited to write an article on the process I go through when choosing visuals for worship. This is a topic I’m asked to speak on quite frequently, which typically involves me dissecting the curation process. But this time, I decided to take a different, deeper approach, going beyond the basic “creative process.”
The ancient, medieval art-form of “illumination” has captured me over the past few years…so much that I’m titling my book “Illuminate” and am in the process of relaunching this blog under the same name. (yep, goodbye worshipVJ!) So you will be hearing much more on this concept of “illumination”, which broadens and deepens this idea of “visual worship.” Needless to say, I spent a few words talking about the art of illumination, as well as an old practice called “visio divina.” You can read the article “Curating a Visual Liturgy” here.
Luke McElroy – “The Multi-Screen Revolution”
Shout to the Lord!
Even the queen of modern worship herself, Darlene Zschech, weighed in with her thoughts and wisdom on using visuals to lead worship! In her article “Arrest the Senses”, Darls makes a plea for worship leaders to consider all aspects of the worship service, not just the music.
Hallelujah and amen!
The opening article by editor Jeremy Armstrong sets the tone for this entire issue. He does a marvelous job at framing up the visual worship conversation and giving us a snapshot of “where we’re at” these days.
Jeremy (and the entire staff) really do “get it.” They’ve invited many of us to speak on visual worship at the Nat’l Worship Leader Conferences, and we’ve even begun a Panel Discussion, which Jeremy hosts & moderates. Not only does he play close attention, but he’s personally excited about visual worship and is involved on a regular basis with his local church.
Here’s Jeremy’s opening article titled “Illuminate Me.”
Sharpie-scribbled transparencies were once the masters of projected light in the church. Up on the screen, lyrics were available to all, and we were freed from the grips of the book, which kept our heads bowed at all times. But unless we were artists, images usually weren’t part of the equation. Enter, PowerPoint. When we clicked that orange “P” for the first time, most of us were unaware of the ramifications. “Oh look, here’s a cool program, now I can type in my lyrics.” That’s where it started. Then we clicked around and chanced upon the “insert” command in the drop down menu, and to our delight found that “add picture” did just that.
Life would never be the same. Time began to drain away; hours on hours slipped into nothingness as page after page of images drifted across our screens. Then we moved forward—stock motion footage, countdown clocks, and mini movies. We began contemplating the social/spiritual impact of IMAG, and toying with the possibility of bigger projection options that could transform our sanctuaries into fully encompassing worship environments.
But it all started somewhere. It started with a single image. But more than simply the image, it was in the subtext of what the image implied. It was in the question that the image evoked: “Is this good for this song?” Because that question engenders more. What makes a picture something you say, “Yes” to? What should I say, “No” to? Should I put a dove or a cross next to the lyrics of his song? What makes a good background image?
Then it hits you. Background image. This visual worship issue wants to challenge that entire notion: thinking of our images as backgrounds. Sure technically speaking in lyric projection, they are backdrops. But in a more poetic, more aware, more progressive understanding, nothing is background in worship, especially in the visual realm. The pictures we add to the lyrics, the podium the pastor uses, the brightness of the lights, the clothes we choose to wear, to the Starbucks cups on the floor next to the drum kit—these things are all part of the full presentation. And they are all illuminations. Unless they aren’t; then they are distractions.
The term “illumination” is borrowed from the early church. Starting at around the 5th century, religious books that included visual art were not referred to as “illustrated” or “painted”; they were “illuminated.” (Read more about the art of illumination in Stephen Proctor’s article in this issue.) It’s a holy work, with a holy purpose. It is more than an illustration; the visual art is a prayer designed to inspire a prayer, it is an illumination. And visual artists in the church are the new illuminators.
The visual art we present in church is more than decoration. It is even more than “art.” Our visuals are nothing less than illuminations of the living Word of God, inspired by the breath of his Spirit, made complete by the interceding presence of the Son. If nothing else, this issue of Worship Leader is here to remind us that nothing we do on a Sunday morning is “background.” We don’t play background music; we don’t have background images; we don’t even use background singers. These things are the many layers of the devotional arts, and all of it can be an orchestra—prayerfully and skillfully coordinated to clear the way for worshipers to engage the presence of God. We illuminate him with every aspect of our service of worship. Or at least that is our hope.
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Photo by Eric Forsythe.