Twittering in worship

One Methodist’s perspective

TWITTER IS A SOCIAL PHENOMENON on the Internet where one posts messages to answer the question “What are you doing now?” and this can be read by anyone in the world.

Twitterers send tweets, short 160-character messages, to the Twitter website, where it then appears on its homepage, to be monitored by whoever wants to follow them, or the message can be put on a common page where many people’s tweets can be seen together. It is an example of how news reporting is taken to the level of the individual; one may send “time to pray now” or “hungry because I’m fasting” or “eating chicken rice for lunch” and everyone else can see. It is a fascinating microcosm of life – everyone, whatever his station, is under the spotlight and can broadcast globally.

This year, a church in the United States introduced Twitter in its worship service. The pastors of the church say that it allows instant interactivity for the congregation with the sermon and worship. The tweets are projected onto a screen for all to read, and one can even respond to the tweets from another worshipper.

The twitterers are led into what to tweet, in response to a sermon note or pastor’s question, or a song in worship. Interactive Worship! Or is it?

We must ask a fundamental question – what is worship? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as the expression of reverence and adoration for God. In corporate worship, it takes various forms, based on the liturgy (literally, “work of the people”) and focused on God. It is not about how we feel during or after worship, emotional highs or lows, or about our response to it. In fact, we can and should worship God even if we are “not in the mood”. Moods and feelings have no part in worship – it is the duty of man to worship God. The physical assembly of believers to worship Him is commanded.

Where does Twitter fit into all this? Superficially, it is all about oneself – how one feels, and how one tells others about this feeling by broadcasting it to the congregation via the projection screen. Other than distracting the less technologically suave, it also shouts “THIS is what I feel now”, and draws focus away from God; it highlights the response of the individual in the congregation.

So, if the twitterer is not feeling good, the tweets would be less edifying, and vice-versa.

Corporate worship is not about the self, unlike personal worship. I am not a technophobe, decrying use of technology in enhancing our ability to worship, but I do think appropriate technology and appropriate use of technology is important. For example, I think projected lyrics and videos are good, and help in eliminating the frantic flipping of hymnal pages, but pyrotechnics and fireworks are inappropriate.

Similarly, spotlights and sound reinforcement systems are great tools, but too many changes of colour and poorly-mixed audio are distractions. A band accompanying worship singing is a wonderful aid, but a “weekend musician” band that does not play well, or does not understand the acoustic requirements or limitations of their hall are just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

To send a tweet, one has to concentrate on the mobile phone to send the message within 160 characters. How would you feel if you were speaking to someone, and he kept sending SMSes off ?

He is not paying attention to you? Rude?

How would God feel? Is getting your word out there more important than full, complete reverent focus on Him? There is a difference between concentrating on communion with God and commenting on communion with God.

On a social level, twittering also forms a divide between the Haves and the Havenots, those that own the technology to tweet, and those that do not. Corporate
worship is inclusive. Just as Methodists invite ALL who earnestly repent seek to live in peace to partake of communion, worship is the coming into the holy of holies by ALL present, and not just those with access to twitter. The barrier of cost and access to technology should not divide congregations.

It has been said, “Worship is not virtual, it is physical … A key part of having your heart stirred in worship is being fully present.” What next? Do we tweet and worship from home, or from the beach, simply because we can?

Paul reminded us to come together as a community of saints. The physical oneness of worshipping God in a holy place set aside for His worship is something virtualisation does not achieve.

We must break away from consumerism in churches. We do not attend church just because it makes us feel good, or it is air-conditioned, or the music and sound and lights and projection are amazing, or the sermons are good or the latest whiz-bang technology is there to “enhance” our experience. It is not about us. It is about God. We do not worship Him any less on the dirt floor of a church in the mission field, nor is His ministering to us diminished.

God does not have a Twitter account.

We can only hear what He says when we leave the noise of the world behind, and listen to Him and not the tweets of others. It would be a sad day if the “Let’s greet each other in the love of the Lord” becomes “Let’s tweet your neighbour.”

Let us leave the twittering till after the service, and lay ourselves down completely to worship the Lord.

Dr Anthony Goh is Head of the MCS WebTeam, and a self-professed geek and technophile. He worships at Bedok Methodist Church.


Friendship Award for pastor

THE PASTOR-IN-CHARGE of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, the Rev Dr Kang Ho Soon, has been presented with the Friendship Award by the Turkish Cultural Centre for his efforts in promoting inter-faith understanding and friendship.

The Manpower Minister, Mr Gan Kim Yong, who gave out the award at the centre’s 10th Dialogue and Friendship Dinner on Sept 1, said Singaporeans must strive for harmony and respect each other’s traditions and be open-minded.

He noted that the Turkish Cultural Centre has played an important role in increasing Singapore-Turkey ties.

The Rev Dr Kang said: “We should be concerned about each other and instead of creating hurt towards one another, we should be building bonds of love and friendship, compassion and care for each other. This is something we need to promote actively among the different religious groups.”