It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I’m scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before I settle in for an afternoon nap. After all, it’s a day of rest, right?
On Sundays, a lot of my friends are sharing Scripture and sermon quotes on their social media accounts, and I think that is wonderful. I love to read what my friends are learning from God, and sometimes what they share ministers to my soul, as well.
But when pictures and videos taken during church services are shared, I find that unsettling. It is one thing to share a picture from a rehearsal or a time of fellowship. I don’t have a problem with pictures taken before or after the service. But a worship service is supposed to be a special time each week that we intentionally set aside everything to focus on God and give Him the worship that He is due. And when we take pictures and videos in the middle of a service, it is problematic for the following two reasons:
Observing vs. Participating
Any time you’re interacting with a worship service from behind a lens, it makes you an observer rather than a participant. Having cameras, apps, and wifi continuously at our fingertips has made documenting events on social media part of our daily lives. With the pervasiveness of social media, we have the tendency to start viewing our lives in the framework of what we can post about that event; we try to turn everything into a funny tweet, a beautiful picture, a sentimental status update. But when our interaction with a service is from behind our phones, viewed in light of what we will say when we share it on social media, the focus shifts off of God and back on ourselves.
This may seem to go without saying, but it is impossible take a picture or a video of God Himself. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) Therefore, there’s no way to make God the (literal) focus of a picture. A camera is forced to focus on physical things. In the context of a worship service, people are the focus of the picture or video, whether you’re focused on a musician, a fellow worshipper, or a pastor. When people are the ones in focus, it takes the focus off the One who should be glorified and puts the focus on the ones who are responding, leading, or sharing. A picture or a video focuses on the leader or the visible response of the worshipper rather than the One to whom you should be led or object of the worship.
I don’t mean by this to shame those who have shared pictures or videos from their worship services online in the past. I honestly believe that most times when these things are shared, it is done by those who genuinely love the Lord. It is great to want to share your excitement about the Lord and what He is doing in your heart and through your church. But when we specifically set aside an hour or two during the week for worship with other believers, we need to be all there. A worship service is not like a nice meal or a vacation or a coffee date with a friend. The focus is not to be on documenting our enjoyment of the service, but on approaching the throne of grace and in being encouraged by the fellowship of others who are doing the same. We need to step out from behind our phones and get engaged in worshipping the glorious King, rather than merely documenting others who are worshipping Him. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)