Culture At Large

When is public worship not private enough?

Todd Hertz

Several  years ago, I attended a convention worship service which ended with open prayer at various stations. As I prayed on hand and knee under a wooden cross, I had one of the most intense worship times of my life. And then a flash went off. I kept my head down but I was sure a staff photographer had taken my picture—during a private and intimate moment.

Sure enough, a picture of me fervently praying was shown on the big screens in a general session montage the next night.  That was me in a private time with God—displayed for everyone. I wasn't ashamed to be shown in worship, but it felt like a private moment was being used publicly, almost like an advertisement for the conference's great worship. I didn’t make a big deal of it, but it bugged me. And obviously, it was strange enough for me that I’ve remembered it all these years.

I thought of this episode on Sunday when I attended the National Religious Broadcasters convention church service. During worship, cameramen—with video cameras equipped with bright lights—walked through the darkened crowd to capture footage of worshiping singers. Their images graced the giant screens on either side of the stage. During the sermon, cameramen again streamed through the aisles to capture attendees flipping through their Bibles and listening. Without a doubt, it was disruptive. I also wonder about the appropriateness.

Even in corporate worship, shouldn’t personal communion with God remain somewhat private and intimate? Or does this fall under the category of being–like David—completely unbothered by who sees us worship and how?  I don’t think I have any qualms with being “undignified and humiliated in my own eyes” when in front of my God. However, I also don’t think my worship needs to be used and broadcast—especially when it could feel like my worship is used to “sell” the effectiveness of the service.

Thinking this through has made me see that staging a worship event is a tricky prospect; media ministers at churches have difficult strategy decisions to make. There’s the tension of wanting to involve people who are not up front with wanting to be respectful. There’s the tension of entertaining with establishing a worshipful mood.

What do you think: Is there a line not to be crossed when it comes to filming private, intimate time with God?  How do you draw that line? Are you even bothered by churches or worship planners filming or taking pictures people in worship? Why or why not?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Worship