Marshall McLuhan first coined this phrase. It is a profound statement which observes that the way a message is communicated provides the content of the message. In oral communication, some theorists suggest that as much as 93% of what is communicated happens through non-verbal communication. Only 7% of the message is contained in the actual words. While there may be minor discrepancies between theorists we need to hear the truth that the way in which something is communicated is more significant than the actual content of the message.
So what does the container (medium) of our worship tell us about what is most important? Many of our evangelical churches function around a two-fold worship pattern; singing and sermon. Of those two the music is often seen as the warm-up act to the main event which is the sermon. The emphasis that the container tell us is that learning/teaching is the most important thing that we do as churches.
Yet here is where there lies a problem. If teaching is the primary goal/outcome of our gathered worship, why do we employ a weak pedagogical device for teaching? Having someone lecture to a passive audience is relatively ineffective when compared to methods that give the learner control over the pace of the content and invite significant engagement.
If education is the prime directive for a gathered worship, may I suggest that you record your message in 10 minute segments, upload them to YouTube, and embed them on your church web page along with a guide to process the teaching. Invite the congregation to respond to discussion questions posted online based on the sermon.
Again, if instruction is the primary purpose of worship, perhaps we could direct a lot more of our giving to the needy by not needing to have a large church building. With all the capable preachers already providing much of their teaching online – you like don’t even need to hire a pastor. All you need is a tech-savvy educator to put it all together. And providing music – that’s easy – a YouTube playlist and you are set. Excellent music done by the artist every Sunday. No rehearsals needed.
I can hear the objections already. But church is about getting together with other people. It is why we use words like community and fellowship in our names. Church is about people living out their faith together. It is about the body of Christ gathering together. And to that I whole-heartedly say AMEN!
This begs the question – If the body of Christ is the reason that we get together than why don’t we make the one aspect of worship which symbolically binds us together as the bride of Christ the central aspect of worship? I’m talking about the communion service. One of the early Anabaptist thinkers, when he was arguing against the sacramental views of the Roman Catholic Church, identified the gathered congregation as being the sacred part in the communion service. The wine and the bread were not the blood and body of Christ, however when the congregation takes in the bread and the wine they were united together as the body of Christ here on earth.
Yet we only celebrate communion occasionally. If the medium is the message; God’s choosing to humble himself and become like us should remind us that the most important aspect of our worship should support and teach about the real presence of Christ through his body, the Church. What people need is to be connected to the body of Christ, to remember his great work of redemption and give thanks for the tremendous gift of salvation through the gift of grace demonstrated by Christ on the cross.