Home Worship & Creative Leaders Articles for Worship & Creative Can the Holy Spirit Inhabit Smoke Machines in the Sanctuary?

Can the Holy Spirit Inhabit Smoke Machines in the Sanctuary?

Can the Holy Spirit Inhabit Smoke Machines in the Sanctuary?

My teenage son, Justin, had been invited to an area church by a friend. Since he had grown up as a PK (pastor’s kid) and had never been to a megachurch like this before, I wondered what impression it might give him. Sure enough, soon after his experience, Justin asked me a question: “Why do they need smoke machines in church?”

There was much I could have said in that moment. I could have contrasted different philosophies of ministry, especially in relation to the seeker movement in our postmodern culture, and explained how some view the Sunday service as having components of both worship and evangelism. I could have articulated the differences between entertainment and engagement and how the two, while they may look similar, are very different in intent and outcome. And I could have passionately shared my deeply held convictions on worship theology, what it means to come before the throne of God as the people of God, the bride and the Bridegroom, the community of believers with the community of the Godhead. But I didn’t.

Why do they need smoke machines in church?

Instead I simply replied, “Well, technically, you need the smoke machines to be able to see the lasers.”

Generalizing broadly, worship in a number of churches today is a far cry from that of previous generations. Computer-controlled concert lighting, digital automated sound systems, high decibels and high-definition screens, and yes, smoke machines, create a dynamic, multisensory experience. On the expansive platform, talented musicians command center stage, performing the current worship songs with note-for-note perfection, underscored by click tracks and drum loops. Ushers greet people warmly, offering ear plugs along with the bulletins. There’s an emphasis on branding, social media and corporate organization. There may even be a hipster self-awareness that permeates the room, an anti-fashion fashionableness.

These churches, which some refer to as “attractional model,” carefully and purposefully design high-impact experiences to attract people to their weekend services. With roots that trace through the seeker movement of the ’80s and ’90s, they understand that high production values and marquee personalities both attract nonbelievers and retain believers. High-tech media and pop style are the vernacular of modern culture and can be used to effectively speak into that culture. And to these churches’ credit, many people come and worship God, mature as Christians, and share their faith.

Smaller churches, which often sit in the shadows of their neighboring megachurches, are also swept into the slipstream of this cutting edge. Small and medium-sized churches are often caught in the whirlwind of trying to modernize technology, media, facilities, web presence, smoke machines, and talent. Even volunteer worship leaders feel the pressure to “sound like the record” when they lead worship.

Due to the explosion of the worship industry in the last decade (from CDs to radio airplay to major concert tours), musical selection in worship services has become more important than ever. People want to hear their latest favorite worship songs. And while the worship wars of the previous generation are generally a distant memory, we are still jounced by their wake. Hymn books, pipe organs and choirs have become anachronisms. Some churches have settled on separate services, providing traditional and blended alternatives. While this pragmatism has proved workable for many churches, the issue remains that worship has too often devolved into stylistic preferences.

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Songwriter, author, inventor, arts advocate, and pastor—Manuel Luz is passionate about worship, coffee, the Oakland Raiders, and the intersections of faith and the arts. Manuel’s book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (Moody Publishers) is a practical and personal theology of the arts. His current book, Honest Worship: From False Self to True Praise (InterVarsity Press), released in Fall 2018, addresses the critical intersections between spiritual formation and worship. He is also the inventor of the patented musical instrument, the WalkaBout™, which recently won Best of Show at the world-renowned NAMM Show. Check out his thought-provoking blog, “Adventures in Faith and Art” (www.manuelluz.com), his four solo albums (iTunes), or the WalkaBout Drum (www.walkaboutdrum.com).