WELS Hymnal Project

Hammer and Nails

American psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” The problem is, of course, not everything is a nail; not everything needs pounding.

Maslow’s law of the instrument is important to remember when we think about how to apply technology to worship in our congregations. We have plenty of technological hammers in our toolbox, but not everything is a nail.

I’m a “technologist,” that is, someone who is generally skilled at technical topics, tools, and methods. The problem with people like me, though, is that everything looks like a nail. To us, everything looks like something to be solved or improved or enhanced with some sort of technical solution. And so we barrage you with new ideas and tools. We think you need a list of the “Ten Best Online Document Editing Tools,” when, my goodness, you only need the best one. We’re holding a hammer and so every problem looks like a nail.

I’m also the chairman of the Technology Committee for the WELS Hymnal Project. I don’t know what you think of when you hear the words “technology” and “hymnal” together; you might think of digital editions of Christian Worship and Christian Worship Supplement. Maybe you start to imagine iPads in the pew guiding worshipers through the liturgy. Perhaps you imagine large screens filling the chancel. Or could it just be that you’re hoping there’s going to be a way to make planning worship faster, easier, and more intuitive?

I can tell you this: people have already suggested all of the above to me when it comes to the technology component of the WELS Hymnal Project. And yes, my committee will take the time to examine all the possibilities that digital technology offers, especially digital distribution and worship planning tools. But as I introduce myself to all of you with this blog post I’d like to take some time to zoom out a bit and think about the big picture.

I’d like this project to be an opportunity to do some careful thinking, some detailed research, and even some philosophical musing about how we want to use technology to accomplish our goals. I want to take the lead on a thorough, scholarly approach to technology as a ministerial tool in service to the worship in our congregations. There’s an assumption out there that all innovation is good innovation, that is, if something is new it is therefore better. The temptation, therefore, is to convert every problem into a nail to be pounded.

Instead, I’d like to take the time at the front end of this project to seriously consider the long history of how technology has served the Church, particularly in its worship life. How has the history of the book been connected to the theology and worship of the church? What impact will glowing screens have in a world dominated for centuries by the printed page? How will we handle the difference between the book and screen (in our hands or on the wall)? What are the cognitive and emotional effects of digital content and its general lack of sequentiality and its more abstract sense of location? What are our goals in worship, and can we review and revise our worship tools to accomplish those goals?

There are plenty of nails to be pounded. But the work of my committee is more nuanced than that. We have plenty of thinking to do before we start swinging away.

About Caleb Bassett

Rev. Caleb Bassett is the Technology Committee Chairman for the WELS Hymnal Project. Bassett serves at St. Stephen in Fallbrook, CA. Bassett has presented at the WELS National Worship Conference and served as an essayist for the Institute for Worship and Outreach. Bassett and his wife, Audra, live with their four children in the avocado country of Southern California.

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