This Sunday, thousands of pastors will prepare for worship. Some of them will wear distinctive clothing—the albs and stoles of liturgical churches echo ancient priestly garments. But many more pastors will wear nothing that marks them out as different from their congregations.
Walk into many of our churches today, especially the ones that are growing fastest and spreading their influence widest, and you could never pick the pastors out of the crowd.
Except, perhaps, for one difference.
Backstage, the pastors have stood quietly while assistants invest them with one single marker of spiritual authority. Looped over their ear is a wireless microphone, mounted with a flexible boom that comes in four different colors to match the range of human skin tones. The microphone itself is 2.5 millimeters in diameter. It is so small you can easily miss it at a distance of more than a few feet. It is, in fact, so small because it is designed to be hidden.
Not every preacher, to be sure, uses this kind of earpiece. In many Pentecostal churches, the microphone itself becomes a valuable prop, held aloft or pulled close to the lips or, at moments of maximum intensity, held a foot away from the mouth to avoid overdriving the speakers. In these settings the microphone is used to deliver sonic force, to tangibly amplify the voice of the preacher. It becomes an instrument in its own right, part of the preacher's panoply of rhetorical power.
But in many churches, the wireless headset sets a very different tone. Its goal is not volume—it is intimacy. An audience of thousands hears not the thundering strains of a dramatically amplified voice; instead, they are able to hear a single person speaking as if that person was ...