One of the things I have had to come to terms with is to what extent the stuff we do at the front of church is/should be a performance. There is no question in my mind that leading a congregation in worship (in the broadest sense) is a performance, and that is right and proper, and should be approached as such. For instance, when I presided at communion for the first time last week, I practiced the words, the actions, the movements, and timings beforehand until I could do it naturally, and in a way that helps us all feel safe and able to relax into worship. But I also really enjoyed it, as a ‘performance’, and therein lies a danger, it seems to me.
As sure as I am that we should be aiming for excellence in all our worship (although I would define ‘excellent’ according to our local context and abilities, rather than an arbitrary global standard), the worship – and performance – is never for its own sake. We must never lose authenticity, or pretend to be something or someone we are not, for the sake of the ‘performance’. Too many stories are told of the ‘Sunday’ christians (and, indeed, vicars), who are one person in church/public, and quite another at home. Neither should we lose sight of the fact that it’s not about us, about me. We are not meant to lead like Danbo in the picture above! Our job is to point people to Jesus, and get out of the way. Much like the backstage crew at a show, or special effects team in films, we are doing our job best when people don’t even notice us. And it is these twin dangers – of putting on a show, and of making it all about me – which have led to me to this soul-searching over the years.
You see, way, way, back in the dim and distant past, I used to be a teenage bedroom radio DJ. (Bear in mind this was pre-Internet, so broadcasting for real wasn’t an option). I had a mixing desk, twin turntables, even some jingles taped off the radio. And although no else was listening, I loved playing tunes, saying links, making up the news and weather and stuff. No wonder then at college I got stuck into student radio, with a proper studio, desk, jingle carts, cans, monitors – the works. We also actually broadcast over the air (on 999AM, seeing as you asked). Admittedly it was still usually only me listening to my shows, but in theory someone might have had a radio, and it might have had AM, and they might have tuned it to 999, and ….
The point is, there is a part of me that loves to entertain. To be “up front”. To inform, teach, challenge, inspire, make think, amuse. To perform. Whether that’s on the radio, tweeting, blogging, posting photos – whatever. I would imagine that a similar force drives anyone in the media.
Before I was ordained, I used to lead musical worship at Church, usually on my guitar with a band. And I absolutely loved doing it (and still do). Music is still the primary way I get lost in/with God, and I was always worshipping when I was leading the band. It is a such a joy and a privilege to get to play and sing your heart out to Jesus, but bring others along with you. It was and is never just about the music and/or the playing….
… but equally I do really enjoy just being up front on a stage, playing and singing, as a performance. Recently I was fortunate enough to be a part of the band that played at a big Dicoesan Conference – and it was an absolute blast. It was the most fun I have had in ages. To be on stage at a Convention Centre, playing for 900 people – wow! Especially when the band stopped playing, and we all sung unaccompanied – just breath-taking. Preaching is another example. I love preaching, and part of what I like about it is being up on stage, standing up in front of a bunch of people and speaking.
And, do you know what? I’ve come to think that’s ok. It’s ok to enjoy it. It is – in part – a performance. But it must always be an authentic performance whose purpose is to draw attention to Jesus, and draw people closer to him.