Performance Anxiety

Happy Halloween!

Well, we’ll see how this goes.  In short, I’ll just say that if this is helpful to you, great, if not, then discard it from your mind when you are done.

First, I want you to pretend that you don’t go to church.  If you don’t already, then obviously you don’t have to pretend:  you are ahead of the class!  I want everyone to try to go through this exercise “from the outside”, as a non-church goer.

Now, pull up your favorite search engine and do a search for images of “church stage design” and see what you come up with.  (OR…click the link, I dare ya!)

O.K., now go back to your search engine and do a search for “concert design” and see what you get. (Another link…go ahead…you know you want to!)

There are even Pinterest threads about this stuff, don’t believe me?  Click here, here, here OR here.

Now, keep in mind up to this point, you are supposed to be looking at this from the “outside”.

Can you tell them apart?

There might be small differences, but really:  the designs are, for all intents and purposes, pretty similar aren’t they?

Why do you think that is?

O.K., the exercise is over.

What I am talking about is nothing new, this stuff has been evolving for quite some time.  I’ve talked about worship and life as worship before.  I don’t know…maybe I just like grilling sacred cows.

My blogger friend, Kevin Daniel, a former Worship Pastor/Leader, couldn’t have said it better:

“Since Christian musicians can’t call what they do a concert, or performance, or take any credit, they look for confirmation where they can get it. In my day, I’d count raised hands, or note those having an “experience.” Every worship leader does this. They’re lying if they say they don’t. The problem with this system is that we inevitably pander our services towards gaining such responses, both consciously and subconsciously.

Things get shallow, fast.

It’s not us, we say. It’s God. Then we pat ourselves on the back for having a good show, I mean set, I mean God is good, all the time.”

Now, before you jump the gun, let me say that I believe God does work inside this type of venue / environment / atmosphere because He created music and music can be, and is, an amazing medium for one on one interaction with the Spirit of God.  People can and do have good experiences in these “corporate” settings. 

However, once you’ve seen it from both sides…it’s different, things indeed get shallow, fast.

Friends, I used to take part in this stuff.   I used to be behind the scenes as well as a participant in the congregation.

For almost three years I was the “sound board guy” for a church I attended and I have found that my experience there, “behind the scenes”, turned out to be pretty much universal in the churches I visited or called home no matter the size as I spoke with and talked to people on various worship teams, sound techs, etc.  By the way, if you can watch with an unbiased eye, the dynamic between the sound techs and the worship participants on stage (what they say to each other, what they say about each other behind their backs, how “worship practice” goes, what happens when things go wrong or not as expected during a live “performance”…etc) is quite enlightening.  I’ve been a volunteer and leader in many areas from the nursery to the children’s ministry to young adults to recovery programs.  I’ve preached, taught and exhorted from the pulpit.

As a participant of the worship service, I used to go to youth and young adult church conferences.  I used to take part in monthly (or more) special worship services that allowed “us” to “create” a more conducive “atmosphere” for us to rock out more than on Sunday mornings .  I used to be a ‘Jesus Culture’ fanboy.  I’ve seen the evolution of “the stage” in three churches I’ve attended over the last ten years or so.  And since I left the institution about a year ago, I’ve witnessed many, many social media posts from friends (even some who are on worship teams) that still go to church, posting pictures of their “new” stage designs (and these posts are all from separate churches).

I’ve seen and heard the “talks” encouraging young adults and youth to “make sure” they are up in front at church during worship services so people can see their “radical worship” in order to “encourage” others to do the same.  I’ve had young adults come to me and tell me how they have been told to stand up front, even when they don’t want to, in order to be seen.

From this view-point:  It all looks the same.  It all feels the same..

It is a stage. 

It is a concert. 

It is a performance.

I personally have found it harder and harder to “worship” in a corporate church setting because I know all the crap that can and does go on behind the scenes.

I am simply asking:  Is this the way?

Or is there another way? 

A better way?

A simpler way?

I’ve been writing, editing and re-writing one form of this blog post or another for over a week now.  This is the 27th + revision according to my blog stats and I realized something last night as I was reviewing the latest version.

While I could just point to “them”, I realized that this is more about me than it is about the God-certs or those who promote, produce and participate in them.

The God-cert just represents some of the reasons why I left the institution.

I’ve grown tired of the super-spiritualizing of…everything.

“You don’t want to miss this Sunday night’s special worship service, we have XYZ coming and you don’t want to miss out on this amazing worship experience God has planned for this night.  Don’t miss your divine appointment with God!”

“Wow…wasn’t that worship just amazingly anointed?  God sure showed up today!  Such an amazing atmosphere of worship is in the House of the Lord today!” 

“Our worship team is SOOOOOOOOOOO anointed!  You should visit sometime!” 
“Our worship team is ushering in the Presence right now!  Come on down, it’s not too late, don’t miss out!  #worship #notmywillbutyours #heisworthy #awesomegod #ilovemychurch #anointedservice #amazingpresence

Any of that look or sound familiar?  Seriously, I have seen social media posts, complete with hashtags, that people have placed while the service is still going. 

If someone were to say to me:  “Hey, Tom!  You should come check out our band!  We perform on Sunday mornings at our church, I think you’d really like it!”  I’d probably go to check it out.  Why?

Because they are being honest.

They aren’t advertising the band behind religious catch phrases to try to perk my ‘christian’ interest.

We say ridiculous things from the stage about the “atmosphere” and the “Presence” and we ask the audience if they feel it too (which isolates the many who didn’t have an experience like yours and makes them wonder if they are missing out on God somehow) and then ask them to “give the Lord a hand-clap”.  Seriously – we don’t say “round of applause”.

WTF is a hand-clap anyway?

We use the Psalms to back up this church experience and encourage others to partake: “Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving and His Courts with Praise!” , and we talk about how the worship service is important because it “ushers in the Presence of the Lord”….forgetting the The Cross changed everything

It.  Changed.  Everything.

Honestly, I prefer the other commonly used phrase from Psalm 118: “Today is the day the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it!”


So, to be fair, since this is about me, let’s turn the tables on me for a second: 

O.K. Tom, what are YOU doing about it?

Well… from one viewpoint, I guess you could say I’m doing nothing. 

Not a damn thing.

I’m not building or starting a church.  I don’t have a grand “vision to build God’s Kingdom.  It’s not my Kingdom to build and it’s not my vision, it’s His.  I get to be a part of His vision for His Kingdom. 

I’m not interested in joining a church, getting involved and politicking in order to influence and impact that body and change it from within according to my ideas.
I’m not trying to join another like-minded church. 
I currently run the opposite direction from anything that smacks of church programs. 

I AM interested in living a christian life separate from a church building and countless programs to attend or worrying about whether or not what I do is under a Pastor’s “covering” or “anointing” or not.  It is a really interesting “walk” when you aren’t tallying up worship services, church attendance, volunteer “opportunities” and church programs as part of your christian walk.

I AM interested in small, simple gatherings.

I AM interested in real, seriously real, fellowship that goes beyond the cliché and the inadequate, often two-faced “Hey brother, I’m praying for you!” that happens commonly on Sunday and Wednesdays or whenever you happen to bump into someone from your church throughout the week.

I’m more interested in going to a rated R movie (GASP! sinner!) with the guys and watch the good guys laying waste to the villains and then later being able to pour my heart out to these same men or them to me, while we share a round of Guinness, knowing that it’s not part of a church “accountability group” and that we have the freedom to say whatever we want, however we want to say it without them questioning “my walk”.  Totally free.

So – like I said, I’ve revised and rewritten this many times.  There are things to say, but the wording isn’t there yet.

I’m sure there will be more of these posts in the future as I process things or have more clarity as to all the reasons why I seek Christianity without the institution.