I was on stage for worship during a youth event this weekend, wearing one of those headset microphones that I associate with Madonna concerts of the early ’90s. It was an upbeat affair, despite being the first Sunday of Lent, accompanied by Christian rock/praise songs and dancing, hand motions, and just lots of jumping around. I’m a fan of "contemporary" worship in theory, though I have rarely seen it done well in a congregation. One of my criticisms of "contemporary" worship (and mega-church worship) is that it can easily create a cult of personality surrounding the worship leaders – particularly that of the lead musician and the presider (whose demeanor is akin to that of a chatty variety show host).
And I saw that this weekend. For one, the musician for the weekend was an attractive, charismatic, witty man in his late 30’s. He peppered his musical sessions with faith testimonies, cute stories about his wife and children, sales pitches, and random jokes. He worked the crowd and kept their attention, using all his gifts to both the benefit of his ministry/business and the faith message of the weekend. The youths – whose adolescent wiring already inclines them toward strong personalities – eagerly flocked to him and his sales table, walking out of the event dressed in his t-shirts and listening to his Christian rock CDs.
Then this morning I wore that silly microphone, climbed on stage, and was a kind of emcee/stage director/presider for our closing worship service. And perhaps it is partly my personality and partly the setting and partly the infectious energy of our music leader, but I was loving life up there on stage. Whereas earlier in the weekend I wasn’t terribly keen on the music or the motions, on stage this morning I found myself dancing like a fool, enthusiastically swinging my arms around, hopping up and down, and otherwise sharing in the energy and spirit of the moment. It was a lot of fun, and truly a Spirit-filled experience.
I don’t deny that I liked being on stage, that I liked the attention, that I liked the role of emceeing this contemporary, rockin’ youth worship service. And it was clear that our music leader also liked the attention, that he used all of his considerable personal gifts to promote himself, his business, his ministry.
So where is the line – the line between using one’s charisma and personality for the sake of ministry, and self-serving opportunism seeking an audience? I think it is a fine line, for sure, that many worship leaders, musicians and preachers – contemporary and traditional – have to tow. I know it is something that I think about as I prepare for ministry. To what extent is my ego fed by being in front of a crowd and having them look at and listen to me? I’d be naive and disingenuous if I denied any role my ego plays in my vocational choice . . . The challenge for me is to keep the ego in check, to not let that be the driving factor when I’m in a pulpit, behind the altar, or on a stage.
As I read (somewhere) in the wake of the recent Ted Haggart scandal, you don’t learn in seminary how to deal with praise and success. Yet praise is like a drug for the ego. It is very addicting and the pursuit of praise can truly cheapen or even ruin a ministry and a vocation.
Personality and ministry – it’s a fine line.
(Gordon Lathrop says a few things about this in his most recent book, Pastor: A Spirituality. Some quotes and further thoughts on this topic in my next post)