Wearin’ My Madonna Microphone

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)

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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5 Responses to Wearin’ My Madonna Microphone

  1. The Jewish Son says:

    Better a microphone than that snow cone bra she wore as well 🙂
    We deal with this somewhat as well. In the Reform movement we have a couple of Jewish “rock stars” that are loved by the involved youth. If the kids benefit spiritually from the experience, it would seem to be a good thing. If they merely idolize the person up there, not so good. As for your ego…I’m sure you will find your place when you settle into a church. If the congregation needs a good front man, rest assured you are capable. If the congregation needs a guide, and maybe some creative worship that is a little less frontal, I’m willing to bet you can handle that as well. Don’t worry about getting too big of an ego though…you will always have a wife, children, family and friends to ground you 😉

  2. sameier says:

    Couple of thoughts,
    Worship Leadership, music or spoken words (not really buying into your whole Master of Ceremonies thing) is one of those fine lines in which you can fall into the ditch on either side.
    Its true – some people gravitate towards that leadership because they need to be needed. That can be unhealthy. But knowing that your leadership does stroke your ego – thats the first line of defense to not let ego get out of control. Fun memory I have – while leading traditional Lutheran worship in a small country church (my first call) – my 2 yr. old daughter got away from my wife, walked across the pew to the center aisle and waved to me — funny and yet reminded me that to her I am just dad (not some grand celebrity).
    But God has given you personality and gifts for leadership – of that you should not be ashamed, but instead use your gifts for the glory of God.
    Wondering – in contemporary worship – if the leader is at more of a 45 degree angle to the congregation – so that face and gestures can be made towards the altar and cross, as well as the occasional eye contact with the congregation – does this make sense?

  3. PS says:

    Symbolically speaking, I think that Lutheran Churches, and some others, have the pulpit off center, but the altar in the center, for the reasons you mentioned. Yes, we look at the pastor while he/she is preaching, but he/she isn’t the “center of attention.”
    When the people sang, what were they facing? The leader or the altar and cross?
    Many, many times I’ve wished that our church had a slightly slanted floor so that I can see certain things in the front better. Sometimes old churches were designed like that. But I think I would have a hard time accepting a “stage” for the “leader” in my church.
    I risk overgeneralizing, but when I see snippits of some church “services” on TV, I think I’m watching entertainment, not a worship service. The singers seem to have to be somewhat beautiful, the dresses glamorous, etc.
    To me, it is not “contemporary” or “traditional” that matters, but whether it is “worship” or just getting excited by the atmoshpere that could happen at any rock concert.

  4. Songbird says:

    I don’t believe the cult of personality is anything new in Christian worship. Great preachers were just as apt to inspire such followings long before sound systems and headset microphones.
    My church is shopping for just such a headset for me to use in what is a pretty traditional worship service. It will allow hands-free good sound, which will be helpful to people who don’t hear well while allowing the preacher to be freed from the pulpit and audible from any location in the church.
    I grew up in one of those mid-19th century auditorium style churches with the raked floor and semi-circle of pews. The setting makes you feel you are in a community, much moreso than the conventional rectangle in many churches. It was a Baptist church, so a platform allowing the preacher to be seen (and heard in the pre-mic days) mattered more than an altar.

  5. Richo says:

    Ahh….the personality thing when it is brought up always worries me…
    Let’s be honest the personality issue is not just limited to contemporary worship, how often have we heard people comment and congratulate a worship leader/pastor who leads a fantastic ‘traditional service’ It happens believe it or not
    Also lets remember who has given you your personality and the opportunity to display your personality? And not everyone is going to like your personality and yet there are some who love it!!
    Perhaps the approach for anyone in ministry (that means everyone) is when praise comes our way is to accept it, use it and deflect it towards our creator, redeemer and the one who makes us holy. Also always hiding our personality does not seem to be consistent with scripture.
    Maybe some words from scripture are also helpful try 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 9:10 Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed and will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow. 9:11 You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous on every occasion, which is producing through us thanksgiving to God, 9:12 because the service of this ministry is not only providing for the needs of the saints but is also overflowing with many thanks to God. 9:13 Through the evidence of this service they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone. 9:14 And in their prayers on your behalf they long for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown to you. 9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
    (from the Net Bible http://www.bible.org)

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