“For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.”
— Romans 7:18–19, HCSB
In spite of our desire to do good, we continue falling into idolatry in our worship. The two most prominent symptoms of worship idolatry that I encounter in my own life, and in the lives of worship leaders and worshipers around me, are indulging in performance pride and becoming the self-appointed keeper of standards. Let’s look at these two temptations that so easily entrap us. Today’s post will deal with Performance Pride and next week’s will discuss the self-appointed “Keeper of Standards”.
Performance Pride: The tools of artistic expression have immense power. Like all tools, the artistic tools of music, art, drama, and movement can be used for powerful good or for malicious evil. God gives us these tools both to accomplish his work and for our personal enrichment. Performance is simply the medium through which these tools become active and are expressed.
Our society adores the American Idol mentality. Rock-star status is cultivated throughout our society. Flashy athletes get the headlines. Celebrities reign supreme in the media and are marketed to a star-hungry population. A distinctive performance style delivered with passion can be a ticket to stardom, if you have the celebrity connections. In the world, performance is everything.
But, American “me-ology” is in direct conflict with Christian theology. In biblical worship, performance fulfills only two God-given purposes. First, performance in church is the medium through which we express worship to our sovereign Lord. Second, performance is the medium through which we communicate the gospel. That’s all—no more, no less. Performance in church should not be a ticket to stardom or celebrity status. It is not meant to impress or entertain anyone. There is only one “star” in worship, and he is our eternal God.
Self-centered pride always undermines our God-given purpose in life. Pride is at the root of our sin nature. If we are honest, we acknowledge that pride plagues us even in worship. We secretly hope we are being noticed for our platform style. We wonder if anyone appreciated how eloquent and heart-felt our prayer was. We crave compliments for our musical offerings. We love recognition.
While it may not seem so, the performance mentality is giving in to salvation by works. We think our performance will gain more grace, more favor, more acclaim. But God already loves us to the fullest extent possible. Absolutely nothing we do can earn more of God’s love. He loves us totally and completely. He sent his very own Son to die for us on a cross of love. Absolutely nothing we do can earn that gift, not even a great performance.
A corollary to this for a worship leader is personal pride in my performers. Using people as fuel for my Church Train is just as idolatrous as personal performance pride. We stoke the Church Train engine with them until they are burned up. Too often we allow ourselves to think of our worship team members only in terms of what they can do for us. My reputation is at stake in the quality of their abilities and performance. But when I elevate my own reputation above the well-being of fellow worship team members, I have once again dethroned God to replace him with me. — Mark Powers