The Seven Last Words of the Church

In the 70’s and 80’s I toured with a theater ministry based in Southern California. The director often quipped that the seven last words of the church were, “we never tried it that way before.”

(At the time I thought it was his original thought but have since learned that it is actually the title of a book published in 1973: The Seven Last Words of the Church or “We never tried it that way before” by Ralph Neighbour (no relation) published 1973.)

The director would bring this up when we would lament about churches that were reluctant to schedule us because it was something new, different, or foreign to the way they normally did things. This seemed to be especially true of churches that had a more liturgical format.

A lot has changed in church culture since 1973. For a time it seemed the way to go was to intentionally do things differently. Indeed, if I use the church I attended as a youth as an example, I am sure many of the “saints” would be rolling in their graves at what constitutes a worship service in today’s culture. The changes in dress, music, and a more casual attitude would, I’m sure, rock their world.

Having been in the middle of it, I experienced the gradual embrace of the dramatic arts as a part of worship, as more and more churches tried “new things.” The rise of such churches as Willow Creek spawned a movement of churches from all denominations embracing dramatic arts as an integral part of worship.

And then things changed again. Current trends reject anything that smacks of “performance” and demands that what comes from the platform be “real and authentic” (as if they can’t co-exist it seems). I am hearing again “we never tried it that way before” or a similar phrase which I think means the same thing, “what you do wouldn’t fit in here.”

Once you do something new that works a couple of times it can easily become the tradition. Being a non-traditional church establishes new traditions that can be just as entrenched and inflexible as the old traditions.

This week I heard from a pastor who said “we aren’t scheduling any productions at this time.”

I wanted to explain that it is not a “production” in the sense of sets, lights, and sound. It is simply me telling a story in place of a sermon. But I don’t think he would have listened.

Bottom line for him and so many others, “we never tried it that way before.”

Then the other day we had contact from a young pastor who was thrilled about bringing our ministry to his church. He had never heard of doing drama as a sermon before.

Everything old is new again.

No Regrets, but…

Do you ever wonder what your life would look like if you had made a few different choices at key moments of your life? Those “what ifs” that sneak into your thoughts when you pause to ponder your life and just how you got to where you are at this moment?

I have no regrets in the big picture of how my life unfolded and where I am now. I am happy in my choice of career, spouse, family, ministry and in the overall direction of my life.

But still…

I have these moments when I pause and wonder. Often those moments occur when I happen to watch a concert with a particularly good drummer. I pause and wonder if that could have been me.

You see I had two passions as a kid growing up. Both in the arts. I was a drummer. I started playing in band in elementary school, my first “drum” being one of those practice pads—a piece of rubber glued to a piece of wood. I would build up to a real drum kit later, one piece at a time. I’m sure my parents thought “any instrument EXCEPT the drums,” but they were tolerant and encouraging, despite the noise. In junior high I was in my first rock band, The Phylum Five (there were only four members—go figure).

The other passion, of course, was the stage. I was in church plays, school plays and in general a ham in front of an audience. In high school I found my niche as an actor. I auditioned for almost every play and was cast in leading roles. I loved it!

So here I was in school playing drums in concert and marching bands, and performing in plays and competing in Forensics (humorous interpretative readings). I was able to, in a sense, have my cake and eat it too.

I went to college as a theater major and again had success landing good roles during my time as a college student. I also played drums in the college marching band and in a rock ’n roll band. I was keeping my feet fairly balanced in both worlds for a time.

In 1974 a music group called “The Spurrlows” (Google Thurlow Spurr) came to our college. Well known at the time, this group was like a Christian version of “Up With People.” Big band, contemporary music and a great drummer, a guy by the name of Larnelle Harris (yep, that Larnelle, Grammy and Dove award winning vocalist). The Spurrlows had more than one touring group and invited audience members to audition for their groups after the show. I chickened out but later went home and made a cassette recording of me playing the drums and sent it off to them.

In the summer of 1974 I got my first professional acting job, working as understudy for all the male roles in the Smoky Mountain Passion Play. It was a great experience and for the first time began to open my eyes to the possibility of being an artist that was also in ministry. One of the cast members had toured professionally with a Christian theater company called the Covenant Players. I was enthralled at the possibility!

Upon returning to college the next semester, I began to investigate this theater company. By the end of the semester I was traveling to LA join the company and to become a full-time professional actor.

In the summer of 1975 I was on tour break and with my family back in Michigan when I got a phone call. The voice on the other end of the phone was Larnelle Harris. Thurlow Spurr was launching another group and they had listened to my tape. They wanted to know if I was interested in being the drummer for the group.

Needless to say, I had a sleepless night. Of course I was interested! But I also loved being an actor. Tossing and turning through the night, I played out different scenarios. Actor, drummer, drummer, actor, back and forth all night long. But as much as I wanted to do both, I knew I couldn’t.  I had made a time commitment to the theater company. I really didn’t have a choice. I needed to keep my word. The next day I called Larnelle to tell him no, at least for now.

I chose the stage. It has become my life and I am happy and blessed. Not every person gets to make a living doing something they love. I don’t take it for granted.

A few times I have had the opportunity to play the drums again. Charles Tanner, writer and director of that theater company wrote a play for me. The character was a drummer, a drummer struggling to decide how to use his talents. The climax of the play was a drum solo expressing the character’s conficts, and also served as a prayer as he made his choice to “follow the drumbeat.” It was the only time I was able to be both an actor and a drummer at the same time (talk about having your cake and eating it too)!

Over the years I have played a few gigs at a church jazz night as a drummer, and have passed on my love of the drums to one of my sons, who is a very talented drummer in his own right. I keep a Cajon in my office and my car dashboard takes a beating on my travels. Once a drummer, always a drummer I suppose.

Almost every church has a set of drums on the platform these days. Such was not the case when I was a kid growing up in the church. But every weekend as I sit in a different church preparing to take to the stage as an actor, I look at those drums and I listen to the drummer…no regrets…but sometimes I wonder.

We’ve Got New Stuff!

As you may know, in addition to the stories I share in my travels, we also represent other artists through Master’s Image Productions. Two of our team have added to their lineup recently and I think they are productions you should consider for your church/organization.

Marcia Whitehead – Broken

If you have experienced Marcia’s presentation You Raise Me Up you know she has a powerful story to tell of her journey to discover life after loss. Her story does what a good story always does—leaves you wanting more.   People had so many questions they wanted to explore that she was compelled to create a sequel to address some of the issues left unresolved in You Raise Me Up.  Her newest presentation, Broken, does just that. It addresses her continued journey to healing and wholeness, a message of hope that will inspire those who listen. To learn more or schedule Marcia for a presentation: www.marciawhiteheadusa.com

Steve Wilent – Unlikely Prospect

Steve has had a varied career, from cleaning windows to working as an actor in Hollywood, and pastoring a rural church as a young seminary graduate. It is from this experience as a young pastor that he shares his story called Unlikely Prospect. I have had the pleasure of looking over Steve’s shoulder as he wrote out this story and I can tell you it is a story for anyone who has ever wondered about the purpose of the church—a fellowship of believers learning how to live life together as the body of Christ. You will laugh, squirm and be moved to tears in this inspiring true life story of faith. Check out Steve’s presentations at www.stevewilent.net.

While I don’t have a new production waiting in the wings at this point, I am still enjoying sharing my stories and especially those that, like Marcia’s and Steve’s, are based on my real life adventures. So be sure to check out Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up and Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story.

It it matters, there’s a story!

Can a Story Really “Change” Your Life?

“It changed my life” is an adage that’s often repeated. There are certainly events that are life-changers: birth, graduation, job, marriage, children, death… and so many more.

But can just the simple hearing or reading of a story actually change your life? I’m not talking about making us laugh or cry, or evoking emotions of compassion or anger. Those are a given. I’m talking about tangible change that results in action. Change that makes someone do or live differently.

As a storyteller I have heard “life-changing” applied to my craft. I have often accepted the statement as a compliment, but not taken it too much to heart. I am not sure I really believed that someone was going to live their life differently because they heard a story I told them.

I decided to put it to the test. Could I actually point to life-change in my own life because of stories that I heard or read? Once I seriously considered the question I was surprised at how quickly the answers followed.

• It was through hearing and reading the Gospel story in my youth that I became aware of a need for Christ in my life. It was the added stories (testimonies) of other believers that convinced me to become a follower of Jesus, a change that resulted in me living my life differently.

• It was hearing the stories from a missionary to South America at a youth retreat in Michigan that I became convinced that I wanted to actually serve God as a vocation. One of the few Spanish phrases I can actually remember is the translation to a familiar song that he taught us: “He decidido seguir a Cristo” (I have decided to follow Jesus). I didn’t know the path I would take, but I have never considered a job for more than a brief season of my life that was not also a ministry.

• It was through first seeing plays as a kid and then performing them that I discovered my passion was to be on that stage as a performer. I wanted to tell stories like the ones I was seeing–I wanted to live them. It became the inspiration and motivation for me to find a way to combine my desire to serve God with my desire to be a performing artist. My first job after college was 10 years on the road with a professional touring theater ministry.

• It was reading the book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon that challenged me with the famous question “What would Jesus do?” Little did I realize that years later that same story would keep me awake at night–a still small voice saying “tell that story.” Later adapting that book to the stage has indeed been life changing. It launched my current ministry and set the course of my professional/ministry career from 1984 to this day.

I am still thinking through the question but these thoughts flooded in once I opened the door to the question, “Can a story change your life?”

My answer is without a doubt, yes!

Story really does matter!

 

Is it Live or…

Remember the old commercial with the slogan “Is it Live or is it Memorex?” The conclusion that Memorex wanted you to draw was that quality of the recording would be so good that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That you would prefer the recorded music to a live performance.

Technology has come a long way since that commercial (1972). If we are talking about sound quality alone, a professional recording would be hard to match in a live performance these days.

As a professional performer with a focus on ministry these last 40 plus years, I have seen the tides change on the “live vs. recorded” question, especially in the area of drama. I have written about it a few times, most notably here. For the church today, the consensus seems to be that live performance is “out,” video is “in.” And why not? Quality video is easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive. You don’t have to worry about an actor forgetting lines, and you don’t have to move anything on the platform to accommodate a living room setting (sofa, coffee table, and lamp) for a scene that only lasts 5 minutes. It is rare to find a church today that does not use video in some form at their church services every week.

And yet I hear from people in churches all the time that they miss live performance. So I decided to conduct an informal poll on Facebook. I wanted to see if the perception were true that, due to cultural shifts, more people would prefer video to live performance. I asked this question:

Informal poll for my church-going friends:

A pastor has decided he wants to launch his next sermon series with a powerful 5-minute dramatic scene. He has the option of having two professional actors perform the scene live, or those same two actors perform the scene on video. Both options will be professional in every way. Would you prefer the “live” option or the “video” option?

(along with your answer would you give your age group with a simple: teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s?) Additional comments are welcome.”

There was great participation, with over 135 people responding to the question on 3 different FB sites in 24 hours.

Here are the results:

  • Prefer Live: 77%
  • Prefer Video: 17%
  • It Depends or 50/50: 6%
  • 75% of responses were people between the ages of 50-70.
  • 25% of those in the age 60’s category preferred video.
  • Of the 31 responses in the age of 40 or younger, 80% preferred live to video.

I know this not scientific. There is a bias in that most responders were in an age bracket closer to mine (between 50-70). It would be interesting to see how a mostly millennial sampling would have responded. And because of my connections in the arts, there are more responses from people in the performing arts than you might find in a more random poll. One responder questioned if the responses favored “live” over “video” because I, a theater person, was asking the question, rather than a person who does video for a living asking the question. Fair question and I am sure the results were skewed some because of that, but I don’t think that the vast majority were answering the question to satisfy the poller.

Note that there are also several pastors responding to the poll. One of the more interesting responses from a pastor was this:

Live would be more impacting, BUT, as a pastor I would have to consider the actors afterwards. Will the focus be on them and their performance? Would the video allow the people to more easily integrate it into my message?”

The implication being that the live performance might “upstage” the sermon. I have long suspected that a pastor might feel that way, but had never heard someone actually verbalize it.

There were a few other surprises. There were some theater people that I would have suspected would choose “live” who actually preferred “video.”

Many of those who chose video over live cited more practical reasons dealing with “easier for more people so see and hear in a large auditorium” as opposed to the artistic impact on the audience. And there were many who, rightly so, said it would all depend on the actual piece; that some pieces would translate better on video than live.

I am frankly surprised at the results. I would have expected video to come out ahead, given the shift in how often it is used in the church. But maybe the overuse of video has a lot to do with these responses.

My take-away is that the shift away from live performance in so many churches today does not reflect the preference of the people in the audience. Many have suggested that this is a pendulum swing and that live performance will once again come back.  Me, I’m not so sure.

What do you think?

In the meantime, let me know if I can come to you “live.” No Memorex, I promise!

Play it Again, Chuck

Do you have a favorite play, movie, or TV show that you don’t mind watching over and over again? I have a few that fall into that category; not many, but a few.

As a kid, before the VCR, DVR, and Streaming, there would be those movies on TV we would watch again and again. The Ten Commandments at Easter, It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas, and of course The Wizard of Oz. All of these would air once a year on network TV and it was an event you actually made plans to watch.

Times have changed, and with the overwhelming amount of content generated on TV, we often find ourselves struggling to keep up with the latest episodes of our favorite shows.  Who has time for a rerun?

With this mentality in mind, I am always a bit taken aback when a pastor asks me to perform something that I have already performed at that same church just a few years earlier. I have a handful of churches that I perform for every year and they are often the ones that motivate me to write a new show. I think to myself, “If I don’t come up with something new I won’t be invited back!” (I wonder how many of my pastor friends have that same thought when it comes to writing their sermons?  “Will they remember if I preach that same sermon I preached two Easters ago?”)

My friend, Jon Karn, is a pastor in Southern California. I have followed Jon around from church to church beginning in the Pacific Northwest back in the 1980’s and at several churches he has served in California. Jon has probably seen my adaptation of Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps more than any other pastor. I can say this because not only have I performed In His Steps at every church Jon has served (at least 4 churches), but Jon has requested that I perform it multiple times for at least two of those churches. Jon really likes In His Steps!

I was back at Jon’s church a few weeks ago. I was slated to do one of my newer shows, Truth Be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. A couple of weeks before my scheduled performance, I get a message from Jon: “Chuck, we have decided we want you to do In His Steps again!”

Somehow I was not surprised. I mean it is Jon, and he really likes In His Steps. I asked Jon why he wanted me to do that instead of a piece that he hadn’t seen before. He replied:

“People always need to see what following Jesus looks like. I doubt the congregation will read Sheldon’s classic but they will happily watch the drama. I guess I’d say In His Steps sounds like something I’d preach. Personally, I probably need to see it for my own spiritual health, at least once every year or two.”

If I’m being totally honest, I get a bit tired of the rerun. I mean, I have performed that piece well over 1,000 times since 1984. But I need that reminder that it is not about me – that art can speak to people in powerful ways and a good story bears repeating, which is one reason we call Sheldon’s book a classic.

Anybody up for a rerun? I’m booking dates for 2018!

Sometimes I Need to be Reminded

Sometimes I need to be reminded why I do what I do.

Sometimes I get busy in the business of my art, in the business of my ministry. 

Sometimes I lose sight of the vision. My passion becomes just a job.

That’s when I need reminders…like this one.

I had just finished a performance of my one-man drama In His Steps, the classic novel that asks the famous question “what would Jesus do?” I had done all the normal after show routines: stood in the church foyer and shook a few hands, sold a few books and videos. I am usually the last to leave the church after a performance, and this was typical of that routine. Most of the people had left the building when I gathered up my props, packed them in my suitcase and headed out the door. 

As I popped open the trunk of my car I noticed a young girl, probably about 15 or 16 years old lingering in the parking lot, then she slowly drifting toward me as I placed my suitcase in the trunk. 

“Can I talk to you?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said…a bit puzzled. 

“You talked tonight about ‘what would Jesus do?’ And…well…I am trying to figure that out for myself.”

“Ah,” I said. “Yes, that can be a challenge for all of us.” 

“I have not told anybody this…I’m still in high school…and I’m pregnant.” 

“Uh…oh…I’m sorry,” I think I said…I was pretty much speechless. Of all the conversations I have had after a performance, this was a new one. 

“I don’t know what to do…or what Jesus would do. I was hoping you could tell me.”

My mind was reeling. I had never met this girl before. And here she was asking me, a perfect stranger to tell her, not only what to do, but what to do in light of the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ 

Searching for words I asked, ”Does the father know?”

“Yes…and he is the youth leader here at the church.” 

“Oh…wow…I…uh…I am so sorry.”

Suddenly the question she was struggling with became my question. “What would Jesus do?” And I was struck with the realization that this poor girl wasn’t talking to me; she didn’t know me. She was talking to the character I had just portrayed on stage. She was talking to The Reverend Henry Maxwell, a fictional character who, from the stage, projected wisdom and conviction to do powerful things driven by that central question “what would Jesus do?” She was talking to Henry Maxwell, someone she felt she could trust. Someone who could help her. 

We talked for some time. I tried to give her the best advice that Henry Maxwell could offer. There were some tears, there was a prayer. With her permission I later called the pastor of the church and told him of our encounter. While I don’t know the complete ending to this story, the pastor later assured me that the situation was dealt with and the girl was being loved and cared for in the best way possible.  

Sometimes I need to be reminded. 

Reminded of the things that brought me to the place I now stand. 

Reminded that there is power in the arts that can change a life.

Reminded of the vision and the passion that propelled me on this journey.

Reminded of my calling. 

I am reminded, and in the process renewed. 

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galations 6:9

The Greatest Story Of All

I recently had the pleasure to meet Grant Norsworthy at a gathering of artists in Nashville. Grant is a musician, speaker and music/worship mentor (see info box below). We chatted over lunch about work and ministry and I was impressed with what Grant had to say about story and the bigger picture when it comes to worship. I invited him to write this Guest Blog. (Note: Grant is Australian so read this with the proper accent for the best effect!)


J.R.R. Tolkien is best known as the author of two GREAT stories: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Both stories are incredibly powerful and wildly popular. I wish I could say that I’ve read both numerous times, but I can’t. Like most people (I guess), I had to settle for the Peter Jackson directed screen adaptations.

I’m a fan of both stories, but I do find The Lord of the Rings to be far more engaging. What about you? If you’re like me and prefer The Lord of the Rings, we are not alone! The Hobbit has sold about 100 million copies, while The Lord of the Rings has sold in excess of 150 million. The Lord of the Rings movies grossed over $10 billion at the box office, while The Hobbit trilogy gathered less than $3 billion. All impressive numbers, but the difference is huge.

Both of these incredible stories – like any good story – describe a conflict and its resolution: An obstacle that must be, and is overcome. But while The Hobbit is about some greedy dwarves and how they get their treasure back from a dragon, The Lord of the Rings depicts the incarnation of absolute evil in Dark Lord Sauron and the war fought by the good beings whom he would seek to destroy and rule over. It’s the supreme struggle between good and evil! What could be more compelling than that?

Generally speaking with stories, the bigger and more overwhelming the obstacle, the sweeter triumph over that obstacle tastes. The more difficult the conflict, the more satisfying the resolution. Stories with BIG conflict and a correspondingly BIG resolution will make a BIG impact. They engage us like nothing else can.

The story of a person from an uneducated, deprived background earning a Ph.D. is more compelling than a 5th grader moving from a B to an A in mathematics. The story of escape from a Nazi concentration camp is more compelling than escape from a large, wet, brown paper bag.

The conflict that is resolved is bigger in The Lord of the Rings than in The Hobbit. That’s why it connects more deeply and more widely. But, to me, there’s a story far more important and powerful than even The Lord of the Rings!

I believe the greatest and most important story of all is of God and his created human beings – you and me – all of us. It’s the story described in The Bible. It’s the ultimate struggle of God’s goodness versus the evil of Satan – the devil. And it’s not just some made up story! You and I are characters  in this epic, real-life, unfinished story.

In perhaps its simplest “elevator pitch” version, this great story’s central theme is worship. The plot? Having been rejected by His own creation in the Garden, God summons his beloved people to return to Him – to worship Him above anything else. He knows this is the only way that people will be able to truly live as we were created to live.

As God spoke through the first of His Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Exodus 20:3

But forces of evil stand in defiance against God and use all manner of sinister deception, power and influence to entice people to worship anything but God.

The story has always been about worship: The worship of God or the worship of something – anything – else. From the dawn of time to this very moment, there has always been a monumental conflict for humankind between the worship of God or Satan’s counterfeit, idol-gods.

But where’s the conflict and resolution in the Christian “worship” of today? Where’s the irrepressible attraction of the greatest story if “worship” becomes something that happens only once a week inside a church building designated by very specific, semi-passive activities?

With the imperative attraction of conflict and resolution removed from what we call “worship”, is it any wonder that many people turn away – leave The Church –  or perhaps sit inactive and passive in a pew – unengaged, unmoved and uninspired?

And so, let’s expand our view of worship. Let’s move more deeply into the overwhelming, monumental conflict that is raging over our worship.

As we should have learned in school, the elements of story are:

• Setting

• Characters

• Plot

• Conflict

• Resolution

The setting of worship is not just inside a church building. The war rages anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves.

We are all characters in this great story – not just the people with microphones on the platform, or in the stories we hear from The Bible.

The plot of worship is so much more than what happens during that hour or two on a Sunday  morning. The plot is deep and wide and rich and woven through every facet of our lives.

And there is conflict. And there will be resolution to this epic, life and death – eternal life and eternal death – struggle of worship.

Therefore brothers, in view of God’s great mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and let that be your spiritual act of worship.
Romans 12:1

Grant Norsworthy has spoken and sung in 5 continents & most US States at church services, conferences, colleges, youth events and more. He’s a Grammy® nominated & Dove Award winning musician. and a former member of Sonicflood & Paul Colman Trio. With More Than Music Mentor, Grant offers instruction to church leaders, musicians & techies via online resources and on-site workshops. You can connect with Grant at: grantnorsworthy.com

 

The Tale of Mr. Music Director


Mr. Music DirectorI could tell something was amiss with Mr. Music Director at this church. He didn’t greet me when I arrived early, unlike other members of his team. He was agitated with the sound issues the church was having. And it was clear that his agenda was the only one that mattered, even though I arrived early to do a sound check and rehearse my tech cues. I soon discovered he was not about to relinquish the stage to me before the service.

He first upstaged one of the team members who was speaking to the congregation by going up to each worship team member, checking their microphone and pointing wildly at the sound booth to confirm that each mic was working properly.

He upstaged again when he moved back to the keyboard and refused to start the next song until he was convinced everyone’s mic was working. The pastor prompted verbally from the front pew, “let’s go.” He then said, “I’m sorry but our music is sensitive and I don’t want to play unless it is right. I’m sure you understand.”

Finally it was time for me to take the platform. Things were going along fine until the final moments of my performance, when Mr. Music Director decided to take the stage while I was still speaking. This is a sensitive moment in my performance and Mr. Music Director was upstaging me by moving onto the platform and flipping switches getting ready for his closing song. I could sense my audience moving their focus from me to Mr. Music Director. I wanted to say something to him; to tell him to please go sit down until I was finished. But to do so would have only caused me to totally lose my audience, and possibly turn them against me. I’m sure if you were to ask him, he would tell you he was being professional and preparing for a smooth transition to the closing.

I wish I could say that this was a rare occurrence, but sadly it is not. I share this story with you not as rant but rather to encourage you to understand one of the basic rules of the stage, and that applies to any situation in front of an audience. What Mr. Music Director was doing is called “upstaging.” In theatrical terms it means to draw attention away from where it is supposed to be. Upstaging in the theater is when an actor moves upstage of another actor forcing the other actor to turn their back to the audience in order to interact with them. In theater we tend to think of it as intentional bad behavior, but in truth it can be unintentional and often accidental. Or in the case of Mr. Music Director, it can be due to being oblivious to what you are actually doing.

(I have written about this topic as it relates to church before here: Baby Talk. If you check it out also read the comments that follow—some interesting stuff.)

Here are some examples of upstaging that I observe in churches almost every weekend.

• late arrivals
• people who get up and leave in the middle of the service
• people who return to the service after leaving in the middle of the service
• babies crying or cooing
• cellphones ringing
• texting or using a mobile device during the service—yes other people notice.
• tech issues with microphones not working properly
• team members on the platform who are talking to each other, or moving things around while someone is speaking
• outside interruptions, a clap of thunder or police sirens.

As you can see, some of these things we can’t control but some can be controlled with proper instruction and planning.

So take this challenge. Next time you are in church, make a mental note of anything that causes you to take your focus away from the person you should be giving your attention to. And at all costs, don’t be the one doing the upstaging.

Honesty in Church?

young man wearing a mask of himself

“You know, I find that one of the hardest places to be honest, as an artist, is in the church.”

Whoa! Say what? The statement took me aback a bit.

Then another voice chimed in, “Oh, I totally agree. There are a lot of audiences much more accepting of honesty in our culture. The church is one of the hardest places to speak the truth.”

Wham again! I mean of all places for honesty and truth, shouldn’t the church be at the top of the list?

The conversation was at an intimate gathering of Christian artists in a retreat setting—oddly enough, in a church. Most of the people in attendance were professional performers with a focus on ministry. For most, their audience was the church.

Among the attributes of an artist, speaking the truth is at the top of the list. And yet…

“Oh, you can be honest about some things—the ‘approved topics’ that the tribe accepts. Of course, you can talk about ‘Gospel’ truth. You can even talk about certain failings, certain areas of brokenness; the ‘acceptable sins.’ But there are lots of areas that you can’t touch.”

As the conversation continued I began to understand. There was much brokenness and hurt gathered in this room; divorce, betrayal, addictions, and other issues that are not easily dismissed. Stuff that real people deal with on a daily basis.

And they were saying that both personally and as artists they found it difficult and even impossible to speak about these things in the one place where issues of brokenness should be welcome.

I recalled a conversation with a friend who is a well-known Christian recording artist. He had echoed some of the same sentiment. His passion was to write songs about brokenness but was hitting a wall of resistance. He was told the songs he wanted to write would not be “marketable” to the church audience he was playing to. Only positive and uplifting music was desired and would be commercially acceptable.

In recent years I have been sharing personal stories from my life in my performances. One of the things I have found encouraging is that people are overwhelmingly affirming about the “honesty” and “transparency” I share in my stories… but to be even more honest and transparent, I filtered those stories to stay away from the taboo topics, that I knew deep down inside I couldn’t share. I knew my audiences wouldn’t accept those stories in the context of a church setting. I have to admit it would be very easy to be “more honest” about some of the issues if I were not playing to the church.

I am in a lot of churches… virtually a different one or two every weekend. A lot of churches advertise “come as you are” and try really hard to project an image of being a place where the broken are welcome. But are they being honest?

I don’t have an answer.

I do know that, for the most part, the group of artists gathered in this room are exceptionally qualified to speak honesty and truth, but are not feeling the freedom to do that for the audience they feel called to serve.

Thoughts?

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