“this is NOT a performance”

I do not frequently make my way through church doors these days, but when I do (usually for gigs) I am endlessly fascinated.

Usually the type of churches that hire me are large– multiple services, big auditoriums, coffee bars etc. And I’m always amazed at how they enact the same rituals, have the same performances, same coffee stands– without ever having communicated with each other.

There is always the “worship pastor,” usually younger and a little bit hipster. Ambitious. Super excited to be singing. And you’ll never hear the stress of any situation reflected in his voice.

The worship pastor’s prayers are eerily similar across the board. Always starting with, “we love you God” and always including something to the effect of “this is NOT performance but a way for the people to see you.” Which is very interesting considering the fact that it is a performance. Perhaps the theme of the performance is trying to take the “performance” out of it. But also to not do that.

It is a major point of incongruity for me, the outsider hired for one weekend, to hear the words, “this is not a performance,” but see signs of performance everywhere: the fact that they are on a stage, the spotlight that goes on when they start to play (the audience is in the dark), the actual light show that happens, the microphones, the rehearsals, the extra musicians they hired in, the click track, the list goes on. All of these elements usually signal to me that this is a performance.

I think they all have good intentions. But it seems like an unnecessary denial of all plated evidence. Or maybe it is just another extension of the performance. Maybe acting this kind of humility out in some way actually boosts your ego…?

We’ve all been in the audiences of performances where we clap and cheer for the performer, who on stage shakes his head and points up to the heavens to signify not them, but it was all God. This has always felt weird to me, like the performer is disregarding my appreciation of him in order to show me that he is very humble. I wonder if maybe the worship pastor, when insisting that this is not a performance, is looking for this kind of respect.

But, I think, most likely, they are not thinking about any of this and instead simply reading off the script that was handed to them. And to be clear, the “script” is what they learned by watching their predecessors.

How else would un-connected, proximally distant churches all be doing the same thing?

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