Well...here...and a little bit there...but mostly here.
We're in the middle of what a lot of chaos over here at the church. This isn't a bad thing; we're just overhauling our sanctuary, adding new A/V equipment - a job that I anticipated would take a lot less time and much less work than it actually has. On top of that, we're getting ready to start a third worship service on September 9. I'm very excited about this and our church is pretty pumped about it, but it's another dimension of chaos. And, we're building a new playground.
And none of them is happening on MY timetable!
I spent a few days in Missouri last week. I flew to St. Louis and drove to Columbia, where I stayed. My mother lives in Ashland, which is about 10 miles south of there, so we spent a couple of days together driving around the countryside and visiting old homesteads. It was a kind of strange trip. I always think it's odd how much things shrink when you get older. Everything looks so much smaller than it did when I was a kid. It was a fun trip.
I attended the Willow Creek Association's Leadership Conference last week and thought I'd drop a few impressions of the event down for my own personal reflection, as well as for those of you who like to read this kind of stuff. This is probably the first in a series, as time permits me to go back over my notes and process some of these items.
It was really an amazing conference. Everything that Willow does cries "excellence first!" The music, the dramas, the video clips, the interviews, absolutely everything is done with care and passion and eye to really getting the message across in an excellent way. They just all really "bring it." I realize that they have a lot of talent in this place, but they've also been very intentional about developing that talent, a trick that we'd all do well to develop in our own places of ministry.
So often, I hear people in churches say that they're turned off by performances. I can certainly understand this. Church really ought to be the one arena of life where we're not under pressure to perform. Having said that, however, it really does seem to me that we sometimes use this as an excuse for simply being second best. That way there's no pressure on us to have to go that second mile, to bring that "little something extra" that our associate at Sachse First UMC talked about yesterday.
So, while I appreciate that we're not here to perform, there's no excuse for us to not bring our very best and sometimes that can look to others like a performance. My thinking is along these lines: when we look at, say, people leading worship and we make the assessment that they're just "performing," it really is a motive call; we're making a call about the motivations of what that person is doing. We're not saying anything about their talent or lack thereof and we're not making a judgment about how well they're doing it. In fact, if we're making that call at all, we're probably judging them as really good.
But when we say, "It really seemed like too much of a performance," we're making a call that's really not ours to make. We don't know what's going on inside the heart of those individuals. And it's really not our place to make that call anyway. After all, which is better: a half-baked song set that doesn't bring any quality to the table but has lots of "heart" or a well-oiled music machine that gives place to quality and excellence?
The problem is that - really - you don't have to choose between the two. You can bring both heart and excellence to what you do. In smaller churches in particular, I've noticed this tendency to downplay the quality issue to cover up the fact that the quality just isn't there. The time isn't spent rehearsing and nailing down the bits and pieces that make for a good musical presentation or worship experience. It's hard to do that. It takes time to do that. And, it takes a commitment to going beyond the ordinary.
We live in a culture where we're used to quality. Why should the church be any different? Why should we pawn off on God our lack of drive to make things better? Why should we mask our own fear of being really, really good under the shadow of being more spiritual? And, as Thom Rainer points out, "It's a sin to be good when you have the potential to be great."
We all know that God doesn't judge by appearances. God judges what's in our hearts. But I hope that we also know by now that what happens on the outside is shaped by what's on the inside. I think the term I'm looking for here is "artistic integrity." If we are God's workmanship, created by God to reflect God's image, shouldn't our work be above and beyond what we see in other places? Shouldn't the beauty that we bring to the table demonstrate the image of God as the ultimate Creative One?
That's just my first reflection about last week. I realize it's not specific to any one presentation or piece of the conference pie, but rather a birds-eye overview of what I saw. As I watched guys like Kirk Franklin and Erik Mongrain, as well as the Willow Creek house band do what they did, I knew they were performing. But I also knew they were performing for an audience that was larger than the 70,000 or so attendees across the US. And that Audience Beyond deserved their very best.
Tom McLeod sent me this clip of our band from Casa Linda on YouTube today. Boy, you never know who's filming you. This was well over two years ago. I'm the bald guy in the background playing the guitar.