I've experienced this many times before in my lifetime of doing various kinds of “performing”. But I didn't really articulate it for myself until right after we moved to Siouxland and were visiting churches. It became clear to me that some churches were performing on Sunday morning rather than worshipping. I could feel it in the energy flow. Not that there's anything wrong with performing per se -- not at all. It's just that it's not always equal to worship.
In worship, the energy flow starts from stage and seats together and moves upward to God – a vertical movement rather than a horizontal one. And you know when the worship is genuine because you feel the energy coming back. Again, an interaction . . . but every human in the room is on the same side of the interaction. The comraderie that a band feels during a concert, or that a play cast feels at curtain call . . . this unity can be experienced immediately and powerfully even among a group of strangers when genuine worship is happening.
I have spent many years off and on over the course of my life involved in drama ministry. And the bulk of that ministry involved skits performed during worship services -- I've even been writing those skits myself in the past few years. But I told some friends recently that I'm not sure I want to be involved in that kind of drama ministry anymore.
An article a friend posted recently began to help me articulate why. It was titled “The Difference Between Congregational Worship and a Concert“, and it elaborated on these three points:
1. If we, the congregation, can't hear ourselves, it's not worship.
2. If we, the congregation, can't sing along, it's not worship.
3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it's not worship.
When I applied these concepts to the skits we do on Sunday mornings, I saw the source of my concern. For most of our skits, the actors are the center of attention; the audience is not participating -- they are absorbing. It is a performance energy flow.
Now, I understand that preaching and teaching are a similar phenomenon in a worship service. But anyone who has heard a really excellent preacher or teacher knows the difference between teaching that is an act of worship and teaching that is a show of knowledge or oratory skill. My concern is finding that distinction with my Sunday morning dramas, because I don't think it is often there.
And right now, I'm not sure I feel a pull to look very hard for it. I just need to worship.
I've made a commitment to our church here to continue to write scripts for them – and I will, as long as they want them from me. But for myself . . . for my own Sunday mornings . . . I have a need now to separate my performance time from my worship time.