1 Corinthians 9:18-22, 25 (KJV)
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
We’ve all been there.
In rehearsals with others, or in our private time, we spend hours and hours perfecting performances” so that people are pleased. We convince ourselves that this is important; we ought to give God our best; his praise should be glorious; and hopefully, God will be pleased and praised, not only by us, but also by the people who witness us.
We get to service, do what we do, and something is off: Half the choir missed a note or two, the soloist missed her cue to begin the first verse, and the musicians missed breakdown they worked so hard to master. When we look at the congregation, we see people staring at us as if we are in a concert hall and hear them clapping as the songs end. They missed the point. Where we that off? Next time, … next time, we’ll do better and the praise will be awesome. Rinse. Repeat.
Why aren’t they praising God?
Good question. Sounds a lot like verse 18: What is my reward then?
The reality is that ministering to others is an art, NOT a science. We are right to spend so much time working on our skill. And yes, there is Biblical precedent for striving to perform at our local churches near the same level that we see many national and international gospel & christian artist do. However, verse 22 reminds us that we use ALL means… to save SOME.
Unfortunately, you cannot expect everyone to not be distracted by your technical faults, see your heart, and “join” you in worship. This is where it gets tough: realizing that no matter how “well” you perform, ultimately there is NO guarantee that everyone or, even, most of the congregation will “get it.”
Got that, but is God satisfied?
The Bible talks about praising God in spirit and in truth. The reality, is that, ultimately, we should not be doing what we do for money, applause, or even the satisfaction of seeing others praise God (although all those things may and in many cases should come). It’s a paradox, I know, but I’ve found that those who almost forget about the “performance” and the “reaction” seem to also be the ones that really touch the heart of God. Many of us get so distracted by being technically “on point” that we forget to truly “mean” what we are expressing. It is very possible that, as far as God is concerned, much of our practice time and even corporate worship is “vain repetition.”
Should We Continue in Sin that Grace May Abound?
Ok. That’s overstating it. However, from a director’s point of view, this can seem like the trade-off that many “real praisers” make. Missing rehearsal, coming late, not practicing at home, not caring about “small” mistakes here and there… as long as my heart is in the right place, God will show up, right? Simply put, NO. Your attitude toward how you serve is displaying your heart.
As Paul put it in verse 19, you have chosen to be servant to all. You cannot choose to serve lackadaisically and expect God to be pleased or people to be edified. (e.g. Check back with Cain and Able). You must actively use ALL means to save some and you must also strive touch the heart of God…every time you do what you do.
It’s a word. It’s a noun. It’s a verb. Verse 25 is an important piece of wisdom for all the perfectionists reading this. Yes you, the one that truly is distracted when things are off, meanwhile, finding it hard to 1) effectively address the issues and 2) focus on God long enough to still “get your praise on.” If you want to be a master minstrel, it is better to balanced in all areas rather than extremely great in one. You can’t expect to be very effective if you technically awesome but spiritually are checked out -or- if you unskillful and completely unaware of everyone and everything else in your attempt to access the throne room.
I’ve personally learned that, in corporate worship, it is time to stop being a perfectionist and just be. Chances are, if you have problems when it is time to minister, they’ll still be there during your next rehearsal. Critique your performance afterwards, not during. If you need to, make a video or audio recording and review it during the week. When you do, remember to critique both the technical and non-technical aspects of your ministry. When ministering before God, you must allow yourself and others around you to focus on God. When people become their ultimate judge, ministers almost never please God.