Simons in the Pews

Hair fashionably mussed, a soul patch beneath his lower lip, the Singer steps onto the small stage and eyes the small audience seated before him.  A man in a dark T-shirt impatiently eyes the Singer.  Pen fidgeting in his mouth, he inquires tersely, “Okay, what do you have for us today?”

The Singer takes a deep breath before answering.  “Well, I’d like to start out with ‘Not to Us’ by Chris Tomlin.”

“Okay,” the man responds without emotion.  “Good luck.”

Apprehensive, jittery, nonplused, the Singer takes a step forward.  And with all that he has, and all that he is, he opens his mouth.  And sings.

“Not to us, but to Your name be the glory,” he proclaims.  “Not to us, but to Your name…” he repeats, each time with greater conviction.  The certainty of his beliefs seem to steady his voice, and he digs into the phrase deeper.  Taking a deep breath, he readies himself for the first verse.

“I’m sorry,” another man in the group interrupts bluntly.  “I think I’ve heard enough.”

“You have a very nice voice,” the woman beside him advances, trying not to sound condescending.  “And I really like your look.  But I’m afraid it’s…well, it’s just not good enough.”

“Yes, thank you very much,” the first man concludes.  The verdict is sudden and final.  The group will not be listening to the Singer any more.

No, this isn’t a scene from American Idol.  This is a scene from a typical Sunday morning worship experience.  Every Sunday, our increasingly consumeristic congregations take their specific wants and desires and preferences into church services and rate them: Song selection, quality of the worship leader’s voice, how loud or how fast the songs are,  how much the band rocked, even the appearance of the worship leader. Our congregations have become Simons (as in Simon Cowell) in the pews.

And that consumeristic mindset spills into the entire Sunday experience: how big (or small) the church is, the length and content of the sermon, how many people greeted them that morning, what ministries does the church offer, how long the service lasts.  And in their self-evaluations, they ask the “me” questions:  Do I like this?  Does this meet my needs?  Does this make me happy?

They have bought into the lie that the church—the bride of Christ and the hope of the world—is simply a purveyer of religious goods and services.  And as it is for all good consumers, it is our right to have our needs met, even as it relates to the things of God. And so they vote, mostly with their attendance, but also with their giving, and in other ways as well.

The biggest problem in my mind is not that people take their highly-honed and highly-personal consumeristic expectations and apply them to the church.  It is that they do this—and they don’t see anything wrong with it.  They have forgotten that to be a Christian is not to be a consumer, but to be a disciple.  And the two are diametrically opposed in so many ways.

American Idol StageAs a worship leader and pastor, I find that our Simonized culture becomes an increasing distraction on a Sunday morning.  And because of that, we as church leaders must strongly resist the ever-increasing forces that prompt us to feed the Simons in our pews.

I don’t see my job as pleasing people; it is helping people please God.  My job is not to compete with the church down the street; it is to unite with them to make a difference in our community. My job is not to meet people’s consumeristic desires, but to call people to be disciples of Christ—you know, to love your neighbor, to put others before yourself, to live in a such a way that one’s preferences are merely interesting diversions on the way toward dying to self.

I meet regularly with a group of worship pastors and leaders in my local area.  (If you are a worship leader, I strongly urge you to start meeting regularly with your local peers.)  We share ideas, pray for one another, try to help one another through the various struggles of doing ministry in the twenty-first century.  I take no delight in knowing that my church is larger than my friend’s church down the street.  I get no pleasure in knowing that our congregants church shop among us.  But I do delight in seeing the church act like the Church, in worship and ministry and life.

Do you have something to add?  Please let me know about it.

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