A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine, Marcellus Coleman, or Mars the Writer, had a video that went viral. The video consisted of live “altar time” at the church where he helps in the worship department. The video went viral because something went wrong during the start of the set. It turns out the keyboard setting got transposed, making the electric piano, the main instrument for most “altar times,” out of tune with the rest of the band and the lead singer, Marcellus Coleman.
Afterward, it was decided that in order to draw more traffic towards the church and encourage other worship bands (a weird title in its own right) that mistakes happen and you cannot get caught up in one bad song. This is true of any “performance” or service or job or activity in general.
The first part of the plan worked: more people checked out the church than before.
However, the second part, as reflected in the types of comments the viral video acquired showed something else: people were overwhelmingly critical of Marcellus.
The comments that followed consisted of many “pianist and singer got beef”, “I guess we know who didn’t come to practice”, “are they hitting on the same girl”, and “that boy shouldn’t be singing anyway.”
This is the danger of publically showing mistakes: everyone’s a critic and everyone has a comment.
After talking with/checking up on Marcellus, he appears to have taken it all in good humor and said they had accomplished what they set out to do: draw attention to the church.
This brings up my observations: the danger of “worship performance.”
While it is true that there is a certain amount of theatricality to a service (there are clear acts and scenes and beats and audience participation) and while it is true that the goal of the service is to tell the story of Christ and his life in us, there is a notion it all has to be perfect. Churches will spend hundreds to thousands to millions to make the service and experience.
Before we go further, it must be said that there is nothing wrong with professionalism. Even without the lights and projectors, the small town local churches (many of which are in my own conference) also desire a “good show,” that the service “goes well.”
But what does this mean to a small local church in comparison to a larger or even a megachurch?
Ultimately, the same thing (I hope): that the gospel was presented in an understandable way and it was received by the congregation, member or visitor alike.
A few days ago I posted a meme of a businessman asking what the church needed to do to bring more people into the church. One suggested “hip music.” Another “coffee.” The last one suggested, “just preach truth.” The last one was thrown out of the building’s second top floor.
One response to this was from a former college classmate: (sarcastically) “People can’t get saved if there is coffee and lights going.”
His point was humorous and witty. And missed the point completely.
Can people be “saved” if there are coffee and lights? Of course. But can they be saved without them? There is nothing wrong with coffee and lights, but we should recognize that these things aren’t the Gospel nor are they part of the Christian experience: they are fads that will appeal for a time but will ultimately fizzle out because they are not essential to the Gospel presentation.
As long as the Gospel is being presented, do what you will; but do not neglect the Gospel.
Marcellus wanted the “mess up” video to be shown to encourage other worship teams that mistakes happen, no matter the platform or budget, and that you have to move on.
I hope they get his message and not the alternative: we can’t mess up.
The danger of “worship performance” is that if we are not careful we will think that “make a joyful noise” really means “make a joyful noise that doesn’t screw up because then we will ruin someone’s “worship experience” (whatever that means).”
To Marcellus, I am grateful for a heart that is genuinely shaped by compassion and hard work: I hope that is seen in the rest of us who have much smaller platforms to spread the Gospel.
Even if our videos do/don’t go viral, even with/without the coffee and light, I pray we are doing our best in our services to present the Gospel to the best of our ability (whatever that means).