“In the language of an actor, to know is synonymous with to feel” – Konstantin Stanislavski
I read this quote the other day, and stopped in my tracks. “…to KNOW is synonymous with to FEEL.” Stanislavski was a Russian actor and theater director. He treated theater-making as a serious endeavor, requiring dedication, discipline, and integrity, and the work of the actor as an artistic undertaking. Throughout his life, he subjected his own acting to a process of rigorous artistic self-analysis and reflection. His “system” explores character and action both from the ‘inside out’ and the ‘outside in’.
While doing a little research on Stanislavski’s background and legacy, I started to find parallels to something that is starting to rise to the top of my “things that concern me about modern-day church” list (yes, I have one of those; yes, it only exists in my head). I kept coming back to his quote about “knowing” and “feeling” meaning the same things.
Having been a worship leader at a few large churches, I have encountered lots of different types of people who are at many different points in their Christian walk. Although we’re all different, I notice a common thread running throughout the various people I meet: everyone uses the phrase “I feel like…” ALL THE TIME. For example, just last Sunday, someone approached me after the service saying, “I feel like the Holy Spirit was SO present during that last song!” As someone who has been in church her whole life, that sort of conversation does not faze me. We say things like that all the time! But for whatever reason, it made me perk up a little more this time. Do you ever get alarm bells ringing in your head? Or maybe a little check in your gut about something? That was me after I had this conversation on Sunday. As I was walking to my car after church, I couldn’t shake some of these questions like, “do these people realize that the Holy Spirit isn’t just present during really emotional songs? Or that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just exist to make us feel all mushy and gushy all the time? Are we teaching the congregation that our faith and relationship with our Lord is always related to how we feel?” These questions plagued me for the rest of the day, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we’re doing something wrong.
Throughout my experience as a worship leader (about 7-8 years now), I have played at, sung for, and observed many different churches and worship teams. I have been very hands-on and consulted with teams, and I have also simply sat in a pew to experience a service. Most of the churches I attend because I know someone on the team (whether it’s a worship leader, pastor, or a volunteer), and therefore I usually have a little background on what to expect when I’m entering the church. Over the past few years, I have started to pick up on something that is a little unsettling to me when I attend these churches, and I wonder if I’m the only one. I am beginning to notice that the people I know in these services are very different people on stage than they are off stage. Not always in a bad way, but the mannerisms, language, and demeanor of the person I know in everyday life is starkly different from what I experience as a member of the congregation during a service. This type of phenomenon hasn’t happened only once or twice, but it happens at most churches I visit. Now, I understand that the responsibility of being in front of a group of people comes with certain requirements and expectations, but I think those expectations can be met while still being a flawed human being, who happens to be the same as everyone else walking through the church doors. The idea that our leaders must be put on some pedestal of perfection is scary, and honestly an enormous amount of pressure for Christians in leadership. When put under the pressure and unattainable expectations of perfection, I believe we turn to something even worse than being a flawed sinner: acting.
Wouldn’t you agree that it’s far easier to put on a happy face for 25 minutes when you’re struggling with something than to admit your struggle to other people? Isn’t it easier to feign positivity for one morning a week than to open up about what’s really simmering inside? Of course it is, and leaders are no different than those they lead! They deal with doubts, frustrations, and disbelief just like the rest of us. But here’s the kicker: when we produce such stellar Sunday services that are perfectly planned, perfectly executed, and perfectly manipulated, we suddenly (whether intentional or not) send the message to our congregations that THIS is what the Christian life looks like. Emotional ballads with impressive guitar solos, fog, and seamless camera shots begin to “inspire” the feeling that the Holy Spirit is NOW moving. Whether they know it or not, the emotions of those in our congregations are being manipulated to associate these grand musical moments with the presence of the Holy Spirit. And THAT is where I have a problem.
Psalms 22:3 tells us that God inhabits the praises of His people! He doesn’t just dwell where the light shows are happening, or where the most hands are raised. So here is something that we can KNOW, but certainly do not always FEEL, unlike Stanislavski’s acting method. The Holy Spirit does not just show up during the moments we find ourselves speechless because of the beautiful music or the perfect set list. The Holy Spirit dwells inside of us at all times when we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and he dwells wherever His people are praising Him! And whether we invite Him or not, He will do His work wherever He pleases because He is ALMIGHTY God!
So, let me get to my point: could we possibly be harming the perception of a “healthy Christian walk” by putting on a happy face, wearing trendy clothes, and reading a script that we’ve come up with to create a seamless 20 minutes of worship on a Sunday morning? When we stand in front of hundreds (even thousands) of people on a given Sunday and don’t live the life we are singing, playing, or speaking about, are we directing people towards the TRUE God of redemption and mercy? Or are we pointing people to a life that is unattainable, and therefore unattractive to those who don’t know Christ? Do people walk away from our churches during the week without truly knowing the Holy Spirit because they associate His presence with an experience, and not with the truth from God’s Word? Are we stunting the growth of the believers in our church because we aren’t equipping them with the knowledge that a relationship with Jesus is based on foundational truths of the Bible and not the emotional experiences we have on Sunday mornings? I urge you to consider the life you live offstage and behind closed doors. If you’re using drugs, addicted to alcohol, or even simply talking about friends in a negative way, can you really stand on stage and lead people in a genuine, authentic way that overflows from your heart to point people to the God we serve? Or are we merely trying to uphold impossible standards that we set for ourselves in order to maintain our flawless facades? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect, and that I DO aim for excellence when I sing and lead worship. BUT we can’t let it stop there. I want to be known as a leader with a heart for God, with a great need for a Savior, and who strives to point people to the only One who can redeem our imperfections. Don’t you?