I stayed up late last night to watch The Academy Awards mostly because it was fun watching people get dressed up and sit face to face fully vaccinated at a party. Frankly, some of the choices were not my favorites (Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis were robbed) but comparing the different roles of – say – the five Best Actor nominees is like comparing apple and oranges and grapes and pears and pomegranates. All delicious but so different.
I was thinking about some of the stellar performances of my colleagues in ministry which involve drama, comedy, animation, and editing – not to mention best sound tracks and costume design. For example:
Best Directing goes to those pastoral leaders who lovingly move their congregations from a Constantinian model of ministry to an Entrepreneurial/Disciple-making model of ministry.
Best Performance in a Drama goes to the elders and deacons who keep ministry vibrant after a congregational trauma (e.g. the pastor is struggling with terminal health issues . . . or runs off with a liturgical dancer.)
Best Soundtrack goes to the music leaders who create a Christmas Pageant using lyrics from Hamilton (First Presbyterian in Brooklyn did this a couple years ago and it was amazing) or the youth leaders who write a play about Amos re-working lyrics by H.E.R.
I witness extraordinary performances by the priesthood of all believers every day. And then it occurs to me that these are not “performances” at all. They are authentic acts of service and love.
I’ve known professional ministers and other leaders of faith who were acting the part. God help us.
There are the pastors who preach one thing and do another. (The #ChurchToo movement has stories that rival anything Emerald Fennell could create.) There are elders who perform acts of respectability but privately they are gaslighters and bullies. There are teenagers who pretend to be pious for their parents but they are hiding secret lives. And there are church members who threaten to “stop giving” to the church if they don’t get their way, only to find out that they don’t make any financial contribution. These are performances.
True ministry is about God and living an authentic life that shows what God’s love looks like. True ministry happens when pastors offer selfless pastoral care to the families who slander them behind their backs. True ministry happens when the church nursery workers are as respected as the Senior Pastor. True ministry happens when people are spared shame. True ministry happens when “people who don’t deserve it” are blessed with a safety net.
True ministry is not about performance. It’s about spiritual leadership in a broken world. As much as I like watching actors act, those performances are a distraction. The stories in our actual lives are just as rich and disturbing and funny and colorful. And every day we are given the opportunity to dwell in those stories in a way that makes the world the way it was created to be. It can be real. Or it can be a performance.
It’s so much better when it’s real.