Quality, Excellence and Perfectionism

The focus of a worship arts ministry should be to glorify God using the best we have

blake-william-the-ancient-of-days.-fine-art-print-poster.-sizes-a4-a3-a2-a1-00236--5247-p
“The Ancient of Days” – William Blake

while striving to better ourselves for His glory.  Not for our names’ sake or for the sake of artistic ‘growth’ – but for the sake of the kingdom.

 

We live in an age of digital mass distribution and consumption.  Making  decisions as a church based on what people can download or stream is a dangerous path to go down.

If this is our concern in the arts, it must (if we are to be consistent) should be in our concern to preaching.

We must honor the Lord with the best of what we have as a Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 9.22.32 PMgathered people. Not what ‘church-down-the-street’ or church-online’ or ‘church-with-an-album’ can offer.
“X” Church uses “Y”, and they attract large numbers, so we should do the same.

I hope you see the danger and idolatry in this mindset. 

Our goal and ambition is to elevate, proclaim, and worship Christ with genuine hearts – not recreate a “performance”.

It may be that the off-key, staggering, limp of a genuine expression of worship is moreScreen Shot 2019-10-01 at 9.19.56 PM.png beautiful (and more welcome) to the heart of our Lord than an impressive, well-executed delivery of musical creativity and finesse for the sake of ‘excellence’.

A quality ‘threshold’ for service is advisable in the context of bringing our best, but it is vastly different than an ability to ‘make it’ onto the next stage on ‘The Voice.’

This is a delicate balance that requires continual humility and self-examination.  A ‘decent’, humble, godly musician serving the Body will do the gathered church far more good than a narcissistic, arrogant, petulant diva who sees Sunday as an opportunity (or a right) to let everyone know how talented he/she is.

I visited a megachurch one Sunday and was gutted to hear this announcement: “We’ve learned that [minor Christian recording celebrity] is with us today and has agreed to bless us with a song. So instead of Anna singing the reflection piece she’s worked on we have the honor of [celebrity] singing for us.  Thank you Anna for stepping aside. Let’s give [celebrity] a hand and show our appreciation!”

I hope you see the number of heartbreaking failures – the gross worldliness – in that moment.  Oh Anna. What graciousness she showed in remaining in service!

It may be that Anna was genuinely ok with stepping aside, but the message communicated was far less about the Body of Christ gathered to worship, and more about a celebrity status.

We are exhorted, indeed commanded, to bring our best (Malachi 1:6-14) but we must guard and continually examine our hearts against showmanship and an idolatrous notion of ‘quality’ or ‘excellence’.

We strive to bring the best we have – recognizing that the best we currently have is always in a state of refinement and growth – ever changing from glory to glory, (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Harold Best says it well in “Unceasing Worship” :

– “there is no practice of excellence that can rest on its laurels, even for the best artists. For all of us, there is always the next step; there is always something out beyond that should be taken on, worked through and mastered. Creative people, then, should never see the end of the road, because a healthy creativity is like everything else in a healthy life—it demands newness, change and growing excellence.“

and

“Excellence, the lifelong process of becoming better than I was yesterday, must be the normal condition for the exercise of stewardship.“

These words are both comforting and immensely challenging.

whiplash_pic_1421083356_crop_550x366We are not called to a perfectionism of craft (as seen in the movie ‘Whiplash’), but we are called to grow.

I once heard someone say to a group of teens: ”Practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect” – demoralizing the teens there.  If I can’t do it perfectly whilst practising, why even try?

What they needed to hear is “practice makes progress” – growth… development… not  perfectionism.

As artists in the church we must strive for growth (as slowly incremental as it may be) – lavishing love on our Father – not cowering in fear of disappointing Him with our unperfected attempts of adoration.

Again, Best states:

“We sing, we dance, sculpt, paint, act as living sacrifices because we worship. Our art, offered by faith, goes to God through the merits of the Savior and is accepted on this account. Within the constraints of the gathered assembly, art and artists serve the liturgy and the Word.“

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 9.26.36 PM.pngWe must also avoid the trap that is performance – seeking to play or sing a piece for it’s value as a piece or for the skill pf the performer, rather than an expression of heart through art.

Performance seeks to glorify performer.  Godward art seeks to make much of Christ.

And we must put to death artistic and cultural elitism.

Again, Harold Best has been so wonderfully:

“I want to serve all people by enriching them, by taking them higher. And I want to take what they already have, honoring it because they made it. I want to take what they are—my loved neighbors—and give them the best of what I know and have. I also want them to know that my artistic journey is nowhere near complete and that I too must be taken higher by those above me who continue to teach me. I no longer want to give myself to the aesthetic Pharisees, trying to meet every one of their jots and tittles and separating myself from the unclean who cannot meet their demands. I would rather be with the gluttons and winebibbers, loving them, showing them how they can truly eat and drink at a more richly furnished table.”

Artists in the church, once again I leave you with Harold Best –

“Our work is to be costly, not to impress him [Christ], but because we are to be like him.“

Do yourself, your ministry, and your church a favor –
read, digest and discuss “Unceasing Worship”

unceasing
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