I would speculate that there is no one reading this who hasn’t heard about the cultural phenomenon called “American Idol.” A multi-month talent show, designed to find the most talented singer in the United States of America who has not been discovered yet. Thousands line up at each location across the nation to offer their vocal charm to the entire world. This year four judges sat behind a table and would critique the performance of the contestant. More often than not the critique drew harsh words and tears. Every now and then the critique would draw tears of joy and a special, gold piece of paper that would be that contestant’s ticket to the next round in Hollywood. Personally, my favorite part of the entire show is the first two weeks when the contestants who are terrible singers arrive and display their non-talent. The judges (Simon Cowell) quickly remind them that they are talentless swine and they should be selling hot dogs on the street corner, not singing. It’s always funny to hear someone say what you are thinking.
While there are many culturally significant pieces to this show that the church could probably learn from, I want to share the one that I think about more often than not. In most churches I am what they call a Senior Pastor or Preaching Pastor. In essence, I am the person who does the main teaching at our church on a Sunday morning and I also lead in the vision casting for the church. How is it that one can go from a position like this to feeling like they are a contestant on a game show?
One week the comments are really bringing some high praise; “That was a great sermon preacher. You really nailed that one. You mailed it in. We really needed to hear that. Just keep those coming. Wow, are you listening in on our conversations at home?” This week’s performance was good. You passed with the judges and have lived to see another week behind the pulpit. Yet other weeks are different. There are little to no comments. But the more vocal judges, the Simon Cowell’s of the church say things like, “What did we do wrong to get a sermon like that? He sure is all about hellfire and brimstone this week? He sure didn’t hit on any of my spiritual needs this week. Where in the world did that come from? Did he even study this week?” This week’s performance is bad. The judges are upset. Your future rounds behind the pulpit are suddenly in jeopardy.
When did the church begin judging the usefulness on their pastors on their performance? Maybe it has always been that way to some extent. I would say that the church’s focus is extremely skewed by this perspective. Church is about transformed lives and people growing to become more like Christ, impacting their communities with the hope and grace of Jesus Christ. So why isn’t the evaluation of a church based on the amount of transformed lives? Why is it so much about the performance of a pastor? The church needs to get out of the American Idol mindset and back into the changed lives mindset. If our focus isn’t on changed lives then we simply fail to be what Christ died for us to become.