When I was a child I loved an audience. I loved being the centre of attention, and so I did all I could to make sure that I was the centre of attention. As I mentioned in a previous post, I couldn't even blow my nose quietly! So when my Sunday School teachers or Cub leaders asked for volunteers to take part in a church service, I was always the first (and often the only) child with their hand up. And very soon I was a star.
Actually that was my first ever acting job. As a star in the church Nativity play one year. The next year I had gone up in the world. I was the Archangel Gabriel, complete with my father's shirt on back to front, a pair of tinfoil wings and a tinsel halo.
But my performances weren't reserved for Christmas. At the tender age of 11 I had risen even higher than Gabriel, or so you would think to hear some Methodists speak, playing the part of John Wesley in a "This is Your Life" presentation of his career for Aldersgate Sunday. Most of what I know about John Wesley is probably based upon that production!
I didn't only act however, but would also sing solos at the drop of a hat. The first was a piece for Palm Sunday called "Trotting through Jerusalem", which was a complete disaster as the organist pitched it too high for me... But despite a faltering start I was asked to perform again. This time I sang "Kum ba Yah..." This time it went so well that they asked me to sing it again at another service... then again some time later... so that it is a song which, when I sing it now, causes waves of retrospective embarrassment rolling over me.
What drove me on, I will freely admit, was the applause. In their eagerness to encourage children at this particular church they would applaud anything that a child did, even if it was manifestly awful (as when I sang "Trotting through Jerusalem"). No matter how many times I sang Kum ba Yah, they applauded. Even when I took part in some of the worst pieces of drama ever written, they applauded... and it is good to applaude children in that way.
But it can produce a warped sense of what worship is about.
It was Soren Kierkegaard who suggested that worship can be compared to a dramatic production. In most services it seems as if the people up front, be they children, the choir, a worship band or a pastor are the actors, whilst God is the prompter, whispering in their ears, telling them what to do and say next, whilst the congregation is the audience.
But, says Kierkegaard, this is all back to front: For true worship, the congregation should be the actors, God is the audience of one, and those at the front, including the pastor, should simply function as the prompter, keeping things going...
Worth thinking about. Yet I wonder how many worship leaders, pastors, choirs and organists would appreciate it if they lost their star billing, and appeared lower down the list of credits?