Have you ever been in a church service where people sing special numbers? It’s when a person gets up and sings to the congregation as opposed to leading the congregation in a song. I have seen this done thousands of times with my Baptist background.
Most of the time, everything goes smoothly and the person comes down from the stage to a hearty “Amen." But a few times in my life I’ve see the person get up and totally tank the song. If it happens here in the south you’ll come off the stage to a hearty “bless your heart!”
How many times have you been in a church service where the worship leader talks up a video that’s about to blow your mind and when the lights go down the screen just sits there with that blue glare. I remember one time I was the person on the video that was being talked up. The video started but there was no sound. Just my lips moving. Awkward.
When stuff like that happens you can feel the tension in the auditorium as if the people are holding their breath and lifting up prayers for the poor A/V guy and the pastor standing aimlessly on stage so nervous he’s about to light up a cigarette.
If you could sit in the office with the church staff the next day, you would know that it becomes a big discussion on what could be done to prevent it from ever happening again.
If you could be in everyone else’s car on the way to the Mandarin House you would hear how they too are starting their conversations with, “Did you see that?” and “Oh, I feel so bad for her!"
Why is it that we’re so easily upset by these goof ups? Why is it that we base the goodness of our church on the production value or perfection of our services? TBH (which I’m told is how the cool kids abbreviate "to be honest”) I get a little bit of relief when something periodically goes wrong in the middle of our gatherings. In fact, I think that from time to time it’s even a good thing.
1. We preach a gospel that involves being imperfect yet loved.
In college I worked as an usher in an auditorium on campus. On Sunday mornings there was a service and one of our big jobs was to take up the offering.
Every so often, someone would send a plate down the wrong row and people would be inadvertently presented with two chances to give. The leader of our team gathered us to discuss this and he said something that made a lot of sense to me. “Let’s try to get it right for the sake of doing a good job. But don’t worry too much about it because God…he doesn’t really care.”
I think that’s true. I see nothing in the New Testament that would indicate the aim for our services should be perfection. Decently and in order? Sure. Edifying? Definitely. But a high-level performance? Just the opposite.
Jesus came into a messed up world. Jesus loves us in all of our mess.
Jesus is honored by us using our gifts. But he isn’t more honored on the day we pull off a perfect service. He isn’t less honored when the mic suddenly won’t turn on. We aren’t more loved due to a perfect flow from welcome to invitation and we aren’t less loved when someone loses track of which lyric slide we’re on.
It’s not that we mess up on purpose, but people need the reminder that this isn’t a show. This is a family gathering. And we know that those never go perfectly.
2. We gain opportunities to watch the spirit work.
Can you make the Holy Spirit work? No. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this long misunderstood member of the Holy Trinity, it’s that he does what he wants, when he wants. Of course, through prayer we can experience him and he comforts us on our mission of obedience. But you can’t trick him into doing his thing by organizing or producing an hour and a half worth of world class worship.
Whenever we make a plan for next Sunday and everything ends up working out we think, “Praise God! He must have been with us.” But when we make a plan and nothing ends up working out, and people still get saved, lives still get changed and people come back the next week we know God is with us. And we get the wonderful reminder that He’s in charge of the church, doing what he wants with it, and we’re just there out of his mercy. He doesn’t need us. He could use rocks to do our job.
Our joy is most complete when the Spirit shows up. But the spirit only shows up in our humility. Enough great services in a row and we get straight up pompous. That’s when we get into the worst rut of them all - doing great church without our great God.
It takes a while to figure out you’re in that rut, but when you realize it, it takes the wind out of you.
Messing up keeps us humble, in need of the spirit and thus, in the middle of what he’s doing.
3. It encourages more participation.
A lot of church leaders complain that 10% of the people are doing 90% of the work. Maybe that’s true. But maybe it’s not because the other 90% of our church is lazy. Maybe it’s because they don’t feel qualified.
And maybe they don’t feel qualified because the only people who get to do anything at your church are Batman and Robin. The Bat Signal goes out (a.k.a. we need a new guitar player) and the next week we put Batman (a guy with expensive equipment, a ton of experience and one of those deep, low voices) on stage. This communicates.
When we cut and paste the family from the Sears catalog onto our bulletin, it communicates. When your kids ministry volunteers all have the newest minivan, no tattoos and a degree in elementary education, it communicates.
But when we’re cool with a few mess ups, we get a broader base of involvement and thus more healthy Christians and a church that will grow.
There’s a part of me that wants church to be like a boiled peanut stand. If you drive through the south you’re bound to see a handful of them selling bags of boiled peanuts. Here’s what’s fascinating about these stands - anyone can boil peanuts.
Anyone can go to the store and buy dried peanuts and salt. Anyone can add a cup of salt to the water as it boils. Anyone can wait a handful of hours as the peanuts finish. Anyone can bag them up.
So when you see a boiled peanut stand you don’t think, “Wow there are a couple of culinary experts!” or "I would cook like them but I just don’t have time!” You're simply thankful someone put in the time to make you a snack.
Similarly, as our people walk into church, they should know that there aren’t any “experts” here. No rock stars. No heroes. Just people. Just sinners. Just commoners who are doing something anyone can do - church.
Let’s mess this thing up to the glory of God.