Musings on American Idol and Church Auditions

With the writers strike and a lot less great television to watch, I decided to check out the early rounds of American Idol last night. It was oddly comforting. I discovered that it’s not only people who audition for church vocal ministries who can be vastly deceived about their gifts! For years I participated in the selection of soloists. Our process included an extensive interview to discern the character and spiritual commitment of a person, along with an audition to see if he or she could actually sing. Like Simon, Paula, and Randy, our team was tempted a few times to erupt in laughter – but as Christian leaders we held it in (at least until the person left the building), and attempted to be gracious and constructive in our response. Lots of wonderful folks certainly could sing, and it was a joy to add them to our team. But there were always a few who were so vastly off that it was impossible to understand how they could actually think that singing was their “thing” and should be widely shared. My most vivid memory goes back a couple decades to a young man who belted out Frank Sinatra’s song My Way completely off pitch and with a grating tone. He was certainly loud! We wondered if noone in that guy’s life had ever spoken truth, held up an accurate mirror, and took the risk to suggest that maybe he pursue another gift or passion to serve the church.

I realize this kind of conversation makes church leaders extremely uncomfortable. Lots of ministries choose not to hold auditions, and trust the discernment of the individuals to be self aware enough not to join the choir or worship team unless they have basic musical skills. Sometimes we believe that anyone “with a great heart, a love for the Lord, and a willingness to serve” should be given the opportunity. But then I wonder if we would allow just anyone to preach, or to do our church accounting, or to care for our precious children.

I wish all of us had a more accurate view of our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses – myself included. I know enough not to try to sing anywhere in public all alone. But what am I not seeing in my area of contribution, where am I ignorant of my own limitations, and how intently do I pursue a clearer picture from people who will tell me the truth? To some extent, we all have blind spots. So this morning, I’m committing myself to invite more feedback into my life, especially in those places those close to me would be most hesitant to address. I’ll never grow unless I traffic in reality.

Last night was so much fun, I think I’ll have to Tivo tonight’s round while I enjoy the thrill of helping baptize 26 folks at our mid-week service!


Kevindenise2 said...

Self deception is a powerful thing in our culture today. I know that as a drama leader I walk a fine line between being honest, and being cruel. Unfortunately American Idol seems to welcome bad auditionees as part of it's entertainment. Unsuspecting people who get set up for ridicule on TV is not my kind of entertainment. In retrospect, I should never allow someone to join a ministry, and thereby set them up for failure as well. Also your comment about other's who teach Sunday school, or perform any tasks that does not line-up with their skills gifting has been poorly placed. We in the church are still guilty of that. It's not evident at first, but the damage it can leave will effect all that are involved.


Great endorsement for such a Wordly program. It refelcts the Fruit of the Willow Christian Light ideology.

No wonder the Willow churches are filled with many spectators as dumb as bricks when it comes to their Christian walk.

Go ahead and endorse the trash. They will enjoy the Victoria Secret ads as well as ED, secular TV programing, provocative fashion.

Bob said...

Hey Repent Willow-

I'm not reading into Nancy's comment that she's advocating we all become American Idol groupies. She was just using it as an illustration to surface the many more important questions in how we, as arts leaders in the Church, work with individuals whose opinions of their skill level don't match our appraisal.

How do we give them authentic feedback in a Christ-centered way? How do we value their effort and their desire to serve, while maintaining excellence in the services we create? Do we find smaller, less high-profile opportunities for them to grow and build their skills? Do we point them to people who can help them grow as artists?

I struggle with these questions every day, and I'm really interested in how others deal with it.

Peter Hamm said...

I no longer even care about a person's "heart" for worship ministry, since everybody plays that card, regardless of whether they are right for the job. We struggled with this at our church and held auditions for the first time last year and I am STILL feeling the fallout from it.

I wonder that nobody loves people enough to tell them they aren't great, and I also wonder that people aren't self-aware enough to realize the limits of their giftedness and their limitations.

Bob said...

I wonder if there's a good way to remove the connection between honoring God with art, and displaying or performing that art for a large audience.

I really think that God is honored by the sincere efforts of unskilled artists, if they honestly feel thay have a "heart" for it. They just need to realize that God is honored in the creation of that art, not in the public performance of it.

I would never want to tell a singer to stop singing, or an actor to stop acting. People of any skill level or experience are welcome at my drama workshops; we love coaching and encouraging them and helping them grow. But it doesn't mean that just because you come to a workshop, I'm going to put you in a main stage drama.

But it's tricky to break that connection. To so many performing artists, serving equals performing on the main stage for a large audience.

It seems like visual artists or fine artists are much more adept at that... much more likely to create art just for the pleasure of creation and honoring God, even if nobody else ever sees it. Is there something there we can use?

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to know why everything in church these days is about performance. Why did we get rid of the choir? Why are only certain gifted folks allowed to lead worship? Church is a's all about watching who's on stage anymore.

Nick Allen said...

The issue is that people haven't been taught that spiritual gifts and talents are different things. Just because you are good at guitar doesn't mean that you should ignore your gift for teaching.

Often times I feel like the worship band gets off with this issue too often. How many people who up for the lesser ministries (in human standards) on Sunday mornings wanting so badly to be part?

It's because everyone wants a shot at glory. But when Pastors are teaching their congregation that their gifts were meant to Glorify Christ and not ourselves then a new attitude arrives. Maybe we even find people joyfully serving ministries that many people would see as lowly or less exciting.

And then the people who God wants to lead worship would be people of humbleness desiring to worship God, not put on an awesome performance for "seekers".