‘American Idol’ Comes to Church

By Jim Tune

The tension was almost unbearable. Fourteen anxious people awaited their turn to perform. The audition would be rigorous. Most of them had been through tryouts before. Nearly all of them were young, fit, and attractive. Every single one of them could sing or play an instrument proficiently, but only one would make the cut.

After all, this was the church and only the exceptionally gifted would be chosen to perform on Sundays with the worship team.

I think our contemporary culture has developed an unhealthy obsession with discovering talent. From youth sports to spectacular TV shows like American Idol, we are becoming increasingly preoccupied with identifying talent, often at a very young age.

Microphone on stageElizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, tells the story of her friend Susan who took up figure skating when she was 40 years old. She had skated as a child and had even participated in competitive figure skating for several years. Susan quit the sport during adolescence after being told she lacked the talent to become a champion.

Gilbert wryly refers to adolescence as that stage in life “when the talented are officially shunted off from the herd, thus putting the total burden of society’s creative dreams on the thin shoulders of a few select souls, while condemning everyone else to live a more commonplace, inspiration-free existence! What a system. . . .” I mean, why bother if you can’t be the best?

My opening anecdote about church auditions is fictitious. Still, I wonder sometimes. I agree that excellence honors God. I like a great performance by an exceptional talent as much as the next guy. Unfortunately, at times I have seen an unhealthy preoccupation with identifying talent in church. Sure, gifts are important, and exceptional gifts are, well, exceptional. But our times of worship are more than a show. I wonder if our rigorous thinning out of the lesser talented has more to do with satisfying consumers than pleasing God.

The unspoken secret at some churches hisses out a worldly message: If you don’t have the voice of an angel, you can’t sing. If you don’t look like an athlete or a Nordstrom’s catalog model, you’re not really wanted on the platform. Unless you have the speaking skills of a world-class orator, don’t expect to share a word of encouragement under the bright lights.

OK, I may be overstating things, but if my fears are only partly justified, we’re leaving a huge group of people on the sidelines.

Gifts are awesome things. But not when they become idols.

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