Saturday, May 26, 2007

Image and Reality

Thinking about the 'Spirit of Life' item on tomorrows Songs of Praise, I was struck by the contrast between the presenter you see on screen, and the way people are when they aren't in the public eye. Diane Louise Jordan always comes across as smiley, warm, enthusiastic and full of life. Seeing her getting ready for filming in the Cathedral she seemed quite serious, obviously getting mentally ready for the shoot, rehearsing lines, or whatever presenters do when they aren't presenting. But the contrast between the public and non-public person was quite marked.

This came across a couple of days later with an item on the news about Gordon Brown. The camera followed him as he waited outside the door of a press conference for his entry to be announced. Prior to entry he was serious, unsmiling, focused. Once his name was announced he strode in smiling, head up, confident, energetic.

With the omnipresence of the media, I guess our politicians know that if they don't manage their public image, the media will do it for them. How much is this necessary, or even right, for ministers, worship leaders and preachers? There's all sorts of conflicting motivations at work here:

- The call to be ourselves: God doesn't churn out robot church leaders, the people he calls he calls for a reason, because their combination of personality, gifts, experience and passions is something He can work with in church leadership. Just as the personality of the prophets comes through in their writings, so the personality of the 'public figures' in church shouldn't be suppressed either.

- But: there's also a need to rein yourself in. A preacher probably shouldn't be airing every doubt they have to the congregation, and there are bits of our personality which get in the way when leading worship. The aim of a worship leader is that people focus on God, not on themselves, so projecting your personality too strongly isn't a great idea. Also, leading worship, preaching etc. requires injections of energy: if you're trying to encourage people to offer thanks to God and celebrate his love, it's probably not going to work if you do it in a dull monotone with a solemn face.

- Part of being a leader is servanthood, which involves putting yourself last and others first. That must include personality: though I want to talk, the needs of others require that I listen; though I want to have a particular type of music, the needs of others require that we have something different, and so on. That requires, again, reining in your personal preferences in order to minister better to others.

- There is a danger that in all of this we get lost. We spend so long leading others in worship, reading the Bible for what we can teach others, etc., that our own walk with God gets lost. If our regular practice of worship is one which involves, to some degree, not being ourselves, then what does that do to us spiritually in the long term?
And that's to say nothing of folk who gather to worship week by week. I think the idea of 'Sunday best' is on the way out, and together with getting dressed up in your best clothes goes the idea of putting on your best appearance for the sake of others. But if we come before God with a fake self, again, what does that do to us?
A few months ago I was really struck by a quote in a book: a person saying he would have achieved holiness if he could be the same person in every setting. There's great wisdom in that - how to be truly ourselves, with God and others. To be a person where image and reality are one. Just like Jesus, the icon (image) of the invisible God (reality).

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