"Let's Go To The Circus" Part 1
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages. Come One, Come All and Welcome to the Greatest Show On Earth!"
Don't you just love the Circus?! The Colors, bright lights, the music, various performances, the clowns, the animals, the cotton candy, the death-defying trapeze artists - the list goes on and on. Nothing quite can capture the mind and heart of the smell of sawdust, the lights, the air of expectation, and the excitement.
Circuses come in all shapes and sizes. Years ago before television, it was the highlight of the year for any town – it is something that everyone looked forward to. The train whistle would sound and the smoke flume rise as the train chug-a-chugged rolling into to town. Children would rush and watch the circus cars unload. People of all ages would line the streets as the gala parade began. Lions in cages, performers riding elephants, the calliope pipes tooting, beautiful costumes, jugglers and clowns would unicycle down the street as the parade traveled down the street. The crowds would excitedly make their way out to where the circus tent was located longing to hear those words, "Let the Show begin!"
Circuses varied in their size and what they offered. Some circuses had one ring. The bigger and better circuses had two, and even three rings. But one thing was for sure, there was something for everyone to excite the hearts and minds for children and adults alike.
Perhaps THE best known and loved circus even to this day is the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Visit one of their shows today (and they have several), peruse their website and you can almost envision the sights and hear the sounds; you can feel the excitement bubble up within you – yes, you 'want to attend'.
Each circus has a ringmaster or ringleader who is often the most important and most-visible performer in the modern circus. He usually introduces the various acts
and guides the audience through the entertainment experience. Most modern-day ringleaders become an integral part of the performance, singing and dancing along with the other entertainers.
The traditional opening line of many circuses is the phrase "Ladies, and gentlemen, children of all ages..." drawn out in dramatic fashion, with voice raised, and pause given just where it is needed... It not only signals the beginning of the main event, but it also assures the adults that it is okay to experience the child within and enjoy the show.
In the days before modern lighting equipment, it was the ringleader's job to literally "direct" the attention of the audience to the appropriate sections of the performance area, even as the previous act was being torn down or the next act was being set up in another area. In the past, most performances were mute by nature, accompanied by resounding brass music. Therefore, the ringleader's big, booming voice was important as it cut through the clutter and excitement to announce the act.
It is also the ringmaster's job to create a sense of hyperbole whenever possible while introducing the acts.
Declarations of the "biggest", "most dangerous", "amazing", "spectacular" and similar expressions are common, regardless of the actual caliber of the performance.
The ringleader is responsible for maintaining the smooth flow of the show — or at least the appearance of it. He may be called upon to fill time if an act isn't ready for their entrance in time.
People are attracted to the Circus. And the better the Ringmaster – the more people will invite others. For the Ringmaster, makes the audience feel as if they are a part of the performance."
As with all circuses of yesteryear and even today, they compete against one another. For truly, the owner, Ringmaster, and performers want you attending their circus instead of going to the 'competition'. Each circus wants to be THE CIRCUS that is above all the others, the one that attracts the most. And within each circus, performers and Ringmasters come-and-go to other circuses – wherever they are better paid / compensated, and appreciated, and for some, where they can finally move to the 'center ring'.
NOW STOP A MOMENT! BEFORE you go any farther, will you take a minute and simply reread those first few paragraphs again and see if you see what I see? Do you see ANY similarities with another group, organization, or institution? Can your mind stretch with me just a moment and be opened to the possibility of how a CIRCUS functions has in many ways become the very same way we "DO Church today'? Farfetched, ludicrous you think? Let me explain. It may not be as far off as we would like to think it is.
THREE PARTS TO THE CIRCUS:
Let's start with The Ringmaster – who in many churches has become a lot like the Pastor. The Ringmaster-Pastor directs The Performers and Performances – that 20% of every congregation that does 80% of the 'jobs / ministry / performances' of any institution. Want to know all he does, reread the paragraphs above. Though an accurate description of a true circus ringmaster, the parallels are frightening.
Next are the Circus Performers - those who "minister, sacrifice for, perform, and are up front, in the spotlights of the 'theater', out in the ring performing / ministering to and for the 80%. These are the ones whom the audience would possibly think are 'the most talented and spiritual'. An Interesting Fact: Though many of these people have a true heart for God and want to be used by Him to lead and encourage others to walk with God, and do the same as themselves – there is an increasing, growing number in many local congregations across America of those who are truly are intimate with Abba Father, walking daily as a disciple and not just performing some religious duty or function – walking in the dust of the Rabbi, becoming like Him; it is these very people who are refusing to become bogged down in the often times drudgery, life-sapping, endless requirements, commitments, committees, and programs that are needed to keep the circus / machine running smoothly.
Lastly, there is the Audience. They are the target. These are the ones who come to enjoy and "feel a part' of the circus by watching the performances, acts, and listening to the Ringmaster. They give their money, clap, laugh, and cry; critique the performances / acts / ministries, and enjoy the show, The Ringmaster's and Performer's job is to make sure that the Audience is receptive, entertained, and given a show that they will never forget so that they will Return and most of all, invite their friends, as well as proselyte those who might attend other circuses to attend their own.
I am afraid that somewhere along the way, we have lost our focus. When most of our time is spent 'preparing and practicing' for 'our upcoming performances' (after all we do want to honor and glorify God with our very best); when we expend the majority of our energy, expense, and effort to go toward "The Sunday Morning Event", where a "FEW perform" for the masses, in reality just to maintain the 'success' of the "institution", so that those attending will feel that they are a vital part of the "circus performance' itself, even when the majority of what they do is just being spectator; somewhere along the line we have gotten sidetracked and off-centered,
Is this what Jesus really meant when He said He would establish and build His Church? Is this what Jesus meant when He prayed for unity, that we as His children would with an almost "competitive pride, vengeance, and fervency" promote and proselyte people from another Circus to our own – that our emphasis and intense love is no longer directed toward Christ as Lord and Savior and reaching the lost, but toward our own Circus, as if it was BETTER than someone else's, as if IT was the answer for all men's problems?. That we would sacrifice and expend numerous hours every single week for a one, two, or three hour 'performance' that we are calling a worship service? Is that what ministry is really to be all about? Localized in a building (whether that building is a home, church, storefront, or gymnasium)? Focused INWARD toward the Audience instead of OUTWARD in reaching the world. Is perhaps the reason the world wants NOTHING to do with our Savior is because we are so busy exalting, promoting, and talking about our Circus / Church / Religious Institution / Home Group that they see us as 'glorified fraternities or religious social clubs'. That our Circus impacts us more than our Savior!? Why would anyone want to 'leave this world' for another 'organization'? We are not presenting to them a REAL JESUS but a performed one!
[Note: Please understand that we are NOT suggesting that it is 'wrong' for Christians to gather for Bible Study or Worship. The questions that truly need to be answered are: Are we truly operating as a complete Body of Christ according to Ephesians 4? Are lives TRULY being changed when the average Christian remembers little to nothing re: the previous week's performance or message but they sure enjoyed it (just like at a circus)? Are we truly impacting our world and community for Jesus Christ or just 'pumping up' our own Christian Gathering? Are we fulfilling our need to 'perform in order to be accepted, to be considered spiritual, or do we have some kind of 'spiritual narcistic' need to be in power, control, and to be noticed as the Ringmaster or one of the Performers by directing others (we call it 'leading') in what they should do – having them fulfill our vision and jump through our hoop? Have we forgotten and replaced what Jesus said re: what TRUE LEADERSHIP is – that of being a SERVANT with that of being a Ringmaster? These are questions that MUST be answered by each of us]
You see, if the things we do as a body are not TRULY (1). Christ-focused / centered, and (2) Relationship based then we've missed it. No matter how "successful" we think we are, how many people we attract, how big, attractive, and modern our buildings (circus tents) are, or how many programs we may support, - if numbers 1 & 2 are not THE FOCAL POINT, the very HEARTBEAT of what we do, the very BREATH WE BREATHE, then we are only kidding ourselves! When the Circus / Church / Institutional Building / Home Group – "within our four walls" receives the majority of our energy, focus, thoughts, and efforts THERE IS A PROBLEM! And here is THE BIGGEST PROBLEM OF ALL – conservatively 95%+ of ALL Circuses / Churches can operate WITHOUT GOD at all. For most, 'JESUS' has become a slang word, that 'Savior out there', our tag-on to validate the spirituality of everything we are doing instead of our very BREATH, our CENTER and FOCUS, or as the Scripture says, "IN HIM we move and breathe and have our being" . No, for the MAJORITY of Ringmasters, Performers, and Audience, our weekly "fix", our satisfaction of performing, being recognized by others, etc. has become our validation instead of WHO we are in Christ and most of all just LOVING AND KNOWING (intimately) Him.
If we truly would take the time to stop and honestly look at and evaluate what we are actually doing, I believe we will find that 'though we "say" we are doing what we do is to 'glorify God', in reality our very energy, expenses, and efforts are intensified in TALKING more about, PROMOTING and PROCLAIMING our own circus, as well as COMPETING AGAINST other "Christian Circuses" to proselyte Christians away from where they currently are attending in order to DRAW people to our OWN INSTITUTIONS rather than the Lord. In fact, we truly need to ask ourselves the question of "WHY IS IT that the majority of our ENERGY, EXPENSE, AND EFFORTS are predominately FOCUSED towards our Sunday morning services and around a building???!!! It is true that Jesus spoke to the multitudes, but where LIFE CHANGE occurred was where He spent time ONE ON ONE with individuals in an intimate, daily, discipleship process. Somehow we feel that in our present day that OUR way of doing things is much better than the way God set things up to be the most productive in affecting, changing, and impacting lives for HIS glory. Maybe we just need to be candidly honest with ourselves and admit that one of THE main reasons we fervently, and purposefully attract people to 'our own Big Top' is, that if we don't, they will "go somewhere else". And it DOES take money to pay salaries, utilities, insurance, buy equipment, etc. at a location that is probably the worst use of God's Stewardship for the amount of time that the people are 'in the Big Top' – that's why the more people we get to come to our unique form of circus rhetoric, the more it allows us to provide varied and streamlined performances. The more money we collect, we feel the 'more we can do for the Lord'. We proclaim that the 'bigger and better our circus is' the more we can 'accomplish for God'. And yet, most of our monies, and "outreach" or "humanitarian efforts" have an underlying HOOK, HIDDEN MOTIVE, and INCENTIVE to draw and bring people to OUR LOCATION, truly focusing us INWARD, instead of 'really' for the Lord. God becomes a 'tack on' by-product.
First, let me say that I don't believe that all local "congregations" are this way. But as we look on the horizon, somewhere we have subtly and perhaps without realizing it, made the move from a gradual to complete paradigm shift from BEING the body of Christ – and BEING His Church to now DOING and PERFORMING CHURCH – from experiencing true FELLOWSHIP and RELATIONSHIPS to a superficial interaction within a meeting and a sterile RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCE that "sprinkles" the same with 'Jesus' name' to justify what we are doing..
As a 'Circus', we MUST keep the audience happy and entertained. We MUST make sure that the 'Circus machine runs effectively and smoothly' – because if we don't, there are enough OTHER circuses out there for people to choose from. And if OUR Circus doesn't remain 'THE BEST', they WILL find another circus / church to go to.
What we need to realize is that whatever Performances, Programs, and Personalities we use to draw and attract people to our 'Big Top' is what we will have to continue to do to KEEP them there. Note: Some Ringmasters have become master manipulators in using GUILT, or finding a person's BUTTON to get them to invite others to the circus and maybe even get them to PERFORM for their own circus. In fact, they have become professionals at finding what 'motivates' a person and then playing to their need, especially if they are talented or wealthy. They call it SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT (e.g. "The Lord has impressed upon me to share with you, ask you to, etc.) When in reality it is simply SPIRITUAL MANIPULATION & ABUSE. So our process becomes that of focusing on 'making our church / circus to succeed' and "to attract more and more people to our circus performance'. Why? So they will keep coming back, again-and-again-and-again.
Ephesians 4 states, that the CHURCH of Jesus Christ is a BODY, a FAMILY, that is NOT to function as a MACHINE, but as a FAMILY that truly LOVES and INTERACTS with each other, DAILY. Not in some 'religious superficiality' on "Sundays and Wednesdays", but where "every part does his or her share" so it will not retard the growth of the body – daily walking by each other's side and investing in each other's lives. [Note: And when this was written, there was NO Church Building or Institution for over 300 years, so it's application is NOT to be specifically focused within our "four walls", but it something TOTALLY DIFFERENT - perhaps something we need to take "outside the box – outside our 'four walls'] And it is not fulfilled with the 20% serving the 80%. It is not the 20% performing. It is not the 100% focused within or an Institution, on Programs, etc. But it is 100% of the body, encouraging each other one-on-one, wherever they are in their walk, outside the church walls, on a day-to-day basis loving each other. For BEING THE CHURCH is FAR DIFFERENT than the way we have adopted DOING CHURCH.
I could go on-an-on, but I believe the meat of our journey has been presented in this blog, "Let's Go To The Circus" – Part 1. My purpose in writing and sharing with you is not in a superior attitude. For years, I was guilty of many of the atrocities listed above. Any satisfaction that was received, always left me hollow needing more. Bigger and better next time. More energy, uniqueness, difference etc. next to attract, (I mean minister to) the people. Take the time to reread the first paragraphs again. It may be painful, eye-opening, heart-rending and produce the brokenness we truly need.
I am tired of the Circus Band Wagon. I'm getting off. When will JESUS ever be enough for Ringmasters, Circuses, Performers, and Audiences? When will JESUS EVER BE ENOUGH to attract and keep people. Maybe we have gotten so used to attending and performing at the Circus, we are afraid to embrace HIM. For the satisfaction and euphoria we receive for ourselves in reality is IDOLATRY of the worst kind and nothing but 'wood, hay, and stubble'. As John Maxwell would say, "Just a thought".
Don't let the excitement of 'Going to the Circus' cause you to miss out on intimacy with Abba Father and walking in the dust of the Rabbi – our Savior Jesus Christ in simplicity, reality, and intimacy. It is so much freer and better than 'The Circus'. I close with this thought: in the Indiana Jones Trilogy where Indiana is trying to choose the correct 'cup of Christ', (where just prior to that someone else chose the wrong one and suffered devastating, disastrous results), in his choosing the correct one the Knights Templar states, "You have chosen wisely". I admonish you, "choose wisely" Choose CHRIST over the CIRCUS. You will be more than glad you did.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages. Come One, Come All and Welcome to the Greatest Show On Earth!"