“I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.”
In performing arts, there is a foolish practice that immature and self-promoting musicians and actors occasionally engage in known as upstaging.
To illustrate what upstaging is, consider this scenario. Picture yourself attending a musical theater production. As the evening event approaches its climax, the star of the show shifts to center stage. The headlining performer glides into the spotlight, ready to display her skill and artistry to an eager audience.
Right then, in the moment everyone is anticipating the stellar presentation of the lead actress, some member of the secondary cast suddenly appears, arrogantly racing to the front of the stage and placing themselves on the same plane or even in front of the show’s star. This is upstaging.
It is comparable when, for instance, a harmony singer overpowers the lead in a vocal group. Rather than complimenting and enhancing the work, upstaging detracts from it. The result leaves the audience distracted and confused, struggling to decipher which person should control their attention.
Why would anyone upstage a performer who ought to have the more prominent role? Sometimes the answer is pride: wanting to be seen and noticed. Other times, it is simply ignorance or lack of awareness of how our superseding actions affect the overall performance.
In my own career as a musician, I have been guilty of upstaging on occasion. Early on, I would sometimes get caught up in the excitement of the show. I would find myself putting myself forward into a place I should not be, robbing attention from the frontman. I should have laid back but instead stumbled awkwardly into the spotlight. It is easier to do than you may think. I praise God for the grace I was given when I made the mistake.
How this applies to worship, ministry, and our walk with the Lord is that, often, we can be like that inept young performer who gets out of his place. We start thinking more about how we appear than our presentation of the gospel. Our attention wanders from highlighting Jesus to what people are thinking of our abilities. These are the times when we are taking steps in the direction of upstaging.
Perhaps a Bible teacher starts feeling puffed up about his superior understanding. Perhaps when we witness, our testimony starts highlighting our wise decisions more than God’s grace. Any time we begin focusing a bit too much on ourselves, it might be prudent to consider moving back into our lane. In all things, and especially ministry, allow God alone to shine as the superstar He is.
After all, we know well that God does not take to sharing his glory: “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8, LSB).
Or consider how things turned out for King Herod when his heart accepted praise from men: “And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel and sitting on the judgment seat, began delivering an address to them. And the assembly kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’ And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:21-23, LSB).
God does not share in regard to his place in worship. Cleary, God cannot be outdone. However, as worship leaders on the platform of life, we, like the out-of-place performer, can muddle things up. When we wander into the spotlight, we hinder people from seeing Jesus. And if we get in the way of what he is doing, be sure of this: He will not be limited. God is more than capable of correcting us or finding someone else that He can use to accomplish His work.
Whose Party Is It?
The best advice I ever received as a music worship leader is that worship is God’s party.
Everything I do as a musician should draw people to Jesus. If I am playing a guitar solo and everyone stops worshiping to pay attention to me, then I am doing something wrong. When I choose worship songs, I should generally choose melodies that are easy to sing with a tighter vocal range. Why? I want the congregation to be able to sing songs easily without struggling. I want them to focus less on the notes they are singing.
The desire is that the message and meaning of the lyrics would penetrate their hearts and that all of God’s people would be filled with the Holy Spirit. I am aware that I am personally capable of singing more rangy songs that showcase my ability, but that is not the point. The point is to get people in a place where distractions fade away and Jesus is magnified.
Likewise, a preacher of the Gospel and teacher of the Word should avoid the temptation to wow their listeners with their knowledge or pristine presentation. Of course, we should strive for quality, but for the same reasons: to draw others to Jesus with as little distraction as possible. If our aim ever moves from the simplicity and clarity of Christ to a personal presentation to impress, we are missing the point. And rather than doing the wonderful job we think we are doing, we are diverting attention away from our main objective.
So then, let everything we do in our life and worship maintain the same objectives: to get out of the way and compliment what God is doing.
My encouragement to you today, humble servant of our Savior: do not upstage God. May his grace and truth always be what shines in your worship of Him.
For further reading
Travis Lee is a Nashville recording artist and ordained minister of Hope Church in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. He founded Faithwalk Ministries in 2009 and has authored several books including DEEPER: Launching a Faithwalk with God and the children’s book series entitled Adventures of Fred and Sylvia. The Travis Lee Band currently tours the United States and abroad teaching God’s Word at churches, recovery groups, and prisons. Travis and his wife Allegra, minister together and travel with their six young children, Arrow, Sabre, Scythe, Lance, Dagger, and Mace.
September 4, 2023
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