Wednesday, December 10, 2008

dinner theater and Horizon

We have this tradition in our family. Every year around the Christmas season we go to Toby's Dinner Theater and watch a show together. We eat dinner there and then enjoy a musical of some kind.

What is interesting about the actors and actresses in a dinner theater is that they have to function in multiple roles. They start the evening serving the tables to which they are assigned. Then they offer coffee and dessert. When everyone is stuffed, they slip backstage to get the final touches on their costumes and makeup.

These actors and actresses get into character and sing and dance to the delight of the audience. They transform from servants to entertainers. And in those moments we forget that they were just refilling our coffee. They become elevated to the status of Broadway stars.

Then intermission comes and once again these entertainers transform. They go from "star" to "servant" in the time it takes to turn on the house lights. They get last call drink orders and make sure everyone is sufficiently comfortable. When intermission is over, they transition right back to star status. They sing and dance and finish the evening in character.

As I watched the actors/waiters make their rounds during intermission the last time we went, something in me resonated with them. I realized that being on staff at Horizon is very similar to being a dinner theater actor.

There are times when ministry at Horizon requires the spotlight. There are times when I am up front speaking when it is not too different from being on stage. And yet before and after the sermon, I shift into a role that is much more like a waiter.

There are times when I feel as though I am in a place of authority. In this place, I am on a certain platform or pedestal. Then there are other times where I am much more in a place of being a servant. In this place, I function more like a stepping stool. At times I am elevated by the congregation like an audience elevates an actor. Other times I am subservient to the congregation like a waiter serving his table full of paying customers.

Both pedestal and stepping stool, authority and service are all a part of what it feels like to be on staff. Ministry is often a bipolar experience. At times you are fielding complaints like a waiter does for his table. Other times you are receiving the praise of a curtain call. But like the actors at the dinner theater, all of this is what it looks like to our job.

People in an audience often do one of two things. Some like to make heroes out of professional actors and slaves out of the blue-collar waiters. Others like to criticize the stuffy actors and befriend the down-to-earth waiters. The problem a dinner theater audience runs into is that these two desires come into conflict with each other. At a dinner theater the same person is filling both roles. The professional actor is the blue-collar waiter. The hero is the slave. The stuffy actor is the down-to-earth waiter. The one being criticized is the befriended one.

This is the same kind of dilemma faced by the congregation of Horizon. For some, it is much easier to praise the preacher and belittle the guy who helps set up the equipment in the morning. For others, it is easier to be cynical about the preacher while befriending the guys who do the hard work of serving the church. The problem for a person at Horizon is that these two people are one and the same. The preacher is the guy who sets up. The guys doing the hard work of serving are also the guys preaching.

Ultimately, the dinner theater audience is forced to break down their typical ways of categorizing their entertainers and waiters. They are forced to move beyond their stereotyping and their typical modes of interaction. This is the same thing that is required of the congregation of Horizon. The old categories and ways of interacting with the preacher just don't fit there.