In theatre, the term “ensemble” is used quite often to describe a whole cast, working together as a unit. While studying in school, we took the art of theatre back to it’s original roots, Ancient Greece. The great Greek tragedies written by writers like Sophocles and Euripides almost always included what is called a Greek chorus. The chorus is an ensemble of actors, working as one (often even speaking in one voice) to support the story and it’s themes. They can represent the voice of the “crowd,” the character’s “inner critic,” or simply function as a voice of reason.
Learning about the Greek chorus is one thing, actually becoming a part of it is quite another. My fiancé Erin, who also studied theatre in college, did some work in the chorus of a Greek tragedy called Hecuba. She describes the function of the chorus as a way, “to unify, to aide in telling the story. I think about it like adding the pictures in a children’s story. Ultimately we are the backbone. Being a chorus gave us the artistic freedom to personify emotions, circumstances, reactions and intentions of the groups and ideas we were portraying.” (She’s so smart!)
So we see that working within an effective chorus or an ensemble of any kind requires absolute selflessness and commitment to the success of the whole. It is a place where ego is not welcome. Everyone is placed on a level playing field, and if they are able to work as one, they are bound to discover how much more they can accomplish together than they ever could have alone.
In contrast to the Greek chorus stands the performance art of cabaret. A cabaret is a concert of sorts, usually taking place late at night within a restaurant or a bar. New York City is home to some of the most famous cabaret houses in the world, such as Studio 54, Birdland Jazz, and Café Carlyle. These types of performances generally feature one artist, or several different artists, performing a series of solos separated by personalized banter with the audience. Full company rehearsals and collaboration are kept at a minimum. For example, if there are several different Broadway stars performing a cabaret together, they often will not rehearse together, or with the full band until the night of the actual performance. Solos are prepared on your own time, in your own space, and expected to be ready to perform on the night of the concert. Cabaret theatre is the ultimate solo performance.*
It’s clear to me now that church is most effective when it’s members arrive each Sunday to be part of an ensemble rather than an audience member at a cabaret.
Please note that this is not a rant against “big churches.” Many larger congregations, including the one that I grew up in are very “ensemble driven” communities. I’m also not saying that great teaching is bad thing. Great teaching is a GREAT thing. These are not observations about the size of the church as much as they are observations about the hearts and expectations of its individual members. To me, this metaphor is the artist’s version of “church is not a spectator sport.”
In the entertainment industry, there’s nothing wrong with being invited to sit and enjoy a great performance while overpaying for mediocre steak and potatoes. Church though, is a very different story. (I like my communion wafers crisp and crunchy!!)
Sermons can be entertaining, but not at the expense of being enlightening, empowering, and encouraging. The prime objective of teaching (and listening to teaching) within a church should be to equip it’s members to do the hard work of working together in support of the story God is telling in their community. We must show up to church ready to take part in an ensemble, not expecting to watch a performance. This is when God’s church is most alive, and as a result, most effective.
Working as an ensemble requires selfless collaboration, which is extremely difficult because it means that we have to give up the idea of being the most important person in the room.
We must go from a TAKING mindset to a GIVING mindset.
We have to stop asking, “What does this church offer me?” and start asking, “How can I partner with this church to offer something to the world?”
-1 Corinthians 12:12 and 27