Okay, I’m going to make some deductions from assumptions here. If you don’t agree with my assumptions you obviously will not agree with my deductions, but here goes anyway.
I’m an American Idol fan. It was not always so, but when my daughter hit her teenage years she began to demand more control of the remote and suddenly we were an American Idol family. I’ve always loved the audition programs when people we wouldn’t let sing a solo at church are shocked that they are turned down by the judges. But since the advent of the DVR era, I have watched every episode of the last three seasons.
Judge me, if you must. Ridicule me. But I blame my daughter. I’d do anything for her and she wanted to watch American Idol! Get off my back, you haters. Don’t judge me…
Sorry, my defensiveness overloaded there for a minute.
This year, AI went through some huge changes. The Paula-Kara-Ellen epochs melded into the Jennifer Lopez era. But the biggest change was the departure of ascerbic Simon Cowell, replaced by the lascivious and sometimes creepy Steven Tyler. It was assumed that the absence of Simon Cowell would ruin the show.
In fact, in my humble (but correct) opinion, the show was more fun than it has ever been. And the singing – wow! They had some amazing talent this year. These kids could really sing. So, here are my assertions about the American Idol season.
1) The talent on the show is the best it has ever been (at least in my limited experience). The top 10 performers all could have been winners, or at least been serious contenders, in some previous seasons.
2) The addition of Jimmy Iovine to the format made a huge difference in the quality of the singers. Iovine is an experienced music producer who mentored the top-12 through the entire season. They were not just left to do the best they can week by week, but they had an expert walk with them through the entire process. It is possible that the singers were just more talented this year. But I think that Jimmy Iovine’s presence made a huge difference.
3) The absence of Simon Cowell made an even bigger difference. Cowell used to simply savage the talent on the show. “That was awful.” He claimed that he was just speaking the truth and perhaps at times he was. But this year the judges’ feedback was decidedly more positive, more encouraging.
And lo and behold, encouragement worked. One of the finalists is a young lady named Lauren Alaina. The judges kept telling her all season that she was more talented that even she understood. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Simon was still there, she would have never blossomed as she did. The same is probably true of Scotty (who I think is destined to win tonight) and Haley, another late bloomer in the program who went from perennial bottom-three dweller to favorite over the course of the competition.
Obviously, we will never know how the same 12 performers would have grown under the nit-picking and put-downs of Simon Cowell. But I believe that the judges’ support and encouragement became fertile soil in which the singers rooted, grew and blossomed.
What Does This Have to Do with Anything?
I think that this season of American Idol illustrated some very important ministry principles.
1) Ministry is all about developing “talent.” I was privileged in the time I attended Dallas Seminary to take classes from Dr. Howard Hendricks. It has been a long time since I sat under his teaching, but I can still remember something he said as if it was yesterday. “Show me your men.” He said that the success of any minister was the men he mentored, into whom he poured his life. He would tell us that true ministry success was not in Sunday attendance, but in reproducing ourselves in the lives of others.
Call it the Jimmy Iovine effect.
Ministry is not about how big a star I become, but how I build into the lives of others who will carry on the ministry after I am gone. Jesus always had his disciples. Paul never went anywhere without his entourage. The men they affected was the key.
2) It is now time for me to mount my soap box. The way we do ministry preparation is fundamentally flawed. American Idol gave the young singers a professional to train and mentor them. If you are going to be a doctor, you go to med school and then spend several years in an intership, learning on the job. Teachers have to do student teaching.
But we will let a kid graduate from seminary and assume he is ready to be a pastor. We send him off to pastor a small church somewhere. He then makes a few rookie mistakes and the people begin to eat him up. Next thing you know, the church is looking for a new seminary graduate to chew up and spit out and he is selling insurance or slinging fries at the local burger joint.
If I were the pope of Baptistdom, things would be done differently. Seminary would be a four year process. You would take two years of intensive theological training onsite. But then you would become an intern at a local church for a couple of years. You would take online classes and you would do the work of the ministry under your own Jimmy Iovine.
We continue to send young preacher boys out from the seminary with a degree and the assumption that they are ready to do real-life ministry. We don’t let surgeons operate just because they have a med school degree. Call me silly, but I think that the work of the pastor is every bit as delicate and challenging as that of a surgeon’s.
A woman called me today with a family problem. It was a doozy. Thirty years ago when I walked out of the seminary into my first ministry, I’d have been absolutely lost in helping her. We learn theology from books, but we do not learn ministry. We learn ministry by doing.
We need to mentor our leaders before we send them out on their solo careers.
3) Encouragement works. There are a few athletes who respond to the Bobby Knight style of coaching – derision, criticism, belittling and domination. But I don’t think that brings out the best in most people. It is amazing how people respond to encouragement. No, we shouldn’t flatter people and we cannot ignore sin and failing. But badgering and haranguing them is probably not going to be the best way to facilitate spiritual growth.
Maybe there is a spiritual Lauren Alaina in your church – a young lady who has some basic ability but is unsure of herself. Some encouragement can go a long way toward helping her to become all God has designed her to be.
Maybe there is a young Scotty McCreery who can make a huge difference in the world in the name of our Savior. But he needs to be encouraged, mentored and released into ministry. Don’t just assume his natural talent will carry him through. He needs to be nurtured.
So, tonight, after I get back from my daughter’s high school graduation, I’m going to watch the final show. But I think there are lessons that we who serve the One True God can learn some lessons from a show called American Idol.