Last night, I attended a concert with my family. My youngest son, Joseph, had been selected to be first chair in the baritone section and we wanted to show up to celebrate his achievement and listen to some great music.
But, while I have sat in an auditorium numerous times to celebrate what my sons were doing on stage, this time I saw things a little differently. Why? Because of one of the books I’ve been reading recently: “Survive or Thrive: 6 Relationships Every Pastor Needs.”
While I certainly don’t agree with everything in the book (I sometimes don’t even agree with myself!), the first two chapters were incredibly insightful as the author talked about the Front Stage and Back Stage of a minister’s life (but the principle applies to anyone).
First, let’s talk about the concert last night and then we will apply the illustration to the principle.
The Front Stage (the part of the stage the audience was intended to see) was geared to impress the audience. The musicians had prepared for the moment that they would perform. It was also essential that nothing distract from their presentation so there was absolutely no trash anywhere to be seen. Unused chairs were pushed out of sight (Back Stage). And everything that happened on the Front Stage was geared for the pleasure and approval of those watching.
The Back Stage (everything hidden by the curtains) was be a very different story! If we could have peeked behind the curtains, we would have seen those chairs that had been thrown aside. We might have seen band instruments scattered across the floor. Trash cans (with trash) would be clearly seen. Maybe there were even scattered props and other equipment that was collecting dust until it was needed again.
The Front Stage was geared for the pleasure and approval of the audience. The Back Stage was – well, nobody cared about the Back Stage. It might be unorganized and dirty – but who cares. The audience would never see it.
The author of “Survive or Thrive” notes that our public lives are the Front Stage and our private lives are the Back Stage.
The Front Stage of our lives has to do with competence.
The Back Stage of our lives has to do with character.
But while the disorganization and filth of a concert Back Stage is of little importance, the Back Stage of our life is of supreme importance. It is quite possible for a man to be an incredible preacher and leader (Front Stage) but battle private addictions or harbor evil thoughts in his heart. It is quite possible for a volunteer in a church to lead a thriving ministry (Front Stage) but be a gossip and slanderer (Back Stage). It is possible for someone to be an incredible business manager (Front Stage) while being a miserable excuse for a parent and spouse (Back Stage).
This brings up the age old question: “If you had to make a choice, who would you choose – someone with character (Back Stage) or competence (Front Stage)?”
The sad truth is that people, if they had to make a choice, choose competence (Front Stage) over character (Back Stage). As long as someone is doing a wonderful job, people are willing to overlook character flaws that they might hear about. In fact, the greater the degree of competence, the greater degree of character flaws they are willing to overlook.
Friends, this is diametrically opposed to the words God gave to us. Over and over, He made it clear that He doesn’t look at what we’re doing (Front Stage) nearly as much as He pays attention to what is going on in the privacy of our heart (Back Stage).
1 Samuel 16:7 (CSB) “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the LORD sees, for humans see what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.'”
If we read in the Sermon on the Mount (how Kingdom people are supposed to live), we see Jesus discrediting what happens Front Stage if the Back Stage is disorganized and filthy.
Matthew 6:1 (CSB) “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others (Front Stage) to be seen by them (Back Stage). Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:5 (CSB) “Whenever you pray (Front Stage), you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people (Back Stage). Truly I tell you, they have their reward.”
Matthew 6:16 (CSB) “Whenever you fast (Front Stage), don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive, so that their fasting is obvious to people (Back Stage). Truly I tell you, they have their reward.”
God isn’t impressed with us when we focus on competence (Front Stage) but our character (Back Stage) is flawed. In fact, He despises it. Just read the Gospels and see how Jesus interacted with and talked about the Pharisees who focused solely upon their Front Stage with little regard for their Back Stage.
Friends, I would argue that your character is much more important than your competence. People who have both are a treasure but if it has to be one or the other, focus on character. Competence can be developed later.
One final thought: I have observed that when we focus on getting our Back Stage in order, God is often compelled to bless us with opportunities to go Front Stage to glorify Him. So, work on your Back Stage. Work on your private world. And see what God might do in your life.