Like 15-20 million other Americans, I tune in each Tuesday to the television program which arguably has had the greatest impact of any television program on American culture in the last decade: American Idol. Unlike many of the viewers however, I don’t vote for contestants; I am merely a passive observer. It’s not that I don’t really enjoy the music of some of the contestants; I actually really like a couple of the contestants. There are however, a number of reasons I don’t vote.
I don’t vote because it requires sacrificing time I could spend on something else. I don’t vote because I know that in the grand scheme of tens of millions of votes, one or two will not typically effect the outcome. But the primary reason I don’t vote is because I don’t feel there is a compelling reason to vote. Let me explain.
Viewers vote in order to preserve a spot for their favorite contestant in the following week’s episode, with one less spot each week than there are contestants. As the pool of contestants is narrowed down, votes eventually determine one contestant to be the winner. By virtue of winning the competition, a contestant is guaranteed a recording contract and a variety of additional financial and material incentives. Given that my ultimate interest in watching the show is to discover new artists whose music I can enjoy, I am compelled to vote only if I know that the contestants I like will only receive a record contract by winning the contest. If, however, I know that they can receive a contract regardless of whether or not they win, I have no incentive to vote; rather I simply enjoy their performances and wait patiently for them to release their debut recordings. My interest, therefore, is not in making American Idol the most compelling show it can be, but simply to get out of it whatever good I can.
Such an approach is harmless when it comes to American Idol, however it is dangerous when it seeps into the life of faith. Yet we often approach God the same way, tuning in to see what God can do for us, but never getting up off the couch to see what we can do for God. We often approach church the same way, showing up to see what church can do for us, but hardly looking to see what we can do for church. We often approach our neighbors the same way, asking what they can do for us, but rarely asking what we can do for them. As people who claim to follow Jesus, may we never settle for a life of being served, but instead pursue a life of service to our God, our church family, and our neighbors.