“You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that we live in a culture of asphyxiating “performancism.” Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. It casts achievements not as something we do or don’t do but as something we are (or aren’t). The money we earn, the car we drive, the schools we attend, aren’t merely reflective of our occupation or ability; they are reflective of us. They are constitutive rather than descriptive. In this schema, success equals life, and failure is tantamount to death.
Performancism leads us to spend our lives frantically propping up our image or reputation, trying to have it all, do it all, and do it all well, often at a cost to ourselves and those we love. Life becomes a hamster wheel of endless earning and proving and maintenance and management, where all we can see is our own feet. Before long we are living in a constant state of anxiety, fear, and resentment. A few years ago, Dr. Richard Leahy, an anxiety specialist, was quoted as saying, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”
Sadly, the church has not proven immune to performancism. An institution theoretically devoted to providing comfort to those in need is in trouble because it has embraced the same pressure-cooker we find everywhere else.In recent years, a handful of popular books have been published urging a more robust and radical expression of the Christian faith. I heartily amen the desire to take one’s faith seriously and demonstrate before the watching world a willingness to be more than just Sunday churchgoers. The unintended consequence of this push, however, is that we can give people the impression that Christianity is first and foremost about the sacrifices we make rather than the sacrifice Jesus made for us – our performance rather than his performance for us. The hub of Christianity is not “do something for Jesus.” The hub of Christianity is “Jesus has done everything for you.” And my fear is that too many people, both inside and outside the church, have heard our “do more, try harder” sermons and pleas for intensified devotion and concluded that the focus of the Christian faith is the work that we do instead of the work God has done for us in the person of Jesus.”