Getting free of performance based Christianity will revolutionize your life, but I have found that many people need to untangle themselves from the cycle that this kind of living produces. Unfortunately, the toxic thread of performance has woven itself into every almost every fabric of people’s lives.
Getting free is possible and life changing, but it takes intentional recognition and desire to change, otherwise the performer will get locked into a never ending “Performance Hamster Wheel.”
Here are the ten stages of this performance based Christianity that has become a counterfeit in so many lives.
Stage 1: A Lack of Love and Identity Exists
You were meant to be loved and affirmed in who you are and not just for what you do. Performance based Christianity exists in people who have not experience identity affirmation. Therefore they feel they need to perform well to feel loved by God and people around them.
Instead of having an identity as a son who is loved by our Father in heaven, performers live as spiritual slaves, where their identity is based what they do and how well they do it. They evaluate their relationship with God based on how well they perform religious duties and maintain a level of righteous works.
Spiritual sons know they are loved by God for who they are, not just for what they do. Slaves have no sense of affirmation apart from their works.
So when that void of identity is not filled, a broken heart is trained to perform for attention, approval and validation. They see earning love through performance as the only option.
Stage 2: Counterfeit Mindsets Enter
When you’re not secure in who you are, performance brings in some easy lures to grab onto. It entices spiritual slaves with dreams of success, status and achievement, while slowly draining the person of love, satisfaction and peace.
Law Based Thinking
One of the spiritual errors that reinforces performance based Christianity is “law-based thinking.” You will see the Scriptures as a rulebook rather than an invitation for relationship. Law-based thinking reinforces performers, where they keep an evaluation of themselves based on how well they are keeping up with good works. On days you perform well, it seems that God is “OK” with you. On days you don’t, He seems silent, distant and disappointed.
Thoughts scream to “work harder” and “do more,” to try to get into a better place with God. This all keeps a person from experiencing the unconditional love and acceptance from God. When works override being loved unconditionally, God’s design for life becomes spoiled.
At this stage, the problem is that toxic thinking has infected the motives of a person. They are now unknowingly chasing after love and performing for it all along the way. Most of the time, they are not even aware of this motivation. They just feel a “drive” or “impulse” propelling them into their daily actions.
Performance based Christianity promotes that believers develop fabricated personas, where they don’t know how to be themselves in their ministry and Christian interaction. Performance based Christianity conditions us to think that we are more “anointed” when we get into a certain “persona.” Many pastors don’t know how to just be themselves and let who they are flow authentically.
I tell people all the time: the most anointed you can be is to be yourself as you are learning who you are each day. Today more than ever, we need dynamic and authentic communication from people being themselves, not a fabrication. For decades, PBC has taught us that putting on a “show” is the most effective way to change lives. When in reality, authentic living, with healthy vulnerability is where leaders can invite people into the same journey they are in themselves.
Toxic Belief Systems of Performance Based Christianity
Throughout this stage, rejection is subtly implanting counterfeit values. If you’re honest with yourself, you may find these rejection-based motives lurking within.
Here are toxic beliefs that performers carry deep down. Performers:
- Feel they have to earn the love and acceptance of others.
- Base how they feel about themselves on how well they perform their daily duties. “If I don’t do well, I will not be loved.”
- Spend a lot of time mulling over the worries or pressures of tomorrow and fear not doing well in whatever they do. “I will not be accepted or belong.”
- Tend to strive and live in a “works” mentality.
- Live from pressure, where situations fall back on their efforts.
- Do things to get a sense of God’s approval.
- Take themselves and what they do too seriously.
- Overthink how they come across to others.
- Have this excessive need to be “successful” and become known for their accomplishments.
- Are not comfortable with vulnerability and weakness.
- Often ignore important relational and identity issues of the heart, usually just to keep going and moving. Remember, with performance, the “show must go on.”
Stage 3: Performance Living Becomes a Way of Life
If no one paid attention to our performance, then this subject would not even be an issue. The problem is our culture feeds performance in every way. We spend more time affirming what people do than loving who people are unconditionally.
Performers get affirmation for what they do. It becomes an instant hit that brings them momentary pleasure. They feel good receiving it, but the affirming lands in a bucket that has holes in it. Affirmation is needed over and over. Performers live off the affirmation they get from doing, to the point that it dictates their life.
Performance based people suck in affirmation like a vacuum, but then quickly return for more. They find that performance is the only way to experience any sense of affirmation, so they invest more energy into becoming better at whatever they do. Their work and activities become their primary source of identity.
Stage 4: Performance Living Kicks Back
Over the long haul, performance based living wears a person out. Toxic behaviors begin to manifest in such a way that relationships are hindered, wholeness begins to collapse and health starts to wane.
There are many performance “backlashes” that become evident over time, including when a person:
- Comes across as always busy, overloaded and overworked.
- Manifests a deep “need to succeed” at all costs, so the performer becomes immersed in activity.
- Become a workaholic with driven and perfectionistic tendencies.
- Have a “win/lose” attitude about life and issues.
- Becomes argumentative and overly competitive.
- Feels the need to be the “grown up one” in the room.
- Struggles with being a false burden bearer.
- Gives out love but cannot receive it.
- Helps others but is uncomfortable with receiving help. Ministers to others but does not present as someone who can be ministered to. Cannot receive something from someone without feeling the need to have to do something back.
- Does not know how to be themselves and just “be” in relationships.
- Struggle with relational intimacy, so they just stay busy.
- Complains of loneliness. They have spent so much time performing, that investments in their relationships have not been a priority.
- Battles with anger, either pent up or expressed.
- Carries deep fabrications that work well in the performance setting, but fall apart in normal relationship interactions.
The performer is often not aware as to why these toxic fruits are manifesting, so they just dive deeper into busyness of performing and avoid pausing to deal with their inner brokenness. They often think that this is just the way life is, so these patterns become deeply embedded.
Stage 5: A Lack of Fulfillment Manifests
Even though the performer’s life may be busy, filled with activity and accomplishments, there is still an emptiness that remains at the end of the day. Performers feel lonely and unfulfilled when it comes to love, yet they have no idea how to get off the hamster wheel. They are starving, in desperate need of love, but they just keep going.
The lack of fulfillment is present because they have never been affirmed in love apart from what they do. Sonship is foreign because all they have known is slavery. The emptiness needs to be filled with relational connection, but performers don’t have time to go deeper in relationship.
Stage 6: Addictions Enter
In the absence of unconditional love and acceptance in the performer’s heart, they will turn to anything in search of fulfillment. Their daily grind of doing, going and performing leaves huge voids that are never satisfied.
At the end of the day, when the curtain falls, people left the building and the performer is alone, darkness and loneliness creeps in. In this setting addictions rise to the occasion. Food addictions and pornography are the most common, but they can certainly manifest in any habit, behavior or pattern that cannot be broken with an act of the will. Workaholism is often a partner to other addictions.
Many do not realize that addiction struggles of any kind are often rooted in performance-orientated living. When you live in performance mode, there is little room left for dealing with the brokenness and wounds that are demanding us to tend to them.
Addictions offer a false, quick relief. They find a way to keep the person locked in a secret prison. The person hates them, but attempts to get free through more performance-oriented self-help steps, while missing the root problem of a broken heart.
Stage 7: Shame and Guilt are Felt
The person is unfulfilled and bound to vices that won’t budge. Deep down, the performer feels like a fraud or a hypocrite. The guilt over their addictions creates a shame that covers them like a shroud.
Satan has a field day in their thoughts, accusing them in every way possible. The world around them can even be ignorant to the war occurring inside the performer who carries a sense of unworthiness and even uncleanness before God, yet keeps the outside facade intact.
Stage 8: More Performance is Engaged
The biggest problem is that the performer does not know how to get free from this vicious cycle. So they do the only thing they have been trained to do well, perform more. Performance based Christianity teaches us to do more good things into order to feel better about ourselves. So they add extra effort, pushing with greater force and self-effort to achieve fulfillment through more activity.
In the church, this is where hyper-religious activity increases, thus reinforcing performance based Christianity. People think if they serve more, it will make them feel better about themselves before God. The problem is churches love performance based people, because they get more things done. Yet they often sacrifice the life of their heart on the altar of doing.
Stage 9: The Crash
The performer’s resources wane and they eventually crash emotionally. They have lived in the hamster wheel of performance for too long and their body screams for relief. Up until this point, the toxic roots of brokenness have been ignored, but now they are flailing. This is usually where phrases like “burnout” and “I am exhausted” become common expressions.
Most of the people who come to me for help are at this stage of the hamster wheel. They did not see the need for help before, especially because they believed the myth that performance living was working for them. Additionally, most of the time, performance people who crash want a quick fix, because that is how they live their life. “Give me a pill, say a quick prayer, do what you need to do to get me back out there.” But it doesn’t work like that.
Stage 10: Back to Performance
This is actually the saddest part of this cycle. Instead of getting some heart-help and restoration, the performer stands up from a burned out crash and gets right back on the wheel. At the crash, the performer was halted, overwhelmed and in crisis.
They often stop everything to bring attention to their cracked emotional state. But performers are not comfortable with stillness and inactivity, so as soon as they feel a little energy return, they get right back into the race, without taking the time to heal and make necessary changes.
The cycle repeats itself and over time, relationships are depleted. The performer loses touch with friends and family becomes an unfulfilling place of hidden resentment. It takes great courage and humility for this performance trap to be confronted and eradicated.
The only way to break free from this cycle is to recognize it, fill the foundation of your heart with God’s approval and create a new pattern of living, where you don’t perform for love. You live out of the love that God already has for you.