controlling god

Posted: January 26, 2009

From The Silver Chair:

[Eustace speaking to Jill...] "I can't help wondering, can we - could we -?"

"Do you mean, do something to make it happen?"

Eustace nodded.

"You mean we might draw a circle on the ground - and write in queer letters in it - and stand inside it - and recite charms and spells?"

"Well," said Eustace after he had thought hard for a bit. "I believe that was the sort of thing I was thinking of, though I never did it. But now that it comes to the point, I've an idea that all those circles and things are rather rot. I don't think he'd like them. It would look as if we thought we could make him do things. But really, we can only ask him."

At a particular youth retreat (though this could have happened at almost any of the retreats) I served at in the past year, there was feedback from a particular youth concerning the way one of the evenings was conducted. he said something like "they did the whole dim-lighting-soothing-music-emotional-manipulation thing... i didn't like that at all". on that particular evening, i sat in with one of the guys small groups having discussions and a lot of them expressed similar disdain for the practice: "it was weird", "why did they have to do that?", "i just didn't like it."

I often share only half-jokingly that worship leaders are masters at emotional manipulation. Worship leaders know what songs can get people excited, what songs can stir emotions of guilt, what songs can "create" devotion. We can ask people to hold hands, to change their posture, to respond with well-known call and responses (i.e. God is good? all the time...), etc. Yes, I do understand that true transformation can only be done by God, but often times, the imitation looks very very similar--similar enough that I think people settle for it.

I know I have.

Yes, I've done it before. I've grown from it I think but honestly the temptation to "create" worship is always there. This isn't post isn't "confessions of a worship leader" so I'll stop myself on that here. I just want to say that being one who's been on the giving side before, it makes me extra alert when I'm on the receiving side of worship. When things get intense, sometimes it's clearly a God thing (I don't know how to explain it, but if you've been there, you just know), but other times it's not so clear and I stop and ask myself "What's really going on here?"

I'm worried this post will be read as just another one of those anti-emotion rants as I'm trying to craft this post but that's not what I'm trying to do. I understand that music is an aid to worship; it has it's purpose. Nor am I attempting to define when music is "too much". I don't like being fooled or tricked. I doubt anyone does. But I think many times in churches and retreats and whatevers, we trick ourselves.

I doubt there are many worship leaders or pastors out there who create the atmosphere with bad intentions. I also doubt few people who read this would say anything like "I want the imitation, don't give me the real thing." But I think both ministers (including worship leaders) and people in the congregation often do our own version of "draw a circle on the ground - and write in queer letters in it - and stand inside it - and recite charms and spells". There are unwritten formulas we go through to make us feel close to God or make it look like God is "moving in our midst". God does work even in our messed up formulas but I'd just challenge people to just stop and ask "What's really going on here?", "Why am I doing this?", and "Who am I really doing this for?"

the end.

4 comments on “controlling god”

  1. I've been thinking about this issue a lot, especially since I seem to be a member of the "giving" party a lot.

    I think a lot of these unwritten formulas are bad the minute we start to rely on them rather than God's Spirit Himself. There's always that fine line between doing everything we can to create an atmosphere that's conducive to worship occurring, and one where we're trying to manipulate people into it.

    In the end, I suppose we always need to check our heart, every time we pick up the guitar, flick some light switches, or sing a single word.

    Wow, my comment added absolutely nothing to this entry. LOL!

  2. haha i like the dim lights soothing music stuff!
    but to respond more seriously: i've had the Holy Spirit meet me when there was one guy on a guitar, a couple people singing really quietly/badly, and misspelled lyrics on powerpoint. so i know without a doubt that formula has nothing to do with it - it's all about heart, sincerity, and invitation. on the other hand, i don't think there's anything wrong with approaching worship with a structured vision of where you want to take the worshippers. that kind of "formula" may not always pan out and they can't be relied on 100%, but nothing wrong with going in those kinds of guidelines in your/the band's head.

    i dunno if this made any sense. i'm sleepy and (food-)comatose.

  3. norm, nice post. IMHO, the 2 main ingredients in a heart of worship are spirit and truth. in a corporate setting, ultimately there ought be a three way connection between the minister, congregants and the holy spirit... and everyone should worship genuinely (ie. truth). everything else (lighting, music, etc.), frankly, is icing on the cake. we often create an atmosphere where we "can feel god's presence" or "invite god to be in our midst." meanwhile, god is everywhere... all we have to do is tune in... maybe we're just dialing in the wrong frequency?!

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