Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Worship Experience and Our Idol

A friend of mine asked me what my theology of worship was, especially in relation to leading music. I said that we're not so much trying help people experience God, we have no control of God, instead we're placing our whole selves before God as an act of worship (Romans 12:1). I didn't put much thought into this statement, but we both talked about it for a while and decided it was a pretty good idea. Most people leading worship would say they are trying to create a space, or an atmosphere where people can experience God, or they're trying to create just the right atmosphere where God will "pour out His Spirit".

While that sounds nice, I think it's bull. God will act when, where, why and however God wants to act, and we'll know it. Our worship is not to be focused on an experience, rather it is to show our full devotion to the God of the Universe. If God decides to do something which creates an experience, that is wonderful, but that should not be the goal of the worship leader. If it is, we all become idolaters by desiring a feeling that we crave and mistake for a true experience of the Holy God. That's not to say God does not act and give us true experiences of himself. It's also not to say that "experiential worship" is bad. Experiential worship, from what I can tell, is better labeled participatory worship, in which the worshipers do exactly what I am proposing. They pray, sing, move around, give, light candles, kneel at prayer stations, and physically worship God, these are experiential and participatory, they are not necessarily trying to manipulate God. Worship leaders often are guilty of manipulating people's emotions to create a false, or at least a slightly contrived experience. I had a couple leave the Open Door this week because the music didn't lead them into the experience they were looking for. I do not feel bad, I don't feel like any of our worship leaders have done things to hamper God's activity in our midst, maybe we're not very good at manipulating people's emotions, but maybe that's what some people are looking for. Are you making a feeling an idol?


Angela said...

Amen! It's refreshing to see someone daylight the manipulation of emotions practiced by some worship leaders. This practice always turned my stomach. Instead of experiencing God in these contexts, I was more likely to experience internal anger, then have to struggle with forgiveness, etc. Not exactly worshipful (though I suppose I learned some forbearance).

"Placing ourselves before God as an act of worship" -- YES!

Sarah Louise said...

John, I agree. The "feeling" is secondary. As one whose feelings often trick her, (the gray of everyday or the splendor of the rainbow) I am grateful that some weeks I DO feel God in the songs. But I don't always. In the end, I know that God is there because his people are, and it is the week to week continuation of that community that ties me in.

It makes me sad that people seek that mountaintop high and think it is the worship leader's job to create an "experience." It makes me glad to belong to a community that sees how the "experience" can be an idol too.

Ian said...

Hey Johnny-

You can never have too many church-goers hooked on a feeling.... Right??

Two notes about the priority of 'experience' or 'feeling'in the context of the theology of worship:

1. In most of the Bible stories in which people encounter God, the feelings are not nice. God is so holy and awesome, that people are terrified. Terror is the hallmark of theophany in the OT, and the typical response of even the coolest prophets is to fall to the ground as though dead.

If you can get this going at the Open Door with your worship music, call me and I'm in!

2. Feeling is the hallmark of the 'experience' of love and the bond between relationships in the modern mindset. Love is a feeling or emotion or sensation, rather than a verb or a moral act. 1 Cor 13 describes love essentially as 'doing and not doing' to another.

I guess I will leave you with this marvelous bit of logic:

I'm in my living room with my wife, and I really love her. But I'm not "feeling it" just now. No warm fuzzy or anything.

Therefore, one of these three must be true:

A. I have no warm fuzzy b/c my wife really isn't in the room.
B. I have no warm fuzzy b/c I don't love her.
C. I have no warm fuzzy b/c love isn't a feeling.

Then apply this logic to worship and whether God is present.



John said...

Ian, I was just thinking of you today, don't know why... Oh yeah, I was thinking about budgeting using envelopes for different categories, something you encouraged us to do. Anyway, good to hear from you.