It’s Not Emotional Manipulation – Why is it called “manipulation of emotions” when worship leaders use the God-ordained means (music) to stir our emotions with the truth about God? If what people mean by “manipulation of emotions” has to do with their trying to use the vehicle of music (which includes lyrics which are accurate about God) to stir up your emotions for God, then “manipulation” is a poorly chosen word. Jonathan Edwards said that God commands the church to sing for no other reason than that it tends to heighten our emotions of joy and gratitude, etc. Thus, if worship leaders are accused of “manipulation” when they seek to help people get emotional (in this sense) over the content of the songs, and they do this through the God-ordained means of music, then I think we should also lay the blame at the feed of God Himself for such “manipulation,” since it was His design.
No Such Thing as Emotionless Worship – Worship is only genuine in direct proportion to the level of vigor in the heart for God. There is no such thing as emotionless worship just like there is no such thing as a material spirit. To worship without emotion is to worship in something other than spirit. Emotionless worship is mere mechanical worship.
Disclaimer – Careful that you do not misunderstand. When music is the root and cause of our emotion rather than a vehicle that stirs our God-rooted emotion, then it is idolatry, not worship. But if music is being used as God intended it (to stir our godly emotions), then we shouldn’t call it “manipulation.” I don’t accuse my Christian friends who try to encourage me when I’m down of trying to manipulate my emotions away from discouragement. And if they do provide biblical encouragement, I don’t think it would be fair for someone to accuse me of finding the root of my encouragement in THEM rather than in God. So why do so many people accuse those who get emotional in times of singing the truth about God and His word of worshiping music or of getting emotional merely because of the music? Just as friends who give biblical council in times of suffering are a means to encourage me with the truth about God, even so music is a God-ordained means to encourage my soul with the truth about God–and this will surely lead to great emotional experiences of joy, awe, contrition, gratitude, etc.
How do Musical Worship Leaders Get People Emotionally Engaged with God? – Leading musical worship involves more than vocal participation, but it is a skill of couching songs in the right kind of format; one that tends to be helpful in moving the heart to sing with heightened emotion. It requires maintaining focus through thoughtful transitions and continuity between the content of the song and the content of the accompanying prayers. For a leader, it is not only a skill of stirring up one’s own affections, but it is a skill of stirring up the affections of others by causing them to dwell on the person of God; His kindness, His goodness, His holiness, His patience, His loving faithfulness, etc.
Anything But Indifferent – The goal is not always to get every person excited and joyous (though this is a major part of the goal), nor is it to get everyone in a remorseful mood (though this is also one aspect of the goal), but to get people to be stirred by the Holy Spirit in either direction. One leading worship hopes that the people will be anything but indifferent. A worship leader hopes that through skillful facilitation of songs, the music will help move the hearts of the people in some way as they sing.
Planning to Stir Hearts – This takes thoughtful planning. It is not as simple as vocal participation because we don’t have buttons on our heart with corresponding emotional labels (press here for joy, here for contrition, here for awe, here for gratitude, etc.). This does not necessarily mean that the concerned participant shouldn’t sing unless they don’t perceive the appropriate feelings in their heart—nor should worship leaders discourage those with such concerns from singing. Often our emotion finds an on-ramp through the singing.
Praise God For Music – Music is designed by God and commanded of his people because it tends to stir up afresh the appropriate emotional response to His revelation of Himself. Therefore a worship leader’s goal is much deeper than vocal participation. It is ultimately to stir the hearts of the people with the truth of God with the God-ordained help of musical accompaniment. What a great gift from God this musical aid which tends to stir up our hearts. Let the music play, and let His people sing with heightened affections for Him. The emotion of the participant cannot ever be intense enough to accurately reflect the supreme value of the living God—but let us try with all our might to raise our affections as high as grace will take them! Only then will we maximize our pleasure in worship, for where our pleasure in God is maximized, there God is most Glorified.
Feelings Matter to God
Those who carry the official title of “Worship leader”
(those who lead in musical worship) of all people should understand that the ultimate goal of praise goes far beyond mere singing. Though a lack of vocal participation may be an indicator of a lack of ready hearts, if the people don’t feel a certain way then they sing—they are not worshiping. That’s right. That’s what I said. Feelings matter to God. We cannot be indifferent to the words we sing. Our hearts must be moved as we sing or we offer empty praise. If our singing is not attended with the appropriate emotions of joy, awe, fear, gratitude, contrition, etc., then we are clanging symbols. These emotions are commanded of us in the scriptures. They are not optional.
Emotionalism vs. Emotional Worship – The difference between emotionalism and emotional worship is the difference between emotions which are commanded of us in the scriptrues that are in conformity with truth, and emotions which have their source in somthing other than the truth. To say it another way, it is the difference between finding our emotional high in God by the power of the Holy Spirit vs. finding our emotional high merely in the music.
Emotion is of the Essence of Worship – Nevertheless, emotions have everything to do with genuine worship. Stirring up the emotions is not a bad thing, unless it is either not based on truth, or used for a mechanical manipulation (external conformity) of the audience. Stirring up thankfulness in the heart to God, stirring up tear-jerking joy in God, stirring up contrition over sin, stirring up feelings of awe at the Glory of God, etc. are in fact, the ultimate and highest goal of musical worship, and are therefore of the very essence of musical worship. These are not things you do (joy, awe, contrition, etc.) but things you are and feel in your heart.
Our Emotion Must Be Rooted in the Truth About God – The two key aspects of worship are 1) to worship in Spirit – namely that one worships not just by external conformity (like the Pharisee’s), but in the heart (which involves the affections and emotions–all of our internal activity), and secondly 2) to worship in truth – that our hearts are stirred up by the truth rather than aimless emotion. Again, this is the difference between emotionalism (aimless emotion) and emotional worship. Emotional worship has a defined foundation: the truth about God; and a definite object of affection: the glory of God. Emotional worship (that is, worship which moves the heart to godly emotions based on the truth about God) is the only kind of worship there is. Everything else may be called worship, but it cannot be genuine unless it flows from a state of heart which has been affected by the truth about God.
“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.” – Psalms 63:1-5
Worship is more than just music. Those known as “worship leaders” should know this better than anyone. Leading worship is leading people in a lifestyle; an attitude; a state of heart and mind. But we recognize that the word “worship leader” is generally used to refer to one who leads in musical worship during corporate local church (or para-church) gatherings. We should not split hairs over this title as long as we understand that the pastors/elders of a church (the ones who bear the chief responsibility of leading and shepherding the sheep) are most responsible for leading the people in worship. They are the main worship leaders. I don’t say this to in any way belittle the responsibility of a musical worship leader; I say it to remind anyone in a pastoral role of their mutual responsibility to lead others in a lifestyle of worship. The more responsiblity one has in leading others, the more responsible they are to lead them in worship. Anyone in any type of Christian leadership is automatically more responsible to lead others in worship; to be a worship leader.
Many leaders who may lead in bible study, small group, evangelism, prayer, preaching, teaching, etc. (especially preaching pastors) may excuse themselves from the responsibility of leading in worship just because they are not known as “worship leaders.” But surely that is a fatal mistake. For example, it is absolutely essential that teachers of God’s word lead the people of God to go beyond comprehension of God’s word to a cherishing of God’s word. This kind of worship (the cherishing of God’s word) should be their ultimate aim. It’s not as though the teacher’s responsibility is to cram their minds with understanding and leave the “worship” up to the “worship leader.” God is not glorified by merely being accurate understood, but by our being so sufficietnly satisfied and pleasured by what we understand that we are full of joy and praise. Preachers must not simply aim at condmning the sins our our culture or of the church (though we see a great lack of this to our own destruction), they must chiefly aim at exalting God as the inexhaustibly glorious supreme being of the universe. They should have a transparent love for the truth of God they are preaching so that the people can see they feed their souls on God’s truth. They should preach God as the alternative to sin. Evangelists should not make hellfire damnation their main emphasis in sharing the gospel. Rather, they should make their point of emphasis God’s glory in Jesus Christ (though they cannot be separated—they can be distinguished). Evangelists ought to teach others to do evangelism unbegrudgingly; in a spirit of worship rather than a spirit of “we have to do this or people will go to Hell.” We should evangelize with this spirit: “We are privileged with the great pleasure of spreading the praises of the glorious grace of God in the gospel.” Those who lead in prayer should lead with a passion which communicates the supremacy of God in the way they pray. No Christian leader is exempt from a special responsibility to lead others in worship.
All Christians are ought to be worship leaders by example. People learn from others very early in life where they can find enter- tainment for thir souls. By our example we should be demonstrating to others where to go in order to have the thirst of their soul’s satisfied. It should be obvious to those who know us that we seek our satisfaction in life from knowing Christ and cultivating our relationship with Him. There are many ways we communicate this. When others see that we avoid sin at all costs, this demonstrates to them that God is our cheif joy because we are ready to give up anything which hinders the quality of our relationship to Him. If we are always speaking of Chirst, people will see that He is what we love most; but if we enjoy talking about sports, trival matters of entertainment, the latest celberty news, cars, polotics, our boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. more than we enjoy talking about the things of God–it will surely convince people as a dead giveaway to where our hearts are really at. We should live in such a way that others not only see that our hearst are consumed with the things of God (and that all else is rubbish in comparison), but that God makes us so happy in Him that we are not looking to find our joy in others things. We should seek our satisfaction solely in God, becasue only He is dependable. The stock market may crash, terrorists may blow up our country, our loved ones may perish unexpectedly, our jobs may be taken away from us, even our own lives on earth may vansih as a vapor–but God is our hope; our life; our only certainty; our sure source of joy; the umovable ancor of our souls; and unshakable foundation of peace. Though all else in this life may and indeed eventually will certainly be taken away from us, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Are we living in such a way as to make it obvious to others that our hope is only in God? Does our life scream to others, “Come here to drink, for all other fountains are incomparable and unworthy of our devotion!”?
There is a sense in which everyone worships (even unbelievers) because everyone seeks to be happy. Everyone judges the value of things based on how helpful they are in obtaining happiness. Part of what it means to worship something is to trust in it for satisfaction in life. I used to worship money, sex, drugs, music, and many other unworthy things. This was my lifestyle of worship. I assigned too much value to these things in their ability to give me happiness. They all let me down and destroyed my life (just as the scripture says, Galatians 6:7). By example, I taught others to drink from the fountain of sin in order to obtain the goal of happiness—all to their destruction. After tasting of the Lord’s living water, I have not desired to turn back and drink from other fountains. They are like broken cisterns. I have long since been satisfied by the water of this new well. The water from this new well quenches far better the thirst of my soul. It is the supreme fountain because it satisfies supremely. If biblical worship is coming to the divine well and satisfying our souls on the Glory of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel, then let us indulge ourselves at this fountain while leading others to it, and let us channel the waters of this fountain to every area of our hearts and lives—for only then will we know joy in all its fullness; only then will maximize our pleasure in quenching our thirst for this all-satisfying water. If we as Christian leaders care about quenching the thirst of the souls of others, we will seek to be as full of this living water as we can possibly be, that it might overflow and spill out on others. This water and this water alone is able to give the soul everlasting pleasure.