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.