I’m a product of a generation that was tired of boring, dry and rote worship services. Opening prayer, 3 songs, communion, contribution, sermon (a long one!), song, closing prayer…rinse and repeat. Thankfully we decided there has to be some emotion in our worship services. Can’t we lift our hands, go off script, dance, clap, rejoice?! I’m thankful for people who led us out of the idea that worship services should be boring to be pleasing to God.
However, one thing this did to me was that I began to believe that worship was then about a feeling. If I wasn’t moved to tears, dancing, or clapping, it wasn’t authentic. If the singing and music doesn’t give you butterflies and make you jump out of your seat with hands in the air, well then we’re just not worshipping very well. So then worship became more about me and what I feel, and less about what God does and where God is regardless of my feelings. If worship isn’t full of emotions and feelings, does that mean God is any less present? Does it mean that I’m far from God? Does it mean that my love for God has grown weak? That was the implicit message I was getting over time and brought me to jump from one style of worship to another, “looking for God”.
And that leads to maybe the biggest problem with this way of looking at worship; it now requires ministers and worship service leaders to create these experiences week after week after week, and it really isn’t possible. It now requires novelty in our worship services because worship has become more about what we feel and do, and less about God. And makes a lot of people feel like they are distant from God if they don’t have the same emotional response as others. And it makes a lot of people jump from church to church looking for that feeling when it runs out.
I guess what I’m advocating for here is a worship that is less bottom up (from us to God), and more top down (God to us), as James Smith puts in his book You Are What You Love. Whether we “feel it” or not, whether we’re moved with emotion or not, whether that song gave us butterflies and made us cry or not, God is still there. The presence of the Risen Christ is still there in the singing, Scripture reading, praying, and breaking of the bread. Thank God he doesn’t rely on our feelings or emotions.
Thank God that authentic worship is more than a feeling.