4 Reasons Modern Worship Services Should Engage the Emotions

Nov 14, 2019 | Theology

I hear it all the time and it’s blogged about regularly…

Modern worship songs and services are just too much emotionalism and not enough doctrine.

Long ago, I wrote a blog post to that very effect. I revisited the issue a few years ago and deleted that old post. Now I’m going a step further to make a rather bold and potentially unpopular assertion.

Churches, on the whole, should be infusing more emotional engagement into their worship services and not less.

I completely understand the argument that human emotions are fickle and unreliable. I don’t disagree. I also understand that we face a famine of biblical literacy and need more biblical and theological content in our worship and preaching.

But I’m not convinced that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Here are five reasons why…

1. God moves people to change through their emotions.

My wife, a very wise therapist, often reminds me that “People don’t change because they know better. They change when they feel pain or experience pleasure.” It’s basic psychology and reflects the way God has wired our brains.

As Maya Angelou famously said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

2. We overcome apathy on an emotional level.

Human emotions aren’t terribly reliable. Our mood often changes several times during the day. We’re all a little sadder with less sunlight, or when our blood sugar is low, or when we’re in a crowded room. Feelings aren’t a reliable source of truth, therefore faith should be connected to facts, not feelings.

I agree with all of that. But I also know that one of the biggest problems facing the church in my cultural surroundings is apathy. It’s a coldness and complacency that leaves our faith lying dormant rather than heated up and ready to serve.

3. Dry intellectualism is deadly.

I grew up in a theologically conservative denomination and have spent much of my ministry as an adult in an even more conservative one. Our doctrinal statements are long, carefully worded, and filled with dozens of proof texts. We’ve fought battles for the Bible and been a “people of the book.”

We’ve also moved toward irrelevance. Yes, all true doctrine is relevant, always, but let’s be honest in admitting we often give much time and attention to questions very few people are actually asking.

We hang onto our “pet” doctrinal issues. The pendulum is always swinging to one point of emphasis or another. We strain at gnats and swallow camels.

Could it be that we’ve become proficient at articulating theological arguments while losing our compassion for the suffering, the oppressed, and the marginalized?

It’s possible to study and study and study and become great hearers of the Word, but not doers. And why do people do? We do because we feel.

4. God draws whole persons to himself.

Romans 10:9 declares, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I heard an evangelist once say that the distance keeping some people out of God’s family is simply the distance between the head and the heart. Every person is made in God’s image and, therefore, possesses intellect, emotions, and will. God uses all three components of our humanity to draw us to himself.

I know very few former atheists who were convinced to follow Jesus through argument, but many who followed him because of the ways he revealed himself to them in their pain and experiences.

Are there abuses? Excesses? Certainly. Do some movements tend to overemphasize an emotionalistic approach to faith? Of course. But on the whole, I believe we need more heart and not less when it comes to passionately praising God and presenting the life changing gospel of Jesus.

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