The Role of Worship

(A comment I posted at My Sister’s Farmhouse.)

Hey Rechelle, I can totally relate to what you’re saying. Before my deconversion, I was a “worship leader” at various churches. I received a lot of emotional fulfillment from that job (still miss it), but looking back on it now, I see it for what it was: emotional manipulation. In fact, I think a lot of my relationship with God, and my impression of a relationship and conviction that God was a “real person”, was defined by the act of worship. It’s the medium through which you practice the art of loving God… and if you love Him, there must be a Him to love, right? (Realizing I’d spent nearly thirty years being hopelessly in love with what turns out to have been a fictional character is not an easy thing to come to grips with, that’s for sure. I felt like a schizophrenic who’s just come to terms with the fact that the elaborate and detailed fantasy world in which he’s spent so much time being the hero, was never real.)

In the church background I come from, we were acutely aware of artificial, “performance-y” sorts of worship. Better to sing off-key and a capella in a heartfelt ballad to Jesus, then to play with an immense band, complete with video accompaniment (filled with nature scenes and people raising their hands to God), but be so distracted by the machinery of worship that I’m no longer singing to God.

And yet, how can an outsider judge whether a worship leader was giving a “heartfelt” performance or not? In the end, isn’t it just a certain infusion of emotion into the music, a little spontaneity, knowing when and where to shift the dynamics of the song, when to take out or subdue the instruments, when to rise to full-bodied playing and singing? Sure, I really was “singing my heart out to God” when I was playing this stuff, but the real, observable result was… performance. Performance specifically designed to sound like “not a performance,” but guaranteed to manipulate the emotions of the (devoted) congregation. I had been raised up in and had an innate intuition for what “real worship music” sounded and felt like, and that’s what I played. And sure, I was manipulating my own emotions right along with every one else, but that’s what it was: emotional manipulation. If, by the start of the pastor’s message, everyone wasn’t feeling rested, and at peace, and then just-fired-up enough to be ready and eager to listen to what the pastor had to say about Jesus – as well as humbled and ashamed of their dirty, foul human nature, and yearning to come closer to perfection by looking to Jesus’ example – then I hadn’t done my job.

I never felt closer to God than when I was worshiping. Not even when God would “make his presence” known by all the various amazing and beneficial coincidences we’re conditioned to believe are the direct Hand of Providence, and not the result of statistical probabilities which the human psychological make-up has such a poor innate recognition of (and which is equally biased to completely ignore and forget the unbeneficial and equally “amazing” but coincidental events that come to our lives).

3 thoughts on “The Role of Worship

  1. Deb

    I would have to agree that anything that smacks of “machination” is not of God. At the same time, there is a degree of professional responsibility to do the best “job” possible in singing, playing and leading the worship service. I have struggled (as you did) with feeling like I was part of some manipulation. In the end, I had to consider how little time I spent in my own devotions with God, which was what was meant to feed my heart… not getting approval for “a great worship set.”

    The longer I am in ministry, the more I am convinced it is likely more in spite of us than because of us that God does anything in this world…


  2. Chris

    I can’t really find anything I disagree with in what you said about worship. I think there’s a HUGE misconception of what worship is really about. These days, I get pretty sick of when worship is used as a means of manipulating emotions.
    First off, I think the term “praise music” is more accurate than “worship,” but I’m not a nazi about those sorts of semantics. Whatever you want to call it, the purpose is frequently lost in today’s churches. We expect worship to be the time where we “feel the spirit” or get something from God…
    The truth, however is that the purpose of praise music is to, well… praise. It’s not about getting some sort of experience out of it. Sincere praise doesn’t expect anything in return. When I praise God, I don’t think the improvisations necessarily are or need to be interpreted as spirit-lead. God created me and my individuality, and my gifts and my weaknesses to be used for HIS glory, so for me to say “Okay, God, I’m going to worship you, but only if it means you’ll give me some sort of spiritual/emotional high that makes me feel good!” is completely missing the purpose of praising Him!
    True worship of God is done more through a lifestyle of serving Him, rather than the words we sing or feelings we get.

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