Monday, November 19, 2012


Some reflections waiting for the start of a worship service yesterday:

I try not to go to a service of worship - anywhere or anytime - as a critic, a reviewer. That might not ring true, if you have read some of my recent posts. But, really, I don't go "looking for trouble." So, while there would certainly be issues I could take with the service we got to yesterday, that isn't what this is about. I just wanted to contextualize the reflections that I will eventually get to.

We know people at this church, pastoral staff and musicians, and one of the musicians welcomed us within moments of our arrival. The now-expected condolences and questions were posed, vis-a-vis my recent (temporary?!) departure from music ministry. But we sat alone, and while the musicians were finishing their prep and sound check, while the orchestra gathered, I wondered what pastors say is the role of "feelings" in . . .
* understanding and defending truth?
* in doing what one knows to be right? ("obedience" is the old-fashioned word)
* in knowing the will of God?
And what is the role of feelings in "worship?"

I think I am on pretty firm ground when I suggest that most church leaders will say that  feelings have their place in the answers to the first three questions, but it is probably "last place." And in the circles I serve in, most will insist that content has priority in worship. But when it comes to evaluating a service, and when it comes to sorting out what will get people to attend a service, feelings are given a pretty high value. Much higher than in other areas of Christian thought and living. Why is that?

Yes, feelings are important. Yes, worship that appeals only to the head, or to the ascetic [nb: not aesthetic] without an affective element, are problematic in perhaps more dangerous ways. Granted, and like you I don't much relish those as alternatives. But I want to press the question: "Why is a worship service - a single service, or a style of service - judged primarily on the feeling response to it?" And "Where is that taking us? Where will it leave us?"

This challenges me in my own responses to services, especially now as a guest in unfamiliar churches. Am I "objective" enough to get beyond how I "feel," even if I don't "like" the structure, the degree of (in)formality, the music? And if I can't get beyond my feelings here will they take a firmer grip on my ability or willingness to grapple with truth, with obedience, and with action?

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