Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Emotion in Worship

Hey all you guys and gals out there. I'm starting a blog. Yes, that's right. This is the moment you all have been waiting for. Finally--all of my random, stimulating, spiritual thoughts at your fingertips!

Here is my first thought. The more I observe and learn, the more it seems to me that decisions about worship are driven by personality. People who are extroverted and fellowship-oriented believe that clapping, swaying, lifting hands, singing during the Lord's Supper, etc. is great--and biblical. People who are introverted and who are not fellowship-oriented believe that silence is golden and that outward expressions are suspect at best or should be forbidden--and they believe their position is biblical. It would seem that personality drives the exegesis.

Do you think personality drives opinions and exegesis on worship?


Professor said...

Hey James,
This is a great idea. I will have to think about your topic and reply

lawyer said...

James, I believe that emotion, culture, and personal preference all color our exegesis, perhaps especially when we're discussing "worship." Please allow me a couple of admittedly anecdotal examples.

My father is an engineer by training. He generally looks at things through a logical lens.

When I was a teen, still living at home, we visited a predominantly African-American church in Tulsa to listen to a visiting speaker. As I'm sure others can "second," we heard lots of "amening" and the songs, while familiar, were sung with a more "upbeat" style than we were used to. I remember talking to my dad about what I had just experienced. I asked why "worship" at our totally white congregation seemed lethargic by comparison. Dad said the differences were cultural. Even though it wasn't his "cup of tea," he saw nothing wrong with it.

Incident 2. I visited my folks last winter. They had recently started going to another church. When I asked why he left, he said because the church they had attended for nearly 20 years permitted people to raise hands and clap during singing. They also allowed songs during the serving of the Lord's supper. As I recall, the predominantly black church in Tulsa engaged in almost all these activities, with the possible exception of clapping - I don't remember for sure. Apparently, it was OK for black Christians to worship in this way, but not white Christians - at least white Christians with whom he assembled.

Basically, the reasons my dad gave for leaving his long-time church family were based on what he liked and didn't like. While he tried to clothe some of his objections in scripture, the clothing didn't cover very well.

I don't dispute my dad's sincerity, but I believe his list of "worship" likes and dislikes comes more from his personality than Scripture.

For those who may be interested :-), I'll post about my likes and dislikes and how my personality type undoubtedly influences by preferences.

Thanks for taking time to start the discussion!

James said...

John, thanks for commenting. I often hear people talk about going to this church or the other because they are more comfortable there. African-American churches make them uncomfortable, for instance.

I don't dispute that we each have our own preferences and comfort levels. But choosing a church of our choice is really a consumer question, not a missional one. If a church is to reach out to all peoples, shouldn't our goal be to have a church where people of all backgrounds go and call home? This might mean both moments of silence and loud outbursts of praise. Sounds like something found in Scripture, doesn't it?

And if we are supposed to be the church that reconciles both Jew and Gentile in the one body of Christ, what does our choice of segregation say to the world?

The Queen said...

I don't believe that personality is the only factor in a person's desire to use outward displays of worship. While an extrovert might find it easier... an introvert would do it because he/she really wanted to praise God while lifting their hands to him.

I believe that people choose outward signs of worship for a variety of reasons. It could be...
A) an outward sign of an inward desire to praise
B) others do it so it must be ok
C) grew up doing it
D) saw it somewhere, tried it and liked it
E) other's will think I am spiritual

I am a combo of A & D. I never grew up doing it but I had seen others do it and wondered why.

One day, I was worshipping and my heart was so full of the love I had for God that it was very hard to stay still. I was amazed by God's power and love that I felt to sit and be still was wrong. I was having a power struggle with myself. Why? Why was I trying to stifle this need to raise my hands or to sit when I felt standing?(especially during the song I Stand in Awe of You) Was I stifling the need because I was caving to other's opinion of me? Was I stifling the Spirit that felt like standing and raising hands? When worshipping, do I settle for the struggle of sitting still, folding my hands and singing calmly with the others so that I don't cause a problme when what I long to do is stand, close my eyes and raise my hands to my Creator?? What would happen if I did it anyway? Would I cause division? Would I be so worried about the reaction of others that my "act of worship" would turn into the very thing I didn't want it to be ..... an act?

Consider the way a child raises its hands up to a parent... would we tell our own children not to hold their arms out to us when they want us?? Isn't this their way of showing love and also a need for us to pick them up and hold/hug them? Could our lifting of hands be a cry of need, a cry of wanting to be held, a longing for Him to reach down and comfort us while everything in our life is going wrong.

It is much deeper than simple personal preference or personality.
It is a also a matter of relationship and heart.
And that makes it much harder to define and to control.

Vasquez Adoption Experience said...

James, great blog! First, let me say that it is completely apparent that God is using your passion, talent and wisdom to get inside people to foster big change moments. The world needs more individuals like you who are gifted in this area doing what you do.

Personally, I've always bought into the idea of Romans 12:1-2 (NLT). To me, worship is the whole package, in church, in home, at work and in life. While I’m still a sinner, I find being able to crank up the David Crowder Band or Third Day after a hard day at work or a beautiful day when the windows are open at home rocks. Specifically, I've found no greater joy (in past ministry) than times God has allowed me to use of my talents in music to lead worship. What an amazing feeling leading others in lifting up "Shout to the Lord" Darlene Zschech or "Forever" by Chris Tomlin.

On a few occasions I've had the opportunity to be a part of the Passion Worship Experience (www.268generation.com/2.0/splash5.htm) and it was completely powerful. I can appreciate it mostly because it's a Christian movement stripped down to the bare essentials. Lyrics like "How great is our God" and "here is our God who's come to bring us back to Him. He is the One, he is Jesus."


Thanks for opening up the opportunity for others to express their experiences in worship James.

You rock.

Julie K said...

It seems this topic comes up often and my opinion is that we make too much of it. All I can do is comment on my own experience.

I come from a history of singing hymns all my life in non-expressive churches. About 10 years ago I became aware of "praise" songs. Contemporary songs written "to" God in every day language. Some are straight from scripture. I found the difference for me between singing hymns and praise songs was that hymns are mostly written "about" God, or about the Christian life, in Elizabethan language that I sometimes don't understand. When I sing "about" God, it doesn't evoke the same emotions in my heart as when I sing "to" God. When I sing to God, my heart is so full of love and humbleness that my hands go to Him in praise. It's not something I think about, it's the response of my heart to God through my body. Just as I hug my children to show them I love them.

I know that God is a God of order, and I don't believe that our emotion should create chaos in our worship services, but I do believe that God wants us to be able to express our love for him without causing judgement from our brothers and sisters. If someone around me expresses their worship in a way that I don't understand, it's not for me to judge, it's between them and God. Why should it offend me that they worship differently than I do? I'm not offended that some of my friends hug me when they see me and some of them don't.

I raise my hands and clap and move when I am with believers that find it appropriate. I do not if I know those I'm worshipping with find it offensive. At my church now, though few do, I raise my hands at times but not in a showy way, just in a small offering to God as I worship. I close my eyes at times, and sometimes I cry because knowing the almighty God of the universe is listening to my humble praises brings me to my knees.

My thought is that we need to get back to making worship all about God. And that takes more than rote singing on our part. And if that brings out love and thankfulness and emotion in the worshippers then something is right.

Intorvert vs. extrovert, we could therorize worship until we miss the point. Let those that worship expressively do so from their heart, let those that worship in a quieter way do so from their heart. God is kind enough to accept all of our worship.

James said...

Some good thoughts. Thanks for sharing. Here is a general response.

If we worshipped God only with our minds, then there would perhaps not be an occasion for physicality in worship. However, we are to love the Lord our God with our whole being. This will involve physical expression at times for many people.

The problem that we often have is not recognizing that God is touching people in different ways at different times in their lives, and that some people are wired differently. I have heard worship leaders get on to people for "not getting into it," and people critizing those who "get into it." Both attitudes are wrong. Each person should be encouraged to express their hearts to God in a way that is appropriate to them and what they are currently experiencing.

I guess anyone could do anything for show, but I don't think 99% of those who are physically expressive are trying to be showy. Besides, only God knows our hearts. We should always assume the best, and be thankful that people are worshipping God and drawing close to him.

Professor1 said...


I see that the blog on worship is generating good discussion. That alone is good--we need to be more open on serious topics.

Now to your question. I do think that personality is a huge factor. The particular factor in personality is probably more to do with those who or more driven by rational thought vs those driven by emotion. This is not to impune those driven by emotion in any way. I am just not sure the personality fact is at root related to extroverts and introverts. I am an extrovert, but not perfer the more emotional displays. Notice I said, perfer. This has nothing to do with what is biblically correct.

Other factors for one to consider are: 1) training, background, and life experiences 2) the culture are from 3) view of scripture and tradition. (These things have already been mentioned or alluted to).

Trainging, background, and experience are not necessarily the same as tradition and view of scripture. Those who have always done things a particular way are usually just uncomfortable with change--especially if they have had limited exposure to other ways of conducting a worship service. In religion, the "formal" worship service is one of the most contentious areas in which one can attempt anything new.

Different cultures certainly "do worship" in different ways. I have had the same experience as "lawyer" in an African American church. But, I have also been in about 30 countriesand certainly notice the differences in worship conduct--thou essentials remain surprising constant. I do not think we would be comfortable in a first century Jewish congregation either--a very different cultural experience.

Next, those with a certain hermenutic and tradition truly think deviations from our 50's style worship is scripturally wrong. They would not be far from Campbell's dislike of "excessive exuberances". Though one may not agree with this stance, one should always try to study the scriptures together if an objection is made and not dismiss the objection out of hand.

Your point about the consumer attitude about worship and a missional church attitude is a good one. Some questions to consider for worship in a missional church:
1) Is the activity in worship scriptural?
2) Does the activity edify and build up the body?
3) Does the activity bring glory to God?
4) Does it promote unity in the body?

Controversail topics like praise teams, drama, etc. have certain characteristics that could --but do not necessarily do--create problems. A "performance orientation" in worship where the focus and glory is on the performers could be a problem. But, on the other hand, in some ways public speaking (e.g. preaching and teaching) is a "performance"

Your plea for balance is a wise plea. Even "praise songs"--primarily taken from pslams--sung exclusively could be a problem. They are directed up to God. But we are to "speak to one another" to "teach and admondish one another". That is a horizontal direction in worship.

One final thought on this entry: If more effort was put into "works of service" together then difference in worship perferences would, I believe, become less important.

Matt B said...

I grew up the son of a preacher (Christian church). My father believed hymns were more spiritual than praise songs. He said that young people move around and enjoy the singing of the song more than the actual worship. Somehow my father thought he could see into people's hearts. My wife grew up in a Catholic family. I came to appreciate the reverence showed in the Cathlolic service.

I've been a member of traditional Christian churches, non-insturmental Churches of Christ, progressive start-up Christian churches and a great college campus ministry.

My beliefs on worship boil down to this:
1. We are to worship God in all (how we work in our job, how we interact with family, what we do in the church building) things.
2. There are times for reverence and times for joy (could be raising hands,clapping, moving a bit). Nothing to interrupt things though.
3. People of all beliefs often stretch scripture to back their traditions/beliefs as doctrine.They indoctrinate each generation. (Where the Bible speaks, we speak and where the Bible is silet, we are silent. Good creed of the restoration movement.)

When we talk about worship in our spiritual circles, we too often only mean the actual church service. We need to ask ourselves, "Are we arguing about actual doctrine (heaven/hell stuff) or about preferences and inferences we stretch to find in scripture?"

Matt B said...

I forgot to add a point.

Many people dislike praise songs because they are not traditional, they are not old songs. A person can take their focus of the meaning of a popular hymn and enjoy the harmony and focus on singing the right notes. A person can just enjoy singing and not be worshipping at all, but to others it is real worship for sure since it is a hymn. I do not buy the belief that praise songs are bad because people are acting on "their preferences" and not the preferences of the group.

One way to wind down the worhip service is to have a church member (male or female) share their testimony. We attended a church in Iowa where the minister does this. Most of the time, he will have a testimonial from a member who can speak to the subject matter the minister was preaching on. This is not to "show-off," but to show our members and visitors that all of us have had pain or are in pain. There is a joy to be experienced with the testimonial giver. He/she has overcome some obstacle.

Our churches need to reach out to members and visitors. Use different ways to communicate God's love. We use technology (projectors); why not use each other to speak to one another.

Ok, i'll get off my testimony kick.

adri said...

Personally speaking.. Since I am a teenager.. I love clapping, swaying, etc. and just getting into worship. When I'm at youth rallies and church camps where we are more open to this, I feel so much closer to God, but when i go home, there's just nothing in the worship for me. I'm not saying that it's boring, but when i come from a "spiritual high" at camps or youth rallies, I feel so excited and on fire for God, then when I can't get into the songs we sing in worship at church, it brings me down from the "spiritual high" little by little. I know that a lot of people at our church think clapping and swaying, just showing emotion in worship is completely wrong, it's just their opinion, and most have probably never witnessed the emotion when you can really get yourself into worship.. and when you can, it's absolutely incredible.

Steve Cunningham said...


In my opinion, the expression of emotion in worship is driven not only by the person's personality to a degree but by the teaching the person received as they grew up on the matter. Or by the culture that they worship in.

The churches I grew up in traditionally taught that we are to do all things "decently and in order" and this idea apparently precluded any visible signs of emotion in the assembly.

I have experienced worship where there has been lifting of hands, clapping, etc. In those cases the persons involved were not necessarily the most outgoing or extroverted people. They just felt strongly moved by the presence of their God in their hearts and that was their way of showing what they felt.

How can we spend time in the presence of God as we do in our worship and not be moved if we are truly focused on His love and what He is doing for us in our lives?

James said...


Testimony is powerful and effective. We at times have put together videos of people who have come to faith at our church, and these have been extremely well received. The one thing in our oversold, postmodern culture that is still believable is personal testimony. Hopefully, as we get more people who have an interest in and commitment to putting together these videos, we will have more of them.

James said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is always good for us to keep the teens in mind and here their persepctive, for they are the future of the church. Correction, they are a vital part of the church now. Please keep sharing!


James said...


Yes, all of our life ought to be lived in worship/service to God (Rom. 12:1). It is rather humbling, but I do hope that God uses me--and all of you--for great things. You are a great encouragement.

Cool graphics on the website you mentioned!


James said...


You mentioned "decently and in order." This is a passage often pointed to in these discussions, certainly. And God is a God of order. But what was this passage supposed to mean in its original context?


James said...


I like your questions that you ask when considering a worship issue. I agree that asking whether something promotes unity is a good question. Here are some questions that this might raise. Is unity the same as uniformity? And does unity ever trump the biblical issue? For instance, it would have caused disunity to allow an African-American to worship in a white church in the first part of the 20th century. What about physical expressions in worship? If others object to it, should they not be done? Is it better to not allow some controversial things so as not to cause disunity and allow the church to focus on its mission? What is the overriding factor in making these decisions?

James said...


I was touched by your analogy of a child reaching out to God by lifting hands. Certainly we need to keep a relational view of worship, and the father/child analogy is a good one. Many of you have mentioned how church culture, and not just personality, influences behaviors and beliefs on this type of thing, and I believe that this is true.

I did not grow up in a church culture that was outwardly expressive. It is easy to thing that what you grow up with is right and everything else is wrong. But our cultures can be incomplete or incorrect.

If we think any physicality in worship is wrong, consider this: we bow our heads in worship-a physical act (And sit and stand at various times.) There is no command or example for this--but it is "natural" physical expression of a humble attitude toward God. However, the Jews "naturally" lifted their hands up to God when they prayed, for he was in heaven. Jesus, before he ascended to heaven, "lifted up his hands and blessed them [the disciples] (Lk. 24:50). Then of course there is 1 Tim. 2:8--which, even if it were a symbolic usage (which is doubtful), it would still be based upon existing real practice.

Young Ignorance said...

I know I'm late commenting on this, but it seemed like a good topic. Of course worship depends on the person, and it should only be about that person and God, but when people are loud with their actions I can not believe very easily they do it for themselves. I do know that when one grows up in a church that use loud actions then it is what they know. The bible isn't against it so neither am I, I just question the intent.

The traditional Church of Christ is sometimes not interesting. It isn't what we are based on and that's ok. Teens stop trying to enjoy worship because of this false spiritual high. It is a mind set. The truth is what is amazing.

Emotion is a truth, so don't corrupt it. Worship means more with true emotion.

James said...

Young Ignorance,

Interesting comments. Good caution on emotion.

I think that emotion can lead us astray--but so can our head. Neither is inherently more "dangerous," though part of our heritage is a skepticism towards emotion in worship. True worship, however, seeks to engage the heart/emotion, the mind, and the will.

Thanks for joining us!

Toodles said...

James, I'm 65, so you know I was raised in a low, emotional church, except tapping a toe or finger during singing, and a few "amens" during the sermon and after prayers by the men, and men kneeling in the aisle during prayer. I like up-lifting services; singing praise songs and old songs that tell a story, clapping, swaying, lifting hands, even kneeling during prayer, and when I know how to levitate, I plan to do that, too, because my soul levitates within during many of our songs. The whole purpose in coming together on Sunday, is to please God with my worship. I'm not to leave saying, "I didn't get anything out of worship today.", but to ask, "Was God pleased with my worship this day?" It's not about me!!! at the center, but all about God at my center. He demands it. Who is to look around the worship center and say, "I don't like the way that person is worshiping, I'll go somewhere else if they don't stop?" Are we to be that judgmental? Watch out! David danced naked before God, and he was a man after God's own heart because of what was in David's heart. I consider my accepting of change in worship services as a sign of maturity in life and faith. Who enjoys being stuck in a rut for 60-80 years??? I'll tell you who...people with great fear and lack of trust in the One and Only God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!