Emotionalism In Worship

I am not a stranger to passion in music and worship, but I have come to be careful in my understanding of how it is balanced against self-control.  In the 20+ years I have been involved in the Charismatic/Pentecostal worship movement, I have observed a disturbing trend in those who I considered ‘leaders’ of the movement, those who have focused on ‘praise and worship’ and passionate musical expression.  Invariably, they either are, or have become unstable individuals, both morally, as well as emotionally.  In asking myself the question why, I have come to several conclusions.

Predominantly, I believe their failures are due to an imbalance in their zeal to excel in the areas of music and worship, becoming either unaware or uncaring of the fact that they were exalting emotion over reason, worship over Bible teaching, Spirit over the Word.  I have known a number of people through the years, who once were highly passionate and persuasive, but now have a trail of divorces and general emotional instability.  Sadly, though they are still as talented as ever, these people will probably never fully recover the influence and leadership they once had.

I remember my African-American friend John one day teaching me the importance of putting the study of the Bible preeminently above all other Christian activities.  He related to me the story of how he had grown up in a Pentecostal church in an urban American city, in which they had passionate worship on Sunday, and yet, on Monday were in fornicative and adulterous relationships.    

He frequently warned me of the dangers of super-emotionalism and its negative spiritual effects, as he had seen it first-hand growing up in church.

John was a musician’s musician, who could flow with the best of them, but he chose, in his musical and worship leadership to balance passion with discipline, emotion with control.  In music and worship, just as in life, imbalance ultimately leads to breakdown. 

Music and worship are emotional subjects, and they deal with the emotional side of our culture and community. 

As a general statement about humanity: men are predominantly more ‘reason and decision’ oriented, while women are more ‘emotion’ oriented.  (I know this is not always the case, and I’m not trying to be chauvinistic, just looking at a pattern.)

In the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, we have seen many women in leadership, noticeably more than other religious movements.  Music and worship have played a large role in the Charismatic movement, as well.  My point here is that I see a correlation between emotionalism, music, worship and the general historical unfolding of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. 

If a comparison can be drawn between the ‘woman’ side of culture (which is emotional), versus the ‘man’ side of culture (which is reason and decision based), I think we could agree that the Charismatic movement has historically been leaning towards the ‘woman’ or emotional.

Paul instructed Timothy, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man…it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” (I Tim. 2:12-14) 

In the metaphor that I’m drawing, the ‘woman’ or emotion side of humanity should not have authority over the ‘man’ side of reason and decision-making.  (I am not arguing against women in ministry leadership, or negating the fact that God uses women powerfully in ministry.)  I am simply showing a pattern of priorities: emotion is second to the renewed mind and will; worship is second to the study of the Word; the Spirit glorifies the Word. (Jn. 16:14)  Anything other than this is imbalance, ultimately producing chaos.

If we’re doing everything right in the worship music of the Charismatic/Pentecostal tradition, why is there so much failure, even in its leaders?  We have exalted talent above character, emotion above reason. 

The Scripture clearly encourages reason in our approach to Christian activity: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Even Paul’s exhortation, regarding the use of music in worship, was for it to be instructional: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16)  Once the Word was richly established in their lives, then, out of that came teaching through the use of music and worship.  The word was first, then worship.  Reason first, then emotion.  I have no doubt that the church at Corinth had emotionally charged worship, but they were out of control!  Paul had to deal with them “as babes” and not spiritual men. (I Cor. 3:1)

When we were in the midst of the ‘Praise and Worship Movement’ twenty-some years ago, and we had a group of highly passionate, emotionally charged people in the worship team at my church, I was affronted by their little discipline and much dysfunction.  Over the years, I have endeavored to cultivate a group of people who understand the ‘reason and choice’ in music/worship along with the inherent ‘emotional’ side. 

No doubt, we can always grow in our expressiveness and passionate portrayal of worship and music, inspiring others to become involved, but I am aware that this must always be in relationship with emotional soundness. 

I believe in passionate worship and musical production; however, only in the priority of integrity and discipline.  It is only in this proper structure that there is wholeness and strength, both for the individual, as well as for the corporate worshipers.  Anything else has a big WARNING sign on it!


(for more on this subject, see "Emotionalism In Worship (part 2)" and "Trinity Concepts 1.06 Christian Activity")