Worshiping in Truth: How the Entertainment-driven and Emotionally-fueled “Worship” Model Fails Us

Subjective.   If I were to express my thoughts on the entertainment-driven model of “worship” in one word then I would use the word subjective.  It appears that so many expressions of religion today are subjective, narcissistic, self-serving, and self-centered.  It is beyond astonishing how often we hear phrases like “we should feel good”,  “I want something out of it”, “worship left me empty today”, and “I didn’t feel it this morning”!  This should really bother us that we have such things said, and that we have such horrible mindsets, attitudes, and orientations of heart!

Before I continue, I want to clarify what exactly it is I mean when I say entertainment-driven model of “worship”.  I do not mean that people cannot use big lights and big sound to worship or that worship leaders are wrong to implement this particular style of worship.  I am not a big fan of non-liturgical worship settings myself, but I see nothing inherently wrong with the big lights and big sound approach unless of course it is used primarily to put on a show.   It is the intentions of the heart for the leaders and those participating that really matter here!  There are some worship leaders whose sole purpose is to put on a show!  It is the sole goal of some worshipers to be entertained!  There is something really wrong with these orientations.

I hope I have clarified enough what I mean by entertainment-driven “worship”.  Entertainment-driven “worship” has two main purposes: 1) To put on one helluva show and 2) To make the people feel something, to bring about an emotional response in those attending.  I think this lays out what I mean by entertainment-driven worship.  I do not have a problem with the talents of other musicians, stage designers, or sound/light folks being utilized.  I am not saying that those folks cannot use their talents, and I really want to emphasize that point.

One of the main problems I have with this entertainment-driven model of “worship” is that it is manipulative and destructive to the spiritual health of those who participate in it.  What do I mean by this?  I think when the goal is to raise affections and emotions that leaves worship being subjective and filled with sensationalism and emotionalism!  I believe this model of “worship” is very manipulative because it seeks to toy with the emotions and raise them in order that the participants “feel” something, “feel” God, or “feel” close to Him.  Emotions are not in and of themselves a bad thing necessarily.  This is not what I am at all trying to say.  We are emotional beings and have emotions given to us by God.  My concern lies with the issue of making an emotional reaction the very goal and purpose of our worship services.

Here is where I think this model begins to fail us: I believe there is a direct correlation between entertainment-driven “worship” with it’s emotional manipulation and the twenty-somethings leaving the Church in huge leaps!  I believe we are entrenched in this entertainment-driven model as young teenagers, and we have our emotions manipulated so much that we have to feel an emotional  high every time we go to a worship service.  When we graduate from youth groups and such to go on to participate in Sunday morning worship with the adults and that emotional trigger is not pulled then it leaves us feeling empty and discouraged, thinking we have not encountered God.  I believe this leads, along with several other factors, to the eventual leaving of these folks.  Of course there are adult services where the entertainment-driven model is implemented, and I’d bet those churches retain more twenty-somethings as a result.  Regardless, it is still dangerous when implemented in the main service.

Entertainment-driven “worship” leaves us at the mercy of our own subjectivity and emotionalism!  No reason so many people feel like they are on an emotional, spiritual roller coaster!  When they are up they are up!  And when they are down they are down!  They have become dependent upon having that emotional trigger pulled and when it is not then this creates a problem in their spiritual lives.  They feel abandoned, neglected, forgotten by God perhaps.  This is a danger to our health!  I hope I am painting a luminous picture of the dangers of this model of “worship”.

Why do we do this?  Why do we feel as if we have to feel something in our worship in order for it to be worship?  Why do we have to have our emotions tugged in order to say, “I felt God in that service today”?  I believe that it in part lies with our narcissistic culture that is me, me, me!  I also believe it is in part bad theology.

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says in 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  I believe that the entertainment-driven model of “worship” with its emotionally fueled drivetrain is not worship at all.  Well, let me say it is worship!  It is self-worship!  It is the worship of our emotions!  It is the worship of how we feel!  It is the worship of us!  It is the worship of me!   It is subjective idolatry!  There is no room for worship in spirit and truth when the entertainment-driven model is implemented!

What does worshiping in truth look like compared to the entertainment-driven model?  I believe it is based on our core beliefs about God, our core values and beliefs!  Let’s think about it for a minute with this one example and aspect: if God is omni-present as we so believe, and His spirit is dwelling with us at all times and is present then when we sing, whether we realize it or not, His presence is among us, right?  Our worship should be a reflection of our theology!  If we believe God is always in our midst then we must realize despite our emotions that we are worshiping the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth when we participate in a communal worship service.  We do not have to leave saying things like “we should feel good”,  “I want something out of it”, “worship left me empty today”, and “I didn’t feel it this morning” because we move our focus from our emotions, a subjective base, to our beliefs, an objective base, and our belief that God is present and is with us causes us to call to mind that He is indeed present!  It is no longer about us when we lay aside this mindset of having to have an emotional experience!  When that emotional experience is being sought we neglect the truth, and we neglect God if the emotions we sought do not come about for us.  We cannot worship God if our subjectivity is what we are all about!

If we worship in truth we remain free from emotional manipulation, emotionalism, and sensationalism!  We free ourselves from the perpetual emotional machine of the entertainment-driven model, which leaves us worshiping ourselves and our subjectivity!  We need to base our worship in truth!  We need to worship in truth!  We do not need to worship in emotions!

I thoroughly believe when we free ourselves from having to feel something in our worship then that is when we will truly feel something and know something.  We will approach worship sacramentally and begin to worship in spirit and in truth.  This carries over to our prayer lives and devotional lives.  When we stop living by our emotions our lives no longer feel like roller coasters.  We have a solid, core belief that God is present!  He promised to never leave us nor forsake us!  He promised to send us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  We should live our lives from that belief and saturate our worship and prayer lives with the knowledge of the truth instead of the manipulation of emotions!

Our worship is not about going to the service to get something out of it for us!  If that is the sole purpose of it then I want nothing to do with such worship!  If that is our sole desire then God grant us forgiveness!  A bi-product of true worship would be that you are fulfilled, yes.  I am not saying emotions and a fulfillment cannot be present, but what I am saying is it matters whether or not those desires are the priority when we take our place before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  The eschatological destiny of the Church is worship!  This should cause us to stop and ponder the dangerous implications of the entertainment-driven model of “worship” and to re-evaluate our priorities!  This destiny should inform every aspect of our worship!  Our worship is about offering a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and should be granted on this Biblical truth.

Our satisfaction should come from the delight and pure joy it is to be in His presence not from having our emotions manipulated.  To worship in the self-serving attitude of the entertainment-driven model is an atrocious lie.  It is not and cannot be true worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We must decrease ourselves by rejecting this ideology that we have to feel something for worship to be worship!  I believe once we do that worship, true worship, will begin to take place.  It will a pleasing aroma to our God!  He will bless that and honor it!  We must worship Him based in truth, in what we believe!  This must inform our worship, not our emotions and what we can get out of it.  If we begin to worship in a true way I believe God will respond to us and will bring us near to Him in a very real way.  We will begin to transcend the here and now and participate sacramentally with His Divine Energies.  Our lives should never revolve around subjectivity.  When worship is left as purely subjective then it becomes whatever you or I say it is.  I do not believe worship to be this way.  We must learn to base our worship upon our core values and beliefs about God not on our subjectivity!   I believe this is what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.

Allow me to leave you with this question to ponder: how is the way you worship and practice your faith grounded in worshiping and living in spirit and truth?  If nothing else I pray you take this question to heart and reflect upon your communal acts of worship and personal acts of piety.

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” -Jesus Christ

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About Joel

Joel is a 32 year old currently residing in the southeastern United States. His interests lay in philosophy and theology. He is a writer for The Christian Watershed.

11 thoughts on “Worshiping in Truth: How the Entertainment-driven and Emotionally-fueled “Worship” Model Fails Us

  1. The Spirit will not support a iie, so if it is “in spirit” but the Truth is not present, then there is good reason to test that spirit. Hosea wrote that Israel was choosing to conduct their worship where it was cool and comfortable and, as a result, Israel’s children would seek comfort first, as did their parents, and leave the worship behind. Is this what we see happening today? Does having the hottest bands, the coolest youth pastors, and the softest seats with built-in cup holders for the on-campus FourBucks franchise make a difference in youth retention, or are 98% of the folks disappearing the first year after high school? At the same time “contemporary” congregations are experimenting with any new idea, the one movement that is gaining ground uses a worship form which, in its present form, dates back to the 5th century. Is there a connection, do you think?

  2. Part of the issue must certainly be the definition of worship. The primary terms from both the Old Testament (hishtachaveh) and the New Testament (proskuneo) include within the semantic range of both terms “prostration”. This prostration is a physical act bespeaking submission for service and confession of dependency by the worshiper. And most frequently, this worship follows an encounter with God leaving one in a state of worship. Note that after the disciples meet Jesus walking on the sea, they are terrified and worship. All this is to say that the truest worship follows an overwhelming encounter with God. All other worship experiences must have some degree of contrivance and manipulation. So, what can hope for? We may or may not want an encounter with the One who dwells in unapproachable light. But if we do have such an encounter, we will most assuredly worship! If not, well then, we shall do the best we can.

  3. Pingback: Worship: an Act, not an Experience! | Leorningcnihtes boc

  4. As a Roman Catholic, I see that our church has suffered from this a bit. I have seen beautiful and utmostly (I know not a word) reverent liturgies in the Latin Rite and I pray that they become the norm. What you have written is true and our church also does teach it. The liturgy is for God alone!

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on worship. As you mentioned, an emotion-based form of worship and prayer leads to emotional roller coasters. I’ve known so many people stuck on that track (I’ve been one of them too). There’s a firmness and steadiness that I have discovered in Orthodoxy that has literally changed my life.

  6. Pingback: Vending Machine “Christianity”: The Church Created in Our Own Image (Mini-Blog #6) | Orthodox Ruminations

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