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Croc Thoughts

Is worship music emotionally manipulative?

Drew Shriner poses with his crocs.

Drew Shriner poses with his Crocs.

By Drew Shriner | Echo

As a natural cynic, I frequently find myself glancing around during chapel, skeptically wondering about the authenticity of everyone’s worship experience.

Once, during a particularly strong bout of cynicism, I thought, “Am I really having an encounter with the Holy Spirit, or am I just being emotionally manipulated by the drums?”

As I had these thoughts, I was unable to sing praises with my brothers and sisters.

I cannot say with certainty where these thoughts came from. It may simply be because corporate worship is not my preferred mode of connecting with God. According to the Spiritual Pathways test (corroborated by my own self-analysis), I am a naturalist and a contemplative which means I connect with God the most by being in nature or by being alone in quiet spaces. Sensate and enthusiast — pathways more closely connected with corporate worship — rank near the bottom on my list.

However, I do not think that I am the only one who feels this way.

A Taylor alum who was a drummer for a chapel band eventually stopped playing in chapel because he noticed a connection between the way he played and the number of hands getting raised. Were hands being raised because of his drumming or because of God’s greatness?

Music is powerful, and it is powerfully emotive. That is a simple fact of experience. Music moves people in a way that few other things can do. Power, of course, is often misused. Can the power of worship music be misused?

I think it can, especially when the music is wrongly directed.

When worship leaders start playing for the audience and not for God, the power of music is misused. Worship leaders are not performing for their audience but for God. The objective is not to give an experience to the congregation but to offer praise, lament or other emotions and experiences to God.

When congregation members allow themselves to be swept up in the music to the detriment of their critical engagement of songs, the power of music can be misused. What we sing in chapel shapes our theology. Though I have never noticed any specific doctrinal errors in songs sung in Taylor’s chapel, it is important that as a gathering of believers we are aware of the doctrine espoused in what we sing and its potential impact on how we understand and relate to God, such as a growing discomfort with lament or with God’s judgment (two topics rarely sung about).

I do not know of any specific misuses in Taylor’s community. However, I believe this is something important for our community, especially those who are actively involved in chapel band, to be aware of and alert to.

As a worship leader, are you leading in a God-oriented way, or are you focused on either giving a certain emotional experience to others or glorifying yourself?

As a participant, is your emotional response during worship a real response to your connection with God being supported by the music, or is it an artificial response being given to you by the music?

Only prayer, self-evaluation and the voice of the Spirit can answer these questions.

Once, during a particularly strong bout of cynicism, I felt the Spirit whisper, “This is from me.” Only then was I finally able to join my brothers and sisters in singing praise through tears.

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