December 28, 2010

‘Emotion’ in church services

Posted in Musings at 11:26 am by myrlinn

This Christmas, I brought my friend to a cantata by an accomplished choir. At the end of it, she opined that the choir was excellent, but lacking emotion. This view highlights a thread I’ve noticed this year, one that seems to have arisen as a reaction against the kinds of practices increasingly being introduced into churches new and old.

In churches with ‘modern’ approaches, the focus seems to be on providing a feel-good experience to attract more people to God. In the more extreme of these churches, there is an emphasis on performance and even entertainment, on faith healing and other ‘spiritual gifts’ and on eliciting emotion. In reaction to this, some churches seem to be going to the other extreme, and have come to be increasingly critical of emotion, seeing emotional experience as ephemeral, quickly forgotten once worshippers get home. This point of view has some merit – the emotional outpourings at some services do seem more like crowd hysteria than genuine spiritual experience.

However, my friend’s perception of the cantata performance shows that denial of emotion is not the answer. The choir may have wanted to be more restrained to emphasise the message of the hymns rather than the performer or performance, but in doing so, it has forgotten that the lyrics are merely the vehicle for greater spiritual truths, not truth itself. To my mind, spiritual truth must surely encompass emotion, otherwise how can we talk of a relationship and connection with God?