In a dark, crowded megachurch, the music slows from EDM-style worship party to rock ballads of prayer. A beautiful blonde with a microphone assures the crowd that what they are feeling is real: “It’s not religion. It’s not an emotional experience. It’s about Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.”
For a Millennial Christian, it’s easy to get cynical here. I’ve been here, heard this, seen this, felt this feeling a million times. It seems nearly every popular blogger on my radar has written a memoir about how shallow it all sounds now that we are past our teens, how naïve, how manipulative.
Therein lies the problem with this specific concert/worship service. I was interviewing the international worship phenomenon Planetshakers for the May issue of MORF Magazine and had the chance to meet Sam Evans (the aforementioned blonde) and her band in person before they took the stage.
Any stereotypical Gen Y jadedness was never given a chance to take root. These people were the real deal. Whether on stage or talking face to face, they seem to embody that ever-popular buzzword of my generation: authentic.
The cynic can’t survive a meeting with this band. A tangible peace radiates off them, even minutes before they step under the bright lights of their literal and metaphorical platform. They speak softly in our interview – gentle, humble and open.
It’s hard to believe they are the same people shouting, laughing and dancing onstage. When it’s time to get serious, Sam delivers a passionate message, but unlike many worship pastors, she doesn’t hesitate to address the skepticism that springs from emotional worship experiences. I begin to understand how their church has built a massively thriving ministry in overwhelmingly secular Australia. They get it.
Sam says there is a simple test for determining if what you are experiencing in worship is emotional manipulation or a true experience with Jesus.
You know you’ve met with the living God when you can walk out of your church or concert venue or prayer closet and have the peace of Christ still there, in any situation. When you don’t have to rely on the lights and music to conjure it up, but those things are simply the context you’re in at the moment, you know it’s the right kind of emotion.
The kind where it’s actually the Holy Spirit and not the work of a skillfully arranged environment.
Emotions in worship get a bad rap in many Millennial circles. “It’s only a chemical release!” say the scientists. “It’s too shallow!” say the scholars. “It’s dangerous!” say the stoics.
Yes, emotions are a biological function. And that’s completely compatible with our Creator God. The same Holy Spirit who came up with the chemicals of the brain can move them however He wishes.
Yes, emotionalism can be shallow. But that’s only half the story. True shallow faith is one that knows alone or feels alone, to the forsaking of the other. If we only seek after emotions or only seek after information, we’ll never experience the fullness of a God who made both our hearts and our brains.
Yes, emotions can be dangerous. But only if we let them. When we place emotion-driven worship on a pedestal or use it as some kind of spiritual maturity ranking system, that’s when things get messy. The misuse of God’s tools doesn’t justify their exclusion in the church. We must learn what it looks like to steward our hearts’ responses toward true life change. We are in much greater danger when we ignore the emotions the Spirit is using to lead us closer to Him. By rejecting our hearts as “dangerous,” we miss His loving guidance and turn instead to our own strength for the peace He longs to provide.
With these three keys in mind, we can walk out of emotional worship experiences and carry with us the peace of Christ. I know it’s possible.
After all, I’ve met the Planetshakers.