By Kile Baker, Crosswalk.com
Why do we have emotions?
Emotions are an incredibly powerful way to experience something. They help us feel life in a way that nothing else can - the joy of staring into our kids’ eyes for the first time in the hospital; the sorrow and gratitude as we bid farewell to a loved one who gave so much to us; the compassion that moves our hearts to help someone in need; and the anger at injustice in the world.
Companies, communicators, and churches have all realized the power of emotion to get a reaction out of people. But is getting people to “feel” something a good thing or a bad thing? And what place do emotions have in the Church?
It’s not a bad thing to have emotions in the Church, in fact having the right emotion, at the right time for the right reason, can help us experience and connect with God in powerful ways.
Emotions are a good thing, but they shouldn’t be the main thing. Here are three dangers with emotion-driven churches.
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The Three Dangers in Emotion-Driven Churches
For the sake of clarity, let’s define “emotion-driven churches” as churches that prioritize getting people to feel something, rather than inviting people to believe something.
1. Getting a Reaction vs. Inviting a Response
Here’s my take on emotions: I think God gave us emotions to respond to truth in a meaningful way.
Truth and emotions are designed to go together. An emotional reaction, or better yet, a response, to something that is true is to feel appropriately. But there are also times that emotions can betray us, point us towards the wrong target, and within the church world — to reduce our faith to the notion that what we feel is more important that what we believe.
What should happen is that when we hear or read a truth found in scripture, we should respond with the right emotion. Take the following scriptures for examples:
Romans 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These invite an emotional response, don’t they?
“Wow I can’t believe God loved me enough to die for me when I was unloveable and didn’t love Him!”
“I feel incredible security and peace, knowing that nothing will separate me from God’s love!”
When we read, reflect, and realize what Scripture has told us about God’s love and attitude towards us, then our response is to feel with the appropriate emotion
2. The Emotion Experience on Sundays
As a communicator and a leader at my church, I fully admit that I want people to feel something during our Sunday gatherings. Whatever church you’re at, I want you to feel something too.
My hope for you and your church though, is that any emotion you feel is a response to the truth that is being communicated, rather than an emotional reaction based on a well-crafted moment.
These two are very different. When churches and their leaders think about crafting a moment to get a reaction from you, it’s designed with emotion in mind. The emotional reaction is the main goal. And because emotions are powerful triggers, you and I want to feel something again and again, which drives the engagement at the church to be more emotion-driven.
Not only is this an unhealthy way of planning a Sunday gathering, but it can cause us to “feel” our way through faith, meaning that if we don’t feel anything, we may conclude that nothing is happening between us and God.
Here are a few ways to spot Churches that have more emotion-driven Sunday gatherings:
- They are far more centered on people than on God. These kinds of churches prioritize How we feel, how God interacts with us, and what God wants for our lives.
- They’re filled with more anecdotal stories than scripture. The time spent by the communicator is usually lopsided towards more personal stories and reflection, rather than reading and understanding scripture.
They’re often looking for a dramatic reaction from the audience. Communicators and worship leaders often ask or even expect a reaction from the audience at a particular moment, instead of allowing people to respond in their own time.
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3. Feeling the Presence of God
It’s been popular for some time to talk about feeling the presence of God, but we aren’t designed to feel God all the time.
In fact, it may be more of a measure of immaturity, than maturity if we boil down our worship, prayer time, or life with God as having an emotional experience to validate He’s there and He truly cares about us.
We don’t do that with people, do we? When they’re not physically present with us, we don’t always feel the butterflies of love, the warmth of friendship, or the security — that would be exhausting! We rely on truth in the relationship to set the standard of what we feel. We know they love us and care for us because we’ve experienced it firsthand. We know they are our friends because they’ve proved it again and again.
In a similar way, we know God is truly with us and for us and will never leave us because scripture has told us so:
1 Corinthians 3:16: Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?
John 14:15-17: “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
The presence of God is reinforced through God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s job isn’t to help us feel more, but to remind us more of what Christ has taught, what Christ has done for us and is continuing to do in us.
John 14:24-26 All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Sometimes we may feel God in powerful ways through the Holy Spirit — but it is arguably the times that we obey God when we do not feel Him and are Christ-like anyways that are the most impactful.
How to Have Healthy Feelings in Your Faith
Getting the right emotions, at the right time for the right reasons.
1. Start with God rather than you. We’re taught just about everywhere that the world revolves around us, even in our churches. In order to have healthy emotions, we need to start with God — with how He sees the world and everything in it. This will help us emotionally because when we focus on how God feels about things like sin, injustice, death, obedience, compassion, and selflessness, then we can feel the right emotions because how we feel will be based on how God feels.
2. Respond to the Truth found in scripture. It goes without saying that the best way to learn about and live for God is to read scripture. God gave us His scripture — which has all sorts of emotions in it! — so we can discover what’s true about God, the world, and ourselves. Worship songs, messages, and our prayer life should be driven by scripture, meaning that when we hear or read scripture that tells us a truth about how much God loves us and wants us to follow Him, we can respond at the right time.
3. Remind yourself that God is with you, even if you don’t feel Him. You don’t have to wonder if God is with you and for you, Jesus already solved that mystery. God is with you when you obey Him, when you sin, when you’re hurting and when you’re gathering in His name. Knowing this will help you experience the emotions of peace, security, safety, and comfort no matter what the circumstance.
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