This post is an expansion of a comment I made on Steeples and People in response to a post about communication and rhetoric. You should definitely check out Jenny’s blog to read her thoughts on the subject.
In my experience, the entire upfront Sunday service led by pastors and music pastors is about performance and/or a level of manipulation. There has not been a church I have served in as pastor (from traditional Baptist in Texas to seeker-sensitive evangelical in California) that we did not plan out the services to evoke a response or to try and draw out the people to take action in some form or another. As a speaker, pretty much everything I have done up front has been about me putting on a “good talk” – but I was often under the impression that I was being God’s mouthpiece.
In most services, music was used to support my messages emotionally. I always wanted up beat and lively music before speaking because I wanted people to be engaged and “pumped up” when I got on stage. And then, I would use music either throughout my messages or at the end to drive the point home and allow people to contemplate what had been said. It was very important for me to use music that emphasized what I was speaking on and led people to not only hear what I said, but “feel” it as well.
Looking back on it now, it saddens me to see the way I used my abilities as a communicator to emotionally manipulate people, specifically the teenagers I was leading. That is such a vulnerable age and their emotions are so easily swayed. And then with adults, many who come to church on Sundays emotionally tired, frustrated or depressed… pastors often evoke responses that aren’t so much spiritually based as they are emotionally. Certainly God might use our emotional ups and downs to shape our lives, but must we as pastors and leaders try and seize opportunities to foster emotions or decisions where there may be none?
It’s not so much that performing or evoking responses in people is a good or bad thing. Actually, it’s neutral. Any form of communication can be used for good or for bad. That’s not the point. (Again, check out Jenny’s blog for more on this discussion). The problem when it occurs in church is that there is an “unspoken implication” that since it happens within “these four walls called the church” that God must have somehow inspired it. We often automatically think that if our pastor says it, or our music pastor sings it… and then if I “feel” something, that God must be behind it.
To me, the whole Sunday experience is an area that pastors and leaders need to reevaluate. I became tired and weary of trying to evoke a spiritual response from people in this manner. It’s no accident that most Sunday services in churches around the world are held in buildings where there is a stage that the pastors lead from and the congregation sits in rows and pews like an audience. Sunday morning is a performance and no different than your local community theater (except often the quality isn’t as good). Put simply, if you are a decent speaker and you have a good worship leader you can get people to do almost anything. It’s really like shooting fish in a barrel.