Don’t Manipulate Me

'YOUTH_WORSHIP' photo (c) 2009, Paul Walsh - license:

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, one of the primary reasons that I believe in God is because of music. There is something about the way that music moves me that connects me to that which is bigger than me. I have found this to be true, regardless of genre. Music does not have to be specifically Christian to touch me. In fact, some of my most spiritual moments have occurred while listening to music that is not Christian (every time I listen to this piece by Aaron Copland, I am assured of the divine).

Because of this, I’m sometimes disappointed by faith music. Surely if I can connect with God through secular music, I should be able to find him during sacred music, right?

One common complaint that I hear from those outside of the Church is that much modern Christian music is simply emotionally manipulative. Fast song to get you up and engaged, mid-tempo song to bring you into a more reflective state of mind, and finally a slow, repetitive song that will put you in an almost trance-like state that makes you feel like you’re having a moment. Rinse, repeat.

Of course, I want to yell that this is not how it works and how dare you suggest that it is!

But yesterday I was texting with Rich about a piece that we were working up for Sunday, and it struck me just how manipulative we can be.

The piece we were looking at is a hymn that has been reworked to make it a bit more accessible to a modern audience. Now, I have no problem with this. Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve seen a number of hymns successfully modernized, while maintaining the integrity of the original piece. As someone who grew up in a traditional, mainstream church, I have loved seeing a number of hymns that I know from my childhood redone in fresh way. I think musical evolution is a beautiful thing and I fully embrace that. Sometimes changing up the music of something that we’re very familiar with can allow us to rediscover an old lyric that we’ve not noticed for a while.

However, that was not the case here. In this instance, the hymn had been stripped down to a single verse and chorus. Where the original had numerous chord changes, this one had only four changes for the whole song. And while that alone is not necessarily a bad thing, this had no interesting movement in the accompaniment that allowed it to be musically interesting. The only thing that changes in the 4 minutes or so of the piece is that the vocals become more intense (a few additional harmonies and increased volume) and there are some additional synth pads added to the mix.

But it works. You can listen to this piece and be easily lost in it.

I hate that.

I hate it because we should be better than that. We should be able to create new music and if we use old music, we should do something interesting with it, not make it less interesting. We should be allowed to sing songs on Sunday that aren’t explicitly Christian without worrying that we’re finding God somewhere other than in our narrowly defined parameters.

And I hate it because it gives legitimacy to the idea that we don’t actually meet God during worship music, but that we’re simply emotionally manipulated into thinking that we meet God there. It’s frustrating because God can certainly use that as a vehicle to reach someone, but when it’s so obvious in its schemes, it makes it far more difficult to suss out being led by the Spirit and being led by the composer.

I read a lot about our Christian witness and how it’s damaged. We’re not tough enough on the homosexuals. We drink when we’re out to dinner. We have friends of the opposite sex. We watch the wrong television shows.

But what I have found over and over in my interactions with those outside of the faith, one of the biggest turn-offs is when we’re not honest. It may not bring people around to belief, but when we’re inauthentic, it’s a more direct affront. And if we can’t manage authenticity in our church services, how can we display that in our daily interactions?

Fortunately, I think there is still a fair amount of really top-notch music being made. But in our services, we need to start to consider singing about a few more things. We might need to sing about anger. Or doubt. Or families. Or friendship. Or grief.

If we want our services to be relevant to those attending, we need to be able to address all aspects of our lives. Music is a profound medium. Let’s stop using it as a manipulative device, and allow it to be a means to connect with all aspects of our relationship with God and with one another.


Have you ever sensed yourself being manipulated by worship music? How do you sort out what is real? What musical selections would you like to see as a part of your next worship service?

  • Cindy Holman

    Alise – I agree with you.  I love that traditional hymns are being redone in a beautiful modern way with new chord structures and cool arrangement – but I think I might know what you’re talking about with the “vanilla” arrangement of some.  I pretty much like anything old or new with a rich chord structure and a beautiful and singable melody line.  I love movie scores by James Horner – and others like Elmer Bernstein who amaze me with such masterpieces like the score for “To Kill A Mockingbird”  and many others like it.

    That being said – I know that music is highly emotional and can yield results from a worship service and I’ve seen it done before – I’ve even been a part of it being on worship teams for years.  I think any true and pure praise has to come from a deep individual place that is different for every one – and a leader should just lead – not manipulate.

    • Alise Wright

      Yeah, I want to make positive assumptions about worship leaders – that they’re coming from a place of genuine worship, not manipulation. But some of the actual music? Is definitely manipulative. This particular piece really annoyed me because it was just so blatant. 

  • Nikki Weatherford

    I think my biggest issue with worship services is how routine they can be. It’s just another part of our scheduled church service, rather than a time of real connection with God. 

    You said, “And I hate it because it gives legitimacy to the idea that we don’t actually meet God during worship music, but that we’re simply emotionally manipulated into thinking that we meet God there.”

    I think that hits the nail on the head. I’ve noticed in my years in church that music is something that everyone had an opinion about. Some want hymns, some want praise and worship, some like words on a screen, some want only hymnals. It can actually be pretty divisive, and that’s a crying shame. I don’t think it’s the music or the leaders or the length that should matter, if our heart is really focused on God rather than the production, we could all stand silently and still worship passionately. But we like to be entertained, and we like to be led, and that doesn’t always equal worship.

    • Alise Wright

      I’m kind of amused when some contemporary churches cluck their tongues at mainline churches and their order of service. Honey, we ALL have orders of service. Just because it’s not liturgical doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

      And I do think that we need to approach music in a “it’s not about me” kind of manner. I think it’s okay to have preferences (I’m unlikely to attend a church that deals primarily in southern gospel, because that’s not music that I like, but I won’t complain if it’s performed, because it’s not about me), but I think we need to remember where the focus is supposed to be.

      • Nikki Weatherford

        I actually wasn’t talking about mainline churches or liturgical services, I was responding to what I’ve seen in Southern Baptist churches. And that is a whole lot of whining. We have to have an order to services, sure, what I mean is there’s a problem when worship is just something we do between 10:30 and 10:55 on Sunday mornings. It’s just another step in the program, rather than something that truly can start the minute we wake up and last long past church service. 

        In the 7 years that I’ve been at my church we’ve transitioned from all hymns and hymnals, to a praise and worship band with drums and words on a screen. My preference is somewhere in between, I like a good mix. And I get wanting to be somewhere with a style of worship that you enjoy and connect with. What I don’t get is when we begin making demands. The, “I’ve been here for twenty years and I don’t want things to change,” mentality that so many have, that leads them to storm out the minute things do change.  

        For these reasons, I actually like the idea of a liturgical service, sorry I gave the impression that I was speaking against it. But I’m kind of glad I did because I’m now going to make “cluck their tongues” my phrase for the week. :-)

        • Alise Wright

          Oh, I didn’t think you were talking against them at all. That’s just it – I think regardless of where we attend, there’s some kind of order of service. I’ve been attending mostly non-denominational evangelical churches most of my adult life, and have heard more times than I can count how they’re not beholden to an order of service because they don’t do liturgy. But there’s ALWAYS an order. 

          And I’ve seen the nasty of “how we’ve always done it” very personally. It’s pretty awful (and is why I’ve been writing almost daily for 2 years and have only just now started writing about church music, even though I’ve been doing it for more than 2 decades).

  • Tamara Lunardo

    So good to think about this as a worship leader. Are you familiar with Sojourn Music? They are doing some incredible stuff with old hymns, and our congregation has responded extremely well to our incorporating some of them into our services.

    • Alise Wright

      Definitely have to check them out. Thanks for the head’s up!

  • Dan McM

    Applying a recent commercial to this discussion, you might be able to say:
    “That song is the Egg McMuffin of worship music!”

    Blech!!! That concept — that people want and like generic crap — drives me nuts in music, in food… all sorts of things.

    So that 4-chord hymn? CT, by any chance? (Just guessing… he’s the master of GC, isn’t he?)

    There are so many ways you can go with music, and I don’t want to be an elitist about it, but it is important to me to try to be authentic, regardless of the musical genre we’re playing. 

    Some folks prefer the theological depth of singing all 6 verses of a complex hymn while others prefer a repetitive chorus that allows them to really meditate. Same logic on prayer/study – some prefer quiet meditation while others prefer digging into the Word.  The main thing is that, no matter our method, that we should approach God authentically and honestly. 

    Good stuff as always, Alise! 

    • Alise Wright

      Nope, not CT. Honestly, some of his reworked hymns are my favorites. His Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone just wrecks me. That said, his “regular” stuff tends to be not as much my favorite. ;-D

      I totally agree with you that we all worship in different ways. I would like to see a bit more diversity put out there. I think we can use different people’s gifts and reach people more effectively if we switch things up a bit. 

      • Amber McCullough

        Re: Amazing Grace / My Chains are Gone.   You aren’t bothered by the verse about “The earth will soon dissolve like snow”?  I always thought that gave ammunition to folks like Bruce Babbitt and Sarah Palin. The folks that think we can screw up the earth all we want cuz it’s all gonna burn.

        • Findo

          If someone is going to misuse a reference to the new creation (and ignore the responsibility of earthly stewardship, of which we’ve been entrusted) I’m not sure the answer is to not sing about such things.

      • Sarah Moon

        One church I went to in Toledo had a classic worship band, a traditional church pianist, a worship leader who also played on a worship show on BET and played gospel music, and a jazz saxophonist play all in one night. I love diversity!

  • bethanyk

    I think there’s a real thin distinction between emotionally resonant and emotionally manipulative uses of music. I never feel manipulated when the music underscores or enacts the other content of the worship service. When a song is placed to put me in a contemplative mood, and not to give me the opportunity to contemplate a scripture text or song or testimony or sermon that preceded it, then I think it’s trying to manufacture feelings rather than support authentic emotional reactions to truths about God and ourselves.

    • Alise Wright

      You absolutely nailed that – resonance and manipulation fall into that “I know it when I see it” kind of space. 

  • Preston Yancey

    THIS. Goodness, friend. A few days ago, I thought about this when we sang “How Great Thou Art” followed by a modern song. The modern song promised that I would love God forever. It felt disingenuous. I can’t love God forever, I fail at it all the time. I can sing that God is in fact great and holy, as in the hymn, but am I so sure about me? I felt that after each line of the modern song I wanted to amend a, “With Your help,” to each. Stop making me sing songs that make me think I’m OK and am never going to doubt. I’m not a doubter and yet I actively live as one all the time. I am not constant. God is. And should we even talk about chord progressions and hating minor keys because minor keys speak of sadness? (God forbid.) On and on … I suppose I just want to say that I am thankful for you, for this, for such a clear and exceptional articulation of the problem.

    • Alise Wright

      I’m kind of a lyric freak. I love a great lyric and see tons of them in modern worship, but nothing makes me crazier than a bad lyric. There’s one song that we do that is super catchy and fun and has a line “I’ll follow foolishly” that makes me want to rip my hair out because I don’t want to foolishly follow anyone! 

    • Sarah Moon

      I agree! I hate singing songs where the lyrics have me lying to God, singing things that I know aren’t true.

    • Findo

      I get that, and for a long time I was very critical of such lyrics (e.g. from Shout to the Lord: “forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand”) and while it’s not the kind of lyric I’d write, I wonder if there isn’t something valuable in singing a line which we ought to aim for, like that? But on the whole, I find lyrics that need qualification to be less than helpful, and similarly, the predominance of “I” focussed songs, as opposed to “we” to be also off-putting. And to be fair, I often need to catch myself, lest I become a rater of, and overly critical of lyrics and fail to actually worship God.

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    We need to spend a lot more time talking about the ways our emotions come into play in our worship services and songs. I have no idea where these boundaries are, so I’m all ears when a musician speaks up.

    • Alise Wright

      Yeah, it’s not easy to delineate, which is probably why this is such a difficult subject to talk about calmly. Also, we’ve so demonized emotion in the Church that anything that stirs that is automatically suspect.

    • Findo

      I mentioned him in my comment above, but Jeremy Begbie on music (Resounding Truth) is worth reading. Not specifically about worship music, but a broader theology of music.

      • pastordt

        I actually took and TA’d a class on worship from Begbie about 20 years ago. He is the real deal and quite brilliant in many ways. His ideas are helpful in this discussion.

  • Travis Mamone

    Which is why I don’t listen to much worship music. Except for Page CXVI.

    • Alise Wright

      Yeah, that worship music is its own genre (and it definitely is) is kind of troubling. We need to figure out how to expand that.

  • Christie

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the power of music to move, inspire and bolster spirituality.  I am not familiar with Christian music, but despite being a non-Christian I can be moved to tears by a good gospel song.  Similarly, one church I used to attend frequently sang “Lean on Me” as a congregation and I could not make it through the song without tearing up, feeling the full connection between the sacred and the secular and the empowering comfort of religious community.  

    • Alise Wright

      It’s really an incredible thing. It never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for your comment!

  • James Espie

    I’ve noticed it at a lot of churches (including my own) when they start playing a soft, peaceful instrumental as the minister brings his sermon to a close. Rightly or wrongly, it changes the atmosphere – and to me, seems manipulative.

    • Alise Wright

      Yeah, if there’s some kind of prayer time, there are practical reasons to include music, like just having some background noise that allows people to feel a bit less exposed. And for some kinds of meditation, it can be beneficial to have a kind of white noise going on. But yeah, the line between practicality and manipulative is so. very. thin. Definitely something to be really aware of.

  • Kim H

    As someone who has just recently returned to the church after many years of absence I can say that the thing that irritates me most is the  music. Our denomination uses a recent yet traditional hymnal without a multimedia presentation and there are many times I just cannot sing the words with integrity and honesty so I just stand there holding the book while I rewrite the words as I would like them. A huge problem is the lack of inclusive language even in our denomination which is liberal and inclusive. 

    I also thought I’d start listening to Christian radio hoping to be uplifted and more focused on God but well that definitely did not happen. After several days of listening to a local Christian station I found myself growing more and more irritated and angry. I decided to change the dial to a classical station and I find so much more peace, love, and holiness there.

    We recently went to visit a friends church with a much more Pentecostal approach and again I was annoyed. While it’s nice to read the words overhead on a screen, leaving your hands free to clap (or not), I definitely felt manipulated by the relentless repetition of the mind numbing chorus. That is just not right in my humble opinion. Praise is one thing, brainwashing is another. 

    As you said in your article, it would be wonderful if we started to sing about anger, doubt, and other relevant issues in modern, reverential music and lyrics.

    • Alise Wright

      I have found a fair chunk of good music at NoiseTrade. Some not great stuff too, but if you’re willing to sift through, there’s a lot of good to be found there. And I just can’t limit myself to sacred music. The human experience is just too big for a single kind of music.

    • Cody

      Psalm 136 little repetitive…

      Revelation 4:5-8
      ‘mind washing?’
      God created specific ‘beings’ to fly around Him as He sits on the throne and repeat 16 words. Seems like God likes repetition.

      Im not a fan of every song in a set being repetative one, but I have to point out the obvious…we are human. We need things pounded into our thick skulls sometimes. If someone leaves a worship service and they remember one little piece of the worship time it will probably be that little repeat part. So yes I think we should take great care of what that lyric is but saying repetition is a type of brain washing is laughable at best.

  • Ellakkat

    I love reworked hymns. And I like moments when the instruments just play. When I feel manipulated, though, I often grow surly and rebellious. If I have discipline, I can turn my thoughts to God. But more often than not, I turn my thoughts to other things and totally lose that moment. I don’t know the best answer. But I appreciate you bringing it up.

    • Alise Wright

      It’s hard because I don’t think it generally is intentional (which is what I try to remind myself). Now, this piece is pretty dang intentional, IMO, but overall, I think it’s more habitual than intentional. It doesn’t make it okay, but I try to have grace in those instances.

  • Cathy

    I so relate to the beginning of this…no matter how much my logical mind would ever want to question God and faith, what I experience when I sit down alone and play and sing, is simply undeniable. :-)

    • Alise Wright

      That’s me. As long as music exists, I’m pretty sure I’ll always believe in God. 

  • ShandaSargent

    Alise, this is a GREAT post! 

    As a worship leader, sometimes the bravest, truest, most authentic thing one can do is facilitate a place of silence.  Strip it all away, and be still.  Spirit led stillness with a worship leader that is willing to throw out the “program” and listen to the stirrings of God can be most powerful (not in a manipulative way).  In a large church setting, where music is sometimes timed down to the second of how long to spend on each song, this would require some guts.  I completely agree with what you are saying about being authentic in the song choices.  Sing about struggles as well as joys- be completely raw and honest in worship, and once in a while…. don’t forget to listen and be “still” after song number four, and leave song number five and song number six for next week.  ;)  

    p.s.  Since I haven’t been to your church, you may already do this.  This comment is based on my own experience.  Love you, friend!

    • Alise Wright

      Silence is TOUGH. For any space. And since I think a lot of worship leaders are probably extroverts, it’s probably a million times harder for them. 

      I do think you’re right though – if we’re less bound to the way it goes, the less likely we are to get manipulative.

      • pastordt

        An interesting thing I am learning and appreciating through the training I’m doing to become a spiritual director is that most Catholic worship services are very comfortable with silence. And I love it. At first it felt awkward – made me nervous (which is what often happens whenever it gets quiet for too long in our usual worship experiences). But after several service experiences, I really began to appreciate the pauses taken between readings, between musical selections, and the fact that there is such an unhurried, restful feel to that. We could learn some things from that, I think.

        • Alise Wright

          I played for a Newman Center in college. One lenten season, the priest asked the musicians to sing, but not use any instruments, and also to avoid any songs with hallelujah in them. It was hard the first couple of weeks, but it was so amazing to bring that back after Easter. I just loved it.

          • pastordt

            This is what I love about the liturgical calendar – Lent can be hard sometimes, but disciplining ourselves to being quieter (which is at least partially what is behind the exclusion of hallelujahs during that six week period) is always a good thing. We have become addicted to noise in this culture. Makes you wonder what we’re afraid to hear…

          • Incomplete

            Just as a point of information, during Lent Catholics never use “Alleluia.” But songs with no instruments during Lent? I love that idea! Doing that would really set Lent apart, and, as you have mentioned, really emphasize the joy of Easter. Thanks for sharing this…I might have to bring that suggestion up next Lent.

  • RawFaith

    When I was working doing album cover photography / design for Christian record labels I got to see the inner workings of the praise music industry too. One of the buzz terms I heard all the time is that to record worship music, the artist needed to make it “congregationally friendly” like people were too stupid to sing something with a different kind of melody or with a non-traditional arrangement. Add to that the fact that almost all christian record labels are owned now by bib secular conglomerates who obviously think we are a bunch of mindless morons who’ll buy anything and you have a recipe for craptastic music that is lifeless and not life giving. Every monday night at midnight I go to itunes and hope against hope that there will be some Christian release that my Christian students might really like… and almost every week I come back empty and a little bit pissed off that all we come up with is bad mediocre music.

    As far as the manipulation goes I agree 100%. I learned a valuable lesson when I was doing photography and big media shows… I had the power to manipulate people emotionally. God made it really clear to me that wasn’t what He had in mind. Once in awhile stuff will slip through and make it into the market that is beautiful and moves me deeply. Some of Kate Hurley’s stuff is like that for me. So is Jill Phillip’s song I Am. There are a handful of others. The older I get the more I appreciate simple stripped down music with real lyrics.

    • Alise Wright

      You bring up a whole other thing here – how the industry has kind of killed all of it. So much annoyance isn’t even with the artists themselves, but rather with the way THEY have been manipulated into being something that we’re supposed to like. There’s this whole extra level of manipulation going on that many of us aren’t even privy to. Crazy. 

  • Kelly J Youngblood

    I know pretty much *nothing* about music.  I can’t read music and my attempts to play instruments have been short-lived.  It’s just not part of who I am.  But, I do have mixed feelings about music in church.  I am not sure if I have felt manipulated or not, and I like the commenter’s distinction between music that is maniupulative and music that is resonant.  There are some songs that I find so boring and can’t wait until they are over.  But those same songs that I dread, someone else might love.  I don’t really know what makes me like/love a song or not, to be honest, but it’s definitely something worth exploring.

    • Alise Wright

      Yeah, I don’t in any way want to impugn personal taste when it comes to music. I ADORE that Copland piece that I linked to, but others might find it too dissonant or disjointed. That’s okay. And I definitely don’t think one needs to know anything about music to have opinions about how it’s done.

      • Kelly J Youngblood

        I didn’t even listen to what you linked to!  I was reading the post/comments and then writing my comment in a really brief period of time right before we had to leave for the evening and I meant to go back and listen and I forgot.  When I read the post I was curious what it was you were linking to.  I Better go do that ;)

      • pastordt

        That Copland piece was new to me – I only know the ‘big’ symphonic numbers, which I love. But Quiet, reflective, lyrical, inviting – conversational, even. Thanks for the link.

  • Brian Howell

    The point your post raises for me is to ask, “What is the point of worship?” I often feel that our worship leader feel that his most important job is to get as many as people as possible with their hands in the air, eyes closed and, if he’s really doing his job, some weeping. Really? At the same time, I don’t want to get into music bashing where only complex theological treatises are sung in church.  I feel like there should be a place for everyone giving up some of what they want for the sake of the body. That seems more glorifying to God.

    • Alise Wright

      I definitely agree that there is room for give and take in worship. It seems to me that act of unity and self-sacrifice can be worshipful in and of itself.

  • HopefulLeigh

    This is spot on, Alise! I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my friend Andy, then a worship leader, about a decade ago. He talked about such manipulations and how this made him feel while doing it but also how it affected his ability to truly worship. This segued into a discussion of the modern worship song lyrics and how often they’re theologically inaccurate or promoting a type of relationship with God that isn’t realistic or, in some cases, healthy. This was all eye-opening for me to think through but this was the kicker. While discussing some of the worst offenders lyric-wise, Andy suggested we insert a random word wherever God, Jesus, etc. was used. To this day, when a certain song is sung in church, I silently change the word and think of how we’re singing about bamboo’s renown and try not to laugh too loud.

    • Alise Wright

      I know that some get upset about the “Jesus is my boyfriend” kind of thing, but honestly? I think sometimes it would be better if we’d use even MORE intimate language. To go back to Monday’s post, we get real-ish during worship, but miss the opportunity to REALLY push the envelope. Because real love is beautiful, but super messy. We show this polished, pretty thing that is only part of the equation and it ends up being empty.

  • Sarah Askins

    What I find interesting about this whole issue is this: we want emotions poured out during worship, yet the church denies women leadership because they are too “emotional.” Odd isn’t? Personally, I find it disturbing that worship is designed to get my emotions worked up. 

    I really do enjoy singing together as a church. Any time, we sing Be Thou My Vision, I’m an emotional wreck. The words are simply that beautiful(singing this hymn without instruments is one of my favorites ever).

  • Kellen Freeman

    I used to lead worship and loved doing it. But lately the musical section of church is my least favorite. It’s so often feels like the same reworked piece of happy go lucky music that rarely reflects my faith. Seminary has made it so I have a hard time expressing my beliefs in simple sentences, and so when a song does exactly that, I crave for more depth. I also don’t always like God and I would sometimes like to sing about it because when I’m not happy with God and all the music we sing is happy, I feel like a fake.

    • Findo

      Seminary has made it so I have a hard time expressing my beliefs in simple sentences

      I love hyms that are deep, & theologically rich (e.g the Getty / Townend stuff) but then I moved overseas and got involved in an english speaking congregation, where English was actually a second language for most there.. I led a couple of my favourites, and soon realised that for such a group, they were just too hard to understand. Finding theologically solid, gospel-centered songs that are ‘simple’ is really difficult (the best IMO is Lord I lift your name on high’).

  • Findo

    I think that music has an inherent power to connect with our emotions, and that it was, in fact, designed to do so. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God calls his people to sing. One failure of the contemporary “praise & worship” concept is that we’ve bought into the idea that music, and thus, worship music, is merely a reflection of our emotions. While that can be true, it is also the case that music, and especially worship music, is formative – when we worship God as a congregation – his people gathered – not only do we reflect our emotions, but God uses worship to mold us into the people he wants us to be (see Jeremy Begbie), which is why the words we sing are so important, and shouldn’t be merely personal and reflective of how I feel, but also at times sung to one another, and declarations of who God is and what he has done. 
    And that means that, yes, we should be singing about the full gamut of life: anger, grief, loss etc. When was the last time we sang, like the Psalmist, “how long oh Lord?” in relation to the tragedies we see around us?

    The other problem with the contemporary view, IMO, is the equation of worship with singing. It is that, but so is the prayer and preaching, and washing up coffee cups..

  • Sharideth Smith

    get out of my head, alise.  geez.

  • Stacey Gleddiesmith

    Interesting that I was directed to this particular blog post on this particular Sunday. Our service this morning contained one song: an a cappella “Lord Have Mercy” that we repeated three times during our “storytelling” service (if you’re interested, I’ll be posting the service later today on my own blog:

    I agree that often music is used in worship services as emotional manipulation. I think, however, that this is often the result of our own failure to think well about what worship is, why we gather to worshop God, and how various elements (including music) fit properly within that framework. The root of the problem you mention is the same as the root of the so-called “worship wars”: our theology of worship is weak.

    Thanks for posting on this!

  • Sarah Moon

    I can’t believe I missed this one! Love it!!

  • pastordt

    Omigosh – I love this post, Alise. There is always this danger in leading worship – something I’ve done a lot of over the last 50 years or so. We can slip into manipulative behavior without even knowing it sometimes. And too many contemporary songs (and the ways in which they’re ordered in a service) can do that, too. I love all kinds of songs – old/new/re-done. And we do need to sing about all of life, most especially if it helps us enter more fully into the morning’s biblical texts. We are blessed with a creative and committed worship director and I am continually blessed by the ways in which he arranges music, all kinds of music, for our worshipful experience on Sundays. We’ve had jazz/gospel/classical/contemporary. Though we don’t step outside the Christian circle too far with lyrics, we most certainly do with musical style and occasionally with prelude/postlude/offertory Well said.

  • Kim Van Brunt

    Great post, Alise. Very thought-provoking.  I’d love you to explore another facet of this, and that’s singing to Jesus as if he’s our romantic lover. Maybe this is where some of the manipulative emotionalism comes in — we’re made to think that if we don’t have Big Feelings of Love for God/Jesus, then we’re not really worshiping, or we’re not “connected” with the message. God is love, and Love is God, but sometimes I wonder about how we express it, particularly in contemporary worship music.

  • Mira

    Oh man, I almost wish my church would try harder to manipulate me! I go to a fairly mainline church with a great music director, and the instrumental music and choir anthems that the congregation doesn’t sing with tend to be varied in style, lyrically profound, and musically gorgeous…but our four hymns per service are 3-6 verses of repetitive 4/4 C or G major boredom, almost ALWAYS. And I hate that I spend most of them singing along vaguely, thinking “geez, is this over yet?” Sometimes the lyrics are lovely, but I have a lot of trouble paying attention because I’ve come to dread them.

    I can definitely see that making the hymns more intense but less musically interesting could be manipulative. But there has to be a middle ground somewhere, right? Can’t real engagement – and hey, worship itself perhaps – exist somewhere between “going through the motions” and “emotional manipulation”? 

  • Becky Dobyns

    “But what I have found over and over in my interactions with those
    outside of the faith, one of the biggest turn-offs is when we’re not

    yes. This is so true. It’s like we’re peddling Jesus and the church experience, salespeople trying to rope in new buyers. we have to examine our hearts and ask ourselves if we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is, and if we truly believe our worship is genuine or contrived. Because if what we’re talking about is real, we don’t have to try so hard to make people think and feel that it is. Worship should be an effortless expression of our hearts to the only one who truly knows them.

  • paulvanderklay

    In 2008 Tim Keller preached a sermon on singing. Fascinating sermon, resonated with some of what you wrote here.

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