We Get Too Excited About Feelings

November 16, 2015

by Dr. Randy White

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Randy White HERE and is used by permission.

The church culture of America today will not tolerate boredom—and I think that is a bad thing.

I remember seminary classes in which the professors hammered home that there was almost no sin as great in the pulpit as the sin of a boring sermon. After all, we have the greatest treasure given to mankind, so it would be an atrocity if we delivered a boring sermon. The classroom would fill with the sound of “Amen”—because none of us were particularly fond of listening to boring sermons. We went from there determined to make our sermons and church services EXCITING.

And we did. We created the “fellowship of excitement.” We convinced our congregations that they were on the cusp of the most exciting days of their histories. We streamlined the service, hyped up the music, shortened the sermon, added a funny story and complemented it with a tear-jerker—all in the quest to make sure we avoided the sin of boredom.

I wonder why nobody ever said that it would be a sin for a molecular biology presentation to be boring. Is it sinful if the English teacher is a bit dry in the presentation of the importance of parallel sentences? Can a geometry teacher be excused for a less-than-titillating presentation which demonstrates the truth that if the exterior sides of two adjacent angles form perpendicular rays these angles are complementary?

The point is that truth is sometimes boring. Boredom is not the sin, but disregarding boring truth is the sin.

Make us feel something!
Congregations today are demanding that pastors and any other “worship leaders” make them laugh and cry—in just the right mixture. I have seen hundreds of examples of services in which the congregation had an exciting service: the music was upbeat and in tune; the announcements were brief and to the point; the sermon had the congregation in stitches with laughter—until the poignant story of a brown-eyed puppy with a blue-eyed girl made them cry. On cue, the music began, softly and tenderly, and every head was bowed and every eye closed. At this moment, the pastor clenched the deal. The congregation stood, a family walked the aisle to join the church. A child came forward to make a profession of faith. A teenager committed his life to ministry. At the back door, the pastor heard the words, “Oh, the Spirit moved today!”

The moving of the Holy Spirit has been reduced to an exciting feeling and a few people walking the aisle. I am not convinced that this is a movement of the Spirit at all. Sometimes, in fact, it may be nothing more than the pure manipulation of emotion. Because we assign the feeling of excitement and a few public “professions of something” to the Spirit, however, we seek to recreate the experience Sunday-by-Sunday.

When the Spirit moves
Is excitement really a move of the Spirit? I think that if a Biblical study were done, we would see a number of things. First, we would see that the movement of the Spirit cannot be scheduled, manipulated or orchestrated in any way. Second, when He moves, the results in Scripture were conviction and repentance—not laughter and joy.

It is a dangerous thing to assign the work of man to the Spirit, but I am convinced we have done so. We have learned the art of emotional manipulation. We work this art to its fullest, then we say, “The Spirit moved.” Heaven help us.

If you want to see the art of manipulation work to bring about the same feelings of emotion that are often called works of the Spirit at church, simply watch the Hallmark Channel. You will laugh, cry, get angry and finish the movie with a great sense of hope for the future. It is a formula that works for lifting the human psyche to a “feel good” level. It is not the work of the Spirit.

Boring has not always been sinful
Years ago in the denomination I grew up in, we had Training Union. The faithful would gather on Sunday night, before the service, for training. We would learn doctrine, history and churchmanship. And, when done according to the literature, it was boring. Very boring, in fact. Often there was a booklet for the quarter, each lesson having several sections or “parts.” The adults would be assigned a section for the next week. The following week, when it came time for their “part,” they would teach that section (often doing little more than reading the book).

In the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, this worked. Beginning in the 1970s, it began to fail miserably, and Training Union eventually died (after several noble attempts of resuscitation). In its wake came Sunday night seminars, video lessons, men’s and women’s ministries and more. Training Union died because it was boring. When truth was valued over excitement, it thrived. When excitement became the value of the American church, it died.

Get excited
I hope you will devalue feelings, especially in worship services (which we used to call “preaching services” before boredom became a sin). I do hope you will get excited about one thing: learning the truth of God’s Word. Boring or not, let’s celebrate when the Word is preached!

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Donald Morgan

Well said. Too many pew sitters are expecting to be entertained rather than be convicted of a fault or fed with God’s truth. Without meaning to disparage any brothers, the sensory extravaganza found in many mega churches has helped spread this expectation. I do not doubt that many preachers fill obligated to enliven their services to compete.

doug sayers

Thanks Dr White. You make a very important point and the responsibility/blame is found in both pulpit and pew. (Let he who has not fought off sleep during a sermon cast the 1st stone).

Q: How can a Book that is inspired by an awesome God, which teaches us about family, money, work, sex, sickness, suffering, aging and death – followed by a final judgment day, be found boring?

Answers: ?

Lydia

Thank you for bringing up a topic that is near and dear to me. For the life of me I cannot figure out why seeking truth is seen to be boring. But it is, by the vast majority. Seeking truth is a life long endeavor which includes wisdom in the handling of daily events.

We were taught in Training Union that we were part of the Priesthood of Believer and with that came responsibility and accountability to Jesus Christ. Many are taught today they don’t have the ability to be accountable or responsible. Seeking truth is a noble endeavor. We were encouraged to think even though we did it badly at the time. We learned it was important to weigh things by thinking them through. We were taught that wisdom comes from God.

Personally I believe the big change in our culture is that people are taught not to think but to feel . Feeling trumps thinking. And in many cases culturally and even at church there are no real consequences for behavior. How do you hold someone accountable who is “unable”?

Here is a big one: The focus on Feelings mean justice becomes subjective. And we see this played out everywhere.

Today, it seems church in most of the SBC is about cult of personality and indoctrination. Youth are spouting the platitudes of a guru. We did not have all these celebrity gurus to follow. We were told that being adult meant following Christ not humans.

Andy

I’m going to push back a bit, because while I agree with many of the observations you are making, and especially problem with using emotion to manipulate, I don’t think “I hope you will devalue feelings, especially in worship services” is the answer.

The apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 16 – “If anyone has no love for the lord, let him be accursed.” He also warns in Romans 10 about a zeal for God that is misguided, not in accordance with knowledge… So while there is a danger of a mis-guided emotion and passion, conversely if there is no feelings toward God, Paul seems be saying that person is not saved!

Bible Knowledge in itself is not the goal. The goal is for that knowledge to take root in a person’s soul and lead to transformation. This WILL include feelings an emotions. This does not mean the sermon has to be a flashy show, but it does mean it should address not just the head, but the heart.

I have heard John MacArthur say that he never appeals to the emotion, but only to the intellect, since he (as a calvinsit) believes that only God can influence the emotion, and his job is to simply provide the information and knowledge that God will use to do the transforming…BUT, I have also heard him preach a few times…and, because he is a good preacher, he doesn’t actually follow his own advice! He DOES (occasionally) use humor, and he does (very often) get beyond just conveying information to pressing for action and response based on that information (ie, “Oh, shouldn’t we love God for this…?”) . He is, in a generally non-flashy way. preaching bible truth and applying it to heart issues… He just doesn’t seem to understand that’s what he’s doing.

As to music….maybe later. : -)

Lydia

Andy, perhaps we should define Love. Is it a verb? What does it entail. Only feeling? My dad was extremely Edwardian in countenance. His idea of love was old fashioned duty. We do right to each other because that is what God created us to do, sort of thing.. So his actions in life were “love”. His feelings about it were rarely on the surface. :o)

We should be spurred on to do good. If we wait for the right ” feeling” it may never come. Or it can become a “show”. We worship every time we reflect Him and His ways to our little corners of the world. It should become a habit! ( that is easier said!)

Our society has OD’d on feelings as an indicator of truth or sincerity.. Yet, We all operate on emotion. we just have varying societal norms of what is acceptable to show. It is a very personal concept?

    Andy

    1. “only a feeling.”? –> NO, but also not devoid of feeling…Before Jesus acted to alleviate suffering, he “had compassion.” No doubt your Father acted in ways to provide for his family because inwardly he actually CARED about you.

    2. “society has OD’d on emotion” ? –> Yes, I agree.

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