Friday, December 15, 2006

Excitement Versus Manipulation: A Struggle for Us All

fire and brimstone
Originally uploaded by Ivan V. Butterfly.
I hate being manipulated. I hate being manipulated in a church service even more. The rising excitement leading up to the offering for a building fund, complete with exaggerated statistics and cheesy music. To me it smacks of human effort attempting to do God's work, or perhaps magic attempting to masquerade as a miracle. I don't like whoop 'em worship services. If you are Pentecostal, you know what I mean. The kind of services where great effort is made to get people shouting, clapping or any number of interesting and indescribable maneuvers.

Yet, I do not like boring services. I enjoy all the arts (except musicals, country western music, and rap - I suppose I would have throw a few things like macrame, or needlepoint in there as well, but these other things are more tolerable to me.) I think the arts should have their place in the presentation of the truth, and more specifically the Gospel. I do believe that worship should be expressive. Dance is acceptable to me - even if the person simply does one of those weird leg kickin' hops that looks like a mix between an ugly chorus line, and a clumsy Rabbi. I like hands in the air, and clapping is cool with me. If someone shouts in a worship time I'm down with that, or should we use a more sanctified prepositional phrase like "up with that?" Sometimes I think churches get the people excited so that the leaders look good, and feel good about themselves.

I enjoy open format services, in which beaucoup de interaction occurs. I tell people they can interrupt my sermons for questions, or pertinent additions to the topic, and this happens with some frequency. I like the idea of everyone coming together to participate in a worship experience. Yet I realize that a spontaneous experience will probably only allow a limited number of the people to participate, because there are only a few who are comfortable doing something unprepared.

So I am back to preparing a service which is not boring.

My challenge is this: What is the line between arranging a creative worship experience, and manipulating people to do what I THINK is healthy for their corporate worship experience? What is the dividing line between what I want, and what God wants for them? I worry about this more for myself than for others, because I know God honors simple faith.

The Pensacola revival invited the press to visit and evaluate their actions - bad move. They were typical in their organized orchestration, andmanipulation of what appeared to be revival from the very beginning. See this article from 1997.

Now I am not convinced that this or the many other articles prove that nothing really happened in Brownsville Assembly of God, but I am convinced that it wasn't God alone working. I don't want to be the manipulator of people, and whether we are Pentecostals, or Reformed theologians, or emergent I think we still walk a fine line between being relevant and being manipulative.

So when I see manipulation I wonder who's fire are we starting, and what is it consuming?


Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks for your very kind comment on my blog the other day. I didn't get a chance to respond to you at the time, but wanted you to know how much I appreciated it. The article you linked to about your experience with 4square was interesting, too. Sad to see what happened, but bravo to you for staying true to what you believe God has called you to do!

This present post that I'm commenting on struck a chord with me. I saw this kind of manipulation in a pentecostal church in which I spent about 3 or 4 years before coming here to North Carolina. It troubled me.

We had a particularly strong move of God that within about two weeks had turned into man-made manipulation. Very sad. And they continued in that vein for several years (may still be there, I dunno).

I look forward to reading and interacting with you more!

steve :)

Pastor Phil said...


Thanks for popping in. Loved your blog.

This kind of thing is often the norm for pentecostal liturgy. Something exciting happens and we think that it will be reproduced each week in similar manner. The leaders establish a pattern to make it happen, and the followers expect it, and prepare for it. Pretty soon everyone is falling around, or some such uniquely pentecostal behavior.

Of course, I have to ask myself in what subtle ways I may actually do the same thing. Do I work on being cool, or relevant, or challenging in such a way as to invoke my own form of magic manipulation? I hope and pray not, but we are never far from that sort of behavior as leaders.

Phil in the blanks

Anonymous said...

By the way, completely off the subject, but my condolences to you on UMass's loss to my own employer (and wife's alma mater): Appalachian State University. ;)

Pastor Phil said...

I'm a California boy living in the Northeast. No attachment to UMass here.

Pastor Phil said...

I'm a California boy living in the Northeast. No attachment to UMass here.

Sally said...

I'm right with you there Phil I hate manipulation and any sense that God needs our help to "hype " people up simply makes me nauseous... love this:

So when I see manipulation I wonder who's fire are we starting, and what is it consuming?

keep asking those difficult questions!