Jump directly to the Content

An Affair of the Heart 'and' Mind

How to prepare for corporate worship.

There's an old joke among Meyers-Briggs users. Question: What happens when a passionate, hyper-expressive, exquisitely emotional feeler meets a logical, hyper-rational, Mr. Spock-type thinker?

Answer: They get married.

Too often deep thinking and profound feeling never meet in the one place they're most needed: in worship. How can we worship in ways that both engage the mind and touch the heart?

Some churches specialize in generating emotion. The platform people are experts at moving worshipers to laughter or tears. Attenders gradually learn to evaluate the service in terms of the emotion they feel.

In time, however, the law of diminishing returns sets in. Prayers are offered in highly emotive style and bathed in background music. Stories have to get more dramatic, songs more sentimental, preaching more histrionic, to keep people having intense emotional experiences.

Such worship is often shallow, sometimes artificial, and rarely reflective. Little attention is given to worshiping with the mind. It produces people who have little depth or rootedness. They may develop a "zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2, NIV). They become worship junkies, searching for whichever church can supply the best rush.

This is Scarecrow worship: it would be better if it only had a brain.

On the other hand, some churches focus keenly on cognitive correctness. They recite great creeds, distribute reams of exegetical information, craft careful prayers ahead of time. And yet the heart and spirit are not seized with the wonder and passion that characterize those in Scripture who must fall on their faces when they encounter the living God. No one is ever so moved that she actually moves.

This is tragic because, as Dallas Willard writes, "to handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them."

Those who attend such services may be competent to spot theological error, but the unspoken truth is they're also a little bored. Their worship is dry—it doesn't connect with their deepest hurts and desires. Rarely does it generate awe or healing, and never raucous joy.

This is Tin Man worship: if it only had a heart.

Worshiping as consumers

People have the tendency to approach worship as consumers. The focus is on my experience, sitting back with arms folded and saying to those leading worship, "Wow me." Do something to grab my attention, catch my interest. They assume worship is like watching a movie; it's something I critique afterward.

Can you imagine the Israelites, freshly delivered from slavery, before a mountain that trembles violently with the presence of God (Exodus 19), muttering: "We're leaving because we're not singing the songs we like. Like that tambourine song, how come they don't do that tambourine song anymore?"

"I don't like it when Moses leads worship; Aaron's better."

"This is too formal—all that smoke and mystery. I like casual worship."

"It was okay, except for Miriam's dance—too wild, not enough reverence. And I don't like the tambourine."

No, Scripture doesn't read like that. The people were filled with awe and wonder and trembling and hope and fear, because there in the middle of nowhere, before this bunch of ex-slaves, was God.

In our day—when the beauty of liturgical traditions, the freedom of charismatic expression, and the intellectual rigor of the Reformation are being cross-fertilized—we have a wonderful opportunity to pursue worship that balances intellect and passion.

So we often challenge our congregation:

1. Prepare yourself to worship.

Football players prepare for the big game. Sales people prepare for a big pitch. And worshipers should prepare to worship, both mind and heart. Prepare at home and even in the car en route to the service.

2. Invest yourself fully, regardless of how you feel.

Too often in corporate worship people experience what psychologists speak of as mindlessness. They go on autopilot. They wait for something to grab their attention. Instead, we need to say to God, "I'm fully present—listening, praising, confessing, responding—every moment of worship. I offer myself fully to you."

3. Make the most of the service.

Some people need to be encouraged to become freer in their expressiveness. It can be like when someone hits a home run. The stadium erupts with celebration: hugs, high fives, roars of joy, blowing kisses, arms raised in triumph.

Some worshipers need to say something like this: "I'm not going to raise my hands way up like that in church. After all we're not celebrating a home run. But since we are celebrating that Jesus died for my sins, saved me from hell, overcame my guilt, was raised from the dead, and will share his triumph with me through eternity, maybe I'll at least put my hands in my lap with palms up.'

On the other hand, some may become so expressive that they create a distraction. They need clear, gentle (sometimes not-so-gentle) reminders to balance their desire for expressiveness with what will help the body of Christ.

The single most important aspect of balanced worship, though, is making sure our hearts and minds are fully engaged and devoted. When this happens, moments will come when we feel and understand God in ways no one could have planned.

Article adapted from "Can You Engage Both Heart and Mind?" Leadership Journal, 1999.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Free CT Women Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: CT's weekly newsletter to help you make sense of how faith and family intersect with the world.

Attitude; Authenticity; Awe; Praise; Relationship with God; Worship
Today's Christian Woman, August , 2010
Posted August 2, 2010

Read These Next


Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter

Follow Us

More Newsletters