Manipulation?

Manipulation has been on my mind the past few days.  How we attempt to evoke certain reactions, thoughts, emotions, actions from other people.  It’s all around us.  Every commercial we see and/or hear is an attempt to manipulate us towards purchasing that particular product or service.  The danger is that we become numb to this constant barrage of manipulation, failing to discern it when it is happening, and more dangerous, failing to discern what it is we are giving up in the process.

Kanye West has been in the news this weekend over his demands at a concert that everyone stand up.  Everyone.  The only exceptions were to be those people who were physically incapable of doing so.  Every single other person had to stand up or else he was not going to continue his concert.  So adamant was Kanye on this that he called out a specific person in the crowd, demanding that they stand up, and sending some of his people to verify whether the person was truly unable to stand up or not before continuing with the show.  (careful of that link – this site has some objectionable links and stories elsewhere on the page).

Manipulation is everywhere, including in church.  Thanks to Dennis for forwarding me an article on a large mega-church franchise that has recently expanded into our distant back yard, Los Angeles.

I read articles about churches like this and my first reaction is disdain.  This is immediately followed by self-recrimination.  I don’t want to be somebody who responds with sour grapes because somebody else is packing in thousands of young people every Sunday to a worship service.  My stance continues to be – and I have to work actively to keep it there – that so long as the Gospel is being preached in fullness and in truth, I need to be grateful that the Holy Spirit is providing a place these people can access.

As the article points out, there are many critics of Hillsong, and from what I can tell they might have very good grounds for their criticism.  Frankly though, their criticism could be leveled against many denominations and traditional congregations as well, who have abandoned the Word of God in an effort to gain greater cultural relevance and acceptance.  Hillsong is not the only place where you might not receive the full Word of God.  This by no means justifies Hillsong, but rather points to a problem in Christian churches in America that runs deeper and more epidemic than we can even contemplate.

Every week I’m responsible for putting together a worship service.  The format is constant – I’ve received that from nearly two millenia of Christian practice.  Much of the wording of the liturgy I have inherited from Christian history as well, which took most of it straight out of the Bible.  The music we sing, whether contemporary or hymns, is structured around the theme of the season or day, meshing (hopefully!) with not just the Biblical readings for the day, but my sermon approach as well.

So a lot of this planning is template.  Change the music and the Bible readings but much of the rest is more or less constant.  Am I manipulating my congregation when they come to worship?  Of course.

My manipulative efforts are centered around getting people to hear the Word of God and the nuances I’m trying to draw from it for the day.  I’m not focusing on manipulating emotions – Lutherans pride themselves on not having any :-)  But I do want to steer the direction of thoughts, and hopefully the responses of the people as the living Word of God is presented to them in several different manners in a single worship service.

Is this the same thing as creating an emotional mood through music, calculated placement of staff, and the veneer of hipness that places like Hillsong exude?  Traditional Christian worship was an outgrowth of Jewish synagogue practices of the first century.  Were those practices culturally normed and conditioned?  When the organ (a Lutheran musical touchstone) was introduced and popularized, was that significantly different than praise songs and rock bands playing music more familiar to contemporary youth?

I like to think I’d have less of a problem if contemporary music and instruments were being used to convey a depth of theology and Biblical grounding in keeping with traditional Christian hymnody (and the psalms that preceded hymnody).  I like to think that the issue for me isn’t how the music sounds, but what it says – or more often than not, doesn’t say.  I don’t want to chew on sour grapes simply out of envy or fear, but I have real reservations about what hordes of youth attending a rock-concert like worship experience in a nightclub-style venue are really after, and what they’re really receiving.  It’s easy to fault the shallowness of the quotes in the article, but I suspect that many traditional Christians would say similar things.

Now, if the allegations of heresy or at least dumbing down the Gospel are true, that’s a whole different matter.  Since I can’t verify this sufficiently at this point, I have to examine my own biases and misgivings to try and figure out what’s going on there.  It’s more complicated than I’d like to think it should be!  How much of that is my own manipulation of myself, and how free of manipulation can we expect worship to be given the amount of self-manipulation we are all prone to?

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One Response to “Manipulation?”

  1. Song of the South | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] people to the story rather than just promising them a bigger thrill.  Maybe that’s really what I worry about churches like Hillsong.  I fear that they emphasize the thrill and the coolness factor at […]

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