Teaching right worship and right feelings: The pastor’s responsibility as worship leader

If “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”[1] then that tells us a little about what the primary role and duty of pastors is all about.  If we were made and redeemed to worship God, to praise him and to enjoy and delight in his presence, then the pastor’s first job is to teach people to worship God and to find joy in him.

This is an important factor to bear in mind when thinking about preaching and about 1-1 discipleship and pastoral conversations. I’ve frequently referred back to Mike Ovey’s wish for his students when offering pastoral care. He would say that he didn’t just want them to survive the situation they were facing, even the most intense suffering but to thrive in it, to be holy in it.  We might want to take that further and say that our desire is that we might learn to praise God in every situation.

We sometimes talk about preaching application and the importance of applying God’s Word to everyday life. By this, we tend to mean that we want sermons which help us know what to do in practical situations including the workplace and relationships. I agree that we want our application to be relevant to day to day life but this arises out of the fact that the whole of our lives are meant to be praise and worship.

So, I think that one of the best things we can do is teach people how to worship, starting with what it means to worship as God’s gathered people. We teach people how to pray and sing together. We teach them how to hear God as Scripture is read and expounded. Our hope is that this will overflow into the week ahead. 

The pastor then has three things to teach the congregation.

  • Orthodoxy
  • Orthopraxis
  • Orthopathy

The word “orthodoxy” comes from two Greek words. Orthos is to do with straightness or correctness. Doxa is to do with glory. When the two words are brought together, they refer to what it means to bring right and proper glory to God and such glory is rooted in a correct knowledge of God. Orthodoxy therefore is about having the right beliefs about God.

Orthopraxy similarly is about right practice. It is important that we are not only those who hear what God says and believe it but that we put it into practice.  So, Christians should obey the teaching of Scripture. Pastors should both instruct on godly living and set a good example with their own lives..

This brings us to the third one. Pathos is about emotions and feelings – sometimes referred to as the affections. We might therefore talk about right feelings as “orthopathy” although the word has been appropriated by a branch of pseudo-medicine.  This came up recently in a discussion about contemporary worship and whether or not music can be used manipulatively. 

I have to say that I’ve seen music used to encourage emotions in a way that could be said to be manipulative. However, I would argue that this could be said of classical and traditional music just as much as about contemporary worship music and pop music.  It’s also worth observing that if feelings are good things and emotions are part of being human then to attempt to awaken emotions may be manipulative but also it could be equally manipulative to create an atmosphere where emotions are suppressed or even suffocated.

The other side to this is that whilst yes, it is possible to manipulate people, there is also a tendency to react against any instruction or guidance about how we are meant to act and what we are meant to believe. This tends to apply even more to emotions.  Who are you to tell me how I should be feeling at this stage?

A specific example of this is seen around the question of grief and mourning.  How often have we been told that everyone grieves in their own way. There is some truth to this. However, it can be overstated. There are in fact a number of observable patterns to how people grieve, hence we are prepared for specific emotions to show at given stages including sadness, denial, anger, negotiation etc.  We know that if people get stuck in specific stages of grief that this can be unhealthy. We also know that we cannot just react emotionally as we see fit and not expect that to affect others unhelpfully. If I turn up to the wake with a comedy DVD and a box of pop-corn because that’s how I react to sad and tragic news then you are likely to take me on one side and have a word with me.

I want to suggest that just as we are meant to have right and appropriate emotional responses to our circumstances, so too are we towards God.  There are correct feelings in response to his work in our lives. We are meant to move from guilt and shame to sorrowful repentance and through to joy and happiness.

Part of our gathering on Sundays to worship is so that we can learn how to calibrate our emotional responses to what God is doing in our lives and in the world around us.  We are taught this both as God’s Word is applied in preaching but also in the choice of songs, the prayers and even in the tone and mood of the meeting.  Hence, we will learn that there is a place for levity and laughter but also for solemness and that there is a kind of dignified joy that is vastly different to the levity mentioned before.

Pastors will want to think carefully then about how the worship service either helps or hinders us from learning how to worship. This does not mean that they will necessarily want to take control of leading the whole of every service or micro-managing but they will want to be talking these things through with those who have responsibility for every part of the gathering.

How are you taking responsibility for teaching the church to worship? How are you helping people learn how to “feel right”?

[1] The Westminister Shorter Catechism

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