Emotionalism. There, I said it. So many people in the church are hyper-emotional, like all the time. From what they desire in worship to what they desire for their kids, emotionalism dominates heads and hearts. You hear it from semi-innocent statements like, “I just wasn’t being fed.”, said by classic church hoppers and shoppers everywhere to semi-innocent questions like, “Did you have fun today?”, asked by well-meaning parents everywhere after they pick up their kids from some event or program at church. Yes, emotionalism in the church is one of my biggest headaches.
Now, to be clear, I am not anti-emotion. I am not anti-fun. I am not the anti-Christ. I just have a very legitimate concern that people in the church – people who genuinely love Jesus – have an overt fascination with feeling something. It seems to me that many people in the church are looking for some sort of mountain-top experience that will get them high on life and ministry. There seems to be a desperate desire to feel something exciting and amazing…no matter the cost.
I remember growing up as a preacher’s kid when Rick Warren made his debut splash with his classic work, “The Purpose Driven Life” (and its’ counterpart, “The Purpose Driven Church”). I remember my Dad clearly (and with some crustiness in his demeanor) say, “This isn’t the church. This won’t last long before the next hype arrives.” What was my Dad talking about? He was talking about the church’s desire to reach the lost, by any means possible, stopping just short of outright, outrageous sin to reach them. He was talking about the church’s desire to reach the lost by acting lost. He was talking about the church’s strategy of figuring out what culture wants and meeting those felt needs with gusto, giveaways, and gimmicks…all topped with a little bit of Jesus to make everything kosher. He was talking about the church and culture colliding into one hot mess express – emotionalism…The belief that if you don’t feel it, it isn’t real.
I meet people nearly every day who are in a desperate search to feel something. Some end their search in the forbidden arms of another. Others end their search by shooting up some forbidden substance. Less drastic measures come in the form of simply trying to generate a laugh or a tear as they sit in a worship service or small group gathering. People want to feel. People, in our culture, need to feel…At least they think they need to feel.
Now, certainly, the head and the heart are connected. Biblical truth should result in the heart responding, and that includes some degree of emotion involved. But, make no mistake about it, the order is important. Head, then heart. Many in our culture (and in the church) have inverted the order at their own peril…Heart, then head. They want to feel something before they think something. This is dangerous…
We see this clearly and humorously in the life of a toddler. They feel something in their hearts and immediately act out what they (honestly) feel so deeply. They’ll throw themselves onto the floor. They’ll cry many, many (real) tears of sorrow. They’ll scream. They’ll demand change. And all because Mom and Dad gently, but boldly stated, “You can’t eat toilet paper.” The toddler is simply trying to “live their truth”, but Mom and Dad know their toddler’s version of reality will end in a stomachache…or worse.
It is dangerous to put heart over head. What you feel, desire, and nurture in your heart will (inevitably) lead to action. That’s why we need our heads FILLED with “the truth”, not “my truth” or “your truth”, but “the truth”. We need to know some things before we feel some things and then act out on those things. Does that make sense? So many in the church want to feel something so deeply that they’ll bypass the hard work of thinking to satisfy their insatiable appetite for emotion. It’s like cheating on a math exam. You might get a 100% because of your final answers, but your route towards the solution was fraught with deception and error.
Friends in the church, life and ministry is more than your feels. It’s more than fun. It’s more than friendly high-fives and fist-bumps. Life and ministry is war. The battle against the thick darkness, instigated by the world, the flesh, and the Devil, demands intel. Yeah, as a former intel analyst for the United States Army’s Special Operations’ Community, I can 100% guarantee you that intel drives operations. Without actionable intel, no bad guys get shot in the face…and no bad guys get arrested for interrogation. It’s intel, then ops. Just imagine a group of soldiers (even highly trained and decorated soldiers) simply going into downtown Baghdad for operations. Who is the target? What did they do? Where are they located? Why do they need to be captured or killed? How do you reach the target? Operations demand intel. Same is true in the Christian experience. It must be head, then heart. Know some things. Feel some things. Then act. You may or may not enjoy it. You may or may not have fun. But you’ll be engaging in true spiritual combat operations, and that, my friends, makes all the difference in the world. Stay bold. Stay in the fight. Stay head strong, then heart strong…Why? Because the darkness is thick out there, but so is Gospel hope.