The Spirit is at work, but so are the mechanisms around high-production sets.
“Bigger!” said the voice in my in-ear monitor.
I was on stage in a dark room, nearly blinded by spotlights. It was my first time leading worship at a big regional conference for college students, and one of the production managers in the sound booth prompted me to raise my hands higher, move more, clap more, jump, be more physically demonstrative.
I had always known conference worship sets were orchestrated, but this was the first time I could see the minutiae. At one point, I was told to imagine my arms attached to foam pool noodles, to keep them straight and raise them high. Each song was ranked by “energy level” from 1 to 5, and certain sessions could have songs only above a 3.
I remember wondering, Am I manipulating the people watching, singing, and listening? Am I using music to generate an emotional response in the crowd?
The short answer is yes. Worship music can move and manipulate emotions, even shape belief. Corporate worship is neurological and physiological. Martin Luther insisted that music’s ability to move and manipulate made it a singular, divine gift. “Next to the Word of God,” Luther wrote, “only music deserves being extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart. … Even the Holy Spirit honors music as a tool of his work.”
Songwriters and worship leaders use tempo and dynamic changes, modulation, and varied instrumentation to make contemporary worship music engaging, immersive, and, yes, emotionally moving.
As worshipers, we can feel it. Songs with lengthy interludes slowly build anticipation toward a familiar hook. Or the band drops out so voices sing out when the chorus hits. Plus the lyrics themselves can cue our behavior …