Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multimedia theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. Many of us ascend this mountain every Sunday morning wanting to have an experience with God, and many of us leave with a degree of genuine transformation. We feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.”
No doubt many, like Moses, have an authentic encounter with God through these events. But new research indicates another explanation for our spiritual highs. A University of Washington study has found that megachurch worship experiences actually trigger an “oxytocin cocktail” in the brain that can become chemically addictive. The same has been found at large sporting events and concerts, but attenders to these gatherings don’t usually attribute the “high” to God.
“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshipers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the study.
- Skye Jethani, “When Worship Is Wrong”
Back in May, Jeff brought our attention to a church in his hometown that is intentionally seeking the high described in this article — and refusing to apologize for it. In their “core values” statement, they say, “We like to rock out - We place a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money on the weekend experience because we believe that it matters. It will be fun, it will be relevant, and it will be exciting!”
That’s our culture: it’s all about the energy, the enthusiasm, the “weekend experience.”
Nothing wrong with an occasional exciting experience, right? I’m OK with that.
But where in the Bible or in the wise counsels of the saints over the centuries do you find that a regular pattern of ecstatic encounters with God is the recommended path to spiritual formation and maturity?