Wineskins Archive

January 22, 2014

Hope Network Newsletter: Right-Brain Christians in a Left-Brain Church (Jul 1992)

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Hope Network Newsletter

by Lynn Anderson
July, 1992

After class Pat pulled me to the side. “Could I talk with you? I’m feeling hurt and offended.” Tears welled up in her eyes as Pat went on. “I felt as if you were putting down the past … or my parents … or something. And I feel … well … uncomfortable.

“See, I was raised to believe that we worship God ‘decently and orderly’ – with our minds. That emotionalism was dangerous. But what we just did in class was so … well … different! I do feel something in that kind of worship. But I get scared when I feel things in church. I can go to a movie, or a concert, or dancing to get my emotional high. Can’t we keep emotion out of the church?”

Pat speaks for a lot of us.

I had just taught a class which triggered Pat’s comments. Our worship team helped me contrast two styles of worship: one designed for “thinker” people (left-brainers) and the other for “feeler” people (right-brainers).

I wanted the class to experience both styles of worship as well as discuss them. So we kicked the first segment off with three traditional hymns from the “old hymn book.” Jeff led up front, very formally.

Then Robert read Scripture (on yet another subject) in traditional style. Next an impromptu prayer, which turned out to be trite and impersonal. “Left-brain” people were feeling secure and at home. But their worship was genuine. “Right-brain” people, however, fiddled with things in the pew racks, counted ceiling tiles, and checked their watches.

Between the first and second segments, I explained, “Both thinkers and feelers were created by God. Neither are good/bad, or right/wrong. God simply wired us up differently.”

True. All of us do have both “feeler” and “thinker” in us. But, according to George Barna, 45% of us are dominantly right-brain, 45% dominantly left-brain, and 10% more equally feeler/thinker.

Segment two: The tempo of the class shifted abruptly into celebrative praise and worship, with contemporary songs projected on a screen in colorful graphics. Readings, prayers, and singing clustered around a single theme. The worship team led directly from one song to the next without interruption, gathering the congregation into the momentum of the experience. A few songs included clapping and one or two worshippers actually “lifted holy hands.” The beaming expressions of the worship leaders spread to the congregation.

Several short scripture readings moved quickly from one reader to the next, climaxing in a congregational responsive reading. When we knelt for a season of prayer, several people prayed poignantly about specific real-life issues, interspersed with periods of silence. Right-brainers were transported while some left-brainers rolled their eyes.

Segment three: I taught 20 minutes on “Hindrances to Worship: over-Emphasizing Our Rational Selves.” Drawing from Paul’s “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9), I called upon both right- and left-brained personalities to lovingly celebrate our diversity, because:

1. God is the one who designed us.

2. The praise of half our people might be inhibited if we hold exclusively to one style of worship or the other.

3. If feelers (right-brainers) are to worship in their “heart language,” our assemblies may need to include more experiential and celebrative ingredients. But not to the exclusion of more cerebral segments.

4. To worship in the heart language of the young, we may need to include contemporary formats, but without scrapping all the traditional ones.

5. And, if our assemblies are to connect with visitors who are not acculturated to our old-style and left-brain liturgy, we must avoid “in-house” and “churchy” vocabulary and musical styles.

So as Pat and I examined mixed reactions to the class, she explained: “I understand ‘right-brain/left-brain’ stuff. I’m a school teacher trained in learning styles. In fact, I’m right-brained myself. I teach art, for goodness sake! And I crave right-brain experiences, music, and drama, but ….”

But let me interrupt Pat one more time to visit for a moment with Cheryl.

Cheryl is part of a second category of right-brain Christians. She is one of the thousands who left our fellowship because they feel that “something” is missing. Months after she had left, Cheryl visited over breakfast with the preacher from her “old home church.” “When I left, I didn’t know precisely what I wanted, though I searched for ‘it’ in a number of churches. But I think I’ve put my finger on it,” Cheryl explained. “In my home church we always talked about Jesus in the past tense: New Testament times. But in the churches that connect with my spirit, Jesus occupies the present tense … is connected to now! I hunger to experience personal relationship with God. Now! Not just talk about someone else’s experience with him 2,000 years ago.” Swarms of “Cheryls” leave our fellowship every year.

Jack represents a third group: right-brainers outside our fellowship who want God and who study the Bible. Some of them do check us out, but most don’t come back. Not because we’re unfriendly or insincere. Right-brain people just find it hard to connect with a left-brain church.

Jack made his living playing in a band with Richard who led jack to Christ through personal Bible study. Richard said, “Jack fell in love with Jesus at first sign, and loved the idea of being ‘just a Christian.’ But when Jack visited the ‘Old Paths Church’ with me, things didn’t go well. Worship that particular day ran off the charts into ‘left-brain analytical’; and our church is already an unsually cerebral kind of church – even on the most exciting days.”

Every member of Richard’s band eventually came to Christ and visited ‘Old Paths Church’ with Richard. Not one of them stayed there.

Mike, a strong left-brainer, who overhead Jack’s comments, wrote Jack and his friends off as merely “wanting to get a ‘buzz’ out of church rather than to worship God.” Possibly. But God made both men. And jack’s “expresser/feeler” heart language is just as God-designed for God-honoring worship as is Mike’s “cerebral/analytical” left-brain style.

But Mike is not alone either. As a fellowship, we non-instrumental Churches of Christ tend well toward the left-brain. We pride ourselves in being thinkers, not just feelers. However the gospel is partly right-brain. Plus, not all our left-brain tendencies came from the Bible.

The roots of our movement run deep into the left-brain intellectual soil of the 19th century. The western world had become “enlightened” and help high hopes for the power of reason. At least in part, the American dream grew out of this new-found confidence in the possibilities of the human intellect.

Alexander Campbell was a true son of the 19th century. When Campbell was a child, his father read him the writings of John Locke, one of the “brain fathers” of 19th-century rational enlightennment. Campbell later referred to Locke as “The Christian Philosopher.” With apologies to Campbell and company, let me simplistically sketch out some of the resulting theological assumptions: Clear thinking would clean up the old religious muddle. God made the universe. Enlightened man could unlock the secrets of the universe.

Religious phenomena of the day influenced Campbell too. One phenomenon was the subjective hyper-emotionalism rampant in the frontier religion. For example, at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801, thousands gatered for a 19th-century religious “Woodstock.” Mass psychology overwhelmed the crowd. Undreds broke out in bizarre barking, jerking, and laughter which they attributed to outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

One can only imagine how all this clashed with Campbell’s left-brain thought world. So Campbell pushed the “restoration” pendulum toward the opposite extreme. Eventually, many “restorationists” limited the Holy Spirit to the status of retired author and worship to five acts – stacked heavily on the left-brain side.

In our honest attempts to keep the biblical foundations of our faith from evaporating into some amorphous “better felt than told” experience, we may not only have dwarfed our right-brain but may have inadvertently screened a huge crowd out of our movement.

We may also have wrung the right-brain juice right out of our Bibles.

Aldous Huxley speaks of a human as a “multiple amphibian” – that is, we are designed to make our way through many worlds at once (intellectual, emotional, sexual, social, and so forth). But, since the industrial revolution, we tend to live in the analytical sphere and crowd out those “other” world which are thus atrophying, said Huxley.

When we attempt to analyze and explain God, we may strip our faith of its drama, mystery, poetry and story, which say about life and God what information, precept, and reason can never say. Faith is not “irrational.” Conversion brings a “renewing of the mind” and bids us “understand what the will of the Lord is.” But we can never explain the inexplicable, ponder the imponderable, and “unscrew the inscrutable.” God is too vast and mysterious for that. So are human beings. There is far more to us than brains.

Scripture knows this and penetrates us on multiple levels, touching us at depths unreachable by information alone. Look, for example, at the variety of literary genres in the Scriptures. Some of the Bible is drama, some is music, some poetry, story, paradox and mystery.

However, our analytical roots bent us toward left-brain theology and left-brain styles of worship which in turn attracted more left-brainers than right-brainers into our fellowship. Across several generations, we have evolved a full-blown, left-brain religious culture.

Pat and Cheryl are telling us that some of our own kids feel trapped in all this. They may feel drawn toward some of the recent right-brain elements being restored to our worship and theology, but at the same time they are fearful. Sme even register guilt over their own religious feelings! What irony: when my God-given dispositio collides with the very religious culture which taught me to love God!

Now, let’s go back and finish our conversation with Pat.

“Actually, I don’t want to deal with this. I can fill my ‘feeler’ needs in other places. And I have conditioned myself to ‘get something’ out of worship even though I don’t like it much and don’t feel mcuh. I’ve given up a lot of myself to be faithful to the church. Why can’t my friends do that?

“But, Lynn, when you walk into class and lay that right-brain stuff beside the left-brain stuff it stirs up both my longings and my fears. And you set up an internal collision for me. I don’t want to hear it. Why do we have to do these things? Why not just let sleeping dogs lie?”

Right-brain Christians in a left-brain church. Wrestling with convoluted feelings. At times feeling drawn twoard the freedom of right-brain worship, yet paradoxically longing for the security of old familiar ways. Feeling guilty when they enjoy “right-brain” unfamiliar religious experience, yet feeling empty in the familiar left-brain worship service. Some resent Christians who break loose and enjoy the right-brain dimension of faith, yet they secretly repress their own right-brain longings. Others may actually feel anger toward the church for squelching their feelings.

You may not be one of the right-brain Christians in a left-brain church. But nearly half of your congregation likely is. Does this mean that half of every church is doomed to be either frustrated or offended? Does it means churches must split? And do we celebrate the exodus from us to other fellowships? I believe our times call for at least a three-fold response:

1. In all situations: Teach the whole word of God! Let our theology be both left- and right-brain, balanced by the Bible.

2. In some situations: Accept renewal as the Lord gently, lovingly stretches the wineskins.

3. In other situations: Plant new congregations which begin with more balanced right- and left-brain styles.

Let me again traffic in hope!

Ideas are changing. For the last two decades our theology has moved steadily away from left-brain extremes. Graduate Bible departments are strengthening our grip on the text, and broadening our understanding of it as well.

Style is changing, too. A resurgence of praise and worship is sweeping our fellowship. We are beginning to see the Bible, not so much as an anchor but as a keel, and helthy fresh winds are blowing. May our lives – and our worship – make glad the heart of an awesome God who created us right and left.

Good days are ahead!Wineskins Magazine

Lynn AndersonFor the twenty-five years Lynn has served as an adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University, teaching missions, ministry, and leadership courses. And through those years he has been called on increasingly by scores of minister and numerous churches—as they sought encouragement, resources, and counsel in the midst of the challenges of church leadership. Lynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of the San Antonio-based Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching, mentoring and equipping church leaders. []


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