Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Corporate Worship and Spiritual Formation: Insights from Worship Leaders

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Corporate Worship and Spiritual Formation: Insights from Worship Leaders

Article excerpt

Studies of the psychology of religion have included research on religious conversion (Paloutzian, Richardson, & Rambo, 1999), the varieties of religious experience (James, 1902), and qualitative depictions of mystical experiences (Hardy, 1979), but few studies have examined corporate worship. More recent work has focused on understanding the relationships among spirituality, religiousness, and healthrelated outcomes and significant associations have been found (Chida, Steptoe, & Powell, 2009; Powell, Shahabi, & Thoresen, 2003; Seeman, Dubin, & Seeman, 2003). The most robust finding has been a positive relationship between church attendance and health-related outcomes.

"The strength of the relationship was, on average, approximately a 30% reduction in mortality after adjustment for demographic, socioeconomic, and health-related confounders and approximately a 25% reduction in mortality after adjustment for established risk factors" (Powell et al., 2003, p. 40).

Levin's (1996) model outlined specific pathways, mediators, and salutogenic effects that sought to explain the relationship between church attendance and health-related outcomes. In his model, religious practices, such as prayer and ritual, influence affect and cognition and result in decreased risk of disease as well as increased well-being.

While some studies have sought to identify key mediating variables, other research has shifted toward studying spirituality directly and examining more proximal spiritual variables (Pargament, Mahoney, Exline, Jones, & Shafranske, 2013). Despite the significant findings with church attendance, few researchers have examined the "black box of church attendance" (Idler et al., 2009) to identify key factors in church services, such as corporate worship, that may contribute to these associations. Pargament (2013) noted that church attenders may be exposed to a "spiritual dose" that includes experiencing spiritual emotions (e.g., awe and gratitude) and viewing themselves as "sacred vessels."

Some studies have examined ways that emotional and cognitive aspects of this spiritual dose are embodied (Idler et al., 2009). In a psychophysiological study of church attenders, Abernethy and her colleagues (2008) interviewed 74 ethnically diverse participants from Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches to elucidate key factors that contributed to spiritual transformation, spiritual struggle, and experiences of feeling close to God in worship. Higher heart rate was associated with recollections of experiences of spiritual struggle in contrast to experiences of feeling close to God. In addition, participants noted that the sermon contributed most to their transformation. Participants described an integrated cognitive, emotional, and relational process of transformation that often resulted in forgiveness and other changed behavior (Abernethy et al., in press).

The few studies that have examined corporate worship have primarily focused on the congregation, but little work has examined the music worship leader. One major question building on past research is, how does the music worship leader's emotional, cognitive, bodily, and relational state influence the congregation? In terms of a more proximal spiritual variable, another question is, how does this process of worship leading form worship leaders spiritually? Perhaps the association between church attendance and positive health outcomes is related to not only a positive emotional experience, but also exposure to a spiritually formative dose. Corporate worship may provide a multidirectional spiritual dose that includes God's action and a mutually spiritually formative process for the congregation and worship leaders.

Worship

In addition to individual spiritual practices, corporate worship and edification are key practices that contribute to Christian formation (Johnson, 2010). Traditionally, the western church has defined key practices such as "prayer, preaching, praise, confession, ministry, and the sacraments" as comprising corporate worship (Dyrness, 2011, p. …

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