What does emotionally intelligent ministry look like? ‘Pathetic’ now means something like ‘feeble, weak, useless’. In the eighteenth century it meant something like ‘related to the passions’. we get pathos from a similar root. Pathetic ministry, then, is ministry that takes account of the right place of the passions or emotions in the Christian life.
Isaac Watts has some helpful things to say about this in his Discourses o the Love of God. The passions can greatly help us in the Christian life. For instance a truth that is felt is much more likely to stick; and holiness becomes easier when our passions are engaged because, after all, we want to know holiness. And where passions are brought under the rule of Christ, a great ‘engine of mischief’ (p. 669) is taken from the hands of satan, and deployed to the greater glory of God.
Pathetic ministry therefore needs to cultivate an emotional literacy so that we worship with our heart as well as with our minds when we worship together. This is not manipulation if we aim to cultivate passions for God, under the rule of Christ. It may mean consciously making time for reflection and response; it will mean that when we sing, we can celebrate, or lament, or praise.
There are implications for preaching too.
- The language of Scripture is emotive. When we preach those passages, do we allow the passion to be displayed and evoked? I remember one minister describing how one service during a sermon series on Job had no songs – they seemed inappropriate for the subject matter. Of course, there are other notes in the emotional register!
- There are emotional applications: how should I feel about this? What do I do with commands to ‘rejoice’?
- And if feeling a truth helps it to stick, what is a right way to evoke emotion in order to plant the word deep into the hearers’ hearts?