Responsible Ministry Practices in Anxious Times : J. Michael Jordan

Responsible Ministry Practices in Anxious Times - J. Michael Jordan - 115 - FrontStage BackStage with Jason Daye

How can we thoughtfully approach ministry at the intersection of worship, anxiety, and emotions? In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by the Reverend Dr. J. Michael Jordan. Michael is an ordained Wesleyan pastor who serves in pastoral ministry and is also a professor of Bible and Theology at Houghton College. His most recent book is entitled Worship in an Age of Anxiety. Together, Michael and Jason explore the importance of considering how the ways we preach, teach, worship, and gather relate to anxiety. Michael also shares how rethinking our theology of emotions can possibly impact the way we serve, ensuring that we’re honoring God and not simply manipulating emotions.

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Additional Resource Links – Houghton University, where J. Michael Jordan currently serves as associate professor of Bible and theology and is a Christ-centered liberal arts and science institution offering an academically rigorous education rooted in an orthodox Christian worldview.

Worship in an Age of Anxiety: How Churches Can Create Space for Healing (Dynamics of Christian Worship) – The history of the theology of worship is riddled with examples of clergy and worship leaders who have sought to manipulate their parishioners’ anxiety in order to spur repentance and turn people toward God. Even if such ends may be desirable—at what cost? In his book, Jordan challenges this utilitarian approach, offering a critical assessment of contemporary as well as historical evangelical figures such as D. L. Moody and Billy Graham who have deployed anxiety as a tool for conversion.

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Key Insights and Concepts

  • The evolution of mental health discussions among college students reflects a significant cultural shift, with more young people openly identifying with and seeking help for anxiety compared to past generations.
  • The increased willingness to accept mental health labels among students highlights both progress in destigmatization and the complexity of integrating these issues with their Christian faith.
  • Historical stigmas surrounding anxiety in Christian circles are gradually being dismantled, paving the way for more open and supportive conversations about mental health.
  • Statistical trends reveal a dramatic rise in anxiety and sadness among young people, with significant increases observed over the past two decades, particularly during the pandemic.
  • The challenge for many young Christians lies in reconciling their faith with their mental health struggles, striving to find a meaningful integration of the two.
  • Viewing mental health solely through the lens of physical health can be reductive; faith must play a role in addressing emotional and spiritual well-being.
  • Anxiety in Christian history has been a persistent theme, often seen as a catalyst for spiritual growth and repentance, as emphasized by preachers like Charles Finney and Dwight Moody.
  • The revivalist tradition ingrained a cycle of anxiety, repentance, and relief in evangelical worship, influencing how believers approach their faith journey.
  • Contemporary worship practices, including altar calls, continue to reflect the cycle of anxiety, repentance, and relief, sometimes leading to a repetitive and exhausting experience for congregants.
  • Effective anxiety treatment today often involves acknowledging and relativizing inner experiences, aligning with the Christian practice of self-examination and growth.
  • Worship music in evangelical settings can unintentionally reinforce feelings of inadequacy or anxiety among congregants who struggle to connect emotionally.
  • The balance between ritual and sincerity in worship is crucial; rituals provide stability and continuity, while sincerity fosters genuine emotional expression.
  • The Christian year and liturgical practices can immerse believers in a larger narrative, helping them see beyond their immediate emotional states and into the grand story of God’s work.
  • Weekly practices like communal prayers of repentance and thanksgiving can help believers acknowledge their sin and celebrate God’s grace without overwhelming anxiety.
  • The importance of recognizing oneself as a beloved child of God underpins all spiritual growth and healing, providing a foundation of love and acceptance amidst struggles.

Questions for Reflection

  • How can I better understand the shift in how younger generations talk about their mental health? What steps can I take to create a more supportive environment for them in my ministry?
  • In what ways can I help our people integrate their faith with their mental health, ensuring that neither aspect of their lives is neglected?
  • How have I seen the stigma around anxiety and mental health change in my ministry? What can I do to further reduce this stigma within my church community?
  • What strategies can I employ to address the rising levels of anxiety and sadness among young people, particularly in light of recent statistical trends?
  • How can I facilitate open conversations about mental health among my congregation, especially among those who may feel hesitant to share their struggles?
  • What role does faith play in my approach to mental health? How can I ensure that I am addressing the emotional and spiritual needs of my congregants effectively?
  • How do I view the historical approach to anxiety in Christian worship? Have I given this much thought? In what ways has this shaped my life and ministry?
  • In what ways can I help my congregation move beyond the anxiety-repentance-relief cycle, fostering a more sustainable and holistic spiritual growth?
  • How can I ensure that worship practices, such as altar calls, are meaningful and not just repetitive rituals that may cause exhaustion or anxiety?
  • How can I incorporate modern anxiety treatments into my pastoral care, aligning them with Christian practices of self-examination and growth?
  • What steps can I take to ensure that worship music in my church does not unintentionally reinforce feelings of inadequacy or anxiety among congregants?
  • How do I strike a balance between ritual and sincerity in my worship services, providing stability while also fostering genuine emotional expression?
  • How can I use the Christian year and liturgical practices to immerse my congregation in the larger narrative of God’s work, helping them see beyond their immediate emotional states?
  • What practices can I introduce that encourage my congregation to acknowledge their sins and celebrate God’s grace without overwhelming anxiety?
  • How can I consistently remind myself that I am a beloved child of God, providing a foundation of love and acceptance amidst my life and struggles?

Full-Text Transcript

How can we thoughtfully approach ministry at the intersection of worship, anxiety, and emotions?

Jason Daye
In this episode, I’m joined by the Reverend Dr. J. Michael Jordan. Michael is an ordained Wesleyan pastor who serves in pastoral ministry and is also a professor of Bible and Theology at Houghton College. His most recent book is entitled Worship in an Age of Anxiety. Together, Michael and I explore the importance of considering how the ways we preach, teach, worship, and gather relate to anxiety. Michael also shares how rethinking our theology of emotions can possibly impact the way we serve, ensuring that we’re honoring God and not simply manipulating emotions. Are you ready? Let’s go.

Jason Daye 
Hello, friends, and welcome to another episode of FrontStage BackStage, I’m your host Jason Daye. Each and every week, I have the honor and the privilege of sitting down with a trusted ministry leader and we dive into a timely conversation, all in the hopes of helping you and ministry leaders just like you embrace a healthy rhythm for both your life and your ministry. Now, we are proud to be a part of the Pastor Serve Network. Not only do we have a conversation every single week, but our team also creates an entire toolkit that complements the conversation at hand. In this toolkit are a number of resources including a Ministry Leaders Growth Guide, which has insights that are pulled out of the conversation, and questions that you can work through yourself, and work through with the ministry leaders at your local church. So we encourage you to check that out. You can find the toolkits for every single episode including this one at At Pastor Serve, we love walking alongside pastors and ministry leaders. We have a team that does this day in and day out. If you’d like to learn more about what a coaching conversation might be like for you in your ministry, we encourage you to check out You find details there about how you can receive a complimentary coaching session. Now if you’re joining us on YouTube, please give us a thumbs up and drop your name and the name of your church in the comments below. We love getting to know our audience better and our team will be praying for you and for your ministry. If you have any questions throughout this conversation, be sure to drop them in the comments below. We’ll be sure to come back and answer those. Whether you’re following us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform, please take a moment to subscribe and follow. Do not miss out on any of these great episodes. As I said, we have a good episode, a great episode, for you today. Super excited to be welcoming Michael Jordan to the show. Michael, welcome.

J. Michael Jordan 
Hey, good to meet you, Jason. Thanks for having me on.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, Michael, great to have you on. Now you might be a little different Michael Jordan than what some people were expecting. But hey, everybody hang in there because it’s gonna be an awesome conversation.

J. Michael Jordan 
I get this a lot.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, I imagine. So sorry. Michael, it’s great to have you with us. Thank you again for making the time. We’re gonna dive into this conversation. A lot of our conversation is going to be around the fact that we live in a time and age where anxiety is so prevalent. We’re going to talk about anxiety and we’ve had conversations on FrontStage BackStage in the past about anxiety. But we are coming at this from a different angle than we’ve ever approached before, Michael, because you have written a book called Worship in an Age of Anxiety. You really kind of hone in on not just the fact of anxiety, we wrestle with anxiety, or anxiety is out there. But you hone in on how we as pastors and ministry leaders, potentially, either explicitly or implicitly, are using anxiety in the way that we serve, the way that we minister, and the way that we worship, which is a fascinating conversation. The book is absolutely incredible. So thank you for putting all of that together. But to start off, Michael, I’d love for you to just share a little bit because, in the book you give, I thought it was a great way kind of to set the stage about anxiety, where you talked about you showing up as a freshman at college. Now here you are, years later you serve at your alma mater, and just kind of the difference in this idea of anxiety within our generation, Michael.

J. Michael Jordan 
Yeah, so I started college here at Houghton in 1995. So almost 30 years ago, which seems impossible. But I just remember that I was a fairly kind of high-strung and emotional kid. But it never really dawned on me that I was the kind of person who would need counseling. Does that make sense? I didn’t think of myself as a distinct category of person. So when people would talk about anxiety, I just sort of thought they were not talking about me. But what’s been interesting, so  I’ve done campus ministry for about a dozen years at my alma mater, I’m transitioning over to the classroom next year and doing more teaching. But during that dozen years or so, just the way that students now talk about their mental health so freely, and are willing, for good and for ill, to take labels of anxiety, or being anxious or have anxiety in a way that was just unthinkable some years ago. It’s important to say that I think at that age, even when I was a young person, we had already come a long way in thinking about anxiety. At my parents’ age and my grandparents’ age, anxiety carried our real stigma in Christian circles that we were beginning to break down by the time, even 30 years ago. There’s one psychologist I read who’s talking about how the average American youth in the 1980s experienced levels that they would have found psychologically problematic in the 1950s. So even though it’s been some time in coming, it’s been exponential the last few years. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of young people, 18 to 25-year-olds, that talked about themselves as feeling sad or anxious, most of the time, or all the time, moved from just under 8% to over 14.5% during that time. So just within 10 years this exponential growth. Most challenging for me, so I’ve got five kids, one of whom is my oldest daughter who is a senior in high school. So in 2021, a study was done kind of mid-pandemic about the prevalence of anxiety in high school students. 42% of students said they felt sad or hopeless persistently at least once in the last year. 42% of students said that and 57% of female students said that, which just boggles the mind, right? We’ve just come a long way in how we talk about these things and theories abound about whether we’re experiencing something different, or if we’re just more willing to talk about it. I mean, that’s a really good question. It’s kind of a both/and. I think we are experiencing more of it. But there’s also a greater freedom to talk about it, which again, cuts both ways I think in how we deal with young people who are there.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, that’s helpful, Michael. In recent news, let’s say recent church news, some high-profile or very well-known pastors have been talking a lot about mental health and spiritual health, and there’s been a lot of friction. A lot of people are saying that, Oh, those types of conversations are taking us back decades, right? Because they’re dismissing the idea of mental health. In your book Worship in the Age of Anxiety, you touch on this idea of how mental health and spiritual health kind of relate. Can you briefly kind of help us understand some thoughts around that?

J. Michael Jordan 
Yeah, again, to stay a little more of what I said before. I think it’s a good thing that we have destigmatized mental health a lot in the last 75 years, 50 years, 25 years, even 10 years. I think that’s great. But I know that for a lot of my students that I work with there’s this real struggle to integrate those two things, right? Most Houghton students are Christian, we don’t require our students to be Christian, but most are. For them, they are very comfortable, I’ve been amazed that I have young people who come and say, here are my triggers, here are the medications I’m taking, and these things. While at the same time, they hold their faith over here in this hand, and their mental health over here, and they’re just not quite sure how to bring the two together, if that makes sense. The Christian faith dares to talk about, dares to be kind of a theory that explains everything, right? It’s an idea that we think of as totally explaining everything. So we know that we’re not supposed to pray anxiety away anymore. But it has to have something to do with our faith. I think the kinds of things you’re talking about, there’s this kind of felt need to think, how do these things integrate? It’s sad and it’s tragic I think if we treat mental health just totally like we treat physical health. I think something gets lost there. It’s not like if I get cancer and my church comes around and says, All we can do is pray. We’ll pray that the doctors do their work and we pray that the medicine works, right? We recognize that’s the way that we want to deal with physical health. But I think that feels a little reductionist when it comes to mental health. We recognize somehow our faith has something to do with how we feel. Particularly like I’m a Wesleyan, and so within the Wesleyan tradition, we talk a lot about how our faith makes us feel. So those two things have to come together. Right now, I think you’re talking about ways in which it’s coming together in kind of clunky ways, right? Because I think people who are very sensitive to feeling, we don’t want to go back to that stigma. That’s understandable. We don’t want to go back. So, I’m really committed to sort of see how we integrate these things and I do think a lot of it happens in worship. That’s why I wanted to aim in on this particular topic.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, was gonna say, Michael, we would be interested in seeing how they integrate. Then he dove right into the Okay, let’s go to weekend worship gatherings and see how this is happening, right? So I want to dedicate the rest of our time to really focusing in on what you studied, what you’ve learned, and what you’ve written about in Worship in the Age of Anxiety, because you do kind of dive into the deep end of the pool on this, right? You go for it, and you say, hey, let’s take a look at how we do worship, how we preach, and how we kind of “do church”, right? What does that look like and how does that intersect with anxiety in individuals’ lives, going back to an individual life? So I’d love for us to kind of get into some of this because you talk about both. You talked about a theology of anxiety, an implicit theology of anxiety and you write about an explicit theology of anxiety. So talk to us a bit about these theologies of anxiety, both the implicit and explicit, the differences between those, how they’re showing up in the church, or historically how they have.

J. Michael Jordan 
Sure, yeah, so first thing on the history lesson. So when we think about the last couple of 100 years in American Christianity, they’ve been really shaped by anxiety, I think more than we really understand. My great fear in this book is that people are gonna hear it and think I’m saying, the whole thing has to go. That’s not it. I mean, I think it’s important for us, though, to sort of realize, for example, Charles Finney, a great preacher of the early 19th century into the mid-19th century, right? He had a really explicit understanding of what anxiety does. Anxiety happens, he said, when a person whose heart is rightly disposed, encounters a truth that’s somehow grading against what they’re actually living out. So their heart is ready, but they’re living in a way that they hear the truth, and then the truth grates against something because they realize, oh, no, I’m not in step and I feel this kind of anxiety. So he was like when you’re preaching, you’ve got to press that, right? You’ve got to lean into that. Don’t lean away from that. He had no patience for people who sort of said, Oh, no, this is a lot for these people. I need to pull back, right? Now to his credit, he was not saying to heighten anxiety just to make it harder, but he was just like, this is naturally what happens, right? This is naturally what happens when people who are rightly disposed are out of whack spiritually. But later generations, I think of revivalists, who pick up on this really did kind of heighten that. I mean, I think Dwight Moody is a guy who picked up on that and really drove it hard. He was like this kind of feeling, if we can say so bluntly, produces converts, it makes decisions, right? So he told stories that really were over the top to try to sort of elicit those feelings, a little more than a guy like Finney would have. I mean, we might think of those as being kind of bygone people. But even a guy like Billy Graham comes along and understands the same kind of cycle. He’s much calmer than Finney and Moody. In his early days, I don’t know how much you know about early Billy Graham. Early Billy Graham played some of this up, but as he went along, he was like, this is just different than the modern American ethos, right? But he really emphasized less about the anxiety before and more about the joy after. But he really understood the same cycle at work, right? It’s anxiety, it’s repentance, and then it’s relief. Anxiety, repentance, relief, that’s how it works. I think that’s really baked into the way we understand the faith, worship, preaching, and all those things. Because it’s arguable, right? Maybe that is the way people make decisions for Jesus the first time. But what we see is as those revival patterns became kind of the norm for the way evangelicals worshiped, they took those practices home and made it an every Sunday thing, right? So you have the prevalence, I cite this statistic in there, there’s something like 93% of Southern Baptist churches in the 1960s used an altar call, even at their Sunday evening services. So try to picture a more Christian gathering than a 1960s Southern Baptist evening worship service on a Sunday. But still, they’re doing an altar call because that’s kind of what we know to do. It’s really interrupted, it makes it hard for us then to consider repentance and growth aside from anxiety. I want us to think like, Okay, if that’s been the pattern, right, maybe that’s necessary, maybe that’s part of what it means to follow Jesus. But that’s not how you and I make, I don’t know about you, I shouldn’t say you. It’s not how I make decisions in my life about how to change and grow, right? Like if my wife, Jill, encourages me to grow in lots of ways. It doesn’t always follow that anxiety, repentance, and relief pattern. Maybe sometimes in an emergency, it does. But sometimes she’s just like, I love you. I see this thing that you can’t see, what do you want to do? So it’s like, if I didn’t have this context of a loving, safe relationship, I wouldn’t take that step to grow. So how do we begin to think more that way about how we worship? But what I want to say is, that cycle is so baked into how we think about it, right? That’s part of our history that’s kind of made its way into the present. The other piece to it, and this won’t be as long, but just when we think about the kind of church-growth movement that took root in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, which is still again musty language, but still really influential for us. There is this sense that people like to go to church with people like them, right? There’s the homogenous unit principle, right? The idea is that churches grow when you find your target audience and give them the kind of worship experience they’re looking for. But I don’t think we ever really reckoned with how much us versus them is kind of baked into that. Basically, you’re saying, My church is unique. My church uniquely does this for you, then it makes the rest of the world seem scary. It can even make other churches seem scary. It kind of makes them into to others that we’re kind of putting it outside of us. So, again, there’s a cost to doing church that way, too, that I think ups the anxiety, even though that’s more of an implicit thing. Does that make sense? But I think it’s real. I mean, I think it does shape the way and impact the way we experience other Christians. I mean, I think you can understand some of the concerns about the ecumenical project, some concerns about Roman Catholicism, right? For evangelicals, a lot of it, I think, boils down to this kind of us versus them thing that, again, there are distinctives to being Evangelical, I’m not saying erode those distinctives. I’m saying that the way we experience it as an us versus them sometimes heightens the anxiety that we feel.

Jason Daye 
Yeah. That’s fascinating, Michael. As we think about this level of anxiety, and even that cycle, as you talked about anxiety, repentance, and relief, right? As you name that, we all can probably reflect on either our own experiences if we grew up in the church over the years, or maybe our own tendencies even now. But, Michael, did you find that that cycle became, you alluded to this a bit, became a part of how people in the church began to kind of view how life works in general? In other words, that cycle became imprinted in such a way that it spilled over into how we raise our children, right? How we do marriage, how we engage with people in the workplace, and all of these types of things. Have you found that to be true in your research that this cycle begins to kind of dictate, in a way, how we engage with those around us?

J. Michael Jordan 
Yes, and no, I mean, I think it would be saying too much to say that it’s enough of a work of social science that it showed all of that definitively. But I would say, for a lot of us who go into ministry, I think part of it is because we were often the ones who became comfortable with that kind of cycle. The altar call itself, for instance, that I referred to before. It begins to morph as we watch, as the realization dawns on the Southern Baptist pastors in the 1960s, that almost everyone here is a Christian all the time. Then an altar call is also used for things like going into missions or going into full-time Christian service. So, again, the way that we prepare the way for that decision is the same way we prepare the way for the first-time belief decision. Again, we just haven’t really interrogated that practice enough, I think. Again, most pastors I’ve talked to have at least an anecdotal sense of a love-hate connection. The number of pastors you talk to that say things like, I was saved about 10 times, right? I mean, I became a Christian, but I wasn’t really sure it took, and all of that. There’s a certain comfort because you kind of know how it’s supposed to work. But there’s also a certain kind of exhaustion with the system, too.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, that’s helpful. Michael, as we look at how this anxiety shows up within the church, you spoke kind of generally about it. But more specifically, how do we recognize if we are in that kind of pattern ourselves as pastors and ministry leaders? What changes can we make to kind of move out of that type of cycle?

J. Michael Jordan 
So one of the things I really want to highlight, when I looked at in that first chapter, looking at the experience of people with anxiety today, one of the things I tried to do was to say, what kinds of things are people learning to get help with their anxiety? What are the messages that people are getting? There were a few of them, I don’t need to highlight them all. But they sort of boiled down to accepting the feelings that are going on inside of you. That’s not to say they’re ideal, right? It’s not to say every anxious feeling is a feeling I want. But until you acknowledge that it’s there, you can’t really do much about it, right? So acknowledge the feeling. If you can put it this way, relativize your inner experience. Part of what is so gripping about anxiety is that I’m having this feeling that I did not choose to have right now. I don’t like this feeling. I would like it to go away. Most of the kind of anxiety treatment that people receive today is teaching them to say, Hey, this feeling is not going to… I mean, as a Christian, I want to believe the Holy Spirit can do these things and make anxiety go away. But in the meantime, what’s best for me is to sort of recognize the anxious feeling is there, it’s not ideal, it’s in the car, but it’s not driving anymore. My inner experience is part of who I am. But it’s also not determinative for me and I can take steps to live in a way, and this is totally secular language, but I can take steps to live in a way that’s congruent with my values, and I can discover what my values are. I can live in ways that are congruent with my values, even when I’m having an anxious feeling. So the question that I have is if I go to church, is that message buttressed or is that message undercut, right? There are lots of ways you go to church and you’re like, Whoa, I’m getting the message that this feeling that’s inside me really is reality. Does that make sense? There’s a lot of pressure. If the music is making everybody feel a certain kind of way and not me, what then? I mean, it seems like here, again, if you’re that random, anxious person going into church, it seems like someone’s inner experience really is determinative, right? We pay worship pastors a lot of money to be able to read the room and sort of have a sense of, here’s what people are feeling, and here’s what God is doing based on that. Again, that’s not totally bunk or anything, but it’s important to interrogate, okay, what are the limitations of that feeling? How do we tell people subtly, if you’re carrying anxious feelings with you, not only is that not ideal, but there might be something wrong with you if you’re not feeling what other people are feeling. So music, I think is a way that takes on a lot of weight. It’s not only music, but I think music has, within the evangelical kind of non-denom world, which has impacted even denominational churches. I think there is this kind of general sense of this kind of approach to music that has become sort of normal for us. It’s kind of carrying all the emotional baggage. We think of the preaching time as more or less a teaching time. We don’t think of it as having the same emotional contours that worship music does. So, anyway, music is a place I think, where a lot of that comes up.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, right. Michael, as you’re talking, I’m thinking we’ve probably all heard the antidote of, one more verse of I Have Decided or whatever, right? It’s playing into that emotional piece of it. Drawn-out altar calls that were prevalent probably in the 70s and 80s or whatever. Now you’re in the 80s and the 90s and it’s more the worship music and what is that worship music doing? Michael, is using the word manipulative to harsh? Is that part of this conversation? How do we navigate that? Because I would say, I don’t think it’s, I’d hope for the majority of pastors and ministry leaders, it is not their desire to manipulate anyone. But it is their desire to lead them to a critical moment and a spiritual moment where they can receive all that Christ has for them, right? I mean, that’s our passion. So help us out a little bit with this idea of manipulation and these types of things.

J. Michael Jordan 
Yeah, I love that question. I mean, to me, manipulation carries a degree of intentionality. So as you say, I mean, I don’t think that people set out, most pastors don’t set out to be manipulative. So I wouldn’t use that word to define it. I just think it’s part of the stew that we’ve all been swimming in as Christian leaders for the last couple of 100 years. But what I’m trying to do is just draw attention to this ingredient that we haven’t really accounted for, I think sometimes. So, I think with music, particularly, sometimes a dirty word in churches like ours is the word ritual. Where we think of ritual as an empty husk of practice that we used to do that had meaning and then it got emptied of meaning. It’s not really how ritual works, though. Ritual is something that, the way I like to describe it is a ritual is something that we build because it’s so important to our values that we want to keep practicing and proclaiming it even when we don’t feel it. Does that make sense? So, it’s a little bit like, I’m a football fan. So it’s a little bit like the coach who decides before the game, what we’re going to do, whether we’re going to go for two in this situation or not, rather than sort of letting the heat of the moment dictate, right? We’re saying this is so important to who we are. Ritual exists kind of on a spectrum, a polarity of ritual and sincerity. Does that make sense? The opposite, if you will, of ritual is sincerity. Something I feel in the moment, so I express it. Ritual is more like something that I’ve agreed to do whether or not I feel like it. Both of those are really a part of Christian worship. They are, unavoidably, I couldn’t take you to a worship service where there was no ritual. I couldn’t take you to a worship service where there was no sincerity. Maybe I’m overstating, but you understand, right? Most of us really exist somewhere in the middle. Frankly, I think the weakness of the sincerity, that’s what I’m kind of interrogating here a little bit is to say, okay, so what does it mean when we have leaned so hard on the kind of sincerity piece? Part of what happens I think, when we lean so hard on the sincerity piece, is that we become attached to sincerity itself and see sincerity as the sign of actually believing something, as opposed to the person who has said, This is what I believe and I’m building my house this way so that it’s firm, stable and continues. Again, I’m all for the diversity in the body of Christ that allows some churches to tilt ritual, and some churches to tilt towards sincerity. I think that’s healthy. I think different cultures are different about that, right? But I do, when I think about something like music, for instance, music fulfills, in some ways, a ritual function. That’s true of even, whatever you want to talk about, the Bethel or Hillsong, whatever, right? I mean, even that seems to have such a sincerity bent. But there are so many kinds of unwritten rules about here’s what this means when we have an octave jump, this means this or that’s what that means. Right? When the chord changes this way, this is what that means, right? So there are rituals kind of baked in there. I think, for me, the hard part is when a person is anxious, part of what they’re leaning on is that kind of ritual thing. The weaknesses of sincerity are really evident to an anxious person, right? Because they just can’t right now access that feeling. They might be feeling really guilty about it, they might be feeling overwhelmed by it or debilitated. But they just can’t access it. So to create space in worship where we can lean into that ritual feeling. Even something like, I mean, I have kind of a love-hate relationship, even when we take old hymns and kind of dress them up a little bit. Because often what we do when we dress them up a little bit is to sort of say, well, these were filling a ritual function, but what they really need is some sincerity, and I just want to get some space to just let ritual do its thing and then some space to really let sincerity shine if that makes sense. So I’d love for worship pastors to think a little bit about what am I communicating by the choice of songs and by the way I’m leading. Even by things like when we choose, for example, if we’re in a church that uses cameras, camera image magnification, and then blows the worship leader up to three or four times their size. What does that person appear to be feeling? Are we saying that’s the parenting dogmatic way that everybody should feel when they’re worshiping God? There are all kinds of ways that we sort of suddenly reinforce, this is the way it is. I just want us to poke at that a little. That’s what I think about music anyway.

Jason Daye 
Michael, that’s fascinating. As you’re talking, and in the book, you kind of relay this as well, that what’s fascinating about this idea of anxiety, worship, and how they integrate to some degree is, on one side, you can really kind of play into the anxiety to get people amped up or engaged in a certain way and lead them in a certain direction. On the other side. You might be worshiping, preaching, teaching, or whatever it might be in such a way that those people who are experiencing anxiety are actually missing out or even a little more anxious because they don’t have anything to anchor themselves to. So it’s not just like one or the other, there is this spectrum and these differences that are happening within a worship gathering, whenever you think about the anxious world in which we live today. So that being the case, Michael, it seems like the challenge is when we prayerfully consider how we are gathering for worship on a given Sunday. What are some of the things, Michael, that you encourage pastors, ministry leaders, or worship leaders to begin maybe thinking about or talking about, so that that entire spectrum in these different nuances within it, that we’re thinking about all of these different things and trying to have a worship gathering that glorifies God, that reaches people, encourages people, and all those positive things that we’d like to see, but takes into account, some of these learnings around anxiety and how the church has conducted itself.

J. Michael Jordan 
Great. Yeah, a couple of things. First, to what degree is repentance always tied to anxiety in your worship service? So, for example, in my church, we have a prayer of repentance that we pray every week, a different prayer. It’s usually one that’s written, sometimes it’s extemporaneous, right? But there’s a prayer like that. Sometimes that actually stands in a great deal of tension within the Wesleyan holiness tradition that I’m a part of because there are many Wesleyan churches that sort of say, You shouldn’t ritualize confession of sin as if it’s normal. But part of what we are up against in my tradition, and I think in the church at large, is that we don’t functionally know how to imagine that we’ve done something wrong without them starting up this awful cycle that threatens to take us emotionally where we don’t want to go. So it means something to me that every week, I pray, my kids pray, this prayer that acknowledges there is sin in me that God is working on. I’m prayerfully repentant as we do that. We have a daily service of communion here at Houghton. It’s always, I shouldn’t say always, but many days, it brings me up short that I have to pray this prayer of repentance. Looking at these 18 and 19-year-olds, thinking they don’t understand me. I shouldn’t feel like I have anything to apologize for to them. But it keeps it real, right? I mean, it acknowledges that this is going on inside me. It shouldn’t alarm me that I wake up one day and I’m a little bit lustful or a little bit racist. This is part of being human that God’s Holy Spirit is living within us and enabling us to overcome, but not if we’re not honest about it. So having these kinds of low-pressure ways to again and again, say, I made a mistake, I’m sinful. That’s the stuff that can help us grow without the attendant anxiety. I think like-wise, I should say this, when we do that what we’re doing is we’re relativizing that inner experience. What’s not so important right now is the feeling. It’s the story. I was a sinner, am a sinner, saved, being saved, being sanctified, right? Same way, to what degree is thanksgiving, a part of your worship service and not just for things that you’re experiencing right now? But in what ways are you telling the big story of sin, salvation, and God’s work in the world? In what ways are you telling that every week in a way that invites them to sort of emotionally set aside that stuff that’s going on inside them and say, hey, this stuff feels like it’s threatening to take over my life? But that’s not really who I am. Actually this isn’t all about my story. I’m a part of a much bigger story, right? So again, when we do daily communion here at Houghton, we use a prayer of thanksgiving. The Great Thanksgiving is the liturgical name for it that will use that communion time. Part of that is just rehearsing the story of who we were and who we are, right? We’re dearly loved, created with dignity and purpose, we fall away, God sees, God loves, God saves, God gives us His Son, and God gives us a spirit, right? Every day, we’re just rehearsing this again and again until it sinks in that that’s who we are. It’ll never sink in perfectly. But I mean, you can talk to people until they’re blue in the face to say, hey, what you’re feeling now isn’t everything. But if you’re gonna make sense of that, you’ve got to tell them the story of everything. Does that make sense? You have to give them that alternative to live in and to lean into. So just really would encourage people to think beyond, because the way you expressed it before, the idea of wanting to lead people to a moment of decision or lead, that’s still just so internal, instead of sort of broader in scope. I just want us to think as broadly in scope as we can, whether it be the bad news, or the good news, right? I just want us to be outside of our own heads and our own hearts a little bit.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, that’s good. I kind of leaned in there a little bit, Michael, because a lot of preaching, a lot of worship, a lot of especially what we do in the Western world, focuses on the individual, the personal, or your personal relationship with Jesus. I mean, how many times have we heard that phrase or said that phrase ourselves, right? This idea is very, very individualized, and leaves out, oftentimes, not necessarily intentionally, but just by nature of how we talk about and how we do things leaves out the beauty of what we see in the early church, what we see throughout church history, the community aspect and the communal aspect of the people of God, right? Let’s lean into that just a little bit more when we’re looking at worship or when we’re looking at engaging people. This idea of anxiety here, this idea of the personal, someone’s individual feelings of anxiety and what they’re sensing versus a communal sense of anxiety, right? We’ve gotten that as well, especially in the time in which we’re living now. How does the personal versus the communal relate to this conversation?

J. Michael Jordan 
Yeah, it’s great. My oldest daughter, 18, just preached her first sermon on Sunday. We have a huge Sunday at our church. You just look at her and you’re like, how did we get here?  How did she turn out, right? The number of times along the way that we look at our kids and think, how do they feel no shame about the stupid things they’re doing? Like your room looks like a truck drove through it, or whatever. How did we get here? The overwhelming temptation for us as parents to think about behavior modification in a moment, which is an important piece, but it’s just a piece, right? The larger picture is that my kids are learning to understand themselves as part of a family that we’re modeling for them. As they imagine who they are as adults, part of it is this imagination that they’re getting from watching us that says, This is who adults are. So again, watching my daughter preach, I was like, she’s been watching me preach. It’s this humbling amazing thing to see how someone’s character takes shape over time. We never sat down and had that conversation. But it happened, you know? I think that the larger picture is so important, right? Because when we’re only sort of focused in on the moment and the individual, we can do that. I mean, I can think of lots of ways that I could build a really important moment that might make my kid want to clean their room. I can give a really horrible punishment or I could raise anxiety in some ways. But really long term, what we’re after is this growth and this development, and that’s partly related to, again, the historic church. How do people understand themselves as part of a much broader movement? What makes me so sad is that conversations about things like the Christian year, for example, like should I do the Christian calendar? They inevitably seem to me to become these kinds of quasi-elitist conversations. Like, when I was discovering about the Christian year, and was pastoring this Baptist Church, I wanted to bring all those ideas to them, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I don’t know, it was like I had access to something that was cool and I wanted them to see it. It also made me sound kind of erudite to know what Epiphany is, I know what Candlemas is, and it becomes just one more tribal marker. It makes me so sad because the idea of what a Christian year can do is again, immerse us every year in a much bigger story than our own. That’s what we’re after. Right? We’re after the idea of every year, every week, and every day telling ourselves that we’re part of a much bigger story. The only way to do that is to tell that bigger story. If I could have one thing for the duration of my ministry if I get to be in ministry 25 more years or whatever, I would love conversations like that to become less kind of tribal and less like, Oh, I know more than you or that’s a stuffy elitist thing to do, and more just like, Okay, if not the Christian year, then what? How do we immerse people in a bigger story than just the moment and the thing they’re feeling because that’s what the Christian year can accomplish when it’s done well and when a church commits to it. I don’t even mean really well, like, do with the right bells and whistles. I just mean that when we commit to it, that’s what can happen. Same even with, I dig into the idea of the Christian week, where historically, Sunday really is a day where we celebrate the resurrection. That’s the history of that. I want to call churches back to that not for the sake of being like, Hey, did you know the history? But no, I really want people to know that resurrection is a thing, right? Like when I harp on it every week, that’s the stuff that can sink in and say that’s part of who we are, you know? So I’ve been described as casual liturgical, before, and I like that because, for me, it’s not about scrupulosity about the rules. But it’s sort of saying, here’s what liturgy does, and here’s what ritual does, let it do it. Keep all the wonderful sincerity that we can, especially for the people who want to access that.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, that’s awesome, Michael. As we’re kind of winding down our conversation, I’d love to give you the opportunity to speak to pastors and ministry leaders, obviously, some words of encouragement specifically around really what you’ve been investing your time in here recently. What words would you leave with our brothers and sisters who were serving?

J. Michael Jordan 
I didn’t actually intend this. But I’ve got the prodigal son behind me. Henri Nouwen writes this wonderful book about The Return of the Prodigal Son. But I mean that knowledge that you are a beloved child of God is so so crucial. I meant it when I said that many of us who are in ministry grew up kind of with a love-hate connection with this anxiety, repentance, and relief cycle. That cycle can do some good things. But it also sometimes can rob us of a slow and steady sense that we really are deeply loved. I hesitate to even say, that you have to know that if you’re going to help anybody else. That’s true. But I mean, you just have to know that you get to know that. As a dearly loved child of God who has been, no doubt, doing your best for however many years you’ve been doing this. Trying to lead people into the presence of God, knowing that God honors that in you, and looks at you and says, I love you. That if God is tapping you on the shoulder to do something different, it’s not because he’s also raising the emotional stakes so you have to feel terrible about it. You’re free to go and sin no more if you discover that you’ve done something or if you discover a way you want to change, like, Good. Go for it. Repentance and growth is a normal part of life when we know that God loves us. So just know that and be assured deeply of His love and do what you have to do to marinate in that until it can flavor your whole ministry.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, absolutely love that. Michael, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today. For those of you who are watching and listening along, we have links to Michael’s book Worship in An Age of Anxiety. You can find that in the toolkit for this episode, which you can find a, as well as more information about Michael’s ministry, the college where he serves, and those types of things. So be sure to check that out at Michael, man it has been an absolute pleasure to have you on. Thank you for tackling something that honestly, I’ll say this real quick, Michael. Until I learned of your book, the topic really of anxiety and how do we worship? How do we preach? How do we do these things? How does it all tie together? It’s something that I and many of us who our in ministry and our colleagues have talked about you know time and again maybe over coffee or over lunch, we’ve wrestled through these things. But your book is, for me, one of the first like hey, let’s really dig into this. Let’s really take a look deeply into this. So thank you so much, Michael, for really putting this book together, really doing the research, really putting your heart into it, and making this available to the greater church. I certainly appreciate that.

J. Michael Jordan 
It’s my great privilege. I really appreciate the time you took with it and for this conversation together.

Jason Daye 
Awesome. God bless you, Michael.

J. Michael Jordan 
Yeah, you too.

Jason Daye
Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at That’s And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.

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