My dear friend and partner in crime (associate pastor) and I were driving home from a leadership conference and, as you can imagine, the conversation was deep and good. We were discussing things that we may need to look into changing, or at least changing how we do them. When we came to the topic of our Sunday morning worship service, we began discussing how the worship service ought to be constructed and arranged to best connect with those we are trying to reach…and that’s when the question dawned on me. “Have we been making the worship service something it was never meant to be?” Is the church guilty of worship abuse?
It seems that the mentality of the church is to “get people to church.” What we mean by that is that we want people to come and plug into the Christian programs we run out of the church building. It’s like most Christians feel that people will get saved if we can just get them into a worship service, but after much though I don’t think it works like that, nor do I think it’s supposed to. Corporate worship, regardless of what day you hold it on, is meant to be a celebration of the saints. We are celebrating the presence, activity, and character of God in our lives and committing the coming week to His glory and purpose. Outsiders won’t connect with that.
In reading the book of Acts, the outside world looked at the corporate gathering of the church and was very uncomfortable with them. We are told on more than one occasion that “no one dared join them,” but that also people were being added to their number daily. If the worship service is to be seeker sensitive or even seeker driven, this would make no sense. However, if we understand that corporate worship is for the saints to bring an offering of their heart to God, and that the ministry of their lives is what reaches the people around them and draws them to Christ, now we can see a very powerful dynamic at work.
The church is the community of the saints – the kingdom of God living in the world, yet remaining distinct from the world. It is not an institution and it certainly isn’t a business. We have become very, very good at creating a product that appeals to the world. We have strong musical productions, cozy coffee shops, and even sprawling campuses with every amenity one could need. We relate so well to the world that one really needs to dig to find any resemblance to Jesus. We are not called to make the world comfortable with us. We are called to make disciples and therefore our corporate worship must be a place for the saints to respond to God. Ask yourself this question, “What do you offer the world that they cannot get anywhere else?” They can find good music, friendly people, and quality coffee anywhere. What sets the church apart?
As the followers of Jesus engage the people around them and bear witness to Christ they will lead them, not to “church,” but to Christ. It is in the context of relationship that people will be saved and then they will come connect with the church (the people). The world needs to see the value of following Jesus in your everyday life before they will come and invest their time in looking deeper. The worship service can then become a teaching tool and an opportunity for that person to encounter God, but that is not the worship service’s purpose. The purpose is the worship of God, not the evangelization of the lost. That is the purpose of our lives.
Because the worship service is the expression of the saints’ heart for God it will be an ever growing, ever changing eclectic collection of prayers, songs, and maybe even art and motion (like dancing…fellow Baptists…). Each member will bring elements to the expression. Not every disciple will be comfortable with every element or expression (so certainly not the lost!), but that’s the beauty of it – an opportunity to share in someone else’s experience with the Living God! We can all learn and grow and be stretched to broaden our relationship with God. Worship edifies those whose hearts belong to Him. It is a nurturing of our hearts: closure for the week past, and preparation and encouragement for the week to come. It is a time to surrender both our hurts and our hopes, and our victories and fears.
We have abused the gift of worship by making it the whole and the hub of our Christian experience. We have deferred the responsibility we each have as followers of Jesus to “professionals” and want the institution of the church to do what we as individual disciples are called and appointed to do. We have abused worship for the sake of convenience and it is time to reclaim this gift for the glory of God. The journey, with all its mountain tops and valleys, is the whole of the Christian life. The life we live all week long is true worship (Romans 12:1-2). Our corporate celebration is only that, a small but important part that we can ill-afford to misuse.