A Theology of Worship Gatherings

Last weekend I gave two seminars at our church associations national conference. I mentioned the first one yesterday, which lays out a biblical view of work and vocation. The second one, posted here, was about our church’s philosophy and theology of worship gatherings.

If you are interested in hearing these concepts expanded, we are hosting a Music Ministry Workshop on March 8th in Ames. We’d love to have you join us.

This message is similar to one I gave last year at the same conference, and also at Stonebrook Church this past February. I have since fleshed it out more fully, and there was some good discussion at the end.

Here is that message. (Sorry for the echoey audio, the recording device was placed about 10 feet away and I was speaking through a PA system, the recording device picked up both. Scroll to the end of this post for some more funny audio quirks.)

Worshipping Together: Why Christians Sing, Read, Pray, Give, and Preach

Given at the 2013 FaithWalkers Midwest Conference

Prologue 

My aim: to strengthen you personally, and equip you to pass this on to your fellow brothers and sisters, to the end that you will have a better understanding of, appreciation for, and therefore, ability to get more out of our worship gatherings, and that you will be able to help your brothers and sisters to do so as well.

Worship is not singing! We do ourselves a disservice when we talk about “the worship” when we mean “the music”. All of life is worship. We are constantly worshiping something. The word “worship” comes from old english “Worth-ship”, something that is worthy. To worship means to place the highest possible worth upon something. So you whatever you are placing the highest value on in the moment, is what you are worshiping in that moment. To grow in your Christian walk means to spend greater and greater amounts of your time with God as your highest treasure, in every situation. So when you are working, eating, reading, watching a movie, taking out the trash, or paying taxes, doing so in a way that shows that your highest treasure is Christ, this is the Christian Life.

Yet, there is a narrower sense in which we use the word to mean singing, praying, acts of adoration, etc. And this is what I am going to be talking about today. We call it “corporate worship”, that is, worship we do together, as a body. Corporate means body.

We often gauge the impact (success/failure) of a particular worship service by how we felt about it or during it, how emotionally moved we felt, or how much we “connected with the Spirit” during the time.  I’m going to argue that, while emotional involvement and feeling connected is a good thing, it is not the critical thing, and not the primary thing God is seeking to give us during our worship services.

Here’s What I’m Going to Show You

The purpose of corporate worship is to remind each other of The Gospel, instruct each other in the way of life that flows from The Gospel, and to freshly send each other out on Gospel Mission.

How Does God Design Our Worship Gatherings To Accomplish This?

First of all we have to ask IF God designed our worship gatherings. The way we answer these sort of questions, (and any question about Christian practice) is by studying the Scriptures to see what they have to tell us, studying History to see how our brothers and sisters have worked this out over the centuries, by examining our current cultural surroundings in light of these things, and doing these things together in community.

As we do so, we see that God doesn’t lay out a single, clear script, structure or style, but He does give us some clear guiding principles, as well as some clearly prescribed things to do.

Prescriptions

It all starts with the example of the early church in Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Fellowship around the reading and teaching of God’s Word, Breaking of Bread, and Prayer.

Other specifics:

  • That we meet together frequently, large group and small ( Hebrews 10:24-25, Acts 5:42)
  • Singing (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19) 
  • Prayer (Acts 2:42, 1 Tim 2:1) – all kinds of prayers, mission focus
  • Reading Scripture (Acts 2:42, 1 Tim 4:13) – all of them
  • Financial giving (Acts 2:44-45, 2 Cor 8-9) to specific causes
  • Preaching, Teaching, Exhortation (Acts 2:42, 2 Tim 4:2) – Preach The Word “The Teaching”
  • Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42, 1 Cor. 11:17-34) – a common meal and remembrance of Christ through a powerful visible symbol

Principles

  • Selflessness and Unity- 1 Cor 14 – Do what you do in order that others may be built up.
  • Intelligibility – 1 Cor 14:8-9 – This is Paul’s point with the “tongues” issue. It also answers the question about whether the service is to be directed at believers or unbelievers.
  • Active Participation – “Fellowship” Acts 2:42, “Joints and Ligaments” Ephesians 4:16
  • Decency and Orderliness – 1 Corinthians 14:40
  • Frequency (Hebrews 3:12-13, 10:24-25)
  • Reconciliation (1 Tim 2, Matthew 5, Mark 11)
  • Modesty – Not a fashion show! (1 Tim 2)

The purpose of Corporate Worship is to help us Grow!

1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

How Do These Help Us Grow?

Paul gives us a clue in the “bookends” of his letter to the Romans

(Romans 1:11-12 ESV)
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

(Romans 16:25 ESV)

Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…

We are strengthened, built up, grown by The Gospel!

Worship grows us through The Gospel!

Receiving Grace

There is a rather popular idea in our circles that Church is not about what you get out of it, but what you give.  That you don’t come to a worship gathering to get, but to give.  In many ways this is true.  It’s not about you, and it’s not about your personal felt needs being met.

But in another sense, this can be misleading.  God is perfect and lacks nothing. He is not a needy, He does not need anything from us.

We come to worship in order to receive from God.  We come, believer and unbeliever alike, young and old in the faith alike, to be reminded and refreshed in The Gospel. In some ways, we come to receive fresh Grace from God that will empower us to live out our walk with Him.

This Grace comes through hearing The Gospel message.  And this is what our worship services are supposed to be all about.

And it turns out this is is how the Church has been conducting it’s corporate worship for centuries.

Back to Acts:

Acts 2:42
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Word, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread, and Prayer

  • Synagogue practice, pre-Christ
  • The ancient practice of the church (Acts 2:42)
  • Every Christian liturgy has always included these elements
  • Every protestant, Orthodox, and Roman liturgy
  • Except for a few separatist movements
  • Also except for the last century or so of the revivalist tradition.

“The Liturgy”

Liturgy just means “order of the service”, and is talking about the order in which we put songs, prayers, scripture readings, the sermon, communion, etc. And here’s the punch-line: following historical patterns of the church’s liturgy, (painted in broad strokes), the flow of the service itself has always served to communicate the Gospel story.


  • Preparation – welcomes all who are present to hear the story and participate.
  • Adoration – recognizes God’s character, who He is, what He is like.
  • Confession/Lament – by contrast with God’s character, remembers our own sinful condition
  • Assurance – Proclaims God’s providing the payment for our sin, and offering us restored relationship
  • Thanksgiving – gives us a chance to express our thanks and praise to God for His character and work.
  • Petition / Intercession – a time for us to express our dependence on God’s grace for life.
  • Instruction / Proclamation – in how to grow in our relationship with God
  • Communion/Fellowship – celebrates our union with Christ and His people
  • Charge, Blessing, Sending – to live out the week in light of His Grace: with Joy and on His Mission in the world.

THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH, WORSHIP HAS BEEN DESIGNED TO REMIND US OF THE GOSPEL.

For me:

I see God as He is, and so see myself rightly.
- As humble creation
- As redeemed rebel
- As cherished adopted child

BUT WHY TOGETHER??

For each other;

I hurt, and i need your encouragement
My faith is weak, I need to see your strength of faith
I doubt, and I need to know you’ve been through it

Most of all, I need to remember that our Great God made us, and redeemed us.  We fell, and we still fall, so we confess our sin. And because of the redemption He provides through Jesus we can claim His Grace, ask Him for the provision of Grace we need for everyday life, get instruction in His Commands, and then GO and live for Him, loving as he loves, loving what he loves, and having a Mission in the world.


Funny quirks in the audio recording

  • You’ll notice that I followed the above manuscript as an outline. If you only read, you’ll miss about 50% of the content.
  • My daughter was in the front row playing with an iPad. at about 36 minutes, she starts whistling along with the music.
  • A little farther in, her headphones became unplugged and you can hear the theme song for Busytown Mysteries play.
  • The next room over started playing a video toward the end of my message, so as I was hitting a dramatic conclusion, you can hear music playing in the background. I did not coordinate or plan that, and it’s a little cheesy ;-)
  • You are missing my really awesome Prezi presentation with ridiculous transitions. I should sync that up with the audio and make a video sometime…
  • http://bitbyteyum.com/ Brian Anderson

    Thanks for putting together such a great collection of passages on this topic Matt! (and working to connect them together).