Collective Worship as a Means of Grace

3 Oct

A couple of years ago I made a discovery that has changed the way I read the Bible. This foundational perspective shift radically altered my interpretation and application of Scripture. The beauty of this idea is that it’s so simple that it requires no special knowledge or training.

Do I have your attention? Here it is:

Most of the Bible was written to a group of people, not to individuals.

In Western culture, the individual is more important than society. This is not wrong or bad, but it is a different perspective than the culture that existing during the time the Bible was written. Jewish society put the interests of the family and the nation before the individuals which make them up.

At the very basic level this is reflected in language. English has one pronoun for both second person singular and second person plural: you. I can say, “I am so glad you are here today,” and without context it’s not clear if I am talking to one person or several people. (The exception to this would be y’all, and all y’all– singular and plural, respectively in the southern US!)

Biblical languages, however, do distinguish between singular and plural second person; and most of the time, the latter is used. For instance, in the Letter to the Philippians, the English word you almost always refers to the entire Philippian church. As an example, how does knowing this change our perspective of Philippians 1:6– “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ?”

But I digress. The topic of this post is how collective worship makes us more like Jesus.

In the text of the last devo the pronouns are obviously plural (people, their, they), referring to the Scribes and Pharisees talking to Jesus, and also the Old Testament nation of Israel. Both group’s worship was unacceptable. Their outward actions during worship did not come from hearts devoted to God, but from expectations of man-made traditions.

Turning to 21st Western society again for a perspective adjustment: the state of the individual worshipers’ hearts affected the worship of the entire community. In Western society there is an assumption that what the individual thinks or does privately does not affect others. This is false. Throughout the Bible it is clear that what I do privately most definitely does affect the community!

The example given in Mark 7 about this is worship. Individuals coming together to worship God had hearts far from Him. The result is that collectively they worshiped God in vain.

How does this relate to how we worship God in community today? Since this is a rather large topic, here are just a few quick thoughts:

  • Worship that is not in vain seeks God’s heart
  • Collective worship requires individuals, however, the focus is on worshiping God in community with little emphasis on the individual
  • At the same time, the spiritual condition of each heart matters
  • Like coals that are pushed together to create a brighter and hotter fire, we encourage each other when we worship God together
  • Even when my heart is far from God, when I worship with those whose heart is focused on Him, I am spurred in the right direction
  • When we sense we are far from God, outward actions that are done to draw nearer to him (not vainly done as the end goal) are often the means to the end

The irony in this is that the conditions or our worship may seem to be the same as the Pharisees in Mark 7. There are times when we don’t feel like worshiping God. In those circumstances should we choose not to? Absolutely not.

When we do not feel like worshiping we do what Paul did – make our body do what it should. As we physically enter into worship– raising our hands, singing with furvor, bowing before Him– our body and those around us form our hearts and souls.

Putting ourselves in the midst of the congregation will encourage our hearts to worship Him. As we worship, we focus on Christ and bringing him glory. And in this we are changed.



Congregational worship of God as a means of grace sounds counter-intuitive. How incredible that doing something for God also benefits me! By doing what we were created to do (bring God glory), and as we put the focus on Him and off ourselves, a beautiful transformation occurs. We let the practice of service and self-forgetfulness form our hearts into the image of Christ– our perfect example. The key to all this is the collective body of Christ made up of individual hearts moving toward God. The distance of individuals from Him is not as important as the intention to lessen that distance by seeking Him.

Worshiping God collectively is for Him, and also has the potential and power to make my heart more like Jesus’. Perhaps nothing in the entire universe glorifies Him more! This is the kind of worship He seeks!

Those of us engaged in leading worship have a responsibility to create a space and environment for this transformation to occur. What an honor! A sacred trust and privilege!

This weekend I will worship Him within the congregation among the Body of Christ with like-minded followers of Jesus who will be seeking His heart. And we will all leave changed.






3 Responses to “Collective Worship as a Means of Grace”

  1. pjhaddix October 3, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Great thoughts, Cathy. I love the word picture of a bunch of hot coals being pushed together to form a bright, hot fire glorifying our God together. Thankfully, He welcomes the hot, little coals who are battling worship in a cold, stale room but lighting the unfamiliar way to the throne for those around them. The war for our hearts rages stronger than ever!

    Ok, need to give you a little lesson on the “y’all” and “all y’all” stuff. “Y’all” isn’t singular – it means “you all” or “all of you”. (So singular is just “you”.) But if you were standing in a good size group of people and you hear someone say, “I want y’all to come to come to my house for dinner,” you might be tempted to think, “I wonder if he really wants me to come?” THAT’S where “all y’all” comes in. It’s emphasizing the all inclusiveness of the comment: I want “all of you all” OR “every single one of you” to come! So while y’all can be all inclusive, we southerners needed a word to make sure we weren’t leaving anyone out. 😉

    Thanks for the collective encouragement! AND for helping to prepare people for Sunday worship!

    • cathyhowie October 3, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

      Thanks, Pam! I’ve never heard the y’all/all y’all expressed like that! Thanks for clearing it up!! I was remembering a conversation with someone from Texas who explained the distinction. It’s possible I heard wrong, or maybe there are smaller regional understandings. In either case, that’s what happens when a northern girl tries to understand a foreign culture! I’ll be worshiping God with you tomorrow, though not in the same building. Hugs, friend!


  1. Collective, Not Individual | Worship Links - October 12, 2015

    […] Cathy Howie noticed something about the Bible that should determine how we view worship in the churc…: […]

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