Tag Archives: corporate worship

Collective Worship as a Means of Grace

3 Oct
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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:

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Numbers

8 Feb

This week a few high-profile followers of Jesus have put forth their thoughts on whether we should “go to church”. Donald Miller began the conversation with  I Don’t Worship God by Singing… and his follow-up Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often. Ed Stetzer posted his thoughts on Miller’s ideas: Should I Stay, or Should I Go Now. Carlos Whittaker responded to both with To GO to Church or BE the Church. These are all good reads, and the comments are (mostly) civil and also worth at least a skim.

The original post by Miller, in short says that he doesn’t connect with God by singing and being in a large group. That for him, worshiping God is better done in nature instead of listening to sermons and singing songs since his learning style is kinesthetic, not auditory or visual.

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Even before these posts showed up in my reader, I have given much thought to these aspects of worship because I have a similar way to Miller of connecting  deeply with God – in nature, reading the Word, by myself. Next week, I’ll address singing as worship. Today the topic is worshiping God together in a large group.

Here are my thoughts….

1. Individual and Corporate

There is a difference between personally connecting with God and worshiping Him corporately, and both are essential to the Kingdom and to each individual in it. In Miller’s blog mentioned above, he emphasizes personal connection to God… at the exclusion of large gatherings. Throughout Scripture individual praise to God is commanded, and so is the corporate gathering to worship God. Both are required. We are to worship him at all times – as His child and as His Church.

From the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple rites, to the Feasts in Jerusalem for the entire Jewish nation, to the new church in Acts 2. Jesus got away from the crowds to commune with his Father, but that wasn’t his only way of worshiping God. He went to temple worship, the Feasts in Jerusalem, and preached to thousands on hillsides. In short, followers of the Triune God coming together to worship him is God’s idea, and it’s not our place to decide whether that is for me or not.

2. Large and Small Groups

Again, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Small groups have their purpose in the Kingdom – Jesus, after all had a group of 12 disciples. Small groups are where deep, heart-connections happen– difficult in a large group. I’m not minimizing the small group– both are crucial to the Church.

The large group aspect has taken big hits lately. It’s impersonal. Half the world’s population is made up of introverts who’d rather stay home (see Facebook and Pinterest memes!) Large congregations look more like a business empire than the Kingdom. These and others may (or may not) be true, but gathering together in large groups to worship God cannot be dismissed as unnecessary, irrelevant, or “not for me, thank-you.”

As already mentioned, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feasts and taught in the Temple. The new Church met together in small groups, and worshiped God in the synagogue. It’s quite ironic that the end of Acts 2 is used to support the position for small house churches and to be critical of large worship gatherings, when Acts 2:45-47 clearly states that the early Christians not only met in each others’ homes– they attended temple together!

3. Critical mass is important

We cannot ignore the fact that large numbers are important to God. In the Old Testament lists of names and totals for each tribe, family by family, take up an entire chapter of Scripture. As the nation of Israel traveled through the wilderness setting up camp around the Tabernacle at night, the Israelites are numbered. In Acts 2, “they were all together in one place” as the Spirit came upon them – many spoke in tongues and several thousand believed the Gospel.

Descriptions of heavenly worship contain numeric totals: the angels are numbered as myriads and thousands upon thousands; the number of the sealed is 144,000; and the great multitude that no one can count worships God before his throne day and night… with the numberless angels!

If large groups are important in worshiping God, does that mean that three believers in the mountains of Nepal who meet to worship God are not following God’s command to gather together for worship? Of course not. Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Their worship is just as valid as a groups of thousands. In a countries hostile to the Gospel two or three people worshiping God is their large gathering. We are only responsible for what we have, not what we don’t have.

4. Individuality within the Kingdom

While it’s true that we come to the cross as individuals before God, there is also a time when individuality takes the back seat of the bus for community. The Word of God was written to an (often very large) group of people. The exceptions are some of the New Testament letters written to individuals, but even then the expectation was that they would be read to the church. (The fact that we have the letter to Philemon in the Bible strongly suggests that it was circulated through the church. Otherwise, the letter would have stayed in Philemon’s possession and remained obscure.)

Many languages, including ancient Greek, make a distinction between the singular and plural “you”. In English, however, they are one in the same. This makes understanding the corporate nature of Scripture difficult for us to grasp. Several years ago, a friend encouraged me to assume “you” to be plural when reading Scripture unless there is a solid reason it should be singular. Since most of us can’t read the original Greek, this is good advice. Try it and see how the meaning of each passage changes slightly when it is understood as being addressed to a group of believers instead of to an individual. In the Old Testament and early Christian church, the community came first, the individual second. Our culture is the opposite. Somewhere in the tension of the middle is the truth contained in the Bible. We are individuals within the Kingdom community.

Even severe introverts who want to run screaming from a room filled with lots of people cannot deny the power that emanates from a large gathering, especially when each individual is engaged in the moment doing the same thing as every other person in the group. In the 1980s I remember a news report in a secular paper on the Promise Keepers’ gathering at a the local stadium. Thousands of men singing Amazing Grace could be heard for blocks. Their unity demonstrated by singing together was noticed and noted. More about singing next week.

Is worshiping God in a large group the only way to worship him? Definitely not.

Is worshiping God in a large group something he desires from us?

Absolutely.

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READY FOR SUNDAY

As worship leaders, we have a responsibility to make sure we connect with God on a deep level. For those of us who are able to do that in a large group, Sunday morning can provide that. But if, like me, being alone outside in nature with the Word is how you connect with Him, we have to make sure we plan time for this in our schedule during the week.

If a corporate worship experience doesn’t provide you with a deep connection with God, figure out your worship style and engage with your God. Check out Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas for ideas.

We can’t lead people into a place or a relationship where we haven’t been.

Why Gather?

7 Sep

WHY 

QUESTION:

Why do we come together on Sunday mornings?

This is a serious question, not an off-handed, patronizing shock-question at the beginning of a blog. I’ve been asking myself this for several months.

We don’t need to be together to worship God. We can do that on our own at home, walking through the woods, lying on a beach, or riding on the subway.

We don’t need to gather together to hear the Word of God preached and taught. Again, we can do that at the kitchen table, in the forest, beside the ocean, or in a train car.

So what’s the big deal about Sunday? (And I do believe it IS a big deal.)

There are many passages in Scripture about meeting together. One of the most notable being Hebrews 10:24-25. However, what continues to hit me this week are two passages in Psalm 116:

14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord—
in your midst, Jerusalem.

The Psalmist desires to make good in front of God’s people– not for his own glory…

12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?

…but because God has been good to him.

Once again, in the midst of one of the most hedonistic societies in the history of civilization (though overused, “It’s not about me,” is truer in this situation than any other), can we agree that every worship service is not for us worshipers? Not for my comfort, my preferences, my senses, my edification, or my enjoyment. Not one iota, jot, or tittle. That is not to say that some of our desires aren’t met in the process of worshiping God, but they are merely side effects– not what drives the event or the goals of it.

So, why do we gather together as a church body? Simply, to worship God together and publicly proclaim His goodness.

Nothing else matters except that God is glorified.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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READY FOR SUNDAY

What if all of us arrived at our places of worship this week with an all-consuming goal and singular focus that God be glorified in all that is done, said, sung, and thought?  How would my attitude be different? What about my interactions with people would change? How would I handle distractions from this goal? Would I prepare differently today?

Writing this blog can be so humbling and convicting! I’m hoping reading it is, too. Will you join me in this? Can a revolution in our churches start with us, this week, that will change our hedonism into God’s glory as He is enthroned on our praises?

Public and/or Private

29 Aug

Jesus answered, “The most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:29-31


During a staff meeting we discussed an email from someone in the congregation who felt inhibited while we worshiped God on Sunday morning.  We moved from this particular situation to our personal philosophies.

The conversation was brief– with more observations and questions than answers.

I could identify with the email-er.  Using my entire body to worship God forces me to keep my attention on him.  That’s why I love to worship through sign language.  The individual signs are so meaningful and expressive!

However, I feel that when I am signing, I am a distraction to others.  I never want people to be focused on me or what I am doing instead of worshiping God!

So I do one of three things:

  1. I don’t sign in a corporate setting
  2. I make really small signs in front of my body to minimize the distraction
  3. I go to the back of the room and sign with my heart and hands

Another person in the meeting couldn’t identify at all, however.  She shared that she thinks only of her Lord as she worships him, not the people around her.  She has a very authentic, but also undistracting way of worshiping God.

So this week as I prepare my heart for Sunday, I have more questions than usual:

  • Is corporate worship different than private worship?
  • Worship IS all about God, but can we honor him without considering our brothers and sisters?
  • If I only have Him in mind, even if I am distracting others, will that encourage others to worship more authentically?
  • If I am thinking of others while I worship God, am I truly and wholeheartedly worshiping Him?
  • Do the two greatest commandments relate to these questions in any way?

I continue to think about these questions, especially on how this affects a worship leader.

Help me out… please comment!

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