If you’re a pastor, more than likely you’ve heard one of these statements, or something like it:
“I’m just not feeling the worship today.”
“I don’t need to worship at a church, I can just do it at home with my podcast and worship playlist.”
“I’m not being fed on Sunday mornings.”
“I can’t worship to that style of music.” It’s often a kick in the gut to hear something like this. Click To Tweet
You get the drift. It’s often a kick in the gut to hear something like this, though not on a personal level, but it more shows a lack of theological imagination for the very purpose of the gathering. Statements like these are not birthed from a biblical understanding of worship, but an American one, born from the marketplace culture.
This understanding of worship says that church is about me. For me. About my needs being met. About my preferences.
Parking Garage Worship
These days, parking garages have places for electric cars to come and plug-in for a bit. In a parking garage, the driver pulls-in with his interest in mind, seeking for the best spot that meets his needs. The driver wont typically have to talk to anyone; rather, he gets into the garage as fast as he can to get the closest parking spot, and if he’s driving an electric car, he will charge up for a bit and then go back home.
That’s the way I’ve heard Christians engage in worship these days. It sounds a little bit more like the driver in the parking garage than biblical, Christian worship. I come to church to get charged up, have my needs met, and then I leave. Christena Cleveland says it best in Disunity in Christ:
Today’s churchgoers tend to shop for churches that express their individual values and are culturally similar. We often drive by dozens of churches en route to our church, the one that meets our cultural expectations. American society has engaged in an evangelical spiritual consumerism that some scholars pejoratively call “Burger King Christianity.”
It’s mission critical that we push back against this false notion that has emerged in the western church about the purpose of the gathering and what it is for, this notion that this gathering is only about a very personal encounter with God and nothing else. The notion that the purpose of the gathering is about me. The notion that the purpose of the gathering is for my comfort only. It's mission critical that we don't think worship is about us. Click To Tweet
We have somehow wrongly allowed the western market place culture wrongly seep into our spaces of worship. When we limit the purpose of worship to a personal encounter with God (only), preference wars can be prevalent. “I want to hear these songs,” or “I want to hear these instruments.” So people leave churches and find new ones due to preference wars.
This sounds much more distinctly Consumer than Christian. While we are, no doubt, strengthened in worship, and while we do encounter a very personal God, when we limit it to that only, we are limiting our imagination to what it means to be distinctly “sent ones” (Acts 1:8). It is for that reason, then, worship is deeply missional.
We are Formed for Mission
The weekly gathering, which includes worship through song, prayer, Eucharist, fellowship and the proclamation of the written word, is a distinguishing activity for Christians all around the world. And in this unique way of singing, eating, preaching, praying and fellowshipping, we are formed as a people. In this unique way, we are formed as a people. Click To Tweet
Not only that, but when we gather, we are the holy temple of God. We, the people of God, the Christian congregation are God’s dwelling place. When we gather together as God’s holy temple, together, we are recalling the promises of God and responding in worship, adoration and praise for God’s unending faithfulness and presence. As we gather in God’s presence, we are being formed, shaped, and transformed into his likeness.
It is as Paul so pastorally reminds us, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)
When we are formed into his likeness, we step into our neighborhoods with a unique love, grace and joy like Jesus who lays down his life for his friends, neighbors and strangers.
We are Edified for Mission
As we are responding to the presence and action of God, we are using our unique gifts to edify and encourage one another to live out in everyday life of holiness and mission that is given to us through the faithfulness of God, the crucified, risen and ascended King Jesus, and the empowering presence of the Spirit. The people of God actively respond to a God who acts first, moves in and engages his people as he forms them into His likeness and shapes them for mission. It is as Paul reminds us:
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Cor. 14:26)
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:19-20)
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Col 3:16)
“ So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Cor. 14:12)
Worship, then, is not just about receiving and being “filled up,” but more importantly, it’s about giving and edifying. Every worshiper is filled with not just the fruits of the Spirit, but also with the gifts of the Spirit which include teaching, admonishing, prophesying, knowledge, exhortation, healing, miracles, guidance, apostolic leadership, shepherding and evangelism. The people of God actively respond to a God who acts first. Click To Tweet
As Christians, we should be desperate to come back together every week. It’s a challenging world we live in. Living on mission with boots on the ground in our contexts can mean spiritual warfare, and it can mean weariness. We as the Christian people of God have a very unique, counter-cultural, and distinct way of singing, eating, talking, proclaiming, and praying. What we do we do in the gathering is to have disciple-making and transformative power—that is, what we do in the gathering has sending power.