Someone recently asked me to spend some time pondering what I want to see accomplished in the church: practical or not, whether or not the church is ready for it. It was a good challenge for me to set specific goals for my ministry here in NJ, based on what I understand worship to be, and based on how I think the church is supposed to set out to worship God as a congregation.
Someone once described worship to me in terms of the Old Testament tabernacle/temple structure and worship. While not stringent (Jesus accomplished the tearing of the veil to the Holy of Holies on the cross), I think reflecting on congregational worship in those terms is helpful. I understand four movements (understand that I remember this as coming from somewhere, but I do not remember where – it may have been a class, a discussion with a friend, or a book I read, but it does not originate with me):
- Encountering God
All four of these steps serve vital functions in the role of the church. The church gathers together prior to the service. At our church, we worship first and have Sunday School after the service. Our gathering time begins around 9:00 when the first church member shows up and unlocks the doors and continues until around 10:05, about the time that we have our meet and greet where we shake hands and greet one another formally during the worship service. Gathering is the transitioning from the non-sacred to the sacred, from outside the temple walls to inside them, from all the hubbub of life to focus on God and his work. It happens as people get out of their cars, go through the doors, and enter into the sanctuary.
Following the gathering is fellowship. This continues concurrently with the gathering time. This is a time to recognize who all is in the service with you, to catch up and see what has been going on in the Kingdom of God through individuals throughout the week. It allows us all to gather on the same page and worship God as a unified body. This is not to say that everyone greets and converses with everyone else in the congregation. Even though ours is a relatively small, rural church, we still are not afforded that opportunity. Larger congregations than ours would have no means of accomplishing that. The first church I served had 20 people in attendance on an average Sunday, and it was difficult to really know what was going on with everyone. What Fellowshipping allows is for the body of Christ to reconnect together and know what is going on throughout the rest of the body.
The bulk of the actual worship service, of course, is focused on encountering God, being challenged and changed by Him. It is the songs, the drama, the sermon, the prayers, and all that goes on. The intent is to bring the people who have gathered together to a face-to-face spiritual encounter with their Creator and Savior.
Finally, there is the sending back out into the world. After the fellowshipping, reconnecting, and training that have gone on, the church disperses to accomplish its purpose and task in the world: sharing God and his love with everyone we meet. This cannot happen within the walls of a church, at least not on a large scale. We have to go out and seek it and make it happen, rather than just expecting it to come to us.
I would hope that our worship activities – formal Sunday morning services and all of the other times that we gather to worship God – will accomplish these four things.