Is Your Church Service Format the Reason Your Church is Apathetic?


Here’s the thing about Sundays: they come every week without fail.

 

There is no preseason or offseason. Every Monday morning this reality seems to punch me between the eyes. The cycle of it all can be overwhelming. Meet with the staff, choose a set, prepare the team, rehearse, soundcheck, lead weekend services. Rinse. Repeat.

It doesn’t take long for the allure of the stage to wear off too.

It doesn’t matter how big your budget or how talented your team is, over time the joy can wear off. In those moments we will inevitably be faced with *the* question that has the power to derail us or thrust us back into our calling: what’s the point? Why are we exerting all of this energy each and every week for people to come together in worship? This question is far too important for cliche answers.

So, what is the point of it all?

More specifically, why do we gather for corporate worship? If you asked 100 pastors you’d get at least 100 responses… and hopefully, they’d have some overlap.

Perhaps part of the reason this is such an elusive question is because we approach it with the wrong understanding of “gathering” to begin with.

As Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit gathers the Body to worship. Certainly, we participate in the decision to set our alarms, wake up, and actually go to the place where we gather. But the emphasis changes when we recognize we are participating in worship as guests not as the host. God opens up – consecrates – space for clusters of believers to worship. That is we are welcomed to join Him at His table in His presence through His Spirit around His Son. See how the weight comes down on a different syllahble? Tomato, tomahto? I think not.

Of course, if you asked those same 100 pastors to identify for whom we are gathering they would all say (fingers crossed) “God,”…

 

…But the way that we talk about and plan for services often reveals that we think of the gathering as really being about us.

 

As a pastor who has studied worship and planned literally hundreds of services I can attest that it’s convenient to approach Sunday mornings as if we are the host rather than guests. Once we recognize that God is the host and we are, collectively, his guests the whole service takes on a different dynamic.

I would suggest that above all we gather to, for a moment, turn our attention away from the world and turn toward God as he is revealed in the face – and body – of Jesus Christ so that we can re-turn to the world full of his life, his vision, and his character. Simply put: we gather to be with God, and in so doing we become more like God for the life of the world.

 

My church, New Life Church, has found it helpful to articulate these purposes around a three-fold framework: encounter, formation, and mission.

 

We gather to encounter the living triune God – or, more accurately said, to be encountered by the living triune God. This encounter happens by the Spirit through the songs, proclamation of the Gospel, at the Holy Communion table, and through his people! If we don’t believe that God is present and active among us then what are we doing?

We also believe that we gather to be formed into the image of Christ. This is at least in part what we mean when we speak of discipleship. Content matters because we are shaped by what we do, what we hear, and what we come to see in worship. And transformation happens when we encounter God and participate with Him in the practices of worship that are given to us in the Scriptures.

Lastly, we gather on mission. In worship we are joined to Christ in his mission of renewing the world with his life. As we gather we are reminded of it and empowered for it. These three words provide a framework for thinking about what is happening in us, to us, and around us when we gather to meet with God.

More about the interplay of this framework will be said in a follow-up blog post, but which of these purposes do you tend to gravitate toward?

Do your services intentionally reflect all three aims in worship?

Is there one that is severely lacking?

Or is one of them more prominent than the other two?

At the end of the day we can’t make any of this happen on our own; it’s all contingent upon the work of the Spirit. But, like a sail, are we positioned to catch the wind of the Spirit when it blows? And are we willing to go wherever it takes us?

 


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