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Looking for the “Worship Service”

Posted by on Jul 11, 2011 in blog links | 30 comments

Looking for the “Worship Service”

My friend, Eric, at “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” has been looking for the traditional “worship service” as found in most modern churches. He wrote three different posts called 1) “The Biblical Basis for the Worship Service,” 2) “Still Waiting…,” and 3) and “Final Verdict on Worship Services.”

In the posts (especially the first two) Eric asked for scriptural justification for the modern worship service. In the last post, he admits that there is scriptural evidence that supports many of the practices that go on during the worship service. But, what’s missing, is the “worship service” itself.

We certainly see evidence of the church gathering together in the New Testament. In fact, believers are encouraged to continue meeting together.

But, what’s missing in the modern worship service, and what’s modeled and commanded in Scripture is the idea of meeting for the purpose of building up one another. The modern worship service has lost the “one another” aspect.

Is it possible that the worship service can be modified into something that allows for believers to edify one another? Of must it be scrapped completely?


30 Comments

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  1. 7-11-2011

    Since both the phrase “worship service” and the way we understand and define this term today are extra-biblical and don’t even come close to the NT meaning and purpose of assembling together, I’d ditch the term altogether.

    If it was a biblical term, it might be worth trying to redeem it and clarify its biblical meaning. But as it is, it only continues a bunch of distracting errors and confusion among the saints.

  2. 7-11-2011

    Art,

    I don’t use the term. I was actually thinking more about the practice in this post. Is it possible to modify the current practice called “worship service” in a way that allows for mutual edification?

    -Alan

  3. 7-11-2011

    If I understand your question, now, then a resounding yes, or we would have to abandon meeting together.

    One of the key barriers includes all the misunderstandings about WHY we meet together, and WHAT we are supposed to be doing together. Closely related is whether or not there is a willingness to assume responsibility to serve others in these ways.

    These are not easy tasks or challenges by any means.

  4. 7-11-2011

    Art,

    Yes, Yes, Yes! We can’t simply stop calling it a “worship service.” And we can’t simply change the way we meet together. It’s about how we live and serve and speak all week long, and our times of meeting together should simply be a reflection of that.

    -Alan

  5. 7-11-2011

    Alan

    “Is it possible that the worship service can be modified into something that allows for believers to edify one another? Of must it be scrapped completely?”

    I think there is and given how overwhelming this model is, it is something we need to think about. Most of the church is meeting this way and is leaping from this model to some sort of organic model is not practical at this point. So if we a) intentional seek multiple and varied voices in the “worship service” (i.e. more than one person and not the same people each week) and b) emphasize fellowship outside of the Sunday morning meeting, we can see some positives coming out of the traditional “worship service”. The problem is that not many people see that there is a problem with the “worship service” in the first place.

  6. 7-11-2011

    Alan,

    Art reflects my own understanding of the matter.

    From my point of view, what you said in this sentence is spot on: “It’s about how we live and serve and speak all week long, and our times of meeting together should simply be a reflection of that.”

    The whole seven days is our service of worship!

    But, “We can’t simply stop calling it a “worship service.”

    As I taught my children; there is no such word as “can’t”? :)

  7. 7-11-2011

    Wait. *that “chicken and egg” lightbulb goes on* What? Oh my!

    “We can’t simply stop calling it a “worship service.” And we can’t simply change the way we meet together. It’s about how we live and serve and speak all week long, and our times of meeting together should simply be a reflection of that.”

    Are you saying we should start with how we live/share/interact/care/love/enjoy each other all week long, rather than starting with re-engineering an hour or two on Sunday?

    GASP

    Seriously, gasp. That just takes my breath away Alan!

    SOooo…then if we are not everyday-loving-one-another, attempts to reconstruct a biblical meeting time on Sunday at 11 AM is useless.

    What needs to be reconstructed is being a disciple–together–every day.

    Alan, seriously, I have spent 35 years thinking that we only needed to:

    1. get people to connect with God every day, then
    2. get people to function when assembled on a biblical basis, then
    3. people would begin to function together during the week.

    Oh dear, I feel so stupid but so wonderfully relieved!!!

  8. 7-11-2011

    My husband and I often are one anothering each other (duh ..lol) and we find ourselves encouraging and exhorting and comforting each other by sharing a scripture or song that was put on our hearts that day. When we come together each has something from the Lord to share after we have listened to each other. There is spontaneous communication that happens in family that seems to be a model of “worship service”.

  9. 7-11-2011

    Arthur,

    I think that many people think that the “worship service” is not creating disciples, but I think they would disagree with us as to why. Most would probably conclude that they simply must put on a better “worship service.”

    Aussie John,

    When I said, “We can’t simply stop calling it a ‘worship service’,” it didn’t come across as I meant it. What I meant is that simply changing what we call it, while not changing anything else, does not accomplish anything.

    Art,

    Are you being sarcastic? Did I miss something?

    Dori,

    Yes, our family encourages each other daily as well. Then, when we gather with the church – either on Sunday, or Monday, or Tuesday, or whenever we see our brothers and sisters – we are all able to encourage one another as well.

    -Alan

  10. 7-11-2011

    Alan: Just curious about your response to Dori: she doesn’t seem to make a distinction between “family” (her and her husband) and “church,” the way you seem to be doing. If your “family” encourages each other, and can gather, etc., why is any more “church” necessary?

    As for this post in general: What I see a lot of churches doing is holding a Sunday gathering for worship through song, prayer, and teaching, then as smaller groups for relationship and encouragement during the week. That pretty much covers everything that happens in NT gatherings, right?

    I think there’s a semantic issue with saying that “building one another up” is not occurring during a “worship service.” If I’m singing and praying to God with you and others around me, that is tremendously edifying! I am definitely “built up” through such experiences. I think all you can say is that these are not the only activities that should happen during a gathering. “Edification” has to happen in other, more direct personal ways as well.

  11. 7-11-2011

    I agree with the overall sentiment coming through in the comments. I believe that what happens when the body comes together in community should be the result and outflowing of a particular lifestyle. That is a lifestyle characterized by the indwelling life of Jesus. So the “worship service” and the form that it takes should not be the starting point, rather, it should be the product of lives lived by the indwelling Lord, in community. We cannot hope to meet once a week and have “body ministry”. There needs to be a deeper relationship between the brothers and sisters for that to happen. Masks need to be removed. There needs to be openness, mutual trust and a dying to self. These things can only be fostered over time and through regular contact. Therefore, the body needs to come together a number of times during the week – not all together at the same time at the same place, but in two and threes. The idea is also to help and encourage one another to live by the indwelling life of Christ. That way, when all come together on the appointed meeting day (does not have to be Sunday morning!) everyone has something to share from the overflow of Christ in their lives and its not the drummed up once-a -week kind of spirituality that we tend to see at weekly cell group meetings when people are asked to share. It also encourages the one-another type of ministry we see in 1 Cor 14.

    I also think we need to give careful thought to the purpose of the “worship service”. In the minds of many, and indeed, in the form of the institutional church service, the purpose appears to be for God, i.e. we’re getting together for the Lord, so that he can be worshipped (invariably through song, led by trained musicians). The aim is to somehow please him through our worship service. I would argue, based on my understanding of the NT, that the true purpose of coming together is for the body. To build one another up, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Eph 4). That way, Christ is expressed more fully and thus he is glorified and exalted and so draws all men to himself (John 12)

    So to answer Alan’s question, I would say that we need to scrap the “worship service”. To try to bring about changes in the existing model would be akin to putting new wine in old wineskins. It would also be met with a lot of opposition within the church and I don’t know if the fight would be worth it. It would cause division which would not be glorifying to God. Finally, I believe that its easier to give birth to new life than it is to resurrect a dead body.

  12. 7-11-2011

    Chris,

    I would say that my (blood) family is part of the church just as other brothers and sisters (not by blood) are part of the church. My responsibilities are to all of them, not just part of the church (i.e., my blood family).

    There is one part of mutual edification that a “worship service” cannot carry out: the “mutual” part. I can’t find any indication in Scripture that a non-mutual (i.e. one direction) gathering is beneficial to the church.

    Nick,

    I know a lot of people who have concluded that the “worship service” must be scrapped. I’m concerned about those brothers and sisters who need a transition. For that reason, I prefer not to scrap the “worship service,” but to transform it. (Of course, if we’re talking about a group of believers that do not hold a “worship service,” then I see no reason to start one so it can be transformed.)

    -Alan

  13. 7-11-2011

    Good post and comments. It has my mind churning.

  14. 7-11-2011

    Alan – just to clarify my earlier comment – I don’t propose that we close down or scrap existing institutional churches. I just doubt that we can successfully transform them from within without causing a lot of pain. So I would suggest that those brothers and sisters who are feeling the disconnect between the NT and current church practice start their own communities of believers using NT principles.

  15. 7-12-2011

    It has to be scrapped. You can’t do “one another” life with a pulpit, one hired guy behind it, and a hundred to 15,000 people facing the one guy. Once the saints grasp the power of “one another” teaching, exhorting, spurring, prophesying, encouraging, singing, submitting, loving, etc they will realize they don’t need a hired man any more. Everything is changed when you obey the Word.

    It won’t be scrapped. Since the word has been out for hundreds of years that genuflecting and praying to Mary, following a pope, and worshiping a round piece of bread in a gold plated fixture on the end of a long pole has nothing to do with following Christ, and yet people call themselves Christians and continue these traditions, it appears institutionalized faith in Protestant forms will continue on for hundreds of years. The only exception might be if Americans completely loose their economy and can no longer afford hired experts and special cathedrals for worship productions driven from a platform.

  16. 7-12-2011

    Alan, I was totally serious. Cart and horse. Chicken and egg. I know they belonged together, but I had the wrong thing in the front (the gathering) Maybe partly because the gathering for most saints (ie, the worship service) is so antithetical to the purposes for Christians gathering, and so teaches the saints passivity and irresponsibility, that I saw it as the key problem.

    In reflecting back on fellowships I was part of twice in my life where Christians got together nearly every day because we wanted to (no organized home groups, small groups, just hanging out together, that everydayness was the basis for us all gathering together weekly and the mutual edification was simply a continuation in a slightly larger context with everyone there at the same time.

    Nick, I lean in your direction (starting over), because unless you are the senior pastor, you are going to bring division to a fellowship. Even the senior pastor will experience a split (many leaving that church).

  17. 7-12-2011

    Alan,

    The modification you suggest was done exactly twice by a church I attended for a number of years. Both times, individuals stood up and gave a word, etc., much like you’ve blogged about all these years. Both times (once at a evening service, once at a morning service) amazing things happened, and both times the entire church was buzzing from the effects. In the morning occasion, we were all so struck by what the Spirit was doing that one man sighed in amazement, “Lord, we are moved…” and paused to take a breath. Well, we literally were moved during his pause as an earthquake struck. It shook the building for 5-10 seconds. Nobody panicked because everybody knew what it was. The man continued, “Isn’t that just like our Lord?”

    Both of these times the whole church continued afterward talking about what just happened. Both times I sprung into action and hit leadership up with the idea that we should be doing this every week. But cooler heads prevailed. Like Maxwell Smart used to say, “Missed it by THAT much.”

  18. 7-12-2011

    Swanny,

    I agree. :)

    Nick,

    What about those brothers and sisters who recognize that something is wrong, but don’t understand how or what to do differently? I mean, for most, this is all they’ve known, and they’ve been taught over and over again that this is worshiping God. Sometimes, it takes a while to unlearn things like this. Any suggestions for helping those brothers and sisters?

    Tim,

    We began six years ago (or so) with a band and pulpit. Today, we all sit together in a circle, discuss Scripture and life together, and eat together. Change is possible… And, yes, some decided the change was wrong.

    Art,

    I love the way you put that. And, I completely agree, it is easy to put our assembling together as the beginning or pinnacle of life in Christ.

    Steve,

    Wow… that’s an amazing story. I don’t remember reading about the earthquake before. I think your story shows that both leaders and nonleaders have to work together for this type of transition to continue.

    -Alan

  19. 7-12-2011

    I think one thing we cannot forget is that there isn’t anything wrong with a large group of people getting together to listen to one man speak. You can even do this and actually be worshiping God… and you can do this every week at the same time or even multiple times a week.

    I work at a university, thousands of students do this every day. This is essentially the model we see on Sunday mornings, only we label it “worship service” instead of “class”. There isn’t anything wrong with attending class 1-3 times a week, but like with any class, it’s what you do outside of it that really matters.

    Godspeed.
    Lew

  20. 7-12-2011

    Lew, sure there’s nothing wrong with a large group listening to one man speak. It is a problem though when that is the norm for what happens week after week in church. Its not Biblical, it does not encourage spiritual growth, it does not fully express Jesus and it does not help the body, to name but a few problems.

  21. 7-12-2011

    Alan: It seems to me that worshipping God together IS “mutual” – our voices join as we sing; we pray to God on your behalf and you pray on ours; etc. Our very presence in the same space, working together for the single purpose of worshiping God, is mutual. And at the end of Acts 2 the church gathered for worship in the temple and then went home to share meals. So they apparently saw something beneficial about a “worship service” in the temple. Later in Acts we see a house full of people gathered just to pray – mutual, edifying, AND one-directional!

  22. 7-12-2011

    Agree with your response to my comment Alan.

    Singing TO and even About God can be very edifying with others especially when there is opportunity for everyone to share what they are hearing back from God. It is sad to think He is so small as to only get His 30 minute pulpit time whether in a small circle or megasetting. Don’t we teach we all hear from him? Part of any Ic transition needs to make plenty of adjustments to give room for this. Why would Jesus only download a word of knowledge or any other 1Corinthians 12 gift when I am with a stranger and not give when I am with his children? Would he have you ‘scrap’ what he has spoken in your heart for someone in your family?
    When I was a young child I was excited about family events- company, special foods, gathering around the piano, and the expectation was just to receive what was created around me. As I got older, I was expected to take responsibility in the gathering interactions, cooking with everyone in the kitchen and even learn new songs.
    As a child school was where I sat quietly, but in college I am expected to add to the class discussions and encourage others to do so. Why are we always trying to think “life” is so separate from the body gathering?

  23. 7-12-2011

    Lew,

    I think the big problem is that most Christians have been taught and thus think that the “worship service” is what it means to be the church.

    Nick,

    Right, if that’s all that’s happening, then people are not growing in maturity. If they have opportunities to spiritually mature at other times, then there’s no reason for the “worship service.”

    Chris,

    Could you tell me where you find scriptural support for this statement: “And at the end of Acts 2 the church gathered for worship in the temple…” I know that Acts 2 says they gathered in the temple, but I don’t remember anything about worship. In fact, I think later accounts shows them evangelizing in the temple, but I don’t remember them doing anything else there. Perhaps I’m forgetting something?

    Dori,

    Yes, I think that God can and does speak through any of his children. I like your comparison with family get-togethers and increasing responsibility.

    -Alan

  24. 7-12-2011

    Alan: Looks like a translation issue.. So yes, you’re forgetting The Message and the NLT ;) Respectively (v. 46a): “They followed a daily discipline of worship in the temple…”; and, “They worshiped together at the temple each day..”

  25. 7-12-2011

    Great Comments!
    I think the “One anothering” we long for happens at best amongst those who are leading, speaking, and performing during the service. This happens mainly in the leadership core of a congregation as they prepare and seek the Lord regarding what to do during the worship service. Remember, I said “at best” this is what may happen.
    But, the audience (congregation) is left out of the loop and they miss the interaction, fellowship and such that the leadership (those on the platform) may be experiencing. This may be why some leaders just don’t get it – they are experiencing the “one anothering” assuming that everyone else is by being spectators of the fruit of their labor (sermon, music, drama, announcements etc).

    But this is again “at best” the worst! The best really is when our gatherings allow for the 2 Cor. 14:26 model to be followed. If that doesn’t happen (regardless of what we call the meeting) we’ve missed it. Everyone must have the opportunity to share. If that is not possible we are having a pep rally and not church.

    Don

  26. 7-12-2011

    Chris,

    Yes, that would explain it.

    Don,

    That’s very interesting. I think you may be onto something. Thanks for the comment!

    -Alan

  27. 7-12-2011

    at Connections we have some traditional aspects of our gathering but we PURPOSEFULLY refrain from the uses of terms such as “worship service” “House of God” and even “Church” *unless the latter is used with biblical accuracy.

    We do incorporate many of the one-another of the New Testament.

  28. 7-12-2011

    Doug,

    Yep. That’s one of the reasons that I call us a “hybrid”… somewhere between traditional and organic church.

    -Alan

  29. 11-28-2012

    Alan, I’m part of a group of people that are making this transition. We are meeting together for mutual edification, though some of our number still simultaneously attend other more insitutional churches.

    We are “enjoying” a dilemma regarding our children. We have some very young, energetic, children but the adults are seeking greater intimacy. Some want the children with us, others want a separate space for the young so the adults can have more in-depth discussions. We are learning to submit to one another through the decision making process but I wondered if the group you meet with has experienced this and whether you are able to share your experience.

  30. 11-28-2012

    Tim,

    Yes, we have experienced that. At different times, some parents wanted to meet separately from the children. We left it up to the parents. Those who wanted to separate organized something, but then found that it wasn’t really that helpful. For now, the children meet with us on Sunday mornings – from newborns to teenagers. Of course, parents often get together throughout the week without their children if they need to.

    -Alan