Church growth across North America is on the decline. This is evidenced by over 3,500 churches closing every year in the US.*
Worship services are becoming irrelevant to the western world, and to the next generation, which is seen by sporadic attendance, and church hopping. With this in mind, I wonder how we can make our times of worship together as a community of believers, relevant for our daily life? How do we become local communities, that impact the world around us?
If we look at the definition of worship, it is the expression of reverence and adoration of God.** Through our gathering together, we adore God, serve each other, steward our gifts and grow in our knowledge of the Word.
The community that God created for believers, is to be a demonstration of the unity we have in Him. It is a unity that is entirely unique to the world and culture around us, dependant upon a faith and love we live out.
What keeps us from being that unique community? A part of it, I believe, is how we approach our corporate times of worship. The mindset and attitudes that we bring forward as we enter that time, can accomplish the unity we strive for, or tear it down.
So I would propose 5 questions to ask ourselves before we worship:
1. Have I confessed my sin?
We shy away from this practice often and I think it’s because it brings out the deep shame that’s intertwined inside of us. See, when we do something wrong, we feel guilt. That’s a good thing, it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to us, convicting us of where we have strayed from God’s will for us. Out of those feelings of guilt, we confess our sin, we are forgiven and justified by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Who we are, as God’s children does not change. We are free to repent and move forward in the grace He has given us.
Yet what shame would have us do, is hide behind a bush, as Adam and Eve did. Shame isn’t about doing something bad, it’s the feeling that we are bad, and unworthy of love and belonging.*** Shame shifts what we believe about our identity in Christ; this isn’t from the Holy Spirit.
When we make a poor choice, perhaps those negative words that slipped out of our mouth, the lie we told, the forgiveness we refused to offer, the grace we didn’t extend. Instead of bearing the yoke of shame, we need to practice and experience the reconciliation we have in Christ, through the confession of our sins, so we can walk in the freedom of the forgiveness He gives us; confident that we are deeply loved by our Creator, esteemed with purpose, and that our poor choices don’t change the grace He has given us.
2. Have I reconciled?
Matthew 5 teaches us that before we come to bring a gift to God, that we ought to first be reconciled to our brother. Are there rifts between us? In all likelihood, there has to be sometimes, because we are human, each of us uniquely created and gifted; no one will see eye to eye perfectly. Our offerings of worship before God, are an aroma that is pleasing to Him, but not if His people aren’t walking in unity together, or remain stuck in bitterness and unforgiveness.
3. Am I distracted?
Entering into a time of worship is a privilege some of the world doesn't have. We gather together freely, but in that freedom, we seem to pay less attention to what we are doing.
I've heard about women who bake with such familiarity that they don't use a recipe, (that's never happened to me, but I hear it's a true story) and when you ask them for the recipe, they can't tell you all the ingredients, or even how much of each they use. There is a place for this level of comfort and freedom, but to deepen our fellowship we need to take a step back.
I have often felt the scatter in my mind, as I gather my kids, trying to get us settled before worship begins. If we have plans for the day, our minds can be wound up thinking it all through and mentally preparing. Perhaps we are distracted by the people around us; we may wonder if we measure up, we begin to play the comparison game and at this point our hearts have turned from worship of God, to worshipping the world.
What are we distracted with as we enter worship? Can we put those thoughts aside and bring our attention to Jesus?
4. What are my expectations?
Routine and regularity shape our expectations of how something unfolds. Healthy expectations bring a sense of safety and security. But what kind of expectations do we carry in our hearts as we worship?
Will I like the songs today? Will the preaching speak to me? Will I receive a word of encouragement? Do I like who is participating in the service?
We think about what we want out of our experience of worship. Most of the time, it is our selfish motivations above all else. Instead, could we of surrender our expectations to the Lord, to fix our eyes on Him and desire above all else for Him to be glorified?
5. Why am I here?
It’s not about us. It is so not about us! The One who created the heavens and the earth has a wonderful, extravagant plan, to make all things right in this world. If not for His grace and mercy, we would be lost to the inherent sin that we bear, without hope or promise for the future. But His grace and mercy is present. He reveals Himself to us, prodding us along to a deeper, fuller life in the community He has created.
We worship because He is worthy, because there is none like Him. Let our praise be heard, our love for each other seen, so that our worship is an aroma that goes out into the world, making a difference in who we are, and in those around us.
Our heart attitude as we arrive on a Sunday morning - or whenever you gather - is so important. It reflects what we believe about who God is. Asking ourselves these questions helps to reorient us to our purpose in even gathering at all, because true worship begins in the heart. If we want to be the light bearers and the salty spread of Christ in this world, our communities and our worship must be authentic and relevant.
Let’s strive to ask ourselves the difficult questions, for our own growth as His people and for the blessing of those around us.
How will you enter worship this week?
* Tim Chester, Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission
** Tyndale Bible Dictionary
*** Brene Brown, The Gift of Imperfection