“But prove yourselves to be hearers of the word, who walk away and do nothing with it” (James 1:22).
Wait a second, that’s not right, how does that verse actually go?
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22 for real, italics added).
One of the most important steps when studying a Bible passage or a biblical theology of a topic is to stop and consider, “what steps do I need to take to become more pleasing to God?” That way we can prove to be doers of God’s Word, which God promises to bless (James 1:25).
This is the third post in series on Corporate Worship in Action. In this post, we want to take all that was discussed in the Part 1: “Worship” and Part 2: “Corporate” and make a list of practical takeaways.
Remember, we defined biblical worship as the whole-person response of the people of God towards their holy Redeemer that demonstrates he is worthy of honor and glory. When we gather to worship God through fellowship, through singing, through prayer, and through study of his Word, we have should have three purposes for our worship:
- To praise our holy God (upward orientation)
- To encourage one another in love and faithfulness (around orientation)
- To display Christ’s glory to unbelievers (outward orientation)
If you have been following along and agree that these 3 purposes describe what God wants to accomplish in our Sunday services, at this point you may be asking, “Josh, what are some specific action steps I could take to pursue these God-given purposes for corporate worship?” I’m so glad you asked!
1. Prepare for corporate worship understanding its significance.
If I had a meeting with the president of the United States, you had better believe that I would do whatever was necessary to ensure that I got up on time, knew where I was going, gave myself plenty of time to arrive, and was prepared with whatever I needed to say. Yet so often we treat the gathering of God’s people flippantly, going to bed late, rushing out the door, making time for a Starbucks coffee but failing to make time to prepare my heart. God can use anybody at any time, but we want to put ourselves in the best possible position to participate in and appreciate the work God is doing each week in our corporate worship services. One way that we accomplish this is by faithfully preparing our bodies and hearts for corporate worship.
2. Choose to focus on personal obedience in worship services, rather than the performance of others or personal preferences.
It’s so easy to be critical of others, is it not? We want our worship services to be excellent, and we want people gifted in music, leadership, and teaching to lead the saints in corporate worship. But what should our primary focus be when we’re evaluating the effectiveness of a corporate worship service? In a series on worship and music, here’s what Pastor Steve Viars had to say:
Worship is an action verb. Worship is something that we do. … When church is over, what question should we be asking? Not, ‘how did the singer do at singing? Or ‘how did the pastor do at preaching?’ But, ‘how did I do at worshipping?’ It is an action verb. It is a privilege and a responsibility.
If we believe that worship is primarily a matter of joyful obedience in response to God, then the first question we ask should be, “how did I do at choosing to honor God by participating in worship?” When this is our focus, we are better able to recognize the proper level of importance of questions about musical tastes or personal preferences. Those questions are not entirely insignificant, but they pale in comparison to the importance of joyfully obeying God through corporate worship.
3. Develop a love and closeness with your church family.
Think back to the Star Wars movie illustration from the last blog post. My appreciation for The Force Awakens was amplified because I was sitting right next to my dad, who has loved Star Wars since he was a kid. If I didn’t know or didn’t care that my dad loved Star Wars, then his delight wouldn’t have impacted me at all. Similarly, the degree to which you develop a closeness and love for your church family will impact your effectiveness in participating in corporate worship. When I see somebody who faithfully serves Christ and the church body week in and week out praising God passionately, it encourages me. When I know that a person is going through a significant trial, and I watch them fight to trust God and pour their heart out by singing biblical truth, that impacts me. Watching a college student faithfully listen and take notes during the sermon encourages those around him.
I recently heard our senior pastor say he enjoys preaching at his own church more than preaching to other churches because of the relationships he has built with our church members. The same is true of every aspect of our corporate worship service. Our singing, our fellowship, our prayer, and our preaching are all impacted by the depth of our love for and unity with one another. We don’t want our church services to be just concerts! At a concert, the music itself is what draws people together who don’t know each other. With our church family, it is our Savior and love for one another that draws us together and leads us to sing, pray, and study together. Here’s the point: your ability to participate in meaningful, God-glorifying worship is directly impacted by the depth of your love for your brothers and sisters sitting around you. If you find corporate worship services to be dull and lifeless, then perhaps one of the first places you should examine is the state of your relationships with God and with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
4. Look for opportunities to encourage one another.
As I was talking with one of our church members about the purposes of corporate worship, they shared with me that during one of our worship services, someone had turned around and complimented their family on how they were singing. They were embarrassed, thinking they had been a distraction from the worship being led from the stage. My encouragement to them was to think the opposite way: God wants to use your voice to encourage other people around you. Worship happens all over the room on Sundays, not just on stage! When someone thanks you for your participation in a worship service, that shouldn’t lead to embarrassment over being a distraction, but instead praise to God that he used you to be a blessing to someone else.
One of the ways we foster the corporate nature of corporate worship is by intentionally thanking those who encouraged us by their participation in a Sunday service, and especially by thanking them for the right things. I’ve had the opportunity to say to many specific members of our congregation, “Thank you for how you passionately sing, because it encourages the worship team to see you singing to God. That’s the whole point of what we do.”
A Final Word
Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
May we be increasingly faithful to gather as the church to praise God, encourage one another, and declare Christ’s supremacy to the unbelieving world, especially as Jesus’s return draws ever closer. As we gather and scatter, week by week, God will be faithful to complete his work in us and transform us closer and closer to the image of Jesus. Someday, we will stand before him face to face, worshipping him in the splendor of holiness. May that day come quickly!
 Pastor Steve Viars, The Centrality of Worship, sermon preached on June 1, 2003.