the shape of leadership

Worship: Moving Forward

Enduring principles to guide how we worship

Donna Barrett on August 4, 2021

After months of COVID restrictions, it has been good to see Christians worshipping together in person again. As Hebrews 10:25 teaches, there is a deep connection between “meeting together” and “encouraging one another.”

I hope churches don’t just return to the way things used to be, however. We don’t want to go backward. Instead, let’s apply the lessons we learned and move forward — especially in our worship.

Crises have a way of forcing us to review the basics, to look at contemporary practices in light of enduring principles. What principles should guide how we worship going forward?

Corporate Worship

The first enduring principle is the importance of corporate worship. It is so vital that the Constitution of the Assemblies of God lists it as part of our Fellowship’s fourfold reason for being: “to be a corporate body in which man may worship God.”

The Constitution goes on to detail what should happen in our services: “the members of the Body, the Church (ecclesia) of Jesus Christ, are enjoined to assemble themselves for worship, fellowship, counsel, and instruction in the Word of God, the work of the ministry, and for the exercise of those spiritual gifts and offices provided for New Testament church order.”

I hear echoes of Acts 2:42–47, 1 Corinthians 12–14, and Ephesians 4:7–13 in that statement. Those passages emphasize that the local church is a fellowship of spiritually gifted people. Just as a body has many parts that operate in unity, so the local church has many gifted people working toward “the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

Spiritually gifted people are neither independent of one another nor dependent on others. Independent people say, “I have everything, so I don’t need what you have.” Theirs is the attitude of people who go to church only if they’re in charge.

Dependent people say, “I have nothing, so I need what you have.” Theirs is the attitude of consumers who are content to be spiritually fed, rather than of producers who desire to feed others spiritually.

Instead of being independent or dependent, spiritually gifted people are interdependent. They say, “I have what you need, and you have what I need, so let’s share.” Only an interdependent attitude can uphold the importance of corporate worship. We really do need one another.

We also need more. We need the Holy Spirit most of all. Having ascended to the Father, Jesus baptizes us in the Spirit (Acts 2:32). Spiritual gifts are thus an expression of Christ’s victory (Ephesians 4:7–8) and the means to accomplish “unity in the faith” (verse 13), which is also “unity of the Spirit” (verse 3). The Trinity is the ultimate source of all spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4–6), but the gifts are nonetheless the Spirit’s specialized ministry, which is why they can be called manifestations of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7–11).

All Christians believe in the Holy Spirit, of course, but spiritual gifts such as tongues, interpretation and prophecy are hallmarks of Pentecostal worship. They manifest God’s presence among us in powerful, life-giving ways. When we come together, our prayer should be, as the song lyric goes, “Holy Spirit, You are welcome here!”

As we fully reopen our churches for corporate worship, let’s first make sure our hearts are fully reopened to one another — and especially to the Holy Spirit!

As we fully reopen our churches for corporate worship, let’s first make sure our hearts are fully reopened to one another — and especially to the Holy Spirit!

Both/And Mentality

COVID disrupted the way we worshipped and forced us to find new ways of doing ministry. We streamed Sunday morning services live on Facebook. Small groups gathered on Zoom. We collected tithes and offerings via apps. These new ways of worshipping made it possible for our churches to thrive during a difficult time.

Now that our churches are fully reopening, we may be tempted to stop what we started. I believe that would be a mistake. We shouldn’t go backward to our pre-pandemic normal. We should move forward into a new, post-COVID normal.

This means adopting a both/and mentality rather than an either/or mentality. An either/or mentality values in-person corporate worship and sees virtual ministries as a necessary accommodation to COVID restrictions. When the restrictions lift, the accommodation goes away. It’s either in-person or virtual.

A both/and mentality also values in-person corporate worship. In addition, however, it values the opportunities virtual ministries give us to reach more people for Jesus.

This past year taught us that new ways of doing worship and ministry allow us to reach new people. Many in our communities work weekends and evenings. Some children in our congregations come from broken homes and may be with a nonattending parent during our scheduled services. Others in our circles of influence are homebound due to age, physical infirmity, or mental health problems.

If we want to reach them, we must expand the worship and ministry opportunities we offer. We adopted virtual ministry out of necessity. Now we need to continue it because we recognize it as an opportunity to reach more people with the gospel.

New opportunities for outreach require new ways of doing worship and ministry. That’s the second enduring principle to keep in mind as we fully reopen after COVID.

Beyond the Walls

The third enduring principle is that worship must move beyond the walls of our church buildings.

Church leaders typically use the word worship as a synonym for “singing.” The “music minister” of a decade or two ago has become the “worship pastor” of today. When we invite people at the start of a Sunday service to “stand and worship with us,” we are asking them to sing.

Of course, we also describe what we do on Sunday morning as a “worship service.” In a sense, then, everything we do during a weekend service can be considered worship, not just the singing. Testifying, preaching, collecting the offering, baptizing, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, and praying at the altar are forms of worship, too.

That’s how I’ve been using the word worship so far in this article. But defining worship in terms of what happens in a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening service is still too limiting.

In Romans 12:1, the apostle Paul said, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.”

Paul also wrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Even the humble tasks of eating and drinking should be “for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Our everyday lives can inspire others to worship God as well. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Do we worship God when we’re at church? Yes. When we’re doing overtly spiritual things like prayer, Bible study, personal devotions, and corporate worship? Yes.

But Scripture reminds us we also worship God at home, on the job, and through our leisure time. We can bring honor to Him when we’re doing spiritual things, but also when we’re doing mundane things, such as talking with a friend, eating a meal, or rocking a baby. For the Christian, all of life is worship.

As we emerge from the pandemic, let’s value corporate worship, embrace new ways of ministry, and glorify God beyond the church walls! Our post-pandemic culture needs a forward-moving church.

This article appears in the Summer 2021 edition of Influence magazine.

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