By Eddie Pipkin
Worship is the distinctive expression of our faith. You can have a philosophy of life, a set of principles to guide your decision making, or a list of rules to govern your interactions with others, but the practice of worship moves us beyond mere philosophy. It’s an expression of love, devotion, and allegiance that is simultaneously intellectual and emotional. Its regular expression among billions of people on the planet is as varied in form as the diversity of created beings from which it issues. In public articulation, it can be exuberant, dazzling, thunderous. In private demonstration, it can be tranquil, quiet, deeply personal. For the faithful, worship is vital in all its forms, institutional and personal, and that is why it is one of the “7 Dimensions of Congregational Development.”
[Note: This blog is the third in a series outlining the new Excellence in Ministry training, “7 Dimensions: A Coaching Approach to Congregational Development:” A transformational coaching approach, partnering with your congregation, to develop healthy, growing, effective ministry in your context.”]
The infamous first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The stated answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” The apostle Paul captures the essence of this idea in Romans 12:1-2, where he writes, “So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering” (The Message).
Worshiping is typically considered what we do when we gather for the corporate worship experience, and sometimes that focus is even narrowed to the portion of corporate worship focused on singing praise to God. However, worshiping is not limited to an event or even a set of activities. Worship is about a lifestyle of bringing glory to God.
The corporate worship experience (the Liturgy) helps train us for such a lifestyle of worship. Personal worship (devotional acts) helps us develop practices that create an awareness and depth of intimacy with God. But the end goal of worshiping is to do life – every aspect of life – in a way that honors God.
When working with church leadership groups as part of the 7 Dimensions process, here are some of the questions that we consider together:
- How do the vision and strategies for the worship experience(s) in your congregation fit with the mission field surrounding you?
- What is the process for designing the corporate worship experience? How are themes determined? Who is involved in the design and creation of the worship experience?
- How do the demographics of worship participation compare to the demographics of the surrounding community?
- What are the standard liturgical elements of your corporate worship? How are they creatively presented?
- Who is involved in leading worship? How are various age-level groups empowered to participate in worship leadership?
- What worship styles are offered? Who is the target audience?
- What do the trends in worship participation indicate about the needs being met?
- How are individuals encouraged and supported in developing personal worship practices?
You can see that these questions help leadership sort out their relationships to some basic worship-related principles:
- Worship Should Be Relevant: Every community has a context, and the worship we are leading should meet the needs of the people within our context. It should speak to their lives and the unique challenges they face. It should work within the framework of their cultural references and their stage of life. It should acknowledge their reality and deal forthrightly with the issues on their minds.
- Worship Should Be Engaging: We should be using creative means to bring the Gospel to life for people. We should invite people to energetic participation in worship. We should share leadership so that all ages and demographics are fully represented.
- Worship Should Provide a Path to Practical Application: The themes of our worship experience should resonate in ways that move beyond the confines of a dedicated worship space and travel with people out into the world. We should provide useful examples of how to interject the elements of our worship into our daily routines and the truths of scripture into our decision making and the ways we interact in our relationships with others.
- Worship with the Group Should Be a Gateway to Worship as a Lifestyle: We should regularly encourage those who participate with us in corporate worship to carry the principles and practices of our time together with them in the development of their own personal approaches to private worship and devotional habits. We should highlight the importance of personal worship time, equip people with the tools to craft their own unique interactive space with God, and encourage them in the ways this can be customized to their context (moving beyond the “one-size-fits-all” model).
When worship does all of these things well, it does much more than check a weekly box for the dedicated disciple. It sustains and nurtures our faith. It expands our spiritual horizons and grows our understanding of our relationship with God and the effectiveness of our discipleship. It inspires us to serve, and it strengthens and empowers us for the challenges of such service.
On a personal level, as we consider whether we are engaging in our own lifestyle of worship, the questions we should be asking are thematically similar:
- Have we established a set of practices and habits that keep us focused on God throughout the rhythms of our day?
- Do we engage in systematic moments of praise and gratitude? Do these have some organized shape, or are they random in nature?
- Do we make time for quiet reflection and listening, set apart from the distractions of the busy world?
- What are the tools we use to frame our personal devotions?
- Do we have a space (or spaces) that are special to us as ‘sacred spaces’ or zones in which are comfortable or inspired to practice worship?
- Do we utilize resources that help us personally grow in our faith and understanding of our personal discipleship?
- Do we have accountability partners to help us on our journey?
In a mature spiritual environment, the corporate worship will help us answer those personal questions, and answering the personal questions will grow us in ways that mean we contribute meaningfully to the corporate worship and work of the larger body of believers. It is a system of support and reinforcing motivation that God intended. Among other things, it makes it possible to sustain a dry season in one area of our spiritual lives by providing life-giving streams from multiple sources of the waters of sustenance.
How do you feel about the worship dimension in your local context? Are you part of a worship community that is relevant, creative, vibrant, and providing useful tools for folks to develop their own “worship as lifestyle” practices? How are you doing on your own personal worship? Do you have a healthy balance of public participation in a community of worship and daily practices of devotion to God that keeps your faith grounded and growing?