What Should I Do At a Worship Gathering? Part 1
Written by Joe Byler, Short North Lead Pastor/Worship Leader.
It’s 10:27 on a Sunday morning and you’ve just pulled into the parking lot of the church’s gathering space. The frazzle of the morning has built to a frustrating peak. Your child has just wiped their snotty nose on their clean shirt, producing a glistening streak on the sleeve, or your roommate adds one last comment about how you should listen to your alarm clock, or you just can’t stop thinking about how frustrating your job is. Whatever it is, you’re frustrated and working hard just to arrive at the gathering. You rush in the door, grab a bulletin with a quick hello as you hear the band begin the opening song.
“Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation” are the lyrics that glance off your ears as you fill your coffee cup, saying hello to the connect team members and a few people who you know you’ve met before but cannot remember their name.
“O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”
You feel the mechanics of your jaw and vocal chords speaking these words from Psalm 59 and you hear the sound of many voices making this declaration. But what about lunch? What about the plans for this evening? What about that conversation that was really frustrating last night? “I hope someone talks to me after the gathering… I hope my kids don’t destroy the teacher… I hope my boss is in a good mood tomorrow morning… Wait, where am I? What am I doing here?”
Now what? You’ve made it to the worship gathering. It’s been a crazy and stressful week and a frustrating morning. The band has just invited you to participate in joyfully worshiping God through song, prayer and reading. But at this moment, you’re not even sure what that means.
This may not be your exact story, but my guess is that whether you’re single or married, kids or no kids, there are times where you’ve arrived at a worship gathering ready to engage with the community and the word of God, but there are other times when you arrive distracted, disheartened, weary and/or frustrated. This leads to a question that I’ve been thinking about lately: What is our role when we gather with the church community to worship God?
The textbook answer (and the correct answer) is, “worship God”. Yes, we’ve gathered to worship God, but what does that mean for us? For you? What are you actually supposed to do? What does it look like or mean to “worship God through song and reading”? What is our place in the gathering, especially when we’re not “feeling it”?
There are many things that we can and should do when the church gathers together for worship. I want to suggest an overarching perspective that informs all of our actions regarding worship during a gathering, in the midst of our range of emotions and possible distractions.
Our gatherings are about one thing: the glory of God. Scripture tells us that God has revealed his glory to us and has called us to respond to it with lives that outpour in worship to Him, instead of the many other “created” things that we worship (Romans 1:25). This revelation of God’s glory is summed up in the gospel of Jesus. God became flesh, revealing his plan of salvation to humanity, calling us to believe and trust in his grace and provision-in essence, calling us to worship, pursue, trust, hope, and rely on him-and by grace received through faith, we are saved! (A loud “AMEN” would be appropriate here!)
Hebrews 10 tells us to hold fast to our confession of hope, our confession in the saving grace of Jesus, and to not neglect “meeting together” to encourage each other.
Our worship gatherings, our “meeting together”, rehearse and remember the story of God’s glory revealed to us. This is our liturgy. (Liturgy means “the work of the people”.) In our rhythm of gathering weekly, we remember this gospel story: God is holy. We are sinners. Jesus save us. Jesus sends us. Our gatherings rehearse this by singing songs and reading and preaching scripture that remind us and show us again and again the story of God. Not only God’s story, but how we have been brought into it, how our story is a part of God’s story, calling us to respond to God. That is the purpose of our gatherings–to remember, to hold fast to the confession of our hope (Hebrews 10) .
The goal isn’t some mystical, highly emotional experience. (Although, I hope you do experience God and hope your response involves emotion!) Rather, it’s simply to remind us, a forgetful, ignorant, easily distracted people, of what we have been brought into and to call us to respond appropriately–to “hold fast”.
So, considering all of this, what is your role at the worship gathering?
That’s it. Just participate.
In Part 2 of this post, we’ll consider what this participation really looks like.