I go to church for solid Bible teaching…
I go to be moved to worship…
I go because I hunger for community and relationship…
Those are just a few of many reasons why people choose to spend their time in a church service every week. Have you ever wondered, or even caught yourself asking the question, “Why go to a church service when I can get those things other places?” I can listen to a better message online. I can listen to a worship song alone, close my eyes and meditate on the truths of that song and be encouraged, convicted and stirred towards God. There are countless ways that I can experience community, so why to through the effort to gather as a church?
I think one of the reasons why we might struggle with that question is because we have let the benefits that we receive in gathering become the reason that we gather. Imagine a husband, who surprises his wife after she had a hard day by arranging for babysitting and taking her out for dinner. She looks at him across the table and asks, “Honey, why did you do all this for me?” He then replies with “The food here really satisfies,” or “the live music stirs my heart”, or “everyone here knows our name.” The thing conspicuously missing from his reply is, “Because I love you, and I would rather spend time with you than do anything else.” The food, the music and the community are simply the benefits of gathering; if they become the reason, we have misplaced our love.
We gather corporately as a church because God deserves it. We gather together as a testimony that he is making a people, a nation, a priesthood and that we are simply part of a greater whole (1 Peter 2:9-12). We gather to worship and honor him as we sing praise to his name, as we submit to his word, and as our community is shaped by the gospel. Together we learn to submit to God and each other in love (Eph. 5:21). The God of all grace in turn responds by blessing us as we do so, but the moment we make the blessings of our gatherings the purpose of our gatherings we have lost our first love.
I think what Jared Wilson says about corporate worship in his blog is so timely:
Certainly one can be self-centered inside a church gathering, but the church gathering is nevertheless where all the sinners ought to be at the appointed time, smack-dab in the middle of a congregational experience specifically organized against the idolatry of personal preference. Not just because God says to do it — although that’s reason enough — but because it is good for us to have our singular voice lost in the sea of corporate praise and it is good for us to shut our social-media-motor-mouths for a bit and hear “Thus saith the Lord.” We should go to church — not mainly, but nevertheless — because it confronts and stunts our spiritual autonomy and individualism. We should go lest we become Cainites, saying “I’m not my brother’s keeper.” Or reverse Cainites, “My brothers aren’t my keepers.”
Think about what he says. “It’s good for us to have our singular voice lost in the sea of corporate praise and it is good for us to shut our social-media-motor-mouths for a bit and hear ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” Perhaps each of us needs to lay aside our singular voices and join the chorus of the people of God in praise of the one who saved us. Perhaps each of us needs to worry a little bit less about self-expression and worry a little bit more about what God is calling us to as his people. Maybe, we need to worry less about what we get out of our gatherings and more about giving God the glory that he deserves to get. Perhaps, what this world needs to see is a community of people who amidst all of our differences, flaws, and struggles, gather together with one mind (Acts 2:46), laying aside personal preferences for the praise of His glory.
How can we evaluate our heart towards corporate worship?
First, what priorities or preferences keep you from being fully engaged in the corporate worship of the church?
Second, what can I do to prepare myself to gather with a heart to worship God and serve his people?
Third, do we evaluate a service based on how much we love the music and the message, or by how much it moves us to love Jesus and hate our sin?