God created people for worship. Worship was built into our DNA. When we are saved by Christ that purpose is restored. In the heart of every saved person should be an intense desire to want to worship. As such, the church is first and foremost a worshiping community. Every church should have a vibrant worship that defines who it is. That vibrancy is a result of individual believers whose heart’s desire is to come together as a body to lift up the name of Christ. I think that a good metric of health for any church beings with its worship. Everything else the church does flows from that point. It’s the epicenter of the church’s life and it is the best indicator of church health.
However, when the worship of a church begins to fade, then soon will every other ministry within the church. Ministry cannot be separated from worship. Ministry is, in one sense, an extension of worship. In reality, ministry is worship; but the worship of God in the gathering of the saints comes first (Hebrews 10:24-25). Out of the overflow of the church’s worship comes every other ministry. It is in the context of corporate worship where the Lord calls out individuals. It is where the spirit moves and reveals what he wants his people to do. Sure, we may have a sense of calling that spans a length of time (i.e. outside the times of corporate worship). But make no mistake, that calling does not come apart from a heart that is dedicated to worship. How can a person who either forsakes worship or who is just going through the motions hear God’s call for ministry?
For a church to be healthy then worship must be central to all that it does. But good worship is not just a matter of showing up for church. A group of people can be in a building but not worshiping God. Malachi painfully points out this reality to God’s people. Apparently, many were worshiping, but the worship was so bad that God recommended closing the doors (cf. Malachi 1:10). No, good worship begins with a good heart (cf. Luke 6:43-45). By definition a good heart is one that puts God first. Quoting Isaiah, Matthew records Jesus as saying, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). For worship to be good then, God must be central in worship. He must be the reason the church shows up.
When God is the focus of worship, several things happen. The most obvious is that the people really want to be there. When God is central to worship – or to say it another way – when the hearts of the people are focused on God, then there is an excitement and anticipation by the church body. They are excited to be there, and they expect God to move amongst them. The next thing that happens is that God moves. His Spirit speaks to his people. He leads them to repent of sin, to reconcile broken relationships, to seek forgiveness and to give forgiveness. In doing these things the first act of God is to create a unified body. Unity is a product of worship. A people cannot seek God and have conflict, strife, or bitterness amongst them. Indeed, those things will drive away God’s Spirit. Our God is a God of reconciliation. Indeed, the gospel is all about reconciliation. How can a people who are not or will not be reconciled become a worshiping community? Reconciliation is foundational for the gospel. Without it there is no gospel witness.
That leads to God’s purpose for worship. A worshiping community is a witnessing community. The first witness to the community is the corporate worship of the church. When a watching world looks at the church, this is the first thing they see. A lot can be learned about the church just by observing its worship. The most obvious thing non-churched people see is the spirit of the church. Contrary to what church people believe, the first thing the non-church see is not the music or even the preaching – it’s the unity, love, faith, and excitement of the church. When such things are present God’s Spirit is there, and his Spirit (or lack of it) is what is noticed. When God’s Spirit is there, people want to come back. The non-churched may not understand what is drawing them, but the Bible makes is very clear that it is Christ who is drawing them to return. In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). Notice he says, “If I am lifted up.” This is what worship does. It lifts up the name of Jesus and seeks to glorify him. When that is happening, people see Jesus through the worship of the church. When they see Jesus, they are in a good position to hear the gospel. And from the perspective of the church, there should never be a question, “If.” The church must have the attitude: “We will lift up the name of Jesus!”
The next thing God does is to move his people to take the gospel into the surrounding community and beyond (cf. Acts 1:8). When worship points to Christ, his Spirit moves his people to keep pointing to him beyond the walls of the church. This is where gospel ministry begins. Our God is a sending God (cf. John 20:21). True worship always leads to service. The Bible has much to say about this reality (cf. Romans 12:1, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Peter 4:10-11). A heart saturated with God honoring, Christ exulting worship will seek to make Christ known in various ways. As believers are moved by the Spirit, they will begin to see that while each person is called to serve, everyone serves in different ways. In this way the local congregation begins to look like a body – each part having a different function, but all the functions having one purpose – to glorify Christ by making him and is gospel known. When this happens, every member begins to see what they can do to accomplish this. As such, they begin to understand that they have a very important purpose. Each member is called upon and has the ability to bring God glory by making Christ known.
I am sure there are other aspects of worship that could be discussed. But the things examined in this article reveal the big picture. At a bare minimum, what the believer should take away is this simple point: I need to be a part of the worship of my church. By not worshiping, believers hurt the witness of the church, stunt the ministry of the church, and ultimately limit the Holy Spirit’s ability to use the church for true gospel witness in the world. A lot is at stake when it comes to corporate worship. Oh, one more point should be obvious. While worship is personally edifying, it’s not about, and never has been about, personal gratification. Worship is not about the individual, it’s all about God. I don’t go to worship. We worship together; and together we bring him glory.