Justin Bieber made the headlines awhile back with a statement about Christianity and church-going, and tacos. Here’s what he said:
You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell that doesn’t make you a taco.
The analogy is jumbled, but Bieber’s statement sounds true to most people. Of course you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, do you?
Going to church for all the wrong reasons
The problem with Bieber’s statement is that it assumes that “going to church” is essentially about “proving” you’re a Christian. That the only conceivable reason one would attend a worship gathering would be to be seen worshiping and thus get some faith points or something.
I’m reminded of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus points out the misguided motivations of those he called “hypocrites” (a word that referred to stage-actors at the time). The problem with them, Jesus said, is that when they do their spiritual stuff (giving, praying, and fasting), they are doing it in order to be seen. They were simply managing their reputations, and Jesus calls them on it (Matthew 6:1-18).
But notice that Jesus doesn’t go on to say “You don’t need to do those things to be my disciple!” Instead, he says, “When you give… When you pray… When you fast…” steering his disciples’ imaginations away image management and toward communion with the God they were learning to call Father.
In other words, Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to abandon the traditional practices, but to reorient them.
What is worship for?
At The Table, we sense the need for this kind of reorientation when it comes to worship.
We need to rediscover why we gather for worship in the first place. What is worship for?
Christian worship is for at least two things, encounter and formation. We’ll lay out each of these big ideas, and then discuss practically what kind of worship rhythm best facilitates these activities.
We worship to encounter God and each other
In gathered worship we encounter God as we encounter one another. We recognize and cultivate the connection we have with one another as the Body of Christ, so we can embody it more naturally at other times.
In worship, we encounter the presence of God as we are present with each other. There is something deeply holy about this! No wonder the New Testament apostles urged churches to not give up meeting together.
We worship to be formed
The byproduct of this encounter in worship is that we are formed into a new kinds of people, a new kind of community. In worship, the Spirit forms us as the Body of Christ (an astonishing and beautiful mystery!)
We have to recognize that we need to be formed into this reality that God calls us into. We don’t automatically embody being a new creation. Whether we like it or not, we have already been formed as certain kinds of people. Because of the culture live in, we have mainly been formed as consumers.
But the gospel proclaims a new reality to us! The kingdom of God has come, and we can participate in it today! But we aren’t able to do this just be deciding to. We have to be trained into a new way of seeing, a new way of being, a new way of living…
In other words, we have to be formed into a people who know how to live in God’s kingdom every day.
In worship we learn to pray, to listen to God and one another, to speak to God and one another. We are formed as the body of Christ as we submit to the practices he gave us (things like welcoming one another, listening to one another, eating and drinking together, gospeling one another, reconciliation, forgiveness, thanksgiving, mutual submission, communal discernment, etc).
In other words, maybe I do need to go to church to be a Christian! How else will I learn this new life?
How Our Worship Rhythm Works
Where do we start when it comes to crafting a worship rhythm that facilitates encounter and forms us toward the kingdom?
Thankfully, we don’t need to invent it. The church has been practicing worship for centuries and there are some “best practices” we can adopt if we will humble ourselves enough to receive the wisdom that tradition has to offer.
In this season at The Table, we are becoming more intentional about being formed into the kind of community God is calling us to become. This is why we have practices; they form us as the Body of Christ.
We will be practicing our practices in missional community settings, in discipleship settings, and in worship settings. In worship, we will employ a flexible framework (which will undoubtedly evolve over time as we practice it together) rooted in ancient tradition that helps us practice our practices!
Worship as Four Movements
Christian worship can essentially be boiled down to four movements, which cohere with our four practices (not an accident ):
- Gathering (our practice: Welcoming)
- Word (our practice: Listening)
- Table (our practice: Gospeling)
- Sending (our practice: Going)
The interesting thing is that this four-part movement in worship is nearly universal, found in churches all around the world, going back to beginning of Christian worship in the first century.
It is only in recent decades that this order has been lost by many contemporary churches. Not only is this four-part form of worship deeply historical, it communicates important theology through its very shape.
We’ll talk in more detail soon about how each of these movements work, but for now it’s enough to know that participating in these worship movements has been formative for the church for centuries. As we participate faithfully in these worship movements, we learn what it means to be the Body of Christ.