Worship and Community [beware of tangents]

all images © jessicafairchild.com

I love worshipping my God!

Especially with other worshippers. There is something very special about being with others who have this common agenda. We all have our own way of expression, too. Some dance, others lift their hands, some sit and contemplate. I usually sing in a corner of the room in private isolation, I take communion by myself (or with my wife on occasion), and I quietly reflect on the Scriptures as the music plays. In fact, I frequently encourage others to “be intimate with Jesus” in this same way, by finding a quiet isolated place “away from distractions” so they can pursue personal space with the Lord. It’s a wonderful time of introspection.

But is this right?

Is worship an individual’s sport?

Can you think of a single passage in the New Testament that involves worshiping as an individualI can’t either. (hence the term corporate worship). In fact, almost every instance of worship in the New Testament involves the community. We don’t congregate so that we can worship alone. Yet, this is a far cry from how I normally experience worship in a gathered setting when I retreat in my aloneness with the Lord. Consider some of the most popular passages on corporate worship in the NT, as when Paul encourages us to be “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19, emphasis mine). Recall his glad exhortation for the church to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16, emphasis mine). Worship has a deeply communal aspect. Again I ask, is there ANY passage in the New Testament that promotes worship in isolation? Some would imply that communal worship is actually embedded in our DNA as Christians…

It is no accident that to follow [Christ]  meant cleaving to him bodily. That was the natural consequence of the Incarnation. Had he merely been a prophet or a teacher, he would not have needed followers, but only pupils and hearers. But since he is the incarnate Son of God who came in human flesh, he needs a community of followers, who will participate not merely in his teaching, but also in his Body. The disciples have communion and fellowship in the body of Christ. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

Worship is the flame, but community is the furnace.

Worship does not just consist in the singing of lyrics either. Consider sacraments which the church has in place as deeply significant experiences of worship, that being baptism and the Lord’s supper. All of those happened in New Testament communities too, never in isolation. I mean…what good would a baptism by yourself have for anyone if no one was there to experience it with you?

I’m just processing. No, I’m not going to refashion the way we do worship at our gatherings next Sunday. But I do hope I have your attention. Because here comes the double-jeopardy question.

Are there ways we can renew a sense of community around these aspects of our worship…

  1. Lord’s supper
  2. Baptism
  3. Singing
  4. Scripture
Fire away.

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the value of our union with Christ in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on June 25, 2011, in Church, community, theology, worship and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. “Can you think of a single passage in the New Testament that involves worshiping as an individual?.” I’m stunned. I had never even thought about it. Until now.

  2. Anything done in community is so hard for us as Americans. We are a very individualistic society and, just like you showed in this topic, it seeps into everything – even church. We want to have a personal relationship with God so we weed out everyone else to make it personal. Like you, I like to get away and just be with Jesus during worship, letting everything just fade away in his presence. But what of that is coming together and ”Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19)? It’s kinda like when I tell my students to look at me but they only turn their face and not their eyes. Their partial obedience was actually no obedience.

    Something I find interesting is that in the Jewish religion, a person was constantly involved in self-thought. They had to make sure to obey an impossible amount of commandments so as to be right with God. I would imagine their prayers sounding something like, “Help me not to _____ so that you will ______.” Now we are already made right with God – so where should our prayers go? Back inward? Well no, because we have no reason now to worry about ourselves. We are already right with God. Yes there are times where the Holy Spirit will show us some sin or something, but then we repent and it’s done. So often my prayers sound like the one a Jewish person would pray. If we have been made free and are love unconditionally, then our thoughts shouldn’t be so consumed with ourselves. And neither should our worship.

    So now to your question: Are there ways we can renew a sense of community around these aspects of our worship…

    Lord’s supper
    Baptism
    Singing
    Scripture

    I feel like a lot of our understanding of what it means to be set free needs to change first. If we would begin to realize that our savedness actually frees us from having to worry about ourselves and allows us to be deeply concerned for the welfare of those around us, we would be so much more inclined to come together and BE together. Each of those aspects of worship would take on renewed meaning, and clarity. I think we would see that we are running towards Christ together, not just individually and it would/could change so much. I feel like we would begin to see Christ in ways that we hadn’t before. But I can’t really think of any specific ways we could renew our sense of community.

    Wow, thank you so much for this topic… Sorry I went on a little tangent that really doesn’t answer your question point blank. This definitely changes the way that I look at everything from reading the Word, to prayer, to worship. My life is no longer my own. It’s Christ’s. And if everything that He says in the Bible is true, then I need to be more focused on others than myself.

    • Amy! Haha, that’s quite all right—I love tangents, in fact, “tangent” is in the title of this blog :-)

      You’re right though, “Anything done in community is so hard for us as Americans.” So I guess the place we start is with our own individualistic hearts. And those four scenes of a gathered church that I listed certainly are too big to answer at one time, especially in passing. Maybe it would be worth several posts to deal individually (no pun intended) with each of these elements. Thanks for the comment Ameb’dan.

  1. Pingback: Community, Worship, and the Sacraments: The Lord’s Supper. « ChristopherLazo

  2. Pingback: Worship and Community: Scripture « ChristopherLazo

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