I've recently arrived at what was an "ah ha" moment, but it probably should have been obvious to me after all these years in ministry. Here it is: Sunday morning worship is the beginning of the believer's progress in true Christian discipleship and the foundation for wanting to share the Gospel. If a Christian doesn't have a commitment to gathering weekly for worship with his church family, he will neither progress to a more mature discipleship nor to sharing his faith with others.
A commitment to weekly worship is how a believer can first demonstrate that she is truly following Jesus. One might object here and say, "I don't have to go to church to be a Christian!" I wouldn't technically argue with that. But I would have to question the maturity of a Christian who wants to defend that statement. If you're a nominal worship attender, let me ask you a couple of questions. Are you truly growing as a disciple of Jesus by growing in the Word of God and learning to live a more God-honoring lifestyle? Are you sharing your faith with others? I would guess the honest answer would be "no" to both.
Here's the point: If we want to be engaged in real, life-transforming growth as followers of Christ, we can't reach that with a half-hearted commitment to weekly worship. Gathering consistently for worship is the foundation for a natural progression of spiritual growth. We must have an intention to be regularly present. And when we are present we must nurture our attention to be on God's worth and the welfare of others around us.
When we come to worship with spiritual focus, we become active participants rather than passive spectators. We learn to be God focused and less me focused. We share in exalting Christ. We practice being Spirit-filled and tuning into what God speaks into our lives through the preaching and singing of His Word. I believe until we do this regularly, we will have little desire to grow in faith or share Jesus with others. Of course, simply warming a seat each week out of a sense of duty or tradition won't really do it either. However, authentic, personal worship in a corporate setting is the catalyst that causes us to want to grow in faith and share the Gospel. Anyone I know who seeks deeper discipleship and takes the time to be involved in outreach programs is already a faithful attender of weekly worship. But I have never observed a half-time or less worship attender faithful to small group discipleship or outreach efforts.
Now, listen to what I'm actually saying. I'm not saying you can't be a genuine Christian and be uncommitted to Sunday worship. And I recognized some people have careers that may require their presence on some Sundays. But if you can choose to be in worship most of the time, but don't, you will not progress in your relationship with Christ like you could. It's just not going to happen. Let me tell you why.
Jesus said that the one who wanted to follow him had to "deny self, take up his cross daily, and follow" (Luke 9:23). This following is a first-priority commitment to make myself second to Jesus - period. If I can't begin to follow Jesus by making Sunday worship a priority, then how will I successfully follow Him in stuff that takes even greater commitment? Furthermore, worship takes practice to get it right. That may sound strange, but think about it. We have to learn what worship is, what we're doing, and why we're doing it. It takes practice to get all that straight in our minds and hearts and get dialed into what worship really is and what it is not. If we are absent most of the time, then we can't get better at it. This is why it's critical that pastors teach the congregation these things and that those leading worship have a sound, biblical understanding. Gimmicked up worship leads people's minds, hearts and emotions in the wrong direction to the wrong things.
The purpose of corporate worship is to declare God's greatness and goodness to God Himself, to each other, and to unbelievers among us. And when we do this God receives glory, we are strengthened and the lost are draw to Christ.
When we learn to worship, we essentially tune ourselves spiritually to make more of God and less of ourselves. We begin to hunger more for His Word, have a deep sense of gratitude for grace, and delight in His beauty. We learn to trust Him more and find our greatest satisfaction in our relationship to God through Christ. Only when this begins to happen will a desire arise in us to pursue God with deeper discipleship in small groups, personal Bible study, prayer, service, and consistent giving. Only when we worship will we develop a passion for the Gospel that will compel us to be trained to share our faith more effectively.
The fact will always remain that Jesus called us to follow Him with our whole lives. He said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). The point again is real commitment. Jesus made it clear that loyalty divided is no true loyalty at all. We can't say we follow Him and at the same time gaze longingly back for this world. It's an all-in commitment. It's us who think we can make that commitment less than He made it and still think it's a real commitment.
If we desire a satisfying relationship with Christ, then we have to be all in, whatever that means and whatever that costs. This pursuit is a life-long endeavor. No one ever arrives. However, a simple way to progress spiritually is to shift priorities away from all those activities that consistently displace worship to a serious commitment to gathering for worship. This is the prerequisite for nurturing a desire to grow as a disciple and becoming an effective witness for Christ.
If your enthusiasm for Christ isn't what you think it should be, then I would challenge you to be honest about your attitude concerning corporate worship. If it truly doesn't constitute a firm priority for you, then I would suggest there is a direct connection between your level of dissatisfaction and your absence from worship.
Maybe you would take the following challenge. Make a six month commitment to make weekly worship your greatest commitment for Sundays. If at all possible, choose to put it first and don't allow other things to take you away from it. Come with the attitude of submitting yourself to God, listening attentively to the preaching of God's Word, and participating enthusiastically. Don't expect it to be perfect, but expect God to work in your life. Don't expect your spirit necessarily to soar immediately, but do expect change to emerge. If you do this, don't be surprised if God doesn't whet your appetite and give you a desire to want to get closer to Him, more involved in your church, and a burden for those who need to love Jesus the way you will.
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