Corporate worship is the rushing river that runs through every current of your life. So make it a priority to plead with God that he would greatly bless your church’s gatherings. He’s already made special promises to his gathered people: the risen Christ is in your midst! With your whole heart, seek and anticipate God’s rich supply of grace in corporate worship.
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
1 Timothy 3:14-15
Suppose that on Monday morning you strike up a conversation with Andrew, your Christian coworker. The topic of church comes up, and you ask, “Andrew, what do you like about your church?”
He replies, “Well, my church has a wonderful children’s program. The messages are always encouraging. And I love the worship.”
You then ask, “What exactly do you enjoy about the worship?”
“My goodness!” he answers. “We have an amazing worship band. They’re so talented and can play any style. They play a mix of hymns and contemporary songs. We even have services for each and members get to choose based on what they enjoy. For me, I prefer the contemporary service. The songs get me into a worshipful mood. You know, our worship leader actually went to Juilliard and toured with the band Third Day?”
There are many aspects of Andrew’s answer that are worth highlighting. I wish to highlight only one: when asked about worship, he only speaks of music.
Is Andrew odd?
Probably not. My guess is that most evangelicals merely think of music when they think about worship. The words aren’t synonymous, but they’re close. You’ve surely heard something like this at church: “Before we move back into a time of worship, I’m going to lead us in prayer.” Fifteen minutes later, a pastor delivers a thirty-minute message, followed by (you guessed it) more “worship.” Why are so many of us inclined to reduce corporate worship solely to the musical portions of our gatherings?
Perhaps the main reason is this: we equate worship with music because we have been trained to think that singing is the only way in which congregations actually participate in worship.
But Scripture is clear: corporate worship encompasses much more than music. In fact, every element of Christian worship involves the active participation of the entire congregation.
The Role of Every Member in Every Element of Worship
In order to understand corporate worship, we need to first understand what a church is. The Apostle Peter says of the church: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).
According to Peter, Christians are stones. Together, they form a spiritual house which we call a local church. Every time a church gathers in the name of Jesus, the people form a habitation of praise—an environment of exultation that exists for the sole purpose of glorifying God.
Such a vision for the church should shatter any desire for one-sided performance in corporate worship. If every member is essential to what a church is and if corporate worship is essential to church life, then every member is essential to corporate worship. Congregations are never audiences; they are eager and active participants.
Let’s examine the congregation’s role in different elements of corporate worship.
The Congregation’s Role in Singing
Most of us intuitively recognize singing as participatory. Nonetheless, many Christians sadly refrain from singing. Perhaps they don’t like the songs, or maybe they think they’re bad singers. Such Christians would do well to read the 400+ references to singing in Scripture. This includes fifty direct commands to sing. The largest book in the Bible, and the most quoted book in the New Testament, is the Psalms, which is essentially a songbook. Evidently, it’s of paramount importance to God that his people—every last one of them—sing his praises.
The apostle Paul makes no exceptions when he says in Colossians 3, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The only instrument referred to in New Testament worship is the human voice. That matters. It’s God’s design that the local church’s music ministry be comprised of an untrained choir of blood-bought saints.
The Congregation’s Role in Prayer
A cursory reading of the New Testament reveals the priority of prayer in gathered worship (Acts 4:23–31, 1 Cor. 11, 1 Tim. 2). We see churches pray together in one voice, and we also see individuals lead congregations in prayer. And we should do this all to edify or build up the whole body (1 Cor. 14).