The Worship Myth
As we proposed last time, too many pin their hopes for reversing the decline in church membership on getting people to “come to church.” This usually means we want them to “come worship with us.” If they have a good experience, we reason, they may want to come back. This hope is cherished not just for non-Christians who have the incredible bravery to walk into a building filled with strangers, but also for folks from other churches who might like our “services” better and decide to “place membership” with us.
In addition to being part of the discredited attractional model, there are several problems with this.
Misuse of the word, “worship.” As we should know, worship can take place any time and any place. So, to refer to the assembly of saints (ekklesia) as “the worship” leaves an impression that worship takes place on a certain day at a certain hour. Is “the worship” on Sundays the only time you pray, sing, read the Word and give? Surely not!
Often we ask a fellow-believer, “Where do you worship?” Invariably we are asking where they “go to church.” By asking “Where do you go to church?” we are asking which building at which location they enter on Sundays. Our speech betrays our misunderstanding.
The misunderstood cause and effect of worship. Worship is an effect, not a cause. It is just not true that Christian action is the result of worship. The opposite is true…worship is the result of Christian action which is the result of hearing and applying the teachings of Christ. (Romans 10:17).
My experience confirms this truth. The best singing and most moving worship I ever experienced was in our little mission church in Australia. The gospel was being preached, people were being saved, lives were being changed, Jesus was being exalted, and disciples were living their faith. Consequently, our times of assembly were Spirit-charged celebrations.
Dr. Jack Reese makes an excellent observation in his article called, “Coming Back to the Heart of Worship:”
At one conference I attended recently, a speaker said that in the history of Christianity spiritual revival has always occurred in the wake of worship renewal, especially through the rise of new hymns. The crowd, filled with the sounds of the latest praise songs ringing in their ears, roared its approval.
I couldn’t help but think how wonderful that would be, if only it were true. But in the history of Christianity, worship renewal, especially the writing of new hymns, has always followed rather than led spiritual awakening. It is not music but the hearing of the Word that has sparked the renewal of God’s people.
Do we want “worship renewal” on Sundays? Then we must hear the Word and live as Jesus Monday through Saturday. Mundane, dull, listless assemblies are symptomatic of poor spiritual health. A transfusion of lifeblood is needed and evangelism is the lifeblood of the church.
Misuse of the word, “service,” usually used in combination with “worship.” While used frequently in the Old Testament in reference to the work of the priests in the Tabernacle and Temple, I couldn’t find the term “service” used in reference to an assembly in the New Testament. The only version I could find using the phrase, “worship service,” is the Contemporary English Version which uses it because it is contemporary English! In other words, they used it (incorrectly) because so many already use it (incorrectly)!
The correct English term is “assembly.” Let’s quit using the term, “worship service,” especially with a definite article before it. It’s wrong. I think the beginning of getting things right is getting our terminology right, don’t you?
An incorrect understanding of the purpose of assembly. Worship indeed takes place in assembly, but the primary purpose of assembly is to refuel the saints. Visitors may indeed be evangelized at an assembly (1 Corinthians 14:23-25) but the priority of assembly is stimulation and encouragement, not evangelism.
A successful assembly is not a matter of good choreography, scripting, lighting, music and sermons. Those are the wrong concerns. Here are the crucial questions: were the assembled saints stimulated to love and good deeds? If not, our assembly, no matter how fancy, was a failure. Did our brothers and sisters walk out the doors encouraged, edified, instructed and inspired? (See 1 Corinthians 14 and Hebrews 10:23-25) If not, our gathering, no matter how slick and professional, was a bust.
OK, let me cut to the chase here. The assembly is not for evangelism! That is “the worship myth.” To depend on the assembly to reach the lost is erroneous, futile and ineffectual. Manipulating the assembly to attract visitors will never work. And yet, most churches have no other plan for evangelism!
We must not keep our Jesus in a box. We must not allow the body of Christ to be hidden in a building. His light must be seen through His disciples in an ever darkening world.
There is only one cure for decline and it is a simple one: “Go…and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)
P.S. Trey Morgan has also expressed his concern about decline. Check out his good words at www.treymorgan.net/2007/08/church-on-decline.html including the comments to his post.
 This article first appeared in CHRISTIANSTANDARD on 7th May, 2006).