Most Americans have grown up to think of church as a place where Christian worship services are held on Sundays. Most churchgoers would say worship is the most important thing in the church, and whatever else happens in the church centers around it. How ironic then, that the New Testament neither describes nor prescribes such a large group worship service!
In his letter to the Romans, Paul agrees "worship" should be the most important thing, but he paints a very different picture of what worship is. Paul instructs, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." (Romans 12:1)
Paul teaches us that New Testament worship should center on a daily lifestyle, not a weekly service. In his book, Paul's Idea of Community, (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998, pp. 88,89), Robert Banks puts it this way:
"One of the most puzzling features of Paul's understanding of 'ekklesia' (church) for his contemporaries . . . must have been his failure to say that a person went to church primarily to 'worship.'
Not once in all his writings does he suggest this is the case. Indeed it could not be so, for he held a view of 'worship' that prevented him from doing so.
This is crystallized in his plea at the beginning of Romans 12 . . .
The striking feature of Paul's statement is its metaphorical application to the sphere of everyday behavior . . .
Worship involves the whole of one's life, every word and action, and knows no special place or time. . .
Since all places and times have now become the venue for worship, Paul cannot speak of Christians assembling in church distinctively for this purpose.
They are already worshipping God, acceptably or unacceptably, in whatever they are doing."
What New Testament Worship Looks Like
Here are five specific examples the apostles cited to introduce how this new form of worship should replace the sacrifices and rituals of the Old Testament:
- Ministry within the Body of Christ to other Christians (Romans 12:3-8);
- Mission & Outreach (Romans 15:16);
- Financial Generosity (Hebrews 13:16);
- Individual (and corporate) praise to God (Hebrews 13:16);
- Counter-cultural thinking and lifestyle that resists conformation to the world's value system (Romans 12:2).
In Xenos, we are committed to prioritizing the development of these expressions of worship at the grassroots level within our home groups. As individuals cultivate a lifestyle of following Christ in this way, they experience the spiritual vitality, joy and abundance of life Jesus promised to his disciples.
What "Worship" at Central Teaching Looks Like
We have purposefully shifted the features of corporate worship (intercessory prayer, communion, etc.) from our large meetings into our home groups. This is why we allocate most of the time at our Central Teachings (CTs) to presenting the apostles' views on worship as a lifestyle expressed in community. CT exists to support our home groups as they invite friends to hear about God.
CT also helps instruct new Christians. One way we accomplish this is by having "Questions and Answers." To create a comfortable atmosphere at our meetings, we feature live performance music with secular as well as Christian lyrics that today's culture can identify with.
Saturday and Sunday night CTs feature a louder sound with more secular lyrics and a harder beat. Sunday morning CTs tend to have a softer, mellow sound that's easier to listen to at that hour of the day. Familiar music can help remove stigmas carried over from prior church experiences before the teaching even starts.
As an illustration, my wife, Connie, received Christ in 1990 at a meeting where the band played "Rocky Top." She had sworn she would never step foot in a church again, but hearing a fun song opened her mind to wonder what else she may have misunderstood about God, the Bible and the Christian life.
Besides selecting music that helps our guests relax, we ask our bands to pick songs with lyrics that stimulate thought and introspection. Many secular songs are excellent in raising questions that aren't answered well in our culture. In recognizing the powerful role music can play in this regard, our goal isn't to change people's personal tastes or musical preferences. Rather, we simply are taking the initiative to create an atmosphere that makes it as easy as possible for people in our culture to learn about the love of God and Jesus Christ, and get involved in a home group.
In summary, we realize our approach will not attract people who are looking for a traditional church and worship service. Yet, we hope those who are serious about following the Lord will give us a fair hearing, and then join us in adopting lifestyles of worship and winning new disciples for Christ.
(Portions of this column were adapted from Gary DeLashmutt's Friday night teaching at the 2001 Summer Institute.)