Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Five Ways To Improve Your Gathering With The Body

The more I read, the more I listen, and the more I invite people to gather with me on Sunday mornings as part of a "church service" the more I discover how much  re-education believers need. Not only do I continue to discover how reticent believers are about gathering together in a designated corporate service, I continue to find how unsatisfied they have become with their corporate worship service. Not only do I find this tragic for individual believers but how this must grieve the God whom we have come to worship.

I have made several observations over time that I think most believers could utilize in order to make some dramatic improvements in their "Sunday morning experience." These improvements are relatively simple, contain no calories, and have helped me.

Re-think why you are gathering together on Sunday Mornings

There are quite a few believers who really don't know why we gather together on Sunday morning. I am not talking about why we worship on Sunday versus Saturday or any other day for that matter. Examine your heart and evaluate why you attend your Sunday morning worship service.

Some, albeit a few, attend because they are afraid of the consequences if they don't. They view God as an angry or crotchety old man who will zap them if they fail to show up each week.  Others attend their services because they hope that God will either be pleased with them or will love them more. Many will show up this Sunday simply from routine or rote habit. After all, they go every week and so they attend because that is what they do each Sunday. Similarly, some will show up simply because they are expected to. Of course some show up because they are guilted by either the preaching or someone else from a passage like Hebrews 10.

Why do we gather together? What is the purpose of gathering each week? Acts 2 tells after the Holy Spirit indwelt the fledgling band of 120 or so disciples and apostles, that Peter preached a message which resulted in   3,000 people being born again. Those individuals were baptized and added to the 120. They then devoted or continued together with the apostles. The word "continued" is an imperfect tense verb and means that they kept on continuing with the apostles. These new believers had entered into a new "life" and they wanted to learn as much as they could.

Colossians 3 tells us that we gather to worship God. We are told in verse 16 that we are to "sing Psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God." The problem we face is that "worship" is not simply preparation for preaching. Worship is the function of every believer. Worship is not left to Sunday mornings but when we gather, a purpose is to worship God.

Ephesians 4 also tells us a little about the purpose of gathering together, we gather in order to be equip to do the work of the ministry. We gather to minister our spiritual gift to one another. If you are not there this Sunday then you are unable to minister to me in a way that promotes my growth and maturity. We also are taught sound doctrine or teaching so that we are not batted about by false teachers or teachings. We are to nurture one another.

When one changes their thinking about why we gather from routine or duty to the realization, that when one walks into the designated building, room, or location, one is there to first worship our holy majestic God in a manner in which He is worthy, but we are also there to minister, nurture, develop, and care for each member present. Gathering together is to be a joy, a pleasure, and spiritual experience and not a chore.

Prepare your heart and soul to gather in your Sunday morning devotion

The greatest danger that those of us who have daily devotions or quiet times with the Lord face is that our devotions become routine or mechanical. We are always on guard against the onslaught of dullness, emptiness, and the dryness that can infiltrate and invade our special time with God. Mixing of what we do and the varies parts of our devotion can help prevent our quiet times from becoming mechanical. 

Use your Sunday morning quiet time to prepare you heart for the service to come. Search your heart for unconfessed sin. Learn how to truly worship God privately. Begin focusing on the nature and character of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Take an attribute of God and focus on that attribute. 

I realize that some of you are moms with young children or possibly older. I know that it is difficult to get yourself up and ready and then everyone else ready in order to be on time. There can be allot to contend with on Sunday mornings prior to gathering with the body. (We use to get four little girls up and ready every Sunday morning) Use what ever precious time you can carve out in the morning prior to the demanding of your time and attention by others to ready yourself for worship.

Arrive early rather than just a few minutes prior to the service beginning

I know anymore that this is easier to say than to do. It seems strange to me to hear so many people, including believers who tell me that for such important things like their daily job or the gathering of the body they "fall out of bed", run a comb through their hair, a toothbrush across their teeth, and arrive minutes before they are to begin work or worship.

If you are early you can come in and find a place and quiet your mind and soul. You can read scripture, pray, and begin to think thoughts of God and His majesty. At times you can even minister to others who are their by using your spiritual gift to edify, comfort, encourage, or help them.

Don't arrive early enough pick up on the latest gossip and news! Start spiritual conversations; pray for the Elders who lead and the Elder who be preaching/teaching. Pray for those who are there that God will open their hearts to the truth of His Word and fill them with Himself. Pray for those who are not believers.

Make it a point to be an active listener

Just as the Worship Leader, the choir, the ushers, and the teaching Elder are to be prepared to speak, sing, or serve, you as a member and worshipper must be prepared to listen. Listening is an activity that requires practice and personal involvement. Listen for God's word and encouragement in the songs that you sin. Listen intently and actively to the exhortation that is given from the Word. Don't merely sit while checking in and out of the message hoping it is soon finished. Listen carefully for the message directed to your heart. Listen for:
  • Sin (s) to Confess. Ask the Holy Spirit to use the passage to illuminate any and all sin that you may be guilty of or are harboring in your heart.
  • Promise to Claim. Listen as the Word is unpacked and unfolded for a promise in the passage from God that you can claim and fasten your hope upon.
  • Attitude to Copy. Listen as the Word is taught and observe the attitude (s) of the author or the audience. Is someone in the passage demonstrating humility, faithfulness, patience, love, mercy, or peace? Let God address your heart about the attitudes that you many need to ditch or develop.
  • Command to Complete. Listen to see if there is an imperative or a command in the passage that is being preached or taught. Is there something that you need to stop or begin. What would God have you to do as a result of hearing this message? What changes are you going to make in your thought life, your speech, your conduct, or your activities. 
  • Examples to Consider. In conjunction with any commands to obey or complete, listen carefully to the passage at hand and see if God is leading you to follow certain examples in the passage. Is the passage that you are actively listening to sharing an example of sacrificial love? How can you follow that example and become a dispenser of sacrificial love those around you?
Every message must have a main point, a proposition, a specific thought that is exhibited in the passage. There maybe several supportive points, examples, illustrations, and et. cetera in the passage. However, all these supportive points support the one main idea of the passage. Listen actively and carefully for that main idea. Listen how the supportive points under-gird and support that main idea.

Focus on God in every element of the service

This may sound like a "gimme" but it is important. Most people have come to believe that somewhere in the bulletin it says, "At the sound of announcements, the offering, specials, moments of silence, prayers, and anything else I forgot to list TALK. It is unfortunate that we develop the attitude that there are certain things in the "order of service" that are important and certain things that are not important. That is tragic.

Arrive as we said earlier even to greet folks and to find a place to wait expectantly as the service begins. Then focus on God and his character on each part of the service. From the call to worship, through the singing, and even in the announcements, seek to focus on God. Rather than disturbing and distracting others around you and missing out on something that God may bless you with, stay focused. 

Well there you  have it. These ideas are certainly, at least I don't think, original with me. They aren't very theological or earth shattering. They are offered for your consideration in the hopes that they might perhaps enhance your regular gathering together with the body of Christ. After all, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews states, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as it the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV) (Emphasis is mine)

Why do you think people have trouble attending worship services?

What do you see as the reason we are to gather together?

How would you critique one or more of these suggestions?


Mike said...

Sadly, in today's culture, so many people attend because they think it's more about them than about God. Church growth preachers have hijacked Christianity into making people think they're gathering in order to hear how their lives can be improved; how they can be motivated to succeed; how God is really cool like a big brother.

There's little emphasis on personal holines because we've forgotten that we worship a holy God. Your suggestions are great reminders of how we should prepare our hearts and minds, and how we should be active participants and not merely physically present.

Larri said...

Because I live in the Bible Belt, a lot of people I know attend out of obligation rather than to use it as an opportunity to worship...they don't want their neighbors talking about them!

I believe we are to gather together to worship our Creator, as well as to learn about His word, and ultimately establish a solid relationship with Him.

Your post is spot on! Loved it and have no critique for you. Thanks for the excellent and thoughtful post, Gregg.

Happy Tuesday! :o)

Trisha said...

This is great! How important it is to be intentional in our worship, and your discussion will be great to share with my family. Praise God for your love for His church and your desire to glorify Him!

Scott said...

Excellent! And the first two comments already covered most of what I was thinking in response to the questions. Man-centered theology leads to man-centered worship. It's that simple. We are reaping the rewards of the Rick Warren-esque approaches to church in general.

With your permission, I'd like to "re-blog" this using the little blog button thingy!

mikew116 said...

Great thoughts. There is a lot of simple, practical wisdom there, a lot I've never heard before. Good stuff.

Darlene said...

Great thoughts, Greg. I agree a lot with what Mike said. The church is becoming very ME centered. I've often wondered about if most preachers were preaching like the 1st century preachers, how many people would be going to church today?

Toyin O. said...

very informative, thanks for sharing.

Kevin Sorensen said...

I enjoyed reading this post; thanks. I may find a way to incorporate it into a bulletin insert or some other form to make sure it gets in the hands of our congregation –– if that's all right with you.

I have several young families who straggle in late to our service... every single Sunday. One of these young mothers tells me, "I'm just not a morning person; it's so hard to get out of bed." I graciously smile and refrain from asking, "What time do you go to bed on Saturday evenings?"

We have such a terrible tendency to think of Sunday as the last day of the weekend ("Which is ours, by gum, because I work all the rest of the week!") instead of the first day of the week. Therefore, Sunday gets tagged on to the end of OUR fun and rest. It is so hard to get people to think, "This is the best day, the greatest day of the week and I get to go to the greatest place on earth to meet with the greatest people I know and hear about the greatest God's love for me."

Ah well; we keep trying and praying and prodding, eh?

Petra said...

On May 22nd, at the start of our Sunday School, our pastor asked us why we had come to church. (He often asks questions at the start of class to make sure we're awake.) I was so very tempted to answer, "Because the world didn't end yesterday." But I behaved myself!

Gregg, I can't critique any of your suggestions because they are all good! I would like to add one additional suggestion to the 'listening' part, if I may.

I usually listen very attentively but at times I catch myself listening with someone else in mind who would greatly benefit from what I'm hearing. So, I wind up thinking about how the message could fix the other person's problems.

While it is certainly nice to think about and care/pray for others, I need to learn to leave them and their problems to God's care, so that I can listen to what God's Spirit is trying to reveal to me and my problems. (And that's my two cents' worth just in case someone else has that same hearing problem.)

I also have to work on getting to church a little earlier.

Grace and peace!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff! I highly recommend Dr. Joel Beeke's The Family at Church.

I blogged his chapter on "Preparing to listen to a Sermon" here:


Thank you for your thoughts! Grace to you!