How Do You Evaluate Worship, Part 2

Well, after a long hiatus, I would like to pick back up our discussion on evaluating the corporate worship in our churches. In my previous post, I stated that I am borrowing three key criteria from an entry in Worship by the Book (D. A. Carson, ed.) by Tim Keller. The first one we have discussed is what he calls “doxological evangelism”. I would now like to look at this second measure, which he calls “community building”.

Keller states that  Christian worship is both a cause and effect of our being a very distinct community. His basis for this is found in 1 Peter chapter 2, where Peter describes the church as “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”  Keller points out the challenges of the church (or Christians) being peculiar and distinct from the world yet submersed in it and often subject to it (1 Peter 2:13-17). It is typical of sociologists to group religious groups into two forms–“church” and “sect”. A sect is often described as being negative toward the world, emphasizing separatism and distinctness, while a church is often characterized as being positive toward the world, accentuating the acceptance and love of God. How do we avoid the extreme of sectarianism by disengagement with the culture and the community around us, while at the same time, avoiding syncretism by embracing the culture and community uncritically?

This particular question is far too broad to tackle in it’s entirety here, however, the question does have bearing on our corporate gatherings. Keller states that true worship “…is the key to forging strong identity without the separatism and legalism that marks so many ‘sects’.” However, how do we avoid spectacle by simply putting on a “show” that draws a crowd of people who have nothing to do with each other the rest of the week? Authentic biblical community seeks to be in the world yet not of it. How can we help to better foster authentic community in our services?

I believe our corporate worship gatherings can help build community by:

1). …Demonstrating the love of Christ in our relationships with those within and without. Are our gatherings characterized by unity and love for one another and those we are trying to reach, or are they characterized by strife, division, and indifference?

2). …Engaging in life together by demonstrating authentic expressions of corporate worship. Do our gatherings allow room for authentic expressions of praise, worship, and even sorrow and sadness (or dare I…repentance)? Do our gatherings exhibit that we are all perfectly plastic people who are nicely put together and completely orthodox, or maybe that we’re all on a 24/7 high of Red Bull, and you’re welcome only if you can keep up with our “supercharged” Jesus lovin’? The reality is that life has it’s ups and downs and that God is there for all of it. Does our worship reflect that we have the freedom to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep”? Do our gatherings reflect that we can worship God authentically through all the seasons of life and find joy, peace, and acceptance there?

3). …Effectively communicating opportunities to connect and grow with other believers in smaller gatherings. How effective are we at communicating the opportunities to connect with smaller groups and find authentic relationships even when taking part in a larger gathering? Do we leave Sunday simply on an adrenaline rush from “supercharged” worship waiting for our next “fix”? Or, do we leave, patting ourselves on the back for adequately performing our religious duty, simply to piously return next week because we always have? Or, do our gatherings adequately connect Sunday to Monday by encouraging authentic community and accountability throughout the week?

4). …Being a window into the heart and spirit of the church for those who are seeking. Do our gatherings adequately portray the heart and spirit of the entire church? Are our gatherings authentic and accurate in expressing who the church is and what we’re all about? Much like a guest at the family dinner table, do our visitors see who we are (good, bad, and indifferent) and get a sense of the “family dynamics” of our ministries? When a guest is at the dinner table, it’s not time to air all of the dirty laundry, however, a guest will usually want to get a sense of what the family is all about, it’s make-up, and what makes it tick. Our church visitors deserve the same.

5). …Being a redemptive force in the larger community in which it exists. If our churches would disappear tomorrow, would our communities miss our presence? Would they even know we were gone?

These ideas are by no means exhaustive, but I believe these are some thoughts that could get us moving toward more healthy community. I am interested in your thoughts as well.


A former pastor reflecting on matters of faith, culture and the arts in the context of real life.

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