Why you’re not getting anything out of church

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“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43-45

IF “GOING TO CHURCH” HAS NEVER REALLY “WORKED” FOR YOU, YOU MAY BE WORSHIPPING IN THE WRONG PLACE AND WITH THE WRONG POWER. Men have long sought spirituality in elaborate architecture, “priestly” attire, and religious tradition. We have erected sophisticated denominations over the centuries, each with their own signets of sacredness–some with great pomp and pageantry. Even in less formal circles, we often become enamored with buildings, attire, attendance, titles, and numbers. But do these outward displays truly manifest spirituality? Do they indicate the very presence of God? Let’s take a closer look at the person, place, process, power, and product of biblical worship.

The person we worship is God. There is none other worthy of our praise. In Acts 20:7, the disciples came together for the memorial of the Lord’s Supper to remember and re-enact the redemption story. When the saints gather together for worship on Sunday as God ordained, we would do well to safeguard the purpose of our assembly from any other agenda. Worship is not the place for entertainment, promotion of social or political agendas, nor the honoring of men. Many have sought to make worship more “relevant” or “appealing” by embellishing upon its simple biblical form. They have added infant dedications, graduation ceremonies, the honoring of public servants, the celebration of man-made pseudo-religious holidays, and more. Such innovations have only diluted our churches, distracted our focus, and bordered on digressing our faith into vain idolatry. Some of these causes are worthy, but they simply do not belong in the Sunday worship hour. Let us worship the Lord our God, and him alone (Luke 4:8).

The place of worship is in our hearts. In Ephesians 5:18-21, Paul said:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Worship has to do with who you are and whose you are–not where you are. Note that while worship is something we do individually, it is also something we do with “one another.” The emphasis here is on the collective worship of believers. A brick in a field is nothing more than a stumbling block destined to crumble to dust in time, but joined together with thousands of others it could become a beautiful palace, an impenetrable fortress, or a humble dwelling. 1 Peter 2:4 and 5 says:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 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. 

While there is nothing holy about a building, there is something very special about the saints coming together in the Spirit to worship from the heart. Of course, most churches meet in a building of some kind, but the building is merely a means to an end. Therefore, we must no longer think in terms of “going to church,” but instead in terms of being the church.

The process of worship is to think, feel, and do. The process corresponds to the heart of man which comprises intellect, emotion, and will.

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Notice the process of life-changing worship in 2 Corinthians 5:14 and 15:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

When we hear and are convinced about the love of Christ and how he died for us (intellect), we are compelled to love him (emotion) and determined to live for him (will). Information that we receive intellectually convinces us, it shapes our beliefs. But worship that is merely academic and lacking passion will do little to change our lives. Emotion gives us energy. Think about anger. Anger out of control is dangerous, but righteous anger energizes us to confront a problem. Conversely, love compels us to live and even to die for the one we love. Finally, because of our conviction and emotion, we determine to do something—our will is changed. This process requires focus. Dane Shepard and John Kilgore have suggested most people need to focus their hearts for at least 15 minutes in order to truly worship. The most effective worship leaders employ themes to help the church focus. Random songs, scriptures, and prayers will have little effect on the worshipper. Additionally, they seek to eliminate all distractions such as transition time, technological friction, filler content, or irrelevant bells and whistles. It is challenging to accomplish effective worship with volunteers, but reverent worshippers understand the life of our very souls depends upon it.

The power of worship is the Holy Spirit. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” My brother, Wes McAdams, suggests in his blog that the context indicates this means to worship with the indwelling Holy Spirit. I believe his study and reasoning is sound. It is the Holy Spirit’s power who brought us the word (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 13); it is the Holy Spirit who indwells baptized believers (Acts 2:38); it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the saved (2 Thessalonians 2:13); it is the Holy Spirit’s power who connects us in prayer to the Divine (Romans 8:26, 27); and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us song and melody in the heart (Ephesians 5:18). Without the Holy Spirit, our praise and prayer are mere words.

The product of worship is growth and glory. Worship is for God, but it is is also for us. I do not mean that worship is to entertain or to please our selfish desires, but it is for our spiritual growth. When we truly worship from the heart, we are spiritually transformed to the image of Christ. When we are transformed to look like Christ, we reflect, magnify, and glorify the light of Christ:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

It has been said that worship is our response to God’s story; worship is also our response to God. Worship is inspired by a process of encountering God through revelation in the word, then responding in praise and prayer. Ultimately, worship is all about God even as it spiritually benefits the worshipper.

Worship is deeper than attendance and richer than ritual. If we are to be worshippers of God, we must do more than fill a seat at a local church. We must do more than go through the motions of Sunday. We must become spiritual people. We must become intimately entwined in heart and soul to the Spirit of God and to God’s people.

We come to You as living stones,
Built up and fit together.
Come fill Your holy house, O God;
Abide within forever.

Be Holy, for I Am Holy
C. E. COUCHMAN (2002)

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