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April 17, 2013

What is the main purpose of the worship service?

Curious Christian Blog, at

What is the main purpose of the worship service?

Worship is first and foremost for God and about God. Its benefits, in forming believers and in reaching unbelievers, are secondary.

In the life of the church, we acknowledge and recognize that the church in every age and in every culture must be engaged in certain tasks, and these tasks are great and amazing and critical tasks. One way to think about these is to think of the three great tasks that the church attends to. They are the task of worship, the task of Christian nurture or Christian formation or Christian teaching and the task of outreach, evangelism, justice in the world. So, the God-ward commitment that we identify principally is the worship; body commitment, Christian formation, Christian teaching; and a commitment to unbelievers in outreach and evangelism and love and mercy. Obviously, these overlap; they are not three separate spheres. All of them have implications for the others. But when we come together for worship, what we need to say is that worship is not primarily a Christian formation hour. And when we come together for worship, worship is not primarily an outreach hour. It does form people and it does have implications for unbelievers, but worship is first and foremost for God and about God. It does not have a lot of other necessary pieces that are on the agenda as priority. The priority is to be in God's presence, give Him honor, hear His revelation fresh and respond faithfully.

Marta Dawn, in one of her two books on worship, captures this idea in her very title. Actually, both of her titles sort of capture this idea. The first book is called, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, an argument for not turning worship into a seeker service or changing worship for the sake of unbelievers, but worshiping in a way that God desires and that will please God and serve God.

The second book by Marva Dawn, on the subject of worship, is called A Royal "Waste" of Time. In this book she makes the point that worship really is, in some sense, a waste of time. Certainly, in the eyes of the nonbelieving world it would be like a waste of time. In her title, "Waste" is in quotation marks and "Royal" is capitalized. It is royally wasting time with the King of kings. We are not accomplishing anything. Our agenda is not to really accomplish anything but to worship God. I think that Marva Dawn, in some ways, overstates her case and is not as balanced as she purports to be, but I think that she raises some critical and important issues for us. So, what is in my mind about this Principal #10 is that, when we worship, our focus is on revelation, claritive revelation from God, and faithful response to God. That is our focus. Give God His due, receive from Him His goodness, give Him His glory. As we do that, the other things happen, but that is not what we seek first.

Again, this is not to say there is not overlap. Paul makes it clear that there is overlap. Let's go back to 1 Corinthians 11-14. The title of the section, in my mind, again is 'When you come together'. This is about the worship gatherings of the church. Chapter 11 is gathering for the Lord's Supper. Chapter 12 is singing and praising and prophesying together. 14 is the same, 'When you come together' for worship. But, notice that Paul also has concern about formation of believers in connection with unbelievers, both in regard to speaking in tongues. See how he is concerned about Christian formation when he says, "I praise God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue", 1 Corinthians 14:18 and 19. It is a 'When you come together' segment of the life of the church. We have come together for worship, but in that gathering I must be also mindful of the fact that believers are formed here and believers are taught and instructed here. This is a secondary, and I think a very appropriate secondary, outworking of the worship experience. First, is simply to worship God and give Him glory and a secondary benefit of that experience is that believers are formed.

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