Sunday morning is not only a call to worship, but also a call to love.
We have a great commandment: love and worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is first and central. Corporate worship is no less than loving God with all we are. But there is more. We also have a second commandment, which is like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Neither our worship of Jesus, nor our love for his people should be separated out to certain segments or hours of the week. Both are for all of life. And both are essential on Sunday morning.
Don’t Assume Jesus
Now, we must make sure the greatest commandment has its place. God must be first, foremost, and uncompromisingly central on Sunday morning. It is possible to make corporate worship (of all things!) into a mere horizontal, people-preoccupied event without Jesus’s majesty towering at the center. That’s a tragedy. This article is not a call for those with thin verticality in their worship to double down on the tragedy.
Rather, this is a call to those who have become convinced that God is gloriously, wonderfully supreme in corporate worship. We come together on Sunday to get God. To go hard after him. Our expectations are appropriately high. We arrive ready to feast our souls on the banquet of all he is and does for us.
“God must be first, foremost, and uncompromisingly central on Sunday morning.”
Yes, the heart and focus of our corporate gatherings should be God. If everything goes horizontal, it is not worship. We must go vertical. Corporate worship must be Godward. God gives us pastors to protect that, and faithful congregants who are happy not to have it compromised.
Self-Interest Versus Selfishness
Yet as sinful humans, we find our ways to taint even the purest of things — even Godward worship.
For those of us who have come to own the glorious truth that God, and God alone, is the supreme source and focus of our joy, we can begin to approach Sunday mornings with a subtly self-focused mentality. Knowing that mere duty dishonors God, we come to feast and relish the remarkable benefits of corporate worship. But holy self-interest can migrate to sinful selfishness if we’re not careful. And an important test is our awareness of and love for others.
Does the presence of others in worship regularly feel like a barrier to the “me and Jesus” experience you’re hoping to achieve? Do the crying baby, restless child, unpolished pianist, and typos on the lyrics slides seem like obstacles to worship, or like opportunities?
Consider at least four ways to strengthen the “together” aspect of going hard after God together in corporate worship.
1. Widen Your Heart of Worship
Just as Jesus identifies with us as man and worships his Father as part of God’s people (Hebrews 2:11–13), so also we worship not as solitary individuals, but as part of a body. And not just in truth, but also in spirit. Not just technically and externally, but inwardly and consciously.
Our heart in corporate worship should not be to drown out the other worshipers from our consciousness with tightly shut eyes and a narrow focus on God, but to praise him as one of his people, from among his people, gladly part of a gathering. We widen our eyes of worship to include our neighbor, not as the object of our worship, but as joy-multiplying, praise-accenting partners in worship.
Have your “me and Jesus” moments at home. Come to corporate worship to sing praises as part of his body.
2. Seize Distractions as Opportunities
As much as pastors and lead worshipers should pursue undistracting excellence to minimize diversions, it is inevitable that distractions will arise. But that doesn’t mean that the spirit of our worship has to be derailed. With a widened heart, we can learn to see these as opportunities, not obstructions, for engaging with God and loving others.
The God we worship is plenty big enough to handle our pint-sized disruptions. Our good-hearted miscues, whether from the platform or in the congregation, do not threaten his glory and need not threaten our experience of it — if we refuse to give the distractions space in our hearts to steal our joy.
3. Serve One Another Joyfully
Every church has needs on Sunday morning. We need volunteers for parking, greeting, setup, and of course the big one — childcare. The more we have cultivated a selfish and narrow “me and Jesus” approach to worship, rather than a wide-hearted “together” perspective, the less likely we’ll be to meet these needs with a happy heart — if we even put ourselves forward to help at all.
We need to remind ourselves that God gives even greater joy when our hearts expand to help others, rather than fixate narrowly on our emotional experience.
“God gives greater joy when our hearts expand to help others, rather than fixate on our emotional experience.”
Not only do we have the regular, clearly defined roles of service to fill. Sunday morning is a chance to be on the lookout for the unexpected needs of others, whether it’s offering to rock a fussy baby so a weary mother can worship, or even something as small as proactively sliding over a few seats to make space for latecomers.
New needs arise almost every week, and if we’re not narrowly focused on just ramping up our own hearts in worship, we can play the modest part of the Good Samaritan, not too distracted by our religious schedules to recognize and address real needs.
4. Forgive and Be Forgiven
A final way in which a “together” perspective on corporate worship can enrich Sunday mornings is calling to mind our relationships and any needs for reconciliation.
Instead of minimizing others, and seeking to block them out to focus on Jesus, we can ask if we have needlessly offended anyone, or withheld harmony. Are we at peace with our fellow worshipers? It’s a cue to check our hearts. Worship of God in the old covenant was not meant to be divorced from love for others (Matthew 5:23–24); neither is it in the new.
In particular, the Lord’s Table serves as a regular reminder in the life of the church to seek reconciliation with both God and one another. Rather than going inward, and blocking others out, as we prepare our hearts to eat and drink in faith, we come to the Table together. It is a family meal.
We eat and drink and worship together.