Most of us know that we live in very singular societies. Compared to biblical times when the significance of people groups, families, and generations was so great, our worlds now largely value individualism above all else. As Christians, combating this self-first culture is largely what drives our God-given mandate to serve and love one another.
I can’t help but wonder how much this individualistic worldview affects our approach to corporate worship. We know that the apostle Paul warns us to not give up gathering together (Hebrews 10:25), but I think he also has some things to say about what we’re doing once we’ve gathered!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as youteach and admonish one anotherwith all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
“…speaking to one anotherwith psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As a worship leader I’m aware of the need to lead people on a personal journey. I know that everyone comes from different places in life and that every individual’s response to and communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an intimate and personal thing. But I’m also aware that there’s incredible power when believers gather together with one song, one voice, in unity to worship.
What Paul writes in these verses makes a pretty clear statement that speaks of this power of unity. We see that while the worship of our hearts is directed to God, the psalms, hymns, and songs are actually directed to each other! Make no mistake, they’re all about God, but the recipients of the songs in these examples are the fellow believers.
For years I’ve known this passage in Isaiah to be an incredible picture of heavenly worship, the seraphim endlessly giving praise to God.
…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy holy, is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’”
But read it again and see who the seraphim were calling to. Each other! They were telling each other about the holiness and glory of God Almighty.
Time spent in worship individually and corporately are both incredibly powerful things and we can’t do without either. But they’re not the same.
Practically, I’d encourage you as a believer with a couple of keys when it comes to corporate worship gatherings.
1. Don’t quit showing up! We are members of one body and the whole isn’t the whole without its individual parts. Your contribution matters. Your faith matters. Your presence matters.
2. And sing like you mean it! Whether the worship team is singing your favourite song or not, your decision to sing audible truth of who God is encourages and teaches others. You may not be the best singer, but unfortunately Paul doesn’t make any distinction about that… and what he wrote is in the Bible :-).
3. Seek to serve. Acts 20:35 says, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” (Confession: I always thought that this verse meant that I was supposed to be more excited about the Christmas presents I was giving than the Christmas presents I was receiving). Suffice it to say, you’ll find more joy in being more aware of the needs of others than you are of the needs of yourself. I pray that we all have moments regularly in corporate worship gatherings that leave us completely transformed as individuals, moments that we never forget. But I pray that our commitment to gathering and our faith to worship in every season isn’t limited to our own needs and expectations but that it’s grounded in a passionate desire to see Christ exalted and His bride, the Church, be everything that it’s called to be.