It’s easy to center the act of disciple making on what we do with individuals. But if all we do in our disciple making is work with individuals, we’re missing both the model of Jesus and what we see in the rest of the New Testament. There we discover not only an enterprise dedicated to producing certain kinds of people, but also one dedicated to producing a people, a particular kind of community.
The aspect of discipleship I’m looking at in this post, worship, is a characteristic predicated of both individuals and congregations. While we moderns tend to think any Christian practice works just fine practiced by individuals, worship seems to be normally practiced in community. While practiced in community, however, the individuals do have particular responsibilities. The characteristics of disciples in worship that I list below are mixed. Some are characteristics of the individual maturing in Christ, some are characteristics of the community maturing in Christ.
- Disciples sing with understanding. Singing with understanding requires education. Disciples will need at least a minimal education in the culture’s ways of doing music. Of course, when worshiping with large numbers, those of us who are more obtuse in this area can be drowned out by others. Disciples will also need to learn to attend to the words of the hymns we sing. Some of the language originates in another culture or time and will seem foreign. It will take work to understand, but that work is worthwhile.
- Disciples sing with enthusiasm. Consider this line from my seminary fight song: “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” If you understand the meaning of those words and have had the basic Christian experience of forgiveness in Christ, I don’t see how you could sing with less than enthusiasm, much less stand by doing nothing. Is it that people don’t understand these words? Or is it that they haven’t had the experience? (See part 1)
- Disciples experience the presence of God. Corporate worship, while a social gathering, is more than a social gathering. It’s a time to meet God. Part of dicipleship is growing in our sensitivity to the presence of God.
- The church is characterized by Spirit filled & led worship. Worship is not just disciples doing their own thing – even if that thing is spiritual. True Christian worship is worship “in spirit and in truth.” We respond to the Spirit through the Spirit’s work in us.
- Disciples seek to have a worship service where the presence of God is so obvious that pre-Christians in attendance are impacted and led to ask questions. I sure wish I could make this happen. I can’t make this happen. But I do want these things to happen whenever we gather. First, I want our life together to be such that people who are not yet followers of Jesus show up. Second, I want those folks to be able to sense more than just a bunch of Christians doing Christian things. I want them to sense God. Third, I want them to respond to God. Fourth, and this shades into a future post, I want the disciples present to be equipped and ready to answer their questions and point people to Jesus.
- Disciples value a diversity of worship opportunities to enable us to reach the people of our area. Worship is primarily about God. God’s glory and honor are the first consideration. That said, I don’t see the New Testament perspective on worship stifling innovation and cultural adaptation in worship. God made us creative people. As our creative dimension is progressively made over into the image of Jesus, I want that creativity to be put to use in worship. While worship is primarily about God, it is also public worship. We are open to outsiders. In fact, in most of our American churches, Sunday morning worship is the primary place preChristians encounter disciples as disciples. I want the community of disciples to be open to expressing its worship in cultural forms that are close enough to our host community that they can make some sense of what we’re doing – even if it is only enough sense to be offended by the message of the cross.
- Disciples want to see lives transformed through the Spirit’s action in our worship services. My life has been transformed in the context of worship. When we open ourselves to the work of the Spirit in worship, we give the Spirit freedom to reach into our lives and do the work of pruning, cleansing, healing, and setting free. We need that – more than we need to know that we exactly followed the bulletin or perfectly performed our assigned role.