Gatherings. We do a lot of them. Every weekend. Midweek. No matter how much we try and avoid the term, it is a religious ritual. And one that is good for our spiritual formation.
But just because we’re meeting together doesn’t make it good for us. As pastors and leaders we have a responsibility to lead well, to plan a healthy theological diet for our people, and not shrink back from what is necessary for the health of our souls.
What we say matters. What we sing matters. What we identify our lives with matters. How we leave matters. What we become matters.
Depending on your church tradition, these gatherings are going to look quite different. A charismatic service is going to feel quite different than an Anglican liturgy. But that doesn’t mean the foundation needs to change.
Let me tell you about some of my experiences, good and bad.
When I came to faith in 1997 it was in the midst of the Charismatic Revival. My parents visited Pensacola and were deeply moved by the Brownsville Revival. They eventually took us there and it was wonderful to behold. It was an experience centered on the power of God – the moving of the Holy Spirit.
It was amazing to see people flood the altars seeking Jesus. The songs were intimate and emotional. The atmosphere was alive with expectation. Looking back, what was missing for me was a rapt attention upon the word of God. The Word of God was used more as an embellishment to what was already happening. The Bible was used to make a point rather than to find what point the Bible was making.
During this season, I read Scripture. But I was looking for hidden meaning rather than seeing the majesty of what was there. I also noticed many of my friends become crazy for Jesus, only to relapse not too long after. Lesson learned? Faith must be more than emotional experience. A heart must dig its roots deep into the Word.
I think of verses like Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
Sinking your roots into experiences is fleeting. Don’t just chase encounters with your favorite worship artists. The Word of God endures forever.
In college, I started to get more intellectual. Now, I look back on all my church experience and can be grateful for what I learned. At that point, I started to dig deep into Reformed faith and saw my background as unhelpful at best, harmful at worst.
I failed to see the balance. We don’t have to welcome the Spirit at the expense of His Word. We don’t have to abandon rigorous, expository preaching with the moving of the Holy Spirit.
What Every Gathering Needs
So whatever your tradition, here’s a few things we can all do:
1. Story – Every meeting of God’s people needs to be shaped by the story of the Gospel. We need to know where we come from, Who we are, and where we are going. This ongoing, ritualistic reminder of the Gospel is what shapes us into living for the Kingdom week in and week out. As James K.A. Smith talks about in his book, You Are What You Love, the world offers their own liturgies and stories that shape us into a certain kind of person. As worshipers we want to be shaped by the story of the Gospel.
2. Space – No relationship can survive on a one-way conversation. Relationship is conversation. It is dialogue. Same thing with our gatherings. Sometimes I fear we have so much to say to God, so many requests to bring, that we don’t create the space to listen. Worship leaders, don’t rush through your set. Listen. Pastors, don’t hurry. Create context for hearing what the Spirit is saying. Plan your services with attention to detail and excellence. But don’t be in a rush. Be present.
3. Serving – The beauty of corporate worship is its awkwardness. It’s a necessary distraction. Many different kinds of people from unique walks of life, gathering together under one Name. We come together to serve one another. We gather to pursue Jesus, together. We don’t just sing to God, we sing to one another with Psalms, hymns, & spiritual songs. We serve with the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). If worship were just about a one way connection to God, we wouldn’t need to gather. We wouldn’t need to be together. But gather we will. Gather we must.
What about you? What can’t your services exist without?
Let’s talk about what you value and why. You can leave a comment by clicking here.