By: Rev. Craig Shepperd

Abstract: This essay looks at what is the purpose of our gathering. What might corporate worship be preparing us for?

During these days of Pandemic, we miss being together for worship. The question remains, however, what about it are we missing? We may be missing social interaction. We may be missing the sense of an incarnated spirit amongst the body of believers. We may miss simply the routine of going to church and filling our spot in the pew. Whatever the reason it is, I wonder if it is possible that we have so skewed the reason as to why we gather that what we truly worship is the act of “doing” church. We miss the three to four songs. We miss the preaching and the special music. We miss the altar call that hardly anyone responds to. Is it possible that our way of doing church has become idolatrous?

Hebrews 10 reminds us to not give up meeting together, but to keep on encouraging one another. The hope of our gathering is to spur us on to love and good deeds.[1] We gather in order to scatter. Before we talk about the scattering, let’s wrestle a bit more with the gathering.

Hosea 3 reminds us that God has called us to be His covenant people. We were once not a people, but God has called us together[2] in order that out of our relationship with Him we might proclaim and reveal Him to the world. Furthermore, in the Church – through worship – God is reorienting our way in the world back to Himself. Day after day we slave away for pharaoh. Our way of life moves to the beat of a different drummer. For the most part God has been put on the shelf. Yet, when we gather, the church community and her worship practices call us to evaluate who it is we are truly giving our selves to. Is it pharaoh (name your Pharaoh)? Or is it truly the One true God?

“The church is the context that prepares us to hear the call of God.”[3] That call is first to repentance and then to mission. If we simply gather for ourselves, then we have grossly missed the point. “The call to worship is an echo of God’s word that called humanity into being (Genesis 1:26-27); the call that brought creation into existence is echoed in God’s call to worship that brings together new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  And our calling as “new creatures” in Christ is a restatement of Adam and Eve’s calling to be God’s image bearers to and for the world.”[4] Reclaiming our identity in the imago Dei (image of God) is the beginning of engaging the missio Dei (mission of God), which is what our gathering moves us towards.

As we gather as God’s people whom He has summoned, we are also sent back into the world to be His light amidst the darkness. Mitto is the Latin term from which we derive our word mission. Thus, it is the scattering or sending that spring us into action. As Christ-bearers in the world we demonstrate God’s justice, love, and peace in the world. The gathering is not just to tickle our ears with sweet-sounding music and eloquent pontification. No, it is for us to reenact what Christ has done for us for the sake of the world. “John 20:21 does more than connect the church’s mission to sending. It also expresses a more important truth—that the sending of the church into the world is a continuation of—an extension of—the Father’s sending of the Son into the world and the subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit.”[5]

Our culture has individualized what it means to be the Church to such a degree we only focus on our own spiritual formation or a way of doing church. To an extent we ought to, but we must not be so individualistic that we forget we are formed for mission. Discipleship and worship is mission. Furthermore, younger people seem to see this duality in our rhetoric, and they want no part of it. They want something more authentic and more purposeful. They desire worship that has the hope and the ability to transform the world.[6]

My prayer is that after this pandemic concludes and life returns to normal, the Church will never return to normal. Instead, we will remember that God has gathered us in order that He might scatter us to proclaim the good news. May our gathering move from a religious routine to a band of believers who have been so reoriented by God’s love through Christ that they reenact that love in the places they find themselves day-to-day.

[1] Hebrews 10:24-24.

[2] Hosea 3:14-23.

[3] Samuel M. Powell. The Trinity.  (Kansas City, MO: The Foundry), 2020. 85.

[4] James K. A. Smith. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 2009. 163.

[5] Powell. 99.

[6] I could site dozens of resources that give voice to this. I will only name a few: Growing Young, Growing With; Soul Searching, Lost in Transition, Sticky Faith, etc.

Taken from Rev. Craig Shepperd’s website

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