Lately, I’ve been contemplating what worship is, and looks like, when God’s people authentically gather together as His “ekklesia”.
In the Bible, “ekklesia” is the Greek word often translated “church”. But it means far more than what most “churches” have become.
For Christians, the New Testament concept of ekklesia involves God’s people actively forming community, including meeting together. As a community, and in our gatherings, we then participate – each and every one – in expressing the life of Christ in us, among us, and through us. These days, that ideal is often called “organic” church.
Increasingly, pockets of Christians throughout the United States are tentatively stepping out in faith to form community, meet together, and find ekklesia. Although each fellowship looks different, the common challenge we face is learning to leave behind the old ways of “doing” church as we learn to “be the church”.
One of the areas where that especially is true is worship.
The Challenge of Change
Tim Day, who is part of another organic church that is emerging in our county, came and shared a teaching two weeks ago with our fellowship. He said that worship is expressing – whenever and where ever – the fullness of Christ in us. Tim’s comments prompted some extensive discussions as we then considered scripture together.
For us, going “organic” has been a wonderful journey of discovery. Along the way, God in His timing keeps causing us to reconsider our ways on issue after issue as we learn to authentically find community and participate together in being the church once again.
Although this was not Tim’s intent, God used him to say it’s now time for our fellowship to re-examine the whole concept of worship.
Expressing the Life of Christ in Us
Essentially, it comes down to this: What does worship look like when we gather together and each of us is participating and expressing the fullness of Christ in us, rather than expecting someone to bring us into His presence – often by trying to create the “right atmosphere” or emotional setting?
In other words, when we gather together, do we want to be led into God’s presence, or to express His presence that’s already alive in us – each and every one?
After all, under the New Covenant, where does God now dwell? In a temple or some other place where we have to go to find Him or invoke His presence?
I don’t know about your Bible, but my Bible says His spirit now lives in us and His life is now expressed through us. (Acts 17:24, 1 Cor. 3:16, Col. 1:27)
Under the New Covenant, then, it makes no sense to say that worship revolves around entering into His presence and seeking to have someone lead us there, when in fact His presence is (or should be) already in us. See Old Covenant Church.
Breaking Bad Habits
The difference comes down to directed church, where a few folks try to create a worship “experience” from the front podium to then lead us into God’s presence, verses organic church, where we actively participate together in expressing God’s presence in us, among us, and through us.
This difference is subtle, but significant, and requires a fundamental paradigm shift.
The problem is that directed, performance-based worship which seeks to “invoke” God’s presence has been ingrained into us from years of “going to church”. Even when we come together “organically”, we still subconsciously want someone to provide a good worship experience for us, and so we often still come with the expectation of someone leading us into God’s presence.
In other words, we still have the mentality of going to a “service” to be “serviced”.
“Organic” is not some cure-all for all that ails the Church.
Unfortunately, many “organic” Christians are very existential and individualistic, and de-emphasize the special sweetness of His presence among us when we gather together. They focus on Christ’s immanence (His presence in us), but often neglect His transcendence (although He is in us, His sovereignty, truth and majesty are far bigger – and thus more authoritative – than us and our perceptions of Him).
In authentic ekklesia, there will always be an element of God’s “transcendent otherness” and His external magnificence as we worship Him “in spirit and in truth”. (John 4:23-24) There is a transcendent awe and reverence that many traditional churches embrace, but is sadly missing in many “organic” gatherings.
If Jesus is truly immanent in us, we should have no problem connecting with His transcendence among us as we gather to worship Him – without expecting someone to “lead” us there through manipulative worship “services” and performance-based techniques that are so common today.
Thus, I am not saying that the pendulum needs to swing away from the out-of-balance focus on seeking to invoke His transcendent presence, to a new out-of-balance focus on expressing His immanence in us. They should go hand-in-hand.
Likewise, even though I’m “organic”, I still enjoy – and have no problem with – occasional performances and even highly-staged worship concerts by those called to profess and express Christ to others through art and music.
But I will never allow that to become a substitute for authentic worship in the context of true ekklesia – where we come together to express, with contributions by all (see 1 Cor. 14:26), the fullness of Christ in us as we participate together in the fullness of Christ among us.
Expressive Gifts of Worship
Expressing the fullness of Christ in you is a lifestyle that finds many different expressions in our daily walk with Him, and is not limited just to times of singing.
Nonetheless, His fullness – when actively pursued in your life – can’t help but break out in song, especially when we meet together. It also can take other forms, like interpretive dancing and various expressive arts by those so gifted.
In your gatherings, folks should not only be free to express Christ in all those wonderful ways, but encouraged to do so.
If your fellowship is blessed to have folks who are musicians, they also will naturally want to express the fullness of Christ in them through their musical instruments. This, too, will add a special richness to your gatherings.
Contributing, Not Dominating
In our own fellowship, I supplement our singing – and occasionally also our times of quiet contemplation or intercessory prayer – by playing my guitar. I (and hopefully others!) appreciate how much that adds to our worship.
But as a musician, I am careful to offer up my musical gift (as feeble as it is) as my contribution and as a way that I can uniquely express the fullness of Christ in me, rather than controlling or dominating our times of worship together.
Instead of slipping back into the traditional role of becoming the “worship leader” (a position or role never mentioned or even hinted at in the New Testament) – who serves as the focal point trying lead us into God’s presence – my guitar and I are more in the background. That way, everyone has the freedom to lead forth in worship with a song, a prayer, a testimony, a word of encouragement, a teaching, a prophetic exhortation, or even a need. (See, for example, 1 Cor. 14:26)
Whether your fellowship is blessed with a musician or two, or you have to go a cappella, the point of worship is for everyone to participate as we share with each other the life of Christ in us, among us, and through us. Some will have different roles and different ways of expressing how that happens, as the Holy Spirit leads, but no one person should dominate or control it. (1 Cor. 14:27-33)
I have seen how hard it is for those coming out of a directed worship environment to let go of their desire for someone to lead them “into” God’s presence, create the right “atmosphere” for them to “experience” God, or somehow otherwise “invoke” His presence among them.
I also have seen, however, that those who initially become believers in the context of organic church generally have no such problem. They naturally fit right in as they enthusiastically participate and express the life of Christ in them during our gatherings. They are fortunate, because they have no human traditions or expectations to unlearn.
Traditional directed worship is easy, and tempting, because it demands so little from us.
Biblical worship under the New Covenant, however, is not easy because it is premised on each of us having the fullness of Christ in us. That means we no longer go to “church” to only receive, but to contribute, as we become the church by expressing Christ one to another – each according to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
When that happens, it is truly a beautiful expression of authentic worship.
Most importantly, true ekklesia and authentic worship means we are walking day by day in His fullness so we have something to give in worship to Him – both in our meetings and in our overall circumstances. That means having an active, ongoing walk with the Lord, and breaking out of our passivity. But it is worth it.
I believe that organic worship is critically important for God’s people – regardless of where your church meets or how your church is structured. It is the antithesis of passive Christianity, because it only happens as we stop seeking to be “serviced” and constantly expecting others to “lead” us into His presence.
Instead, we come together with something to offer – as an act of worship – out of the abundance of His vibrant life in us. We then “become” the church as we minister one to another as part of our daily walk with Him and daily experience of His presence – both in our meetings and as we interact throughout the week as a community of believers.
When we “get it”, and begin sharing with each other the life of Christ in us, among us and through us, we then begin to find authentic worship – and true ekklesia.
~ Jim Wright