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QUESTION: Why do you think the participation of God’s people in community worship is an important practice within the Christian church?
As we read the Old and New Testament it becomes obvious that our heritage of faith is one that highly values participation in worship. Read through the following segments which examine community worship throughout the historic Biblical narrative.
1. Following the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses and the people broke out in song.
Exodus 15:1-2 - Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”2. In the Psalms (the liturgy book of Israel) the people are encouraged to clap, shout, and sing in praise to God.
Psalm 47:1-2, 6-7 - Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth...Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!3. In the Gospels we see that Jesus finished the passover celebration by singing a song with his disciples.
Matthew 26:30 - And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.4. In the Epistles (letters) we see Paul commanding the early church to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Ephesians 5:18-21 - And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.5. In the prophetic book of Revelation we get a glimpse at the moments preceding the judgement of Christ when all creation is gathered around God’s throne, worshiping He and the Lamb (Jesus).
Colossians 3:16 - Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Revelation 5:13 - And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!It would be wrong to assume that there are not acceptable individual worship expressions in the Bible like believers baptism, the preaching of the word, and the sharing of testimonies. Despite this, even in these elements we must recognize that they can only be exercised and fully experienced within the context of community.
The following are a few examples of “participation killers” in worship.
- When songs are pitched so high that people can’t sing because it’s out of their range.
- When too many elements in the service involve people observing and not participating.
- When the singers and musicians embellish to the point that they are hard to follow.
- When the content of songs or teaching are overly complex or theological to the point that people don’t understand what is being said. (the same problem can happen when songs are too simple and overly repetitive)
- When external elements draw attention away from God and community.... like volume that is too soft or loud, intelligent lights that are too active, or people on stage who are too charismatic or stoic.
Prioritizing participation requires worship planners and leaders to become students of their congregation, not because they are trying to meet felt needs in a consumer sense, but because they want to plan songs and other worship elements that aid people in participation. Often times this means the hip new song won’t be a good fit for our church. Once we recognize the priority of participation in worship, it will make saying no to some things and yes to others a whole lot easier. It will also remind us that, whether we play an instrument or sing, what we are doing must enable and encourage all our people to participate in worship.