True worship is never about us.
By Kevin and Sherry Harney
The Impact of Worship on Discipleship
If Christians are the most joy-filled people in the world, then the church should be the most joyous community. When we gather to worship our God, the environment should be explosively glorious. If someone walks in who has not met the Savior, they should be drawn to Jesus as they see people deeply in love with him. Most of the people who are far from faith will have their first encounter with God’s presence outside a church building as they meet Jesus’ people. But something powerful and life-impacting happens when a spiritual seeker walks into a congregation of gathered believers who understand what it means to worship in Spirit and in truth.
True worship is never about us. God is the center of worship, or it is not truly worship. If we act like worship is about me—my style, my tastes, my likes—there is a biblical term for that. Idolatry! If we want guests, friends, family members, and spiritually curious people to encounter God as they visit the church we attend, we need to do all we can to make sure he is on the throne and his glory is on display.
Is worship for those who are still on their way to Jesus? My (Kevin) sister Alison attended a wonderful church in Irvine, California, for a couple of years before she became a follower of Jesus. She made friends. The church welcomed her. She even sang in the choir. It was more than two years of belonging before she believed. When she finally confessed faith in Jesus, I had the honor of baptizing her in the church fountain after a Sunday morning service.
During the baptism, the church choir circled the fountain and sang “Down to the River.” I can hear it as I write these words, and it brings tears to my eyes today just as it did many years ago.
As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good ol’ way And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way
O sisters, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down O sisters, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray
I praise God for Mariners Church and a choir that embraced my sister as they worshiped week by week. I am eternally grateful for a body of believers who love people as they learn and walk toward Jesus. I rejoice that when my sister put faith in the Savior, she was already being discipled and had a community walking with her. This never could have happened if that church believed worship is only for the converted.
Should people be invited to Jesus during worship services? Because many churches invite nonbelievers to join them on their way to discovering Jesus, some Christians find themselves in a strange place. Is the church, and particularly worship services, a place for non- believers? In some circles, this is up for debate. We have learned that a congregation can gather, be true to the Scriptures, and have vibrant worship experiences while spiritual seekers are present. As a matter of fact, it is a great place for people who are spiritually hungry. We don’t design the service for nonbelievers, but we are fully aware that they are participating.
A worship service is for the glory of God! When the Lord is our consuming passion, believers can join in and give God glory. At the same time, spiritually curious people can watch, learn, feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, hear the truth of Scripture, and decide whether they want to take a next step toward the Savior.
I (Kevin) preach almost every Sunday and have done so for almost three decades. Every time I open God’s Word in a church service, I do so knowing there are devoted Christians listening as well as many people who are seeking to discover who God is. In eleven years of pastoring at Shoreline Church, I have made a habit of regularly inviting people to place their faith in Jesus. I do this because I know there are people attending who are not yet Christians.
If I am planning to present the gospel of Jesus and then call for a response, I get our prayer team engaged in preparation two weeks in advance. We also prepare packets for new believers so we can help them move forward as disciples. We have Bibles in English and Spanish ready to hand out. About six to eight times a year, I invite people to publicly respond to the good news and place their faith in Jesus. Because we have three services every Sunday, I have done this more than 230 times over more than a decade at Shoreline Church.
How do I know we have nonbelievers in our worship services? Because there has been only one time in all those invitations when no one has made a public confession of faith. There have been some times when ten to fifteen people have responded in just one service. If we did not view our gathered worship services as a place for spiritually curious people, we would have missed many opportunities to share the gospel.
Can we sing a new song? As a church seeks to reach people who are far from faith, we need to be willing to sacrifice our likes. When Russ and Marce visited Shoreline Church, they did not like the music. They had been around church for many decades, and the new music just did not connect with them. Still, we became friends with them and spent time with them in several social set- tings, growing to love them as a dear brother and sister in faith.
One Sunday, Russ and Marce came up to greet me after I preached.
Russ declared, “We’re here!”
“Great,” I said, “it’s nice to have you visit again.”
Russ looked confused. He clarified, “No, we’re here, for good— this is our church now!”
Knowing how they felt about the music, I reminded him that we did not do many of the older, traditional songs.
Russ said, “We know, but we can learn to adjust to this style of music. What matters is that we feel led to this church.”
Over the following years, this sweet couple discovered that God’s glory, not our tastes, is central to worship. They learned to praise God with new songs and styles. They became faithful servants in our church community. Their heart for lost people grew, and they felt a freedom to invite others to church because it did not feel ancient and disconnected from the world where most non- believers live.
From a funeral to a celebration.
Does our worship feel more like a funeral or a party? Christians know that Christ is risen. The reason we meet each week is to celebrate that the Savior who died to pay the price for our sins rose from the grave. He conquered sin, death, hell, and the enemy. He has ascended and is alive and present today. This is worth celebrating!
Worship connects to outreach organically and naturally when Christians gather to encounter the living Savior. When we are compelled to sing from our hearts and declare his glory with passion, it honors God and draws lost people to him. As we worship the Lord during the flow of an ordinary day or when we gather with God’s people on special occasions, the world can feel the Spirit, encounter the Savior, and hear the words of God speak light into the darkness. The world loves a party, so let’s give them an invitation!
Excerpted from Organic Disciples by Kevin and Sherry Harney. Copyright 2021. Used by permission of Zondervan. Zondervan.com.