Four Parts of Worship: Sending Forth

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 28:1-10

At the end of each worship service, I “send us forth,” to use the language of fourfold worship. The obvious question is, “Send us forth to what?”

The answer, of course, lies in the word of God.

The Matthew text linked above is typically used as an Easter reading. Easter—the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ—also is the key to understanding “sending forth,” however. We’re going to use Matthew’s story of Christ’s resurrection to help us better understand what we’re sent forth to do.

Jesus doesn’t appear until late in the story, but as he is the starting point for all things, we’ll begin with him. Even if you’ve heard this core story of Christianity a thousand times before, try to hear it with fresh ears today.

In the resurrection, Jesus is revealed fully as the Christ, the son of God, the promised gift of God sent to redeem the world. As we understand the resurrection more fully in the context of other holy writings, we see he is God in flesh, God among us.

We also want to consider some of the humans in the story, the two Marys and Jesus’ disciples.

The two Marys. One is identified as Mary Magdalene, a woman Jesus freed from demon possession. She was clearly devoted to Jesus. The “other Mary” is less easily identified; Matthew would never have referred to Jesus’ mother in such a way. She was likely the “mother of James and Joseph” identified as being at the cross. If you haven’t figured out by now, Mary (Miriam in Hebrew) was a very common female name in Jesus’ day and place.

What I take away from their part in the story is faithfulness, likely combined with an expectancy that something more was to happen. Unlike the other gospels, Matthew says the Marys merely went “to see the tomb,” rather than going with a specific purpose, such as to anoint Jesus’ body more thoroughly. I think that unlike many of the male disciples, the women had fully heard Jesus’ words about what was to come after his death, and hope remained in their hearts.

Through their faithful attendance to Christ, even when all seemed lost, they became important witnesses to mighty events surrounding the resurrection, standing at an intersection of heaven and earth. They also became the first humans to declare the truth about the remarkable event that changed the world.

The Disciples. Just as they were Jesus’ primary audience in his three years of ministry, they seem to be his primary audience immediately after the resurrection. The angel told the two Marys to go to them with word of the resurrection. Jesus repeated this instruction when he appeared to the women suddenly, as they ran to the disciples.

Later in Matthew, we’re told something interesting about the 11 remaining key disciples—despite seeing Jesus, some doubted. I wonder if they muttered in Aramaic, “It’s just too good to be true.” Jesus told them to go forth and spread the word of the resurrection, however, baptizing believers in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It’s clear they finally did believe. After all, we’re here on the other side of the planet, worshiping Christ as Savior.

As people who gather to worship Christ, we have the potential to fulfill some of these roles as we go forth into the world. Where do we fit in the story?

At a minimum, I pray we’re like the disciples, following Jesus, even enamored with Jesus despite our occasional doubts. Can we do as they did and become more like the Marys? Can we declare what has been revealed to us through God’s word? Can we live as if we expect greater things to happen?

That is what we’re sent forth each week to do. Despite our current circumstances, most of us have gathered in worship week after week and equipped ourselves through the word. We’ve celebrated what has been declared.

Let’s never stop sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those who so desperately need to hear it!

Lord, regardless of how we worship, may we always go into the world declaring Christ as Savior to all who need to hear. Amen.

Four Parts of Worship: Celebration

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

So, we’ve talked about what it means to gather ourselves in search of God, and we’ve talked about how God is consistently present through Scripture. What is an appropriate response to God’s presence?

A celebration! The third part of worship is like a thank-you, praise-you party thrown for God, where we declare the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer to be worthy of honor.

Again, it’s one of those reasons I like to put the declaration of God’s word up front as much as possible in a worship service. I think a lot of people struggle with worship because we don’t spend enough time rejoicing, and it’s hard to celebrate until we’ve really heard from God. When we fail to celebrate in worship, we miss out on the joy of being Christian, a joy available to us regardless of our circumstances.

I know—we may not always feel like rejoicing. We may have entered worship thinking about being poor, sick or lonely. We may be broken by our sins or feeling victimized by the sins of others. Those aren’t ideal situations, but our current circumstances brighten considerably when we put them in the light of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

You see such celebratory worship in the Old Testament. One example would be the story in 1 Chronicles 16:1-6, when David returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. And before these more formal acts, there were exuberant acts on the way to Jerusalem: sacrifices, singing, dancing and music.

Celebratory worship continues in the New Testament, particularly after the victorious nature of Christ’s work on the cross is made clear in the resurrection. We’re told in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

God’s word begets gratitude, and with gratitude in our hearts, we sing and direct our celebration toward our audience, God. 

I know not everyone rejoices and celebrates in the same way, just as people will enjoy a party in different ways. I’ve always been more of a wallflower at a party. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy parties; it just means I’m not necessarily going to put a lampshade on my head.

You may be a fairly laid-back, reserved person in worship. A lot of people feel awkward jumping up and shouting “Amen!” while holding their hands up in the air. Thank God for the worshipers who do such things; they are a great help to worship in general.

If you’re reserved in nature, ask yourself this: Am I celebrating? Does that joy regarding Christ’s gift wash over my soul, at least as a quiet, tender experience?

Do I let the music take me back to the revelation of God I’ve just heard, connecting my emotions to my logic? Do I understand the prayers we lift up corporately are an open door to heaven? When I come to the table for communion, am I expecting to meet the one who will feed me for all eternity?

God calls you to such celebratory experiences whenever you stand before him in worship.

Lord, our loss of exuberant celebration is perhaps the greatest denial we suffer right now. Help us to better celebrate you in our private time and family time, and assure us of our return to a celebratory congregation soon. Amen.

Four Parts of Worship: Word

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

From an ancient church perspective, the sermon and all the Scripture-based events surrounding it come surprisingly late in American worship. In a fourfold worship structure, “Word” follows “Gathering.” I’m not suggesting we change the order of worship, but let’s be certain Scripture is fully present!

Hearing God’s word is the best way to encounter God routinely in a group setting. When a direct encounter with God occurs early in worship, the rest of worship happens in a highly focused manner.

Use of God’s written word to reveal God’s truth goes back to the earliest days of the Christian church, when the words we translate as “scripture” or “word of God” were references to the Jewish Bible, the writings we now group under the Old Testament.

Consider these references from letters that later became part of the New Testament:

2 Timothy 3:14-17: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

Hebrews 4:12-13: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

James 1:21-22: “Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

In these verses, we see God’s word as living and powerful, something that flows through the pages of a Bible and into a reader. Open the Bible, use what is there, and you’ll find yourself equipped in new ways. God’s word will dissect you, exposing what is of God and not of God. It will even implant itself in your soul, bringing you face to face with salvation through Jesus Christ.

Root worship in Scripture, and we encounter the Holy Spirit as a group, an experience that should always strengthen us.

Fail to root worship in Scripture, and I think it is safe to say we have not worshiped at all.

Lord, as we find ourselves denied worship in the ways we most enjoy, help us to remain deep in your word, committing ourselves to it now and for the worship days to come. Amen.

Four Parts of Worship: Gathering

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

The pandemic has seriously impacted our ability to worship as we like, and there’s no telling when we will return to something resembling normal. Times like this offer an opportunity to get back to basics, however.

At a minimum, when Covid-19 is gone, we should be ready to worship in a powerful way, perhaps more powerfully than ever. With that in mind, I thought we could spend the rest of the week talking about worship’s four big “parts,” something I’ve done before in the form of a sermon series.

Worship experts use different terms for these four parts of worship, but I like these: Gathering, Word, Celebration, and Sending Forth. We’ll begin today with gathering, of course.

The gathering time is perhaps the most confusing of the four, simply because many Christians don’t consider it part of worship at all. Much of it happens before we’ve officially “started.” When we neglect it, however, we’re like a traveler who begins a journey by tripping in the first few steps and cracking a kneecap. The rest of the journey will be painful, and the traveler may never reach the destination.

At the latest, the gathering should begin somewhere near the church lawn, before we ever enter the building. It begins as we ready ourselves for why we have come to this place—to encounter God and join with others seeking to do the same.

If you’ll pause outside a church building for a moment and breathe, you’ll see there is so much designed to put you in the right frame of mind. The exterior design of most church buildings is intended to point you toward God, to say to you, “Lift up your eyes! Look up!” We’re granted a moment of perspective, remembering  where we stand in relation to God.

Where there are bells or carillons, the ringing is a call to the faithful and a reminder to the lost that something special is about to happen.

You may have noticed that I said the gathering begins near the church lawn “at the latest.” I’m probably stretching the concept of gathering a little, but I would argue it begins long before we cross the church property line. Are you preparing yourself for worship through encounters with God during the week? Was your Saturday night an appropriate prelude to an encounter with God, including plenty of rest?

Once inside the sanctuary, the gathering continues as the service formally begins. Our individual readiness becomes a group readiness, and when we gather correctly, great things begin to happen. We feel it in the recitations and the singing. The prayers bind us together.

And we should expect great things. Just look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:19-20, words given to us very clearly in the context of church life: “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

God is present when we gather. Not only that, the holy decisions we make as a church align us with events in heaven.

When worship is properly understood, the question regarding church attendance should never be, “Am I going today?” Instead, it should be, “How will I prepare, and how will I ever leave?”

Lord, as we find ourselves denied worship in the ways we most enjoy, help us to consider what it means to gather in your name. Amen.