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.

The Long Road to Leadership

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Exodus 2:11-15a (NLT)

Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.

The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight.

The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?”

Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.” And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.

Meet the not-fully-formed Moses. After living the first part of his life as a sheltered member of Pharaoh’s court, Moses was discovering his ancestry and seeing the terrible injustices the Hebrews faced every day.

For Moses to become the man God wanted him to be—a liberator—he had to develop the sense of righteous indignation necessary to rescue his people from slavery. We see the seeds of that important emotion in this story.

Great leaders cannot be emotionally driven reactionaries, however. Moses clearly was impulsive at this point in his life, reacting to events rather than shaping them. He responded to a terrible crime by committing a more terrible crime, forcing him to flee the one place he could be effective.

I suppose impulsivity is a stage through which most future great leaders must pass. There is little basis for becoming a mature, thoughtful, right-minded leader if you have not felt youthful energy and excitement for big ideas like justice. A budding leader can make a lot of mistakes during that early phase, though.

Moses, who lived to be a supernaturally vigorous 120, needed four decades in the desert and an encounter with a burning bush to prepare. Today’s developing leaders probably cannot train for so long. But they do need time to seek guidance from God, time to watch and work under other leaders, and time to learn the importance of planning.

As leadership expert John Maxwell wrote, “God prepares leaders in a crockpot, not a microwave. More important than the awaited goal is the work God does in us while we wait. Waiting deepens and matures us, levels our perspective, and broadens our understanding.”

In our own culture, there remains much in the way of injustice needing to be cured and problems needing to be solved. My concern is whether enough people are taking the time to hear from God before trying to lead others. Impulsively burying a body or two in the sand won’t make a long-term difference.

The good news is the right leader, properly prepared, can do wonders. When a fully formed, God-inspired Moses returned to Egypt, the Hebrews left their chains behind and crossed the Red Sea in a remarkably rapid way. Moses went in with God on his side, and it didn’t hurt that plagues fell upon the Egyptians rat-a-tat-tat.

As we consider leaders around us in all our institutions, large and small, let’s look for sober judgment, sound reasoning, and a clearly expressed desire to follow God’s will both personally and professionally. With such servant leaders in place, our world might improve faster than we expect.

Lord, raise up for us new leaders where they are needed. We pray fervently that many have been preparing themselves through the years and are ready to step forward. Amen.