by Lori Elliott Elbert
October 23, 2006
Lately I have been struggling with an issue: What does it mean that we worship in community with one another? I know that Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us not to neglect meeting together. I also know that in John 17:11 Jesus himself prays that we may be one even as he, Jesus, and the Father are one. But what does that mean? It often seems to me that what we term corporate worship is really individual Christians worshiping God individually while we all happen to be gathered in the same space. I think
corporate worship is supposed to be more than that.
Let's take a moment and look at worship as a dinner party. Let's say you and I are invited to a dinner party. We arrive at the appointed time and enter our host's home to find that the guests are scattered around the living room looking at the books on the shelves or the trinkets on the coffee table. The host greets us warmly, but the other guests seem oblivious to our arrival. Each one seems absorbed in their own thoughts and are pretty much ignoring all the other guests. In a few moments, the host calls us into the dinning room and points us to our assigned seats. As we are eating, our host goes around the table attempting to start us in conversation. Each guest is eager to speak with the host, but completely disengages when the host is speaking to another guest. The meal seems to go on forever and most of us are terribly bored and cannot wait to leave. We enjoyed the few minutes we had in direct communication with the host but are completely disconnected from the others who were gathered around the table with us.
Let's say that the next week you and I are invited back to the same host's home for another dinner party. This time, when we arrive we find the guests gathered around in small groups in lively conversation. There is laughter and hugs all around. You and I receive an exuberant welcome from the host and from the other guests. We are soon pulled into conversations with various people in the room and feel that we are wanted and needed by this group. Soon the host calls us to dinner and we gather around the table. Again the host engages each guest in conversation, but instead of the rest of us disengaging, we all listen intently to what is being said. Perhaps we ask questions of the guest or the host regarding the topics covered. We place a sympathetic arm around one who has faced a difficulty or laugh with the one who shares a funny event in their lives. The evening flies quickly and we are still gathered around the table long after the dishes are cleared away. It is one of those parties where you hate to see the evening end and you feel closer to everyone that was there. New friendships are formed, old friendships are strengthened. Over the course of the evening we are challenged and encouraged by the words of our host and the other guests in attendance. As you and I leave, we talk about all that happened during the evening and express our desire to return to the host's home soon. We also think of who we can invite to come with us next time.
At the first dinner party, everyone came hoping to spend time with the host alone. At the second dinner party, everyone came to spend time with the host but also to be with the other people invited to the party. In the fellowship around the table, everyone was encouraged by what the host said to each person, not just by what was said to them individually.
In worship, the host is Jesus Christ and we are His guests. Which dinner party would better describe the services at your church? What can we do, as members of the congregation to make our church more actively community? I don't really have the answers to these questions, but maybe you do. What can we, as members of the Body of Christ, do to connect us more deeply as a worshiping community?