Friday, February 27, 2015

Small Groups

Marshall Segal post:  Every Small Group Needs a Vision

Your small group is destined to die a slow, complacent, even cordial death without direction. Good food and casual conversation might be staples of normal small group life, but they cannot be the substance. Too many groups meet week after week, month after month without any clear mandate, and therefore without any clarity whether or not they’re fulfilling their purpose or really accomplishing anything.
Chances are your small group isn’t even called a small group. You might be in a community group, city group, mission group, shepherd group, discipleship group, life group, or [fill in the blank] group. Regardless of what you call the group, you should be asking what defines that fellowship. Why is it worth spending all this time together? How do we know that we’re not wasting our Wednesday or Thursday evenings? Small groups need a vision.
For our purposes in this article, A vision is a statement of the functional purpose of your small group. Why do you have a small group? What specifically do you hope to accomplish? How are you carrying out the church’s mission? How will you know if your little community is making progress and bearing fruit? I have found that developing a vision has unified and inspired our group in really life-giving ways.

An Example Vision Statement

Before we look at the value of having a vision for life together or ask how to develop a vision for small group, let’s briefly look at an example vision statement. This might help make later points more concrete and understandable.
As a small group, our shared life and ministry will be marked by these six aims. I have added brief descriptions with each point to give you a better idea of what we mean.

1. Know and serve one another persistently. (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8Hebrews 3:12–13)

Week-in and week-out, we will work to know each other more and more deeply — sharing our hearts and lives, praying for one another, asking questions, and bearing each other’s burdens. We will be persistent learners of one another. And with everything we learn — good, bad, or otherwise — we will strive to love and serve one another — meeting each other’s needs, encouraging growth, and helping one another thrive.

2. Depend on the Lord prayerfully. (Philippians 4:6–7Hebrews 4:14–16)

Prayer will be the regular, visible engine of our community. We need God every hour, every minute of every hour, so prayer will be our means to everything. We will look to God for everything we need, never taking his provision for granted. When we’re alone and when we’re together, we will be a people of prayer — always adoring, always confessing, always thanking, always asking.

3. Meet God through his word faithfully and expectantly. (Psalm 19:9–112 Peter 1:3–4)

The Bible will play a central role in our community because it holds the words of life. We need those pages more than we need food, and there are always more riches to be seen, enjoyed, and applied in our lives. We read faithfully — meaning regularly and with the eyes of faith — and we read expectantly — anticipating God to speak and move each time we open his book.

4. Pursue disciples for Jesus boldly and globally. (Matthew 28:19–20Acts 1:8)

Our commission from Jesus is clear: Go, and make disciples. God saved us in order to send us. We are lights in a world of darkness that is desperately in need. We are God’s chosen means of spreading good news and winning worship for himself in every corner of this earth. Therefore, we are to be bold where we are, and we are to be behind what God is doing among the nations. We will witness for Jesus where we are, and send and support witnesses where we are not.

5. Rest in the gospel confidently and humbly. (Romans 8:13237–391 Corinthians 15:1–4)

Everything we think, say, and do as a small group stands on the firm foundation of the gospel. We have been saved by grace through faith, wholly apart from anything we have done or earned. We do not deserve God’s love, but in Christ we have it. We want our relationships, our meetings, and our ministry together to be shaped by and soaked with the gospel. This message should produce the boldest confidence and courage, and it should produce the most tender and compassionate humility.

6. Work out our salvation soberly and joyfully. (Philippians 2:11–13Galatians 5:11325)

Lastly, we are committed to living more and more like Christ. It is the joyful privilege of God’s people to be conformed to the image of his Son. It is not pretty or easy, but it is undeniably good and important. Year-by-year, week-by-week, even day-by-day, we will be identifying areas of weakness or failure, receiving forgiveness because of the finished work of Christ, and then working together for change.
That’s an example vision statement — six things we hope to experience together as we invest ourselves into one another. Yours might be the same, similar, or completely different. The point is that it offers a few objective points that bring the purpose of a small group into focus and help you assess its health and progress.
“Your small group is destined to die a slow, complacent, even cordial death without direction.”

The Value of Vision

Developing a vision can be hard work (it doesn’t have to be). It will take some careful thought and prayer, and probably some focused attention and interaction with others in the group. So is it worth it? Here are three reasons to go ahead and invest your time, energy, and prayer into a vision statement for your small group.

1. Vision breeds commitment and investment.

If the purpose of your small group is vague and mostly social, then your members won’t even know how to be committed and invested. It’s not all that hard to commit to having dinner every other week or once a month, but anything with low-level commitment comes with low-level expectation, and therefore very often low-level fruit.
Instead, develop a clear and actionable vision. When you identify things you want to see happen in your time together, everyone has the opportunity at the outset to buy into those things, and then afterward to work together toward those things. From the beginning, everyone will know that there’s more to do here than to eat and chat.

2. Vision makes decision-making more objective.

Over the life of a small group — whether you meet for a year or for ten years — you will make hundreds of decisions, some small and some larger.
How often will we meet? Will we meet year-round?
Where will we meet?
What will we do when we meet?
Will we celebrate holidays? How will we celebrate holidays?
Will we add new members?
Will we do anything together to serve our community?
Will we study the Bible together?
Will we read a book together that’s not the Bible? Which one?
Will we do anything outside of our regular meetings?
One way to make the questions more objective is to create a grid for making decisions (e.g. a vision statement). If there are specific things you’re striving to accomplish together, you will know better how to answer any number of questions with your group. Articulated objectives and priorities will even answer lots of the questions for you.

3. Vision mobilizes your people inside and outside of your meetings.

A vision statement will set expectations, breed commitment, and clarify decision-making. It also mobilizes your members into ministry. They will have more tangible, actionable ways to use their gifts to serve the group or the group’s goals. Even beyond your regular meetings, a vision statement can envision your members for ministry at their workplace or in their neighborhoods.

How to Develop a Vision for Your Group

If you are persuaded that your group needs a vision statement, how would you go about developing one? It might sound overwhelming to some. Here are three simple steps to get you started.

1. Begin with your church’s mission statement.

Many churches have taken the time to develop a mission statement that articulates its central message and priorities. It’s supposed to help set the church’s trajectory, distinguish it from other churches, and guide all of its ministries (including small groups).
The mission statement of Bethlehem Baptist Church (and of, for example, is:
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
That is the aim and standard for all of our ministries at Bethlehem. We are always asking if and how any particular group or event or initiative is fulfilling those twenty-three words. It’s painted high and large in our sanctuaries for all to see and remember.
Your church’s mission will be a great overarching banner for your small group. If you can’t explain how your group is fulfilling that statement, then it would be good to think and pray about what it would look like to live and serve together better under that banner.
If your church doesn’t have a mission, you could use the Great Commission:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

2. Search the Bible for components of healthy Christian community.

A church’s mission statement is often too broad to guide a small group practically. For sure, you will want your group to be in line with the message and priorities of your church, but you’ll very likely be able to identify some more specific goals for small group ministry (just like you would with corporate worship, neighborhood outreach, or children’s ministry).
The example above highlights fellowship, prayer, God’s word, disciple-making, the gospel, and sanctification. You might be able to condense these to two or three, or you might add or replace some. This is just one effort to let the Bible define a small group. As we keep reading and studying the Bible, we very well may find these points are inadequate or need to be updated. We don’t need to be paralyzed by the fact that it could be said or organized better.
This step does not have to be exhaustive. You do not have to read the whole Bible cover-to-cover again to discern every biblical principle for small groups. The point is to base your small group priorities and objectives on actual words from God. If we’re not careful, we will tend to lean on our own understanding and follow our own dreams and ambitions. God has said far too much about doing life together for us to come up with our own ideas. Don’t feel like you have to summarize the whole Bible, but look for specific passages that will guide your particular group.

3. Study the people in your group to determine how to apply the vision.

Once you’ve identified some biblical principles for your group, take some time to study your group. This vision won’t apply to everyone in the same way. What are the demographics of your people? Are they married? Do they have kids? Newborns, infants, or teenagers? What unique challenges are you facing in your group? How will that affect how you pray or what you’ll read together in the Bible or how you’ll hold one another accountable?
It will take wisdom, discernment, and love to apply what you’ve learned from Scripture to your unique situation with the unique people God’s put in your life. We should not assume that one approach to small group will serve everyone everywhere as effectively.

A Vision for More

The point in all of this is to encourage small groups to think carefully and prayerfully about making the most of your group. I believe a few biblical, practical principles will inspire and unleash you and your people to take significant, noticeable steps forward in being made like Jesus and making much of him. A clarified, articulated, agreed upon vision might be the key to experiencing more of God’s grace than you’ve ever tasted together before in your small group.
“Base your small group’s vision — its priorities and objectives — on actual words from God.”

Fingers of God

Excerpt from Courtney Reissig post:  What Is Meaningful Work?


Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf capture the meaningfulness of all work well:
The headwaters of Lutheran theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that God created for, cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor. When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, the “fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others. This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor and at the same time releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Glory to God

TBT: Learning Contentment

Luke 12.15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
TBT: Learning Contentment | by Thomas Jacombe (1622–1687)  
Discontentment lodges not only in the soul of those who have nothing, but of those who have abundance: both are dissatisfied with their condition, as thinking they have not enough, and therefore are full of anxious desires for more. 
Had you all that you desire, you would be dissatisfied still; for your desires would grow as fast as your riches: yet more must be had, and that is the bane of satisfaction.
If God gives Christians what is necessary, they are not to quarrel for the want of what is superfluous. What are these earthly riches, that any should be thus insatiably greedy of them? Men may fill their bags and chests with silver and gold, but they cannot with them fill their souls: no, the soul is a thing too great to be filled with such little things as these are.
Consider why the love of the world is inconsistent with the love of God. The poison and evil of these things comes not from the things themselves, but from our lusts, that run into and live upon them, as our last end and choicest good. God never made or appointed these inferior goods to be our last end, chiefest good, or matter of fruition and satisfaction.
They who ran in the race, were to lay aside every thing that might burden or hinder them therein. To love God is to transfer the actions and passions of our love from the world to God, as our last end and chiefest good. In short, the love of God implies a superlative preference of God above all lower goods.
Prayers from the Past
Let us pray that Jesus may reign over us and that our land may be at peace — that our bodies may be free from the assaults of fleshly desires. When these have ceased, we shall be able to rest, beneath our vines, our fig-trees and our olives.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will shelter us as we rest, our peace of mine and body once recovered.
Glory to God the eternal, age after age. Amen.
— Origen, c.250 C.E.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


What The Plagues Really Destroyed

Exodus 7.14Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.”
It is the job of the Holy Spirit to dismantle everything that we trust more than God. Anything less would be unloving, if God is as good as the scriptures reveal him to be. The Egyptian plagues attest to this.
The Nile was Egypt’s most valuable natural resource. The ancients would have trembled when it turned to blood in the first plague. Hapi, the father of Egypt’s gods (and god of the Nile itself), would seem to have lost control. 
Each plague systematically defeated another of ancient Egypt’s gods. The idols’ lack of control was exposed. Their efficacy to restore life was unveiled. 
The gods Heka, Geb, and Khepfi were shamed by the plagues involving insects. Apis, Menvis, and Hathor were defeated by the plague of livestock. Thoth, the god of health, proved powerless while Egypt writhed in the pain of boils. Nut and Isis were revealed as impotent through the plagues of hail and locusts.
The plague of darkness was a fierce warning — Yahweh had overpowered Ra. Arguably at the top of Egypt’s gods, Ra was the god of the sun and a central figure in ancient Egyptian worship. 
Even then, Pharaoh would not concede.
The final plague was an extension of the previous — a darker darkness. Each of Egypt’s firstborn would have been dedicated to Ra, and Pharaoh’s son was considered an incarnation of Ra himself. The death of the firstborn was a brutal and crushing end to the empty gods in whom they had placed their trust.
Idolatry always destroys our greatest joy. Our commitment to our idols cuts away at the people and things which matter most in our lives. Each idol delivers a shadow of the real experience — and their falsehood can be as difficult for us to see now as it was for the Egyptians to see then.
In comparison to Egypt’s gods, our modern idols have names which sound normal — approval, pleasure, comfort, power, control — but they act the same. We draw our identity from them. We arrange our lives around them. And, at our time of greatest need, they abandon us.
PrayerSpirit of God, dismantle our idols so our joy may be complete in Christ. Reveal in us the things which we trust more than God — the things which will destroy us. Renew us in the gospel and fill us with your peace.

Monday, February 23, 2015

In Over Our Heads

Jonathan Parnell post:  When God Calls You Out

If we don’t sometimes feel like we’re “in over our heads,” it may be that we’re not following Jesus where he calls us.
Paul names it the “sentence of death” — that’s how he felt about the sufferings and complexities of his ministry. It was true affliction, a burden so heavy that he admits he lacked the strength to carry it. He was sinking, despairing even of life itself. The apostle Paul — to the extreme — was “in over his head.” And God did this in order to, as Paul says, “make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
The situations that stretch us come in varying degrees. Some are intense like Paul’s, others are scattered along the spectrum of the great unknown, where fear runs rampant and our faith feels small. But whatever they are, however hard they feel, we know why they come. It’s just what Paul says.
God brings trials into our lives to give us more of himself. Their purpose is that we might not rely on ourselves — not look to ourselves for salvation or hope or joy — but that we might rely on him. The purpose is that we would lean on God, that we’d fix our eyes on his glory, clinging to the truth that in Jesus he is always enough for us. Always.
This is the truth that resounds in the depths to which God calls us. He invites us to step out and follow him. To dream. To plan. To build. He invites us to put our hands to work for his name’s sake, not based upon our expertise or know-how or giftedness. He invites us here based upon who he is himself.
He invites us here because he knows that it is here, unlike anywhere else, that our souls must rest in his embrace. It’s here, above and beyond every other place, where his children must grasp the wonder of what it means to be his own. Because of the cross and victory of Jesus, we are his and he is ours. We are his people, he is our God. We are his children, he is our Father. And he is enough.
God will show us time and time again that all we need is found in him.
And he will prove his enough-ness to us. He will show us time and time again that all we need is found in him. All that we lack finds an abundance in his grace. Yes, we would fail. The weight is too much, and like Paul, we can’t carry this in our own strength. But God is there. His sovereign hand is our guide. His heart of mercy is our anchor. He will make our faith stand. He will be our God in Jesus Christ.
And so, let us go. Let us step out, following him further than our feet could ever wander. Let us walk upon those waters, in over our heads, not relying on ourselves, but holding fast to him, trusting in him, casting all our hope on him. Because he really is enough.

Come Quickly, Lord Jesus

Suffering and Glory
Luke 9.23-24And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
The realities of suffering for faith seem top of mind right now. It’s something Christians focus on as the season of Lent begins during this time of year. Our awareness seems sharper however, with the preceding weeks’ coverage of the martyrdom of nearly two dozen Coptic Christians. Prior to that Kayla Mueller’s letter to her family was released after her murder by the terrorist group ISIS.
Mueller gave herself not just in death, but in life. “This really is my life’s work, to go where there is suffering,” she said before devoting her life and work to Syrian refugees. This is the case with many of the missionaries and aid workers who ISIS has abducted. It was their faith which led them to put aside comfort, money, status, and likely a list of worldly hopes to serve the marginalized and oppressed. 
The martyrs’ final moments of suffering are public. Their long-suffering journey in faith is private. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was later executed in a Nazi concentration camp, says,
“Time is short. Eternity is long. It is the time of decision. Those who are true to the word and confession on earth will find Jesus Christ standing by their side in the hour of judgement. All the world will be called to witness as Jesus pronounces our name before his heavenly Father.”
We should focus on the beauty of the prize set before us, not the pain of sacrifice, during this season of Lent. 
“The hope of our reunion is the source of my strength,” Mueller wrote to her family and friends. It’s a hope which will go unfulfilled in this world. Yet she is not without greater reward. The glory of resurrection will bring not only the reunion she longed for, but an eternal reunion with her Heavenly Father whose glory vastly outweighs suffering on behalf of his name.
PrayerFather God, we hold fast to your promise that you will return to vanquish evil, rebuke death, restore the broken, and fulfill every desire. Reorient us to see our sufferings not as crushing burdens but as light and momentary when measured against your eternal Kingdom. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
(Prayer adapted from Revelation 21.1-5; John 10.10; 2 Corinthians 4.16-18; Revelation 22.20)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Flood of His Waters Over Our Soul

God can do anything. Let us beg him to take pity on us and make us not merely listen to what he tells us but do it as well. May he send the flood of his waters over our souls, destroy in us what he knows is in need of destruction and give life to what he considers should live, through Christ our Lord and his Holy Spirit. To him be the glory, age after age, for all eternity. Amen.

-- Origen, c. 250 C.E.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

God Is Sovereign and Invariably Good

Don Carson post:  GENESIS 50; LUKE 3; JOB 16 – 17; 1 CORINTHIANS 4


By contrast, Joseph weeps (50:17). He cannot help but see that these groveling lies betray how little he is loved or trusted, even after seventeen years (47:28) of nominal reconciliation. His verbal response displays not only pastoral gentleness – “he reassured them and spoke kindly to them,” promising to provide for them and their families (50:21) – it also reflects a man who has thought deeply about the mysteries of providence, about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. “Don’t be afraid,” he tells them. “Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (50:19-20).
The profundity of this reasoning comes into focus as we reflect on what Joseph does not say. He does not say that during a momentary lapse on God’s part, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but that God, being a superb chess player, turned the game around and in due course made Joseph prime minister of Egypt. Still less does he say that God’s intention had been to send Joseph down to Egypt in a well-appointed chariot, but unfortunately Joseph’s brothers rather mucked up the divine plan, forcing God to respond with clever countermoves to bring about his own good purposes. Rather, in the one event – the selling of Joseph into slavery – there were two parties, and two quite different intentions. On the one hand, Joseph’s brothers acted, and their intentions were evil; on the other, God acted, and his intentions were good. Both acted to bring about this event, but while the evil in it must be traced back to the brothers and no farther, the good in it must be traced to God.
This is a common stance in Scripture. It generates many complex philosophical discussions. But the basic notion is simple. God is sovereign, and invariably good; we are morally responsible, and frequently evil.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Trevin Wax: Awesome God in a Boring Church

The surveys and statistics are consistent: people who attend church services regularly are much more likely to adhere to Christianity’s doctrines and moral teachings.
Many of us see these statistics and assume that church attendance is simply one signal of religious devotion, one ritual among many. If you go to church, you must be serious about your faith, and that’s why you’re more likely to hold to your religion’s particular doctrines and morals.    
But what if I told you that church attendance says less about the individual’s seriousness, and more about the church’s formative influence on an individual’s worldview, particularly the sense of awe you feel when you realize you’re one part of a bigger whole?

The Hive Switch

I’ve been interacting with Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind the last few weeks (seeherehere, and here), a book which lays out various reasons why humans act the way we do. Part of his argument is to show how important groups are to moral formation. Against the logic of the left (that exclusivity is always wrong), Haidt says:
“We need groups, we love groups, and we develop our virtues in groups, even though those groups necessarily exclude nonmembers. If you destroy all groups and dissolve all internal structure, you destroy your moral capital” (359).
So, why do groups matter? And what role do they serve?
Haidt summarizes Emile Durkheim’s argument that humans are “a creature who exists at two levels: as an individual and as part of the larger society.” There are times when we activate what Haidt calls “the hive switch,” that is, we shut down the self and become part of the whole, much like bees who are fulfilling their roles in a hive.
Durkheim called this phenomenon “collective effervescence.” He described it this way:
“The very act of congregating is an exceptionally powerful stimulant. Once the individuals are gathered together, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and quickly launches them to an extraordinary height of exaltation” (262).
Haidt uses college football as an example of losing yourself in the group. “It is a religious rite that does just what it is supposed to do,” he writes. “It pulls people up from Durkehim’s lower level (the profane) to his higher level (the sacred). It flips the hive switch and makes people feel, for a few hours, that they are “simply a part of a whole” (287).
I wonder if this may be one of the reasons evangelicals love to attend large conferences. We love to be in a congregation of strangers who believe the same things, worship the same Savior, and are raising their voices through the same songs. People who return from a Promise Keepers rally, Together for the Gospel, or a Beth Moore conference often talk about getting goose bumps or being moved to tears while singing along with the thousands in attendance.

Awe in Nature, Awe in Worship

Haidt mentions several ways to “activate” the hive switch, but the one I want to focus on is awe.
“Awe acts like a kind of reset button: it makes people forget themselves and their petty concerns. Awe opens people to new possibilities, values, and directions in life. Awe is one of the emotions most closely linked to the hive switch – they are simply part of the whole” (264).
Haidt is focusing here on awe in nature, a sense of wonder at our smallness in light of the world’s grandeur. But I wonder if there isn’t a point of application for how we consider worship.
The common knowledge goes like this: in order to get people to attend worship services regularly, you need to make sure that the music and message are relevant to where they are in life. In other words, make it about them.
Unfortunately, that’s getting it backwards. Now, don’t misunderstand me: the Bible is filled with relevance for our daily living, and the pastor or worship planner who doesn’t think about how Sunday morning relates to Monday is missing a major part of what it means to communicate the gospel in our day and age.
But is it possible that our worship services have become so much about ourselves that we find it difficult to “get outside” our “petty concerns,” as Haidt says? Church leaders look with disdain on the member who chooses a day at the lake or a day of mountain climbing instead of gathering with the body of believers. But when you talk to the church-skippers, you’ll hear them say they have a hard time resisting the “awe in nature” Haidt referred to. And even if we don’t support the decision to skip church for a nature walk, perhaps we should ask why some of our church members discover “awe” outside of the church, but not inside.

Application After Awe

Let me wrap up with something I included in Gospel-Centered TeachingI warned about a pastor’s tendency to rush toward application without first evoking awe:
Not long ago, I was speaking to a group of student ministers on this very subject. We were talking about our tendency to become so familiar with some of the stories in the Bible that we are no longer awed by the truth of the narrative. I used the story of Jesus calming the storm as an example. How many of us hurry so quickly to apply that story to “Jesus’ presence with us during the storms of life” that we miss the moment of awe that led the disciples to say, “What kind of man is this? – even the wind and seas obey Him!” (Matt. 8:27). It’s fine to apply the account of Jesus calming the storm in various ways. But don’t rush to that application so quickly you miss the moment of awe.
A few days after my talk with the student ministers, one of them sent me a tweet, saying, “I couldn’t sleep last night thinking… He really did silence the storm. Crazy.” The student minister had gone from over-familiarization with a famous story of Scripture to once again being captured by the power of the narrative. He marveled at the power of Jesus, which is exactly what the biblical authors intended our reaction to be.


Dave Zuleger post:  When Worship Is Our Lifeline

Of all the ways we might provide a biblical basis for corporate worship, there is one that has risen to the top for me as a pastor in the nitty-gritty trenches of everyday ministry.
It has become so obvious to me that, for my own soul and for the souls of my flock, Christ-centered, God-exalting, Spirit-filled worship on Sunday is one of the main ways we survive and thrive from Monday to Saturday. The New Testament authors would say the same.
Consider two passages from Paul. First, Colossians 3:16–17,
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. 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.
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.
John Piper says the heart of true worship is the experience of being satisfied with God because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We are still called to “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” to worship “with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God,” and to be “making melody to the Lord with [our] heart.” There is still a necessary and vital aspect of corporate worship that is inward. In fact, there must be.

Truth on Fire

Any group of people can get together to hear someone speak, or sing songs together, and it does not make it worship. What makes it worship is that these are individual hearts that value God’s word preached and sung richly in their hearts, and they respond with great thankfulness to him in Christ.
But now we see that this inward worship extends outward to other members of the church. There is preaching and teaching that has valued Jesus richly through his word during the week that then flows out to the people as fresh grace to help them also dwell richly. There is singing that lands on the hearts individually, that then addresses, admonishes, and teaches others around us as we worship in song. We might call this “truth on fire.”
There is nothing that addresses and admonishes my heart more as a pastor than the members of our church going through the deep waters of suffering, eyes closed in worship, singing “Blessed Be Your Name.” There is hardly a sweeter thirty minutes of my week than when I get to open the word of God for our people and help us dwell richly there, begging that God would make us see Jesus and be encouraged, convicted, comforted, and confronted by the work of the Spirit. There is a beautiful self-forgetfulness that comes as we are pressing hard after God together as his gathered church. It’s as if we are forced, for at least that hour of our week, to peel our eyes off of ourselves and onto God and one another.

In the Fight Together

The author of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of gathering together as well.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23–25)
The author wants them to meet to stir each other up and encourage each other all the more as the Day is drawing near. The Day here is the Day of Judgment when Jesus will return. Here we begin to see the necessity to keep each other “holding fast the confession of our hope without wavering” in a world filled with sin and suffering that will only increase as the Day draws near. There is a lot in the world that wavers, but our hope doesn’t.
When you begin to look at the context of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, you see the same thing. Colossians 3:1 is a call to “set your mind on the things above, where Christ is.” Put off the old sin and put on the new characteristics of someone in Christ. Paul calls us in Ephesians 5:15–16 to “not be unwise, but wise” and to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.”
It is in these settings of war against sin and evil days that corporate worship is highlighted. This is what the church is: a group of Christians, treasuring Christ in their hearts and then marching forward in the fight of faith together.

Encouraged to Keep On

We gather to let the word of God dwell richly in us through corporate singing and preaching and praying. We gather to be ministered to by the various gifts in the body. We gather from places of joy, sorrow, health, and suffering to encourage each other to continue to cling to Christ.
God has given us the greatest gift of all through the gospel, the gift of himself and all eternity with him — in his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). And he’s given us the gift of corporate worship weekly to remind each other to keep our eyes on Jesus, so that we can fight the fight of faith for another week.
Corporate worship is not a social club, it is a war zone to fight the fight of faith.
We may come in staggering with a barely lit flame of faith. Oftentimes we leave held up by the grace of God working through another brother or sister, flame fanned, heart full, or at least encouraged to keep the barely lit flame flickering.
Corporate worship is not a social club. It is a war zone to fight the sin and despair in our hearts and the enemy that would love to use it to undo us. Corporate worship is not a place to make us feel a little bit better about ourselves or check off a to-do list. It is a lifeline to gather strength from God’s people to keep pursuing Jesus, no matter our circumstances.