It doesn’t matter how good our worship is in here, it is still incomplete until it also includes how we live and treat others out there. The great theologian, Bob Dylan got it right when he wrote, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Service is continuous; it just depends on whom or what you are serving … self or others.
Service is the action that we take to ensure that worship will continue when we leave the worship gathering. We spend so much time leading church services as an act of worship that we often neglect to lead the church in service as an act of worship. And even though we call our Sunday gathering a worship service, not a lot of service actually occurs. Service as worship never compromises biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often requires us to make adjustments in order to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically.
Mark Labberton wrote, “Worship can name a Sunday gathering of God’s people, but it also includes how we treat those around us, how we spend our money, and how we care for the lost and the oppressed. Worship can encompass every dimension of our lives.” (The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice)
We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs as an expression of our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us. Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God. (The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice 71)
The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship actions by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires of our worship.
He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. —Micah 6:8
Service as worship acts justly. A congregation that acts justly is one that is welcoming. Most can answer affirmatively when asked if their worship welcomes those not like them…all are welcome if or when they come. Welcoming, however, actively embraces those who are not and may never be present. Welcome primarily focuses on the needs of the congregation that occur on Sunday. Welcoming, on the other hand, focuses also on the needs of the world that occur every day. Welcoming loves, honors and praises the Father by loving those He loves.
Service as worship loves mercy. If anyone says, “I love God, (an act worship) yet hates his brother, (also an act of worship) he is a liar” (1 John 4:20). Service is when we as individuals and our congregation as a body realize that loving God by loving my neighbor as I love myself is a profound act of worship. Mercy agrees that no stipulation should be required as to whether that neighbor has earned or deserves the right to be loved. Mercy affirms…These people are also made in God’s image and serving them is worship.
Service as worship walks humbly. This one may be the hardest, especially for leaders. Baseball player and manager, Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “it is not the heat that makes it so difficult, it’s the humility.”
Mark Labberton wrote, “We have to practice laying aside our unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.” (The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice 170)
Humility allows us to willingly take a secondary and supportive role. It allows us to enthusiastically say, “The music I have selected and the sermon I have prepared may not be the most important act of worship that occurs.”
Healthier worship is encouraged when leaders begin modeling, teaching and leading their church not only in gathered worship services but also dispersed worship as service. Neither should be minimized, as both are indeed acts of worship. The divide, however, is when we expend all our resources on a weekly gathering and have nothing left for what should be a daily occurrence.