Thursday, March 22, 2007

Essential Roots for the Missional Body of Believers

As part of our series, Essential Roots for the Missional Body of Believers, we will focus on the essential role of authentic worship. The following article has been submitted by Barry Rock, Associate Pastor of Music and Worship at First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas.

How does real worship in a local Body of Christ help to lay a foundation for leading that Body to share the Gospel at home and abroad? In searching my own soul, I found there a vast number of answers and questions pertaining to this central issue. I have chosen six words that seem to help me in my understanding. I hope they serve to spur you to think about the role of worship in your own life and church.

1. Focus
At its core, worship is an act of focus. It is a conscious decision to set aside the noise of the world and to concentrate upon the majesty of the Creator. In that act of willful-focus we may uncover a multitude of things. Among them: our own inadequacy, the transcendent love of a Savior, the reframing of our ambitions, the power that only God can provide, clarity of thought, overwhelming awe and appropriate fearfulness. At the end of it all, however, is the undeniable knowledge that the aim of life is not seeking our pleasure but God’s. Our chief aim is to please Him. All else fades when we truly find those moments of self- abandoned worship. In that God-focus, we find that we cannot live without Him and, by extension; neither can or should anyone else.

2. Appreciation
Worship causes us to appreciate who God is and what He has done. It causes us to look beyond ourselves and appreciate the uniqueness of those around us, realizing that Christ made them who they are. Often, churches that find their worship to be divisive have never explored this issue. As humans, we are prone to think first about our own needs, desires, tastes and abilities. It is difficult to push past that wall. Our tendency, unfortunately, is to filter God’s message through those proclivities. That can lead us to believe that whatever deviates from our own particular views of worship, its meaning and forms, is not true worship and is to be held suspect or even disdained. True worship is of the heart. God sees into the being of the worshiper—something I cannot do. God-focused worship leads us to appreciate the truth in each individual believer. As we learn to appreciate the beauty of the worship of others on our pew, we are one step closer to realizing the diversity of world-Christians, their needs and expressions of faith. We are also one step farther from provincialism and selfishness.

3. Unity
Authentic worship is an act of unification. Real worship ALWAYS draws the members of the Body closer together. That it is not to deny discipline, discussion and disagreement, but, in its essence, worship is unity. The protons and neutrons of the local church rotate relentlessly about the nucleus of worshiping God. In that unity, we are asked not so much to give up our personal tastes, likes and dislikes and opinions, as to subjugate them to the greater good: the realization that we ought to learn appreciation for the gifts and needs of those who sit next to us. Real worship pushes us beneath the superficial and asks us to sense as God senses. In that unity we celebrate and support the variety of tasks necessary to expand and keep healthy the Kingdom. We, hands, ears, feet and mouths, truly become one glorious Body. I believe that the unity found in worship heightens our desire to draw others into that Body. When we know His love and the acceptance of fellow believers, we ache that others may know this same love and acceptance.

4. Heart
The more time we spend with God the more His heart becomes our own. Just like children become reflections of their parents, so we become reflections of our heavenly Father. In worship, we ask God to reveal Himself. When He does, we are changed. A part of me wants to say “forever changed.” I omitted that. I do believe that in salvation there are parts of us that are changed once and for all. But, self- awareness causes me to realize there are many things within my own heart that need to be re-examined and revisited. We must die to ourselves daily. A one-time worship experience is not what we need. Rather, we need regular times of private and corporate worship when God can show His power and grace anew. Our hearts are infinitely adjustable and, as that great hymn states, “prone to wander.” Disciplined lives of worship result in hearts with God- perspective. Our hearts before His throne begin to comprehend the world around us apart from our own selfishness and need. He “tunes our hearts” to sing His praise. Our hearts, touched by His love, grace and mercy, long to sing into the hearts of others who have not heard. The psalmist said, “Change my heart, O God.” That is exactly the result of authentic worship.

5. Story
A part of our corporate worship is the retelling of the story of salvation. By the perpetuation of those stories of faith, we proclaim to all who He is and what He means to us. We are instructed to tell our children, share with others, proclaim the good news, carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth—we are instructed to tell, retell and keep on telling the message of salvation. As we do that in worship, we see people won to Christ in our midst. We also stoke the fire in the hearts of believers to be missionaries at home and around the world. Who among us hasn’t been moved by the testimony of another as they reveal God’s power to save in their own lives? Our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, our nation, our world, need to hear THE Story. In our worship we find and share power in a corporate celebration of who God is and what He has done.

6. Foundation
The health of a local church is in direct proportion to the health of its worship. The health of mission efforts at home and abroad is in direct proportion to the health of local churches. The syllogism is clear: healthy worship is fundamental to thriving missions. I am certainly no missiologist, but my simple understanding is that the local church is God’s ordained instrument for carrying His message into the world. We are instructed to join together as believers. In that joining we share resources, gifts and strength. We find the health that comes from a group vision and not a “Lone Ranger” approach to ministry. Growing healthy, worship-focused local churches is indispensable to spreading the Gospel of Christ.

Any worship leader, asked to write on this subject, could have chosen from a multitude of formats and issues; mine barely scratch the surface. In my years in church and education, I have come to believe that a worthy discussion or debate is just the introduction to a struggle. I hope that these few thoughts cause you to “struggle.” Our world is in need. From the family members who share our homes, to people in the most remote parts of our world, each one was created to hear the Good News. Each one is an object of God’s longing and affection. My hope is that the worship in our churches will make us more like God and consequently allow others to see Him in us as we carry His love around the globe.

Barry Rock
Associate Pastor of Music and Worship
First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas


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