Where Everybody Shares: Reimagining The Sunday Worship Gathering

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Sometimes I wish I could peek in at a Jerusalem worship service during those first few months after Peter’s message on Pentecost. I’d sneak in the back door of some guy’s house and make my way into the courtyard and push into the crowd. I’d listen to men and women prophesying. I’d pray with whoever felt called to pray and sing with anyone who “[had] a hymn.” I’d sit at a crowded table and dip my bread in oil as I laughed and listened to stories over communion.

I’m a worship junkie. I’ve loved going to worship (in whatever form) my whole life. I’ve attended all night singing meetings and 24 hour prayer vigils, Good Friday mass and Christmas morning service. I will sing and pray and listen to the Word of God read and explained however and whenever I can.

I love all the kinds of worship.

My favorite worship experiences though are the ones that feel home grown—the times I gather with a group of God-loving people and worship just seems to erupt, when one person says something they’ve been thinking and another person reads a scripture that comes to mind and the next thing you know we’re singing for an hour and praying, hand in hand.

I think of communion over breakfast in my apartment in Brooklyn, blessings shared, praise offered, as we each answered the prompt, “Because Jesus died and rose again…”

I think of singing in China with a house church, everyone crammed in a tiny apartment living room, English and Chinese co-mingling in song, sermons interrupted by thoughtful, submissive questions.

I think of a Sunday night at Pinellas Park church of Christ when I was thirteen maybe and a man I knew and loved came forward and asked to talk to the congregation and he told us about his addiction to cigarettes and asked us to help him break free.

I think of all the times at South Johns Street Church of Christ when members would sing like their lives depended on it, throwing in flourishes and rolls and the occasional “Thank you, Jesus.”

In those moments, worship felt like something shared.

In I Corinthians 14:26 Paul writes, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” I’ve mentioned this before, but what I can’t help noticing about this passage is Paul’s certainty that everybody would bring something to worship. He describes the gathering as a time when people shared.

I don’t think that’s the way most of us think about Sunday morning church.

We structure Sunday worship around the member’s receiving something—from the Bible class teacher, the preacher, the song leader—and that’s not bad. Not so long as members are also encouraged to give something.

The Sunday worship gathering is not somewhere we go to take. It’s somewhere we go to share—to teach and be taught, to encourage and be encouraged, to hear a word of instruction and offer one, too.

It’s the place we pour out what’s spilling over from our week of walking with God. And the place we sop up what’s spilling out of everybody else.

When I first made notes for this post I jotted down the phrase “the importance of hearing all the voices.”

It was inspired by a panel discussion in my Sunday Bible class. We had four people, two men and two women of varying ages, answer questions about a time or way they’d experienced God’s power in their weakness.

We heard from a woman who’d been diagnosed as ADHD as an adult. From a man with bipolar. From a woman who’d recently lost her brother (and his family) to a car wreck and who was now raising her brother’s only surviving child. From a man once crippled by insecurity.

All of them told beautiful stories of the way God had worked in their lives, quoting scripture, offering encouragement… It was perfect.

The whole time I was listening to them talk I was thinking, this is what I want to do every Sunday. I want to listen to my brothers and sisters—people who’re walking in the light as He is in the light. I want to be reminded that faithfulness is possible. I want to be reminded that I’m not alone in my struggles. I want to know how to beat temptation and persevere in joy and grow in knowledge, and I want to learn it from my family—these people who are following Christ into victory.

My church family tries very hard to make this kind of thing happen. We have an entire section on our website called “stories” where we catalog in video form the testimonies of our members. Too, our preacher regularly requests and includes stories from our members in his sermons. We have a long way to go—so many more stories to be harvested and shared—but we’re trying. Because every one of God’s children has something worth sharing.

Bottom line: We need to hear from more of the body more of the time. We need to make Sundays a place where people feel comfortable fully participating, a place where meaningful sharing happens.

It’ll look different in every congregation, and it may require some creativity. But regardless of how it plays out, it ought to be a goal.

Because God wants to speak to your church, and while He’s happy to do it through your preacher, He also wants to use your grandmother and the recovering alcoholic at the end of the pew.

I pray we’d make room for their voices.