Putting the “Service” Back in Worship Service
Week after week, many of us attend a worship served not a worship service.
Don’t understand what I mean? Perhaps this will help.
How many of your Sundays look like this?
You show up, and parking lot attendants greet you. Faithful teachers instruct you. Ushers find a seat for you. A well-practiced worship band leads singing for you. Your pastor preaches a faithful, God-glorifying sermon to you. Childcare workers care for your children. And after all that, you pick up your kids and simply return home.
I wonder: have we strayed from the way the early church approached their gatherings?
The Corinthians were so eager to serve what they’d prepared all week that it was causing chaos, forcing Paul to say, “One at a time, guys!” (1 Cor. 14:24–40). I doubt many of us have to ease off the gas pedal on the way to church because we’re so pumped to offer something to the Lord and our church family.
But wouldn’t that be something if we did? Consider these four basic ways we can use our Sundays to serve others, as opposed to just being served ourselves.
GET TO CHURCH EARLY
The church isn’t an audience but gathered members of a body. “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:5–6). We have a responsibility as members to use the particular gifts Christ has given us to serve his body.
At the risk of sounding simplistic, here’s one way to apply this: get to church early. This requires intentional planning, a rearranging of Saturday activities. But if you commit to it, then you’ll quickly begin to marvel at everything that takes place before others—like yourself—get to church. You’ll see opportunities for service galore. Two young ladies at our church arrive at church an hour early simply to ask, “How can we help?” They’ve found there’s always an answer to that question.
In fact, this is one of the easiest ways to experience what Paul talks about in Ephesians: “When each part is working properly, [Christ] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). Do you want to grow as a Christian? Then get to church early.
For many Christians, singing is a deeply personal experience. However, the Scriptures teach us that singing is a communal activity. Consider Psalm 95: “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Ps. 95:1). The Apostle Paul reminds two local churches to continue “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Singing is a “one another” command—a service to others when we’re together.
We can offer up songs in worship to the Lord all week, but corporate gatherings are the only time we can exalt his name together (Ps. 34:3). When we join our voices in songs of exaltation, lament, confession, and thanksgiving, Christ himself ministers to brothers and sisters among us who need a high priest who sympathizes with their weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Singing is a tangible way to serve others, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15).
A few Sundays ago, I had laryngitis. Though I couldn’t sing, my soul was edified by fellow church members who sang for me. And then it struck me: this is the experience every week for many elderly members in our churches. They remain seated, trying their best to follow along, but infirmities inhibit them. Brothers and sisters, we can serve those who cannot sing by singing with, to, and for them!
Like the magi or the Queen of Sheba, we approach the throne of Christ each Sunday and lay tribute at his feet. We magnify his name in the eyes of the world as we demonstrate not just with our mouths but also with our money that he is our true King.
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to set aside a gift at the first of each week (1 Cor. 16:2), and to think deeply about how they give: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
But money is only part of what we give on Sundays. We serve our church when we testify about God’s faithfulness in answering prayer requests. We serve when we give our laughter and tears as others share about their lives. Fundamentally, Sunday after Sunday, we serve by giving ourselves to others through our physical and spiritual presence.
All of our obedience begins with listening to our God: “Diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes” (Exod. 15:26). We cannot please God if we don’t first listen to his Word.
This is why a large portion of corporate worship is devoted to sitting quietly and listening to the proclamation of God’s Word. It’s not time to think about lunch or work or school. It’s not time to scroll through social media. We serve the Lord by praying the Spirit would cause us to listen with the desperation of Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68).
So, look for ways you can serve during the sermon. Perhaps there’s a mother whose rambunctious toddler makes it difficult for her to focus. Offer to sit with her and help. Make eye contact with the preacher, turn to the passage in your Bible, and don’t be afraid to offer an “amen” or verbal affirmation. These habits will serve the preacher as he labors faithfully to serve you the Word.
GATHER TO SERVE
Christ died to grant us access to the throne of heaven. So let us draw near with acts of worship service. May our churches be filled Sunday after Sunday with priests active in serving: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:4–5).