A Theology of Weekly Communal Worship: A Rehearsal for Life Lived in God’s Presence

Dec 2012
Last week someone asked me to describe our Sunday worship gatherings at Williamsburg Christian Church (we have two identical gatherings each Sunday). My answer was something like this: we are learning to believe that our larger Sunday worship gatherings are, in a sense, a rehearsal of how to live in the presence of God throughout the other six days of the week.

Here is what I mean.

Each Sunday we are called together, as one people, to hear God speak; after we are sent back into the world for His mission. Our communal worship both determines and reinforces our identity and mission through our liturgies of praise, ritual and symbol; this is why we believe that it is, in a sense, a rehearsal of what should happen in and through our lives Monday through Saturday. In our worship gatherings we seek to nurture a faith that leads us away from merely working for God to working with God; from merely gathering for God to gathering with God. Worship forms our imaginations with a ‘kingdom-shaped’ perspective. Our Sunday liturgy, what we do when we come together, seeks to model our way of life–the way of blessing, the culmination of the common life rooted in our true identity, and the preparation for mission.

In the music our hearts are provoked to call out to God in praise, thanksgiving, lament, and confession. We also “teach one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” as we declare God’s faithful love and holy presence in, among, and through us as citizens of His kingdom.¹

In our Confession & Proclamation we confess and proclaim the realties of our faith in Jesus as Lord and His in-breaking kingdom, as revealed to us through the Scriptures. If our hearts are open we can be formed by the confession and proclamation of these truths as we read Scripture aloud as one body, with one voice.²

In our time of Scripture & Silence we practice confession, repentance, and listening to God in prayer. Scripture is read aloud and a few minutes of silence follow. As our lives are filled with many “voices” seeking our attention and affection, this time of Scripture and Silence trains us to make room in our hurried hearts and anxious minds to hear and discern the Spirit’s voice. If God is present within and among us, and if we are willing to practice hospitality toward Him by making room for Him to speak, we believe He will do so as learn to be still and know that He is God.³

In the teaching, preaching, and public discussion of Scripture our imaginations are stirred to envision the world our trinitarian God is creating through Jesus our Lord, His intentions with it, and what it looks like to live as though Jesus is the Lord who is making all things new.4 Through the proclamation and discussion of Scripture we are reminded of our place within God’s work. Some Sundays we will preach. Some Sundays we will practice lectio devina. Some Sundays we will engage in open conversation. Some times we will do a mix of either. But each Sunday the Scriptures are engaged as God’s inspired witness of the Living Word that became flesh, King Jesus. This naturally leads us to His Table.

At the Table we share in the Bread and Wine as we practice remembrance, gratefulness, celebration and experience a renewed imagination. Some call this time “Communion,” some “Lord’s Supper,” and others, “Eucharist.” Eucharist is the weekly rehearsal of the gospel narrative that prepares us for mission: the practice of receiving the welcome of Christ.5  As we partake of the bread and wine with an attitude of faith and self-examination, we remember and proclaim the death of Christ, receive spiritual nourishment for our souls, and signifies our unity with Christ’s universal Church.  It is in this practice we acknowledge both our need and common belonging, which becomes our training for life in the world.  The same kind of welcome extended to us by Christ becomes the same kind of welcome we extend to others.6  If we understand the Eucharist this way, our personal tables become an extension of the Lord’s table.  Our lunch tables become extensions of the Lord’s table.  Our cubicles become extensions of the Lord’s table–because we remember that we are to be as welcoming to the person who cleans our trash as to the person who signs our paychecks.

In our Offering we share in the needs of one another, our city and world as we give to God and His mission.7 In our giving we are trained to be freed from the things we own. We are reminded that all is gift because all comes from God.8

Finally, we enjoy one another’s company. We reconnect with those we rarely see throughout the week and to those we see often. We are reminded that our immediate family in Christ is bigger than those with whom we spend a great deal of our time. As we gather we want to encourage one another to “hold fast to our confession” and “consider how to stir up one another in love and good works.”9 When our gathering is over we are sent out by receiving a Benediction–a blessing–to live as a people sent by God to bear witness to all we have seen and heard.10

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This is at least one way to describe our Sunday worship gathering. You might even say it forms for us a theology of weekly communal worship.

Of course, our Sunday gathering is not the only way we live as a church family. We embrace other shared practices. We are also a collective of missional communities that gather throughout the week in neighborhoods for the sake of deepening our love for God, one another, and those living in our neighborhoods as we seek to be present there as a blessing. But as we participate in the larger Sunday gathering, rather than sit back as spectators, our lives are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ and we are ready to once again participate in what He is doing in the world through His Church.

How does your church family or faith community gather? What is your church’s “theology” of worship? How does it equip the people of God for the work of ministry?

1. Ephesians 5:18-21

2. 1 Timothy 4:13; Hebrews 4:12-13

3. Psalm 46:10; Matthew 11:28-30; John 10:14-26; James 4:5-10

4. Matthew 4:17; Acts 28:30-31; 2 Timothy 4:1-4

5. Luke 22:14-23

6. Romans 15:71 Corinthians 11:17-26; Matthew 5:23-24; 2 Corinthians 13:5;

7. 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Galatians 5:13-14; 6:9-10

8. James 1:17; Deuteronomy 8:17-18

9. Hebrews 10:23-25

10. John 17:20-26Matthew 28:16-20; Ephesians 4:11-161 Corinthians 4:16Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:8

About Fred

Fred came to serve greater Williamsburg and WCC as lead pastor in October of 2010 and is grateful to be a part of the family. He is a husband, father, certified trauma professional, S.T.A.R. (strategies for trauma awareness & resilience) practitioner, community organizer, TEDx alum, founder of 3e Restoration, Inc. and co-owner of Philoxenia Culture LLC. He received his B.S. in Ministry/Bible at Amridge University and his Master’s of Religious Education in Missional Leadership from Rochester University. Currently he is a candidate for a Doctorate of Ministry in Contextual Theology in at Northern Seminary in Chicago. Fred has also served as an adjunct professor for Rochester University and Regent University where taught courses in philosophy, ethics, leadership, pastoral care, intro to Christianity, and ethnography. He has also served as a guest lecturer on the subjects of racialized cultural systems, poverty, and missiology at various universities, such as William & Mary and Oklahoma Christian University. Fred has authored on book (Racialized Cultural Systems, Social Displacement and Christian Hospitality) and several curriculum offerings, including The FloorPlan: Living Toward Restoration & Resilience. Fred enjoys hanging out with his family anytime, anywhere. He is deeply grateful for how God graciously works through the Church in all her various forms, despite our brokenness. He is passionate about seeing the last, least, and lonely of every neighborhood, city and nation experience God’s in-breaking kingdom, and come to know Jesus as King. Oh, and his favorite season is Advent and Christmas. Fred is a founding member of the board of directors for Virginia Racial Healing Institute, a member of the leadership team for Williamsburg's local chapter of Coming to the Table, and a member of Greater Williamsburg Trauma-Informed Community Network's Racial Trauma Committee and Training Committee.
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