"Treasure In Clay Jars" series


Worship. Do we ever stop and consider the significance of this hour on Sunday? I know I do. I think about it quite a bit. And yet, I know that this assembly has significance – an importance – beyond anything I can plan. I have learned over the years that ... Some Sunday’s will be very special. Some will be very ordinary. Some of you are uplifted and some of you will be discouraged. Some of you are about to hear something that may change your life forever – and some of you are just trying to calm a fidgety child.

Worship. It is the at times the most spiritual and transcendent event of our week, and at other times it is the most mundane and human. And thought we always want worship to be on the holy mountaintop, worship will sometimes take place in the ordinary spaces – in the halls of our schools, around the water cooler at work, in the shopping mall, downtown at the corner of forgotten streets.

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the hub of her city – the local well. And in the midst of business and daily chores worship broke out. Jesus met an outsider to the house of Israel – a Samaritan woman – and they began to talk about eternal life, her life, and family and (wouldn’t you know it) they talked about worship. “So are we supposed to worship on the mountain or in the temple?” she asked Jesus.

Jesus answered, “21Jesus replied, "Believe me, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans know so little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way. 24For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4)

Worship in spirit and truth. Jesus invited the Samaritan woman – and all of us who hear his teaching – to understand worship in a new light. Worship isn’t the little “insider club” for the “saved.” But neither is it a recruitment rally to draw in the “outsiders” and get them saved. God is looking for anyone who will worship him in spirit and truth. What does this mean? Well, when you place this statement of Jesus in the context of God sending his son (John 3) and the life that we live as we participate in the life of the son, then worship has something to do with living the true life of a disciple and being a part of a people who are gathered together by the spirit of God.

It sort of turns worship “inside out” from the way we often think of worship because we see that worship is really at the center of God’s mission to turn the “inside” out. You see, God is the focus of the worshipper – of every worshipper and of course the focus of the whole worshipping community. And the focus of God is the whole world. He’s not just looking for his “core group” of insiders, no he wants the whole world to come to worship. So our worship takes place in a sort of “glass house” with wide open doors and everyone is welcome to worship.

That way of thinking of worship cuts against the grain of some of our typical assumptions about worship. We often think that worship is ...

We can get so distracted by these that we miss out on what worship in spirit and truth. Worship that participates in God’s mission is ...

I recall a story a colleague told me about worship in India. They do not worship closed off from the general population in a place of comfort and privacy. Rather, they gather outside often around a tall tree where they can hang a lantern and the faithful gather to worship. And along with them come on-lookers and spectators who simply watch. No one can really tell where the “church” folk end and the on-lookers begin. And part of the reason for that is that the circle is ever widening because those who start on the outside looking in find their way inside as they too become disciples and begin to worship the God who seeks worshippers in spirit and truth.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 March 2006

Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson Six: Pattern 5 – March 26, 2006
“Worshipping God for the Sake of the World”

What is this lesson all about?

  1. You will perceive how worship is directed toward God rather than directed toward insiders or outsiders.
  2. You will understand that mission and worship are closely connected.
  3. You will explore the public and communal implications of God-focused worship.
  4. You will explore how worship celebrates God’s presence and God’s promised future by focusing the church on both memory and hope.
  5. You will explore how memory and hope inform our practice of communion, the ministry of the word, prayer, praise, and other worship activities.
Getting Started:
  1. Recall a time that worship was particularly meaningful to you.
  2. Can you remember worship services in and around the time of 9/11? Tell these stories then reflect on the following:
    1. How did worship become very public then?
    2. How was it ekklesia or public assembly?
    3. How is this different from our assumptions about worship being private, internal, and spiritual (to the exclusion of physical)?
  3. When you visit a new church, what do you look for? What helps you find your way around?
Searching the Word:
  1. Discuss the following texts that show how worship is a public witness to the reign of God as well as an opportunity for identity formation:
    1. Genesis 12:1-9. God calls Abraham to participate in his mission within the world. When Abraham arrives in the land of the Canaanites he builds an altar to the LORD and worships.
    2. Exodus 12:1-16. Notice how the Passover worship is public in nature. What does this worship communicate to the watching world? How does it shape the identity of the participants throughout generations? How does it proclaim the reign of God?
    3. 1 Corinthians 14:22-25. How is worship open to both “insiders” and “outsiders?” What should God-focused worship communicate to the watching world? (Notice the anticipated response of the unbeliever in v. 25).
Making It Real: Exploration and Response
  1. What are the symbols and expressions of allegiance and values that are present in various ways in our worship?
    1. Exploration Strategy: Take a “field trip” through the worship center of our congregation (either mentally or physically). What symbols of allegiance are present? (Be sure and notice utilitarian items such as clocks, etc.). What rule or reign is being proclaimed through these symbols? What powers and principalities are acknowledged?
    2. Consider the order of worship for your congregation. Consider the words and phrases that comprise worship for your congregation. What allegiance and reign is being proclaimed? How would an unbeliever respond to what we proclaim in worship? (Notice: Focus on what we actually proclaim, not on what the unbeliever might think about our style).
    3. Consider how believers worship in countries that persecute Christian believers. What do the governments of countries that persecute worshippers understand about worship as a political act? Why would it be any different in the U.S.? [For information on persecuted churches see www.persecution.com]
  2. Discuss how worship sustains and shapes the identity of the church that is gathered and called by God’s missional activity.
    1. What assumptions set the agenda for worship in our congregation? How do we decide the content and structure of worship?
    2. What worship activities enable us to experience God’s presence in worship?
    3. Discuss this statement: “The church’s worship is not about itself but about God.”
    4. Do we typically view worship as being for our benefit or is directed toward God? How would God-directed worship actually benefit the church? Can you imagine ways that it might be more satisfying than worship aimed at “meeting our needs?”
  3. Explore how memory of God’s acts and hope in God’s promised future inform our worship.
    1. Exploration Strategy: Use a table with columns labeled memory, hope and witness and rows with various acts of worship (add those that are particular to your context). Use this to discuss the various ways that worship shapes our identity and serves as a witness to the world.

    (What memory about God’s act or character does this worship act recall?)
    (What promise or hope about the future does this worship act inspire?)
    (What does this worship act communicate to “the watching world”?)
    The Lord’s Supper
    [Add other acts]

  4. Discuss what it means for worship to be public without thinking of worship as “seeker-sensitive” or “worship evangelism” or “insider motivation.”
    1. Imagine you are hosting your traditional Thanksgiving Dinner for family and new friends are joining you. Would you change anything for the sake of your friends? Would you continue with your traditions? How would you help your friends feel welcome even though they lack the understanding of your family traditions? How does the presence of new friends enable your family to appreciate their tradition? How does it renew and change tradition? How is God’s presence communicated at your Thanksgiving meal? Would the new friends understand that communication?
    2. What parts of our faith can be adapted to welcome those who know nothing about Jesus? Musical styles, attire, meeting times, avoiding strange words (i.e. - thee, thou, foyer, pew).
    3. What parts of our faith cannot be adapted? What are the things we need to maintain, even though we know it is difficult for a non-Christian to embrace? Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, and now he calls us to follow him by denying ourselves and serving others.
  1. Pray for some people God is trying to reach in our community. By name, if you know.
  2. Ask God to make us more aware of what our assemblies communicate to outsiders.
  3. Pray for the guests who will attend our next worship service.
  4. Pray for our group to live in a way that is inviting to non-Christians.
  5. Pray for persecuted churches. What can we do in our worship to bless and intercede for those churches - publicly? How can their public witness inspire us in our public witness of worship?
Kid-friendly activity:
  1. Read I Corinthians 14:26 aloud.
  2. Pair up kids & adults one-on-one and answer the following questions:
    1. What is something that is good about worship?
    2. What is something that is difficult about worship?
    3. What are we trying to accomplish in worship? Why is it worth our time?

Special Discussion: “Inside Out” Worship
  1. Use the graphics in Appendix to introduce the biblical relationship between worship and mission. By compartmentalizing the activities of the church we have begun to think too rigidly about what is for “insiders” and what is for “outsiders.” It has created an “us and them” way of thinking that hampers our participation in God’s mission in the world. This rigid “us and them” way of thinking is seen most vividly in two typical misconceptions about the relationship between worship and mission.

  2. Slide 1: Inside and Outside – The first, and probably the most prominent, view is a traditional one that for the purpose of discussion we will call the “Inside and Out” view. The inside and out approach views worship as the activity for those inside the church which spiritually empowers them for the task of mission which is limited to work “outside” the church.
  3. Slide 2: Outside In – The “outside in” approach responds to the conventional approach by bringing the “outside” mission activity of the church “inside” to the worship assembly. In this approach the worship is regarded as either a presentation of the gospel or a platform to rally commitment to social action. This approach may be an attempt to unite worship and mission, but the relationship is still understood instrumentally – that is, worship is an instrument to accomplish mission. Bringing the outside in to the inside is sometimes called worship evangelism. But attempts at worship evangelism do not consider the unity of the two. Rather they attempt to re-orient the focus of worship on the outsider. Notice however that the “us and them” thinking is still in effect. What remains is the false choice that worship is strictly for insiders and evangelism is strictly for outsiders.
  4. Slide 3: Inside Out: The trouble with both of the previous approaches is that they are flat. They are two-dimensional and do not account for God’s missional activity in the world and our participation in that activity. The “inside out” approach avoids the weaknesses of the other approaches because it understands mission as the mission of God toward the world rather than the evangelistic efforts of the church. Since worship takes place within the arena of the mission of God in the world, “the assembly for worship is mission.” The church worships because it is gathered up into the mission of God moving within the world. The church in worship reflects the reign of God in a public way.

Learn more about "Inside Out" on our Web site.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 March 2006

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