Oh, Behave! Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship

Other Christians. Can’t do corporate worship without them, and yet sometimes it feels like we can’t really do corporate worship with them either.

How nice would it be if everyone would just mind their manners in weekend worship? So thinks our old self.

Let’s admit it. We’re tough on others, easy on ourselves. We assume others should give us the benefit of the doubt—which is the very thing we don’t give to others.

She’s the reason I’m distracted, the old self tells us.

If he weren’t singing so loud—and so off key . . . 

If they would just get off their iPads and smart phones. I’m sure they’re all doing emails, or social media, rather than looking at the Bible text or taking notes.

We love to blame our neighbor, or the worship leader, for our inability to engage in corporate worship. But the deeper problem usually belongs to the one who is distracted. Few things are more hypocritical than showing up to a worship gathering of the Friend of Sinners and bellyaching that other sinners showed up too.

Checking Our Own Souls

If there is gospel etiquette for the gathered church, it starts with evaluating my heart, not their actions. Frustration with others’ distracting behavior—whether in the pew in front of me, or on the stage—is deeper and more dangerous than the nonchalance or negligence that sidetracks others.

Of course, there are rare exceptions when someone really is totally out of line. Such as the guy who brought his own tambourine one week. But even in the occasional instance where someone’s worship conduct is seriously out of bounds, what if we started by asking ourselves some hard questions?

  • If love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), might God be calling me to look past this distraction I perceive?
  • Am I really applying John 13:34-35 (“love one another”) to fellow Christians in weekly corporate worship? If we can’t apply John 13:34-35 when the church is gathered, are we really going to apply this elsewhere?

The principle of walking in line with the gospel (Galatians 2:14) in corporate worship looks like this: In grace consider others enough to refrain from distracting them, and extend grace to those who you find to be distracting. Here are a few suggestions for how to think well of and for others in corporate worship.

1. Arrive early.

Not only does early arrival keep you from distracting others by coming in late after the service has started, but it also enables you to greet others and extend to them a welcome as they arrive. Ain’t no shame in coming early for some social time. God’s happy when his children love each other.

Also, arriving early (rather than late) helps us remember that the whole service is worship, not just the sermon. Even though we’d never say it, sadly we sometimes function as if everything before the sermon is some added extra or just the warm up for the preaching. The worship really begins when the preacher ascends to his pulpit. It’s fine if we miss the first few minutes of singing. No big loss.

2. Park far, sit close.

This is one practical way to count others more significant than yourselves, and look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). Parking far leaves the better spots in the lot for those arriving after you, and sitting close leaves the seats near the doors easily accessible.

3. Participate heartily.

“Heartily” is an attempt to communicate a balanced kind of engaged participation—not being a mere spectator and not being that guy singing with the out-of-control volume. The problem of over-participating speaks for itself (quite literally), but in regard to under-participating, note that you are actually robbing others of the value of corporate worship when you don’t engage. Your presence is a part, and your voice is a part as well. The experience of corporate worship is enriched when all the attendees participate.

4. Smile.

I’m not counseling you to fake it or put on airs. Corporate worship is a time for gladness and excitement, not dourness and mere duty. Try to make the most of your morning before attending corporate worship, and let your gladness be contagious. Like George Mueller, seek to get your soul happy in Jesus, and ask God for help to spill over some of your soul satisfaction on others.

5. Stay late and engage others.

Come on the look for people, transition Godward in the worship gathering, and leave on the look for others. Some of the most significant conversations in the life of the church happen immediately after worship gatherings. Relationally, this is one of the most strategic times during the week to be available and on the lookout for

  • new faces you can make feel welcomed
  • old faces you can connect with
  • hurting people you can comfort
  • happy people you can be encouraged by.

Sometimes you just gotta go after a service. We get it. That’s okay. There are special events, or unusual demands, or seasons of life with small, antsy children. But if you’re bouncing out the doors every week as soon as possible after the services ends (or even before it’s over), you’re at least not making the most of corporate worship.

6. Come to receive from God and give to others.

This is the banner over all the other charges. Come to corporate worship on the lookout for feeding on God and his grace, and on the lookout for giving grace to others. Come to be blessed by God, and to bless others. Receive from him, give to them.

We’re prone to get this backwards. We come to worship thinking that we’re somehow giving to God, and we subtly expect we’ll be receiving from others. We desperately need to turn that pattern on its head.

The God we worship is one not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). And when he came in the flesh, he did so “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Beware coming to corporate worship to serve God. But by all means, come on the lookout to serve others. Worshiping God and building up others aren’t mutually exclusive but come to their fullness together.

We give to one another as we together come to receive from God our soul’s satisfaction. We kill both the vertical and horizontal of corporate worship when we come looking to give to God and receive from others.

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    Excellent counsel! Now connect this with a biblical dress code and get ready! See: How should I dress for Church? http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/how-should-i-dress-for-church/

  • Nils

    Great thoughts. Reminded me of Colin Mashall’s classic article called The Ministry of the Pew … http://secondmilechurch.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/the-ministry-of-the-pew.pdf

  • Samuel PG

    Thank you for this article. Great wisdom founded in Jesus’ ethic of love and intensely practical. Sort of sets the “worship wars” conversation in perspective.

  • Pingback: Oh, Behave! Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship – The Gospel Coalition Blog | Keloù Mat()

  • Mark

    How is bringing your own tambourine “totally out of line”? At least that’s done in the spirit of worship, and if you know how to play it (the tambourine does have musical potential beyond Kum-By-Yah around the campfire, y’know…), then why not praise Him with it? I do agree wholeheartedly with the point of your article, just find it interesting that you picked that example to illustrate being “totally out of line”. Personally I find the girls dacing with the ribbons far more disctracting and out of line than someone bringing their own instrument without having being asked. Their hearts may well be in the right place, but all too often their muscle memory is still in last night’s bump-n-grind club. Call me a perv if you want, but I’m not the only man who finds this a struggle.

    • Quincy Kujinga

      I agree with you Mark. A tambourine is actually very loud, but is a great instrument when played with skill. The harshest description I can use is “destructive” if the guy is banging it full force in my ear, out of sync with the rhythm coming from the worship team. I wouldn’t say its “totally out of line” to bring one. The person may simply not know that he’s irritating others. a little word in love may sort out the problem

  • http://www.lambblood.com Rick Owen

    Conduct worthy of the gospel goes beyond the typical worship service. We should worship at all times, but the church should meet primarily to edify. The NT envisions Christ-centered ministry by the whole body. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14). “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10).

    More thoughts here: http://www.ntrf.org/articles/article_detail.php?PRKey=4

  • http://valleyviewpastor.blogspot.com/ David Tuten

    I like your point on participating heartily. I have always known and advocated the importance of corporate experiences of worship, but a recent “new” experience has driven it home to me. My son has recently started at the University of Tennessee, where he plays in the marching band. I have never been a particular Tennessee fan, and still am not a strong one. But (for obvious reasons), I recently attended my first game at Neyland stadium. Part of the pre-game tradition is a fairly elaborate band routine. Included in that (of course) is the playing of the Tennessee theme song, “Rocky Top.” I discovered that, regardless of what you might think of the school, team, or song, there is something powerfully moving about 100,000 people singing anything enthusiastically in unison. I remember seminary chapel services, and how a thousand or so voices lifted in joyful song had a similar moving effect. No individual or small group “performance” can equal the power of such a communal experience.

  • Pingback: Some Worship Links « CEFC Roundtable()

  • Pingback: Things I Read 09/20/12 « Land of Caleb()

  • http://www.mylymbo.com Don

    I come from a black, baptist congregation where, I believe, the experience may a good bit different. Yes, there are talkers, sleepers, cell/ipad/blutooth users, that distract like in any other church, but there is another highly sensitive distraction and thats the dancing, yelling, shouting, running, etc. that goes on during the service. I don’t want to stifle the Spirit, but while the pastor is preaching, there is an expectation that the congregation will shout back or clap after every point or vocal spike in tone or volume. Of course there are countless “tell your neighbor” moments and general calls to praise the Lord at any given moment during the sermon, as well, which have become a crutch to pastors wanting to avoid dead space in their sermons. I’ve been really bothered by pastors even almost pausing their sermon until the congregation is on their feet and shouting/clapping… This, to me, is ridiculous, especially since those who don’t feel led to shout or stand are labeled (not just implicitly, but through the sermon) as merely “churchy” or too sophisticated, and their relationship with God is questioned. I’m only referring to the sermon portion of the service here, not corporate singing or any other active group worship during the service.

    I think it is great for the church to praise God together verbally – I am a musician and worship leader and can definitely relate to the toughness of ministering to a stiff congregation but I believe many many many black churches have taken corporate church service participation to a dangerous level which greatly effects the way the pastor preaches (causing him to substitute solid teaching for emotion evoking anecdotes), and forces attendees to act in ways they wouldn’t normally (not for the sake of God, but to seem Christian enough to the other church members).

    I had no idea my comment would be this long. Sorry about that, but I really hope this brings attention to a great problem in the black church b/c I really feel it’s worth talking about. Do not be intimidated about the racial differences. I am a 23 yr old black male btw, but firstly, a Christian.

    • Quincy Kujinga

      well said. too much drama and stand up comedy

  • Kevin

    Don, thanks for your comment. It brings up an important point that I’d like to throw out here: Is it really biblical to enforce one standard of participation in worship vs. another? The pastors at your church enforce one participation style that you found unhelpful, but wouldn’t it be easy to do the same thing with this article? What if I’m more comfortable sitting in the back, or not singing, or taking a closer parking space? Should I fear correction or lack of acceptance if I do those things? It bothers me to think that people in churches who promote this article will likely now have their heart motivations examined to an unhealthy extent if they’re not worshiping in the “right” way. None of this is really Biblical.

    • http://www.mylymbo.com Don

      I definitely feel you on that. I believe there is a time to praise God together with voice and body (the psalms have numerous calls to “shout unto the Lord” and to lift ones hands in praise and we know that David danced before the Lord as a form of praise). Collective worship can be a great place for that and I weekly try to embrace the presence of my church family as I sing to the Lord aloud or close my eyes in worship, pushing past my embarrassment (as ashamed as I am to call it that, but it’s honest) & my timid nature.

      My concern comes out in the delivery and acceptance of what we call the sermon. So much is going on while the pastor preaches, it seems not enough knowledge is being conveyed or trully weighed by the congregation. I tend to sit quietly and seriously weight what I’m hearing, but, unfortunately that is frowned upon more and more in the black church.

      In case it’s not clear in my points, I agree with what you were saying – I was just adding adjacent points.

      • Neil

        When David danced before the Lord he was naked! Hope this trend does not happen in churches. Thank you for the good article. Helps us to think about our attitude to worship and those around us.

    • http://www.nanasmouthpiece.blogspot.com Nana

      There’s nothing unbiblical about acting out of love towards a fellow Christian. All the article asks is for a little accommodation of each other’s shortcomings.

  • Pingback: Conduct worthy of the gospel in corporate worship « SODEGLO()

  • David L Hottel

    Thank you, This is why I seat in the front of Church. It helps me Worship better, with out seeing other’s

    • http://www.nanasmouthpiece.blogspot.com Nana

      If you want to worship in church without “seeing others”, you might as well stay home. The meaning of church is for Christians to come together to commune in one Spirit.

      • http://sustainablesteffanie.blogspot.com Stephanie

        I think it is wise to know if other people are a distraction to you and to know you need to sit in the front. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them or want to visit with them at appropriate times.

  • Chanho Kwak

    I’ve read so many articles like this one and it amazes me how people find these articles eye opening. I would think that these things are obvious to most but it shows how much church goers lack etiquette. Why is it that people throw out proper etiquette when it comes to church?

  • Ryan

    I understand what you’re trying to get at but was it absolutely NECESSARY to point this out? “Of course, there are rare exceptions when someone really is totally out of line. Such as the guy who brought his own tambourine one week.” It’s very rude. If they want to bring a tambourine to worship with the band then so be it, to think it’s “out of bounds” as if God set a boundary as to how worship needs to be is ridiculous.

  • Kevin

    Ryan, I think most of this article is out of line in the same way as it is with the tambourine bit. God does not set ANY of these boundaries as to how worship needs to be! The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus wholly and completely accepts and loves us with absolutely no regard for where we park, what row we sit in, or how long we stay after church. Are we accepting and loving each other the same way? I really worry that this post will cause additional burdens to be laid on believers whose pastors are influenced by this article. It’s happened many times before, and I would be so sad to see it continue.

  • http://www.growinginworship.com Paul Ellsworth

    Perhaps slightly tangential … but, I’m coming to the conclusion that we are too desirous of … individual worship. We come expecting to worship God *by ourselves* … with *my* preference of music … *my* favorite songs … and I won’t participate if *I* am not comfortable.

    It seems that the entire point of coming *together* as a congregation is to be engaged with others. If I come to a corporate worship service and try to shut out those around me so I can “worship” better, I think I’m missing something. If the point is to worship individually in the midst of a group of people that I’m trying to ignore, then why come at all?

    It’s difficult, sure, to be aware of others, to be encouraged and encourage, and to not be distracted. Maybe that’s part of the design? Learning to live with each other and learning to worship *with* each other, not *in spite of* each other?

    I am encouraged when I see and hear people around me singing, for example, during musical portions of the service. It’s encouraging to see others that are not ashamed to lift their voice in praise, supplication, etc. It’s encouraging to hear and see them engage in an exercise that exposes their convictions and emotions. It’s a “I’m not alone” sort of encouragement.

    The sort of cold, formal, “I’m next to you but I’m not really with you” version of participation doesn’t seem like it’s what God had in mind when He talks about assembling, talks about a “body” that works together, talks about a bride that Christ died for.

    Short version: corporate worship is not/should not be an individual activity where we sit in the same room and try to ignore everyone else so we can worship in peace. It should be a corporate activity where we worship while being aware of and even encouraging each other, where we observe each other’s example of devotion to Christ, where we try to model that same devotion, where we *join* together to worship.

    If I have a hard time worshiping in a church service full of people closest to me – same Spirit, same Lord, same devotion – I’m going to have a REALLY hard time worshiping when I’m *not* there. :)

    • http://www.nanasmouthpiece.blogspot.com Nana

      Thank God for you.

    • Sandra FOX

      Amen – you said just what I was thinking. We get so big on getting everything just right – by our perceived standards that we have very little time for heart change. Which, if effected would not need a ‘how to mind my self’ sermon such as this “Oh Behave Conduct….”

  • Neil

    “Even though we’d never say it, sadly we sometimes function as if everything before the sermon is some added extra or just the warm up for the preaching.”

    The problem is much deeper than this. Worship as a corporate body should never be regimented with a set number of songs, a sermon (monologue) and tithes. We all have bought into corporate worship with a pretense that it should fit a certain mold. The problem is the clergy/laity system does not allow the body to worship in spirit and in truth. Passivity among the laity is a result of clergy quenching all the gifts of each believer so a select few believe they should lead everyone to worship the Lord. Since when is the Holy Spirit restricted to the clergy? The passive Christians rely on everything to go according to a plan that quenches the Holy Spirit among the body. No one wants to point at the clergy/laity system as the problem. Instead, we write blogs, books, and make movies trying to fix a system that is the problem. When is the church going to wake up?

    “We’re prone to get this backwards. We come to worship thinking that we’re somehow giving to God, and we subtly expect we’ll be receiving from others. We desperately need to turn that pattern on its head.”

    Agreed! We need to worship in spirit and in truth. The Lord Jesus Christ wanted us to be unified as a body that we would bring glory to His name. (read Jesus’ prayer in John 17) We have all received spiritual gifts that work in unison. The clergy/laity system quenches the body because this system replaces the Holy Spirit’s provision for the local body with the spiritual gifts necessary for edification and love for each other.

    We have essentially replaced the Holy Spirit with traditions of men. The problem is that those who back the clergy/laity system are those who live by the system. Those who live by this system need to became very humble in order to agree that the clergy/system IS the problem. Unfortunately, the number of those who have walked away(clergy and laity) from this system believing it was the “church”, may never recover. Who then is to blame for this conduct unworthy of the Gospel?

  • Ed

    A hearty ‘thank you’ to David Mathis for this article. It is a needed correction to me as I so easily get distracted->frustrated->angry about the teenagers in front of me goofing off during singing or people talking loudly.
    To the commentors who have criticized this article as adding unbiblical burdens to corporate worship behavior: I’d go back and read it again if I were you. I don’t think the point is at all to enforce a standard of corporate worship behavior, but rather some *suggestions* for how to serve your brothers and sisters as you gather together.

    • mel

      Are we supposed to supernaturally not notice those things? Explain to me how that is possible.

      • Ed

        I don’t think we’re supposed to supernaturally-not-notice them…but I think the point of this article is that our *reaction* to those distractions reveals more about our own hearts than it does about the distractions. It definitely takes more grace to overlook the distracting behavior of others, but that’s what love does…covers a multitude of sins. I know i tend to err on the other side by judging and condemning people’s “inappropriate” behavior in congregational worship, but this reminder will hopefully help me to check my own heart when i’m tempted that way.

  • http://www.myvuze.wordpress.com Carlos

    I absolutely love this! I am guilty of a few of them while judging others on the same ones also. I try to escape church too soon instead of engaging and I do not sing as heartily as I could. I wrote a blog a while back entitled Selfish Christians. It’s worth a read.

  • Pingback: Bits & Pieces (9/21/12) | Better Things Ahead()

  • Pingback: Blasted Gourds | Grace Filled Corporate Worship()

  • Pingback: Preparing Yourself and Your Family for Sunday « Disciples For Life()

  • Cesar

    This is more precious than gold!
    Thank God!

  • Pingback: Grab bag « Words of Grace()

  • Pingback: Oh, Behave! Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship « he is like a tree()

  • Anar

    Here are my personal (reactionary) suggestions of how to think well of and for others in corporate worship.

    Don’t Start or end on time: why should we limit worship to our cultural constructs of time and punctuality? God is bigger and more grand than that. The preaching of the word if guided by the Holy Spirit doesn’t need to also precisely end on time, and worship is at its heart relational (about the relationship between the bride and the bride groom or the Father and His children), not a business meeting. Business meetings start right on time, relational meetings often feel less close if they have to.

    Don’t always smile: especially when reading something like Psalm 88 or confessing sins.

    Keep kids in the worship service: it does a disservice to not see (and hear!) those covenant families.

    • Neil

      Good point. It is great to have children in church service. If we put them out until they are older, then they may never come. train up a Child in the way he should go. When he is old he will not depart from it. (It will not depart from him)

  • Pingback: Links I Like | Blogging Theologically()

  • Pingback: Daily Roundup | Rated R For Reformed()

  • Pingback: Worshiping as you like… and as others like. How do you do that? « The Passionate Follower's Journal()

  • Pingback: Behaving Like A Christian In Worship (via David Mathis @ Desiring God) « mgpcpastor's blog()

  • Pingback: STOP ANNOYING ME | Pastor Kyle Huber()

  • Pingback: September Links 2012 | Cardiphonia()

  • Pingback: Oh, Behave! Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship « Christ Church Blairgowrie()

  • Pingback: Oh, Behave! Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship « Christ Church Blairgowrie()

  • Pingback: Los Banos Presbyterian Church | Worship in Spirit and Truth()