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Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Like most of you, I love small groups. I love the “give and take” of the discussion. I love the interaction with others. I love the questions raised and the answers discovered. But as much as you and I may love small groups, corporate worship is more important.

Someone recently commented to me that pastors are the only ones who really enjoy Sunday mornings as the high point in the week. I hope not! This individual insisted that other Christians look forward to their small groups more than corporate worship. She said it is more exciting for the congregant to be in a small group where they can ask questions, pray for others, discuss their own views, and get to know one another more intimately. I understand this sentiment and appreciate the desire to connect with others, but in all humility I would say to this well-intentioned individual, “You don’t understand the distinct privilege corporate worship is. We are communing with the saints before the holy throne of a majestic God.”

Corporate Worship Is Unique

It is on the Lord’s Day, in the Lord’s house, with the Lord’s people, meeting with the Lord that the Christian should find their greatest delight. It should be the high-point of every Christian’s week. It is unlike any other assembly; no matter how enjoyable small groups or any other gathering may be. In 1 Corinthians 11:18, we read of instructions for “when you come together as a church,” indicating that there was a unique gathering “as a church” that was not the same as a few Christians hanging out and talking about Jesus. Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect meeting together (literally, “do not forsake the assembly of yourselves”). The word for “meet together,” episynagogen, refers to the formal gathering of God’s people for worship, not just friends listening to sermon downloads in the same room or engaged in an inductive bible study. God’s people gather weekly for worship. Our lives are lived from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, as each week we long to “journey to the house of the Lord” to meet with our God and with His people.

The contention that corporate worship is not as stirring as small groups usually revolves around four complaints: it is too “pastorcentric,” passive, boring, and impersonal.

Too “Pastorcentric”

It is argued that, “As congregants, we merely sit in the pew and listen to a monologue for thirty minutes. Is the preacher the only one with a meaningful word to convey? It doesn’t seem right that one man would speak and everyone else should listen.” I would suggest that such views serve more as a reflection of our own vanity, self-importance, and individualistic Western cultural mindset than anything else? There is a reason the sermon has never been exchanged for a question and answer time. We gather to hear proclamation, not discussion. The pastor is ordained to minister the truth of God’s Word and administer His sacraments. Therefore, when he enters the pulpit, he is to speak and apply the Words of Christ to His people. The service is not “pastorcentric,” it is Christocentric. We need to hear a Word from outside of us. He is the Creator, we are the creation. He is the King, we are His subjects. He is the Head, we are the body. He speaks and we listen. Like Job, it is right and good that we would put our hands over our mouths and just listen to what the Scriptures tell us about who God is and what He requires of us (Job 40:4). Fallen human beings need the weekly routine of listening, which requires a halt to the questioning, philosophizing, and speculation we so often entertain. Mary was commended by the Lord because she chose what was best. She knew that when the Lord speaks, we are to listen, absorb, and delight in hearing His voice (Luke 10:38-42). There is a time and place for discussing and asking questions about the Word of God. It serves a real purpose, but frankly, it matters more what God has to say than what we have to say.

Too Passive

The second complaint lodged against corporate worship usually concerns the contention that it is too passive, whereas small groups provide more opportunity for involvement. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of what happens in worship. Corporate worship is anything but passive. The congregation not only participates when it sings, but is to engage the prayers prayed, the confessions read, and the preaching of God’s word just as actively. In fact, every element of the service should engage our persons. We are to listen not only with our ears, but our very hearts. We are to have our minds renewed (Romans 12:2),  our souls pierced (Hebrews 4:12), and apply it to our lives that we might walk in truth (1 John 1:6). This occurs by attentive, edge-of-the-seat engaged, expectant and faith-filled listening. Corporate worship is not passive! If we are attending it rightly, we should not only leave the service refreshed in Christ, but expended.

Too Boring

The third complaint too often lodged against corporate worship is that it is boring compared to the interaction that occurs in small groups. What is boring about meeting with the living God of the universe? Ask Isaiah if it is boring to meet with a holy God(Isaiah 6). Ask John if it is boring to commune with a glorious God (Revelation 1). Ask the saints, angels, and living creatures in heaven if it is boring to be in the presence of the God of salvation (Revelation 5:6-14). Just as they are enjoying the very presence of the Lord and it fills them with delight, so it is to be with us. As real as the people are in our small group Bible studies, so as real is God’s presence with us in corporate worship. God is meeting with us by His Word and His Spirit. There is nothing boring about that!

Too Impersonal

The fourth complaint lodged against corporate worship in favor of small groups is that it is more impersonal. No doubt, we should enjoy the fellowship with others that small groups afford. Small groups serve a real purpose. As I said, I am thankful for them. Churches suffer when there is no forum for life on life discipleship, group Bible study, and a place to ask questions. Yet, our fellowship in corporate worship is no less real. When we sing, we are not only singing unto the Lord but to one another (Colossians 3:16). When prayer is offered by a pastor or elder, we are not silent spectators. Rather, we are joining our voices together as is demonstrated by our corporate “Amen” in closing. When the sacraments are taken they not only signify and seal our communion with the Lord, but with one another (1 Corinthians 11:17-12:31). We are one body, unified in one Lord, one Spirit, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:3-6). And nothing declares that louder than our partaking of the Lord’s Table together in worship. As wonderful as shared coffee cakes, hugs, and group discussions are, they do not surpass the intimacy we enjoy and are reminded of when we partake of the body and blood of the Lord with one another.

I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me. They serve a real purpose in most churches, but their importance cannot and does not supersede our gathering together in corporate worship. We are the church. Worship is what we do. We gather together to meet with God, to hear His Word, to partake of His sacraments, to offer Him prayers and praise, to give our offerings, to confess our sins, to hear once again His assurance of pardoning grace, to dwell with Him. And we do this together every week. It becomes the very pattern of our lives. And though routine, it is the most important and glorious aspect of our lives.

 

 


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51 thoughts on “Worship Is More Important Than Your Small Group”

  1. I am willing to bet that most church-goers come to church out of a well-worn tradition, and that most come NOT expecting to hear from God. Many church bulletins emphasize last Sunday’s attendance and offering amounts, is this what God wants to hear from true believers. God can not be conformed within any church walls and His presence assumed to be there. Does any pastor ask whether what is being said and done in each service is pleasing to God? I think not. Words spoken by the pastor does not assume the Word of God is truthfully preached. And for the most part, I have not heard many sermons related in any practical way to ordinary people’s lives during the rest of the week. The two often fail to mesh during the worship services today. And this is not preaching or doing worship according to the Word of God, which tells us clearly what pleases God. Not what the church activities and services are during the week, but acting upon the Word of God with issues of justice and loving one another deeply, encouraging one another. This is not just the activity of a sermon or a choir or any single event occurring in worship or Sunday school. It comes from the action of hearts in tune with the whole Word of God. In many church services the pastor’s role and other members of it constitutes as seen by visitors mores a role of authoritarianism than anything else. It is also not enough for ushers, deacons, and others just to smile at people coming in and hand out bulletins if any. Today the churches show little in the way of constructive community, and this is also true of small groups. As far as the sermons are concerned, the Word of God reaches few hearts as most pew-sitters are thinking of other matters and probably couldn’t tell you much of the sermon’s contents after the service as well. Today churches and society as a whole have huge problems that need to be addressed. It is not being done by pastors or other leaders. I dare say that the Lord is probably not too pleased the way worship is being conducted today and then left behind the walls until the next service. The Spirit of God cannot be conformed to the ways of men or their thoughts, including in those who believe their church roles as pastor or other offices assume the Holy One’s presence and pleasure is always there when they are.

  2. Melody says:

    I love and need both.

    I love Sunday morning worship; I love our pastors’ sermons. They’re encouraging and convicting and help me re-center on God.

    I love my small group. I never would have gone if the pastors hadn’t encouraged it so much, but I’m so glad I did.
    Having that community has been essential for strengthening my faith.

  3. Joseph Hansen says:

    //They serve a real purpose in most churches, but their importance cannot and does not supersede our gathering together in corporate worship. //

    I don’t know anyone who holds an opposing view to this. Who is this article directed at persuading? Who ever said that small group is just as important as corporate worship?

  4. Melody says:

    Joseph, I’ve known a number of people and seen more in online comments who feel that corporate worship is a waste of time. He did outline their view in the post.

  5. Mike says:

    Neither is more important than the other. They are both important expressions of the body.
    I find the logic and points in the article lacking.

  6. You reference 1 Corinthians 11:18 to encourage our assembly, which is out of context, but still fair, but you seem to forget, or ignore what is written a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33. In that passage you see a picture that is much different than the one that you are presenting. You hvae a picture of participatory worship. You have multiple people encouraged to share a prophetic word, letting the “others weigh what was said”, and each person was exhorted to contribute “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation”. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Paul wasn’t nearly as influenced by the “individualistic Western cultural mindset”.

  7. Chris Haven says:

    I have to agree with the previous reply. As I read passages like 1 Corinthians 12-14 it seem to me that what we call “corporate worship” (a term never used in the NT to describe a church gathering) is really more like a small, interactive, edification-producing group than an event where the main action takes place on a platform in a large auditorium. So I think we do have to be careful that we are not creating too large of a distinction between the two venues and reading into the Bible our contemporary Western culture of Christianity. In some parts of the world today your “small group” is your “worship service.”

  8. Bob Williams says:

    Saddened by the arrogant tone of the blog with no apparent real acknowledgment of the 1st century church context vs today’s often “very corporate” western style services. There is certainly a case to be made for the church gathering for communal worship (not corporate worship), but by building a strawman worship vs small group argument, an opportunity was missed.

  9. Edmond says:

    Does the word translated gathering infer corporate worship? When such assumption is made then Jason’s argument holds, but when we consider Christ concept of gathering and gathering as illustrated in Acts, the logic in the argument falls apart. There is no record substantiating corporate worship is the passive pastocentric kind exhibited in most churches. Corporate worship involved corporate engagement beyond nodding to a song or sermon. A small group best fits the biblical description

  10. beth says:

    The problem of church being boring bothers me. I am bored at church at least 50% of the time. Probably more.

    I have polled lots of people from devout Christian grandmothers to gay men. And everyone in between and they may not agree on gay marriage or politics but they all agree on one thing… church is boring. At least in America anyway. I know the church did not survive and thrive by doing things the way they are done now for 2000 years. Something is going wrong. I love Jesus Christ and his bride. But something is surely amiss and I am not the only one that feels it.

  11. Nathan says:

    Like others have indicated, I’m not exactly sure what this article is trying to accomplish. Making direct correlations between the “assembly” in the NT with our Sunday morning corporate gatherings exclusively is quite a leap. There are any number of contextual, historical, and maybe even grammatical hurdles that are simply not even addressed here. While there is inevitably some who will pursue small groups to the neglect of the larger gathering, this response almost seems like a massive swing to the opposite side of the pendulum.

  12. Mikee says:

    This is a great article because I have finally learned that the author of Hebrews did not expect people to obey 10:24-25 by friends listening to sermon downloads together.

    BTW – just about the whole section”Too “Pastorcentric” proves the point that the pastor of these kinds of churches is above and different than everyone else when the Bible says he’s fundamentally the same as everyone else.

  13. Gary says:

    These complaints of boredom bother me. Scripture is clear that God himself is present in the assembly of believers and the Scripture, rightly exegeted and preached, is the very words of God. If that is boring to you then something is wrong.

    I also kind of agree that the premise of the article is false… small groups are corporate worship, just a different expression of it. Most of the commands to believers, aside from sitting under the teaching of the elders, are best expressed in smaller groups anyway.

  14. Gary, I don’t think that the cries of boredom are necessarily related to the Scriptures themselves (I would hope not), but to how we are interacting with them. One would assume that those who are meeting in small groups are interacting with the Scriptures as well, and are energized by them. My reading of 1 Corinthians seems to point to a more lively and interactive service than what we see today. If the interaction that we are called to is supposed to be more interactive ( and not in the way it is redefined here) then it would follow that if we are not acting that out then we are likely to become bored.

  15. Jon says:

    I increasingly see a programmatic overemphasis on small groups. I think that having a small community of believers that regularly speaks into your life is very important, but I don’t think that needs to be or even necessarily should be a formal group that “belongs” to your church. I understand that churches like the idea of small groups as a means of keeping people connected to what “that church” is doing. But, I think it is more important for believers to be connected relationaly to The Church. In that regard I believe that corporate worship is FAR more important that attending at “church sanctioned” small groups.

  16. Brad says:

    I just had this discussion with my pastor about a week ago! We both came to the same conclusion: both are equally important!

  17. Gus Supan says:

    So we can’t commune with the saints before the holy throne of a majestic God.in a small group?”

  18. Gus, I really don’t like to assign motives, but this really does seem a lot like trying to elevate pastors to that high priestly position that only Christ rightly dwells in. They equate hearing a sermon with hearing from God, which when the word is rightly conveyed, is true. But, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, when the scriptures are rightly parsed, even by a seven year old girl, we are hearing from God.

    We do the Body a disservice when we raise one man and his gifting above the rest of the congregation.

  19. Adam says:

    It seems the content of this article does not support the claim that the title makes. In fact is seems arrogant. While i am sure the author has good intentions, this is probably an extreme reaction to an equally extreme position, namely “my small group is more important than your worship service”. In trying combat the error he errors in the same manner.

    Here is my response blog: http://adamlickey.com/2015/03/04/a-response-to-worship-is-more-important-than-your-small-group/

    Grace and peace to you, and may the church be well rounded and biblically informed.
    Adam

  20. If by worship you mean a 20 minute or so singalong to professionally played music, no. I can’t agree. That IS what worship has been reduced to. A singalong with professional music designed to manipulate the emotions, preparing them for a sermon. Now, I consider worship to be layered…from conversation, praying together, studying the Bible, sharing the Lord’s Supper, Baptism…all of the above is a part of worship. Is there music involved? Sure. But I think that our culture has broken worship down to a singalong and anything else isn’t worship. EVERYTHING in the life of the believer, done to the glory of God is worship. There isn’t anything that ISN’T worship.

  21. Ransom, I agree with what you are saying. I actually touched on that in a post I put up a few weeks ago if you are interested. Would like to have feedback.

    https://dswoager.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/target-practice-worship-music-2/

  22. AR says:

    Thank you. My pastor has often flat out said that if you had to choose between Sunday service and small group, he would rather you go to small group. But as good as small groups are, I don’t think the Bible discussion done in that setting is the same as “preaching the Word” that we are commanded to sit under. I think the music worship can be as good, but I’ve been in a lot of small groups that don’t even have a time of praise and worship with music. I do think small groups can be a good place for corporate prayer, but it’s still not the same as the entire church body agreeing with a leader’s prayer for something. Another problem with small groups is that they tend to be people who all have a lot in common, same neighborhood, kids all the same age (and all married with kids), same socioeconomic status, etc. It’s just not as much the body of Christ with every joint supplying. Again, there are a lot of great things about small groups and the Christian fellowship and caring that they support. But I think the larger, corporate gathering for preaching of the word, corporate worship, and corporate prayer with the entire body should come first.

  23. I spent years in this context. But recently a fresh reading of the New Testament, apart from our current construct and context of church, has shown me that I haven’t been quite as faithful to what the word actually says as much as I once thought. I shared my thoughts here.

  24. David says:

    I thought this article was truthful and was actually very encouraging to me. I haven’t been a Christian very long (only 20 months) and before my conversions, the corporate worship was boring for me and I couldn’t wait to get out of there and this is what you would expect from someone who has not been converted.

    But since my conversion and finding a “better” church to go to, now I can really relate to what the author is saying in that the Sunday service has indeed become the high point of my week and that I have a real sense that I am joining in with the saints in worshipping our great and good God and that I am on the edge of my seat and become expended. Also I am glad that my” under shepherd” takes very seriously his duty to “feed his sheep” and it is because of his efforts on Sunday morning that our worship is so God centered. Much thanks to the author for such an encouraging article for a new Christian.

  25. Zack says:

    Thanks Jason. Great article. The part that kills me, is that God has promised to meet with his people during corporate worship. This is a direct requirement by God, and we have the duty and honor to enjoy God and love the saints on Sunday morning. We shouldn’t take it for granted.

    I responded a little more elsewhere:

    “The small group Bible study is a tool used by the church to accomplish a part of what God has called the church to do: Love and admonish the saints and to reach the lost. The small group can no more supplant the church than the tire can supplant the car.”

  26. christanand says:

    I am servant of God please pray for our ministry we need some assistance our poor children and orphans behind the ministry we need some bibles and tracks to give unreached people thank you AMEN

  27. In essence todays church service is nothing like the 1st Century gathering of saints. Doesn’t scripture indicate when 2 or more are gathered in my name I am there with them. Shoots in the foot the claim you have to be in church to experience God

  28. Gus Supan says:

    In my mind the whole way we do church today misses the mark.

    After the apostolic age it appears that the “Temple Model” of Christianity with its sacred places, led by sacred people, with control of the sacred texts, controlling sincere followers, was re-instituted after Jesus said “it (the Old Covenant) is finished”; that is, it was replaced by a New Covenant, with a new command, a new ethic, and a new movement.

    Throughout church history, ever since the end of the Apostolic Age, Christianity in all forms, especially the Roman Catholic Church, has retained, in varying degrees, the Temple Model of Christianity by permeating the “Temple Model” into the “Jesus Model”, thus hindering the advancement of the gospel by it’s promulgation of Temple Thinking into the minds and hearts of sincere people.

    The “Jesus Model” was clearly articulated by the Apostle Paul when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6) “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
    The question then remains, what does love require of me?

    It is hard to understand why God in His sovereignty has allowed this to take place. A question asked, what is it He is waiting for us to do, if anything? Surely God is not pleased with the state of the Church in America today. Maybe He is waiting for us to cleans the church of the “Temple Model”. He ended the “Temple Model” and began the “Jesus Model” He died to unfold.

  29. Guys, I tried to hold back on being too overly cynical, but what is the Gospel Coalition other than a collection of the “Sacred Teachers” who are the figure heads of the monstrosity that is the American Temple?

    I talk about these things all the time, and still have a problem with occasionally wanting to be a “disciple” of Tim Keller. The system is broken, and it twists everyone who is in it.

  30. To Gus ans Dallas
    All excellent comments. The solution to all this temple stuff in my view is simple ….don’t follow anyone but Christ and don’t put your hard earned cash into the temple institution. No money and no following… the temple institution ceases to exist. Mind you I have worked in the church for 40 yrs and it took me that long to wake up to my self and see the truth. Now as a Chaplain I go to non Christians and provide Christs grace to them. They love the concept of “every needs forgiveness, everyone needs compassion and the kindness of a Saviour”. Gus I live in Australia and the church is no different than the US counter part. I recon God is waiting for us to abandon the temple model and seek after Christ. If we do that we will see amazing things happening. All that is needed is for us to align our will with His…..and see that the temple of God the Holy Spirit is not a building but flesh and blood. Blessings

  31. Neville says:

    Jason’s blog is very familiar, it’s the old, old self justifying clergy control system. How this system is demonstrating worship is a deep mystery to me, Jason seems to be depicting a pale version of the Levitical priesthood, what has that to do with followers of Christ the High Priest of our faith. The Letter to The Hebrews that Jason relies on to claim his view is the very scripture that demolishes his position.
    Jesus severely condemned those who taught the traditions of men as if these were the commands of God. The edifice of clergy control is a tradition of men.

  32. Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.”
    ― Garrison Keillor

  33. For a “Master of Theology”, Helopoulos sounds more like an apprentice!

    The fact that the author of this article has a “Masters of Theology” dumbfounds me even more that the Gospel Coalition approved this. There is nothing in the NT that justifies some of his implications. The title alone implies a false dichotomy.

    To the woman who seemed to be blessed more in a small group worship setting, Helopoulos says “You don’t understand the distinct privilege corporate worship is. We are communing with the saints before the holy throne of a majestic God.” I’m presuming his second sentence is qualifying the previous one. This is another misleading implication, that those of us who are communing with the saints before the holy throne of a majestic God, in our small groups, or anywhere else, are not in engaging in privileged worship.

    I would write much more, but enough said from others comments.
    http://www.thechurchin.com.au

  34. A. Amos Love says:

    Jason

    Was wondering – You write…
    “The pastor is ordained to minister the truth of God’s Word and administer His sacraments.”

    Is this written anywhere in the Bible?

    From the Bible…
    Which sacraments need an ordained pastor, to administer?
    ————-

    And, what about Jesus teaching His Disciples…

    John 6:45
    It is written in the prophets, And they shall be ALL taught of God.

    John 14:26
    But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,
    whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you ALL things…

    Mat 23:8
    But you, do NOT be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.

    And, Paul taught, in 1 Cor 14:26…
    …when ye come together, **every one of you** hath a psalm,
    hath a *doctrine, (*Teaching.) hath a tongue, hath a *revelation, (*a disclosure of truth, instruction.)
    hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

    From the Bible…
    Where is a pastor needed, ordained, to minister, understand, the truth of God’s Word?

  35. Matt says:

    Try selling this article to Priscilla and Aquila of Romans 16. “A few Christians hanging out and talking about Jesus” is a picture of a New Testament church. The first couple hundred years of the Church and even underground churches in many countries today are held in small homes. The version of church mentioned in this article is the American / Romanized church. It is not a biblical model at all. I don’t think there is anything wrong with “big” churches with devoted buildings and trained pastors, but it is by no means a biblical standard. If people don’t like large corporate worship, it’s not their problem, it’s the church’s problem.

  36. Enoch says:

    Probably I will add a fifth complaint, and it my personal complaint: “I don’t get Fed”. Indeed when I attend corporate worship, I expect to be fed the unadulterated word of God. But when sentiments and “entertainment” becomes the content of corporate worship, I will rather stay home, read books and listen to messages. As I indicated, this is a very personal complaint. I am a Charismatic who has been exposed to Reform Theology and finding a reform congregation in my part of the world is close to zero. The who he Christian landscape has been affected by charismatism and I just don’t look forward to corporate worship because I come out empty than I entered. Bad preaching (if it can even be described as preaching). So I will rather stay home and listen to downloaded messages for my edification. I know it is wrong, but you must experience a Charismatic style of worship and probably, you will sympathise with me.

  37. Enoch it doesn’t have to be a charismatic style service (which I have experienced many of) that keeps you at home. Any denomination or local Church that focuses on entertainment and never ending sermonisation with little linkage to taking Christ into your daily walk with people should be avoided. By staying at home you get to chose what you see as good food. Find a small group that has a goal of seeking after a ever closed relationship with Christ and each other is more useful. Blessings and I don’t see what you are doing as wrong just necessary for the time being.

  38. Enoch says:

    Thank you Grahame….bless you

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