Worship, Service, and the Local Church

Worship and Service

Humans are designed to serve masters. People naturally live to serve their masters, or functional gods. In one sense, to serve is to worship, as in “man cannot serve God and money” (Lk. 16:13). One of the beautiful things about the Church is it is made of individuals who have been rescued from serving idols, and transformed into people serving the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). Service and servitude are major aspects of the Christian life, both for the individual and for the local body. In the worship gathering, service can take myriad forms, but should ultimately be an expression of worship directed to God.

Before implementing practical forms of service, it is important for Christians to understand what serving God is, and what it is not. As John Piper puts it, "There is a way to serve God that belittles and dishonors Him."4 In fact, there are counterfeit ways to serve God which are actually idolatrous. One can serve God with a 'debtor's ethic,' in which one tries to pay God back for salvation. One can serve God begrudgingly, reluctantly, out of a sense of duty which is absent not only of desire, but even of a right attitude. One can serve God out of a desire to glorify oneself (Phil. 1:15). This kind of service is usually driven by the desire for preeminence, and can take many subtle and hidden forms, both outside and within the heart.

Theologically, in biblical service by God's people, the one responsible enough to receive the glory is actually God. This is the beautiful and unique reality of the Church as Christ's body. John Piper explains:

"All the other so-called gods make man work for them. Our God will not be put in the position of an employer who must depend on others to make his business go. Instead He magnifies His all-sufficiency by doing the work Himself. Man is the dependent partner in this affair. His job is to wait for the Lord."5

This is a theme throughout Scripture. In Psalm 50:12-15, God says:

"If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” This theme is manifest in Philippians 2:12-13, Galatians 2:20, and Colossians 1:29. The recognition that God is the One who empowers true service is essential. Piper summarizes it: “The only right way to serve God is in a way that reserves for Him all the glory.”6 The one who serves must acknowledge this truth, both to give glory to God for the service he performs, and also to grow, learning to get out of God's way and let God work through him.

The specific forms Christian service can take are as varied as the people who perform them. In the worship gathering, the possibilities are more limited (if only by time and space), though no less powerful. Service takes place in the worship gathering through the many mundane and unseen tasks that must be accomplished, such as preparing for or cleaning up after a gathering, trouble shooting technology problems, helping people find seats, or giving out bulletins. Service takes place in meaningful conversations, when one believer serves another through encouragement, admonition, or instruction. Service takes place through teaching, singing, giving, etc.

Perhaps one of the major ways service relates to the worship gathering is simply through the organizational advantage of a place to touch base, regroup, and reorganize. The worship gathering can be a time to plan effective service for the week. In order for a mechanic to serve a widow through his trade, he must first know of her need. The worship gathering is a natural place for this communication to take place. Of course, for this to be effective and comprehensive enough, it must be intentional. The person with a need should be humble enough to share; the person serving must be willing, available, and loving enough to listen. The Church as an institution should be open to the idea of programs to facilitate service.

Service should be an integral and often unseen part of the worship gathering. The members of the body must be ready to practice the 'one anothers' in ways that are inconvenient, stretching, even painful. Churches must work to avoid the idolatrous pitfalls of false service. They should also work to facilitate growth and practice in love and service. The worship gathering is the main corporate event where the saints are equipped for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).

4John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2002), 40.

5Ibid., 40.

6Ibid., 44.