I have a confession.
I grew up thinking that worship was only for believers. Now, I think you can make a case that only a believer can worship God in spirit and in truth, but how should we arrange our services with the third audience, the outside world, in mind?
A number of years ago, I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”. It’s not a very exciting title, I know, but the class changed my whole perspective on worship. Every week we had a different speaker who helped us understand what God has been doing in the world to build his Kingdom starting in the OLD TESTAMENT! Did you know that God’s heart has ALWAYS been to have the nations hear the good news? I hadn’t realized that this was God’s message to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to David and on and on…to Jesus and then the early church. God has always wanted his people to be a light and welcome anyone who comes. As God says in the Psalms (46:10, 47:1, 18:49, 22:27)
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him…
And as author and pastor, Tim Keller, writes,
It is a false dichotomy to insist that if we are seeking to please God we must not ask what the unchurched feel or think about our worship…God wants the world to overhear us worshipping him. God directs his people not to simply worship, but to sing his praises “before the nations.” We are not to simply communicate the gospel to them, but celebrate the gospel before them.*
Did you know that this happens at ECC? We have people to walk up to our pastors after service and say, “I’m not a believer, but I’m thinking about what you said…” We have people who are sitting in the seats who come to church, but aren’t following Jesus Monday through Saturday.
This is why I think Keller’s emphasis on the gospel is so important. Not just because unbelievers need to hear it (and they do!), but that the gospel is what all three groups need to hear! God wants us to tell him about what he has done for us in Jesus. Believers need to be reminded and shaped by the gospel. Un-believers need to be saved by the gospel.
We can focus only on seekers instead of encouraging believers and get lost in making Jesus “relevant”.
We can focus only on building up believers and make things incomprehensible and outdated for seekers.
We need to make sure that our services are fresh, conversational and understandable while always focusing on the gospel.
By focusing on the gospel, we bring all three audiences together in worship.
*Tim Keller quote from “Evangelistic Worship” as used in Rhythms of Grace. Thanks to Mike Cosper for the concept of the three audiences in worship. His book is an excellent read. I highly recommend it!