(Appeared first in October 2012, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.—Acts 2:46-47 (TNIV)
Luke’s lavish portrayal of the worship at First Church of Jerusalem makes me feel a little envious. I think that’s a good thing. At least I sense that was Luke’s goal in writing Acts—to stir up holy ambition for a vital faith. Those first followers of Jesus in Jerusalem worshipped in a winsome way, wooing new people into the fellowship as God opened the way.
As part of my role as executive director, I am privileged to worship with many congregations across Mennonite Church USA. I can tell that some of these congregations really enjoy being together. They greet one another with enthusiasm and join heartily in worship. They exude hospitality for guests and linger for a time after the service. These experiences always give me hope for the future.
The truth is, without enthusiastic engagement with God in worship, no church is likely to thrive or attract new people. The quality of the worship service contributes to the mission of the church, as explained below:
Missional character trait: Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future.
Signpost: There is significant and meaningful engagement in communal worship of God, reflecting appropriately and addressing the culture of those who worship together.
When the saving power and presence of God is evident in worship, it draws new people into the fellowship. Especially in today’s entertainment culture, we may be tempted to substitute glitz and glitter for the authentic gold of the gospel. What matters most is that worshippers have a sense that they have encountered the true and living God, not just the projection of their human longings.
The Apostle Paul laid out recommendations for the worship services at Corinth. He voiced the possibility that when certain actions take place in the service, newcomers will exclaim, “God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25).
Sadly, many in Mennonite Church USA are less engaged in worship than we were a decade ago. Our worship habits have changed, and sometimes they move us in the wrong direction. If you don’t worship weekly with a congregation, what do you put in its place? I’m defining “congregation” broadly here. I could include small groups meeting at times other than Sunday morning.
Even though my responsibilities take me across Mennonite Church USA, I make it a practice to be in my home congregation half the Sundays of the year. That’s because I need these times of corporate worship. I have not found an adequate substitute for face-to-face meetings in worship. For me, participating in a regular church service or small group is an essential part of celebrating God’s mission in the world.
I belong to a Sunday school class that has a practice of looking for evidence of God in each worship service. As our group reflects on God’s movement among us, we see it in many different ways.
It’s often during times of corporate worship that I sense most deeply the goodness and graciousness of God. It may sound strange, but I often feel the deepest emotion in my home congregation at the time we receive the offering.
After we give our offering, we stand and sing a doxology as the ushers lift our tithes and offerings before God. It’s a time of enthusiastic praise and thanksgiving for God’s good gifts. For me, it is a vivid reminder that God has blessed me in more ways than I can count. Such generosity inspires me to pursue God’s mission with vigor and enthusiasm.