Published by Crossway Books on February 23, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Theology
What Is the Role of Corporate Worship in the Church?
Christians worship God at church every week, but many don't know exactly what worship is or why they do it. For some, it's a warm-up for the sermon. For others, it's a "me-and-Jesus" moment. What is the biblically informed way to view corporate worship?
In this book, Matt Merker shows that corporate worship is the gathering of God's people by his grace, for his glory, for their good, and before a watching world. He offers biblical insights and practical suggestions for making worship what it truly is meant to be: a foretaste of God's people worshiping together for eternity in the new creation.
Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People is a recent entry in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series. Each of these books introduces the biblical basis for a particular topic, emphasizing the value and role of the local church and providing practical recommendations for church leaders. In this book, Matt Merker writes about basic elements of corporate worship, writing about who gathers, why local church assemblies are vital, God’s role in bringing us together, how church leaders should arrange services, and how the whole church should engage in the gathering and participate in vibrant, mutually encouraging congregational singing. Each chapter is succinct and well-organized, with core biblical points and practical encouragement.
Audience and Approach
I enjoyed reading this, and since I have not attended church in person for over a year because of COVID-19 and my health circumstances, this book was a deep reminder of how much I love and miss my local church, and why it is so important to be part of weekly gatherings. However, this book does not address questions related to the pandemic or virtual church approaches, and just emphasizes the faithful, routine gathering of the saints that churches experience during regular times. I think that this is good and helpful, since the author doesn’t make the book unnecessarily dated. What he writes about corporate worship applies to the past, present, and future, emphasizing biblical teachings about the nature of worship and the church body.
However, even though the overall emphasis is timeless, the book is definitely not universal. The author is inclusive towards different denominations and multicultural practices by focusing on core elements of worship instead of the cultural and preferential forms that they may take, but this book is specifically from a Protestant, white evangelical perspective. The appendix includes models of services from around the world, showing how different real-life churches have organized their orders of services, and the book’s general points are relevant for a variety of audiences, but most of the examples and illustrations come from predominately white churches where the author has been involved before. I think it would have enriched the book for him to include illustrations from minority churches and other people’s backgrounds.
There are also some unnecessary digs against Catholics. When the author writes about the Reformation, this makes sense for the book, and he explains how worship changed in response to a new understanding of God’s saving grace at work without the institutional church as a mediator. However, at other times, he is negative about Catholics in general, without providing any detailed argument or explanation for his views. These struck me as cheap shots that would encourage other Protestants to dismiss modern Catholic worship without understanding it in the first place. If the author had made a detailed case against Catholicism, he could have helped his readers understand the differences between these approaches to faith, but without proper scaffolding for his concerns, Merker’s remarks seemed to tear down people who often confess the same most essential elements of faith while worshiping very differently.
Stirring and Practical
Despite my concerns about some elements, the book as a whole is a stirring exposition of why corporate worship is so valuable, how we can order our services to the glory of God and the edification of others, and how we can handle different preferential issues with grace. This book can be helpful for pastors who want to evaluate and change trendy practices that emphasize cultural relevance over the gospel, and can help pastors and music ministers consider ways that songs, prayers, and Scripture readings can benefit everyone and enrich people’s connections with God and with each each other, instead of just serving as transition points in a service.
This book has lots of practical ideas for how churches can understand, promote, and arrange different elements of their services, and I appreciate the emphasis on how church leaders can help their members feel connected as a family, instead of simply inviting them into a darkened room to watch a production. I especially appreciated the chapter about congregational singing, and about how churches can encourage their members to sing together both through creating a culture of worship through song and by making sure that the volume from the stage is low enough that people can hear themselves sing and hear other people singing with them. Merker also addresses evangelistic concerns, arguing that even though churches should be sensitive to seekers, the best way to witness to them is to invite them into the church’s regular, biblical worship patterns, instead of changing the church service to cater to secular tastes.
This is a quick, encouraging read for pastors and music ministers, and I would also recommend it to laypeople who want to better understand the biblical basis for congregational worship, the importance of the local church, and ways that they can engage during worship services to bless and encourage others, instead of approaching church gatherings with a consumer mindset. I enjoyed reading this, and I found it encouraging, especially in its emphasis on the communal, embodied elements of worship. It reminded me how grateful I am for my church experiences in the past, and how much I long to be able to gather with my church family again, and is full of practical, encouraging wisdom.