The Sunday worship gathering is the greatest point of tension among the leaders of our church. Just about every conflict that arises among staff members and elders has something to do with the Sunday gathering. Some of the tension is rooted in our differences of stylistic preference and interpretation of cultural context. Some of the tension has to do with numbers: attendance is down and we have a large budget to uphold. But I would say that all of the tension comes out of the chasm between where we currently are and where we could be, in terms of how we view ourselves in worship.

Several years ago we came to the realization that we had gotten really good at doing the Sunday morning thing, but something was missing. We were good at facilitating newcomers and attendees, but our vision didn't really extend beyond Sunday morning. The Sunday gathering was the be-all-end-all of spiritual life for most people. The spiritual identity we reinforced in people was convert and churchgoer. Worship life consisted of going to church and inviting your friends to come to church so they can get converted. Conversion and going to church are good things, but if the vision is limited to this, if Christian worshipers see themselves merely as converts and churchgoers, then worship can only amount to formality, "the rigid observance of rules of convention or etiquette" (according to my dictionary widget). If the goal is to make converts and go to church, then worship will be reduced to formalities. Ever look at your congregation on Sunday and think, "Boy, we are really good at rigidly observing the rules of church convention and church etiquette, but where's the life?" It may be that your people don't have a spiritual imagination beyond conversion and going to church.

But there's more to our identity than this. Jesus doesn't tell us to make converts who attend your church. He tells us to make disciples and to follow him in God's kingdom mission. When we begin seeing ourselves as disciples and missionaries, the Sunday gathering will be all about formation. Formation (according to my handy widget) is "the action of forming or process of being formed." Christian worship is formational encounter with God. We give ourselves to the actions set before us, fully expecting the Spirit to meet us right where we are with transformational power. Our posture is not one of consumption, but one of self-giving. Worship becomes the service of the people rather than to the people. Volunteers begin to see themselves as leaders with the empowered responsibility of discipling others. And attendees become missionaries who are equipped in the Spirit and sent out in Jesus' name. Rather than the Sunday gathering as the be-all-end-all of church life, it becomes part of the whole, one of our rhythms of discipleship. We are missionaries who gather weekly for worship. See the difference? If disciple-missionary is our identity, the Sunday gathering will be for spiritual formation.

Lots of paradigm shifts, I know. But this transition doesn't just happen. We don't think ourselves into new ways of living; we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. Some churches react to this identity crisis by stopping the Sunday gathering altogether, or by stripping the gathering of its form. But if you take away the form, you've removed the -ation along with the -ality, not to mention you've just replaced it with another, probably less grounded, form. There are significant theological reasons we do the things we do in worship. Can we figure out a way to allow God to transform us through our existing forms of worship from mere convert-churchgoers to disciple-missionaries?

Have you experienced the Sunday gathering as formality? Do you think it is an identity issue? How do we live into this new way of seeing ourselves, from convert-churchgoers to disciple-missionaries? What role does the Sunday gathering play in this process?

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