Holy Discontent

| — Rev. Brandon Dirks — |

No More Public Worship


No More Public Worship

By: Rev. Brandon Dirks

This article WILL get me in trouble.  But I am already troubled by the emphasis on public worship.

It is not hard to look around the world at the overall Christian church and clearly see that the emphasis is on public worship.  We have cathedrals built for public worship and light and sound shows in contemporary worship.  Forms are filled out year after year reporting on “worship attendance.”  The local church calendar is centered around the days and times of worship services.  Churches invest a large portion of the tithes and offerings to staff and resources to build bigger, bolder, louder, more impactful services of public worship.  Usually the biggest complaints about the church are centered around the quality of preaching.  A local church advertised that they were increasing the number of their Easter services from 24 to 32 this year!

Many churches may not say it, but let’s admit the truth; most congregations’ top priority is the public worship.


 I have nothing against public worship, and in fact, I think it is important for every Christian to be a part of a worshiping community, but I think it is a tremendous mistake to emphasize this spiritual discipline above all others.  After all, Jesus NEVER emphasized public worship.

Devout Anglican priest William Law (1686-1761) wrote, “It is very observable that there is not one command in all the gospel for public worship.  One could say that it is the duty that is least insisted upon in Scripture.”

What Jesus did emphasize is a life of discipleship.  As William Law would put it, Jesus and the Apostles emphasized having the kind of faith that governed the ‘ordinary actions of our lives.’  “Pick up your cross and follow me.”  “Faith without works is dead.”  Deny yourself.  Give yourself away.  Do God’s will. Be instruments of peace.  Choose to have less.  Seek the lower places in life.  Desire to be filled with God’s will. Pray.  Pray daily.  Pray without ceasing.  Give your cloak away.  All of scripture is dripping with how to live a holy life. There is simply not nothing on frequent attendance to a holy hour once a week.

What would a church look like that emphasized being obedient to Jesus’ commands in the “ordinary actions” of one’s life?  My guess is…it might be a very small church.  Attendance at worship might be haphazard.  But I bet the small group experience is life-giving and life-transforming!

Well, Jesus never was concerned about the number of his followers, but he seemed very concerned about the quality of their faith.  Hmmmm………maybe Christians ought to start paying attention.


6 thoughts on “No More Public Worship

  1. Halleluiah my brother! I deeply value the traditional services; where time and silence are availed for private prayers. I have not found the more contemporary service to be as spiritually fulfilling as the tradition services. I wondered for a time why it was so. Then realized it had to do with not truly connecting through silent prayer.

  2. Very thoughtful — and thought provoking. Yep, it’s not the number of people but the quality of their hearts and minds toward the true meaning of discipleship and devotion to helping others on a regular basis. When I taught a 7th grade Sunday School class in MI, I asked the children what a hypocrite was. One kid said “That’s when you attend church service and be nice and then you go home and do the opposite”! I told him he had that word correct!

  3. Hi Brandon and all,

    I offer this as a different perspective. I strongly believe in the power of truths being held in tension; that’s why we need one another and that’s why conversations like this are a gift keeping us grounded.

    You are absolutely right, there is not a command in the Gospels to participate in worship with other believers.
    There is a simple, life-giving truth in Matthew 18:20, spoken by Jesus himself, ” Where two or three are gathered in my name,
    there am I with them”. Gathering with believers to acknowledge the One who created us and the Lordship of Christ is an act
    of gratitude, a reminder of my need to be in community. Left to “worship God without the community”, I’m in a dangerous position
    to fashion a solitary gospel in which I can fool myself. I need the body of Christ. Many times in worship, my brothers and sisters
    say what I struggle to say or sing when the spark in my soul is flickering, a word from the pulpit points out something I’m missing.

    It’s not about commandments, all of it is about a response of gratitude. As we share communion, we serve others because He served us, we deny ourselves because his amazing love fills us with a love which is overflowing. When I see my brother and my sister at the communion table, I’m forced to examine my relationship with others. Do I bear grudges ?

    I share these words as a framework for all discipleship. We’re not “doing God a favor” by following commands, We are finding the joy of being in relationship. Commandments are a gift which provide structure to keep us accountable. It begins with love which is then manifest in discipleship

    I don’t think we disagree. I do think that being in community is a sign of spiritual health and felt a need to share this perspective.
    Many are looking for excuses to be solitary believers. If it’s about “doing what is commanded”, we miss the point of the Gospel.
    We need one another in worship and in discipleship. I Cor. 12 .

    I’m sure the quality of my faith will never be good enough. That’s why I need to be part of a vibrant community to keep me on track.

    Thanks for pushing my thinking about this.
    Sending my best to you all

    • You are right, Dan, we don’t disagree. One CANNOT grow in relationship with Christ without being relationship with others. Christ demonstrated that in the way he invested in 12 men, and his command to those 12 to “go and make disciples” and “baptizing them” and “teaching them to obey.” My problem rests in the fact when churches OVER emphasize attendance to worship as the primary (if not only) means to make disciples. That simply is not supported in scripture. It is through investing life-on-life relationships that makes mature disciples (Colossians 1:28). It is both-and. Jesus modeled this way of making disciples, and I believe we do well when we follow his model.

      By the way, I recently ran into someone from the same small group that you participated in while you lived in Louisville. I loved hearing some of the same words from her that you used in describing the discipling impact that she is experiencing! I thank God you are making disciples…every where you go!

  4. Great conversation.
    Perhaps the issue is actually, “are we about the institution or the message?”.
    We all had some great Thursday conversations about that !

    Thought it was important as folks are often looking for a reason to disconnect.
    We both want communities to be so vibrant that they draw folks to discipleship.

    Exciting to see how you are investing in Rusty; he is gold !

    Hope you get to enjoy some family time this week.
    rock on !

  5. Pingback: When God Changed His Mind | Holy Discontent

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