Real Worship: Part 12: The Assembly Done Right

The goal of the assembly

Christian theology is centered on Christ. In particular, God sent Jesus so that God’s children could be formed in the image of Christ.

(Gal 4:18-19 ESV) 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

Countless New Testament passages set up Jesus as the standard for how we are to act and the kind of people we are to be. We run into this concept whether we are talking about how the Old Testament concept of worship is transformed in the new covenant or whether we are talking about the assembly.

Indeed, in those few passages that deal particularly with the assembly or with the Lord’s Supper, we find that the assembly is established for the purpose of encouraging our transformation into the image of Christ. Therefore, when we plan and design our assemblies, we must ask ourselves how the assemblies can be conducted in ways that transform the members into the image of Christ.

But, of course, that assumes we have a good idea of what that image is. And I know I’ve said this about 100,000 times, but it’s important: every time the New Testament holds up Jesus as an example of Christian living, he’s held up as an example of submission, sacrifice, and service. He’s never held up as an example of singleness (even in 1 Corinthians 7), dedication to prayer, commitment to meditation, or excellent personal evangelism.

(1Pe 2:21 ESV) 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

(2Co 10:1 ESV) I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ–I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!–

(Eph 5:2 ESV) 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(1Jo 3:16 ESV) 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

(Heb 12:2 ESV) 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

(2Co 8:9 ESV) 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.


So how can we conduct the assembly to achieve this goal? How could the assembly be used for true spiritual formation? I have a few thoughts, but only a few —

* One feature of the assembly should be encouragement to love and good works, not in the abstract but in concrete terms.

(Heb 10:24-25 ESV) 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

This could be as simple as encouraging members to visit the sick and shut in among us, but there should be much more. We should be encouraging our members to work with the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable of society.

(Jam 1:27 ESV) 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

* Therefore, another feature of the assembly should be encouragement to be sympathetic to the plight of the poor and weak of our community. We live in an age where many Christians complain that the government should not serve the poor because they should be cared for by private charity, while also complaining that the church should not be helping them either. We are capable of great contempt toward the needy.

(Mat 25:34-36 ESV) 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

(Isa 1:16-17 ESV) 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

(Lev 25:35 ESV) 35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.

(Mat 5:42 ESV) 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Now, Paul also taught —

(2Th 3:10 ESV) 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

But not everyone is able to work, and not all who work can earn enough to support a family. We need to learn the distinction between giving away money to feel better about ourselves and using the money God has given us to be a blessing to the poor — by helping them become employable where possible, and for those who cannot become employable, to help them as God commands.

* Communion should be seen as a reminder of Christ’s death — not just the forgiveness we’ve received but also the commitment we’ve made to become more like Jesus in his sacrifice and selflessness.

* Songs should be selected that encourage us to be more like Jesus. Yes, praise hymns are good, too, because we become like what we worship. But we should worship God for his compassion and generosity — the characteristics that mark Jesus.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live
O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
All who gather here by grace draw near and bless
Your name

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.


I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessèd Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.


All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.


All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.


All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!


(Not all the old hymns work by this standard, but many do. And so do many contemporary tunes. It’s just that you have listen to the lyrics.)

Ironic, isn’t it, that for many years, we tried to improve our singing by insisting on more praise hymns and, in so doing, forgot the value of mutual encouragement from singing to one another.

* Songs should be selected that praise God. No, I’m not contradicting myself. We need both kinds of music. You see, we become like what we worship. And so it’s critically important that we worship God and worship him for who is reveals himself to be through Jesus. It’s just that if we worship only vertically, well, we’d just as well stay home. The assembly has to be both horizontal and vertical, and over-emphasizing either can be very harmful to God’s purposes.

* Testimonies are among the most powerful of all teaching tools. It’s one thing for the preacher to brilliantly lay out the theology of surrender to Jesus, but quite another for a member of the church to tell the story of what happens when he actually did it.

You know, centering the assembly on the sermon is an innovation. If you were meeting in a First Century house church, there’d be no paid preacher delivering a sermon he labored over for 40 hours. No, the members of the church would share their lives, their victories, and their frustrations.

In contemporary terms, if a member active in Celebrate Recovery were to share stories of addicts cured by the power of Jesus, the lesson would be far more powerful than anything any preacher could bring. If a former addict were to come before the congregation to express thanks for being freed from drugs to serve Jesus, we’d all be in tears — and changed for the better.

* Announcements. People complain bitterly about announcements. For shame! What are announcements if not pleas for love and good works? If we announce the sick, church ministry needs, volunteer opportunities — that’s only boring to people whose hearts are several sizes too small. They are only boring because we don’t love the people the announcements are about.

* The right hand of fellowship. Most churches have a meet and greet time — to make certain visitors are greeted and that members have a chance to visit those near them. Good.

Some churches go to great lengths to create a mood of somber, quiet reflection before the “worship” begins, working to silence those who so insist in talking in aisles before the serious business of doing acts of worship begins. Wrong! All that talking before the service begins is the epitome of worship. You see, people are asking about sick relatives, inviting visitors to join them for lunch, seeking volunteers for the nursery — they’re encouraging each other toward love and good works.

In most churches, there’s far more worship going on in the chatter before the opening announcement than in the Five Acts that occur afterwards! Encourage the members to meet and greet — loudly and long.

If you’re building a new building, be sure to build a huge foyer. The foyer is where we are most likely to build relationships, show love, and encourage each other. Old-fashioned church architecture prefers a tiny foyer and huge auditorium, because the assembly is perceived as entirely vertical. Who cares if the pews are parallel and no one can see anyone else? We’re there to please God!

And, indeed, we are, and God is best pleased when we talk to each other to help shape each other into the image of Christ. And that requires space — physical space and time — to mingle and talk.

Therefore, churches do better to create spaces that encourage community formation. A great auditorium/foyer complex is one where people hang out for an hour after church — to share hurts, to comfort, to plan works of service — in other words, to do what Christians naturally do when the architecture and the worship leadership doesn’t get in the way.

* Food. The early church understood the power of eating together. Table fellowship was powerful then and is powerful now. We live in an age where next-door neighbors are strangers and it’s rare to invite friends over to your house except for a formal event, such as a Christmas party.

The early church engaged in routine table fellowship — a fellowship that crossed social, racial, and ethnic lines and built the church into a community.

Some churches today accomplish this through small groups, and others have routine covered dish dinners or even old-fashioned dinner on the grounds. Nothing builds community like table fellowship. And community is an essential part of being able to encourage, comfort, strengthen, and edify one another. It’s hard to comfort someone you don’t know.


If we worship the one true God, the God revealed in Jesus, then our assemblies will be Jesus centered and will make us a little more like Jesus every Sunday. But this won’t happen by accident. Indeed, it’s painfully obvious that we’re doing a pitiful job of it, as the older our members are, the more selfish they can be.

The next post will address selfishness prevention. But ultimately the cure isn’t preaching against selfishness — it’s preaching Christ and him crucified.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to Real Worship: Part 12: The Assembly Done Right

  1. I love posts like this. Such posts begin to touch the heart of where we live everyday. There is much to comment here, so let’s begin with the poor.

    As an American taxpayer, I give to feed, clothe, house, educate, and provide health care to the poor. Such programs were created by Christians, and we succeeded wildly. Some of my friends remind me that these are also socialist concepts. I think the socialists stole the ideas from the Bible.

    It is easy to confuse complaining about giving money to the poor generation after generation with complaining about how badly government agencies administer the money given to the poor. For example, I am all for contributing money to a central fund to educate kids. I have little good to say about how government agencies execute those funds.

    When we criticize, let us understand what we are criticizing. We we admonish the criticizers, let us understand what they are criticizing. We may need to join with them in their criticism.

  2. Price says:

    Now That's getting to the heart of worship !!

  3. wjcsydney says:

    Put a cafe-type coffee machine in the foyer (our foyer is large as our building is a custom built conference centre as well as a church) and serve coffee after the service! It promotes great fellowship!

  4. cordobatim says:

    Excellent post. A few thoughts:

    "centering the assembly on the sermon is an innovation." Amen! I had a brother tell me that he didn't like to say much when serving the Lord's Supper because he wanted to leave time for "what's really important." Of course he meant the sermon.

    "What are announcements if not pleas for love and good works? If we announce the sick, church ministry needs, volunteer opportunities — that’s only boring to people whose hearts are several sizes too small." Problem is, many announcements about meetings and administrative details, rather than service opportunities.

    "The early church understood the power of eating together. Table fellowship was powerful then and is powerful now." I've become convinced that this is one of the most neglected parts of our theology. Look at the importance of table fellowship in the Old Testament. It was one of the central items in their worship. Do we think that went away under the New Covenant? Too many people apologize for potlucks, rather than seeing them as a continuation of the assembly, a continuation of worship.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Skip says:

    No one can disagree with the fact that one of God's desires is that we become like Jesus. However this isn't the primary stated goal of God for us. The scriptures are very clear that God's 1st and highest goal is to bring us into a relationship with him and with his Son. Out of that loving fellowship will grow our desire to be like Jesus. The adage is true, "We become like those we love". Merely imitating Christ is not equal to being in a great relationship with him. The distinction is subtle but huge. I know many Christians who spend great energies in service to God but don't know or understand the God they aim to serve. Now this is tragic.

  6. Skip Gross says:

    Sorry, in the last line I meant to say "Now this is tragic."

  7. Nick Gill says:

    The distinction is irrelevant, because we cannot be in a great relationship with Him without becoming like Him. Serving God without knowing God is not imitating Jesus.

  8. Skip Gross says:

    The distinction is not irrelevant it is huge. Your sentence taken literally means that you believe no baby Christian can have a great relationship with God since it is based upon maturity. Thus, those most like Jesus are closest to Jesus. What about the parable of the tax collector and the sinner?
    Our access to God the Father is not based upon our performance, how much we are like Jesus, or our perfection. It is only based upon God's grace and our humility. It can't be denied that a more mature Christian will more thoroughly enjoy a relationship with God but our relationship with God begins and ends with His grace and our humility. All the good works and acts of love in my Christian walk do not bring me any closer to God than the day I believed and was baptized.

  9. Nick wrote "The distinction is irrelevant, because we cannot be in a great relationship with Him without becoming like Him."

    I disagree, sure we can. I've seen it lots of times.

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