I have been on staff at two very different churches. I have also been a member of several different churches as well. These churches have different emphasis that produce a variety of expressions in their worship. I am sure there are others who have experienced similar differences in churches.
Yet, one question that is not often asked is, “Is worship for me or us?” Or, perhaps the more accurate question is, “Is worship only for me?”
This question is pregnant with implications. If worship is individualistic, then my tastes, my desires, my outward expressions serve as the rule for proper and actual worship. So, for example, I am not an outward, emotional individual. I do not raise my hands, nor do I sway from side-to-side (unless I am holding one of my precious children). So, for me, worship excludes the raising of hands. To do otherwise may violate my conscience. My wife, however, often raises her hands. While I would be uncomfortable doing that, she is completely free in her spirit. What does this have to do with us? Much!
Worship is not primarily an individual experience. Worship, in the corporate sense, is about the church, gathering together and expressing praise to the gloriously sovereign God of heaven. Now, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with my personal experience in worship?
Again, I say much. One of the marks of our current society is individualism. Individualism, however, finds no place in Sacred Scripture. We are called to be the church (that is, believers). It is us, not me. With regards to public worship, we worship as a congregation.
How does this look, practically speaking? Hart and Muether write, “If, for instance, we close our eyes and lift our hands in a congregation where no one else does this, we are cutting ourselves off from other worshipers in order to pursue a personalized and privatized experience with God.” That is, if a congregation is used to maintaining a somber attitude, without bodily expressions, then an individual should focus on us rather than me. Likewise, if a church is more open to outward expressions, then the individual who feels so disposed should not hesitate in expressing accordingly. At the church I am currently at, we have men and women who do both. The main focus of this post is not how you worship, but how we worship.
Have you ever considered how others in your congregation worship? Have you ever thought about how you worship in connection with how the rest of the church worships? Are they contradictory? Are they conducive?
My hope, with this post, is to help us look at the church as a whole. Paul’s words, though addressing the consumption of meat, has special emphasis here, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decided never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13, ESV)
In worship, brothers and sisters, let us not put a stumbling block in front of one another.
 D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write, “When we come to worship [referring to corporate worship], we are not engaging in an individual experience.” D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2002), 139.
 Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe, 139-140.