The Gospel Coalition

(Today I begin a multi-part series of posts on corporate worship: what it is and why it's important)

At sixteen I dropped out of high school. And because my lifestyle had become so disruptive to the rest of the household (I’m the middle of seven children), my grieving parents had no choice but to kick me out of the house.

Having successfully freed myself from the constraints of teachers and parents, I could now live every young guy’s dream. No one to look over my shoulder, no one to breathe down my neck, no one to tell me what I could and couldn’t do. I was finally free—or so I thought.

My newfound freedom had me chasing the things of this world harder than most others my age. I sought acceptance, affection, meaning, and respect behind every worldly tree and under every worldly rock. The siren song of our culture promised me that by pursuing the right people, places, and things, I’d find the satisfaction, security and significance I craved. If I could look, act, and talk a certain way, my deep itch to matter would finally get scratched.

But it didn’t work out that way. The more I pursued those things, the more lost I felt. The more I drank from the well of worldly acceptance, the thirstier I became. The faster I ran toward godless pleasure, the further I felt from true fulfillment. The more I pursued freedom, the more enslaved I became. At twenty-one I found myself painfully realizing that the world hadn’t satisfied me the way it promised, the way I’d anticipated. The world’s message and methods had, in fact, hung me out to dry.

I felt betrayed. Lied to. I desperately longed for something—Someone—out of this world.

One morning I woke up with an aching head and a sudden, stark awareness of my empty heart. Having returned to my apartment after another night of hard partying on Miami’s South Beach, I’d passed out with all my clothes on. Hours later, as I stirred to a vacant, painful alertness, I realized it was Sunday morning. I was so broken and longing for something transcendent, for something higher than anything this world has to offer, that I decided to go to church. I didn’t even change my clothes. I jumped up and stumbled out the door.

I arrived late and found my way to the only seats still available, in the balcony. It wasn’t long before I realized how different everything was in this place. I immediately sensed the distinctiveness of God. Through both the music and the message, it was clear that God, not I, was the guest of honor there. Having suffered the bankruptcy of our society’s emphasis on “self-salvation”, it was remarkably refreshing to discover a place that joyfully celebrated our inability to save ourselves.

I didn’t understand everything the preacher said that morning, and I didn’t like all the songs that were sung. But the style of the service became a non-issue as I encountered something I couldn’t escape, something more joltingly powerful than anything I’d ever experienced, something that went above and beyond typical externals. Through song, sermon, and sacrament, the transcendent presence of God punctured the roof, leaving me—like Isaiah when he entered the temple—awestruck and undone.

I was on the receiving end of something infinitely larger than grand impressions of human talent. God and his glorious gospel were on full display. It was God, not the preacher or the musicians, who was being lifted up for all to see. It wasn’t some carefully orchestrated performance (which, believe me, I would have seen right through). Rather, I was observing the people of God being wrecked afresh by God’s good news announcement that in the person of Jesus, he had done for them what they could never do for themselves. In and through the praising, praying, and preaching, the mighty acts of God in bringing salvation to our broken world were recited and rehearsed.

I was a “seeker” being reached, not by a man-centered, works-filled, trendy show, but by a God-centered, gospel-fueled, transcendent atmosphere. I was experiencing what Dr. Ed Clowney, the late president of Westminster Theological Seminary, used to call “doxological evangelism.” It was, quite literally, out of this world.

I tell you this personal story as a way to illustrate just how important a church’s corporate worship is—God used a worship service to save my life.

I view my story as proof that the way a church worships is a big deal. Paul made it clear to the Corinthian church that worship is not to be taken lightly—that when Christian’s are gathered by God to worship, they should worship in such a way that non-Christian’s in their midst leave saying, “God is really among you.”

A church’s worship, in other words, ought to be God-centered and gospel-fueled.

(To be continued...)


Comments:

[...] part 1 and part 2 of this [...]

[...] (This post is part 2 in a series on corporate worship that I began a few days ago. You can read part 1 here) [...]

Latest Links | blog of dan

July 26, 2010 at 05:51 PM

[...] Worship Is A Big Deal: Part 1 [...]

[...] Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, has begun a series on corporate worship of the church. This should be interesting, as we spent the better part of four months going through our own [...]

Brenda@Coffeeteabooksandme

July 25, 2010 at 08:26 PM

My son went through a time last year when he "lost his way" at the University. Fortunately, by the end of the year he felt that emptiness that the world offered and returned to the Lord.

What I found interesting was how much music played a part in all of this. The difference in the music he listened to then and now (although all being on the rather loud side). :)

Man is made to worship through music... either Satan's kingdom or God's. The music pulls us in one way or another.

David Schwartz

July 24, 2010 at 11:19 PM

My little PS is that when the service is over, we shouldn't be necessarily enthralled with the preacher, or the worship leader, or any other participant in the service (any of us). We should leave worship declaring to God, others and to ourselves how wonderful He is, extolling His attributes. That is true worship! We should expect that despite the woeful inadequacy of men (those who speak and those who don't).

JD Curtis

July 24, 2010 at 09:16 PM

I agree wholeheartedly. Worship is indeed, "a big deal". I will be attending CRPC for the first time in about a year tomorrow (Sunday) and I hope to post my impressions concerning the worship service if I may.

God bless!

Mike Pritchard

July 23, 2010 at 12:05 PM

Tullian,
I can't wait for what's 'to be continued', as we are thankful to God for your God-centered and gospel-fueled messages.

[...] “On Earth as it is in Heaven”, Tullian [...]

Roger Wood

July 23, 2010 at 03:27 PM

I think I have a sense where this is going, given some of Tullian's prior posts referencing Mike Horton's excellent book "A Better Way - Re-discovering the Drama of God Centered Woship." We are actors in God's drama of redemption, but this concept seems to have been lost in modern worship.

When one enters a worship service, it should be radically different from the culture, not a mirror of the culture. The danger of making worship more "culturally relevant" is the minimalization of the transcendent qualities of worship. IMHO, much of evangical worship needs to be reformed, with the question being asked of each aspect of the service "How does this portion of the worship invoke God and his saving work through Jesus Christ?"

bill (cycleguy)

July 23, 2010 at 02:43 PM

I have to fall in line with Mike on this one: I can't wait to see the "to be continued" parts. Loved the story and the application.

andrew

July 23, 2010 at 01:41 PM

Excellent article. I particularly appreciate your pointing out how sensitive folks are to things which they sense are emotionally manipulative "(which, believe me, I would have seen right through)." I think that as one ponders worship, our focus must be on the transcendence and imminence of our savior/creator and not on our response to those things. not that our response is not important - it is - but I think that when a worship service seeks to create an environment in which people feel worshipful, rather than one in which people are truly worshiping, the cart is being put before the horse. Or maybe more forcefully, we are turning from the One who we are to worship, and toward ourselves, effectively creating an idol. I think that people are sensitive to and appreciate worship which indeed "wreck[s] [us] afresh by God’s good news announcement that, in the person of Jesus, he had done for them what they could never do for themselves.

Articles and Blog Posts on the Church | fwb21

February 20, 2012 at 12:15 PM

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2010/07/23/worship-is-a-big-deal-part-1/ [...]

[…] [6] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2010/07/23/worship-is-a-big-deal-part-1/ […]

[...] Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part [...]

[...] I continue with my series of posts on corporate worship. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part [...]

Summer Study (Part 1) | blog of dan

August 3, 2010 at 01:01 AM

[...] Tullian Tchividjian: Worship Is A Big Deal: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) [...]

RevK

August 20, 2010 at 04:26 PM

We need a simple link at the bottom of each post leading to the next entry! Thank you,

mgpcpastor’s blog

August 16, 2010 at 06:25 PM

[...] excerpts and links to the full posts: Worship Is A Big Deal – Part 1: I didn’t understand everything the preacher said that morning, and I didn’t like all the songs [...]

[...] is the final part of a 6 part series I’ve done on corporate worship. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part [...]

[...] was reading Tullian Tchividjian’s five-part blog series Worship Is A Big Deal and came across this [...]