In the book of Acts, Luke repeatedly pictured churches looking outside themselves and their own personal comforts so that others could hear the gospel message. For example, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:3-4). The first concern of the disciples in the Jerusalem church was not finding another place to worship. On the other hand, the priority of an inwardly focused church is the worship, and they have flawed character traits that can be seen in the way they handle their worship assemblies. The reason for their inward approach comes from losing the identity Jesus expected in his people. Below are six indications of an inwardly focused church that are seen by how they define worship.
- Worship takes on an “audience” and “consumer” mentality. Instead of Christians coming together to share their biblical discoveries, growth, and love for God, they come to be “fed.” Bible studies are heavily dependent on the knowledge of the teacher and are usually no more than a rehearsal of facts discovered and believed long ago. If the song leader, preacher, or Lord’s Supper talk falls short of fulfilling their personal needs and expectations, “worship” is deemed unsatisfying. In a consumer driven church the individual is never at fault for a “failed” worship.
- Attendance is the primary measure of faithfulness. While coming together to stir one another up to love and good works is critical in worship (Heb. 10:24), simply being present when the church gathers is hardly evidence of a growing, passionate Christian. The church at Ephesus was faithful to all the visible evidences of a “sound” church, but their love for the Lord was lacking and they were in danger of being lost. Even Laodicea had no doctrinal errors, but passion for Christ was tepid at best. The danger in considering attendance as faithfulness is that there is a tendency to stop “shepherding” one another when the attendance chart has a perfect score. Attendance may be a symptom of spiritual weakness, but by the time this symptom is observed other sins have already caught a disciple in a deep trap from which they may be irretrievable. Thus, the Hebrew writer encourages, “Exhort one another daily while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).
- Attendance is the primary expectation. Worship attendance does not represent a significant investment in the Lord’s cause. Jesus said, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This “attendance mentality” results in Christians who lose sight of the high expectations the Lord has for a disciple. Disciples are expected to carry a cross and hate their own life (Luke 14:27). Jesus came to “seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10), and “every disciple who is perfectly trained will be like his master” (Luke 6:40).
- Worship assemblies become the end-goal of the church. Worship, whether singing, praying, giving, learning, or edifying one another, are all tools to bring us to the higher goals of becoming equipped so that “each part is working properly, making the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16). Collective worship is not the goal, it is a means to the goal. Worship is not because God has needs, but is one of God’s ways of training us to love him and grow closer to him.
- “Togetherness” and church “family” are praised. Social functions and together times are priorities in an inwardly focused church. As has often been said, the church begins to resemble a club: attend the meetings, pay the dues, and follow the rules. Our spiritual family is a wonderful blessing, but Jesus admonished: “Leave the ninety-nine and go after the one that went astray.” Finding it, “he rejoices over it more than the ninety-nine who never went astray” (Matt. 18:12-13). We are to emulate the good Shepherd and look beyond our own “church family.” Often, this type of church unintentionally does not receive new members or guests into their inner circle. New members find it difficult to connect because the church is so focused on themselves and the tight friendships they have already nurtured.
- Worship and social functions are expected to create unity. In Philippians, Paul presented a different picture. He urged the church to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). Striving side by side is what brings a church together. Unity for unity’s sake is not the goal, nor is unity developed simply by a Sunday assembly or a potluck. Purposeful home Bible studies, joining in the “work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12), and being “fellow laborers” (Phil. 4:2) unite us. Disciples drop out when they lack purpose and feel disconnected. Assemblies alone do not create a strong connection.
New Testament writers spoke of worship as a means of equipping disciples for the work of “building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-16). Worship was never intended to be the primary function of a church, and an inwardly focused church fails God’s purpose.