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Disciple-Forming Corporate Worship

Every church has as its mission the making of disciples, but how does that happen? Two weeks ago I made the point that while such discipleship certainly involves teaching truth to the mind, that is not enough since discipleship is more than data transmission. Last week I supported this claim by looking at Scripture itself, which is more than simple a collection of doctrinal propositions; rather, the Spirit-inspired Word contains aesthetic elements that shape the heart and imagination in addition to the mind.

This understanding is a corrective to how we view corporate worship broadly speaking, and music within corporate worship more specifically. Many evangelicals today consider corporate worship as simply a Christian’s expression of authentic devotion toward God. Yet corporate worship is not merely expressive; corporate worship is formative. This is how corporate worship fits into the Great Commission: the liturgy of a church shapes the liturgy of life. How a church worships week in and week out forms the people—it molds their behavior by shaping their inclinations through habitual practices. When people engage in the liturgy that we have provided for them, they will inevitably be shaped by the values and beliefs worn into it. It is in Christian liturgy that a Christian’s heart, as Lewis said, is “organized by trained habits into stable sentiments,” where a Christian’s inclinations are discipled and trained, and where the negative effects of worldly liturgies may be counteracted. In and through corporate worship, believers are built up, formed, and discipled to be Christians who love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind. Corporate worship is not simply a gathering of a group of individual Christians who express praise and thanks to God individually or even corporately; corporate worship is the method through which God creates mature worshipers through the means that he has ordained.

You see, in a corporate worship service, we are not the primary actors; corporate worship is not us performing for God—that is paganism. A theology that says corporate worship is about us expressing adoration for God is still anthropocentric—it is about what we are doing. A properly theocentric theology will recognize that in a corporate worship service, God is the primary actor. It is God who calls us to draw near to him; we do not invite him to come down to us. It is God who speaks to us first; only then do we respond back to him. And even our responses should be based, not on the natural, authentic expressions of our hearts, but rather our responses should be framed by the words, forms, and affections ordained for us by God in his Word. Our natural, “authentic” responses are often immature, undeveloped, fickle, sometimes even sinful, and in need of reform. Corporate worship is the means through which God forms our image of him and matures our responses toward him.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.