A year ago last week, I moved to Denver. It’s hard to believe that this much time has passed, but it has. I have been working at a church during this time and it was early in this calendar year that I noticed a strange phenomenon: regular church attendance does not mean you go every single week. For a while, I ignored what I was experiencing in our evening Vespers service. But then I mentioned it to an area pastor who has been at his church for almost 20 years. He affirmed what I was experiencing as a normal part of ministry in this region. After this, I asked another local pastor who told me that although they have 450-500 people attend more than just Christmas and Easter every year, on a week-to-week basis they only average 200 attendees although most of those 500 people who claim that this church was and is their church home. This has forced me to think about why corporate worship is so important on a weekly basis and this post is, in part, some of my conclusion. Worship has to do with the formation of the people of God so that they reflect the image of Jesus Christ in this broken and hurting world. Although not a comprehensive definition of worship, it is one aspect that I wish to elaborate on. Because God is forming us into his people more and more, even as we are the body of Christ in all of our own brokenness and sinfulness, there exists an ethical aspect of worship. This is the critique of worship we find in the prophet Amos – the worship of the people of Israel is not fostering any sort of ethical responsibility in everyday life. Thus, part of worship is ethical formation.
Today, I want to elaborate of the formation facet. The word formation carries connotations of time lapsing, maybe even long periods of time, before a desired state is reached. We have to look no further than the formation of the Grand Canyon by the Colorado River over a long number of years. Or take an elite athlete who has honed his skills day after day to later become the best athlete of his day. I’m training with a group of people here in Denver for a half-marathon and each week, our coach emphasizes the importance of consistency in training. Rome was not built in a day. Neither is an elite runner. It is small steps each and everyday in a particular directions. If we were to now take his idea of formation back to the church, specifically the challenge many pastors are facing here in Denver, we realize that it is difficult to lead one in the journey of ethical formation, let alone spiritual formation is they only attend worship at their leisure. There is no consistency and where there is no consistency in training or formation, the effects can be little to none. This is a mindset that must be embedded in the minds of Christians – church and worship are essential in one’s own formation. And just like elite athletes say yes to certain things (i.e., weightlifting, stretching, proper diet), they must also say no to other things (partying all night, eating junk food, doing nothing in the off-season). At some point, we must say yes to church and no to the mountains or whatever else may be beckoning us away from worship formation.