Picture, if you will, a small white church building with Spanish architecture on North Riverside Drive. (This shouldn’t be too hard!) It’s Sunday morning and people are converging on the church from all directions. Some are coming from the South Side of Fort Worth. Some are coming from Mansfield. Others come from Weatherford, Haltom City and Azle. Some come from the Riverside area. They are business people, teachers, retired people, teens, children, nurses.... They are moms, dads, grandparents, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, marrieds and singles. All of them who know Jesus are ministers of the most high God.
They come to this church from their mission fields. They come to seek the face of God with their brothers and sisters and to receive new strength to serve Him in the many places where He has put them. They come with minds cluttered with the cares of the world, with spirits weighed down by troubles on their jobs or in their families. Sometimes they come after a week of victory. Often they come conscious of their own sinfulness. They come with joy, with fear, with guilt, with sorrow, with hopes, with turmoil. It’s not important how they come; what’s important is Who will meet them.
It’s kind of a dramatic picture, isn’t it? And yet it’s the absolute truth! When we come together as the church, God has promised to meet us in a special way. We come to worship. He promises to meet our needs, to give us grace for each day, to heal our hurts and to strengthen us. When we come to worship, we are not all “on the same page.” We’ve not all had the same kind of week. Our hearts and minds need to be prepared for worship. This is why we begin our service with a time called the Gathering.
The gathering serves as a time to focus us on what we are there to do. It begins with a Call to Worship, a verse or thought that reminds us that we are there to worship. Sometimes this might be a song sung by a soloist or a group. This is usually followed by the Invocation, which is a prayer in which we invite the Holy Spirit to move in our midst and to receive our offering of worship. We know that God is present--He has promised to be--but sometimes in this prayer we ask Him to help us sense or experience His presence in a fresh way.
After this prayer, we usually sing some songs. We do this because we have a model in Scripture of coming into God’s presence with singing. We usually begin with songs which testify of God’s goodness (such as Every Day With Jesus,) or which invite each other to come and worship (such as Come, Let Us Worship and Bow Down.) These songs are horizontal in that we sing them to each other to exhort each other to worship. These songs will gradually narrow in focus to help us look at some aspect of God’s character or work. Then they will become vertical songs which are sung directly to God in worship, as we pour out our love and adoration to Him.
This model of singing is based on the design of the temple in the Old Testament. The temple was built with outer courts, inner courts and the Holy of Holies. Many people believe that we enter the outer courts with thanksgiving, then move into the inner courts with praise. The Holy of Holies represents the throne room of God, where we fall at His feet in worship. While we don’t always follow this pattern to the letter, many times it is evident in the design of our worship service.
After we have sung to enter God’s presence, we have a special children’s sermon. Children come to the front and are seated to have a message that is easy for them to understand (and which the rest of the congregation usually enjoys as much as they do!). We believe that investing this time during our service is a way of communicating to the children and to all of us that they are a valued part of our body.
Sometimes we may have a choir special or other special music. We need to understand that special music functions in several ways. One of the ways is to sing the word of God to us. Sometimes the choir sings a song which is a sermon in itself. Another function is to prompt us to worship, perhaps to call us to worship, or to focus our attention on one of God’s attributes. A third function is to use some voices to make an offering of worship on behalf of the congregation. In those times, the congregation should be worshiping as well. One of the things that is not a function special music is to perform or entertain. Our choir and other musicians work hard to maintain an attitude of ministry and worship and to fight against any kind of performance mentality, so when they sing, don’t just sit back and enjoy it. Sing along, pray along, clap along, whatever is appropriate! They’re making an offering for an audience of One, and He wants the offerings of all of us!
Back to our picture of individual people converging on the church. If you can picture those people arriving in isolation and then coming together to be something much bigger than the sum of individuals, that’s a pretty accurate picture of the Gathering. We come as individuals, covered in the muck of the world from our week. We join together for the purpose of worshiping the One Who made us, loved us, died for us, rose for us, sustains us and is coming again for us. We remind each other of His goodness, we thank Him for His love. We fall together at the level ground at the foot of the cross to receive the mercy and grace each of us needs to survive, and then we worship from thankful hearts. Assured of His love and peace for us, we move forward to hear His Word.