A title like “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group” is nothing more than Christian click-baiting. For this assistant pastor to make this nearsighted-misleading remark is ridiculous, meant for nothing more than shock value. It’s equivalent to a blog/sermon title of “Why Men are Better than Women”. The more I read it the more ridiculous it sounds.
I am a fan of Gospel Coalition, but I think “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group” missed the mark.
This blog seems to drive a wedge between two things the bible doesn’t separate. Yes, we need corporate worship. I fully agree with this. But just as essential to the Christian life as corporate worship is the need for real relationships. The bible does not place a value scale on these things, they are both essential in their own way. Just because corporate worship is unique (Heading 1) does not equate it being more intrinsically valuable. I’ve heard a pastor in my own church say, and rightly so, “people may come because of the preaching, but they stay because of relationships.”
If the author says several times throughout his blog, “But as much as you and I may love small groups…” “I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me…” I take note. If you don’t want to be misunderstood, then say clearly what you mean. And here is an idea, don’t title your article something you aren’t trying to say.
No church is perfect, but to value corporate worship more than personal worship or real relationships, or vice versa, neglects the full counsel of God. When all the emphasis centers on one aspect of worship, you are missing the fullness of the Church the way God intended. If you only engage in small groups to the neglect of corporate worship, you are wrong. If you only engage in corporate worship to the neglect of small groups, you are wrong.
The church is community, both in its corporate setting and in its relational setting. It is the Body of Christ with multiple pieces and functions. Each piece needs to work the way it was intended, without saying this function is more important than that function. Eph 4:15-16 “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
In this blog, Jason Helopoulos addresses four problems with corporate worship services, not four legitimate reasons why worship is “more important” than small groups. His title is misleading and of an arrogant tone.
Lets look at his four “points” in support for the greater value of Corporate Worship. (please re-read the original points as I am dealing directly with their content.)
Too “pastor-centric” – This point seems to imply that God speaks only in the corporate context! God speaks in many ways, one of those being in the corporate worship setting, but there are many other ways! YES we need to listen. That happens in my private worship time, my small group time, and my corporate worship time! Since when did Job’s hand over his mouth in 40:6 refer to being attentive to the public sermon of a pastor? Wasn’t this a private encounter between God and Job? And to use the NT reference of Mary as choosing the best thing in Luke 10:38-42 as a support for corporate worship being more important than small groups is preposterous. The article says, “Mary was commended by the Lord because she chose what was best. She knew that when the Lord speaks, we are to listen, absorb, and delight in hearing His voice.” Umm, wasn’t this a small group meeting in Mary’s house, of Jesus teaching to believers? Seems pretty clear that God does speak in small group setting just as easily as the corporate setting. God speaks when He wants, we need to listen. WE NEED BOTH ENVIRONMENTS!
Too Passive/ Too Boring – These points are basic Discipleship 101, not support for corporate worships being of greater value than small groups. In any setting – my personal bible study, my small group, my corporate worship experience – if I come to the table passive and bored, it is my sin problem. It is not the problem of the environment. What about the environments Helopoulos uses as examples? Is there a corporate emphasis in Romans 12:1-2? No, in fact it the pronouns are pretty personal: “present your bodies” “your spiritual act worship, “renew your mind” “that you may discern what God’s will is”. In Hebrew 4:12 is “our soul pierced” expressly in a corporate setting? NO, it is a general statement about the active nature of God’s word in ANY setting. Was Isaiah’s experience in a corporate setting in Isaiah 6? NO. Was John’s experience in a corporate setting in Revelation 1? NO, he was under house arrest on an island. Are any of these references lending support to the arrogant claim that “Corporate Worship is More Important than Your Small Group”??? Give me a break, NO.
Too Impersonal – The author points to the communal prayer, singing and participation in the sacraments as aspects of real fellowship within a corporate context. Has anyone said it is not? Do vibrant small groups somehow diminish these? Fellowship happens in a variety of contexts and modes. Is one form of fellowship more valuable and one less valuable?
What about the Lord’s Supper? Didn’t the early church do this in homes? Wasn’t it based around a real meal, aka the love feast? How are these first century house churches not more akin to our small groups of the modern age than the modern corporate worship service? Helopoulos says, “And nothing declares that louder than our partaking of the Lord’s Table together in worship” – This is one piece of the puzzle, yes. But a very biblical idea is not how often you receive the elements but rather as Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When Jesus had his small group in the upper room and ordained the Lord’s Supper, he did so with acts of service within intimate relationships. How well does that characterize our corporate worship services today?
I’m not calling any church out, but I am calling for a holistic well-rounded view of the Christian life, one in which the corporate worship experience is just as vital to the growing Christian as the intimate relationships within small groups.
Here comes the big bait and switch. The main point of the title is directly changed in his closing paragraph. Helopoulos says, “I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me. They serve a real purpose in most churches, but their importance cannot and does not supersede our gathering together in corporate worship.” So all of a sudden this article is about small groups superseding corporate worship? It sure seems that the title and opening lines say clearly this article is about how the importance of corporate worship supersedes small groups.
The title is not even really discussed in this article. As a whole it represents a shortsighted view to its readers about what the Body of Christ look like in a modern American, context. To pit the two environments against each other is not healthy, as both are integral to Christian development. Why this author feels the need to make such superficial claims is probably an extreme reaction to an equally extreme position, namely “my small group is more important than your worship service”. In trying combat the error he errors in the same manner. I believe he is does a disservice to a generation that is seeking Truth in the context of authentic community.
My prayer is the Church would see the need for both sides of the coin; engaged corporate worship and intimate Christian relationships. One is not “more important”, both are essential.
*** side note: I am sure Jason Helopoulos is a great guy and if we were able to hang out we would have tons in common. My blog is addressing the ideas (both stated and implied) within his content. Grace and peace to you Jason and may your ministry be fruitful.***
I think you probably saved me the effort of writing something up on this myself. Good points, I can just share your instead.
I still have my concerns over the shape that our worship services take, but conceding that they may be appropriate, your points still stand. Thanks