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Improv church

Teresa Stricklen | Bible Explorations

"Grounding ministry in worship ensures that God gets top billing."  |  Read: Acts 2:41–47

Last year Presbyterian leaders began talking about a goal of establishing 1,001 new worshiping communities in the next 10 years. Understanding what the Bible says about the connection between worship and ministry will help us work toward that goal.

Exactly what forms a church’s ministries should take depends on the context. As in the theater, there is an improvisational quality to ministry. The director of an improv troupe may tell the actors, “As long as you hit these marks, we’re good.” The marks are then specified and the actors improvise in keeping with their characters and the spirit of the story.

Without connecting ministry to worship, however, we run the risk of offering human programs that use God instead of allowing God to use us as we participate in God’s sovereign realm. Grounding the church’s activities in worship ensures that God gets top billing in all we do.

Worshipers including Mid-Kentucky General Presbyter Betty Meadows enjoy communion outdoors at Team Sweaty Sheep worship. Photo courtesy of Team Sweaty Sheep ministry

Pray: Psalm 96

Join all of creation in giving glory to God.

Study: Hitting the marks

Worshiping the triune God is the primary thing we’re called to do as human beings. Ministry extends our worship into all we do (Colossians 3:23); it grows out of and points back to the worship of the Lord. We are gathered and sent, sent and gathered in a natural flow between worship and the world.

Ministry doesn’t “do unto others”; it invites others into the divine presence to come and see for themselves the church’s story: that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18–19). As Christ’s body, we are to love (John 13:34–35) and bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).

So what are the marks of a worshiping community? The proper Presbyterian answer is that a church is where the Word is preached and heard, where the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist are rightly administered and where mutual accountability exists among members as they extend God’s blessing to all of creation by practicing what they proclaim (Book of Order, F-1.0303).

We get these traditional marks of a worshiping community from Scripture. In Acts 2:42 we read that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The apostles’ teaching was the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as interpreted through the Hebrew Scriptures. The Christians’ life together was structured by attending to “the prayers,” the daily times of worship in the temple. The breaking of bread continued the tradition of Jesus’ various fellowship meals.

Here we also have evidence of a standard pattern of Christian worship: the Jewish prayer service followed by communion at the end to celebrate the fulfillment of the anticipated realm of God. Koinonia, the Greek word for fellowship, means much more than coffee-hour conversations. It is the joining together of a tight-knit community that functions as a supportive family, tending to one another’s needs as unto Christ (Matthew 25:31–46; Galatians 6:2), helping one another (Hebrews 10:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:11) and sharing goods in common (Acts 2:45). All gifts are to be for the edification of the common good in Christ (1 Corinthians 12). 

Remember: John 20:21

Jesus said to his disciples, “As [God] has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim and offer signs of God’s reign by confronting evil forces that keep people from God’s intended goodness and by restoring people to wholeness (Luke 9:1–2). We are to love others as Christ loves us (John 13:34–35). In Matthew 28:16–20, we receive the Great Commission, to teach, preach, baptize and make disciples.

Live: In worship

Worship is not an activity but a way of being in the world before God and one another that values the triune God above all. Worship is more than just a me-and-Jesus piety. Amos 5:21–24 makes it clear that worship without justice is an abomination. Seeking God’s shalom in our relationships with all of creation is a natural extension of what we do together in worship. We glorify God by living as part of the body of Christ in ministry to the world. 



  • Where is the help for the dying churches; the ones whose membership is in rapid decline and whose offering is not enough to meet expenses? by linda sonne on 06/22/2012 at 4:02 p.m.

  • In 2003 I started a church with 3 families. We were chartered as Peace Presbyterian Church in Pearland in 2008. I just finished a stint as an interm pastor in Odessa, Texas and I'm back at home in Houston. I'm interested in learning more about the 1001 new communities in 10 years. Please call me at 832-453-4455 at your convenience. by Jim Gill on 06/14/2012 at 9:46 p.m.

  • Decent, in order, and improvisational, wonder-full worship! Thanks, Teresa. by Mark Giuliano on 06/13/2012 at 5:00 p.m.

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