What Is a Worship Service?

By Sarah Logan

I’ve often found the phrase “worship service” a curiosity. If worship is something we DO, as active participants, then why is it called a worship “service”? Why the word “service”? Wouldn’t “meeting,” “gathering,” or “event” work better? Why, over the years of Christendom, have churches gravitated towards the word “service” regarding a Sunday morning gathering?

I am one who is curious about language–why we use the words we do and how language changes our impression of things. I want to know what words actually mean, as if in the knowing, I might find meaning that I seem to be missing. If only the parsing of words, and the breakdown of syllables could render such gold as real meaning. People go on life-long quests for that sort of thing. While I, in my illusory reverie, imagine it can be found in holding a word long enough in my thoughts to gather a crumb of insight. 

And yet, this practice, or imagination habit, has taken me on rabbit-trails and yielded good fruit. My pondering of the word “service” in relationship to “worship”, in fact, has led me to surprising outcomes: specifically, gratitude. Let me explain.

Churches over the years have employed various terms for their gatherings. A group I came from used words like “meeting” (notice the lack of the definite article “the” – we would simply go to “Meeting,” almost a noun-verb blend). They used “Assembly” often, but that sounds quite functional. Some places simply call the gathering “Sunday Worship.” I like that–it indicates worship is an everyday occurrence and so they specify which day this worship is occurring. “Corporate gathering” sounds almost clinically descriptive.

So, why “service”?

I have lived in various places around the world and fellowshipped in far-off lands, batting flies and mosquitoes rhythmically during singing, noticing the sweltering humid heat and beads of sweat on everyone else while not bothering to wipe the drips from my own face. I know what is involved in gathering people together. Anytime a church must be set up and taken down each meeting, the word “service” takes on a new meaning. 

In many churches, the worship service requires your service and mine: we are the servers. Each week that I walk through the doors at Rez, I know I am about to be served. What am I served? A feast. There’s no other word to describe it. I feel particularly spoiled–I simply come. Others have prepared music, a table, an instruction, a reading, a prophecy, a prayer, a ministry. They show up having given themselves to providing what my soul will need that day. That is not to say I don’t bring anything to the service. But as a not-formally-serving-in-some-capacity on Sunday morning, I notice full well what I am being served. I am being taken in, welcomed, ushered to the throne-room of Grace. I am invited to feast at the table of mercy. I may be out-of-sorts, grumpy, disheveled, or weary of life. I may be joyful, content, or pleased with myself. However I come, I am gathered with God’s people, and served. I am given the opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” 

I was always taught in my formative years that “Church isn’t about you and what you get, it’s what you give.” “You don’t go to church to get your fix; you go to give your due.” “Church is not a building, it is the people.” “If you’re going to go TO Church, go BE the Church.” Suffice to say, over the years I viewed church as a place to spend myself, to pour out, to minister. When we came to Rez, I didn’t know how much I would need a season of receiving, being served, and being welcomed to the feast. 

It is a worship service because we are served–by others like ministers of the Word and Sacrament, janitors, greeters, and logistics coordinators (plus sound crew, musicians, and whoever prints bulletins!). But we are served by the great King himself, the Lord of the Universe, Shepherd of our souls. He meets us in the service of others, spreads a table for us to savor his goodness. He welcomes us to his family gathering, throws wide the doors of his heart of love and says, “Welcome, come in, feast with me!” Our gracious host serves us by speaking to us, allowing us to hear his voice, and instructing us with his kind parenting. We are served a place of rest, hope, and course-correction. Our worship is as much receiving as it is giving–we simply cannot give our worship without receiving the serving grace of Christ.

In closing, I’m reminded of a song we used to sing:

“From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King.
He calls us now to follow Him!
To bring our lives as a daily offering!
Of worship to The Servant King.

So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him
Each other’s needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving”  

(Excerpts from “The Servant King” by Graham Kendrick)

When Sarah Logan isn’t blogging, meeting with directees for spiritual direction, or hosting a spontaneous gathering, she’s probably sleeping or muddling through the latest family drama–of which five kids and multiple in-laws provide plenty. A missionary kid from Hong Kong, married to a missionary kid from Zambia, Sarah often meditates on her heavenly citizenship, humming the old hymn, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…” which can be found in one of the hundreds of hymnals she’s collected. Enjoy her other musings at sarahsbonnetbees.blogspot.com

Photo above by Michael Johnson

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