Reclaiming Sunday Morning as the Church’s Primary Formative Event


One of the unique values of corporate spiritual practices

—those experienced regularly on Sunday mornings

—is that they shape and direct our desire for God in ways that private disciplines fail to replicate.

Over time, habits and rituals, combined with pertinent images and stories, reshape the way we relate to the world by molding and redirecting our desires.

Worship is one of those embodied habits that trains us to live in accordance with our desire for God;

it keeps our desire for God on track, especially in the face of trial and temptation. Gathered worship fortifies our desire for the Lord because there is a unique physicality to it. Sung worship, for example, is physically demanding; it requires standing, deep breathing, and singing, sometimes even hand clapping.

But in the process, music engages our emotions, evokes memories, and gets us in touch with how we truly feel. And singing is just one physical action experienced throughout a typical church service. We may also fold hands or kneel to pray; during the Lord’s Supper we ingest the bread and the wine. At its best, gathered worship is a holistic, visceral event that helps keep our desires aimed Godward by connecting our minds to our bodies, our thoughts to our emotions.

Worship, therefore, enables us to experience our longing for God on a gut level

—to the core of our being. Even when we allege that we didn’t get anything out of church, just being there keeps our hearts and minds aimed in the direction of what we truly desire:

a right relationship with God.

When we include church attendance as part of our weekly routine, we’re saying something significant about the kind of people we want to be and are trying to become. Private spiritual disciplines are of immense value for the spiritual life, but they do not shape our lives as holistically as corporate spirituality does. Regular participation in gathered worship is uniquely formative because it invites us to embrace

—with all our heart, soul, and mind

—our deepest desire for intimacy with God (Matthew 22:37).

It is time for third- millennium Christians to rediscover what the ancient church knew all along

—that Sunday morning is the ideal setting for church-wide spiritual transformation and that gathered worship plays a vital role in the process of discipleship.

The Sunday morning gathering is simply the most logical time for the church to carry out Jesus’ mandate to form disciples. Weekend church services are the most highly attended meetings in the life of the church; because services are weekly, they are an established part of everyone’s schedules. Relying solely on the small group ministry to form people spiritually will allow a church to influence only those who participate, which, in most cases, is a small percentage of the congregation. More church members are present on Sunday morning than any other day of the week, which makes it our best opportunity for spiritual growth. Since spiritual formation is the central work of the church, we need to reclaim Sunday morning as the church’s primary, formative event.

transforming worship book

Rory NolandAdapted from Transforming Worship by  Rory Noland. Copyright (c) 2021 by Rory Noland. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

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