Living Worship

Worshiping God in Corporate Gatherings and in All of Life


The New Testament clearly speaks to the importance of our corporate worship gatherings (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:23–25; 1 Peter 2:5, 9). Above all of the church’s other activities, the corporate gathering for worship is what defines a local body of believers. The identity of a local church is most obvious and most compelling when we are gathered for corporate worship.

We come together, and then we scatter into the world, but then we come back together again. It’s been compared to breathing: we must bring air into our lungs, but then we need to let it out. So too, a healthy local church must come together but must also scatter into the world between its corporate gatherings.


But the New Testament makes it very clear that worship for the Christian is much more than what takes place in the corporate gathering. In the gospels Jesus asserts that the time and place of worship is no longer of paramount importance. Instead, he says, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” and when “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21, 23). 

Building on this foundation, Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1). If, as Jesus said, worship is not limited to a time and place, it must mean that it can and should take place at every time and in every place—that is, in all of life we present to God our bodies as living sacrifices. This, Paul says, is the appropriate response to all of God’s mercies that Paul wrote about in the first eleven chapters of Romans. Because of all that God has done for us and in us through Christ, it is only right that we should present our bodies—that is, our whole lives, our whole selves—to God as an act of worship.

This goes hand in hand with Jesus’ summary of the Law: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself”” (Luke 10:27). Devoting ourselves to God as living sacrifices is our first and highest priority, as Jesus made clear when he said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). 

Paul addresses this total devotion of the self in worship elsewhere in his writings too. In 1 Corinthians he says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). A few chapters later he adds, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Jesus and Paul make clear that our lives can never be separated into the sacred and the secular. It all belongs to God, who bought us with the death of his Son. This does not mean that there are no longer any sacred times or places, but rather that every time and every place is sacred to the Lord. It all belongs to God.

John Piper puts it this way:

The root of Christian living and the root of congregational praise are the same, which is why for Paul worship simply cannot be merely or even mainly thought of in terms of Sunday services but of all of life. His is an absolutely God-saturated vision of Christian existence. When our whole life is consumed with pursuing satisfaction in God, everything we do highlights the value and worth of God, which simply means that everything becomes worship (Piper, 254). 

This is the New Testament understanding of worship. Worship is much more than what we do in church on Sunday morning. Worship is not wholly dependent upon the worship leader or the worship team or the pastor. It’s to be part of our everyday life: a lifestyle of worship where we live, where we work, where we play. We dare not put the entire burden for our worship on our church staff or on what goes on in the Sunday morning service.

A Symbiotic Relationship

But should our corporate worship, our “weekend worship,” prepare us for our “weekday worship,” our weeklong walk of worship? Or should our weekday worship prepare us for our corporate weekend worship? 

The answer is both. Worship as a church and worship as a lifestyle are in a mutually enriching relationship. In nature, this is called “symbiosis.” Flowers provide food for bees; bees help the flowers reproduce by carrying pollen to other blossoms. Some birds will keep larger animals insect-free by feasting on the bugs that like to bite the bigger beast. 

“Weekend worship” and “weekday worship” have a symbiotic relationship.


Let Us Draw Near: Biblical Foundations of Worship 

To go deeper in your examination of what scripture has to say about worship, see Ron Man’s Let Us Draw Near: Biblical Foundations of Worship  © 2023, Cascade Books.  

“This book is not only the result of careful study of what the Bible teaches about worship. It is also a field-tested guide for a variety of effective ways to teach that material to others. . . . Ron Man has been doing this work for many years, and the fruit of this learning is reflected here. It is of great value that Ron began this work as a deeply curious, pastoral musician who realized early on that to prepare and lead God’s people in worship is a formidable priestly, pastoral, and prophetic task, one that invites us into lifelong prayerful engagement with the Bible and theological reflection.” 

—John D. Witvliet, Director, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship 

Weekend Worship Enriches Weekday Worship 

Joining together in corporate worship can strengthen us, motivate us, and prepare us to walk a lifestyle of worship during the week. We come to church out of a week in which we have been bombarded by forces that deny the reality and primacy of God, and we need the encouragement from coming together and reminding ourselves of who we are: “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9).

Listen to how the writer of Hebrews encourages us to harvest all the benefits of our corporate gatherings:

  • “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). We are invited to come into the Lord’s presence together through Christ.
  • “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). We are invited to grow in hope by reaffirming the truths we hold in common.
  • “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). We draw strength for doing good by building one another up as we come together.

All this and more is ours as we gather as a congregation to offer our hearts and voices to God in harmonious praise, to bask in God’s grace and goodness, and to hear and respond to God speaking to us through his Word.

Thus, we are fortified to go out into the world and represent him. King David was fortified in this way, as we see in Psalm 63. There it tells us that David is in the wilderness of Judah, fleeing for his life after his son Absalom rebelled against him. In this desperate time David cried out: 

You, God, are my God,
      earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
      my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
      where there is no water.
—Psalm 63:1

David was in the most desperate situation he had ever faced. His very life was in danger. Yet this psalm is one of pure praise; there is not one petition or complaint in the entire psalm. In fact, David is far from Jerusalem and the tabernacle, so he can’t fulfill any of the external rituals or requirements of the old covenant system, but he instinctively knows that he can come to God in worship because he recognizes that “You, God, are my God.”

In his desperation, David draws upon his memories: 
“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory” (Psalm 63:2). His past worship experiences help to sustain him in this time of crisis. So even though his very life is in danger, David can declare: “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” (Psalm 63:3). 

David’s previous weekend worship empowered and deepened his weekday worship—even in the desert. Our weekend worship can do that for the deserts we go through as well. But in this symbiotic relationship, a life of worship during the week has a tremendous effect on what happens as we gather on Sunday too. It’s a two-way street. 


Alexander, Eric. “Preparation for Worship.” Acceptable Worship sermon series. 

Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad. 3rd ed. 
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010. 


Weekday Worship Profoundly Influences Our Weekend Worship

There are times in all of our lives when we will come to church empty, and God will meet us and fill us again. But a healthier pattern for a growing Christian is to come to the service out of a week of walking with and worshiping God, with a heart already full of gratitude and love for God. Then we join our hearts and voices together in something that’s so much more than the sum of its parts.

Our weekday worship helps to strengthen and deepen what we experience in the corporate gathering. Both our lifestyle of worship and our times of private worship feed into what happens on Sunday. As we “eat or drink or whatever [we] do” to the glory of God in our daily lives, it helps to enrich what happens in worship on Sunday (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Eric Alexander speaks powerfully to the importance of private worship as a foundational preparation for corporate worship:

Public worship, you see, is impossible except against a background of private worship. And in so many ways the quality of our worship when we are together will be a reflection of the quality of our worship when we are alone . . . because the public ministry of the Word, vital as it is, is never a substitute for the private reading of it. Public waiting upon God together as His people . . . is never a substitute for private waiting upon God in the secret of our own soul. 

. . . And if you do not regularly bow before God in private worship and adoration, you will find it a strange thing to do with other people on the Lord’s Day. . . . This is why . . . faithful attendance on the private means of grace is of the very essence of preparing ourselves for worship (Alexander, 11:31–13:12).

The folktale “Stone Soup” provides a powerful illustration of this symbiosis.

This is the story. Three soldiers coming home from war are tired and hungry. They see a village in the distance and say to one another, “Let’s go into the village and ask for some food.” But the villagers see them coming, and seeing how they don’t have a whole lot of food for themselves, they conspire together to hide the food that they do have. When the soldiers come asking for food, the villagers say, “Sorry, we don’t have any.” But the soldiers are not fooled, and in their shrewdness they say, “That’s all right—if you’ll just give us a big pot full of water and some smooth, round stones, we’ll make stone soup.”

The villagers wonder about this, so they comply with the soldiers’ request and provide them with the pot and the stones. The soldiers set the water and stones to cooking. After a while they taste it, and one of them says, “This is really good, but if we just had a few potatoes it would be so much better.” One of the villagers sheepishly says, “I think I might have a couple of potatoes” and runs and fetches them. The soldiers cut up the potatoes and add them to the soup. After a while they taste the soup again, and one says, “This is really good, but if we just had a little bit of cabbage, it would be so much better.” And another villager says, “I think I might have a cabbage or two.” The cabbages are brought and added to the soup. The same thing happens with celery and carrots and all kinds of other good things. Finally this marvelous soup is ready. The soldiers invite the whole village to join them, and they feast together, and the villagers marvel at these soldiers who could make such a wonderful soup out of stones and water.

The basic elements of our worship services are in one sense like those stones—they’re just the beginning. Those who are able toss into this “pot” of worship their abundance—the love and gratitude—that comes from walking with God and worshiping God during the week. But others come with hearts to be mended, with questions or laments. They are equally welcome. 

It is this coming together to contribute what we have that makes worship in the congregation really special, a feast to be celebrated and a fragrant aroma to our God.


How can worship leaders and pastors design corporate weekend worship services that acknowledge the reality of weeklong worship for members of their congregation? How can they encourage a lifestyle of worship during corporate worship? 


Rev. Dr. Ron Man is missionary-in-residence at First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and director of Worship Resources International (

Reformed Worship 152 © June 2024, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.