Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Participation in Worship


The participation of the worshiper in worship has varied over the years. In the early church, worshipers were engaged in every aspect of worship, but nowadays it is possible to attend a worship service where nothing is expected of the worshiper. This raises an important question. Have we worshiped if we have not participated in worship?

What has changed? There have always been worship leaders, but we have gone from a house setting where all were likely seated together to one person being on a stage and everyone else seated below. This setting is familiar to us. We find the same arrangement when we go to a concert, play, performance, or movie. We know what to do. We take our seat, and we watch the show. Nothing is expected of the audience. It is not surprising then when we do the same for worship. We take our seat in the pew, and we watch as whoever is leading worship performs what they need to perform.

I am not advocating that we sell our buildings or get rid of our stages, but we do need to be aware of the arrangement. We can encourage participation in every aspect of worship with the arrangement we have now, but we are going to have to be purposeful about it. We must understand that a visitor walking into our sanctuary for the first time is going to recognize the setting of a stage and seats for an audience and probably assume they are there to observe rather than participate.

How did the early church participate in every part of worship? Some acts of worship are easier for everyone to join in than others. The Lord’s Supper is something one must refuse if they do not want to participate. Giving actively involves the worshiper. What about prayer? Nowadays, it is often the practice for one person to stand before the congregation and say a prayer while everyone else sits silently waiting for it to be done. The only way to participate is to silently focus on the words that are being prayed. In the early church, there were several different ways the congregation was engaged in the practice of prayer. One would be if they recited the Lord’s prayer together (Luke 11:2; Didache 8:3). The other was the expectation of the congregation to say Amen together at the conclusion of the prayer. This practice is evident in the writings of Justin Martyr and Paul.

“Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the ruler in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen.” – Justin Martyr, First Apology 67

“And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.” – Justin Martyr, First Apology 65

“Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” – 1 Corinthians 14:16

The practice of saying Amen as a congregation could also be practiced at the conclusion of a sermon. It serves as a reminder that a prayer or a sermon is not the act of a single individual performed for the benefit of a human audience, but that it is a part of worship to God in which every worshiper participates.

Worship is a time for us to show adoration to God. Someone else cannot do this for us. We must be active participants in worship.

3 Responses to “Participation in Worship”

  1. Well spoken as usual.

  2. I say Amen to all of this! Do we really attend to worship God or do we go for some other reason? When we pray do we pray to God or are we praying to those who are attending? All our worship, every day, should be to God and we need to love and honor Him and His word!

  3. Amen, brother! The rich blessing of rejoicing in Christ isn’t a spectacle to watch, it’s an experience to join in holy fellowship together and participate in!

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