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Corporate Repentance: A Missing Ingredient of Worship? - Part 1

By Chris Gambill on October 10, 2011

(Guest post by Chris Gambill)

Do you know what a liturgy is?

While the word sounds heavy, and probably conjures up images of churches we would describe as traditional or liturgical, the reality is every church has a liturgy.

Even churches that say they don’t.

Liturgy is basically the forms we follow when planning and conducting a public worship service. Most churches have a liturgy that consists of singing songs, prayers of thanks or for needs, a message, giving, a time of response or confession, announcements, and a special creative element. There could also be elements of testimony, communion, and the like.

In most cases how these elements are combined result in a service that is generally celebratory toward Christ and corporate success while calling people to individually deal with their sin.

In fact, we do a pretty thorough job of calling people to recognize and deal with the sin in their personal lives so they can grow in their relationship with Christ. When I lead worship, I often try to have some aspect of personal confession built into the flow. This is an important aspect of our spiritual lives, and there are many ways to do it that aren’t scary.

But, there is one aspect of our corporate spiritual life that isn’t as prevalent in most services. I’ve lead people in understanding corporate worship, corporate prayer, and caring for one another as a community. But I haven’t often sought to lead people in this element even though it has a clear spiritual precedent and implications that shouldn’t be ignored.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the effects in a church of the absence of this element. Maybe you’ve wondered why a church is struggling. Maybe the congregation you lead is having a hard time breaking through in corporate worship. Maybe your service is lifeless and dull. Perhaps people or leaders in the church are having a hard time hearing God speak.

Maybe the reason for those things has nothing to do with song selection, preaching topics, service flow, attendance demographics, how loud it is, or how skilled your worship team is.

Maybe it has everything to do with corporate sin.

One of the elements that we haven’t focused much on in our churches is that of corporate confession and repentance. It can be scary to come face to face with sin. It’s hard enough to do in our personal lives, but even harder to do as a group. To realize that we’re a part of the sin of a group is humbling.

Maybe that’s due in part to the culture of individualism rampant in our churches today. We emphasize personal responsibility and accountability to a large degree. As a result, people don’t understand that it’s not just about them as individuals, but that they are part of the whole. This lack of understanding makes it hard to deal with corporate sin.

But, if I am part of the body, then I am part of the body’s sin. Just like I am part of the body’s ministry and victories (check out 1 Corinthians 12). Whether I personally participated or not, I am part of the results and the effects of this sin left unchecked and unconfessed.

Do you remember the story of Achan in Joshua 7? As Israel began to claim the land of Canaan, their first battle was at Jericho. God told them to completely destroy everything. Every single thing. Achan, however, did not obey the Lord’s commands and took some valuable things for himself. As a result, the Israelites were defeated at their next battle. Achan was the only one who sinned, but the entire group suffered for it. Once the sin was dealt with, the favor of the Lord was restored.

Our corporate sins today as a church probably won’t involve someone taking stuff after a battle that they aren’t supposed to take. But it could involve gossip, lack of faith, failure to support God’s leaders, poor stewardship of time, talent, and treasures, unwillingness to live out the Great Commission, dependence on man’s wisdom, ignoring the needs of members, and more.

Sin is a big deal to God. We know that God’s character exists in contrast to sin. We know that God’s complete holiness stands as the total opposite of sin. If we don’t acknowledge and repent of our sin, we’re not going to be able to hear, respond, and fully enjoy God as His people. Sin hinders our communication, our worship, and our relationship with God.

And this is important to God. Throughout the Scriptures, God repeatedly calls people to repent of their corporate sins. Remember the example of the Ninevites as Jonah spoke God’s message? They repented and God relented. God also tells the Israelites in Jeremiah 3 that if they confess and repent, He will show mercy instead of sending them to exile. They didn’t then, but eventually do in Nehemaih 9-10 as Jerusalem is repopulated after years of Babylonian exile.

(In part 2 we'll discuss ways to approach corporate repentance.)

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Chris Gambill

Chris Gambill (Guest Writer)

Chris Gambill has over a decade of experience as a worship leader. He believes that engaging in worship together is transformational for a faith community and that worship is more than aSunday morning thing. His desire is to challenge worship leaders and congregations to think about and engage in Biblical worship. Chris serves as Pastor of Worship and Adult Ministry at Genesis Church in Foley, AL, and blogs at www.journeyofworship.com. He is married to Beck; together they parent Max and Maggie.