Congregational Worship Is Prime Time For Discipleship

Congregational Worship Is Prime Time For Discipleship

God’s people are God’s chosen instrument for discipleship.

Chad Ashby

     I’m one of those people who likes to do things the hard way. On a quick dinner night, you might say something like, “Let’s just make sandwiches.” I’m the kind of person who responds, “Great . . . but first we have to make the bread!

     Whether it’s sandwich-making or disciple-making, sometimes we get so caught up in working hard that things become way more complicated than they have to be. What if we briefly put all of our complex discipleship schemes down and considered the weekly run-of-the-mill worship service? The congregational worship of God’s people—Could that really make disciples?


The congregation is where we find God’s people.

     If you had twenty students who needed to get the hang of algebra, would you train them in twenty private sessions—or as a class? And if you had two hundred individuals who needed to get the hang of following Jesus, would it make sense to meet with them in two hundred discipleship meetups—or as a whole congregation?

     If the objective is for the church to become a people “with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27), then bold-faced pragmatism shouts, Hello! Congregational worship! It guarantees everyone will hear the same Word, confess the same truths, sing the same songs, pray the same prayers, and share the same table week after week.


     Discipling God’s people when all God’s people are gathered? It seems like a no-brainer.


The congregation is where we find God’s Word.

     These days, the Bible is only an app finger tap away. But the convenience of modern technology makes it easy to forget that for all of biblical history—and most of church history—the only place to encounter the Scriptures was congregational worship.

     Under Moses, the Word came down from Mt. Sinai to teach the congregation: “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn . . . and that they may teach their children” (Deut. 4:10). The prophets foretold a day when “many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’” (Isa 2:3).

     As Jesus began his ministry in Matthew, we again find the Word coming down the mount to make disciples among a gathered people (Mt 5:1-2). The Word disciples God’s people, and time after time, the Word descends when his people congregate.

     Paul takes this reality for granted when he encourages the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).This is the truth: The indwelling Word makes disciples as God’s people worship together.


The congregation is where we find God’s Spirit.

     Through the death and resurrection of Christ, all God’s sons and daughters have received his Spirit(Romans 8:14-15). And yet, Jesus affirms his special presence “where two or three are gathered in my name” (Mt 18:20). Moreover, since the inception of the church, the mighty wind seems to blow when disciples are “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1; 4:31).

     So if the goal is the growth of Jesus’s disciples, and sanctification is “by the Spirit” (2 Thess 2:13; 1Peter 1:2), and the Spirit is uniquely present when his people gather, why would we begin elsewhere besides congregational worship?

     If we begin to view our weekly worship services through the lens of discipleship, I wonder what we would see. How are we teaching our people to follow Jesus through what is sung, said, prayed, given, announced, confessed, preached, and shared? 

     God’s people are God’s chosen instrument for discipleship. Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “To learn Christian doctrine only from textbooks [or church livestreams, podcasts, and the like] rather than from participating in the communion of the saints is like reading Shakespeare but never encountering a live performance: it may be informative, but it is rarely transformative.” If this is true, then discipleship most naturally occurs when God’s primary tool—his Spirit-filled, Word-shaped people—is fully assembled.

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