Who Is Our Worship Service For?

Having been a faithful UBF worship service attendee for almost 30 years, I have seen all kinds of reactions to our worship services. I have seen people being moved and edified. And I have seen newcomers sitting in the service and shaking their heads and leaving early because they couldn’t stand it. I have seen other newcomers laughing at and ridiculing us as we were worshiping. I have seen people coming in just once and never ever showing up again.

So I grew up with the notion that worship service must be the weirdest thing on earth for people who are unaccustomed to it. Perhaps it is. But why is that the case? And who is the worship service really for?

Many of us would immediately answer, “Our worship service is for God”. For most my life, I would have answered similarly. I would have said: “Worship service ought to be God-centered. It is supposed to provide an opportunity for the body of Christ to assemble and to praise and worship God and to hear his word.” I still believe this is true and biblical. But is our worship service really for God?

Scripture suggests that God doesn’t need our worship. Isaiah tells us that heaven is God’s throne, the earth his footstool. The Almighty does not need a temple built by human hands. If God doesn’t need a temple, he probably doesn’t need our worship either. God doesn’t become more glorious when his children glorify him, because he is already infinitely glorious. God doesn’t become more complete when his bride gathers around him, because he is already complete within the community of the Trinity. God doesn’t become more joyful when people lift up his name in singing and praising, because God is already infinitely satisfied and joyful.

The question then arises: If God doesn’t need our worship, then why does the Bible repeatedly command us to worship him?

An atheist colleague of mine has told me that if the God of the Bible actually did exist, he wouldn’t like this God, because this God acts like a megalomaniac, demanding that people praise Him. How could I respond to that?

My answer is that an infinitely joyful God doesn’t demand our worship to increase his joy. Rather, he wants to spread his joy to us. As John Piper said, because God has supreme and absolute worth, the best thing He can give to us is himself. And worship in Spirit and in truth is the only way God can give himself to us. When we worship and praise God, our hearts and minds are drawn close to him, and he enters our hearts to fill us with gladness and joy. His Spirit is feeding and nourishing our weary souls. As we center on God to lift him up in praise, he in fact elevates our hearts up to him, and we find fulfillment, healing, renewal and restoration in him.

Worship service is not for God. It is for people.

If the worship service is for people, the next question is, “What kind of people?” Is it for believers or unbelievers?

Again, the Bible provides an answer. In 1 Corinthians 14:24, Paul says: “But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in…” This probably says enough. Even though Paul is addressing a different issue here, he indirectly mentions that worship service is a gathering of believers. He mentions the fact that unbelievers might come to the church. But he presents that as only an incidental possibility. In the Corinthian church that Paul established, worship services were geared toward committed Christians, not to seekers who happened to drop by.

I believe that worship service is for believers. Seeker-friendly services are not the biblical norm.

The idea that worship service is for believers has been my excuse for some of the apparently weird things that go on in our church services which make newcomers feel uncomfortable or even disturbed. For example, the frequent UBFisms during the services, such as addressing people as ‘Shepherd X’ and ‘Missionary Y.’ This was my explanation for why new people sometimes left in the middle of the service. I assumed that those who stayed must have been mature believers. Or they must have been exceptionally needy, desperate, open-minded or humble.

But gradually, it dawned on me that this was not the case. I observed that many newcomers who were already committed Christians — Bible-believing, born-again, evangelical Christians — would come just once or twice and then decide to join other churches. They didn’t feel comfortable worshiping God in UBF worship services, at least in the services I witnessed. Why not?

Believers do not live in a vacuum. Every Christian is embedded in a cultural context. Korean believers are different from German believers, and they are still different from South-American believers.

It is the grandeur and the greatness of the gospel that it can embrace all types of people. But this does not necessarily entail that all of those people share the same way of worshiping God. In fact, it is just the opposite.

I believe that the atmosphere of a worship service should allow native believers of the community being served to worship God comfortably and naturally. A worship service for intellectual students ought to be different from a worship service for believers in rural areas with less formal education. A worship service in Korea ought to be different from a worship service in the United States. Worship services should speak the language and hit the nerve of the believers of the culture and the country we are evangelizing in. This is an application of, as the Apostle Paul put it, becoming everything to everyone.

In my estimation, many worship services in UBF could use an overhaul. Maybe it’s time to openly discuss getting rid of UBFisms and jargon. Maybe it’s time to reconsider some of our long-held UBF traditions, such as singing ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name’ at the beginning of every service. (It is a great and powerful hymn, but it’s not the only one.) And maybe it’s time to think about loosening the implicit dress code, e.g. the expectation that every man will wear a tie.

Not everything that a culture dictates is good or biblical. There is a time and place for the church to be countercultural and to defend biblical truth against the current social mores. But God’s word has intentionally granted us wide liberties in his word regarding how to structure, organize and conduct a worship service. I propose that we should start making more use of this freedom in a prayerful manner, in the interest of strengthening and advancing God’s kingdom on earth.


  1. Hi Henoch.

    Thanks for this thoughtful article. I have a few comments.

    First, I agree with you that God does not need our worship. But I do believe that he takes pleasure in it (for example, see Genesis 8:21). God loves us, and he likes it when we respond to his love with genuine love of our own.

    Second, I agree that a worship service should be culturally relevant for the worshiping community. This can be tricky when the community is multigenerational and multicultural.

    When I attended my first UBF worship service nearly thirty years ago, I did feel uncomfortable. Most of the attendees were Korean, and their language and mannerisms were distinctly Korean. But honestly, that did not bother me at all. Because I myself grew up in an strongly ethnic (Polish Catholic) community in Chicago, I understood that ethnic elements in worship were perfectly normal. I expected Korean missionaries to act Korean, because that was who they were.

    However, what I did find uncomfortable was Americans speaking with a Korean accent. The sight of Americans adopting distinctly Korean mannerisms, speech patterns, forms of dress, etc. was strange indeed. Reflecting back on that experience, I now realize that it made me uncomfortable for several reasons.

    First, it left no doubt who was “in charge.” Although the presider and some of the prayer servants and musicians were American, the fact that they had adopted Korean expressions sent a clear message that Korean missionaries were hard at work behind the scenes making the decisions, setting the tone, and creating the atmosphere. It made American participation look like window-dressing.

    Second, it made me uncomfortable because I saw that Americans in UBF had been changed in ways that went beyond the transforming work of the gospel. Yes, the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of students was undeniable. God had brought them out of sin and despair and had given them faith and hope. But it was also undeniable that many benign aspects of their American identity had been overridden by the strong Korean-influenced culture of UBF. Perhaps the missionaries couldn’t see it. But to me, as an American, it was plain as day. It was obvious that the discipleship training that Americans students were receiving in UBF was making them emulate the Korean missionaries in all sorts of ways that were not necessary to their spiritual growth, in ways that were alienating them from their (in many cases, Christian) families and backgrounds.

    Third, it made me realize that if I stayed in UBF, I would come under the same kind of pressure that those Americans did to give up many aspects of who I was. I feared that I would lose my essential identity as an American and as an autonomous human being. Over the years, I was able to resist some of that pressure to conform to group standards in unnecessary ways, but it was not easy. It has caused some people to be suspicious of me and my family, and of Penn State UBF, because we were trying new things and deviating from cultural norms (e.g., by defying expectations about gender roles). Thirty years later, that pressure is not as strong as it once was. But it is still strong enough to make many of us feel uncomfortable. We Americans, many of us, still feel it in our bones.

    Until a few years ago, I did not think that culture was much of an issue in UBF. Based on verses like Galatians 3:28, I declared that there are no differences among us, and that we were all one in Christ Jesus and didn’t even need to discuss it. However, several things changed my opinion.

    First, when UBF’s membership in the National Association of Evangelicals was (I believe, unfairly) revoked, I wrote a lengthy, impassioned letter to NAE with my own personal testimony about how God had blessed my life in UBF. In order to explain why UBF was being criticized by ex-members and misunderstood by non-members, I appealed to the cultural differences that make UBF look different from other North American churches. I pleaded with them to understand our distinct culture and not judge it unfairly. I believe that my letter had some positive impact, because shortly after I wrote it, UBF’s membership was reinstated.

    But I realized that this appeal to culture cuts both ways. If we appeal to culture to justify our practices, then we have recognized that culture is an issue, and we should then allow our culture to be fairly evaluated by those on the inside and the outside. It would not be right for North American Christians to insist that UBF get rid of its distinctive cultural elements. But neither is it correct for us to insist that North Americans who come into UBF and want to grow into leadership roles shed their distinctive culture and heritage if it does not conflict with the plain teaching of the gospel.

    Second, I began to realize that there are some nontrivial analogies between what is happening in UBF now and what was happening in the first-century church when the gospel was first being preached to Gentiles. Jews instinctively felt that many aspects of the Gentiles’ ways of life were unclean. Some of the Gentile ways were sinful, of course. But many of the Jewish Christians assumed that the Gentiles who received the gospel should also emulate Jewish devotional practices. The practices that these well-meaning Jewish Christians wanted to impose (e.g., circumcision) were explicitly found in the Bible and were therefore “biblical.” But the Apostle Paul fought against this teaching, even to the point of opposing his spiritual elders Peter and Barnabas. To Paul, it was not a small matter. In his view, adding those extra practices to official church teaching did not strengthen the gospel message but actually nullified it. (That’s the central argument of Galatians.) After this issue was clarified at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles could proceed without hindrance.

    A church is free to develop distinctive cultural practices. Every church does it. But those cultural practices cannot be above criticism and must to be open for discussion and change.
    And when certain cultural practices are seen as non-negotiable, warning flags should start to go up. UBF has a wonderful spiritual heritage and has developed some interesting and unique methods. But if we promote those UBF-specific elements so strongly that people who do not want to accept them are driven away from us, then we should be honest about what we have become. At that point, we are no longer a pure gospel ministry, but a gospel-plus-something-else ministry.

    It is my hope and prayer that sometime soon, UBF leaders in North America engage in an explicit, give-and-take discussion about cultural issues and about the related question of native leadership. Some of this has been taking place here and there among a few leaders on an informal basis. But because we are so busy living our lives, carrying out our ministry duties, planning the next conference, etc. we haven’t take time to discuss these fundamental issues in an official way. And I understand why, because discussing these things is sometimes uncomfortable, even painful. Some of us have found that, when we bring up these issues, we are discouraged from talking about them because they are seen as potentially divisive. Or we are told this is not the time nor the place to discuss this, and we should bring it up only privately with individual leaders. But I have found that private, bilateral communication with individuals is quite limited as a method for discussing issues of church culture which affect us all.

  2. Joe, your comment is an article in itself! :) i appreciate.
    I agree with you that God takes pleasure in our worship. But it would be foolish to assume that we are doing Him a “service” if we worship him. Rather, he extends and spreads his pleasure to us, the very reason why i think that the worship service is primarily for people even though the entire service seeks to glorify and magnify God.

    i agree with most of the things you mentioned. i deliberately spoke very less about culture in the article and i tried to focus on the Sunday worship service. There is no doubt that the worship service is the most important weekly event in the church calendar. And every change in the worship service should be done prayerfully and theologically (biblically) driven. Thus, my purpose in the article was to suggest a veeeeery simple theological framework concerning our worship service. If this framework in its simplicity holds true, then i believe that changes must be made in most worship services i have witnessed in UBF.
    Hardly any of the services where i participated seemed to offer an appropriate atmosphere for believing students of the respective city, in order to help them to focus wholly on God in their worship. This seems to be the case for couple of reasons that cannot be changed but also for reasons that can and should be addressed. i do see the necessity to bring these issues up and to discuss them among leaders. But i think that every church should also individually address the question of how to make their worship service more appropriate for the kind of people they want to raise because every church ministers to a different community.

  3. Thanks Henoch, Joe. Here’s a couple of quotes regarding worship I came across recently:

    “Worship is a congregational event in which Christ mediates our prayers, conducts and leads our praise, and preaches His word to us. He alone is the God-ordained worship leader, the minister in the sanctuary.” Sinclair Ferguson

    “True Christian worship is Word-communicating, God-glorifying, and Christ-confessing.” Philip Graham Ryken, City On a Hill

    These quotes on worship address what it is, and how it’s done, rather than who it’s for. Also, worship, according to Jesus, is God our Father seeking true worshippers (John 4:23), rather than we worshipping God, because our own worship will always fall short on account of our sins and idolatry. Indeed, the only true worshipper is our Lord Jesus, who alone worshipped God in spirit and in truth perfectly (John 4:24). So true worship for all of us sinners can only be done through Jesus’ true worship. Apart from Jesus, no human ever can ever worship in spirit and truth, no matter how sincere or earnest.

    But I would agree that though worship does please God just as we love when our children love us as their parents, worship is really primarily for us fallen sinners to experience the fullness of life in communing with the greatest community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Apart from this worship of the Trinity, the Rolling Stones infamous words will always ring true: “I can’t get no satisfaction!”

    • Ben, thanks for those quotes. About two years ago, I did some reading about the theology and practice of worship. It was interesting and disconcerting. For every author who expressed a strong opinion about what should be done, another author expressed the opposite opinion, and both seemed equally reasonable and valid. If you are a person who likes absolutes and hates nuance — if you want to see things in terms of black & white, right & wrong — then stay away from this stuff!

      As you have said, everyone seems to agree on the importance of the Trinity: the central role of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in Christian worship.

      But beyond that, the New Testament says very little about how the early Christians actually worshiped. Perhaps that’s a good thing. If we knew exactly what the early Christians did, we would probably engage in some misguided attempts to recreate their worship practices today. Henoch is arguing for diversity of worship practices. I agree. When it comes to worship, context is everything. A worship practice that would be perfectly ok in one time or place could be horribly unsuitable in another time or place.

      I think a great worship service will make people comfortable, and it will also make them uncomfortable. It will use language, expressions, settings and artistic forms that are culturally understandable and natural to them. But it will also push them out of their comfort zone into the holy presence of the Trinity. And it will push them to open their hearts to accept believers who differ from them, uniting us around the throne of God with Christians of every tongue, tribe, and generation.

  4. Joshua Brinkerhoff

    I have a question for anyone who has studied this subject more than I have: why do we call our assembly and worship on Sunday a “worship service”? Why is the word “service” used; is congregational worship a kind of serving or service that we do for God and/or others? One Bible teacher I heard recently said that we serve God through our worship, and he used Romans 12:1 as an example. Is this wording unique to UBF (I don’t think so; many churches use “church service” or other similar words) or to the English language? Is it theologically sound?

    Thanks! God be with you all!

  5. Hi Joshua.

    As usual, you’ve asked an awesome question.

    I think your Bible teacher was right. The Greek word in Romans 12:1 rendered as “worship” (NIV) can also be translated as “service” (KJV). Using “worship service” to refer to a public worship gathering is definitely not just a UBF thing; it is common to many denominations.

    Some authors have criticized the use of this term “worship service,” claiming that it puts too much emphasis on what the worshipers are doing, on whether or not it is pleasing to God, rather than on what God has done for us. That criticism is somewhat nitpicky, but they do have a point.

    The fact is that nothing that we can do by ourselves can ever be pleasing to God, because we are tainted by sin. The New Testament understanding of worship, as outlined in Hebrews, focuses on the role of Jesus as our mediator and High Priest who approaches the throne of God on our behalf. (He is also the true Sacrifice and the true Temple.) When Christians worship God, we do so in the name of Jesus, covered by his blood. So our focus in worship service shouldn’t really be on ourselves, on what we are doing, and what we are experiencing, and whether we are serving God purely enough to earn his favor, because we cannot earn his favor. Rather, our worship should be a natural outpouring of thanks, adoration and love in response to what Jesus has already done and what he has promised to do.

    But that’s easier said than done.

    In our ministry here at Penn State, we are now taking a hard look at our Sunday service to see how it can be improved. We’re not sure how to improve it. But anything that we can do to take some the focus off of ourselves and help us to see Jesus more clearly will be an improvement. In my experience, two big hindrances to worship are unconfessed sin before God and unresolved conflicts with others. People can’t worship if they are estranged from God or angry at one another. Dealing with this at the beginning of the service through prayers of confession and absolution (in the name of Jesus, of course) might be a good start.

  6. Great comment Joe, I was just about to say something similar. I once heard a Catholic talk where the speaker tried to differentiate an evangelical worship service from a Mass. The way he differentiated was by pointing out that in the worship service, its all about praising God for what he has done and speaking well of him and finally giving an uplifting message that can help the congregation. However, he mentioned that in a Catholic Mass, it is not about what we do for God but what God did and does for us. We remember and relieve the sacrifice of the last supper and follow his command to do this in memory of me. That is why, in most evangelical services, the center of the  service  is the preaching. The preaching has to be good, the preaching has to be long and it has to be uplifting and relevant. Whereas, in the Mass, the center of the service is the Eucharist. This is why the actual preaching is kept to a minimum and more than half of the service is dedicated to communion.
    Granted, the speaker was over-generalizing but I felt he did provide a useful distinction about how to properly view sunday church. Indeed, we see how a ‘what we do for God vs. what he does for us” distinction can sometimes play itself out in many services. Some churches have leaders that are constantly leaving since the message isnt spirited or relevant. You have some young adults who want loud music, guitars and “relevant” messages. In short, it seems that what we do for God can sometimes turn into what we do for God in a way that is interesting for ME.
    Ofcourse, UBF isnt Catholic but I think it still suggests a couple of good points:
    1) what is the center of our worship? Is it to welcome new students through life changing passages? Is it to lift up the general congregation with great praise music and a fiery message? Or is it to “remember.” When the Jew’s were freed from Egype, God asked them to always remember what HE did for them in the passover. And now, when Jesus freed us from sin, he asked that we “remember.” But he asked us to do more than just remember but also “do this.”
    I know the whole how often communion should be taken is something that has been discussed in UBF circles before, but I think this provides a useful way of rethinking the whole discussion.
    But most importantly, I think it highights that the communion discussion should not be centered around how often (quantity) but how to present communion service (quality) in a way that is dignified. Because again, thinking of it in terms of how often can seem as if it is a burden since it takes away from the time of the message (“excuse me Jesus, your taking my time). Instead, perhaps the talk should be quality of communion.
    3) As I was considering “re-verting” to Catholicism, I kept on complaining how although I was mostly on board theologically with the Catholic church, I thought their worship service was too somber and not welcoming enough of people. I remember I contrasted how I was welcomed in my local parish with how I was welcomed at UBF. Stark  difference! However, many of the forum members pointed out that the reason people in Catholic church arent chatting it up prior to the service is out of  reverence  for the Eucharist that was present in the tabernacle. So again, it helped me to consider the question. What is the center of this service today and what should be my attitude before and after the service. Should I arrive early to examine my conscious before partaking in the heavenly food I am going to receive (1 Corinthians 11:28).
    Anyway, I think this is a great topic and I would answer the question posed by saying that our worship service is neither for the members, nor for the new students but for the salvation of the world. And the best way of  describing  that is by “remember” and “doing this” thing that Jesus asked people to do in a manner that is dignified for such a wonderful command.

  7. I think Joshua’s question is a good one too. Service to God is what we as his servants, by definition are to do, right? In other words, Gods servants serve Him.  And how do we do service to God? John 6:29 says, “Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” When we worship/thank/praise God as Christians, we are directly acknowledging that we believe in HIM, therefore worshipping God is a part of  doing the work of God or  serving God, it is Worship Service! There are certainly other kinds of ways that the “work of God”  (our believing/faith in Him)  is manifested, like taking care of widows and orphans in Jesus name, or giving a cup of cold water to someone in Jesus name, or evangelism in Jesus name etc.  Just as James says, faith without works is dead.

    Even so, Im glad that Joe brought up the point that we cannot earn God’s favor, even by our acts of service. 1)We can do nothing meritorious in the sight of God to earn his favor (“all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” says Isaiah 64:6), the only way to please God is by faith (Heb 11:6),  and  and even our faith is a gift from him, as  Jesus says, “no one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws them to me…(John 6:44).” 2) In that way I do think that having an evangelistic flavor in at least part of  our worship services is also Biblical, because we know not who is and who isnt a true Christian, and a proven instrument that God has used throughout the centuries to draw people to himself is the local church. We see in Acts 16:14, the conversion of Lydia, although it was not inside of a building,  and they probably didnt have their guitars and amps with them,  Paul and his buddies were going out  to have a prayer/worship service…  “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”  

    So who is our Worship service for?

    1) God, because he is worthy of our worship and he  seeks our true  worship (even though as was earlier pointed out, he doesn’t need it). John 4:23, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

    2) Believers, because it is a time to give thanks to God and worship God as we should, out of our thankfulness to Him. And not to mention it is a time for fellowship of the the saints, and learning from the preached Word, and “sabbath”  rest etc.

    3) Unbelievers, because Romans 10:14 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

    Corporate worship is a part of serving God that the author of Hebrews thought was very important, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:25).”

  8. Thank you, Ben, Josh, Joe, Gerardo, David for your input and discussion.

    Worship service is a tremendously complex and controversial matter. i can agree with almost everything you guys wrote. Even though we probably agree that worship service ought to be a place for God-centered, God-magnifying praise and adoration, through the blood and work of Christ, with repentance of sins and remembrance of what God has done for us and with preaching of God’s word, my basic question still remains.

    if you look at Acts and the spread of the gospel in major cities of the Roman empire and the birth of local churches in each of these cities, i believe that the worship services conducted in these cities varied significantly based upon the congregation. What Acts tells us is scarce. However, if you look at the different approaches and ways the Holy Spirit inspired to lay a foundation for the church in respective cities (intellectual debate in Athens, talking to women in a predominantly Roman city like Philippi, preaching from the OT in Synagogues for Jewish communities, etc.), it seems to me that their Sunday gatherings must have reflected this kind of diversity, either. This seems logical and plausible to me.

    My question is therefore:  How can our theological framework and discussion of what worship service ought to be and for whom it ought to be actually inform us who to make our worship service more appropriate and more fitting for its purpose(s)? What are the practical implications? What can and should we do differently, especially in a setting like UBF, which understands itself as a church ministering to intellectual students?

    Eagerly awaiting to hear what you think.

    • Henoch, thanks for the clarification. I think we are getting closer to the heart of the issue.

      You asked, “What can and should we do differently, especially in a setting like UBF, which understands itself as a church ministering to intellectual students?”

      Is that how we truly understand ourselves? Is that the reality of what we have become? And is that what God is leading us to be?

      I think we all agree that a  worship service should honor God and bring us into his presence. And it should be a reasonable reflection of what we are, what we want to become, and what God wants us to become. But what, exactly, is that?

      Over the last year, I have listened to many members and leaders of North American UBF and tried to identify their views on these questions. What I have found is that there is a huge variety of opinions.

      * Some say, “UBF is not a church, it’s a campus ministry.” Yes, that is how UBF began. But if we are not a church, then why do we encourage our members to commit themselves exclusively to this ministry beyond their student years? Why do we expect  members to tithe? Why do we pray for the establishment of “house churches”? Why do we have children’s and youth ministries? And why, in  most of our chapters,  do non-students comprise a majority of our members?

      * Some say, “UBF is a missionary church.” (The sign above the Chicago main center says that, and has some language about “world campus mission.”) That seems to be an accurate description of many UBF chapters. They operate as small, independent churches led by missionaries. They are like missionary outposts in a foreign land. Most of the members are missionaries and children of missionaries. The messages are directed at missionaries, reflecting the missionaries’ faith and vision.  North American students are welcomed as sheep to be taken care of and served,  but with  the expectation that they will eventually accept and adopt the missionaries’ life-direction and style of ministry.  (This is not meant to be a criticism, and I hope it doesn’t sound critical. I believe it is an accurate description.) The problem with this is that most Christians do not  see themselves as missionaries, and they probably never will.  Most Christians  are laypeople who work, raise families, and live in communities. As they grow in faith, they may have ample opportunities to engage in “E-1 evangelism”, witnessing to Christ through their words and lifestyle. But the majority do not have the “gift of missionary.” They are happy to support missionary activity, but they want to be valued for who they are, not made to feel like cogs in an organization that is dedicated solely to raising up more missionaries and sending them out  so that the organization  grows larger. For a church to be healthy, it should be, as Ruth Tucker has said, both “inwardly caring AND outwardly focused.” A church may be started by missionaries, but how long can it sustain itself solely as “a  missionary church”  without becoming  deeply mindful of its members and rooted in the surrounding community?

      * Some say, “UBF is a Bible-study organization.” Yes, we spend a lot of time studying Scripture, and that is a good thing. Bible study is very important. But at some point, I think it is possible to  focus on  Bible study  too much.  For most churches, this is not an issue, but for us it sometimes  is.  To expect every member to become a Bible student is perfectly reasonable; to expect everyone to be a Bible scholar and/or Bible teacher is not  (1Co 12:29, James 3:1).

      * Some say, “UBF is dedicated to raising spiritual leaders who will change the world.” (Hence the “global leader” language at recent UBF events.) Raising leaders is a laudable goal. But to say that this is the main  purpose of  UBF makes us sound and act very elitist. It makes us fool ourselves into thinking that we are more important and influential than we are. We show favor to those who appear to have obvious leadership qualities and make others feel second-class. We lose sight of the fact that Jesus, the incarnate Word, was a very ordinary person, and  most of his followers  were nameless, ordinary people who permeated society like yeast and changed its character from within.

      * Some say, “UBF is unique and hard to characterize. We don’t know exactly what it is, but it is wonderful. Don’t try to change it or mold it  according to  your own idea; let UBF be UBF.” I have some sympathy toward that view. Sometimes we have to just acknowledge that God has put us together in this unusual faith community and trust that he is working out his own purpose. But to say this, and then  refuse to  talk about it further, is a recipe for long-term disaster. No organization can  survive  for long if its sole purpose is to exist and grow. At some point we need to articulate our vision. We need to follow truth-in-advertising,  so that prospective members do not think we have hidden motives and  people can  make an informed decision about whether they want to join us or not.

      Henoch said that UBF “understands itself as a church ministering to intellectual students.” To set this as one of our goals is fine. But  should we  set this as the primary goal, so strongly that it dominates the form  and cultural elements of  our worship service?

      Two more ideas to  chew on.

      * “Student” is not a kind of person. It is a stage in the life of many people. It is a rather intense and  formative stage, but it is relatively short part of the transition  from  childhood to  adulthood. Students tend to lose sight of this as they live a student-centered campus life. Many campus  parachurch ministries  (Crusade, IVCF, etc) recognize that it is not good for students to be in a student-oriented environment all the time, because they begin to see themselves as the center of the world.  Students need to come into contact with Christian people of many  ages (married couples, children, senior citizens, etc.) and worship with them in order to get a healthy perspective on life. That’s one reason why Cru, IVCF, etc. send their students out to worship in community churches.

      * “Intellectual” is not really a kind of person either. It is a  dimension of every person’s life. People have different levels of formal education and different types of intelligence. But every healthy person  is an intellectual person. Christian worship  ought to  engage the whole person —  body, mind, emotion — and bring the whole person  to the presence of God.  Satisfying the  worshiper’s God-given intellectual curiosity is good.    But, because I  am a  person who has always had difficulty in expressing emotion to  people and to God, I feel the strong need to build up the other dimensions of my relationship with God. Not to turn off parts of my brain and become anti-intellectual, but to turn on 100% of my whole being and offer myself fully to God.  The best kind of  worship service  for me would not  cater to the kind of person that I am, but to the kind of person that God wants me to become.

      Sorry to return your question with more questions!

    • I think this is an excellent thread that we never fully digested…

      In order to discern who our worship is for and furthermore to tell why our specific context of the Body exists, here’s something that helped me: Remove the words “Jesus”, “God”, “bible”, “religion” from your church. What do you then see? We can learn a lot about an organization by stripping away religious words and observing how they operate.

      In ubf, I see a mafia-like military academy with Marshall law enforcement. In our new church, I see a hospital :)

      That vision helped me to see whether or not my family was in a healthy church or not.

  9. Here is another question to add to the heap! I find Henoch’s point about UBF primarily being interested in ministering to intellectual students almost paradoxical, considering the almost “anti-intellectual” approch that most in my experience at UBF  take. Nevertheless, I totally understand and agree with Henoch.  I can only speak from personal experience, but I can remember shepherds telling me  not to go to seminary,  and even  during the friday testimony sharing, I remember people saying that I needed to just follow the sermon manuscript more…One would think that if the church is really aiming  at reaching  “intellectuals”, then intellectual discourse would be more openly accepted in matters of Christianity. Not sure if things have changed in the last 6 years or so, but could you guys tell me: Are testimonies still based on the sermon manuscript? Are commentaries allowed when preparing or having Bible study? Is formal ministry training encouraged? I dont know, it just seems to me that if anything, intellectualism in the church is stifled more than it is encouraged (With the  TOTAL exeption of secular study! ie. UBF definitely encourages sheep to be doctors! M.D.’s and P.H.D.’s alike). If THAT is what is meant by an  intellectual focus, Henoch is absolutely correct.

    • Hi David. For the record, no one in UBF ever encouraged me not to look at Bible commentaries. The advice I got was to  look  closely at  the Bible passage first  and try to understand its meaning, and go to commentaries later if you want. In that sense, we have always tried to be inductive. But that same advice was not applied to the UBF messenger’s manuscript.  

      I would  not characterize this attitude as anti-intellectual. Rather, it seems to be a quest for a spirit of simplicity, purity, humbleness, loyalty and obedience, which are some of the most deeply held values in this church. Those values are good, but they need to be balanced against the competing  values of honesty, creativity, openness to new ideas, and readiness to learn from the wider Body of Christ.

  10. Joe, David, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    i had assumed that UBF understands itself as a church primarily focused on university students ministry. i know that UBF does not officially use the word “church” on its official website. Rather, the website says that UBF is an evangelical campus organization, which i think is not accurate at all because UBF clearly functions as a church.

    Joe, i totally share your views and concerns that the precise role of UBF in the body of Christ is not well defined (to put it mildly). This is an ecclesiological issue that must be addressed. (Have we discussed this on ubfriends yet?)

    And i also agree with you, David, that the anti-intellectual approach that is still too often found in our congregations cannot be appealing to students. To answer some of your questions: at least in the UBF ministries i have been an active member of (mostly in Germany), the use of commentaries is encouraged to help study a bible passage. I have seen that many (predominantly Korean missionaries) still use the sermon manuscripts for their reflections on the passage, which i think is mostly due to language reasons rather than for reasons of content (my personal obversation). Seminary studies are still not encouraged but i know of several young people who study theology anyway. It is unclear, however, if and what kind of place these people can find in UBF after graduating. It is a very likely and for me somewhat unfortunate scenario that they will leave UBF and serve God somewhere else.

    in my article i tried to stay focused on a single topic, that is, the worship service on Sundays. It seems to be rather difficult to discuss this issue apart from the crucial question of what church actually is and what kind of church UBF is. This however was not the topic of the article.

  11. Places of worship and work  may be different however, since we are all taught by the same groups, UBF shepherd or shephdesses, there is a common problem in many aspects.  I am from South East Asia, India UBF. I do agree many of the points pointed out in the above comments on the matter of worship. But one thing I want to mention about ubf worship in India is that, many times shepherd and shepherdess are too much concern about how to bring sheep, perhaps with the intention to make their fellwoship big and impress others coworkers or to help sheep to lsiten God’s word and receive salvation. So our  hearts are fully occupied by  sheep rather than by God. The result is even though one is present in the church, his/her heart is not in God but on the earth-sheep or shepherd. This is so, in my opinion, due to very reason that in ubf we give so much praise to those who bring many peopple-in ubf terminology sheep- and innerly reject  those who are unable to bring any sheep. And I found many ubf members are eager for praise and appreciation from the seniors shepherds or so called chief shepherd. That is why many times we miss the whole point of worship. Instead of worshiping God we landed up worshiping ourselves or men or leaders.
    In my view, outer appearance or activity is not the point in worshi  but one’s inner attitude; while worshiping we should forget everything, empty our hearts  and completely rest in God, enjoying his presence in the church and welcoming him in my heart. Of course, I must see that my brothers-sheep-should come and joint in worshiping God but that should not be the sole   focus  my sunday worship service.  I don’t know in other UBF but in India, this has become a very serious problem. UBF shepherd or shpehdress  are very busy in working for God-sacrificing many things, denying many desires of our flesh which need to be appreciated but -somehow, unknowingly make a small mistake and put the whole thing wrong. Its like what the proverb says, ‘a dead flies in perfume’ So on sunday we should prepare our hearts to welcome  God and enjoy his presence rather than thinking of how to bring sheep.  This will make our worship service very meaningful. At the same time, the shepherd or director also should not copncern much about who is bring how many sheep and whose fellowship is larger or smaller. Moreover, he should not announce in the church that shepherd so and so bring this much sheep and so on. This spoils the whole environment of worship. If this is the problem ubf coworkers are facing in other countries too, we must correct. UBF is one of the most precious mission where many wandering souls have found God and recieve ticket to heaven. If our leaders are humble enough to accept this small comments and ment their ways, God will continue to use this minsitry to bring more lost souls to his kingdom.

    • Yaruingam, thank you very much for your honest thoughts on worship service. You are absolutely right in saying that the major concern during the Sunday worship services should not be how to bring more bible students but how to draw closer and nearer to God. i think that in a community that is really filled with the Holy Spirit and where God’s joy and love and power are evident, it is somewhat inevitable that it will be attractive to people outside.

      From what you have written it seems to me that the kind of atmosphere that is being spread in your church encourages people to do good works in order to please others. if this is true, i think it is extremely fatal in the long-run. I personally learned that every good deed done with another motivation but enjoying God and glorifying God is evil. it is pure evil because it alienates me from God who himself embodies everything that is good.

      I have also seen the detrimental consequences in myself and others of what happens when God’s mission is worshiped instead of worshiping God. Loving God’s mission first or loving God first doesn’t seem to make much of a difference at first. But the consequences are huge. If i make God’s mission an idol it so easily happens that bible students become a mean to an end (for instance, feeling good about myself or impressing/pleasing other people). And wouldn’t you agree that this is simply another way of using people?

      In essence, what you are talking about is not a culture issue at all. To me it seems it is a gospel issue. A deeper grasp of the gospel and spreading its aroma is a prerequisite to create a worship service atmosphere where people are drawn and mesmerized to look up to the author of grace.