for sali: one well-worn understanding of sunday gatherings

Every Monday in Geita I’m asked several times where I went “to pray” the day before.  The Swahili word they use is ‘sali,’ which means something like ‘to petition a higher being.’  I’m by no means an expert in the language, but I know the word (like nearly 20% of Swahili vocabulary) has its roots in the Arabic language.  It’s no surprise, then, that ‘sali’ carries a slight connotation of the ritual reciting of prayers.  And this is how Tanzanians sum up the Sunday gathering of Christians.


At first I thought this was strange and wanted badly to instead use the word for ‘worship,’ which I in fact rarely hear.  But describing our Sunday gatherings as “worship services” is no better.  In fact, I’m certain this description of our time together does more harm than good.  We ought to reconsider what we call these gatherings.

But we should rethink much more than how we refer to our time together.  How about rethinking worship as a whole?  What is worship?  

And what is the purpose of our Sunday gatherings?  Are we missing something?

I’m still working through the series on giving, so I don’t intend to draw this out — not any time soon.  I do plan to, however, offer my ideas (in brief) on the subject tomorrow.  But I’m more interested in hearing yours.  What is our Sunday time about?  What is it supposed to be about?  What should we call it?  Have we properly defined worship?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “for sali: one well-worn understanding of sunday gatherings

  1. Brett, you hit a hot button for me! =)

    Worship has been one of the big topics that I have been meditating on all year.

    “What is worship?”

    Worship is how humanity relates to God – in whatever form that may actually manifest itself.
    Worship is almost always proceeded by an expression or an action.

    I think in N.America we’ve dilluted worship to just musical praise and have thrown out the cultic expressions of worship and the liturgy that used to exist in Christian worship.

    Worship is also a response to God’s call (hence the “action” I mentioned above) – we are to respond with (social) action. (cf. Isaiah 58; James 1:27; and James 2:14-26.)
    True worship is to respond to the needs of the poor and oppressed. Worship of God must go hand-in-hand with social responsibility and caring for other people.

    “What is the purpose of our Sunday gatherings?”

    I think our Sunday gatherings are times to remind us that we are called to help other people, to bring the message of the Good News and to be a driving force for justice and love.

    Too often we are focused on what we are saved FROM (eternal damnation etc.) and forget what it is that God has actually saved us FOR.

    I’ve written a few things on worship, if you get a chance Brett, check them out: http://crosscultured.wordpress.com/tag/worship/

  2. I believe calling our gatherings Worship is fine, when we worship. Evangelism and missions are needed because most of the people in the world do not know the One worthy of our worship. We will worship throughout eternity. It is actually one of the few things we are to do now that will continue after “the trumpet shall sound.”

    Many need to re-think what “worship” means. Testimonies of what has happened as we’ve obeyed God will prompt worship. Sharing the dreams and visions God gives will prompt worship (Acts 2:17). Meeting those who have recently been discipled to faith in Jesus will prompt worship. Grieving with those who have been persecuted will turn our hearts to the Creator and prompt us to cry out, “How long, oh Lord?” All of these are God-ward focus. They recognize him as high and lifted up. They acknowledge him as ultimately in control. He is the one who directs the seals to be opened. Revelation (the book and the reality of divine wisdom) should shape our worship.

  3. randy morgan

    hiya, brett~

    first of all, thanks for your insightful comment on my blog! i’m glad to meet you (in a virtual sense) and i look forward to sharing in this journey with you. too, i am eager to work my way through your archives.

    to speak to the question in your post, i wholeheartedly agree that we have done harm to the concept of “worship gatherings” and we need to either change the name or reform the practice. to me, there are two major goals for this meeting: 1.) to encourage each other (rom 12:15, gal 6:2, heb 10:24-25), and 2.) to share and celebrate the life in the lord we have enjoyed during the week (individually and in smaller groups). sadly, most of the “christians” (another term that needs revision) i know have little or no spiritual life outside the sunday gathering. therefore our meetings are superficial and hollow.

    maybe i need to move to tanzaia.

    i appreciate and agree with your comment on my post about the jews and the old testament prophets. we will probably also have to concede that we, like the jews, are apostate.

  4. thich, good comments. i especially like the idea of being a driving force for justice and love, and the overall feel of worship and action being intertwined. which makes me ask… what exactly did you mean by this sentence. at first i was thinking you meant preceded, and then i thought ‘no,’ maybe this is exactly what he meant:

    “worship is almost always proceeded by an expression or an action.”

  5. john, i like the idea of worship being one of the few things that will continue when this world ends. i know love is another (the greatest of these is love). do you have a list already present in your head? just curious…

    and there’s not much mention in your comments (not that they were exhaustive) about worship outside our sunday gatherings — any thoughts there?

  6. randy, thanks for visiting my site as well. i’d been thinking about sunday gatherings because of several conversations i had on monday (and maybe tuesday) with tanzanians about going to ‘sali’ on sundays (or saturday in one instance, because the hardware store guy is 7th day adventist). but i only posted what i did today because your post moved my pondering from “hmm… that’s interesting” to ” i better write some of this down.” [every morning i have a free-writing time, in which i type anything that’s been on my mind into a file called ‘just thinking.’ some thoughts are a word or two, some a page or more — some are organized and numbered and bullet-pointed, others don’t make much sense when i go back and read them. none are capitalized. some of the thoughts get capitalized and become blog posts, but the huge majority just sits there. i’ve found that writing things down helps me think through them a lot better.] anyway, your post prompted me to type a little — and before long i decided i’d devote a few days to continuing my private writing — and that some would end up in a couple of posts. thanks.

    and i certainly can empathize with your thoughts concerning hollow and superficial worship. but warning… moving to tanzania might not help anything. however if you’re inclined to visit, karibu (welcome) tanzania.

  7. I confined my comments to our Sunday gatherings because you referred to, “this is how Tanzanians sum up the Sunday gathering of Christians” and asked, “what is the purpose of our Sunday gatherings?” All of life should be lived in such a way that God receives praise. Work is to be done “as for the Lord.” Daily praise, meditation and intercession enrich our lives by focusing our attention on the One who deserves it!

    I do not have a list in mind regarding things we will continue to do when we know as we are known. I have posted a blog that contains some relevant quotes from John Piper that pushed me to think about missions and worship.

  8. Brett,

    What I meant by the comment is correct. I had to double-check too to make sure I wrote it properly.

    The Hebrew word we often translate for “worship” is הוה (HWH) and means “to bow down.” Worship of God always entails an action or a response to Him.
    In particular texts such as James 1:27, Matthew 25:31-46 or Isaiah 58, true worship is not some heart-felt emotion, or a song or even a cultic ritual, but it is the follower of Christ taking action to loose the chains of the oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the person in prison…

    Other words that are connected with “worship” are עבד (‘BD) which is “service.” In North America, we ironically call our meetings “worship services” but rarely do we ever SERVE God (and others) as a body of Christ on Sundays.

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