Worship as Mission
“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18, ESV)
Have you ever thought about the relationship between our worship expressions and the mission we’re on as a Church?
Here’s a big idea: If the heart of the Gospel is mission, then our worship must be the out-bound vehicles that serve as Gospel-transports. In other words, you might say that there is always a “missionary imperative” attached to our worship.
Several liturgical traditions like to say that worship is “for the life of the world.” I think this is a really important concept when it comes to our own worship style, social dynamics, and liturgical expressions. As pastors and worship leaders, perhaps we first think about these things in the context of the people who show up to a church service or attend a small group, but a posture of mission in worship always keeps us looking beyond our own congregations.
To this point, Ed Stetzer writes, “the church and its worship are not intended solely for believers,” and thus “one of the most effective evangelistic methods a church can use is exposing the unchurched to the authentic worship of God.” 1
Missional Strategy in Our Worship
As we seek to foster a consistent mission mindset in regards to worship, there are two themes that I think could be helpful...
If we want to effectively communicate the Gospel to the surrounding culture in which we live, we must first become a student of that culture, submerging ourselves in the context of our place, and expressing forms of worship (songs, readings, prayer, etc.) that authentically and honestly reflect its beauty and brokenness.
Anglican missionary, Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), said contextualization is “the placing of the gospel in the total context of a culture at a particular moment, a moment that is shaped by the past and looks to the future.” 2
Like a foreign missionary, if we don't first understand the language of a target culture, it will be difficult to effectively communicate the Gospel in that culture.
Creativity is a popular subject these days, and rightfully so! Creativity communicates profoundly and resonates broadly, strengthening the very translation of God’s character through our worship. So when it comes to worship and mission, why would we ever put this on the “back burner”?
Well, in many church environments, we’ve gotten used to a pragmatism and efficiency that outruns creativity and ingenuity. The results? Strong systems with sloppy art. It makes it hard to believe that at one time, the Church was the workshop for the greatest art the world has ever known ... Architecture, painting, music … Talk about worship as mission!
Frances Schaeffer said, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” 3
If we're going to reclaim our place as creative leader in the story of humanity, creativity will need to be seen as essential to our missional posture of worship because of the story it tells the world about the Creator that we worship. We should take the time to express beautifully and creatively what ought to be said about the Gospel in ways that challenge the status quo and move others to see its beauty for the first time.
1. Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, p. 260, 263.
2. Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, p. 2.
3. Francis Schaeffer, Art and The Bible
Justin Barney is the Lead Pastor of Praxis Church, a church plant in Keene, NH. He enjoys reading dead guys, collecting vinyl records, and seeing people encounter Jesus in real ways. Justin is married to Danielle and has two children: Abbey (5) and Soren (3).