Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mission as worship

Mission is one thing. Worship is another. The only time that they meet is when a missionary comes to our "worship service" to tell us about what he is doing, show us some slides and ask for money.
That is kind of the attitude that dominates the church world. Not in those words but certainly in how we act and what we emphasize. Dave Black calls that false division out with a new essay, Missions As a Lifestyle of Worship. Here is an extensive quote, I hope Dr. Black doesn't mind:
For this reason, I can’t be content any longer to talk about a missional theology without at least exploring its implications for its transformation potential. God’s concerns are much bigger than the typical church’s concerns. Take worship for example. Understood biblically, worship is not a gathering of individual Christians seeking an intimate experience with God. Rather, worship is the offering of our lives sacrificially to Him daily (see Rom. 12:1-2). Worship is not merely an occasional activity of the believer. Instead, it defines the core of Christian discipleship: We are called to be worshippers in every sphere of life by participating in the Triune God’s mission in the world. This can take place only through intentional “neighboring” practices and in relationship with non-Christians. The key is for ordinary Christians (like you and me) to develop their capacity to serve their neighbors in love. The work of the Spirit is crucial to this renewed participation in society. Christians are to embody the ethics of Jesus before a watching world, providing it with a limited but powerful glimpse of what it means to be a bearer of God’s image. The Gospels clearly present Jesus as constantly moving into unfamiliar territory across cultural barriers and social lines. And at the heart of it all is the cross – the profound need for reconciliation through Jesus Christ, in whom God has acted to overcome the enmity of human sin. True Christian discipleship always means taking part in Christ’s ministry in the world in a dynamic yet concrete fashion.

Thus, when we speak of worship today, a much wider definition is needed. The church does not gather in order to worship. Believers gather as worshippers who have found their vocation in sharing in the community of Christ as He sends them like sheep among wolves to minister to the needs of others. This, as I said, represents a major paradigm shift in my own understanding of Christian worship. As I see it, too much of what passes as Christian worship today is unaffected by the world. It stands aloof, isolated, and ingrown. The incarnation and crucifixion are sung about but the realties behind these truths are rarely put into practice. Rather than participating deeply in the life of the world, the church holds itself apart from the world. This leads, in turn, to a highly individualistic conception of discipleship – a kind of anthropocentricism focused solely on an individual relationship with Jesus that fails to take into account the wider fabric of the Christian community, not to mention the Triune God’s life and activity with all creation. What remains is a watered-down, emasculated version of worship in which the vocation of the church as a missional, worshiping Body is severely diminished.
I spent quite a bit of time in the mindset that is prevalent in the church, especially in the conservative, highly academic corners, that sees "worship" as the purpose for the gathering of the church and "worship" defined as making believers into smarter, more discerning and theologically astute Christians. The assumption was that we needed to constantly refine our doctrine within the church, making disciples who were theologically mature (as we defined it) and this would inevitably lead to service and evangelism (i.e. inviting people to church). The problem with this mindset is that rather than leading to the assumed results we end up with Christians that are better and better informed and less and less engaged in mission. Church becomes an end in and of itself rather than a vehicle to reach a greater purpose, the purpose of carrying out God's mission in the world as His ambassadors.

A study of the New Testament gives us a far more robust, vibrant faith. It takes Paul out of the imaginary study full of scrolls where he spent his time preparing sermons and puts him out among the lost preaching Christ, working for a living among unbelievers, encouraging and equipping the church for the work of ministry so that they would not become overly dependent on him. It shows us a church under unimaginable persecution but simultaneously filled with joy, living in community and on fire for missions. There was little room for denominations, seminaries, committee meetings and mission boards because there were simply too many people who needed to encounter Jesus. I read the New Testament and then I look around and wonder what happened. It seems that comfort, ease, affluence happened and we have found it easier and more comfortable to turn inward, acting more like the world every day and yet reaching that same world less and less. We need to get back to the church as a distinctive, salty witness to the world that is not only distinct from the world but reaching that same world for Christ.

No comments: