I’m a career missionary. And now I’m a career worship minister. So, naturally, I’m very curious about the connections between worship and mission. What are mission and worship? How and why do we enter into them? And how are they related to each other?
What is Mission?
I’ve noticed that Kelly (our pulpit minister) likes to do these “what do you notice about this sentence?” things. So here’s one. What’s wrong with the following sentence?
For God so loved the church that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16 …with a mistake)
Did you catch it? In arguably the most well known verse in the Bible, the point is that God loves the world, and that God loves the world a lot (so much that he sent his only son). Of course God also loves the church–enough to call us Christ’s bride and use very intimate metaphors to demonstrate the relationship between God and the church. But God loves the world, too.
(Just in case you aren’t familiar with John 3:16, the verse actually reads: “For God so love the world…“)
For Jesus, it looked something like this:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
Jesus claims to fulfill the prophecy to Isaiah, and he describes his ministry as good news for the poor, liberation, healing, justice, and Jubilee.
God loved the world so much that he sent his only son. And what did that son do? He turned right around and sent us–the church–into the world.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
God loved the world before there was a church. In fact, God might even have brought the church into existence because he loved the world so much. Watch this: In his life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension to kingship, and establishment of the church, Jesus fulfilled the story of Israel. It follows that we, the church, as Christ’s body and the new Israel carry out this fulfillment until its consummation at Christ’s return.
So what was God’s intended purpose for Israel that the church should be continuing to fulfill? Here’s at least one aspect:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3. Emphasis added.)
One of the very first promises given to Israel (even before it was Israel) was that through it, all nations would be blessed. So the church should be a blessing in the community.
At the same time, it shouldn’t be corrupted by the values of the world. James said:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
In John 17, Jesus prays:
14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.[e] 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:14-18)
This is where we get the motto “in the world, but not of the world.” The point, however, is that although we don’t belong to the order and values of the world, we continue to be sent into it (mission) because God loves it. This is our work.
Paul’s take is that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). While Paul wants to go and be with God in unmitigated communion (pure worship), he also recognizes the need to continue to be in the world (mission).
But in my experience, the church is tempted into really weird relationships with the world. Either we are co-opted by the ungodly values of the world, or we try to escape the world. Or both at the same time–in our private lives we are very much of the world, and as a corporate body we often don’t want to be in it.
…which is why I’m so excited to be here, with this church, in this community…
We have Serve Day and Clothing Exchanges. We distribute lunches and food hampers as often as our budget allows. We have FriendSpeak that helps newcomers to Canada connect and communicate while introducing them to some news that really is good. We have a meal once a week with a growing group of women and men who are either living on the street or not too far removed from it.
Don’t skim over this bit! We sit down, shoulder to shoulder, face to face, and share food, conversation, prayer, handshakes and hugs with folks who live at the margins and beyond. It’s a big deal. It’s also messy. And it’s just beginning.
But what does this have to do with worship?
What is Worship?
Worship is song, prayer, fellowship, meditation on scripture and God’s activity in the world, teaching, proclamation, and service. It is holding still long enough to be centred on God and God’s purposes. Worship glorifies God and unifies us in a place of deep fellowship. It is a way of giving and receiving love at the level of both heart and mind. There is teaching. There is deep emotion and relation. We participate in God’s creative and communal nature. We sing one song with many voices and parts and our harmony reflects God’s very nature.
Worship is a Goal of Mission
John Piper has a famous first line in Let the Nations be Glad: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” In one sense, worship is the goal of mission–that all nations, tribes, tongues, etc. will join the heavenly host to glorify God. I think worship/glorifying God is one aspect of the Kingdom; but there are other aspects too–justice, shalom peace, relational harmony, abundant living, care for the uncared for, etc. Mission also exists because these thing don’t. Mission exists because God’s will and kingdom are not yet fully realized on earth as they are in heaven.
Mission is Worship
In another sense mission/ministry is worship. God is honoured when we treat each other well and seek to make the world a better place.
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8. Emphasis added.)
Worship Sustains Mission
And in yet another sense, worship (along with fellowship, and spiritual practices that centre us in the presence, character, and will of God) is what sustains mission. From my experience in the disaster zone in Japan, I can tell you that the further you wade into the muck and mire of brokenness in the community, the deeper and broader and more tangled the issues and challenges become. As we venture into the lives of our homeless neighbours, or the challenges faced by the First Nations’ community, or those faced by our friends who are new to Canada, we will confront some dark realities. Burnout, despair, indifference, or bitterness are never far off.
We need strong arms to lift us up. Israel and the church have a long history of lament in the Psalms–songs that sustain in hard times by being completely (sometimes brutally) honest with God. Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison. After he inaugurated the Lord’s Supper, Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn and went out into the night to be arrested. When we address the darkness in our community or even in our own hearts, we need nothing less than for God to abide in us as we abide in him and fellowship with each other.
So when we come together on Sunday mornings (and any other time, for that matter) and break bread together, pray, sing, soak in God’s word, and serve together, something profound and sacred is happening. We should take off our shoes, because we’re on holy ground now. God’s mission is a little bit more realized. And, hopefully, we receive sustenance for the long journey.