From attractional to missional worship…

To me, one of the interesting parts of the article I posted yesterday relates to how this “missional megachurch” is changing their understanding of worship. Previously, as with many megachurches, they had an attractional model of worship that sounds more like evangelism. They poured tons of energy, resources, and excellence into “weekend services” that would attract huge crowds.  In moving to become a more missional church, this was one of the big changes. Investment in the weekend “show” went down, and investment in “Go Communities” went up. They moved to an “attractional” and “missional” approach to worship that would prepare people more for discipleship outside the weekend gathering. 

Now if you’ve ever worked in a megachurch context, you know exactly what these folks are talking about in terms of investment in the weekend show.  It’s a rat race wheel that never stops. And I absolutely salute the move toward more discipleship and less pizazz. What strikes me, though, is that this church is still missing a  theology of worship. Before they were doing weekend evangelism services; now they’re doing weekend discipleship services. “Where’s the beef?” 

Christian worship is the praise and adoration of the Triune God. As such it’s focus and intention is fundamentally toward God, and this happens especially through song and prayer. Through preaching and sacraments God communicates with us and equips us to be God’s people, so that we may better worship, serve, and bear witness. But what God does for us in worship is always secondary in the scope of worship and always an act of grace. Worship is the praise and adoration of God. 

Missional churches need to get this. Because good works are exhausting, and living in kingdom of God is challenging. Megachurches that are tired of pumping people up for good living in a consumer-model weekend service are going to be quickly tired of pumping people up for good works in a service-model weekend service. A life of discipleship is only possible with regular worship, where we encounter the Source of Life who is outside of ourselves and through God’s grace are strengthened and renewed.  

Missional Worship

For some reason, worship has a tough go in missional conversations. One example of this “tough go” showed up here the other day. I’ve heard this several times from more academic types: missional theology has a low view of worship. And I gather that it rattles around in more popular conversations: missional churches care much less about worship and much more about living your faith in your daily life. So… there’s a lot to say there, but in brief…

Missional theology gets charged with a low view of worship because it gives worship an instrumental function: to equip people for witness. A supposedly higher view of worship gives worship no instrumental function at all; it is good in it self to give glory to God, and needs no other purpose. I think worship is good in itself, and doesn’t need a further purpose; certainly in the worship of the saints in light, it has no further purpose. But here on earth, by God’s grace, the act of worship also equips God’s people for their witness in the world. You might say worship is instrumental, but that does not mean it is merely instrumental.

As for worship vs. lived witness in daily life, the two are fundamentally connected. The witness of the community in its daily life, as its sees and participates in the works of God, fuels and feeds corporate worship. In worship, the community clearly names the good news to which all other words and deeds point: the good news of Jesus Christ. In this way worship grounds and centers the daily witness of the community, and nourishes for further witness.

Moreover, by gathering as a community to worship, the church offers yet another form of witness. It gives the world a public sign and likeness of the kingdom of God, where the saints dwell in everlasting worship.

The Core Meaning of Missional – Part 3

It’s been about two weeks since I wrote part 2 of this series on the core meaning of missional. As a pastor, I am constantly surprised at how short the weeks are and by how much can happen in the few days between Sundays! To get back up to speed, in the previous posts I suggested two things: 1) for the future of missional theology and practice, we need to have a stable sense of what “missional” means. If the meaning is too vague or generally applicable, it will naturally and rightly fall out of use as a term. 2) The core meaning of missional should begin with God. This is to say, first, that it should not begin with the church as so often is the case. Second, that it is also to say (IMO) that it should begin with the specific God who is revealed to us in the history of Israel, in the church, and chiefly in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Following on that thought, I think the second aspect of a core meaning of missional relates to what God is up to in the world. This touches on the specfic sense of the missio Dei, the mission of God, which is the font and origin of missional theology. Succinctly, I think the mission of God is the new creation. If one wanted to sketch the broad outlines of that mission, as chapter headings in a story, it would be creation, redemption, and final transformation. To put it into the “missional” language of sending, the Father sends the Son into the world to accomplish the redemption of fallen creation and begin a new creation, and the Father and Son send the Spirit to continue and complete the work begun in the Son, transforming the old creation into new creation. This work of transformation happens now as the Spirit leads people to realize their redemption in Christ and live in the power of the Spirit according to ways and patterns of the new creation. And this work of transformation happens later, in the “last day” when the Spirit brings to completion the work that has been begun.

In a sense, what I have labeled here at “part 3” could also be called “part 2b.” That’s because to say that we must begin with God and to say we must attend to what God is up to in the world is to say, in a sense, the same thing. In so far as it is revealed to us to know, God is what God does. To attend to God is to attend to God’s work of creation, redemption, and transformation. I think being missional means, at its very root, being constantly formed and shaped by an awareness of this God, the God who is accomplishing this purpose in and through history. It is through this lens and in this awareness that we approach the church, our lives as individual Christians, and indeed the fundamental identity of the human person and the nature and destiny of the whole created order.

Nine times out of ten, when someone says missional, we think immediately the church, of a way of looking at the church, of a way of being the church and of being a Christian. But much deeper than that, missional is a way of understanding God and God’s work in the world. It must mean that long before it means anything for the church or for Christians individually.

p.s. If you haven’t noticed yet, I am a Reformed theologian of a Barthian stripe! Others will certainly characterize these things differently!

Missional Preaching

Welcome! This is a new blog dedicated to fostering a conversation about preaching for the formation of the missional church. So why another blog, you ask?

There has been lots of conversation in recent years about all things “missional” but there has been very little conversation about preaching as a missional practice. Missional literature consistently talks about missional leadership, and occasionally reference is made to preaching, but as a distinct practice preaching has gotten little attention in the missional conversation. There are a couple of recent books on missional preaching, which are listed on the Books page. There is now an Academy of Missional Preaching organized and hosted by the PC (USA). There are a smattering of papers and articles related to missional preaching. This blog is an effort to add to and foster this growing conversation.

The ministry of preaching–which is the regular proclamation of the gospel as it arises from reflection on scripture and experience–is one of the primary ways that a local congregation is formed. If we are going to form missional congregations, we need to think deeply about preaching as a missional practice.

So happy reading, and thanks for being a part of the conversation!