Worship and mission have always had an uneasy relationship in the church, as if they were somehow separated from each other. But the reality is that worship of God fuels mission and mission enlivens worship. The ultimate goal of any mission engagement is that people would come to recognize and worship God. As John Piper so succinctly reminds us, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
Worship – giving worth to God – is much more than musical expression; it is also the focus of mission – inviting people to receive the good news of Jesus, God’s Son. When we fail to understand its missional component, worship can become self-seeking and self-serving rather than an expression of the expansiveness of God’s kingdom (Amos 5:21–24, Matthew 15: 1–11, John 4:23–24).
The musical expressions of our Sunday morning worship gatherings must be founded upon Jesus’ underlying mission (Luke 4:18–19) and commission (Matthew 28:16–20). Without these foundations, we quickly forget that worship of God is for the believer, yes, but also for the unbeliever.
For the believer, worship is the opportunity and privilege, together with fellow followers of Jesus, to extent our gratitude, praise and love for him and for his ongoing work of redemption in us and relationship with us.
For the unbeliever, worship is the opportunity to experience a spiritually rich environment, observe devotion to God in action, encounter the spiritual reality of a God who loves them and calls them to receive that love and to hear God’s voice for themselves.
Tips for being missional in our worship:
1. Communicate clearly
One of the reasons we use familiar wording, expressions and instruments in our worship music is to provide a culturally relevant bridge for those who are exploring faith and Jesus.
Do you understand the words you sing or say on a Sunday morning? What does “hosanna” or “hallelujah” mean? Can we clearly explain phrases like, “Here I raise my Ebenezer”?
We can still use songs with those words and expressions in them – just make sure we know what they mean, and perhaps comment during (or after) the song or add an explanation on the PowerPoint slide to aid in understanding.
2. Point to Jesus
Believers and people exploring faith need to see Jesus. Our songs, prayers, sermons and actions need to highlight the wonder and power of Jesus, his love for all his creation and his invitation to
relationship with him.
3. Be authentic
We don’t encourage believers to live a two-faced
existence and we don’t want to present that kind of attitude before unbelievers either.
Practically speaking, “being real” means allowing people into our life. When we are filled with joy, we worship with delight. When we are grieving, we worship out of our pain. When we have made mistakes, sinned, fallen short of the best, we admit our weakness and our need for God’s grace.
No one is perfect; we are suspicious of people who pass themselves off as too put-together!
4. Be hospitable.
Create a worship space that is welcoming. We invite people to our homes not because of how great our decorating is, but for the opportunity to know them, and they us. Believers and unbelievers feel loved when we have an attitude that is open, friendly and welcoming – without being creepy!
There are also simple things we can do to make our worship space reflect warmth and hospitality. This can be as simple as well-placed, easily readable signage, use of colour (paint, photography, banners) or as involved as changes to lighting, foyer layout and auditorium arrangement.
5. Create space for dialogue
To be missional in our worship is to be open for people to speak into what we do. We can’t explain everything in a song, on a PowerPoint slide or, for that matter, in a 30-minute sermon. But when we share a meal together, sit across a coffee table and look each other in the eye, we can begin a conversation that opens doorways of understanding and faith for others.
We invite Jesus to accomplish his purpose in us as we allow him to flow through us to reach others – our missional worship to him.
—Gareth Goossen is worship & arts pastor at Waterloo (Ont.) MB Church. He has authored a book WorshipWalk: Where Worship and Life Intersect (Worship Leader Magazine’s Editor’s Pick for Essential Reading 2013), available in English and Spanish. For 21 years, he was executive director of Make Us Holy– a ministry to churches, mission agencies and discipleship schools in North, Central and South America.