The Good and the Bad of Missional Worship
There is little doubt that the missional church movement has been influential in evangelical churches, and that it continues to grow. Having surveyed the history and theology of this important movement and specifically its impact upon the worship of the evangelical church, the question remains as to whether this influence has been beneficial or not. This concluding section offers some suggestions of positive contributions missional thinking has made to evangelical worship as well as a few areas that may require further critical evaluation.
The missional church movement has provided positive change in at least three important areas of thinking.
Focus on Evangelism. First, the missional church movement has sparked a critical wake-up call to a stagnant and lazy evangelicalism that has forgotten its mission. Whether or not one agrees with the missio Dei emphasis of the missional church movement, its focus on evangelism that is profoundly God-centered and more than an invitation to come to a seeker service is a refreshing development in how the evangelical church understands missions.
Recovery of Believer’s Worship. This refocus on the proper place of evangelism has led to another beneficial contribution—the recovery of worship as primarily a believer’s service to God rather than an evangelism event. Regardless of the various degrees of connection between worship and evangelism that missional writers advocate, each of them insists upon worship that consists primarily of believers directing their attention toward God in a meaningful way. This has led to several side benefits such as a recovery of congregational singing rather than performance in worship.
Recognition of Changes in Western Culture. The missional movement has also done the evangelical church a service by articulating the nature of the Christendom model of western culture and identifying the significant shifts that took place in the West post-Enlightenment. In particular, missional authors’ explanations of how the Enlightenment and modernistic thinking has shaped the evangelical church in the West are a necessary tool for the evaluation of church practice and worship today.
Points for Evaluation
At least three key areas of thought in missional thinking, however, may require some additional critical evaluation.
Interpretation of Christendom. First, although the missional church seems to correctly recognize the nature of the Christendom paradigm in western civilization and in many cases rightly discerns the integral relationship between Christianity and culture during that period, it appears to view this development in the history of the church as entirely negative, with very few positive fruits. At very least, most missional advocates see what happened as merely neutral contextualization of the church’s worship to culture, yet their very quick dismissal of worship forms coming out of that period as simply antiquated “relics” reveals what may be a somewhat simplistic understanding of the impact of the church upon culture during that period. This perspective limits their ability to recognize the strengths of the cultural forms from that period in expressing Christian values.
Understanding of Culture. Yet perhaps this first criticism is merely a symptom of a greater problem, and that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of culture. Most missional authors assume the neutrality of culture itself as self-evident, never seeking to prove such a point beyond simplistic arguments such as comparing the accommodation of cultural forms to the adoption of common languages or insisting that the Bible does not prescribe particular forms. Missional authors have failed to engage serious thinking on the matter of culture that suggests an inseparable connection between religion, beliefs, values, worldviews, and cultural expressions. They devote much too little space to consideration of how the modern idea of culture relates to the biblical realities of “the world,” human depravity, admonitions to be holy, and the ever-present danger of religious syncretism.
Understanding of Worship. Finally, how the missional church views the nature of worship itself requires more careful evaluation. Beyond brief mention of a few proof texts that seem to indicate a connection between worship and evangelism, missional authors have failed to wrestle with this relationship at a significant level, and instead find themselves closely resembling the “attractional” church growth models they repudiate. In fact, Sally Morgenthaler, whose purpose in writing Worship Evangelism was to discourage such models in favor of active daily evangelism on the part of every believer, later discovered that her book instead served to fuel the attractional model.1 Missional thinkers need to give more serious consideration to the effects of focusing heavily on evangelism in worship upon the quality of the worship itself.
The Missional Church Movement has had significant impact upon worship in the evangelical church. It has caused the church to give much more careful consideration to how much of its worship methodology has been shaped by culture rather than Scripture and how it can recover believers’ worship that had been lost in the church growth movement’s evangelistic restructuring, while nevertheless making worship intelligible to unbelievers.
Yet in its noble ambition to recover truly missional worship, the missional church movement may have failed to recognize how its own understanding of both worship and culture have been shaped by the Christendom and Enlightenment models they repudiate. Therefore, the full correction of errors regarding worship and evangelism that missional advocates rightly identify requires more careful study of culture and worship and their relation to evangelism from a biblical perspective.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.
- Sally Morgenthaler, “Worship as Evangelism,” Rev! Magazine, June 2007. [↩]