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The Missionary Imperative of Missional Worship

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series

"Missional Worship"

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Part of the difficulty in attempting to synthesize a philosophy of missional worship is that many different groups have adopted the term missional to describe their approach to church ministry, not all of which ascribe to the fundamental characteristics of the missional movement. For example, while missional church advocates discussed in this series repudiate an attractional model of evangelism, many proponents of a seeker model of worship call themselves “missional.”1 Therefore, the discussion in this section will narrowly focus on the writings of those already discussed in previous posts (Guder, Van Gelder, Stetzer, Hirsch, Keller, Driscol, et al), those worship writers these men specifically quote (Morganthaler especially), and worship writers who share the most core theological and philosophical values with these missional leaders. The framework of this section will take the shape of the discussion earlier of distinctives of the missional movement, each of which impact the philosophy and methodology of worship.

First, for missional churches, worship serves mission. If the church is part of mission, not the other way around, then everything the church does, including worship, serves mission. The question is, how does worship serve mission? On this point, Schattauer provides helpful categories of the possible positions: “Inside & Out,” in which worship fuels mission as a separate activity, “Outside In,” in which the church invites unbelievers to worship in order to evangelize them, and “Inside Out,” in which worship itself is mission. Missional writers almost unanimously repudiate the second position, calling it “attractional” and citing it as the “Christendom” model of evangelism. Some missional writers do claim legitimacy for the first view, such as Guder who suggests that “the public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending.”2 Van Gelder also seems to emphasize the “Inside & Out” role of worship when he says, “The Sunday morning service is the place where the people who worship God become equipped and prepared to do the work of mission that extends that worship into the world.”3

However, with a few exceptions, it appears that most missional advocates would consider the “Inside Out” view to be the best expression of the primary relationship between worship and mission. They understand worship to be primarily about believers worshiping God, but they see this event as necessarily public and evangelistically potent, and therefore they are concerned that the worship service be accessible and “intelligible” to believers and unbelievers alike. For example, Guder specifically emphasizes the “public” nature of corporate worship4 and thus argues that “the language we use, the forms of communication we adopt, the music and symbolism, the liturgies—all of this can and must be translated for the sake of the witness we are to be and do.”5

Stetzer is even more adamant about this point when he says that “the church and its worship are not intended solely for believers,”6 and thus “one of the most effective evangelistic methods a church can use is exposing the unchurched to the authentic worship of God.”7 But like Guder, Stetzer insists that one of the necessary components of this evangelistic worship is that the elements of worship be “comprehensible” to unbelievers. He explains, “My main concern is that the actions of the church are understandable to the unchurched, sensitive to their needs, but not changing the message to be sensitive.”8 Driscoll as well stresses the need to “make the church culturally accessible,”9 and Tim Keller insists that a church must “adapt its worship because of the presence of unbelievers.”10

So how can the worship service itself be evangelistic? Although Sally Morganthaler disagrees with the notion that worship serves mission, she does offer two ways in which worship can be evangelistic.11 First, the content of the worship elements itself reveals God to the unbelievers. Second, unbelievers will witness the relationship between God and the worshipers and be thus drawn to him. This two-fold evangelistic power of worship is evident in other missional writers as well. It is reflected in Guder’s “four basic affirmations” about the purpose of worship in which he emphasizes that “worship is the public celebration of the presence and reality of God,” that it is a means to “acknowledge, praise, and thank God,” and that worship reveals a relationship between God and believers by offering “assurance, comfort, and encouragement.”12 One of his affirmations, however, reveals a third way worship can be evangelistic, and that is in how the gospel itself is proclaimed through “Word and Sacrament and our response to it.”13 Stetzer reflects a combination of these purposes when he says that “the purpose of worship is also to allow unbelievers to observe the divine-human encounter and to yearn for their own personal relationship with God.”14

Therefore, according to missional authors, worship can accomplish mission in three different ways: (1) by revealing God, (2) by manifesting the relationship between believers and God, and (3) by proclaiming the gospel through the liturgy itself.

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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.

  1. See Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 82. []
  2. Guder, Missional Church, 243. []
  3. Van Gelder, The Missional Church and Leadership Formation, 101. []
  4. Guder, Missional Church, 242. []
  5. Guder, The Continuing Converstion of the Church, 96. []
  6. Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 260. []
  7. Ibid., 263. []
  8. Ibid. []
  9. Driscoll and Breshears, Vintage Church, 289. []
  10. Keller, “Evangelistic Worship.” []
  11. Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism, 88. []
  12. Guder, Missional Church, 242. []
  13. Ibid. []
  14. Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 261. []