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The Influence of the Missional Church on Worship

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series

"Missional Worship"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Most church leaders readily recognize that God has tasked the church with several different purposes, yet how those purposes work together has equally mystified them. One of the most potentially difficult ministry relationships to reconcile has been of that between worship and evangelism. The church growth movement answered the question by insisting that the church’s primary service should be an evangelistic meeting designed to attract and meet the needs of “seekers.” This perspective drew fire from some who argued that this ignores worship altogether, others who complained that believers were not discipled, and still others who claimed that this “attractional” model of evangelism just didn’t work.

Yet in the past twenty years a new movement has emerged in evangelical Christianity that has reshaped the conversation in subtle yet profound ways by suggesting that these two priorities of the church are not separate but in fact essentially connected, subsumed under the umbrella of the mission of God. This missional church movement has significantly influenced discourse about both evangelism and worship, injecting the evangelical church with both a new posture toward culture in general and a new vocabulary regarding every aspect of its existence. Instead of wrestling with how different aspects of the church’s ministry relate to one another, missional church advocates explore how each ministry relates to the overarching idea of “mission.”

The use of the term missional, as opposed to missions or missionary, is growing quickly across various evangelical groups. Ed Stetzer reports,

Southern Baptists have become frequent users of the word.

The Wesleyan Church Evangelism and Church Growth Team explains: “The E&CG Dept. exists to equip & empower The Wesleyan Church to become a missional movement through multiplying believers, leaders & churches.”

Randy Pope, pastor of Perimeter Church in Atlanta, preached a message at last summer’s Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly entitled, “The PCA: A Missional Church” from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

The Assemblies of God Department of U.S. Missions includes “missional” as one of their 4 values.

The Evangelical Free Church is planning a “Missional Summit” for their leaders in 2007 and they have renamed their church planting leadership: “Missional Church Planting Team.”

The Nazarene Church’s denomination has adopted “Missional” as their denominational goal. They describe themselves as Christian, Holiness, and Missional.

Increasing numbers of churches, denominations, seminaries, and mission agencies are beginning to use the term and explicitly adopt its core ideas.

These missional ideas impact a number of aspects of church life and ministry, not the least of which is worship. Many church leaders today advocate allowing a missional impulse to drive all aspects of the church’s worship including goals, structure, format, and musical style. In an attempt to squelch the fires of the worship wars, evangelical worship leaders are calling for worship rooted in the mission of God to the world. Part of the fuel for the wars is the constantly changing culture and a relentless tension between allowing the Bible to govern a church’s worship and the church’s calling to reach the increasingly pagan world for Christ. Recognizing the post-modern, post-Christian nature of the North American context, worship leaders are asking, “What worship forms will best accomplish God’s mission in our culture?”

The purpose of this series is to survey the history, literature, and theology of the missional church movement in order to evaluate its impact upon evangelical worship in North America. After ascertaining common principles guiding missional worship today, this series will assess the strengths of this worship development and offer suggestions of points that require further discussion.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department 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.

7 Responses to The Influence of the Missional Church on Worship

  1. With all due respect Scott — and I would like to provide the most constructive and most useful response — I don't know that there are distinct problematic items so far in that which you analyze. You say: "These missional ideas impact a number of aspects of church life and ministry, not the least of which is worship. Many church leaders today advocate allowing a missional impulse to drive all aspects of the church’s worship including goals, structure, format, and musical style." I don't recognize a problem with "missional impulse" or its driving the aforementioned elements of worship. Looking at Part I of your series, I think it could benefit from specific examples. That is, specific examples of the who, what, when, where, and how. I notice the quotes from several Church bodies but I don't know why you seem to be discounting mission(s) as part of worship. I had thought that among the last words Jesus spoke involved the Great Commission, to spread the gospel to all corners of the earth which I would think we would call a missional activity.

  2. For instance, perhaps you could mention use of "song title X" in a Church worship service and how it is used in a manner contrary to — and disallowed by — scripture.

    Forgive me for my lateness in response and forgive me in that I haven't read the entire 6-piece series yet.

  3. Hi, Todd. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Yeah, I'd encourage you to read the following posts, because I think you'll see that (a) I'm not drawing any conclusions about all this just yet, (b) the series isn't finished yet, and (c) my conclusions will be that I agree with much of what the missional guys say, although there are a few areas where I think their ideas need further evaluation. Stay tuned… :)

  4. Scott – hope you had a wonderful Christmas. What determines music permissible in worship vs. music impermissible in worship? If I'm not mistaken, I think you have said that permissible music is that which pleases God. Then, how do we know what pleases God and what doesn't please God? If we look at Psalm 150, why can't we just have a bunch of guys screaming and banging cymbals and tambourines and bass drums? I mean, that would qualify for Psalm 150, wouldn't it? Can Rap never please God? Can heavy-metal never please God? About two months ago, I attended a nearby church where they had loud, fast, beatin music (rock?) playing in their worship session. I had to stand a long ways away, outside the auditorium, because it was so loud. The drum beat was harsh-sounding to me and I'm not sure whether the drum beats resolved themselves very well. But who am I to judge that particular worship band? What if everyone else loved it? How do I know that God didn't love it?

    Thanks in advance.

  5. A little more about me. I've been in many different kinds of churches. For awhile, I attended what you might call a pentecostal church. I had a difficult issue there because they apparently didn't adhere to the command of 1 Corinthians 14:28. Anyway, I attended a Lutheran church which I was fond of their choir sounds but perhaps I found other parts of their worship to be less than desirable to me. I have liked when a sermon provides practical advice. That's one thing I discovered that <a>Saddleback Church has done, but I've had difficulties regarding Saddleback. For example, I favor translations rather than paraphrases. They use translations, but they also use paraphrases. I'm not saying paraphrases aren't admissible; I'm just saying use of paraphrases is a bit problematic for me, only speaking for myself. I joined a Lutheran fellowship and I found it quite agreeable. It was intimate — fortunately, there are no cliques there. The hymns we sang were (are) traditional, with most of them easy to sing. The teaching borrowed a little bit from an Espiscopal writer.

    But back to music and worship. I have attended a church where the drums have been really "rappy" or "tinny" so to speak, and the sound is both contemporary and apparently appeals to a "multicultural" audience. (Note: the church advertises itself as a multicultural church.) I just couldn't think, let alone worship. But who am I to judge them? Even if it was rapping and hip-hop or loud speed-thrash-heavy-metal, who am I to judge them? Maybe God loves it! How am I to know? I don't know where speed-thrash-heavy-metal is outlawed in Scripture. How do I know? Maybe God loves it? How am I supposed to know? It frustrates me when it seems like everyone knows the answers but I don't.

  6. Hi, Todd. Let me just reply to your final statements, which I think will help with the whole issue:

    "But who am I to judge them? Even if it was rapping and hip-hop or loud speed-thrash-heavy-metal, who am I to judge them? Maybe God loves it! How am I to know? I don’t know where speed-thrash-heavy-metal is outlawed in Scripture. How do I know? Maybe God loves it? How am I supposed to know? It frustrates me when it seems like everyone knows the answers but I don’t."

    My simply answer is, I know exactly how you feel. I wrestle almost every day with decisions about what kinds of behaviors, including but not limited to musical expression, are pleasing to the Lord. I get just as frustrated often, wishing God would just tell me what pleases him. I don't have all the answers, and I don't think anyone does.

    But that's what the Christian life is about, isn't it? Testing everything and holding fast to what is good (1 Thess 5:21); finding out what pleases the Lord (Eph 5:10); proving the good and acceptable will of God (Romans 12:2). In each of these cases, which describe the Christian life, it is clear that God has a will, he has certain things that please him, but he expects us to work at finding out what that is. He hasn't given us explicit instructions about every decision we'll make, including our musical choices. But he has a will, and we must strive to discern it.

    That's what I strive to do daily, yet I often fail. That is the purpose of this ministry, to offer at least some guidance toward discernment in at least one issue.

    At the end of the day we won't all come to the same conclusions, but God will be pleased that we weren't content with mediocrity but instead wrestled every day to glorify him.

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