The Center for Parish Development hosts its annual Convocation July 26-28. It’s not too late to join us for some lively conversation about missional worship. Here’s a foretaste of some of it . . .

1. “And they sang a new song” (Rev. 5:9): The Formative Power of Worship. In this session we will explore what it means to be shaped – body, mind, and spirit – by what we do in the worshiping assembly. Resisting the idea that worship is “useful” (its only purpose is to give glory to God), we’ll look at how prayer and preaching, song and sacrament – indeed, all that we do when we gather as Christ’s body – make of us a people commissioned and privileged to participate in God’s mission in the world.

2. “Therefore let us be thankful” (Heb. 12:28): Communities of Gratitude and Generosity. Much of popular culture (and pop theology) would have us believe that gratitude and generosity are personal attributes that can make us happier, healthier individuals. While not discounting the “therapeutic” value of such habits, we will go deeper into an exploration of worship’s capacity to engender gratitude and generosity communally – to make these virtues constitutive of our way of living God’s mission in the world.

3. “O Taste and See” (Ps. 34:8): Consumption and Over-Consumption at Tables of Plenty. For all that Eucharistic fellowship means and for all that it requires of those who share in it, there is this fundamental imperative: We are to nourish and care for our own bodies and the bodies of others. In light of this we’ll consider how it is that all our sharing of food (and our withholding or wasting of it), our complicity with unjust food systems, and, perhaps most unsettling, all our eating (and overeating) are implicated in this simple meal of bread and wine at the Table of the Lord.

4. “I urge you as aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11): Worship in a Foreign Land. What does it mean to worship a strange God (“love your enemies”; “sell all you have”) in a strange land (“for you were aliens in Egypt”)? How are Christians in North America a people in exile? Our concluding session will examine how the Church’s worship prepares us to engage the culture around us: to name the powers and principalities; to side with the strangers in our midst. The radical, embodied, cruciform witness we offer is one that does not shun or denounce or ridicule but which adheres to the missional impulse: to love the world as God loves it.

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The biblical idea is not that God’s church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church. “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church” (Jürgen Moltmann).

This missio dei is the work of healing and restoration, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of the flourishing of all of creation, of welcome, hospitality, and shalom. The Church’s task, then, is not self-preservation or even “renewal” of its own inner life. The Church’s task is to bear witness to God’s mission in the world and to discern and participate in that holy, joyful work wherever we may encounter it.  

Missional worship, then, proclaims and celebrates what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through Jesus. At its best, missional worship draws on the rich resources of historic Christian liturgy, even as it seeks to offer its praise and thanksgiving in the varied contexts of the Church’s life and witness; and it recognizes the calls to false worship all around us: the lure of political power, militarism, status and prestige, the American dream.

Missional worship is, in some sense, circular since it is worship that sends us out into the world (the liturgy after the liturgy as the Orthodox like to say); but it is also true that worship is the primary goal of the missio dei: God’s desire is to be in communion with all that God has made. We were created for worship and “our hearts are restless till they find rest in God” (Augustine).