Missional Pattern 5: Worship as Public Witness
Worship is a public witness demonstrating the church’s allegiance to the one God, known in Jesus Christ, and experienced in the Holy Spirit. Far from being an internal activity of the congregation, worship is essential to our witness to the world.
Worship is an act of allegiance. In its most concrete form, the Hebrew word for “worship” means to fall down on one’s face in front of the ruler. So when we say or sing, “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6), we are declaring our allegiance to the one true God, above all other allegiances.
The triune God is the center of worship. The center of worship is not about “meeting my needs.” It is true that God does meet our deepest needs, even the ones we did not know we had until we became a part of the Christian community. But worship is not primarily about us, it is about God. Worship is addressed to God, and worship announces to the world what God has been doing. Styles of worship and styles of music can vary according to culture and location; the important thing is putting God at the center of worship.
Worship can be missional. Some congregations think of worship as a part of the internal life of the congregation, almost entirely separate from the church’s outreach and witness. Other congregations think of worship primarily as an evangelistic tool or as an opportunity to recruit people to social action. Missional congregations think of worship as performed before the watching world, announcing who we are and whose we are, as the people of God—it is public!
The New Testament words for “worship” are public words. “Church” (ekklesia) is an assembly gathered to make decisions, a kind of town meeting. “Preaching” (kerygma) was a public proclamation that the king or other high official was coming to town. Liturgy (leitourgia) meant a public works project, works on behalf of the people and their public good. Missional worship is a public assembly of the people of God. Missional preaching announces the past, present, and future of the reign of God. Missional liturgy is on behalf of the people of God and on behalf of the world.
Baptism is a public statement of a new identity, as a disciple of Christ, a participant in the people of God, the church. Baptism initiates new Christians as citizens of the reign of God. In the Lord’s supper, or Eucharist, the fellowship around the table, God makes God’s presence and God’s future visible to the church and to the world.
Worship is the central, public act by which the Christian community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future.