In his lecture entitled “The Goal of Mission–Worship” Bishop Frank Lyons points out that mission and worship are hardly connected in any meaningful way in our contemporary missiological resources. Citing the work of Stephen Bevans in Constant in Contexts (2004), Bishop Lyons maintains that our mission and worship are integral to each other. A second aspect noted in his lecture qualifies worship as having both personal and corporate expressions. His thesis is therefore that, “the Church at worship realizes the purposes of God for the world and then shares this reality in witness and mission.” The idea presented by Bishop Lyons is that the church is formed by worship into the Kingdom and thus mission flows out from our worshipping communities.
In the beginning of the book The Lord’s Service by Pastor Jeff Meyers, there is an paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton that is relevant to this discussion. “G.K. Chesterton once argued that when things go wrong, we need ‘unpractical men’ who will analyze the problem before rushing in with solutions,” writes Meyers. As Western Christianity continues to lose influence and membership in the developed world it can be tempting to ignore worship as a peripheral issue. Perhaps we have ourselves thought that what really matters are acts of benevolence and social justice to the many millions of suffering individuals; or perhaps our emphasis has been on reaching the lost with the message of the Gospel with little concern about the role and responsibility of a worshipping community. It can be possible then to caricature an emphasis on worship as “fiddling while Rome burns.”
Throughout his lecture Bishop Lyons reminds the listener of the ways God has used worship as his primary means of accomplishing his purposes in history. That practical means, that is man-centered, are not enough to perform God’s redemptive work. The God of the Bible primarily uses the unpractical means like the foolishness of the cross, the yielding of a lamb, and the setting of a table to effect meaningful change in the course of history. They derive their power from their emphasis on restoring communion with God and require submissive obedience rather than strength and wisdom.
I would add to Bishop Lyon’s comments that the idea of a worshipping community is essential to God’s revealed history because it is a reflection of his Triune identity. Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) describes the covenantal relationship between God and man as ectypical with, “its archetypical original found in the divine economy.” (as quoted by Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, pg. 295) As God himself is a worshipping community of three persons, so too must his image-bearing creations find their mission and purpose (telos) in worshipping communities.
(Originally published a discussion response for Intro to Global Mission MENC10 at Trinity School for Ministry)