When Worship Meets Mission

missio-Dei-2God is for the world. God loves the world and this divine love moves God into action.  God has a plan for the world that encompasses the redemption of all things and theologians have coined a phrase, the missio dei to describe not only God’s heart, but also the plan to restore and renew everything. Think for a moment about God in missionary terms. God is a sending God who sends Jesus into the world that God passionately loves. This missionary paradigm is captured in John 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17, NIV).

Stuart Murray describes the missio dei as follows:

“God is the Missionary, who sent His Son and sends His Spirit into the world and whose missionary purposes are cosmic in scope, concerned with the restoration of all things, the establishment of shalom, the renewal of creation, and the coming of the kingdom of God, as well as the redemption of fallen humanity and the building of the Church.”

Murray’s description of God’s mission being “cosmic in scope” is a potent phrase, encompassing every dimension of creation and culminating in the rescue of a people who because of sin have been alienated from their Creator. This rescue plan also includes the formation of a community for whom God would be their deepest source of joy. Jesus called this community, the Church and while Jesus truly wants his people to find in the Church a comforting presence, it was never his intention that   his followers would be content to sing songs, pray prayers, and listen to well prepared and compelling sermons. While our life in Christ certainly includes the experience of corporate worship, the deeper life of worship that God has in mind for God’s people includes our participation in God’s mission in the world.

Near the end of John’s Gospel, we find a lengthy prayer that Jesus offered just prior to his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prays for that he would bring God glory by finishing the work that he was sent to do, the work of offering his life for the life of the world. But not only does Jesus pray for himself, he prays as well for his disciples, for those who would follow in his footsteps. “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that that too may be fully sanctified” (John 17:18-19).

These words are missional in nature, implying that God’s intention for the Church was much more that gathering together in beautiful cathedrals or multiple purpose gymnasiums for times of worship. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” reflects God’s heart for the world, God’s plan to rescue all things and God’s intention to use redeemed people in the process.

As the early church took shape and form, the Apostle Paul stated the critical role that the church plays in the redemptive purposes of God: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11).  In other words, there is no plan b. God’s redemptive purposes in the world today are actualized by forgiven people, living by the power of the Spirit, participating in the missio dei.  NT Wright outlines our part in this mission with these words: “our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has already discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear, and suspicion.”

The heartbeat of God is love and this love is at work in the world today restoring the broken and dislocated parts of the universe, atom-by-atom, piece by piece, putting them back together again. It all happens because of Christ’s death, his blood poured down from the cross. As God’s people we have the privilege, honor and responsibility to proclaim this reality in word and deed. God has a mission and the church is a missional community partnering with God wherever and whenever we are able, in the life giving process of seeing the world renewed in Jesus Christ.

The key to living missionally is worship. A person will only be able to reflect the love of God to the world if that person is worshiping the one true God, the one who has created the world from an overflowing, self‑giving love. The more a person enters into the heart of God and celebrates that love, the more that person will be able to reflect that overflowing, self‑giving love as they move into the world. This is why engaging in corporate worship is so important. One of the things that can happen when the church gathers for worship is that the people into contact with the powerful love of God in Jesus Christ. In a sense, God shines the divine light of love on the gathered ones. When this occurs, the gathered can experience an intimate encounter with God; however, this encounter is not an end in itself. God’s extends light and love upon the church in order that the church might go into the world and shine, becoming reflectors of God’s love. But the people of God will not be able to effectively unless it takes seriously the call to corporate worship, living deeply together in the love of God revealed most powerfully in the giving of God’s own Son Jesus.

Jesus is the ultimate worship leader. There is good reason that the Scriptures call us to “fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.”  While our offering of worship is always imperfect, because Jesus perfectly offered His life back to God, as our worship is offered to God through his, our worship is perfected as well. This is good news to those who are prone to sing off key, pray less than grammatically correct prayers or lose attention while listening to a sermon. Though our acts of worship may be less than perfect, through Christ they become not only acceptable to God, but pleasing as well.

Jesus as our model worship leader, not only offers his life to God, but also offers it for the life of the world. In John 6, Jesus miraculously feeds the multitudes with the five loaves of bread and two fish that a young child willingly offered to Jesus. While the crowd found satisfaction in the meal that was provided, the people became confused between the physical things that Jesus offered and the spiritual realities that Jesus was presenting. The physical bread, satisfied them for a few hours; but Jesus was offering something that could fulfill their deepest needs. As he taught the people, Jesus declared, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Jesus, in speaking of his death on the cross, was proclaiming that his sacrifice was more than that of a martyr. His was a generative offering, bringing real life to the world.

You might be saying to yourself, “isn’t the world already alive?” Look at all the activity that occurs in the world, the creativity, the innovation, the opportunity and possibility. Yes and no. While the world is in one sense alive, at the very same time, it filled with death. The results of sin are all around us: war, terror, relational brokenness, sickness and disease, corruption, injustice. This world is under a death sentence and Jesus offers his very life in order that the world might come back to life.

This is the missio dei and as Jesus offered his life back to God for the life of the world, so too can we participate in the work of restoration and renewal by offering our lives through Christ, back to God for the life of the world.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, A Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days, which will be available in Spring 2014.

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