Sunday, March 20, 2011

can mission be embedded into the worship DNA? a proposal

Updated: For a second proposal, see can mission be embedded into the worship DNA? a 2nd proposal.

Updated: to be clear, I’d not for a moment suggesting this for a whole existing congregation. Best way to kill an idea is to expect everyone to agree! With this, I’m wanting to suggest an experiment, to invite a number of folk to try for a set period of time and then to sit back and reflect on the implications.

Here is the logic of some current thinking.

1. Faith is caught, not taught. Thus the Christianity we are offering is focused on worship, not on mission. The energy for being Christian today (what folk see, what people are paid for) is concentrated on the invitation to gather and to worship, not to scatter in God’s sending name.

2. This makes mission the extra, the stuff we do after the benediction and outside the worship service.

3. Mission is a multi-faceted way of being God’s hand and feet in the world. It includes the individual relationships we have with those beyond the community of faith. It also must include corporate acts in which the people of God together are the body of Christ.

4. We live in a time poor society. This means that some prioritisation must happen. Current Western church attendance patterns include more and more folk attending fortnightly. In other words, weekly is hard enough, let alone saying to folk – to be part of us weekly involves both gathered worship and mission.

5. Churches when they gather do some mission. This involves pray for others. It also involves giving financially. However if we are honest, most of this giving is funneled into more worship, not into mission.

6. Further, it takes levels of skills I rarely see to integrate mission into all of gathered worship – thanks, hearing the Word, confession, communion. The Uniting church worship recommends the worship includes a Word of Mission, but one is more likely to see a Kiwi than find this wonderful treasure.

So how can we embed mission into the DNA of the worshipping life of the church? Since this blog has many purposes, one of which includes trying out ideas, flying kites, here’s a suggestion, that we offer the following pattern for church.

Week one – gather together to give thanks, name sin, engage the Jesus story, hold the world before God ie gathered worship.

Week two – scatter – each is encouraged in this week to simply connect with friends and family who are not yet Christian, to pursue individual redemptive relationships.

Week three – gather – a simple gathered worship service focused around communion, storytelling of the Jesus story and prayer for relationships.

Week four – gather but only in order to do a combined mission project. People come together to plant trees, feed the homeless, advocate for justice, plan community events.

In this pattern, all the important facets of gathered worship are present, albiet monthly, rather than weekly. What is changed is that mission – both individual and corporate – is now embedded into the rhythm of the gathered communion.

I would have resisted such a pattern 10 years ago, when I use to argue vehemently for regular weekly patterns. My thinking 10 years ago was that those on the fringe, or visitors, might not be able to connect with this changing pattern. And so they might turn up to find the church “in mission”, which would be cool, but also pretty inhospitable. But 10 years ago was before we had cell phones, websites, social media. These now allow a whole range of ways for people to keep connected with the life of a community.

So what do you think? Would such a project allow the life of a church to be more aligned around the important impulses of worship and mission, gathering and sending? What might be lost?

Posted by steve at 04:42 PM


  1. It excites me, that’s for sure!

    I think there are still some uncertainties there about what it would mean for visitors – better contact via mobile/web/social media doesn’t fix that, because visitors are people you have no prior contact with.

    The best solution I can think of probably isn’t practical as the idea gets “off the ground” but I can envision a circumstance in which two congregations share a single worship space, offering worship on alternate Sundays. Given that this is the site for people to just “turn up”, when visitors do turn up, they will always find something similar (enough) to their expectations, and more importantly find a congregation in “welcoming mode”.

    I do have a slightly biased view, though, since worship is the thing I find hardest/least valuable 🙂

    Comment by IainM — March 20, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

  2. This is why I read you!

    Perhaps I would add some set prayer/liturgy (brief) on wk 4. Ditto on week 2, but in ‘households’ (but those ‘shut in’ or alone who have no desire to be so?).

    Thanks-I’m buzzing!

    Comment by Graham — March 20, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

  3. Iain, that’s intriguing. I had wondered about a subgroup doing this – a sort of group within a church committing to being an experimental missional community. So I think you’re onto something in terms of rotating. Thats’ great


    Comment by steve — March 20, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

  4. Graham
    I had wondered about not so much a set liturgy on week 2 and 4, but a set daily liturgy actually – using daily prayer or daily lectionary readings (as we used to do at Opawa), so that there is actually a base beat of prayer – not around the gathered worship but around our daily lives lived in the world,


    Comment by steve — March 20, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

  5. Steve
    I really like this concept, but I too thought you meant for the model to apply to the whole congregation. Therefore my first reaction was to defend the weekly model of coming together to praise God and build up the body of Christ. I was a bit concerned about the seniors (who still make up the majority of our congregations) and how they would adjust to this model. Communication through “cell phones, websites, social media” is still ineffective for the seniors I relate to.
    However, the model does set a pattern, and does allow for several communities to share a space.
    As someone who loves worship, I would miss the weekly opportunity to sing and praise God. Perhaps where there is a week 5 in a month, the community could come together to sing praises!? … or something else the community might miss…. or participate in an all-age model, such as Messy Church…
    I really like the idea of a community that regularly ‘does’ mission.

    Comment by Linda — March 20, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

  6. and I like the idea of daily prayer too (following a shared text), setting the pattern for our daily lives in the world

    Comment by Linda — March 20, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  7. Thanks Linda. Appreciate your honesty.

    I guess I’m working on 2 fronts

    One, a desire to challenge the church=what we do together, which by default has become worship. So a desire to see a pendulum shift back to; church = worship and mission; and both are honoured in how the congregation is invited to spend it’s time.

    Yet, two, a pragmatic realisation that most people in existing churches won’t be able to make this shift. So rather than ask all, what would happen if around Adelaide say 6 congregations said – yes, we will invite a group of our folk to choose to live in this pattern. We will have our existing life, and we will seek to add a missional congregation to our life.


    Comment by steve — March 20, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  8. Thank you Steve – for the challenge… I hope one day to give it a go 🙂

    Comment by Linda — March 20, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

  9. Yes, maybe I should have been a little clearer …

    I don’t expect whole existing congregations would make this change – more the subgroup that Steve talks of. But one of the tests of “what might it be missing” for me is to envision it in it’s own right, without the “traditional” congregation surrounding/supporting it. That’s really where my comment came from.

    I had been thinking of something similar myself, but with less structure, along the lines of a home church that simply opens up the idea of worship to include mission, or simply sharing in those things in the world that leave us in awe of God, or challenge us etc. But I think I like your structured approach, both because of the intentional setting aside of time for personal relationships and because I can see it working for something more than a relatively isolated home church type group.

    Comment by IainM — March 21, 2011 @ 7:16 am

  10. A good dialogue going here. I minister in a place where, take yesterday for example, we had 15 visitors to worship. They came from UK, USA and Canada. They were staying/holidaying in our area. I share Linda’s thoughts in that each of the visitors was a retired person. They appreciated a “relaxed” liturgical format (having a baptism also helped!). I don’t know how it might have been if we were in week ? and these folk dropped in. It seems to me that the “established’ congregation would grow, slowly, into what Steve has in mind. But, again, for me with a largish community of seniors, a 10% plus visitor number, makes it more of a challenge. I would love to follow what Steve suggests, but I’ve got this reality check of the congregation and its locale which calls us to respond to the rhythm of the street where we are located. So a bit of balancing required I think?

    Comment by Bruce Grindlay — March 21, 2011 @ 8:22 am

  11. After I wrote the above I looked at jonnybaker’s blog where he is reviewing “Church in the Present Tense”. A kind of a ‘run alongside’ commentary to this discussion. And it came to me that as a white male soon to retire minister that I feel a little on the outer to all this. Not in the sense that I am being moved to the margin against my will. Rather that what is being addressed here, and with Jonny to, in the use of various social media, etc. that there is just not the same interest/commitment to said media amongst those that are older. That as we address ‘fresh expressions’ of church we are not asking too many questions about those folk who are the generaton above boomers. Boomers are immersed in social media seeing thmselves as, to state a now old phrase, 65 years of age is now 55 years of age. But for the 70 plus group, with mobile phones, with internet, etc. they are still with a strong commitment to the “old” ways of worship. Drat, lost train of thought. Well what is here may contribute.

    Comment by Bruce Grindlay — March 21, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  12. Thanks Bruce.

    Following your comment (passionate as ever 🙂 I have made an update to the blogpost as follows “Updated: to be clear, I’d not for a moment suggesting this for a whole existing congregation. Best way to kill an idea is to expect everyone to agree! With this, I’m wanting to suggest an experiment, to invite a number of folk to try for a set period of time and then to sit back and reflect on the implications.”

    In terms of your 2nd comment, I’d be fascinated to know what part of the pattern might not work for older folk. Surely they still have ways they can be involved in God’s mission, individually and together?


    Comment by steve — March 21, 2011 @ 10:01 am

  13. We do live in a time-poor society. I wonder at times whether we should emulate that culture, or be counter-cultural. All of what we do is worship. The gathering together of the church and the gathering of church and community needs to be regular to maintain relationship with God and each other. In a sense, are we devaluing this ‘gathered’ time if we are trying to “fit” it into our lives? Are we devaluing the special relationship we have with God? How can we give the community opportunity an experience this “life to the full” when their lives have no room for outside relationships and communication?

    Communion with God is like breathing, we do this all the time (whether we are aware of it or not). For those who believe our lives are reflections of the divine life (God with us). The premise then should not be what is happening on each Sunday, but what ways we can introduce the community to Jesus. How can believers live out God’s commission daily allowing the community to join with and participate in what God is doing?

    It’s not necessarily about programs or patterns. It’s about finding ways to converse, and finding ways everyone can participate in what God is doing in your street, in your suburb, in your state. That will be different for every church, which is why we are planted in so many different places.

    I believe mission needs to flow through all of this, and this is how we begin to re-identify church. One of the symptoms of our society is an unhealthy addiction to time. By re-introducing conversation, spending time listening to people, we are being counter-cultural. I don’t believe we should buy-in to this time-poor society. Let us offer something different.

    Where conversation is more important than the food we eat. Where a coffee meeting is more about the meeting than the coffee. Where fellowship is more important than what time we need to be home. We need to teach people time is precious, so lets spend time together.

    Comment by Andrew Kieselbach — March 21, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  14. Andrew,

    I get the whole thing about mission and flow and it being part of everything. The tension I feel is this wondering about how the church might structure itself so that it reflects it’s beliefs. So if we are saying “the main event is worship and if you are keen, we need volunteers to do x mission,” then I want to say – can we do it so that worship and mission are both core to our life.

    The whole time thing is important. Did the early church or the monasteries in history say – oh, we’re too busy to meet weekly, so lets change our life? So I’m still trying to work out what discipleship and time look like,


    Comment by steve — March 21, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

  15. Hi Steve.

    I think you have got something going here. My only concern are those who may only come to gather for worship or, conversely, come only to plant trees and not commit to the whole journey. A covenant perhaps?

    Comment by Chris McLeod — March 21, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  16. Hi Steve,

    I was probably going on a tangent rather than addressing the pattern you’ve given for church. I guess I was building the foundation of where I am coming from, then looking at the idea.
    Is worship and mission mutually exclusive? Or can they be one in the same?

    The Great Commission and the greatest commandment should be (has to be) the driving force behind any church. The more I’ve thought about it, taking people on mission is probably the best discipleship you can ever get. You learn on the job, you grow so much more. If our worship is missional, in the fullest sense, then our gatherings would reflect this.

    If you had week four as a basis for a weekly meeting, and each week (one, two and three) was reflected in our gathering throughout the month how awesome would that be.

    Gone would be the days of “go into your week and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community” to the practicality of “be those hands and feet today and continue during your week”.

    Comment by Andrew Kieselbach — March 21, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

  17. Thanks Andrew. Your post has sparked off another post – a 2nd can mission be embedded into the worship DNA proposal? – which I hope to work up tomorrow.


    Comment by steve — March 22, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

  18. […] is an excellent introduction to this at that I have found really helpful and thought provoking. But then, I do think too […]

    Pingback by Digging a lot » Blog Archive » Welcome to worship — March 27, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

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