Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Missional Worship

One of the things I kind of like about the Missional Church conversation is that it hasn't added fuel to the "worship wars." The missional church literature doesn't seem to care if you use power point, sit on sofas, or have someone painting while the sermon is happening. Nothing against these things, per se. But the missional church literature has not been that interested in worship forms, styles, etc.

There may be several reasons for this. First, many of the missional writers are mainliners who take a certain liturgical shape for granted. They don't invent worship every Sunday like those of us in the free churches. Second, and I think more significantly, missional is interested in culture around a different set of issues than other renewal impulses. Missional begins with a question of social location--where does the church find its place after-Christendom? How should the church interpret its liminal status? This is a different question than the one asked, for instance, by the emerging church crowd. They begin with issues related to postmodernity. What counts for knowledge? And how do we relate to the things we experience? These questions lend themselves more immediately to worship, particularly worship aesthetics.

Still, I think this hole in the missional church conversation is regrettable. First, it fails to help us see how our worship patterns over time have assumed Christendom. I spent two years worshipping with an Episcopal church in St. Paul and loved the experience. However, it was also clear to me how much of what happened assumed a particular cultural expression of the church and would tend to perpetuate the same. Worship is hardly exempt from the lingering effects of Christendom, even in the free churches.

So, where would the missional impulse take worship? I have several specific suggestions, but I want to start wider, with a bigger picture. First, the missional impulse would assume a public horizon for worship. In the churches with which I sojourn, the primary horizon is private. Worship is seen as a part of the inner life of the church and directed toward the inner life of the individual. Missional worship would assume a broader landscape. It would worship in the presence of and for the sake of the world.

Second, missional worship would integrate all of life. The gap between Sunday and Monday mornings is significant in the imagination of the typical church goer. Sunday is religious. Monday is secular. Sunday has special rules. Monday has a different set of rules. Sunday is for inspiration for living in the real world. Monday is the real world. A missional impulse would see Sunday as more than just an inspirational tune-up for Monday. It would be rehearsal for life on Monday.

Third, in keeping with this integrating impulse, missional worship would welcome the stranger. This would require that the table find its place at the center of the worship experience. This is the place of God's welcome. We don't determine the guest list. The practice of welcome around the Lord's table produces a certain kind of character. It should be a place where faith, hope, and love are put on public display.

There might very well be other, large, organizing impulses for worship that might fly under the banner "missional." But I'll start with these and see where they lead.


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Travis said...

These are great questions to start asking. As a member of a congregation that strives to be missional, though we don't use the language outright, I wonder what being missional could mean for our worship. We are in a free church tradition, and our worship fortunately does focus a good deal on how we live in the secular time between Sunday mornings, but I think we could use more deliberate reflection within the missional framework. Good things to think about!