A Call To Missioinal Worship

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I’ve recently begun to discover that you can get a sense of whether a church is inwardly or outwardly focused by their approach to worship. For the last two months I’ve been able to visit and speak in churches across the country and across my city. It’s a whole new experience after spending 20 years primarily worshipping with the same church family. For me what I’ve been seeing is quite startling, that the approach a church takes to worship is a barometer on the extent to which they are outwardly or inwardly focused.

Okay I am using the word “worship” in the narrow sense of what happens during a church worship service, and yes I do know that worship is far broader than that. My point being, it’s what happens when the church gathers, that can tell you a lot about how the church views and practices its mission.

What I’ve discovered as I’ve travelled the country is that while we have a growing number of churches who are taking a more “contemporary” approach to worship, there’s a strong set of boundaries on what that looks like. The ultimate goal seems to be to allow younger Christians more and more influence on worship styles while not overly offending the older saints. It’s an attempt to be all things to all Christians, tipping the balance slightly in favour of the younger generation.

These churches are strong on promoting intergenerational harmony, but are not always thinking about how their worship service might impact those who are not yet Christ followers. The big giveaway is not as much the style of music (although it can include the style of music), as much as it is the vocabulary of the worship leader. Twenty years in one church setting and I had forgotten how we evangelicals have a very unique vocabulary that is only appreciated by those of us within the movement, or maybe not even appreciated by everyone in the movement, but simply tolerated because it just is. I leave the examples to your imagination. I don’t really want to create specific offence to any of the worship leaders I’ve been with recently, who sincerely have done their best for the glory of God.

As the “seeker church movement” is now going out of vogue, as the concept of “attractional church,” is seen by so many as a negative, as the word “missional” seems to be used by so many to only mean what happens outside of the church gathered, there seems to be a new push to make the weekend worship experience a much more exclusive deal for committed believers.

This leads to worship that is more about placating various factions within a church in the name of harmony including the use of insider vocabulary, that at times is not just weird for outsiders, it’s just weird, period. (With apologies to Craig Groeschel whose book “Weird” deals with something quite different!) We seem to be moving back into worship as “time warp,” now that we’re being told that the “seeker sensitive” model doesn’t work. In many cases what we end up with is neither contemporary worship nor historic worship, just the nineties and early 2000’s revisited.

But then there are a few churches out there that seem to understand that missional is what happens both when the church is gathered and scattered, and that the church had better be attractional, making the beauty of Jesus visible both when gathered and scattered. Worship in these churches is not about trying to keep all the Christians happy. More it’s just about authentically using the diverse breadth of styles and rhythms found on a typical radio dial, concert hall or move theatre as well as weaving some ancient and historic tunes and rhythms into the mix, and using this worship tapestry to lift up the name of Jesus. The desire of these churches is that this experience of worship would draw believers into the tangible presence of Christ as humble worshippers, while inviting those who are not yet believers to keep going in their journey towards Christ.

It has nothing to do with dumbing down the Gospel and everything to do with lifting up Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures, using the tunes and rhythms that are capable of stirring the hearts of the believer and unbeliever alike, using words that communicate effectively with believer and seeker alike.

I’d like to use the phrase “missional worship” to describe this. It’s what you see in the teaching and worship of the early church, where gatherings of believers for worship and teaching were generally inclusive and sensitive to those who were not yet a part of the Christian community. After all, we the church are the one gathering, the one institution that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet a part of our community.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 14 when you get a chance. As you wade through the issues in that passage, one thing comes out loud and clear: Paul instructs the congregation there to adapt its worship because of the presence of unbelievers. (With thanks to Tim Keller for this thought) Paul wants local church worship to be sensitive and inclusive of those who are not yet regenerated Christ followers. That’s both/and. It’s what I would call “missional worship.”

Could I humbly encourage us to be churches of the both/and, churches who practice “missional worship” where in the midst of leading believers into a powerful worship encounter with God, we make worship comprehensible and engaging to the unbeliever. Let’s design our worship experiences to be inclusive and welcoming of both believers and unbelievers, leading both into a dangerous life-transforming encounter with the living God.

7 Responses to "A Call To Missioinal Worship"
  1. rdugall says:

    You are 100% correct…BOTH/AND not either/or…even those of us who are attempting to do something missionally driven need to understand “attractional”/seeker-driven issues that impact our faith communities…you are a wise man!

  2. Eric Long says:

    Doug: For me it would be helpful to provide an example(s) of what you would consider worship that is attractional but nonetheless does not alienate those who have grown up “evangelical”. These examples need not be of particular churches that in your view might be doing this right or not, but sort of what kind of music genre would seem to fit.

    Good thoughts though! Enjoyed


    • Doug Doyle says:

      Eric: I’m not so sure that a specific example would work. In Thunder Bay (or any city) I would survey the most listened to radio stations for music like Rock 94, Magic 99.5, The Giant 105.5 maybe CKPR 91.5. CBC while well listened to in Tbay is more for talk and Lisa Laco has the morning captured — with a unique Thunder Bay feel. We have an on and off country station that is not as well listened to. All this to say that Thunder Bay still leans a bit more towards Rock and the style you’ll typically hear at Redwood. But Thunder Bay and Redwood are not necessarily living in the mainstream of North American culture.

      When you take a look at the iTunes top 100 singles that reflect culture more broadly than just Thunder Bay, very few of the songs are rock. And yet most larger contemporary churches worship predominantly to the rock style in North America. So there is a style of worship becoming entrenched in larger church culture that may not reflect the world they are in.

      This is where Redwood will have to be careful. As music preferences shift in our city, to maintain the ethos that is Redwood, we will need to align our style with what’s happening in the city and not just with what’s happening in the North American worship scene.

      Nopw my sense is that the “rock” churches are still closer to culture than the vast majority of other churches who have styles of music that way out of sync with the culture they are in. While music styles are more eclectic and diverse now than 20 years ago,very little of what is “current” can be found in most churches. What I’ve found traveling the country are styles that are diverse but reflect different aspects or eras of evangelical culture, that are for the most part insensitive to the people they want to reach.

      I was in Fort McMurray a couple of weeks ago and delighted to find a worship style in the Alliance Church there that was similar to Redwood. The reason this is good, is because both cities tend to lean similarly towards more of a rock style in their overall listening preferences. But when you get to larger cities like Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary the listening preferences have shifted away from Rock to a broader eclectic iTunes 100 mix … which again few church have captured … maybe Metro Mercy, the downtown Calgary site of RockPointe is closer.

      Hope that long meandering answer helps.

  3. Devon Martin says:

    A very insightful word Doug! This article really resonated with me when I read it yesterday. I have the pleasure of experiencing inclusive worship every weekend here at Hillsong Church. The heartbeat of Hillsong Church’s weekend services is missional worship and that is reflected in the the diverse demographic of people that show up week after week and leave inspired week after week. I want to live and teach this perspective where ever I end up serving!

    I would like to add a thought to this conversation… While deliberate research is needed and important for effective missional worship music, nothing speaks louder to people than a worship leader who is so in love with God that audiences can’t help but be swept into God’s presence with him. The most effective worship leaders understand, love, and care about the people they lead week in, week out.

  4. Barbara says:

    Having been doing some reading on the topic of worship I found this post interesting although I do not agree with some points you make.

    If we look at the church consisting of the body of believers, we are told in Acts that the early church met for four reasons. They were for teaching doctrine; for fellowship, that is encouraging each other in the Word and holy living; for the Lord’s Table; for prayer. The example from Acts shows us that the meetings/worship service of the church is a place where believers are “refuelled” so to speak and then as “missional Christians” they go out into the world to share with the non-believer. When the non-believer is saved he is then added to the church body by the Lord. That is how the church is “the one institution that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet a part of our community.”

    In the example you gave of 1 Corinthians 14 I do not agree that Paul is calling believers to “adapt its worship because of the presence of unbelievers.” Paul would be giving the same instructions whether there were unbelievers present or not. However, I do see teaching on the proper conduct in the worship service. Paul refers to the fact that the Corinthians were carrying about in a manner that did not reflect the character and nature of God. Rather than displaying peace and harmony, order and clarity, they were instilling strife and confusion because of their actions. Paul specifically instructs on the use of tongues and emphasizes the importance of prophecy over all. The Corinthian believers were misusing tongues and Paul corrected them. To try and adapt this teaching to the general worship of the body of believers, saying that their worship should be adapted to suit the unbeliever, I truly feel is stretching things and does a disservice to this portion of Scripture and the overall conduct of the church.

    Personally, I do not feel that we can “design our worship experiences to be inclusive and welcoming of both believers and unbelievers…” For one thing, true worship cannot be designed – it flows from the heart as an offering to God. It acknowledges God as He has revealed Himself in His Word and that makes exposition of that Word all important, helping the believer to better know the One whom he is worshipping. That is worshipping “in spirit and in truth.” To plan a service to include both involves a compromise and both sides will suffer in the long run.

    When we come down to the issue of music in the worship service I do not see where the musical listening habits of the unsaved public should come into play. Colossians 3:16 tells us “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Here Paul is calling for variety that cannot be contained in one particular musical form. But he is also calling for music that “teaches” and “admonishes” one another in those various forms. Content then is the all important goal of any type of music used whether it is an old hymn of the faith or a more contemporary piece. Does the music have substance and not just aim at an emotional response? Just like preaching, music should be part of the ministry of the Word.

    The Psalmist prayed “let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). The primary questions to be asked of our worship service should be “is this worship acceptable to God, totally for Him” and “does this strengthen the believer in his faith.” If believers are authentically worshipping God as they should, the unsaved will be attracted, not because the believers reflect modern musical styles but because they have something of substance to offer. We turn many things into idols, the worship service being one of them, but we need to remember that everything we do should be for God and not the world.

    • Doug Doyle says:

      Hi Barbara. Thanks for your passionate response, even though we do not agree for the most part. If you are at all open to further reading on this in order to perhaps better appreciate a viewpoint in contrast to yours, you might look at Sally Morgenthaller’S classic on the issue “Worship Evangelism.” From Liberty University & Seminary David Wheeler and Vernon Whalley have more recently written about this in their book “The Great Commission to Worship: Biblical Principles for Worship-Based Evangelism.” A little over ten years ago I heard some messages by Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian that affirmed the themes of both these books and really helped me take a second look at what was happening in the book of Acts. It was Keller’s exposition of I Corinthians 14 within overall flow of Paul’s teaching as well as his passion for mission to those outside of Judaism, that first got me thinking about the broad principle Paul was dealing with beyond just the issue of tongues. These three represent three different streams in the evangelical tradition, and all see a much messier yet God ordained mix of worship together with evangelism than you do, that worship can be evangelism. Thanks for your response and allowing me to point you some folk who are passionately committed to authority of God’s Word as they see God’s embracing the both/and of worship-evangleism. God bless as you continue your reading and pondering of the topic of worship.

  5. Marc says:

    Hi Doug,

    Thanks for this, Love it! Would you have the title or link to those messages by Keller?



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