How Worship Services Subvert the Christian Mission – Discipleship

16 10 2007

Great Ommission“All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples…”

Could it be any simpler? Could it be any clearer? Jesus sent us out to make disciples. This IS the mission. Why is this so hard to grasp? There are many reasons why almost no Christians believe this is the central mission. I’d like to explore just one of those reasons namely the pervasive, black hole we call the weekend worship service.

After being on staff at 7 churches and encountering hundreds of others I can say with confidence that, to date, I have NEVER discovered a church with a worship service that believes and practices discipleship as the central mission of the church. Why is this? Is there any causal relationship between having a worship service and a lack of discipleship? For a long time I’ve thought there was not. But the more I’ve pondered the connection I’ve begun to believe that there are elements involved with the maintenance of a weekly worship service that discourage our mission as disciple-makers.

1. Worship Services form the Church’s Identity – Have you ever been to a church with a worship service where that was not the event that defined the church. Every element of the service speaks to what that church is and stands for. What kind of music do they play? Who preaches the sermons? What type of building? etc. What a terrible place to form an identity as a Christian body! We are a worship rockin’, bible preaching church. Really? Is that how the church should self-identify? Not with relationships, nor with beliefs but with music and preaching style.

2. Worship Services communicate that the bar is low (instead of radical discipleship) – The last worship service I went to the Pastor persistently referred to the congregation as “regular attenders”. Huh…so that is who we are. We’re not “the Household of God” or “Disciples of Christ” or “The Light of the World” we’re “regular attenders”. And whether explicitly or implicitly this communicates that what it means to be a good Christian is to regular attend a worship service. What a tragedy! Jesus died on the cross so that we can “go to church”. You may say, “I don’t believe that” but then why does 95% of Christianity act out this belief? Because of the weekly worship service. We’ve trained them well.

3. Worship Services suck up the discipleship resources – Even though we have a hundred million case studies on how useless worship services are at making disciples 99% of churches use their worship service as their primary means of disciple-making. There are a small number of churches that, after tremendous effort, grow large enough to develop other ministries outside of the worship service but when they do discipleship is usually not the focus of those ministries. They feel they need to launch ministries that the worship service does not meet like missions and community so once again discipleship – the central mission – gets the shaft.

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18 responses

16 10 2007
timglass

Jesus did say others would know we were His disciples if we had LOVE for one another. Not what kind of “worship”we had.

Interesting perspective.

16 10 2007
eden2zion

Yep, that too is a great foundation for our identity.

17 10 2007
Gavin

Well, you know I would have to weigh in on this. Your description of the many worship services is accurate. Those venues either 1) try to evangelize “the saved” through a sermon 2) try to disciple Christians by song and preaching (which you have argued is ineffective) 3) try to forge a Christian’s identity through song and sermon or 4) try to attract the seeker by playing relevant, modernized music.

Now, I’ll tell you why I’m becoming Anglo-Catholic.

First, I think we have to define what we mean by “a disciple.” To the two comments above, Love is not an additional foudation (“that too is a great foundation for our identity”). Love is a characteristic of a disciple. A disciple is one whose entire life is obsessed with the Gospel. Now, I must be clear. When I say, “obsessed with the Gospel” I am not saying “one who is merely obsessed with the Gospel MESSAGE”, but rather with the Gospel itself – the life transforming Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel humbles us before a holy God and restores our relationship with God and the world through the Cross of Jesus. In addition, the Gospel gives us new life in the Holy Spirit. We have new identities. Our lives have a new narrative. We were slaves. We were wandering and now, we set our sights to a new city. That city is partially recognized here on earth (God’s Kingdom), but will be ultimately realized in Zion. The Gospel changes the way we think, the way we parent, the way we work, the way we relate to our neighbors, the way we rest, the way we play – the entire fabric of our lives are changed by the Gospel. What does this have to do with worship services and Anglo-Catholicism?

In most protestant churches, the central point of focus has been word or song. In the Vineyard organizations, worship style is central. The entire experience is absorbed by a certain style of music and the quality in which that music is played. In the Bible church that we frequent, the sermon or what is commonly referred to as “proclaming the word” is central. When you walk in, a large Bible sits on a centered table. The entire service focuses around a sermon. Those are two examples of the problem of which you speak. What if the musical style does not resonate? Doesn’t it force a demographic focus? What if the sermon is bad? What if the teaching pastor is missing? Is it a bad service? This is why I’m amazed by the Anglo-Catholic Liturgy.

When one walks in, the sacraments are the center. The entire worship order focuses on the progression of the Gospel. The Sanctum focuses on the holiness of God. The Kyrie requests God’s mercy, admitting that we have all sinned and gone astray. The Sacraments communicate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are then restored. We have peace. We pass the peace of God. Even when the Gospel is read, the celebrants move into the midst of the people, symbolizing Jesus dwelling among us. The worship experience is always centered on Jesus. If the sermon is bad – and in the Anglican Church it can be – that’s not the central point. If the music does not suit your style, no big deal. The music is not for you, it is for God’s worship. I’m not trying to say that the Anglo-Cathlolic experience is perfect. Far from it. Rather, I do advocate that the worship experience is simulaneously for God’s glory and for forging the disciple’s identity. The disciple’s identity is singulary founded in the Gospel. When he/she worships the Gospel is central. When we wakes, the Gospel narrative has reshaped his world view to see the shining sun as a symbol of God’s presence and his spoken word (see Genesis 1). When he/she relates to another human being, he/she believes that servanthood, sacrifice and love are the most important things to give to another. Simply, the Gospel restores a diciple’s relationship with God and gives him/her a heuristic to relate to the world, to work, and most importantly to other human beings. The worship gathering hosts God’s people to refocus their identities and their narratives on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The worship gathering is church one part of what we should be trying to do to create a Christian sub-culture. We must remember that we are forgetful people. In our lives, we have altars or reminders of God’s great grace for us. Corporate worship reminds us of that identity. In addition Corporate worship is parts one and two of the reason for our existence: 1) To bring God glory and 2) to make disciples. Not only is worship for the sake of bringing God glory – not satisfying our musical or intellectual interests, but it is also a place where a disciple’s identity is reinforced in the Gospel. A disciple is obsessed with the Gospel and inculcates the Gospel in every facet of his/her life. The worship gathering is a place where we (as a people) gather to retell the Gospel story, submit ourselves before an Almighty God and renew our committment to walk in the Holy Spirit. Individual or common prayer, should reinforce the same message. Sabbath should reinfocre the message of the Gospel. Any worship gathering that focuses its attention on the Gospel – the sacrifice of Jesus Christ – THAT is worthwhile worship service. Sermons and Songs are just bells and whistles. But the body and blood of Jesus, the sacrifice of our Lord, is the centerpiece of all proper worship and are not relegated to corporate gatherings. The large corporate gathering is a special expression of God’s people – disciples who are committed to giving God glory in all things and shaping their identities in His Gospel.

17 10 2007
eden2zion

Hey Gavin,

Glad you chimed in and glad you’re posting under your own name 🙂

I want to think more about this. I agree with the Gospel foundation for sure. I also think the Anglo-Catholic service is better designed as a means of creating a Gospel identity to a believer’s life than most Protestant expressions. Services like this are very helpful to that end. But should those weekly services be the CENTRAL expression of those communities? Isn’t discipleship even more neglected in those contexts? Why do you think that is? Wouldn’t it be better to attend and enjoy these services but not actually join these churches? Not only do they neglect and often resist our call to make disciples but they have both an ecclesiological design and theological convictions that are extremely resistant to reform.

17 10 2007
Gavin

The problem is not that these worship services exist, but that ONLY these worship services exist. I think it is flawed logic to say that these services don’t produce disciples, therefore get rid of them. I actually do think these worship expressions are vitally important. Just as the tabernacle, the temple and the synagogue have historically been integral to defining a people, so are these worship expressions. The problem is that people vascillate from one culture to the next. A Christian culture does not exist to constantly reinforce a person’s identity in the Gospel. So, an Anglo-Catholic parishoner leaves the Gospel-centered expression on the weekend (in the Mass) to exchange that Gospel narrative for the narratives of capitalism and philosophical materialism. The problem is not in the worship service. The problem is that the worship service is not the culminating expression of a Gospel-driven culture. The answer is not that worship services are unnecessary or even that they should not be the central expression. The problem is that they are often the ONLY expression of Christian culture. More central to your argument about the lack of production of disciples is the lack of a consistent Christian culture in home and work. If the Christian culture is inculcated into the rhythm of life, then the corporate worship service is the crowing jewel of the expression of the people of God – a group of committed disciples giving God glory.

The ineffectual quality of the worship service is a symptom, not a root cause of the disease. The greater disease is that we have lost our Christian culture that constantly reinforces who we are in Christ. So, worship services are not the problem, they are the victims of the erosion of Christian culture.

17 10 2007
eden2zion

Yes I agree with 99% of what you’re saying here. I don’t think there is a direct causal relationship between the worship service and a lack of discipleship and this is why I have never made this point in the past but I now believe there is a powerful indirect causal relationship between them. In much the same way the good is the enemy of the best these worship expressions, over time, have become such dominate and singular expressions that they seem to effectively (not overtly) block the making of disciples.

If you are correct then please point to examples where this is being done, where the congregation fully understands that this service is an expression of our gospel-centered life, where they are engaging in radical discipleship throughout the week.

I also wonder if this worship expression has been tainted through years of misuse and, like a word that becomes abused, redefined and eventually useless, that these services are now doing more harm than good. Like the temple that God allowed to be destroyed (not a perfect analogy) maybe the church must fast from this expression until it can take its proper place again in the life of the church.

17 10 2007
Gavin

YOU WROTE:
Isn’t discipleship even more neglected in those contexts? Why do you think that is?

Yes. And to reiterate, the worship expressions are victims of a greater problem (epistemological, cultural and theological) not a root cause. See previous posting on the “why.”

YOU WROTE:
Wouldn’t it be better to attend and enjoy these services but not actually join these churches?

That’s what my family does. The idea of joining a “church” (in other words, joining a particular parish baffles me. I am a member of the Church. But that is another topic.

YOU WROTE:
Not only do they neglect and often resist our call to make disciples but they have both an ecclesiological design and theological convictions that are extremely resistant to reform.

I think we should be careful there. Again, those institutions are horrible at making disciples. But that does not mean that the worship expression is at fault – it is just out of context. That worship expression (at least for me) if essential for my discipleship. Reordering my life around the Gospel has radically changed my life and the Mass is an important component. But keep in mind I have a different worldview than those other parishioners. Which reiterates my point of a necessary culture/ theological view point.

I’m not so sure that ecclesiological design is at fault. I actually think something else is at work when considering their resistance to change. I often joke that they are too Anglo and enough enough Catholic. In other words, the English (Anglo) nature which is resistant to change often trumps the Catholicity. The Church should evolve and change, but maintain its connectedness to the great cloud of witnesses that have come before us. We can’t be so innovative that we lose our heritage. We can’t be so focused on our heritage that we are always trying to relive it. That is why the Church needs reformers – NOT revolutionaries. Revolutionaries create more breaks and fragments, while reformers go into the Catholic Church and cause a stir.

17 10 2007
Gavin

on examples – i know that the CEC (the charismatic episcopal church) and the some evangelical catholic parishes have had some success. i, personally, have never experienced it. also, holy trinity in london (creators of alpha) have had some success. But i’m not saying as a rule, that these institution are successful. In fact i think they are radically flawed.

dude, i’m up for a fast, if that’s what is takes. whatever is necessary to redefine worship within the proper context, i’m completely game. i just think we have to think big and broad (like philosophers, theologians, cultural critics) and expose the real root causes. rather than a fast, i think we need a reeducation on what worship is and what it does AND we need a radical worship overhaul. I don’t think scrapping it (even for a time) is necessary, but I think a radical reevaluation and return to true worship is absolutely imperative.

18 10 2007
eden2zion

It looks like we agree on what the worship service is and does I’m just less optimistic about the possibility of reform without foundational restructuring. These worship services have replaced body life and almost no efforts have recovered this reality. These worship services replace discipleship and I’ve never seen this recovered without its removal. The situation is dire. The cause is great and the world is waiting. I don’t think we can wait or hope any longer.

22 10 2007
Gavin

JP –

I think you also HAVE to remember that worship is something that a disciple MUST do. The worship enviroment isn’t necessary a place that is responsible for creating disciples. I still think you are too directly linking the worship environment as cause for poor discipleship. (Even the title of this string suggests that the worship environment “subverts” discipleship.) I think you are still attacking the wrong root cause.

I really think it could be helpful in this conversation if you define what a disciple is and what he/she does. Because if you think a disciple can live without joining his people in the adoration of a Holy God, then I think your view of discipleship is too narrow.

Must my thoughts. You know how highly I value worship and I think taking it away is very dangerous. Historically, I see no precedent where this approach is acceptable.

22 10 2007
eden2zion

My attack is certainly not against worship but against how worship services affect the making of disciples. I don’t believe worship services are the root cause but when you find the root causes its the worship services, and their central place in the life of the church, that subverts every congregation I know from experiencing reform. People simply won’t sign-up for radical discipleship when we communicate directly or indirectly that worship service attendance is the essence of the Christian faith.

On the worship front we are in total agreement. We have 10 different community-wide worship expressions per month in our community and perhaps we should have more. What I’m suggesting is a drastic step I know. Much like chemo-therapy for curing cancer but at some point the disease is so advanced and so deadly that drastic measures are the only kind that will work.

22 10 2007
Gavin

JP – I understand and sympathize. Would be interesting to sit down and strategize about how to solve the problem. Maybe we can talk more on the retreat.

4 12 2007
Christian

I see you read Dallas Willard. He says something neat in “Renovation of the Heart” to the effect that the church has not given the congregants any motivation for being disciplez, in fact the vision of discipleship is usually confused with busy work. Or misplaced charity. If a typical church had suddenly decided that it was going to beginning making better disciples of those in the pews they would most likely only accomplish one thing – exodus. The “One-hour-Sundaymorning-and-a-bible-study Christians” that are so common in the church are not interested in discipleship – that’ best left for those who are “better equipped” or perhaps “called” – it’s not for your typical audience member.

Part of the problem for the church that wants to begin discipleship development is that their definition, their vision of discipleship, is usually not fully articulated or perhaps not even correct. I experienced this as a lay leader in the Methodist church. The new bishop’s committment was to discipleship building. But as usual it became a forest of read tape, pages of bureaucratic jargon linked to the occasional relevent scripture passage with the creation of numerous comittees to over see the progress. B-O-R-I-N-G. No wonder we have vicarious churches with most people just seeing what the vicar will do next.

My current church is designed and built on the premise that discipleship, not eternal salvation, is Jesus true calling to us. For over 20 years that has been the focus and Sunday worship is just that – worship- a communal gathering in the presence of God. But it is only one day out of 7, no more important than any other.

4 12 2007
eden2zion

Wow, almost never encounter a church with a worship service that is experiencing success in this area. Can you post the church’s name or website. I’d love to look into deeper.

Completely agree that true discipleship would cause a mass exodus. What pastor would trade a worship service bursting with congregants to a scrappy community of disciples? Apparently not many, and besides, with the decrease in contributors they might have to get another day job.

4 12 2007
Christian

Cedar Ridge Community Church in Burtonsville (outside of DC) Maryland. The website is CRCC.org. Gotta warn you though – we’ve talking about revising the website – it can be a little tricky to navigate.

BTW- very much like your site and what you are writing.

29 05 2008
Jason Reid

Good post – I came to it after typing mission and discipleship into google. I particularly like the point about the worship service defining the church and sucking up the resources for discipleship (therefore mission). We are wrestling with this as we plant a church in Plymouth. Cheers and enjoy grace…

29 05 2008
eden2zion

Jason – are you guys a part of a network? Have a website? I’d love to hear more about where you guys are at. Feel free to email me anytime jp___at___marketplaceearth.com.

5 03 2009
Kiwi and an Emu.

[…] How Worship Services Subvert the Christian Mission – Discipleship. […]

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