David Muir suggests we get real and get over our worship-shaped churches.
The discussion in the house group strayed onto the subject of mission. A strange feeling descended on the room. There was a genuine desire to engage in mission as a church. But alongside that there was a sense of weariness about the suggestion. We have been this way before and we feel exhausted just remembering it...
Churches often ask how 'we' can do mission. But who are the 'we'? How was the membership of our church determined? And the answer mostly is: worship style. In these 'worship-shaped churches', the worship style gives people their essential sense of 'belonging'. The problem with worship-shaped churches engaging in mission is that they find it very hard work. It is like introverts going to parties, or extroverts going on silent retreats – it's just not their 'shape' or their inner style. They can do it, but it drains them because their membership is not 'gathered' around this purpose.
The churches in one Devon town provide a housing trust that supports homeless people. Now, if a homeless young man is touched by God's care for him expressed in this project and wants to explore the Christian faith, what does he 'join'? Where is the fellowship of Christian people who are energised by this aspect of the Christian mission that has touched him? He can't join it because it isn't there. The Christians who work together in this project have melted away into their separate worship-shaped churches, where that project is frankly peripheral to their corporate life.
Our challenge today is to create churches where the primary reason people join is the particular focus of its mission. Such churches will find worship hard – as hard as the worship-shaped churches find mission. Worship will not be the emotional powerhouse that it is for worship-shaped churches. But it will also not need to be. 'Gathering for mission' is what will give a mission-shaped church energy, and will keep it on track as a mission-oriented church.
In a sense, worship stands at the most intimate centre of the church's life. It can be totally enthralling, whether it be a charismatic celebration or choral evensong. A good worship life in a church is like a good sex life in a marriage. But what would we say about a marriage where the couple talk constantly about sex, earnestly read books about how to make their sex life even better, spend most of their spare time in bed together, live from one sexual encounter to the next? We would worry for them – because the truth is that marriage is much more than sex. It is about building home, creating stability, providing places of companionship and welcome – and, of course, having and raising children.
Jesus invites us to put the kingdom of God and his justice first, and everything else will be ours as well. For those who love to worship, but who also want to be instruments of God's kingdom purposes and his justice in our day, it is a saying they need to learn to trust.