Disciple-making in Worship
Corporate worship gathers Christian disciples together to praise the triune God, to hear from him through the reading and proclamation of the Scriptures, to receive the promise of forgiveness, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. By hearing the gospel story of God’s sent One—Jesus Christ—disciples are shaped by the story as it dwells their minds and hearts, and serves as the lens through which they view all other stories. The act of corporate worship prepares us as the “church gathered” to participate in God’s mission as the “church scattered.” At the end of a corporate worship service, disciples are sent to enter into the mission field with Jesus Christ who promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matt. 28:20).
There is a rhythm of movement from gathered to scattered, from centripetal to centrifugal, a leitourgia of worship and mission. The Scriptures give several cases for holding these in creative tension. The commands to love God and love neighbor are integrally related (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:30–31). The Ten Commandments are directed toward God and fellow human beings (Exod. 20:1–17). The prophets call for fidelity to God and social justice (Hos. 3:1–5; Isa. 1:12–17). The apostles engage in the worship of the triune God and witness to the world (Luke 24:45–53; Acts 1:8; 2).
The leitourgia of worship shapes the witness and mission of the people of God as they gather to be sent. Songs and hymns inspire adoration of God for who he is, what he has done, and what he will do in establishing his kingdom on earth as in heaven. Prayers are not limited to our needs as Christians but extend to the local community, to missionaries serving abroad in cross-cultural ministries, and to needs and brokenness of people around the world. Sermons expound the missional dimensions and intentions of biblical texts and provide application to individuals and missional communities. Testimonies from Christian disciples highlight where God is at work in the community and how others can join in this work. Through such corporate acts, God shapes disciples to testify to his reign and redemptive work in Jesus Christ.
Corporate worship services begin as leaders invite people into the gathering, knowing that they have come from active service (leitourgia) in the world. In the call to worship, the leader welcomes people to the gathering, saying for example: “Good morning! We, ‘the scattered,’ are now ‘the gathered’ who have come to this place to worship the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Welcome!” Then, the invocation is spoken as a prayer to God on behalf of the people, acknowledging him as God, and inviting his presence to manifest in the gathering (Psa. 95).
Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs speak of who God is, and the mighty acts he has done throughout redemptive history. Hymns and songs such the hymn titled “By Faith,” written by Keith and Kristyn Getty, call the church to engage with God in his mission in the world. Moreover, responsive readings from scriptures with mission intention, historic creeds, and readings can be utilized to shape orthopraxy, as well as orthodoxy. The Missional Creed, for example, based on the historic creeds and written for this purpose, states:
We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, who sent his Son into the world, and who now sends us into the world, as witnesses to his reign in heaven and on earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ, who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and became man, the Light of Light who entered our darkened world, to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the sick, and to set the oppressed free. For us and for our salvation, he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. On the third day he rose as Victor from the dead. He ascended into heaven where he is head of his body, the church, and will come again in glory and judgment, and reign in his triumphal kingdom.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who leads us, the people of God, on the mission of God, to join in the work, of the kingdom of God. In this, we are called as Christ’s holy and apostolic church, to bear witness to God’s love, mercy and justice, to proclaim good news in word and deed, to make disciples of all peoples, for the redemption of all creation, to the glory of God’s holy name. Amen.
In planning the liturgy of a divine service, there are questions that the leader should ask. Do the songs, readings, and prayers declare the truth about God’s character and purpose? Do they offer praise of his reconciling mission in the world? Do they give attention to his heart for the sinned-against as well as the sinner? Do they allow for lament, acknowledging the brokenness and pain of others? Do they invite worshippers to participate in his work in the world?
Sermons are based on biblical texts, using skills of exegesis to examine carefully what God is saying to hearers, applying a missional reading of scripture, and keeping in mind the missional basis of the Bible. Sermons are contextual for the particular time and location of the listeners with a view to missional applications in their context. Rather than following pattern of explanation, illustration, and application, sermons may apply the pattern of proclamation, implication, and invitation, giving time and space for listeners to consider the claims of the gospel, the promises of Jesus, and the demands to follow him. At conclusion of the sermon, listeners may be asked if God has spoken to them through the Word and Spirit, namely, in a kairos moment, and if so, what must they do now in faith and obedience to follow him?
The Lord’s Supper is celebrated in a manner that rehearses the gospel of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and second coming. This is a time of remembrance (anamnesis) of the death of Jesus as a sacrifice and inauguration of a new covenant, a time of fellowship (koinonia) with God and other believers, and a time of thanksgiving (eucharistia) that anticipates Jesus’ return in the fullness of his kingdom. The Lord’s Supper calls disciples to live the kenotic, cruciform, Spirit-filled, and apostolic life. It calls the church toward humble service, as described, for example, in the epiclesis of the United Methodist Church that says: “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.”
At the end of corporate worship, the “church gathered” is commissioned to go forth as the “church scattered.” After the benediction, the congregation is sent to the surrounding community. Thus, the liturgy after the liturgy begins with words such as: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord in his mission in the world,” or even reading the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37–39) or a Great Commission text (Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44–49a; John 20:19–21; Acts 1:8).
Thus, the leitourgia of mission continues as we engage the world. As disciples scatter, they embody the understandings, habits, and reflexes that have been shaped by worship of the triune God. We go, however, not as individuals but as the body of Christ (corpus Christi) whose identity aligns with God’s mission (missio Dei). Certainly, disciplined gathering in worship produces affective resources to sustain us in mission.
1. Robert E. Webber, Worship: Old and New (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 68; Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission After Christendom, 155, 158.
2. Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom, 155.
3. Clayton J. Schmit, Sent and Gathered: A Worship Manual for the Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 185–187.
4. Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom, 130–133.
5. Marshall and Payne, The Trellis and the Vine, 100.
6. Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 102–103; Schmit, Sent and Gathered, 50.
7. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 147–149.
8. Gustafson, “Missional Creed,” Houston, TX, 2010.
9. Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom, 173.
10. Wright, The Mission of God, 33–69; N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today (New York: HarperOne, 2011); Michael Goheen, ed., Reading the Bible Missionally (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).
11. Keller, Center Church, 300; Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 8, 131–134, 198.
12. John Addison Dally, Choosing the Kingdom: Missional Preaching for the Household of God (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2008), 102.
13. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 160–166; Webber, Ancient-Future Evangelism, 64–65.
14. Gustafson, “Missionality of Apostolicity,” Theofilos: Tidskrift for å studere teologi, filosofi og kultur, 9:1 (2017): 83–104.
15. “A Service of Word and Table I,” The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 10.
16. Powers, Going Full Circle, 69.
17. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 175.
18. Al Tizon, Missional Preaching: Engage, Embrace, Transform (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2012).
19. Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom, 151–152, 183.