The Character of Missional Worship: Missio Dei

Featuring Daniel Collison Posted on April 26, 2008

The character of our weekly worship services are a reflection of our theology and church culture. If our theology is God focused and our church culture warm and inviting, our worship will naturally mirror those characterizations. If, on the other hand, our theology is skewed towards self preservation and our church culture combative and dualistic, it will become evident in the worship services. Selfishness and anger will become an untoward and insidious by-product of culture influencing corporate worship. As we pursue a missional worship understanding, five fundamental affirmations are to be considered:

1. Missional Worship is about God and summed up in the phrase “Missio Dei”
2. Missional Worship is Biblical
3. Missional Worship is Historical
4. Missional Worship is Contextual
5. Missional Worship Is Expressed Through Narrative.  

This article is a brief discussion of the first affirmation: “Missio Dei”. The concept of mission Dei (mission of God) emerged clearly in 1952 at the Willingen Conference of the International Missionary Council. Influenced by the theology of Karl Barth this concept is concisely summarized by the late David Bosch:

“In the new image mission is not primarily an activity of the Church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. It is not the Church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church. Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.”[1]
This affirmation has several implications for worship. 1) Worship is first and foremost about God. 2) Worship fuels mission 3) Worship focuses on God’s Kingdom and not growing church membership.

1) Worship is first and foremost about God. Exodus 34:14 states “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”.[2]

For evangelical churches and leaders this almost goes without saying, however, what do our hallway conversations center on following our corporate worship experiences? If we continually hear remarks such as “’That song was amazing’…’pastor John spoke with incredible eloquence today’…’the choir anthem was one of the best in memory’, etc.”, there may be an imbalance in our worship services. To be fair, some do not possess the terminology to adequately express the ways in which they connect with God in worship. However, we must candidly examine what we are doing in the worship services that unwittingly moves the focus off of God and shifts it to the worship leaders.

 2) Worship fuels mission. The evangelical church in the Unites States is, at times, guilty of neglecting this proposition. While the said desire is to introduce more people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the messaging from the platform (musicians and preachers) leads one to believe that church member growth, self-gratification, and personal fulfillment are the goal and by-product of worship. Worship fuels mission when the liturgy implores the worshipper to shift from a consumer to an offering disposition, from a sending to being sent modality, and from a church preservation to a Kingdom growth perspective. 

3) Worship focuses on God’s Kingdom and not growing church membership. Most churches adopt the entrepreneurial practices of the American marketplace with good intentions. Trendy marketing, relevant communication methods, use of technology, and placing a premium on excellence in worship techniques are deliberately engaged to bring more people into the worship experience. What is the goal of this work? If considered for the purpose of drawing people into a conversation with the real presence of Jesus Christ, entrepreneurial methods are an excellent initial step. However, numerous churches consider their worship a success if there are simply a large number of people in attendance. Without question, strong attendance can be a sign of church vitality.  However, it can be a smokescreen for the dysfunctional practice of Christian church shopping. Missional worship utilizes a different measuring stick than some of the older methods of church growth. Some church growth techniques were designed to bolster membership roles and execute successful stewardship campaigns for building projects. The missional worship mindset asks questions such as: “How is our gathering today going to transform our community?”, “How is this worship transforming individual career choices?”, “What relationships will be changed because of this God experience?”, “How will I serve my neighborhood this coming week?”, and “What people around me might I bless with acts of service?”. The missional shift is accomplished when the focus turns away from inward and local church building issues to an external and broader kingdom focus.


[1] David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series; No. 16 (Maryknoll, MY, Orbis Boos, 1991) 390.

 [2]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ex 34:14). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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