The Mission of Worship (Urbana Onward), Sandra Van Opstal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.
Summary: Worship and mission are integrally related; recognizing the greatness of God propels us into mission and mission involves inviting others across cultural boundaries to join us in worship.
Worship and mission were made to walk together, Sandra Van Opstal contends. For one thing, worship is meant to help us experience the greatness of God. And yet, our own cultural blinders often leave us missing dimensions of that experience. Worshiping with those from other cultures may open our eyes to these missing dimensions–lament, celebration, God’s power to bring freedom, to enlarge our vision of his greatness and majesty, to teach us to persevere in hope. This may lead us to personal transformation. Van Opstal writes:
“Our understanding of the church is transformed. As we worship crossculturally, we better understand our own worship as just a piece of a larger community. As we experience our differences we can more fully enjoy what it means to connect to the global church. Then we realize that we are a part of a bigger family. This helps connect us to the hearts of our brothers and sisters who live radically different lives than we live” (p. 18).
Worship rightly understood and lived out particularly transforms us into people who embrace the mission of God. Through worship, we enter a place where we may hear the call of God into the mission of God–to bring his good news through word and deed to those who in various ways are poor and oppressed (cf. Luke 4:18-19). Worship, when it is in the “heart language” of those to whom we go may itself be a powerful way of welcome and reconciliation that helps those we are seeking to reach to understand “this can be a home for me.” This is particularly compelling when it is accompanied by lives and deeds that seek justice for the marginalized people we may be trying to reach.
This brings Van Opstal to the conclusion of this short booklet. Just as we can only walk with two feet, so worship and mission must walk together. Worship sustains and empowers mission. Mission authenticates and incarnates worship.
Rarely do our churches exist in enclaves any more. They may be mono-cultural enclaves but I would suggest that one look at the community around the church would uncover great diversity in ethnic origins, religions and beliefs, economic status, and age. Even if the cultures represented on our communities are not yet in our seats, it seems a good principle that beginning to worship in some of the ways that these cultures might may both prepare us and propel us into our communities.
Van Opstal’s booklet is a concise argument for taking a look at our worship through a missional lens that a worship team, or whoever plans worship, might consider. Better yet, church leadership might read this to support the changes a worship team might introduce to move into a worship as mission mindset. The book even includes a brief appendix of further resources of songs that cross culture.
If this booklet whets your appetite for growing in crosscultural worship, Van Opstal goes into greater depth, and offers more resources in The Next Worship (reviewed here). Van Opstal draws on experiences ranging from her own congregation to leading national and international conferences to give us vision and practical help for leading worship that is not only a taste of the new creation, but that propels us into mission.