A recent conversation with my older brother had me musing:
Which comes first, worship or mission? (Please understand, when I say "worship," I refer to the activity of God's people gathered to praise Him and proclaim the gospel to one another.)
Growing up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, I was reminded, the task of our local congregation was to support missionary work. The CMA started as a missionary organization, and eventually the support groups in the US became congregations and the whole thing turned into a protestant denomination. (As if we needed another one--but that's another discussion). My brother remarked that this approach had the effect, in some ways, of devaluing corporate worship.
My Kansas City church featured a sermon series last spring about their mission statement, "Outward Focus, Inward Change." In introducing the topic, our pastor said that try as they might, God wasn't going to let them come to a consensus about whether they were going to teach that Inward Change must occur for focus to turn outward, or if Outward Focus promoted Inward Change. Both happened at the same time.
A favorite blog of mine picked up this topic, too, in discussing the nature of building a missional community from the ground up. How, David Fitch pondered, do you attract people to a missional community? Read the full post and comments here.
At this point in my life, as passionate as I am about worship, I am increasingly convinced that worship grows out of the soil of mission. To be fully invested in the songs about who God is and what God does in the world, we must be active participants in that mission. Worship services that do not have a foundation of missional work are just good shows.
Yet at the same time, I am cautious about dismissing the purpose of gathering. So often, we are filled with so much unresolved pain or crippling fear that we cannot see beyond them to the needs of the world that God desires to meet. Gathering together, I hope, allows us to offer comfort and to challenge one another as we sing of God's love, pray for one another, and renew our hearts, minds and spirits. Gathering together is not merely a celebration of the work of God, it is preparation for God's work for us, too.
In A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren relates the story of how he forumates his language for what the purpose of the Church. I still embrace his last addition: "To be and make disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world." That purpose should inform what we do when we gather, and what we do when we disperse.