The worship of a congregation in mission will be acutely aware of the world. Worship should not be an invitation to escape the world and its cares, but to engage it in a new way with the resources of the gospel.
This is not always the case. In fact, I am invited by worship leaders from time to time to leave the cares of the world and focus on God. Mark Noll writes in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mindabout this tendency in evangelical churches by way of reference to the song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” “Look full in his wonderful face,” the song continues, “and the things of this life will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Noll wants to change the lyric to “the things of this life will grow strangely clear…” I like that suggestion.
In the last post, I suggested that worship needed to enact a world other than the one given to us by the principalities and powers of this age, notably in our case the myth of the sovereignty and autonomy of the self. Our worship, impacted by the spirit of our age, often aims at the interior of the individual and we miss the importance of the new social realities created by the gospel. The same dynamic shields us from being aware of the world around us as well. As long as things are right between me and God, the world can be a distant afterthought.
This is not the church’s vocation, however, in worship. I like here the image of the priesthood of believers. The church, as a whole, functions as a priesthood in the world. A priest stands between parties and mediates a relationship. In this image the people of God as priesthood stand between God and the World. The church mediates the blessings of God to the world and represents the world to God. The church offers on behalf of the world what is due God, worshiping in proxy for many, anticipating that great day when every knee will bend and every tongue will confess. And the church insists on behalf of the world that God make it on earth as it is in heaven.
Worship should deliver us from false and distorted views of the world so that we might see it more clearly, see it more the way God sees it. And God loves the world.
In turn, this sharpened sense of the world developed in worship makes it more likely that we will recognize those places that God is already at work in the world, calling the world into his peace, into the good ordering of his rule. In this way, worship rehearses us for our vocation in the world.
Many churches convey little sense of this. I think the opening and closing words to worship are crucial in this respect. Part of what the call to worship and the closing words (I prefer a blessing and a charge to a closing prayer) should do is place us properly in God’s world, reminding us that we have come not to escape the world, but to learn how to serve it more faithfully.