While barrels of ink have been used to explore all things missional, very little of it has been used to talk about the relationship of missional communities and worship. I think the primary reasons are two-fold. First, many people still think of missional only as things done outside the four walls of the church. “We’re out their doing missional things,” is an ill-informed comment I often hear. Worship, then is one thing, missional something else. Second, worship has been so over-identified with the experience of church that missional true-believers shy away from it in favor of themes more immediately associated with the social realities of the Kingdom of God. As Craig Van Gelder has aptly stated the problem, “in North America, worship has replaced Christianity” (or something to that effect). So, if you’re in the business of rescuing Christianity from worship, then you don’t write as much about worship.
But there are huge gains to be made by thinking worship and mission together. To this end, our ministry conference this year is taking as its theme, “Everybody has a hungry heart: worship and the formation of missional communities.” And we’ve invited the absolute best presenter for the subject, Jaimie Smith of Calvin College.
Smith’s books, Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom, along with his new book, You are What You Love, make the case that humans are not brains on sticks, primarily driven by reason, but are desiring creatures, driven by what we love. And we learn to love through our bodily practices. Smith makes several applications around these basic themes, the most significant being that we learn to desire the Kingdom of God through the bodily practices of worship. Our desires are formed through liturgy, the repetitive, embodied practices of worship.
This is good theology, it seems to me, but I was curious if my psychology friends like Richard Beck thought this was good psychology as well. From what they’ve told me, pretty good psychology as well.
So, if Smith is on to something here, then two questions pose themselves: 1) Why have our worship liturgies not done a better job shaping the next generation of Christians? Or, are other cultural liturgies more powerful and pervasive than the ones being offered in congregations? 2) Why don’t our current liturgies produce missional communities? Or, if “missional” represents a deep cultural shift within congregations, and if worship is a key to such deep formational shifts, then what must worship become to embody missional community?
These are the questions we will be pursuing this October 6-8 at Rochester College. Joining Jamie on the program will be Gospel of John scholar Jamie Clark-Soles (Perkins, SMU), Randy Harris and Richard Beck (ACU) and Naomi Walters (Rochester College).
Jamie suggested our conference title, “Everybody has a hungry heart,” which is of course an excuse to feature the Springsteen catalog at the conference. We have some special plans along these lines for opening night of the conference,