What Makes a Worship Gathering Missional? Pet Peeves and Better Practices

In church circles today, it’s easy and popular to add the adjective ‘missional’ to just about anything. I confess that this has become one of my pet peeves. It drives me crazy when I am invited to ‘like’ missional youth group, missional programs, projects, potlucks and petting zoos!

Why does this bother me?


1. ….Missional isn’t about being trendy, contemporary, more relevant and appealing;

2. ….And adding the adjective ’missional’ to a title or description does not missional make.

3. ….Because in my biased opinion, such usage betrays a lack of or misunderstanding of the word and then gives those who are sincerely trying to be missional, a bad rap.

4. ….And finally, it seems to me that if we weren’t so caught up in Christendom thinking, this adjective would be redundant. Is there anything other than a missional church? Isn’t, to be the church, to be missional?
This is old news to most of us but before you push ‘delete’, let’s talk missional worship. Is it ‘missional worship’ simply when the message, music and prayers allude to missio Dei and/or the people of God as His sent ones?

The purpose and intention of Neighbourhood Life /N.E.W. (Neighbourhood Engagement Workers’) Community is to seed and multiply missional communities/ churches that seek to live incarnationally in their local neighbourhoods by doing life in Christ, amongst, with, for (and sometimes in contrast to) their neighbours and community.

As we are faithfully present, loving the Triune Sent and Sending One with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strengths and our neighbours as ourselves, we trust the Spirit will use us to bear witness to His present and coming Kingdom reign, grace, shalom and love, the redemption of all things!
This missional, incarnational life together is shaped by ‘postures and practices’ guided and empowered by the Spirit at work in the world for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

Therefore N.E.W. Community seeks to radically re-orient lives–starting with our own– to God’s mission and around the rhythms of the neighbourhoods where we live.

Sounds like a fairly authentically missional posture and intention, doesn’t it?

But what does this ‘missional posture and intention’ look like in terms of worship, in terms of a Sunday morning gathering /service? How do we go beyond just adding missional content to our worship service default patterns and practices –a band and preacher up front; three songs, a message and a prayer?

I think there has to be more or…we come precariously close to perpetuating my pet peeve!

Thus, in our communities, we have been ‘practicing our way into a new way of thinking’ with a fresh set of values and parameters to guide and gage our worship gatherings. We begin with the belief that weekly gathering times are foundational as, and when, they embody and enact Kingdom life and thereby equip us for the ongoing mission of God in our neighbourhoods. How do they bear witness and equip us, and thus give honour, glory and joy to the Triune One whom we love and who first loved us? For me and for those journeying with me, ‘missional worship’ is, what it is intended to be, when it is:

Christ-centered. When we gather, we ask: Does our music, do our prayers, conversations and reflections keep us focused on our Lord and Saviour (as opposed to our feelings, issues, needs and desires)? This isn’t about making me feel good or high or spiritually full for the rest of the week.

  • It’s about humbly and gratefully acknowledging Jesus, at the centre, in the centre—in terms of both our purposes and practices.
  • It’s about seeking to know Him better that we might be more like Him. We are, and are becoming not only imago Dei but imago Christo; does our worship support this ongoing desire and effort to be transformed and transforming?
  • It’s about receiving His love and getting clean feet that we might share His love and wash dirty feet. Our Christ- centered worship is always and everywhere for the sake of the other; for the world for which He died…for our neighbours and His Kingdom in this place.

Spirit-led. We are firstly followers. Through the text, prayer, mutual accountability and other such concrete practices, we seek to listen to, trust and obey our Shepherd. This prevents us from simply going our own way and asking God to bless it. It constantly brings us back to the God and Kingdom questions.

Story-formed. God’s story, our stories and the stories of our neighbours (those whom we’re amongst) form us. The text is God’s narrative which in concert with the Living Word gives voice to the Triune One and to us; shaping, informing and inspiring us to participate in the Story right where we are, as we are.

Shaped by participatory, inclusive, local imagination. If we believe in the priesthood of all believers and we believe that every believer no matter their age or background, is filled with the Spirit, then the Spirit may choose to speak through any and all of us. Are we prepared to listen? To listen to the 4 year old who, with his family, is taking a turn at preparing us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, by explaining that it is like a vitamin for your soul and that we need it to stay healthy…. Do our songs, conversations, reflections and prayers invite and include every voice and every ear? Are we all free to be creative, dream God’s dreams, seek and see His beauty in our neighbours and in the places where we live?

Table-gathered. Jesus said, “Every time you do this”—this  being ‘eating together’. The Scriptures are full of stories, lessons and miracles that focus on or around meals. So eating together is a significant part of our time together. Each week we share a potluck meal and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This practice (like the others) extends into and models what happens during the week in our neighbourhoods.

Engaged in action-reflection-revelation learning. Our worship begins when we ‘go’. God sent Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jonah…Jesus sent the 70, and all of us, and it was until we went, that we came back, reflected and recognized God at work. When we go, we discover and experience the Spirit doing God’s work in our neighbours and neighbourhoods: binding up the brokenhearted, restoring, renewing, reconciling. We also come face to face with what remains broken, tainted, oppressed; wrong. So when we come together we celebrate and lament what has been real and tangible throughout our week. We worship/prayer/discern/mature in the going, reflecting, noticing God at work again (and again!). We commit to continuing to partner with the Spirit on God’s mission right where we live.

So our worship is Shalom seeking and practicing;

And finally it is multiplying – multiplying our love, our fruit and gifts, our faithful presence and yes, even our numbers.

Do we execute fully and faithfully every week? No. But then, we don’t see this as a destination either. I don’t imagine we’ll ever arrive… at least not until we are gathered at His Banqueting Table with all the “myriads of myriads… singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:11-12)

How would you describe missional worship? What values shape your Sunday morning gatherings? What are we missing? Would love to hear from you!

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