The Centrality of Worship
Foundational points for a theology for worship and missions.
1. Worship is central, Missions is not. We Evangelicals have propagated a mind-set in the church and missions that might be best summed up in the adage, “God saved us to save the lost.” The fact is, however that God redeemed us not primarily to do something for His glory, but rather to be something for his glory. Jesus did not say the Father is seeking missionaries, husbands, wives, secretaries, carpenters, etc. Whatever our roles in this life may be we need to see them as flowing out of our primary identity before God; that of a worshiper. We are all called first and foremost to be worshipers. He redeemed us to worship Him, and as a redeemed people, we are called to be a blessing to the nations. Mission flows from worship, not vice-versa. John Piper expressed it this way, “Worship is the fuel and the goal of missions.”1
2. When missions is central, worship is peripheral. Lack of sound Biblical teaching on both worship and missions on the part of our churches and theological institutions has brought us to a place where we are sending out hundreds of missionaries who have little or no theological and/or practical skill in planning and leading corporate worship, especially in a cross-cultural setting. In addition, most church planting teams have literally no clue about the importance or process of establishing new believers in a lifestyle of worship. When missions is central, worship is not only peripheral corporately, but personally. One missionary admitted he got to a place within two years of being on the field where he was totally burned out. He felt that God was only interested in “using him to save souls.” He continued, “It was only after I learned that God loves me for who I am, not what I can do for Him that I could minister to the millions of unreached people around me with a sense of balance.” Without a loving, intimate relationship with God experienced and expressed in and through worship, missionaries lack the fuel needed to stick it out.
3. When worship is peripheral, the people’s ability to worship is terminal. The resulting tragedy: predominantly Western worship forms in predominantly non-Western cultures. Yes, much of today’s music is influenced on a global scale by Western music, especially in the larger cities. And yes, we must recognize
that musical and artistic forms are increasingly “mixed.” But, we are still doing far too little to assure that aspects of corporate worship other than the Word (i.e., music, arts, offering, etc.) are in the heart language of thepeople. A terminal is a place where one can go “only so far.” Our journey has begun, but in order to go any further we must have a vehicle (a plane, a boat, a bus, etc.) that will take us the next leg of our adventure. One “vehicle” that will help us to plant worshiping churches among every people is indigenous worship. Indigenous worship incorporates ethnic music, instruments and other artistic forms of communication.
This allows people to worship God more freely and without the hindrance of forms that reinforce a “foreign god” stereotype. I believe that God will gain even greater glory among the nations as we develop and facilitate worship, both in it’s lifestyle and corporate aspects, that truly reflects and relevantly speaks into the culture in which the church is being planted.
4. When worship is central, it is in the heart language of the people. It would seem that we need a new field of study and practice within missions. The term I prefer to use for this is “ethnodoxology.” “Ethno,” from the Greek word “ethne” meaning “peoples” or “people groups” and “doxology,” from the Greek word “doxos” meaning “glory or “praise.” Ethnodoxology, then, is “the study of the worship of God among other cultures” or, more precisely, “the theological and practical study of how and why people of diverse cultures worship the true and living God.” But just how relevant and important is something like ethnodoxology to our faith and practice? Imagine for a moment walking into church this Sunday and all the music you hear sounds strangely out of tune. The organ and keyboard you’re used to have been replaced by bizarre, odd-sounding instruments. You ask your deacon friend what’s going on. “The elders decided that all the music from now on would be in a Middle Eastern style, using Middle Eastern instruments.” He adds, “I knew getting a former missionary for our new pastor would be a problem!” Why! We would never tolerate such goings on! It begs the question, doesn’t it… why do we offer our new brothers and sisters in Christ around the world a form of worship that we wouldn’t endure in our own church for two minutes?! The Sovereign Lord says in Isaiah 61:11, “I will cause righteousness and praise to spring up among all nations.” Today God is raising up an army of lead worshipers, ethnodoxologists, to go into all the world that lost people might “turn to God from idols to worship the living and true God”2 and that worshiping churches might be planted among all peoples.
1. John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad,
Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, 11.
2. 1 Thess 1:9, author’s translation.