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Liturgy & mission?

Sydney Anglican diocesan synod recently had a debate about liturgy and mission. I think it is a good place to start to discuss what I think are very confused positions about liturgy – positions not just held in Sydney, but in many other places. Rev. Raj Gupta writes:

…It was around 40 years ago now that we learnt that liturgically based church services were having little impact, and probably not the way to reach new generations with the Gospel of Jesus. …Is the central issue the content or form of the liturgy, or is issue the liturgical nature itself?… I only run highly liturgical services for congregations that are targeted at those from a generation who appreciate that form. Others are free to come, and do. But I have heard so many in other generations associate the liturgical form with an ‘out of touch’ church…. It is sometimes said that those from other denominations can get caught up on matters like baptism, which the Bible does not speak clearly about. Maybe our issue is particular liturgy forms.

[Interestingly in the first comment, Moore College lecturer, Rev Dr Michael Jensen challenges Sydney’s “paranoia about looking Catholic [as] the strongest rationale for service design”]

It may help the discussion if I’m crystal clear about my own position and you might agree or disagree in the comments – who knows I might change my mind…

  • I understand liturgy to be community worship, worship of the body of Christ, head and members, members in Christ. So to talk about “liturgical worship” is like talking about “worship worship” or a “service service”. “Non-liturgical worship” is an oxymoron. A service which has some worship choruses, a sermon, and a collection and altar call (with or without an actual altar!) is a liturgy – the liturgical rite is: choruses, sermon, collection, altar call.
  • It is our duty and our joy as Christians to meet together for worship. The primary goal of worship is… worship; God. It is not the goal of worship to be “reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus”. There may, from time to time, be a service with a particular focus on reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus – but such a service is not the regular gathering of Christians. “It is the joy, right and responsibility of all who have been admitted to the Holy Communion to receive the sacrament regularly.” (NZPB p.729)
  • It is important to be welcoming to visitors and new people to our communities. What I see happening more and more is communities treating all people, including regulars, as if all are visitors and newcomers. Please stop this.
  • The primary place for reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus is outside the church building and outside our worship – through the way we live, through what we say. Jesus said people will see our good works and be drawn to worship.
  • A church is not ‘out of touch’ if it reads the scriptures aloud, prays the psalms together, celebrates the Breaking of the Bread – if this is being ‘out of touch’ now, we have always been ‘out of touch’. This is what we do as Christians, it links us to other Christians alive today, to Christians across 2,000 years of our history, to Christ, alive in our midst, and through Jesus back into our Jewish roots. There is nothing wrong with being counter-cultural per se.
  • Although reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus is not the primary goal of worship, conversion is part of what happens to us as we worship. Worship is formative and transformative.
  • Liturgy is not simply where we are empowered for the mission of the church. Liturgy is an essential part of the mission of the church (the inadequate Anglican 5-fold mission statement notwithstanding).
  • The Bible alone is insufficient for the description and prescription of our worship life. Rev. Raj Gupta rightly declares it inadequate for baptism and for other aspects of our liturgical life.

What do you think? Agree… disagree…

H/T Joshua Bovis Creideamh a-mhàin

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26 thoughts on “Liturgy & mission?”

  1. What a great article! I absolutely agree.

    Despite of being from “one of those generations”, I chose to join the Anglican Communion exactly for these reasons. Liturgy gives me an opportunity to worship God – the way I have discovered it to be fit.

    1. Thanks for your comment – and for drawing from your own experience. Normally we use our own real name here – it helps the positive culture we maintain in the community around this site. Blessings.

  2. And I also have to agree with the missiological statements. Mission has to happen outside of church for the better part.

    “Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory” – isn’t this closing prayer just an expression of that?

    Again, thank you for this. I can’t express how much I appreciate this article.

  3. Great points, Bosco. We have got our worship wrong if we think it to be primarily “utilitarian” or functional, except to the extent that our primary “function” as Christians (and as human beings) is to glorify God and to be drawn ever more deeply into participation in the Divine Life (the latter being one of the “graces” of the Eucharist, though I would hate to call it a “function”).

    My feeling is that the assumption that our worship is our primary place for evangelism/outreach underlies the assumptions of those who favour Communion of Non-Christians (sometimes euphemistically called “open communion”). Christian liturgy, as you point out, is an activity of those who are *already* Christians. A good dose of persecution and a return to the disciplina arcani might clarify matters. 🙂

    I’m interested to note your discontent with the “5 Marks of Mission”. I myself am sick to death of hearing about them, especially when no one seems to know (or at least to agree about) what the first one means (“To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom”).

    There was some embarrassment a couple of years ago when the Primate of Canada was asked in a public Q & A, “How do you understand the Gospel of Christ and of the Kingdom?” and gave, shall we say, a less than robust reply. To be fair to the good man, he seems to have misunderstood the question and was instead giving examples of *how* we proclaim the Gospel (and the first statement of the question could be understood that way). But the breakaway “Anglican Network in Canada” crowd has been having a field day with it. (Audio and gleeful Schadenfreude here: http://anglicansamizdat.wordpress.com/2009/03/08/canadian-primate-fred-hiltz-tells-us-what-he-thinks-the-gospel-is/)

    Incidentally, Primate Hiltz’s comments put a very heavy burden on the liturgy as a prime vehicle for “Proclaiming the Good News”, which, we seem to agree here, is to ask it to serve a function outside its primary intent.

    1. Thanks Jesse. I have a passion that we need to distinguish goal and means. God is the goal. So often people use/speak of God as a means. As to the disciplina arcani – I find huge ignorance of Christianity outside (and even within) the Christian community. Blessings.

  4. This is helpful, thanks!

    I work with a student organisation in the UK called UCCF (I believe the NZ equivalent is TSCF) and our aim is “to give every student the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. As I work with Christian students as they seek to do this, one thing I particularly notice is the way that different church backgrounds impacts on the way students seek to fulfil this aim, through their lives and specifically through their proclamation. Those who see church as a glorified social club, have very little energy for pursuing lives that glorify God. On the other hand those who enjoy church as a special time of corporate worship in the presence of Christ, are much better prepared to live as He commands. By and large the latter of these groups are those who attend more “liturgical” churches.

    I like your point about the way we perceive liturgy and mission, the former being an essential part of the latter rather than simply a prequel to it (or even perhaps the reverse?).

    Liturgy, as a way in which the body can truly worship together, particularly in the Eucharist, gives glory to God and builds up and feeds His people, who thus show his glory to the world.

  5. PS Whilst Worship can only ever be the giving of our best – what else is appropriate? – I think that on the whole the drift away from worship is far more indicative of what is going on the heart of the worshipper, than it is of a problem with ‘worship’ which needs to be fixed

  6. Thanks for this insightful and challenging post, Bosco. I agree with much that you’ve said, but I do have a couple of thoughts in response that I’d love to hear your comments on.

    1) It seems to me that there’s a contradiction in two of the statements you make.
    You wrote:“The primary place for reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus is outside the church building and outside our worship…”
    And then you wrote: “Liturgy is not simply where we are empowered for the mission of the church. Liturgy is an essential part of the mission of the church…”
    I’m not sure how you hold these two statements together. I would appreciate it if you could explain a bit more so I can understand how you view these two ideas and bring them together in your practice of worship and mission.

    2) I get very concerned when we begin to view “traditional” or more “liturgically structured” worship services as somehow less able to be evangelistic, and “contemporary” or “spontaneous” worship as more so. I don’t think the evidence supports this conclusion.
    In both my studies and experience I find the opposite is often the case. In fact, not too long ago I discovered that the two fastest growing churches in the USA were the Eastern Orthodox and the Latter Day Saints – both very structured and traditional, as far as I am aware. And it was young people that were being drawn into these churches.
    I also get concerned when we focus on what I call the “packaging” of worship too much. Whether worship is structured or not, traditional or contemporary, what instruments are used etc. is simply the way we “package” the reality that we call worship. Worship, from a biblical perspective, is a corporate and personal encounter of intimacy with God (as in William Temple’s definition). The “practices” of worship (adoration, confession, intercession, thanksgiving, sacraments, Scriptures etc.) enable us to experience and express this encounter. But, the practices can be “packaged” in any way we may choose. the packaging, however, is the least important (albeit not unimportant) part of this equation, in my view.
    In my experience, people are not drawn to a particular packaging (at least, not for very long). Rather people are drawn to worship that offers an authentic encounter with God. I have seen younger generations flock to “traditional” worship styles when they discover an encounter with God at the heart of it (Taize’ is one example of this).
    This encounter with God is both the purpose of worship, and the missiological core of worship. When people encounter God, they will be drawn to worship. So, our task is not so much to try and create “sexy” packaging to try and draw people into worship, but rather to get the worship experience “right” – as an encounter with God. Then the mission will follow both as an attractiveness that draws people and as a transforming experience that leads us back into the world as Christ’s agents of grace. Or, at least, that’s how I see it. 🙂

    I could say much more, but this comment is already too long. Thanks for a very thought-provoking discussion!

    1. Thanks for your helpful elucidations, John.

      On (1), I see reaching new generations with the Gospel as part of the mission of the church, as I do the other dimensions of what Anglicans have as a 5-fold mission statement (proclaim Good news; teach, baptise, and nurture new believers; respond to human need; seek to transform unjust structures; safeguard creation). Worship is missing from that list, and I would like to see it added, as I think liturgy is an essential part of the mission of the church. I think this is a blog post of its own.

      On (2), Anglicanism here does not keep national/provincial statistics, but all indicators are that of the traditional/mainline denominations only the RCs are stable/growing. And with them there is no question: worship is worship. Young people, I’m convinced, have an aversion to bait and switch and are attracted to authenticity.


      1. Thanks for your response, Bosco.

        I totally agree with your statement about authenticity and young people – and it’s actually the point I’m trying to make.

        When we change the “packaging” of our worship in an attempt to attract young people, they tend to see through this pretty quickly (as do older folk when we try to “stick on” more traditional forms to attract them).

        But, irrespective of the forms (styles or packaging) of our worship, when there is an authentic encounter with God, people of all ages are drawn to it. This is one of the reasons why I believe that well-trained, spiritually-sensitive liturgists are some of the most needed people in today’s church. Unfortunately, though, too many churches employ worship leaders based on musical skill, or creative thinking, without requiring solid theological training. It’s asking artists to perform a theological function without giving them to tools to do it.

        Again I could say so much more! 🙂

        Thanks for a great conversation.

  7. I couldn’t agree more about how the liturgy is for this generation. I see it every weekend not only at the morning services but on Saturday and Sunday nights during services that are using the arts and music in new and interesting ways. The liturgy inspires the innovation, is central to everything we do.

  8. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Bosco. I must say I agree with you. Too often I hear it argued that traditional forms of worship, including the Eucharist, are irrelevant to most people and that we should give emphasis to more accessible forms of worship (eg through the example of the Fresh Expressions movement). Now, I am not criticising the diverse and often highly popular alternatives to traditional worship per se. I would, however, vigorously disagree with those who suggest that the parish model (and perhaps also the concomitant regular Sunday service structures that go with it) is broken in the light of their apparent success.

    We need to have confidence that what we do is valuable. We certainly need to get “out there” more and meet people where they are: but this must never be an alternative to worship. Both are important aspects of our calling to serve Christ. They are interdependant – indeed, worship feeds “out there” mission. We need to get away from the “bums on seats” mentality.

    Here in the UK we have a popular sitcom about a CofE vicar, “Rev”. The worship in Fr. Adam’s church is traditional and he has a very small congregation (which is a bit of a joke), but he is much loved, and achieves very valuable things in the community he serves. For me, it helps underline the conviction that the first priority ought not to be about paying the parish share or drawing in the crowds, but about faithful love of those you are called to serve. Evangelism is a priority which, in my view, should be primarily worked out in our lives and examples. Worship in the beauty of holiness does not necessarily involve standing on street corners preaching the Good News, but builds up the people of God, strengthening them for His service.

    I realise a lot of this is a re-hash of what others have already said, but I thought I should add my two-penneth.

    1. Thanks, Chris. It is important that you say what you do IMO – otherwise it can appear that my ideas are just that – my ideas. As it is, it is noticeable that there isn’t a comment strongly disagreeing – and, I haven’t checked the stats, but I would guess over 2,000 have read this post. Blessings.

  9. While I agree with you, I also think John van de Laar might have something worth thinking more about. After going out and living the Gospel we will have people that see something of our faith and be interested in seeing more. So, if they come into a church during a service, what happens in the liturgy has to also relate to the teaching and mission towards the newcomer. That should not mean taking to the liturgy book with a big pair of scissors, nor “dumbing down” every sermon in case a newcomer doesn’t understand something. But the way things are said, and the amount of time spent in each aspect of the service does have to vary according to the conditions. Having church services (and Bible translations) in the language people understand is obviously now taken as a good idea; using “plain English” in the Good News Bible did a lot of good for many people (even if it isn’t the most accurate version). Perhaps a form of liturgy could be available that is modern, suited to those with a short attention span (or with children who have that short attention span), yet is good worship?

    If the only solution for newcomers is to go to some meeting that is not worship, as good as that special meeting (Alpha? Music+Sermon only??) might be, there is something wrong if worship is saved for when they are a few decades older.

    1. Thanks for these thoughts, Mark.

      I believe that there are already many different forms of liturgy that are attracting (and transforming) both young and old people. I am excited to see a number of creative new liturgists writing fresh liturgies that stay faithful to the traditions and practice of the Church, while offering language, symbols and rituals that connect in a new way. In my own way, I try to do this through my work as well (see my website for more if you’re interested).

      One thing I’m sure of: Mission is driven by people who are transformed. When other people see the change happening in their friends and families, they are drawn to learn more and experience it for themselves. And I believe a lot of the transformation that God seeks to bring through the Church happens in worship.

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