When we begin thinking of our worship services with a missionary mindset, we may see what we are doing in a very different light. In Stetzer and Rainer’s book, Transformational Church, they note:
Leaders need to plan the worship service not in their heads but in their communities. Use the missionary mentality and discern the heart language of your community. Musical choices must be appropriate to the context.
We never expect a missionary from our church to go to a tribe in Africa and ask them to worship with an organ and piano singing Western hymns. Yet we find nothing wrong with asking the people in our communities (who may never encounter music of the type we use in our churches) to come and worship God in forms that are very foreign to them. If we truly want to reach those that are not part of “church world,” then we need to seek ways to speak a language they understand. The message never changes nor is it watered down, but the delivery system of that message must stay relevant to reach people today.
What is relevant today may be totally different in a few years. We must always have the freedom to change based on our missionary context.
Worship from your unity and choose music out of your mission. Worship unifies. Music rarely does. A church seeking the transformation of a community of far-from-God people must make their worship about God and His glory rather than their preferential styles. (Transformational Church, p.165)
Dr. Don Detrick, in the Enrichment Journal, has done a great job of bringing out some key thoughts in a church having a missionary mindset:
How can pastors and churches cling to tradition while ignoring the mission field around them? Speaking as one who values history and tradition, my tendency is to cherish those things that have been meaningful to me. In matters of faith and those things that facilitated my spiritual formation, a strong emotional bond enmeshes my feelings. I grew up in a … church where my mother/Sunday School teacher effectively used a flannel graph and opening exercises to reach my peers and me for Christ. But my fond memories of those relics of the past do not translate into a belief that yesterday’s tools or strategies will work to reach children and families in today’s culture.
When our memories of the past are more exciting than our vision for the future, we have begun to die. This applies both personally and organizationally. It is easy to understand the sense of security felt by those who have retreated into their sanctuaries of tradition, where the comforting patina of familiarity obscures change. Nevertheless, missional leaders recognize the comfort of living in nostalgic niches comes with a price. People who live in the past exchange it for irrelevance in the present and extinction in the future. This does not seem like a good exchange. Leaders must refuse to worship the trappings of the past. Instead, they must choose to worship Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is always encouraging His people in the mission of God and empowering them to engage present and emerging generations….
When I was a young believer with long hair, sitting in a circle, playing the guitar, holding hands, and singing We Are One in the Spirit, was an effective strategy to engage other young people and help them find Jesus. Today, an effective strategy might involve meeting at Starbucks, blogging, lighting candles, and having prayer stations. Every generation of Christians or sector of the Christian church tends to think the methods and styles used effectively to engage them and their peers are still the most effective methods or styles. This is exaggerated when any given group believes their particular approach is the only valid biblical approach, and will work with all people, in all cultures, at all times, and in all places.
Such thinking leads to dysfunctional systems because there is no single approach that works with all people in all cultures, at all times, and in all places. If there were, there would be no need for cross-cultural training for missionaries, something most Christians readily accept. While not ignoring the rest of the world, pastors and churches need to understand that North America represents the new mission field of the 21st century. Leaders must be aware that cultural and ethnic diversity have completely changed the face of our population.
Developing a missional mindset requires a willingness to navigate and negotiate the conflict when missional strategies collide with traditional structures. It is significant that most successful missional churches are new church plants. This is not surprising, since new churches are able to integrate missional strategies into their DNA from the beginning. It is usually a painful process to transform an existing church because the church must remove the old wineskins or at least displace them before implementing the new wine innovations. As Jesus said, old wineskins will explode if we indiscriminately pour new wine into them. They cannot tolerate the transformation. Unfortunately, many existing traditional churches will not tolerate change and are bursting with messy conflict.
When confronted with change, some churches cling to traditional methods that have been part of their DNA and history since their beginning. When conflicts arise, and they will because change is inevitable, leaders must be prepared to deal with these conflicts in a biblical and strategic manner.
In our postmodern world, many godly people tend to view most changes in society from a negative perspective. Gone are the good old days when life was stable and people prioritized and celebrated traditions; they did not stigmatize and relegate them to the back burner. When the new pastor wants to incorporate a new strategy — such as a more casual dress code — traditionalists hang on to their suit-and-tie traditions and deem the new concept heretical. After all, they grew up getting dressed up in their Sunday best. Pastor Johnson always encouraged us to look our best for the Lord. Why would this new pastor want us to offer God something less than our best, especially on Sunday?
To answer their objections and mitigate the resulting conflict, leaders must help people see the difference between style and substance. There is no biblical mandate for Sunday dress any more than there is for any other day of the week.
People link traditions to personal preference and style, rather than substance. Short term, the personal preference of one person or group becomes the style of the group. If this trend continues over an extended period of time, it becomes tradition and eventually becomes institutionalized. Given enough time, it becomes enshrined as a holy icon….
A new generation of church planters are not concerned about sacred cows or trying to please those whose view of the church does not go beyond their own comfort zones and needs. They embrace a bigger vision: Engaging people for Christ in a culturally relevant way. To them, church in a coffeehouse is as legitimate as having church in a stained-glass building with a steeple — and much more approachable.
Many pastors would love to see change in their churches, but stagnate because church leadership is unable or unwilling to pay the price for change. The pastor knows the church lambasted his predecessor and voted him out for his attempt to extricate Sister Jones from the organ. He knows the church cannot survive a repeat performance, so he tolerates the noise and waits for the day when Sister Jones will go to heaven….
Developing a missional mindset means caring more about God’s kingdom than your own. This is best reflected in Kingdom living, not Kingdom building….
Using traditional terminology, developing a missional mindset means doing the will of God…. It means asking hard questions about the missional impact of our church beyond the walls of our building, both in our community and beyond.
In contemporary language, developing a missional mindset means the church must become the feet and hands of Jesus, going across cultures and socio-economic barriers to touch people of all ethnicities in His name. As missionaries to the 21st century, we need a fresh vision for the future, gaining perspective from the past, but refusing to live there. We must be willing to accept the discomfort of discarding traditions when they collide with missional purposes. Only then will we reach beyond our own comfort zones, allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, and accompany Jesus on His mission across the street and around the world.
These can be hard words for people in older churches, but it is a message we must hear and digest. I pray that all church leaders will look at their church and their church’s corporate worship through missionary eyes. Your church may be reflecting and reaching the community in tremendous ways, or your church may be pulling the wool over its eyes to ignore the changes in the culture around it because making changes is too difficult.
How, if any, does your church need to change to reach its community? What is God saying to you in this area?
Kenny Lamm, senior consultant for worship and music for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, is a frequent worship conference leader with a strong focus on equipping leaders in North Carolina (USA) and Southeast Asia. His blog, Renewing Worship, features posts that explore ways to renew–impart new life and vigor to–the worship in the local church.