A Primer on Missional Theology §3.4: Worship
3.4. Ecclesiology: worship as mission
The implications of missional theology for ecclesiology are, not surprisingly, numerous, so I will only mention a couple here. The first is another instance of the split between being and act. In ecclesiology, this gap takes the form of a split between worship and mission. The church is ontologically “located,” so to speak, in the liturgical worship of the community, traditionally in the eucharist. This liturgically established community then engages in mission in the world. In other words, worship precedes mission, in the same way that being precedes act. Evidence of this gap is found wherever we find theologians speaking of the eucharist as that which “makes the church,” which is common among the Catholic and Orthodox, but also among many Lutherans and Anglicans. These so-called “high church” communities make liturgy, and not mission, constitutive of the church’s being.
Missional theology redefines the church on the basis of a missional ontology. The church has its being in act, which means it has its being in mission. The church worships precisely as it participates in the mission of God, and the church’s mission of proclamation is its worship. The liturgy and sacraments not only exist for the sake of the church’s mission, but they need to be grounded in mission. Worship flows from mission just as much as mission flows from worship. Worship and mission both conform us into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Ideally, however, and this leads us toward eschatology, worship and mission ought to be identical with no gap at all between them. In the kingdom of God, worship is mission.
Here and now, worship and mission form a dialectical pair: the church not only sends out; it also gathers together. Missiologists refer to this as the centripetal and centrifugal dimensions of the church’s identity. A centripetal force is one that moves toward a center, while a centrifugal force is one that moves away from a center. Worship is the centripetal aspect of the church, while mission is the centrifugal aspect of the church. We “gather together” for worship, and are “sent out” in mission. We need both movements together in our ecclesiology. Any priority of one over the other would result in a lopsided doctrine of the church and most likely reflects a misunderstanding about the relation between being and act. And yet the dialectic of centripetal and centrifugal is not a static Kierkegaardian dialectic. On the contrary, the dialectic moves dynamically toward the eschatological reign of God. Worship and mission do not exist for the sake of the church but for the kingdom of God. Mission does not “gather together” simply to expand the institution of the church. Instead, the institution of the church worships together and engages in mission as part of its ongoing witness to the reigning Jesus Christ. Insofar, then, as the “center” is located in the earthly ecclesial community, then both centripetal and centrifugal forces will be transcended by and sublated into the center that is Christ. But even if our “center” is Christ and his reign, we are still sent out in mission as his ambassadors, even as we come to him in worship and adoration. For Jesus never gathers the community together without sending them out as his faithful witnesses.