Reconciling Witness and Worship: Six Ways to Begin

by Sandra Maria Van Opstal

worship and witness, reconciliation and witness, Sandra Van Opstal, gospel witness, evangelismHow will our future worship witness to the God of all nations? Imagine the year is 2025 and you are congregating in your church. Your mind and heart are focused on the Lord and His invitation to make disciples of the nations. Close your eyes and take a minute now to imagine it (yes, I do mean now). Did your future reflect the reality of a younger, browner, unchurched majority? Were the images you saw the multiethnic, multiclass church singing in many styles and praying in many languages? Be honest.

In the U.S., we are well on our way of seeing no ethnic majority projected for the 2050 census. The latest census numbers show a population younger than five years old stood at 49.9% minority in 2012, and among those under one year of age, the minority had become the majority*. In only three years, 2018, minorities will become the majority among children.

This has huge implications for children’s ministry, youth ministry, family ministry, and future leaders of the Church. We have an opportunity to witness to the kingdom through how we form our worship services. We need to be reconciled to God’s vision of the kingdom in our worship practices. I’m not speaking merely of musical style or language, but of content and form of our entire services, including music, prayer, sermon, table, and benediction (sending). We continue to hold onto practices of worship that do not engage the diverse reality of potential future leaders of the Church.

Even in our conversations about urban worship or diverse worship, we seem to be locked into a conversation that does not include the global reality of our urban centers with all of their immigrant populations and multifaith backgrounds. Multiethnic conferences continue to discuss the importance of Black and white setting (which is indeed critical), without overlaying the multiracial millennial populations or the immigrant first and second-generation churches (primarily Latino and Asian).

If we do not reconcile ourselves to the nuanced reality of a younger, browner, unchurched reality, we will miss out on the opportunity to lead discussions on how to do church and community in a truly multiracial, multiclass setting. I long for the Church to witness to the power of the gospel in our worship spaces. Let me share six ways we can begin to do this.

Consider what “diversity” looks like in your area. Are there North African refugees? Are there Latino migrant workers near you? Is the Latino population first-generation migrant workers or second-generation millennials? Are our neighbors primarily African-American or a mixture of different cultures?

Build relationship and learn from individuals and churches. Misguided passion can sometimes cause more harm than help. We need mentors and people from within the community to help us understand both the needs and the gifts of their community. Ask questions about how they worship, do community, and listen!

Develop worship practices in partnership. The shape of your worship will depend on the diversity in your area and the particular passions of your church leaders. I find it curious, for example, when a church located in a primarily Latino community is focused on finding a Black worship leader if the community wants to sing in Spanish. Or a church planter in a mixed-income Black community keeps his preaching content and style identical to that in a white hipster context.

What if our worship mobilized people in witness and mission? Imagine worship practices that engaged our congregations with God’s heart for the world to experience salvation, redemption, and wholeness. Many of our current worship settings give people experiences they want. We sing worship songs about themselves and God, we preach sermons to individuals instead of communities, and we pray for ourselves. Imagine liturgy that focuses outward to engaging our communities and world with Jesus. What might change about the topic of our sermon series, the lyrics of our songs, the focus of our communal prayers?

Determine the strengths and weaknesses your community has in witness. Is your congregation strong in global mission, but weak in advocating for issues of racial or economic justice domestically? Is your church strong in service and relief, but weak in proclaiming the gospel? What is the evangelistic temperature of your community?

Consider songs, prayers, etc. that draw your mind and heart to mission. Gather a group of people to reflect on the topics of sermons, songs, and other worship elements that have been focused on evangelism, justice, and global mission.

Develop worship practices that strengthen your weak areas. Consider the correlation between your strengths and weaknesses and your current worship services. Confess where you have lacked concern. Consider your context and make changes.

Worship practices can be helpful in witness as well as forming witnesses. Imagine a new generation of worshippers who are formed through worship with a passion for witness. Imagine a church that considers it’s surrounding “neighbors” and the future majority of our country (younger, browner, unchurched) in developing practices of worship. What changes is your community willing to make to reconcile witness and worship?

*For more information about the intersection of reconciled witness and worship read Sandra’s mini-book, The Mission of Worship (IVP)

Sandra-Vanopstal-2Sandra Maria Van Opstal
(@sandravanopstal) pastors Grace and Peace Community in Chicago, and is the author of The Next Worship. A liturgist and activist, she is passionate about creating atmospheres that mobilize for reconciliation and justice. She frequently consults, speaks and writes on topics of racial identity and global mission.


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