Rethinking Evangelism & Worship

by Scott Arbeiter

The ability to compartmentalize can be a helpful skill. It helps us stay on a task at work when we have a leaking basement or our teenager is enduring her first heartbreak. But there are times when this skill takes us off track and we wind up separating things that should be kept together. A case in point would be worship and evangelism.

Often, these two expressions of our faith are seen as disconnected and unrelated. But this is not true to the biblical account or some of our richest church history.

John Dickson puts it this way:

It may surprise you to know that many Jews in the period between the Old and New Testament took seriously the idea of public worship as an act of mission. They knew full well that the collective praise of God in the synagogue or temple was one of God’s ways of convincing Gentiles to bow their knee to the Lord.

We probably shouldn’t be as surprised as Dickson suggests. When unbelievers see believers worshipping in reverence and awe, they are naturally curious about just who it is that would merit this kind of response. Solomon tells us that God has placed eternity in our hearts, so observing someone in apparent communion with the transcendent and the divine has a drawing effect.

Our worship can awaken in others what God has placed in them, though perhaps long dormant.

The impact of worship can be especially powerful when the worship takes place under circumstances that would reasonably be expected to suffocate such a response. In my role with World Relief, I have the privilege of worshipping with people in some of the most dire circumstances. Despite living in war-torn regions, enduring persecution, drought, or disease, these brothers and sisters offer the sacrifice of praise.

They sing songs of deliverance to a Savior who has delivered them from much greater dangers than those in their everyday life. They express overflowing joy and abundant hope, pointing to One who is above and beyond the trials of the day.

Many from the developed world observing this are left wondering how these believers can exude confidence and joy when their own hearts seem empty despite their abundance and freedom. In that God inhabits the praises of His people, we should not be surprised that in the worship of the gathered community, God breaks through to the longing heart.

If we expand our understanding of worship beyond the church service, we can see God’s drawing also taking place through the individual who lives as a worshipper.

I love Archbishop William Temple’s definition of worship:

Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose–all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.

When followers of Jesus lives in this posture of surrender and adoration, everything about them changes. Their obedience may be confusing or even shocking to those around them. Their ability to forgive others and to love their enemies may be confounding. However, for the heart being prepared by God, it can be evidence of a life they secretly hope is possible and evidence that God is both real and intimate.

Over the years, I have come to believe that trust is one of the highest forms of worship. When we trust God, we stake a claim before all principalities and powers that God is who He says He is and we are secure in His love and content in His care. For those living in the fear and discontent of our day, the worship expressed in trust exposes the empty boasts of the idols of the day. Trust in God defies the false gods of self, possessions, and power, and puts a new kingdom on display.

It may be that by compartmentalizing worship and evangelism we are missing a powerful truth—namely, that true worship can inspire people who are far from God to draw near to Him. When we understand this, worship takes on a new urgency. It is not only necessary as a response to God’s majesty and grace, but is a means by which both are made real to a lost world.

If we worship deliberately, passionately, and authentically, we may find that some will see something of the God they have never known. And it may just be that we re-evangelize our own hearts in the process.

Scott Arbeiter was a partner at Arthur Andersen serving in a variety of functions over 17 years. He resigned to become Lead Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee. He served previously on World Relief’s Board, including three years as Chairman. In 2016, Scott was asked to serve as President of World Relief. Scott has been married to Jewel for 33 years and they have daughters, Kelsey, Jacquelyn, and Karis.