The late great J.-J. von Allmen, in his classic book, Worship: Its Theology and Practice, makes the wonderful point that worship cannot be collapsed into mission and mission cannot be collapsed into worship. Neither should they ever be separated from each other. They require each other, and they require each other to be sufficiently distinct. Worship is worship and mission is mission, and the church must not favor the one over the other.
He makes the comparsion to the two movements in blood pressure, the systolic and diastolic, the contraction and expansion. The two movements are necessarily distinct, they require each other precisely because of their distinction.
He also wonderfully compares the church to the whale. The whale comes up to the surface to breathe, it’s an air-breathing mammal, but it moves, hunts, feeds, and breeds under water, because it’s a marine animal.
Worship is when the church comes up for air, turned to the heavens and fully engaged in the winds of the spirit. Mission is when the church enters the depths, and fully engages ordinary life.
The “missional” emphasis of the RCA has many problems, of which I mention here only two.
First: collapsing our whole ecclesiology into mission is a collapsing of the church, and in the long run it’s even detrimental to mission. And it does not serve the very people we are reaching.
When our new people come to church, you know why they come to church? To worship God. And we have new people. Last month two of our new members told me the first reason they come here: at worship they can hear God.
Second: it’s a cover for staff-directed centralization. The original version of this was “mission is one.” (Remember that?) That slogan signalled the beginning of the process we have been watching for the last decade and more.
The missional emphasis does not require the centralization, but it certainly makes it convenient, and it provides a great cover.
I have argued (in the original “alternate vision” paper) that the RCA is responding to an explicit vision, as in the Mission and Vision Statement, but even more important is the implicit vision of a centralized staff-driven denominational structure for which the explicit vision is the cover. The General Secretary has been very patient and consistent on this.
Whales can drown if they don’t get air. Arteries collapse when they can’t expand.