The Collapsing of Church into Missionalism

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.

4 thoughts on “The Collapsing of Church into Missionalism

  1. Thanks, Daniel. This is so clear. I like the simplicity and directnessof it. I think a lot of people would find these images (heart, whale)very helpful. I hope that they could help change some minds.Let me push you, to help me understand things a little better, and tohelp us in answering potential critics. You keep the two movements,worship and mission, distinct. I think that’s good. But I wonder aboutsome things. Must they be absolutely separated? Can not oneview one’s work in mission as an act of worship? Shouldn’t the missionof the church inform the worship of the church?Dan

  2. Okay, maybe if I had read the post again I would have answered my ownquestion:”Neither should they ever be separated from each other. They requireeach other, and they require each other to be sufficiently distinct.”I guess my proposal (seeing mission as one’s act of worship, lettingmission inform one’s worship) is another way of getting at what yousay.The next step, I think, is to insist on these things: 1. mission is not the only thing that should inform worship; 2. the “informing” must not become “determining,” thus violating the second commandment; 3. other areas of faith and life should become acts of worship.Dan

  3. I would be careful here. It could be argued that the logical next corollary would be: “other areas of faith and life should become acts of mission.” Left unbridled or not properly clarified, this could lead straight back to the current trajectory of the RCA (eg. Mission is One, etc.).

  4. “I would be careful here.”I can accept that, RM. I think what I was trying to do is 1) turn the tables on the “missional church” approach; and 2) urge us to view worship as the starting point.But, of course, even that (#2) isn’t right. It’s not worship that should be central. God must be at the center. It is certainly possible to violate the second commandment by means of worship.I should know better. If only because of my incredulity with certain ways in which I’ve seen the “worshipful work” stuff used.Peace,Dan

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