Worship Mission and Community

Bosco Peters, liturgical webmaster: "Worship . . .  is essential in the church's mission - whatever your denomination. Parish and other Christian community mission statements regularly highlight this centrality. Worship, liturgy, especially the Eucharist is understood by most to be "the source and summit of the Christian life" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 11). St Ignatius Loyola understood "The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God" (The Principle and Foundation). Sometimes, however, and most surprisingly, worship does not feature in significant church and denominational mission statements.  . . .  there has been a loss of the pivotal place of worship and liturgy."  Worship First

Archbishop Stephen Hamao, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees: Mission is "a triple dialogue: living dialogue with the poor, with cultures and with religions." At the presentation of Tom Fox's book "Pentecost in Asia: A New Way of  Being Church" Rome, December 4, 2002.  NCR

Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, at a consultation of orders seeking their future in changing times: “People die, movements die, and religious orders die. . . . God never said everyone will live to the end. What we need to cultivate is the art of a good death.” The key for an order facing threats to its existence, is not to cling desperately to institutional structures, but to live its mission “fully and completely,” above all by bringing the gospel to the world. He also said “You have a prayer life that’s closed off to others . . . The people of the city don’t enter your lives.”  Ouch.  NCR  

The Church in Three Dimensions

The priority of Worship

The Church is called to worship God, to be the family of God, and to share in the mission of God.

These dimensions of worship, community and mission are interrelated, but they can also be distinguished. They are fundamental to other ways in which the things that churches are called to do can be differentiated.

We do not worship in order to do mission and build community, we do mission and build community because of the One we worship. Yet our worship has a missionary function and nurtures our community.

There is a problem if any one of these three dimensions is neglected, becomes the sole focus of Christian life, or becomes disconnected from the other dimensions of our total mission.

What do we mean by mission?

The word "mission" often refers just to the responsibility of the church to the people and world outside the church. Debates about mission are usually primarily about what people think the church ought to be doing in the world. As a concept, "mission" is about the total purpose of the church, not only its "mission to the world." It is not often clear whether the "mission" people are talking about is the inclusive one which includes the internal life of the church, or the external mission. It is not always clear how worship relates to either.

In talking about mission outside of ourselves more generally we need to talk about derivation, usage and association; we also need to distinguish the idea of mission from the word mission. Often the word "purpose" is more satisfactory and has less historical and contemporary baggage.


Although not as such a biblical word, "mission" as a concept relates to biblical terms such as witness, sending and apostle and the "so-called" (but quite reasonably so) "missionary journeys" of Paul. In English it is derived historically from the Jesuit missions, in turn derived from military language. In contemporary secular usage "missions" has association with specific military objectives, made popular through computer games, diplomatic embassies, and organizational statements of purpose. Mission commonly refers both to particular occasional objectives and general overarching purposes, and these usages are frequently confused (as when churches assume that the way an organization functions for a particular occasional objective is the same as how it should operate to sustain a general overarching purpose).


John Stott had this to say in Christian Mission in the Modern World (IVP Classic, reprint, 2008) page 48:


"Mission, then, is not a word for everything the church does. . . . The church is a worshipping as well as a serving community. . . . Nor . . . does "mission" cover everything God does in the world."

Community is both an end in itself and a means to an end

Loving God and loving our neighbour means worship and mission. Just as Jesus spent time building up his team of disciples, and looked after his own needs as a person, so  Church also includes a commitment to managing our community life as a signpost to the Kingdom of God.

Neither worship nor "body life" need to be justified in terms of mission, though they both relate to it and should support it. Worship can take place just for the sake of devotion to God, even if such devotion should be expected to lead to more responsible involvement in the life of the Christian community, and greater commitment and giftedness for mission. That "mission" potential is in a way derivative.

If we seek to justify our worship and our community responsibilities primarily in terms of external mission, in the long run we are unlikely to do justice to other core dimensions of our corporate life. Attempts to stimulate commitment to external mission by denying the intrinsic worth of the other valid dimensions of the church's life may be misplaced zeal, or an understandable corrective to situations where maintenance of the community has suffocated commitment to mission, but it is  unable to produce a sustainable or healthy mission engagement.




John Roxborogh (updated July 2013)