January 22, 2021

Liturgical Gangstas 12: Worship and Evangelism

UPDATE: Alan Creech has added his answer.

Welcome to IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
We have a new Gangsta! Rev. Joe Boysel is an AMiA priest and professor of Bible at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, Ohio. (Ask him about famous alumni.)
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction.
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Here’s this week’s question: What is the relationship of the gathered church, especially in worship, to the work of personal evangelism? (Especially of adult unbelievers.)

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: I have written before that if one looks at the Book of Revelation, one sees a dual set of pictures. First St. John the Apostle sees a vision from a heavenly perspective. Then, the results of the actions in heaven are shown upon the earth. I have also pointed out that what one sees in heaven is a worship service. As the heavenly worship service proceeds, as the four living creatures sing, as the angels participate, as the elders throw their crowns before the Lord, as the martyrs cry out, as one like the Ancient of Days is praised, the Lord acts and the results of that action are that things change on the earth. In other words, it is the heavenly worship that is guiding earthly history.

We believe that when we enter into the Divine Liturgy, we are transported from earth to heaven and join in the ongoing heavenly worship. And, as we join in the heavenly worship, it begins the work of transforming earthly history. As the parish gathers together in worship, and offers its prayers for outreach to others to the Lord, and joins in the heavenly worship, it can expect that the Lord, the Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit will respond and do His work in their patch of Earth. One caveat, as God answered Habbakkuk, it can be just as much God’s work to bring an invasion in order to change Israel as it can be to bring blessing, as He did during the time of Hezekiah. When we pray, when we join in worship, we cannot know what God’s response will be. But in both Old Testament cases that I cited, unbelievers were changed, some by the hard road and some by the easy road. Prayer is powerful and its results are uncontrollable by us.

But, in worship we do not simply go up to heaven and join in that worship. Heaven also comes down to us and joins us in our worship. Our Lord makes Himself present in the Body and Blood to feed us and to strengthen us so that we may go out. We are not left alone, but we are given heavenly food to eat. Now, with caution I mention also the preaching of the Word. I say with caution because there is a human element involved in the preaching, which means that it may or may not be quite everything that is needed and wanted. Nevertheless, through the public reading of Scripture and through the person giving the homily, the Holy Spirit is often at work to speak into our hearts. And, so we are sent out filled with God so that we may fill others with God.

Finally, there is the ministry to each other. To be able to be together and to encourage each other is itself a ministry of the Holy Spirit. When we gather together, it is a synergy. Our Lord Jesus Christ says that when two or more are gathered together, there He is. When we come together, we are much more than simply a group of people. We are that mystical entity that is so hard to describe called the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. Being with each other is itself a strengthening thing that assures us that we are not alone. Not for us the lonely ministry of an Elijah sitting in a cave, but even to him the Lord laughed and said that he had several hundred more that had not bowed the knee to Baal. It is a lovely thing to be able to say that we are not alone.

And so, empowered, we go out to share. And, when we bring someone back, we bring them into that same fire of the Holy Spirit, that same heavenly presence, us in heaven and heaven with us. And when they taste and see, it is confirmed in their hearts that the calling they felt was God’s calling and their repentance reaches its fulfillment and they bow before our heavenly God and Father, ready to commit themselves to the process of becoming a Christian.

All good evangelism is wrapped around and inside of worship itself.”

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: Am I back in seminary or something? This sounds like an essay question from a worship class.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot and not because Michael asked it but because, as a pastor, I want to help my folks participate in personal evangelism. It’s a dire need not only for my church but also for many others in my area. The most prevalent idea – which is not spoken but practiced – is that all a person needs to do to be involved in personal evangelism is to invite a friend, relative, or coworker to church and then it is up to the preacher to convert them. This idea gets expressed in bigger ways when our leadership team talks about ministries and programs that might attract unchurched people to the church and its worship services.

In this way of thinking, the relationship of the worshipping church to the work of personal evangelism is this: the gathered church in worship is where the unchurched are invited to come and hear the gospel preached.

My understanding is different than the one I just described. Worship is the gathered church, the Body of Christ, engaged in the worship of the Living God who, through Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the cross, saved those who are worshipping. The Spirit enables and empowers those who are saved to worship and serve the Triune God of the Bible.

The distinction I hope to make is that the purpose of the gathered church in worship isn’t to have a “revival service” every time we meet. Yes, the gospel must be present and, yes, people are converted in worship, but we should be leery of turning the focus of our services into something other than the worship of God by his children. We ought to praise God, receive a word from Scripture about God and his mission to this world, and then go out and live as people reconciled to this God and who are passionate about being at work wherever he is.

God is at work in hospital rooms, coffee shops, bars, and schools. He is working in the lives of cubicle workers, single moms, and city employees. They are God’s concern and they ought to be ours as well. Should we invite them to our gatherings? Yes, but more importantly we should invite them into our lives as a witness to the love of God that invited us into him.

As a summation, I think the gathered worship of God’s people and its relationship to personal evangelism is less about one stop evangelism and more about reminding the workmen of God’s glory and mission so that we can love people into Jesus.

I think Mark Dever’s book The Gospel & Personal Evangelism is one of the best resources one can find for this question. He has an appendix that is a word to pastors and in it he reminds us that it is crucial to be clear about the Gospel every time we preach; I’m thankful and mindful of that word every time I stand to proclaim God’s word. He also reminds us of our responsibility to model personal evangelism in our public praying (praying for the lost) and to take time to evangelize outside the church so that the people of God have some idea as to how that works.

Joe Boysel/Anglican: The Collect for Purity, which typically opens the Anglican liturgy, reminds Christians why we gather for worship; namely, Christians gather for the necessary spiritual transformation required to offer praise to God. The petition reads, “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name.” Thus, while it may seem enigmatic to many people, historically, worship gatherings first served the purpose of spiritual formation in order that Christians might rightfully worship. The benefits to individual Christians, then, preceded the worshipers’ offerings of praise, at least in terms of sequence. Thus, the question of an evangelistic role in Christian worship remains a tertiary concern. Believers gather for their own personal spiritual transformation, they gather to pray for the world and its transformation, and they do all this in order to bring glory to God.

Naturally, however, this does not mean that worship stands disconnected from personal evangelism. An inextricable link exists between worship and mission. Nowhere is this clearer than in the ancient designation for the liturgy: The Mass. The Church named their gatherings by an abbreviated form of the dismissal. They gathered to go. The word “Mass” comes from the Latin missa, as in “Ite, missa est” (Go, it is sent). This liturgical command provided a clear indication of what worshipers should do upon departing the “real world,” which they had just experienced, into this present evil age. They received a commission to go into the world, and as they went to carry out God’s mission of reconciliation.

So, what is the relationship between worship and personal evangelism? Worship is the essential nutrient for preparing Christians to bring God’s reconciling peace to the world. It is not unlike the need schoolchildren have for a healthy breakfast or athletes have for spending time in the weight room. A person’s commitment to preparation typically determines the success she or he will have in class or on the field.

Unfortunately, Christian worship in the last half century in the Western world has taken on an entirely different dimension. Liturgical innovations designed to appeal to non-believers frequently focus on satisfying the palate of those who are enamored with all the wrong things. Thus, in an attempt to gratify the world through its liturgy, the church has left believers bereft of the necessary sustenance for mission. Sure, children get to school quicker without breakfast, but does that necessarily make it a wise choice?

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: I’ve actually thought and written about this before in the past – from within another Christian context. But actually, my answer is the same now as it was then. I believe that to entangle the gathering in worship of the People of God with the task of evangelism is a mistake. This, fortunately, fits well, I think, with a Catholic view of what the Mass is, or even Christian liturgical prayer for that matter. These things are for those who have already been incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. Especially the Eucharistic table of worship – participating in this eternal Sacrifice can only really be done by those who have been placed inside it by the action of the Holy Spirit. Even the table of the Word, as we feast on it (on Him) as a gathered people who belong to one family, is not geared toward drawing unbelievers in, but rather, to the building up of those who are already “in.”

I’ve always thought – this is just me – that it was unfortunate that we have all grown to use the word “preaching” for what goes on in a homily or sermon to believers in a worship setting. My observation of preaching in the New Testament is primarily something done toward those who do not yet believe – “preaching the Gospel” – and it is done by anyone really, anyone who is “telling” this “Good News” to the world around them. What is primarily done inside the assembly of the faithful is more teaching – not preaching – either that or exhortation/encouragement. Perhaps it’s more semantics than anything, but it’s a little confusing, therefore, clarification.

In the very early Church, there were no unbelievers in the Mass, the gathering of believers – they didn’t allow it. There were several reasons for this, I know. Eventually the “seekers” may have been admitted to the liturgy of the Word, but escorted out during the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Catholic Church in some places does this, to a degree, again now. RCIA candidates and catechumens stay for the Word and go out for a class during the Eucharist, then back in at the end of Mass.

The problems I have seen when the worship service becomes a tool for evangelism is that is becomes a relatively diluted version of its former self. There is too much concern and “worry” about making this event palatable for the unbeliever, not offensive, not too theologically heavy, etc. Hence, the whole “seeker sensitive” phenomenon. The trouble is there may then be nothing deeper to dive into after an unbeliever decides to enter the community, perhaps. It just continues to be something designed to attract those from the outside and never quite becomes something designed for “the family.”

It seems best to me that when the Family of God gather to worship or pray, that it do so as a family would in their own house. If anyone comes in from the outside, they should be welcome, but as one entering another’s home, expecting to see and experience (as much as one can without being a family member) what goes on in that family. That in itself, might do a fair amount of attracting, of a sort of “passive evangelism.” Mostly, though, the community of faith should be being built up into those who then take the Life and Truth of Jesus out into their everyday lives – mostly living it, and when necessary speaking about it with those who do not believe.

In conclusion, this makes me think of the origin of the word Mass – coming from the Latin word missa – from what is said as it is ended. It is a sending forth (from within) to go into the world now, having been strengthened by the mysteries we share together as members His Body. We receive, therefore we give. So, essentially, the gathering of the saints, the faithful members of the Body, is for their own edification so that they can be more like Christ and go BE Christ to the outside world who does not yet know Him or how much He loves them

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: What is the relationship of the gathered church, especially in worship, to the work of personal evangelism? (Especially of adult unbelievers.)

It’s interesting that this question comes right now. A friend of mine tells me that the leadership of the church he attends decided that, on a particular Sunday morning, the members would engage in what the pastor called “service evangelism” (i.e., carrying food to people having to work on Sundays and things like that) instead of corporate worship (for that one morning). As my friend and I have talked about this, I have felt that we were both trying to flesh out what appears to be a tension between gathered worship and personal evangelism in this particular instance. I have further felt that we both felt that there was something amiss with ceasing gathered worship in order to do evangelism.

As in so many other areas of the Christian life, there is a Scylla and Charybdis to be avoided here.

On the one hand, I want to argue that there is an inherent evangelistic appeal in the gathered church’s worship, at least more of one than proponents of a radical dichotomy between worship and evangelism seem to understand. Perhaps this is especially true in lands in which the powers are opposed to the Church. In these situations, the acts of gathering and of worship stand in such contrast to the predominant spirit of anti-Christ that it is, de facto, an evangelistic act. I seem to recall a story somewhere of Malcolm Muggeridge being overwhelmed by the genuine, joy-filled worship of the persecuted Russian believers when he was covering them as an unbelieving journalist on assignment. I further seem to recall that the joyful worship of the gathered believers played a role in his conversion.

I often feel this but have trouble articulating it when church members occasionally express reservations about some of our short-term mission trips to Honduras and Nicaragua. They will say, “We are doing great evangelistic work in Central America, but what about here?” Now, I do agree that there is something wrong with pouring resources and efforts into distant lands if you are not doing the same in your own community. Churches should have this kind of presence in their own communities. (And, because of that, we are working to have a more balanced evangelistic effort in Jerusalem as well as the ends of the earth.) I get that, but I also want to say, “Yes, that is true, and we need to do better, but let us not forget that our presence as a worshiping community within this community is itself a statement of prophetic evangelism.”

On the other hand, I want to argue that worship, in a sense, is the foundation from which we leap into evangelistic effort in the world, and that if the leaping isn’t done, the worship has been incomplete (the idea of “the holy huddle” or something like that). Jesus’ sending of the seventy must ever be kept in mind, as well, of course, as the apostolic example presented to us in scripture. But leaping into the world with the gospel is an extension of worship as well, and should not be seen as a somehow separate work.

In this sense (and I suspect this is more the focus of your question), worship is the celebration of that gospel which we carry to the world. Worship, then, should make the gospel so beautiful that the thought of not sharing it seems obscene to us. It makes the gospel beautiful by drawing us into the presence of the God who has bequeathed the gospel to us. As such, worship equips the believer for the task of personal evangelism not by giving practical tips on how to evangelize (though there may be a limited place for that kind of thing), but by magnifying God and exalting Christ. I will go further: if worship is what it ought to be, and if our hearts are broken in repentance and grounded in faith and enjoy, personal evangelism will happen whether we pass on the “how-to’s” or not. (I can imagine personal evangelism gurus having coronaries over that statement, but that’s more a reflection on the shallowness of our worship than on the truthfulness of that claim.)

And, finally, there is a sense in which evangelism (albeit not personal) is modeled in worship itself. I do not mean here a kind of forced evangelistic appeal in each service. I mean instead that, in worship, the story is told and proclaimed and sung and prayed and celebrated, and, as such, the model is displayed before the worshiping community

William Cwirla/Lutheran: Worship is the unique, sacramental meeting place where heaven and earth come together, where eternity breaks into time, where the crucified, risen, and reigning Lord Jesus is present among the “two or three gathered” in His Name, along with the “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.” In worship, the Triune God gives out the gifts of the Son’s once-for-all sacrifice through the spoken Word and the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, and the baptized faithful receive these gifts, offering their sacrifices of thanksgiving, prayer, praise, and confession. We Lutherans call it “Gottesdienst,” God’s service – His service to us and our service to Him.

Worship is ever “evangelistic” in the sense that the “good news” (euangelion) of Jesus is always the center of the Church’s proclamation. Faith is created by the Gospel and sustained by the Gospel. The unbeliever who finds himself in the worshipping assembly, for whatever reason, is also the target of that evangelistic Gospel since “God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” The unbeliever is there as welcomed guest among the household of faith, and as such, is given the honor of guest but not the full privileges of family. The chances are quite good that the guest will not fully comprehend the Church’s traditions, and this is not to be expected. This is what catechesis is for.

The unbelieving guest is not alone in the liturgy, nor should he be. Worship is not a solitary, individualistic experience, but a corporate one. Like the Ethiopian, he needs a Philip to guide him. He needs to be welcomed as a guest and guided through the rituals of worship. This act of hospitality is an important first step toward evangelical conversation as bonds of common friendship are formed. In this way, the various forms of the liturgy serve as “icons,” in the sense of teaching symbols. The symbolism of ceremony must be explained to the uninitiated.

The Church gathered is also the Church scattered in priestly vocation. Here the Church, receiving the benediction of the Triune God, goes out into the world as Christ’s royal priesthood. And there, within their various callings of service to the neighbor, the royal priests pray, bless, and bear witness to the world to what they have seen and heard, inviting all to come, taste and see that the Lord is good.


  1. Jason S. Kong says

    This has been a really great read. Thanks. I will chew on it.

  2. Liturgical Gangstas (which is hard to type) are my favorite posts. Keep ’em coming. For one thing, they address questions I would never think to ask (no seminary education for me, so I never had to write an essay about this, Rev. Johnson).

  3. Wow. Thanks to all for deepening my appreciation of worship.

  4. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 14:24-26 where the church is worshipping (especially prophesying), and an unbeliever enters, senses conviction, finds the “secrets of his heart are disclosed”, falls on his face and worships, declaring God’s presence.

  5. Most appreciative of all the responses. Certainly an important questions, especially if you ask from a post-Christendom perspective.

    I’m curious how these ideas are carried out. The intersection of two realities, celebrated through liturgy for many, can be a powerful tool. However, what happens when worship falls flat (As it often does…more often than not….)?

    Picking on the Baptist perspective since that meshes closely with evangelicals as a whole, should we be less concerned about how we feel and ‘do’ worship and more about the reality of who we are worshiping ?

    ……Worship, then, should make the gospel so beautiful that the thought of not sharing it seems obscene to us. It makes the gospel beautiful by drawing us into the presence of the God who has bequeathed the gospel to us.

    I’m curious, again, to know how this looks. Considering for th emost part evangelical worship liturgy is merely a dude preaching a lengthy message and a bunch of contemporary songs (or perhaps hymns) where is the beauty?

    If we are charged with using worship to make gospel beautiful I think, at least from my persecptive, we’ve made the gospel very very very boring and inaccessible.

    My sense is, pragmatically speaking, we need to adjust how, in evangelical circles, corporate worship looks and feels. There is little outside of the ‘sit down, shut up, pay up, listen, and maybe pray’. participatory elements are now mostly lost and forgotten, yet in a post-christendom world would be much appreciated.

    Perhaps a time to revisit some other liturgical traditions that we worked so hard to give up would be in order?

    And another comment totally unrelated. I’m curious to know when the rhetoric of ‘heaven and earthly realms intersecting in worship’ came to be. Considering our hope is not in heaven but redeemed earth, perhaps that imagery needs revisiting? Or perhaps that’s a topic for an emergent blog 😛

  6. “I’m curious to know when the rhetoric of ‘heaven and earthly realms intersecting in worship’ came to be.”

    Hebrews 12:18-29 and, as Gangsta Ernesto likes to point out, the Revelation, particularly Revelation 4-5

  7. Yes wcwirla, to be more specific, I’m curious whether this rhetoric has changed throughout history. Much like how in the past 200 years a more of a ‘leave this place for heaven’ theology became predominant rather than ‘waiting for resurrection’….

  8. Wow, there is very much agreement in the posts. In fact, I had to scroll up on Wyman’s post to make sure I was really reading the “Baptist” take on this!

    Thanks to all of you for your reply to Michael’s question. (He asks good questions!)

  9. “If we are charged with using worship to make gospel beautiful I think, at least from my persecptive, we’ve made the gospel very very very boring and inaccessible.”

    Two thoughts:

    1. I agree. We have made it very, very boring and inaccessible. I think your post is right on and this is the great challenge many of us face.

    2. This is a quibble, really, but “we are charged with using worship to make gospel beautiful” makes me uneasy. I suspect you’d agree with this, but, technically speaking, we’re not charged with using worship for any means at all. Worship is an offering to God. I’m trying to argue that were worship to become a sincere cry to God, He will be magnified and His glory will be seen, and evangelism will happen. But I wouldn’t want to say that we are to “use” worship for this or that purpose. (But, again, I suspect you’d agree and I do get what you’re trying to say…and I agree.)

    Thanks for the responses!


  10. “Considering our hope is not in heaven but redeemed earth, perhaps that imagery needs revisiting? ”

    I don’t see a distinction here. Our hope as the baptized children of God is resurrection to life and the new creation which comes down “from above,” our baptismal birthplace. What we commonly call “heaven” as our ultimate destiny in Christ is not a renovated old creation but a resurrected new creation in which we are fully conformed to the image of Christ and fully experience our sharing in His glory as citizens of the heavenly City. Our worship in the here and now, no matter how humble it might be humanly speaking, participates in this eternal heavenly worship. This is why we confess that we sing the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy”) together with the “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.”

    Another aspect of worship we haven’t fully explored is the intersection of kairos and chronos, or as I put it the intersection of eternity and time, where the One who is the I AM reveals HImself in our time and place through Word and Sacrament.

  11. Perhaps some of the concentration on heaven and a forgetting about a new earth started with the incredible destruction of culture during the Early Middle Ages, not to mention a plague that wiped out one third of Europe and left towns empty and wolves roaming the steppes. In such a setting, one could understand why talk of a new earth might not be quite good news and why people might look forward to leaving the earth.

    I think that as we look at some of the African-American slave spirituals, one can catch some of that same tone of take me from here and take me elsewhere.

    It is easy for us to speak of the mistakes of those who had a “sweet by and by” theology. But, when all hope here on earth is gone, when there is no place to be safe and danger everywhere, to say, “in the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore,” is a sweet expression of hope, hope that better shall come, trust that our God is truly in control, somehow.

  12. I liked Pr. Richardson’s answer. In worship, we receive the motivation to evangelize not from tips and pep rally antics, but by the truth of the Gospel.

    I was at a Baptist (non-liturgical) service last week and heard an 45 minute harangue about how we need to do more to evangelize and if you aren’t evangelizing, it’s because you aren’t spending enough time in your devotion. No Gospel preached anywhere. I am very glad to see that some Baptists understand that the motivation to evangelize cannot come from the law, but can only truly come from faith and love of the Gospel.

  13. How appropriate in this season of 24/7 prayer movement. Great insight and understanding that would be good for many to read and mull. Thanks G’s

  14. The quote that us music guys just love to throw into a discussion like this is (though I cannot remember who said it):

    “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.”

    However, that in turn can quickly become an indication, like has been said here already, of the shallowness of what is sometimes considered to be “worship.”

  15. “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.
    It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose.

    And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.” – William Temple, Archbishop of Cantebury

    One would hope that the gathered believers in a local church would manifest a love of God and one another that would “rattle” an outsider or unbeliever in the sense that looking in from the outside one would see a whole group who praise and worship a God they do not see, do not know, cannot hear and do not understand. One could hope that even if they did not believe they would at least leave believing the believers do and that would cause them to realize they are “outside” the fold.

    Hopefully, the human heart of those who gather is so open and abandoned in worship of God that the outsider would be disturbed at some level in their own conscience that they are missing something in life. It is all a matter of the heart. After our gahterings we should be ready to share our love of God and the others with whosoever will listen and come as well. There just is no way to disconnect “personal evangelism” from worship for they both have their roots in Christ and if one is walking with Him, loving in Him and worshipping Him, then evangelism is a lot like breathing……not something your train for and think about but something that comes from being alive unto God. The thought of specialized training would not occur since our purpose is to walk with and obey God. The activity of evangelism is God already at work and you joining in on it somewhere along the path.

    I don’t think I rightly understand the question but to me the realtionship of worship and evangelism is not a thing, an activity we do or purpose we have but it is a person, the person of Jesus Christ. The relationship of worship and evangelism is a person.

    Imagine having a 100 people whose sole activity in life was to become like Jesus, act like Jesus, think like Jesus, love like Jesus and obeyed like Jesus. All the world would come to see “how they loved one another” and worshipped the Lord as if He were really there. I guess this is far to idealistic on my part but if we lived, loved and worshipped as we know we “ought” to do, evangelism would be so innertwined that no one could answer the question and would not care to try. Some of the most effective evangelistic work I have ever witnessed in my lifetime was ordinary people living out there faith and not even aware they were “doing personal evagelism”. They were just enjoying God and serving others when history changed the circumstances for another human being who met God in the life of an ordinary man.

  16. i hate it all its rubbish i hate you so get lost u looser

  17. go away

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