Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Worship as Evangelism?

Below is a very interesting article on worship and evangelism from Sally Morgenthaler, which a friend of mine, Jim, alerted me to and sent to me.


Sally adjuncts at Fuller, where I am getting my D.Min. She wrote a book called Worship Evangelism a few years ago which really was quite responsible. In this book, she simply pointed out some ways that non-Christians could be helped in their faith through worship--something which is quite legitimate. Paul, in 1 Cor. 14 makes clear that non-Christians should fall down on their knees and proclaim "God is truly among you" when they enter into a Christian assembly. That is, they will sense God's presence in an assembly when the characteristics of God--orderliness, love, holiness, etc.--are properly displayed.

In order for non-Christian worshippers to sense God's presence, worship must be :1) understandable (in the language of non-believers); and 2) something that reflects the character and nature of God. It may be that Paul has some kind of "conversion" experience in mind when he speaks of the Corinthians falling on their knees. In his book Paul and the Thessalonians, Abraham J. Malherbe says that in conversion that was brought about from cults or philosophical sects in the 1st century, "conversion brought with it social as well as religious and intellectual disclocation, which in turn created confusion, bewilderment, dejection, and even despir in the converts." (p. 45). This kind of experience sounds similar to what Paul says should happen to these non-Christians in the assembly.

However, it is clear that this "conversion" is a by product of the assembly, and not the focus. The assembly does not focus upon the sinner, but upon God and the people's relationship to one another. "Conversion" happens by non-Christians encountering God through God's people exhibiting God's character.

The problem that has existed in evangelical and revivalist evangelism is that worship has been focused too much upon the sinner and bringing about a conversion in the assembly. This has somewhat hi-jacked worship and made it utilitarian and too human-focused. There are many reasons for this, but one reason is that churches have been in a purely attractional model for decades. In her article, Sally says that while her purpose for worship evangelism was good, she realizes that conversion the primary point of contact with non-Christians is outside of the assembly. To this, I wholly agree. Jesus said, "go" and make disciples.

This is not, of course, an excuse for boring, unplanned, non-heartfelt, or poor worship. Unbelievers should understand, appreciate, and fall down on their knees in response to our worship of God. But we should not give up worship and make most of our assemblies into giant altar calls. We must go out to people, serve them, invite them to worship with us and experience God, and then share with them the gospel. The worship experience should be profound and help them on their spiritual journey--and help them in conversion in a profound way--without its purpose being subverted or merely instrumental.


James said...

One other thing to note--with the exception of 1 Cor. 14, no "conversion" happens in the NT inside of a Christian worship assembly. And in 1 Cor. 14, this is a hypothetical and no mention of baptism is made, though this "conversion" experience might lead to this.

I am not opposed to baptism in the worship assembly--we should do good at all times. But we place too heavy a burdern upon these assemblies for conversion, and again, run the risk of thwarting their main purpose. In Acts, we see that conversion happened in many different locales, including homes.

In my experience, people come to faith in a very personal way, by sitting down with a person who leads an evangelistic Bible study and with their Christian family or friend. We have had 19 baptisms so far this year, with 15 baptisms from the community. And everyone of them has followed this pattern.

People today are simply too far away from God and know too little about Jesus and the gospel story to make a life changing decision in 25 minutes. We have traditionally focused upon the human response that is needed for salvation, rather than upon the actual gospel story--which the vast majority of people today do not know.

Again, we must go out to where people are and share this story.