Mission historian Dr. Dana Robert describes worship as essential to mission. In her 2010 United Methodist Women study Joy to the World! Mission in the Age of Global Christianity, she emphasizes the importance of worship for the practice of mission. When we gather together and worship God, we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, who fills us and empowers us to go out and be the church in the world.
The church where I now worship uses a benediction from Rev. Jim Foster, who served as a United Methodist pastor for many years. He exemplified grace and mercy, and was a profound influence on all who met him. He ended every service by asking: the service has ended. Now where will you go and what will you do? The congregation replies: We will go into the world and be God’s people.
These two people – a professor of mission and a pastor – draw the connection between worship and mission. We gather in to praise, to pray, to be filled, and we go out to serve God through acts of mercy and kindness to all we meet. For many people I know, these acts of mercy and kindness are lived out especially in local mission outreach at this time of year, and in summer mission trips around the U.S. We gather in to worship, to sing praises, to hear scripture and are willing to learn something new about God and ourselves. Through this worship, we are prepared to be sent out in mission.
Yesterday in worship, we had hymns, readings and special music. Our youth played their band instruments, our children shared the artwork they’ve been working on through Advent, and several people did prayers and readings. One phrase caught my attention – you don’t have to be perfect, just willing to follow.
The reading was talking about the wise men following the star. They didn’t have to be perfect before heading out, they just had to be willing to follow. All the people I’ve met on short-term mission trips or on local mission projects immediately sprang to mind. None of us have been perfect. That one trip, where I messed up the rhythm of the line passing those big cement blocks…definitely not perfect! People who go out in acts of mercy and kindness know that they aren’t perfect. They are willing. They go because they know the grace of God guides them. They go because they trust in the Holy Spirit. They go because they have been formed into the body of Christ through worship and are ready to be God’s people in the world.
This last week of Advent, how will you gather in worship? I encourage you to open your heart as you worship with your church, and listen for the Spirit’s leading. Just be willing.