Pentecost and Missional Worship

At least three thousand miracles happened at the festival of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. Three thousand people put their faith in Jesus Christ. Each of those miracles involved three people: an apostle who preached in an intelligible language; a festival-goer who heard the gospel message in his or her own language; and the Holy Spirit, who produced faith. As the apostle and the festival-goer come together through the work of the Holy Spirit, we see the mission of God and his church. Pentecost especially is about those three-person missional miracles.

Missional worship involves the same three participants: the church, the world, and the Holy Spirit. When we want missional worship, we need to make sure our liturgies include each of these three.

Worship without the Church

Sometimes we catch a kingdom vision of what could happen between the world and the Holy Spirit, and we design attractional or evangelistic worship. The words and music speak the language of the world around us. At its most intense moments, the message of the sermon is aimed toward people who need to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ, especially for the first time. We dream about our unchurched neighbors showing up in church, being led through the gospel story, and thinking, “There might be something to this Jesus after all.”

This would be excellent, but it wouldn’t be missional worship. Missional worship happens not just when our unchurched neighbors and the Holy Spirit come together. Following the missional pattern of Acts 2, missional worship includes the world, the Holy Spirit, and the whole church. It’s true that in this attractional or evangelistic worship some of the church is involved as musicians and preachers lead worshipers through the gospel message. But without the whole worshiping church having a key role, it is not missional worship. Missional liturgies are those designed to equip the church for its role as the Holy Spirit works in the world.

In our church, for example, we’ve invited people forward to describe their daily lives and to be commissioned for participation in God’s mission. They were asked the following questions:

  1. What does your upcoming week look like?
  2. What opportunities will you have to serve God and to love others?

Then we prayed for them. We found this to be an effective missional liturgy. It helped all worshipers to think about their own lives and to be formed for their part in God’s mission. It helped to equip worshipers for their role as the Holy Spirit works among the people in our world.

Worship without the World

Sometimes, we who are worship leaders want the liturgy to reach deep into the habits and subconscious of the worshipers. We design liturgies that will immerse us in the gospel story. Our prayers of confession are personal and hard-hitting. We open Scripture and hear a sermon not only because it’s time to learn something from the Bible, but because we are consciously aware that, through his Word, God brings us the good news of salvation. We struggle to find the right place for announcements because we don’t want them to intrude on the corporate gospel storytelling that starts at 10 a.m. and ends a little after 11 a.m. No part of the liturgy is there just because it has to get put in somewhere. We want every part of the liturgy to have something to do with creation, fall, redemption, and eternity in Jesus Christ. And we pray that as the church worships, the Holy Spirit forms us according to that gospel story.

All that would be excellent, wouldn’t it? But it might not be missional worship, properly speaking. Missional worship includes the Holy Spirit, the church, and the world, following the pattern in Acts 2. It’s not always easy to get the neighbors in our world to join the church for weekly corporate worship. But don’t worry—worship doesn’t end at the benediction. The church’s worship continues as we are scattered to our places in the world. That’s why missional liturgies don’t just orient worshipers to the gospel story, involving the Holy Spirit and the church. Missional liturgies also orient worshipers to the world, intentionally and specifically. In missional worship the church, the Holy Spirit, and the world come together as the worshiping church, formed by the Holy Spirit for its continuing worship as it is sent out into the world.

In our church we usually pray our congregational prayer about twenty minutes into worship, just after the confession and assurance. Recently we tried praying this prayer during the sending liturgy near the end of worship, and we did two important things:

  1. We made sure we appealed to God’s grace according to the specific gospel themes of the sermon so that the prayer was tightly integrated with the gospel narrative of our worship.
  2. We included petitions not only for needs within our congregation but also for the needs of the people and the world we live among during the week.

We found that this kind of prayer went beyond simply immersing us in the story of the gospel. These prayers helped us see how our immersion in the gospel story relates to our daily living in the world. These prayers became truly missional liturgies because they had a place for the church, the Holy Spirit, and the world.

Worship without the Spirit

Jesus promised us his Holy Spirit, saying, “I will send him to you” (John 16:7). But Jesus didn’t mean that the Holy Spirit would be there for us to control. Sometimes we catch that vision of a seemingly perfect liturgy. We carefully design the worship service, and we imagine all the great things that will happen through this worship. And then the Holy Spirit just doesn’t do what we hoped the Holy Spirit would do.

Following the pattern of Acts 2, missional worship happens when the church, the world, and the Holy Spirit come together. For worship planners, this means we need to remember the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. We are not working on missional worship if, when we design liturgies or plan worship, we think our worship will produce certain results if only we can get it right. We are not the primary actors in missional worship. Missional worship is about the Holy Spirit bringing together the church and the world. I can’t give an example of something we did in our church that was effective in getting the Holy Spirit involved. That’s the point. Designing liturgy for missional worship requires constant humility, prayer, and trust—waiting on the Holy Spirit.

The mission of God is a miracle. It is something that God has done, is doing, and will do. If it is God’s will, the Holy Spirit will use your liturgy to form worshipers for their role in the Spirit’s transformation of the world in Jesus Christ. Design your liturgy so that the church, the world, and the Holy Spirit come together—and pray for that miracle.

Questions for Reflection

  1. In your church, what moments in worship have recently reflected upon the church? The world? The Holy Spirit?
  2. Think about next Sunday’s worship. How do you hope worshipers will be formed for being a part of God’s work in Jesus Christ in the world?
  3. What are some things you might be sure to pray for before you plan or lead worship?

Nick Monsma is pastor of East Palmyra Christian Reformed Church in Palmyra, New York, and is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he is completing a Doctor of Ministry program focused on missional worship.

Reformed Worship 123 © March 2017, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.