Worship and Missions: Why the Silo?

The co-founder of Heart Sounds International and my esteemed teammate, Frank Fortunato, recently wrote a 2-part article in celebration of HSI’s 15th anniversary. In part 2, he begins by saying,

It was an epochal moment that day in the late nineties, in Pretoria, South Africa. When it was my turn I gave a brief report of the global worship and arts task force to the twenty-five mission leaders present. The head of Wycliffe Bible Translators zoomed in on what I had just shared and offered his insightful perspective:

 

“A new era has begun that connects missions and worship. Let me describe it to you in two short sentences. Where the translators encouraged the new believers to sing the newly-translated Scriptures in their own languages and music styles, churches grew rapidly. Where that did not happen, churches grew slowly.”

 

As he sat down something like an inward explosion erupted within me. I sensed heaven shouting at me: “Worship connects to discipleship! As believers sing God’s powerful Word, Jesus will build His church.”

 

A little over three years ago, I had a similar “aha” moment. I had read John Piper’s famous doxological-missiological quote from Let the Nations Be Glad:

Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

 

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).

 

But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord…I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps 104:34, 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship. [John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17.]

 

Lightbulbs went off in my head. Why, in churches, is there frequently such a huge silo between the worship and missions departments? Why do we not connect worship and missions in our minds? We sing about it. We have a heart for both. But there’s a disconnect in relating the two. For years, I had absolutely no desire to be in missions, other than participating in one-off missions trips. Even after my short-term stint in OM, I couldn’t see getting involved long-term. One of the greatest barriers in my head was exactly this divide. I didn’t see what my passion for worship and heart for the local church (especially in the U.S.) had to do with missions. I even saw what OM Arts did and thought, it’s super cool that artists and musicians can use their gifts in missions, but I’m not really one to play in a band for evangelistic meetings, so I don’t really see how I could be involved. Then I heard about Heart Sounds. And sometime during that year, when I was contemplating and praying about joining them, I heard Piper’s quote. And then it hit me. Missions is all about worship. The goal of missions is to see the nations worshiping Christ.

As Fortunato exclaimed, “Worship connects to discipleship!” Duh. We teach this all the time in our worship ministry at church. The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). Our corporate worship on Sunday is the outpouring of how we live the rest of the week. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, our love for Him and our worship of Him grows and deepens. This influences our lives and our corporate worship, but true worship also influences the people around us. And God uses His Word, sung in each peoples’ heart music, from hearts that truly worship, to grow His church.

I’m reminded of Don Moen’s song, “Our Heart.”

“Our heart, our desire
Is to see the nations worship
Our cry, our prayer
Is to sing Your praise
To the ends of the earth
That with one mighty voice
Every tribe and toungue rejoices
Our heart, our desire
Is to see the nations worship You.”

To read stories of how Heart Sounds International has had the great honor of seeing Jesus build His Church as believers sing God’s Word, see parts one and two of the article written by Frank Fortunato.

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