In this chapter The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, John Dickson proposes that what we do ‘in church’ week in, week out is a valuable, and often overlooked, way of promoting the gospel. Gathered worship is, in part, a declaration of the goodness and glory of God.
From the OT (see Ps 96) to the NT, the singing of God’s praise in public performing a missionary function as God’s greatness is declared ‘among the nations’.
Jews in the inter-testamental period took seriously the idea of public praise as a form of mission – a strategy, according to Josephus, that was remarkably successful at times.
Dickson argues Peter continues this theme – seen in his statement in 1 Peter 2:9. Given the missionary thrust of the whole letter it is likely that Peter is thinking of some form of evangelism in this verse. We tend to assume an individual focus – ‘tell the gospel to your friends and neighbours’. But Dickson suggests the context is much more one of corporate evangelism – or what has been called ‘doxological evangelism. ‘Declaring the praises’ of God is a community thing.
But what of the modern context?
Dickson isn’t advocating turning the regular church service into a seeker sensitive event. But he is with people like Bill Hybels in his desire for the regular church service to be attractive, uplifting, beautiful, inspiring, spiritual, real – and so speak of the God Christians worship. He is also for making what we do intelligible to outsiders – and this means constantly ‘translating’ what goes on for outsiders unfamiliar with Christianese. By ‘quality’ he means the degree that the congregation revels in the worship of God and encouragement of each other.
If Christians just ‘survive’ a community gathering, there is little hope outsiders will find it remotely of interest. The burden is on Christians to do all they can to enhance the worship gathering.
So an observation and a question.
Over the long haul church can’t be ‘faked’. It can be made ‘sexy and exciting’ [well, sort of] for a special event, but ‘worship highs’ can’t be manufactured week in week out. What is needed is authenticity, integrity and real experience of people engaging honesty with the triune God. That can’t be ‘produced’ to order. Dickson doesn’t talk about the important role worship leaders play in guiding others into the presence of God. But, however gifted, they can’t create a desire to meet with God. Each person needs to come open to meet with God – often an uncomfortable and humbling experience as well as a joyful one.
So, if someone asked you why you go to church, would your reply ‘Come and find out?