When John Piper wrote one of his famous quotes the Christian world changed.
“The reason missions exist is because worship doesn’t.” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17).
Statements like this always have a strong basis in truth, but they seldom contain the whole truth-concept and can easily be twisted to mean something that was never the intent of the author.
There are few advocates more committed to “kindle a fervor for missions and recruit missionaries and stir up support in senders for missionaries” than John Piper (Piper’s blog, Desiring God). Yet the enthusiasm for “worship” has consumed the church, especially the youth, overshadowing the reason for worship. We could never deserve the benefits God offers, yet we came to hear and know the glorious gospel of our Savior.
Piper is saying that an abundance of evangelism and missions should result an overflowing of meaningful worship. The question is today: Is the sequence of evangelism and missions the reason for the exploding worship movement, or does it have a life of its own?
Sea captain metaphor
Ray Comfort gives the analogy of a cruise liner filled with people singing praises to the captain of the ship in the stateroom, while all around the ship there is a sea of people crying for help before they drown. Every now and again someone leaves the stateroom and hears their cry. They make some attempt to save a few, but there are so many. When these few rescuers’ attempt to recruit others to the task of bringing more on board, they are met with disinterest and apathy as the crowd continues to praise the captain (Way of the Master).
Perhaps this is a somewhat exaggerated metaphor, but the fact that enthusiasm for corporate worship today far exceeds the enthusiasm for evangelism and missions seems fairly obvious.
It appears that the church has skipped over the steps of evangelism and missions to make the primary objective of the western church today to be worship.
Phasing out evangelists
At one time there were 4,000 full-time evangelists in church campaigns in N. America. Today there is only a handful of evangelists left. In the 1960’s evangelism was one of the most popular ministry careers in Christian colleges, but today few are able to make a living in evangelistic campaigns. Few Christians even know an evangelist personally.
The idea of confronting the unsaved with a gospel witness and urging them to accept Christ is increasingly seen as an uncomfortable and undesirable activity. Some think it will hurt the reputation of the church to be overly evangelistic. Soul-winning conferences are almost unheard of in the contemporary church. We are told to make friends and do something nice for them so as to attract them to the church…, where they can experience worship.
Missions have not fared much better. The day of a weeklong missions conference is increasingly rare. Today it is difficult for new missionaries to have any exposure to the congregation in many churches and few pastors understand missions enough to lead their churches into a meaningful involvement in global missions.
Often pastors perceive missions as an additional (if not unnecessary) expense to an already tight budget.
On the other hand, worship conferences and church worship have exploded. It is more beneficial to the churches to have large worship programs, than large evangelistic or missionary programs. Worship creates church growth by attracting people.
The argument can be thought out as follows: if worship is the chief or ultimate purpose of the church (and it also attracts the most people), then this should be the primary focus of the church today. Could it be that instead of it being the result of evangelism, it has become the substitute for evangelism… and thus missions.
In my evangelism class I once asked a student why she thought she was saved. Her answer was, “I have discovered that I love to worship God. Since only Christians can enjoy God in worship, I must be a Christian.” Several others have voiced similar testimonies. Did they miss the evangelism component entirely?
Worship is meant to be a heart-felt experience that comes from the reality within a believer who celebrates the cleansing work of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. Can the music and euphoria of mass enthusiasm generate a substitute feeling of being touched by God, when there is no understanding of the gospel?
Worship as missions
It is certainly a lot easier to engage in a worship experience than to learn how to practice a regular evangelistic ministry or prepare for a cross-cultural career. Electricity flows where the resistance is least. Worship is meant to be a wonderful experience that is easy to practice as we feel His presence.
Can we get people singing in rhythm to feel God without knowing Him?
Questions to ponder
What do you think Jesus is more interest in today: hearing large groups of enthusiastic people praising Him for His greatness and holiness, or seeing an army of believers giving up their lives to tell a lost world about what He did on the cross for their sins? If you were Christ, which would you be more interested in seeing?
Of course, the question should be, why can’t we have both?
Certainly eternity will not be a time of evangelism and missions, but rather of worship and thanksgiving for who God is, and all that He has done; thus now, in this age, in our lifetime, it is the only opportunity in eternity to demonstrate to our Savior how much Calvary means to us by living to tell the unreached world. Singing praises is not the same as sacrificing one’s life to bring the lost of this world to kneel before the Savior before it is too late.
This is not an either/or issue, but a both/and priority. Just as we now desire to focus on worship, may we elevate anew our enthusiasm for evangelism and missions. We cannot skip over the means and reasons for our eternal worship.