Church as Missional Presence
By: Rubel Shelly

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:13-16 MSG).

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Last Sunday I made the claim that worship is spiritual formation for the Family of God. Private, family, or corporate worship is not for entertainment but for reminding us who and whose we are. The time we spend together on these Sunday mornings is not for taking you away from the real world for a brief time but for reminding you that what we tend to label “the real world” isn’t the ultimate reality. For Christians, worship that affirms the worth, holiness, love, and grace of God is reality. Worship is not only an end in itself as praise and adoration for God (which it is!) but also a means to the end of sending us back to work and school and family with a sense of divine mission.

Marva Dawn has put it this way:

We gather together in worship to speak our language, to read our narratives of God at work, to sing the hymns of the faith in a variety of styles, to chant and pour out our prayers until we know the truth so well that we can go out to the world around us and invite that world to share this truth with us. In our worship, we are formed by the biblical narratives that tell a different story from that of the surrounding culture. Since we thereby come to know the truth that sets us free, we are eager to share that truth with our neighbors; thus our worship must equip us for that mission with a deep vision of the extravagant splendor of God. Rather than being “a vendor of religious goods and services” that cater to people’s tastes, the Church is called to be “a body of people sent on a mission.”
Both paragraphs above end with the word “mission.” Both contend that worship, among other purposes it serves, reminds Christians that we are fundamentally aliens in whatever nation or culture provides our immediate sensory environment. They presume a self-awareness on the part of the church that we constitute an alternative, minority culture to the dominant one that surrounds us. Our task today is to try to understand what it means for the church to be a missional presence in the world.