Why Failure to Live on Mission is a Worship Problem

Sometimes we think the way to engage people in mission is to make sure we get the right information to them.

  • If we just preach the Bible, people will evangelize.
  • If we show people the commands in Scripture to care for the poor, people will develop a heart for mercy ministry.
  • If we make people aware of our need for more volunteers, people will sign up.

In other words, we perceive a knowledge problem. People need to know how to apply the Scriptures better, and once they know what they need to do, they’ll do it.

Not So Fast

But this isn’t the way long-term change takes place. Most of the time, when we are marked by missional apathy, it’s not that we don’t know what we ought to be doing; it’s that we don’t want to be doing what we ought to be doing.

In our efforts to increase missional fervor, we can get so focused on giving people more information, or better application, that we forget that our main task is to lead people to exultation. That’s a fancy word for “worship.” We exult, we delight in the Savior, we revel in him. Exaltation of the Savior leads to exultation of the saints.

Lack of mission is rarely a knowledge problem; it’s a worship problem. We don’t have any trouble talking about the things we love most. Whenever we find something worthy of attention, we talk about it.

The same is true of our relationship with Christ. The more we are in awe of his worthiness, the more likely we are to speak of him to others and serve others in his name.

Weighty Truths and Heartfelt Worship

Sometimes people worry that the rough edges of Christianity will lead us to avoid serving our neighbor and sharing the gospel. So we play down some of the harder truths of the gospel, not denying them of course, but not giving them their proper weight.

The reality of hell is an example. There are all sorts of ways to downplay the truth of one’s eternal destiny; the most common is simply to not speak of it, or to recast salvation as dealing more with this life than the next.

But what happens when the reality of hell is no longer grounding our talk about salvation and the gospel? We miss out on a moment of worship.

What Makes Us Marvel More

Consider this scenario. You’re walking with a friend, not paying much attention to where you are headed. Suddenly, your friend grabs your arm and yanks you backwards. At first, you are annoyed that you’ve been stopped so suddenly. But then your friend points in front of you. Sure enough, he had a reason. You were about to step off into a ditch, where you might have broken your foot or sprained your ankle. Your annoyance turns to gratitude for his “saving you” from possible harm. You thank your friend and move on.

Consider the same scenario, except this time your friend doesn’t pull you back from a ditch, but a cliff. You were about to fall to your death, hundreds of feet below. What would your reaction be in this situation? Not just a word of “thanks.” You’d be crying and hugging your friend, overflowing with gratitude for the way he just saved your life.

In the same way, when we minimize the severity of God’s judgment for sin, we are less inclined to stand in awe of the marvelous salvation Christ has provided for us. We think we’re pushing aside an obstacle when we neglect the reality of judgment. But what we’re actually doing is pushing away one of the truths that most leads us to worship. The reality of God’s grace is all the more amazing the more we see our sin and what it deserves.

Feel the Truth

A gospel-centered teacher isn’t satisfied to see his people learn truths about God. A gospel-centered leader wants them to feel those truths. To feel the full weight of God’s provision for us in Christ. To have the heart’s affections stirred to worship the loving God who has saved us by his grace and incorporated us into his family.

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

Debbie Ash — 01/24/15 11:58 am

I am so glad to have come across your message -- this is sobering and good. Thank you!

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I just discovered this today and am looking forward to exploring the content on here. It looks like it could be very helpful. Just an FYI - in your paragraph on not putting out B+ material you have a typo. A little ironic. :-) The third sentence begins with "You time" not "Your time."
— Troy Reynolds
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!

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