As church leaders we have been encouraged in recent years to think about mission and ministry as parallel streams that have to be balanced and progressed together. So, for example, we have seen some churches adopt a ‘purpose–driven’ model where worship, witness, fellowship and service are all given due weight and attention.
There is no doubt that this has been a positive step for many churches that had become lop-sided in some way and maybe over-emphasised one or two areas to the exclusion of the others.
Others have come to regard ministry and mission and two concentric circles. This is where ministry acts as a resource to mission. Ministry, i.e. worship, prayer and Bible study are seen as equipping the church for Mission i.e. world mission, local evangelism and social action.
This again has much to commend it, but it can be the case that ministry takes priority over mission to the point where mission doesn’t happen because there is some area of ministry that is lacking and the church is therefore ‘not ready’.
There is another way that we might consider the relationship between ministry and mission. Both run in parallel and ‘ministry’ is regarded as the tools while ‘mission’ is seen as the task. But maybe what we need to do is to go one step further.
For the sake of ease and attention we have tended to pull apart that which should always be held together. It is this that I think Paul is hinting at when he says in Romans 12:1 “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Later Paul says “if a man’s gift is to serve, let him serve” (verse 7). Worship can be service; service can be worship.
It is important to make sure that in our structures and discipleship we are growing in prayer and worship and witness and fellowship and service. But if we divorce them from each other we weaken our cause.
By way of illustration I have noticed that whenever a group step out of their comfort zone in community engagement they are far more likely to pray both for their endeavours, those they are seeking to serve and others around the world in similar situations.
When they face a situation that is beyond their experience or ability to meet their willingness to work with other others and they become more open to learning new things.
I have also noticed that in serving together with others in a common cause their sense of fellowship and inter-dependence grows far more rapidly than when they sit in a small study group theorising over the Scriptures.
When they experience some measure of success, their worship grows as they realise that it was not due to their efforts alone but the secret ingredient that makes all the difference.
As they become increasingly passionate about the cause they are committed to they increase their giving – as they realise that God has placed in their pockets the means to make a difference.
One older lady decided with a team from her church to go on short term mission to Kenya. She raised the money for the trip and recruited a team of friends to pray for her, which they did with fervour. She learnt new skills in order to communicate. When she returned she had been transformed by the experience.
Maybe it is time that we as church leaders encourage our congregations in to greater involvement in engagement, while still providing opportunity for collective acts of prayer, worship and Bible study. And as we engage, we will maybe go deeper in our prayer life, in our worship and in the word as a result.