January 24, 2015 by Worship, Community, Formation
Not the post: the whole, entire blog. Worship, Community, Formation. I felt I was on an important journey – for myself at least – when I created it a few years ago to express my curiosity as a lay person, about the what liturgy does. I was interested in how worship formed us, as individuals, and as communities. It wasn’t until I read Roger Walton’s Disciples Together book that a lot of this was finally clarified for me, and the place of mission was brought into the picture. Walton writes that the three energies – each is essential – that must pour into formation of disciples are:
- mission of the church
- worship of the church
- the church community
(this is the local church by the way). Walton puts them in that order deliberately, I think. And there’s one secondary energy:
- education (of Christians in their faith)
Instinctively, I feel, he’s onto something. Four years ago I should have called this blog, ‘Worship, Community, Mission’. Pretend I have.
Actually it’s not Roger’s trinity; you do see mission, worship and community arranged together elsewhere. Churches have long talked about ‘up, in, and out’, when thinking about their different focuses on God, the church, and the world.
That said, I’m sure it’s his unique contribution to arrange these ‘energies’ into equal relationship with each other under the banner of forming disciples; nor I think has anyone else so carefully placed them in relation to education.
I think this idea deserves some investigation. Possibly I’ll be able to do that under my current work post (as a researcher into ‘What Helps Disciples Grow’), and I’ve begun to think a little about how that might work, but there’s a quart of research to squeeze into a pint pot of time there, so no promises. In the meantime, here’s some of what I think Roger’s approach offers.
1. A commitment to forming disciples gives mission a home.
Poor old mission has always been the difficult thing to do. Often carried out on days other than Sunday, often away from the comforting safety of the church building, it’s hard to get people involved or motivated. Looking outwards, misson covers many activities. Pulled in very different directions by people with different priorities (evangelism, service, social action, community relations), mission can split, and then split again, creating a proliferation of little disconnected groups. We need to acknowledge that mission has a formational role of disciples within the church, and to draw all our mission under that task, otherwise there’s nothing for us to hold our individual church’s mission together with, other than powerful or even autocratic leadership.
2. A commitment to forming disciples gives worship direction.
Like mission, worship has its own intrinsic purpose. It doesn’t need a reason or an excuse. But worship without reference to one’s own situation is no worship at all. Created by God, called by Jesus, it is our unique selves we are offering to God, not empty vessels. If we could turn ourselves into automatons, we should have no need of the confession and no need of the peace; we could indeed receive baptism and not need the Eucharist. But it is God’s unique and diverse creation we bring forth to worship: different individuals, and different communities.
Who are we? Where are we going? What should we do for God? How have we travelled together? These are all questions the liturgy raises – say, in the opening sentences, the church seasons, the readings, and the confession respectively. Some parts of worship are more obviously formational than others, but please believe this lay person when he says that every second of the Eucharist has the power to slowly shape the collective thought of the individual, and of the particular community. Priests: remember that power can be something as subtle as the timbre of your voice though the Eucharistic prayer; or an emphasis on one word or another, just as much as on the finely crafted, instructional sermon. Scared? Not unreasonably. You can’t ‘do it right’, but you can do it with faith, hope and love. That’s why we need you above all to trust in God’s grace.
3. A commitment to forming disciples gives sense to our arbitrary community.
People grow, learn and form together. (That particular wisdom, too, is written throughout the Eucharist.) This means that to be formed as Christians, we have to attend to relationships between Christians: our own, and those we see nearby.
But a church is an arbitrary community. There’s no selection. Unlike the marines, or medical school, this community is formed of what God hands us. Anyone can come here ready to grow and be formed. How we assemble an arbitrary community into the body of Christ? Well, that requires a sense of purpose about nurturing our community which extends worship into all of life.
As an example, I had a delightful recent encounter with a congregation which has been trained to discern talents and strengths in each other. It’s a lovely and a startling thing to hear adults praising each other openly in a group setting; in this case, in a research group I was running. This little group of Christians had brought a skill that they had learnt and practiced in community, and they were confident enough to use it in front of strangers. Building of the community is active as much as passive.
Challenges to ‘love one another’, then, point not to the fruits of faith, but the formation of it. Thirty years ago, a survey of a million UK Christians suggested that 82% thought it absolutely essential or very important that local churches ‘encourage Christians to know and support one another.’ That’s lay poeple, talking about the kind of discipleship they felt ready for. I wonder what the result would be today.
I hope that’s a handy outline of Roger’s work. I’ll be coming back to this model in future. By the way, the book is actually two books in one: he goes on to talk in the second half of it about what small groups can or can’t do in the formation of disciples, and it’s both alarming and engaging. That’s a different post entirely, and you can read it here.