Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission-Shaped Liturgy

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission-Shaped Liturgy

Article excerpt

The title given to this presentation, Mission-shaped liturgy, is further elaborated by the questions attached to it: 'What liturgy, what languages, and what music?' 'What new forms of ritual/symbols/expression can touch our contemporaries, especially the youngsters?' My reading assumes a tension between this title and the interpreting questions. These questions seem to imply an understanding according to which mission-shaped liturgy is one that is shaped primarily by the context, in other words by the needs and expectations of our contemporaries. The tension is between this "from below" and a "from above" approach. My conviction is that the question of mission-shaped liturgy should begin by asking, 'What and whose mission?' The main thesis of this paper is that mission-shaped liturgy is liturgy in the service of shaping and nurturing a missional people. Before exploring this thesis, however, the biases and limitations that derive from my context of being a pastor in the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) should be reviewed.

The RCH often refers to itself as being the church of the word (of God). In the church's worship services, the majority of pastors and members consider the proclamation of God's word to be central, and the liturgy as secondary. This situation has had two consequences. First, in the worship services preaching has become almost everything; the service seems to stand or fall on the quality of the sermon. Second, an unhealthy emphasis on the role of the pastor and clericalism has developed in the RCH churches. As Janos Pasztor points out, "The whole worship service is built on the person, thinking and theology of the minister." (1) Both the centrality of God's word in liturgy and the critique of an unhealthy clericalism are shared by the author of this paper.

Another recent characteristic of the RCH is a strong desire to create a uniformed liturgy for the RCH and the Hungarian Reformed churches beyond the boarders of Hungary, in the Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovakia. This situation is, of course, the consequence of the peace treaty in Trianon after the first world war. A common hymnbook has already been published. In the opinion of the present author, these efforts at uniformity are misguided since they do not take seriously the plurality of contexts in which Hungarian Reformed churches are called to be witnesses of Christ.

I am privileged to be a pastor in an urban, housing estate church that was started about sixteen years ago. Gazdagret Reformed Church, while keeping the basic elements of RCH liturgy, has been through some liturgical changes in the last couple of years. It is especially perceptible in the liturgy of the Lord's Supper, and the blended use of old and contemporary songs led by a group of musicians in the services. These rather minor developments count as significant changes in the context of the RCH. It also should be added that our church has been experiencing significant growth parallel to these changes.

Having outlined the ecclesial context in which this paper was born, the church as God's missional people now needs to be discussed. This discussion will lead to an adequate understanding of the church's liturgy as it is related to mission. Then some aspects of mission-shaped liturgy will be examined.

The church as God's missional people

Earlier, it was stated that the primary question of a mission-shaped liturgy should be, 'What is mission and whose is the mission that is to shape the church's liturgy?' The concept of missio Dei needs to be emphasized at this point. A trinitarian understanding of mission developed along the lines of the Father sending the Son, and the Father and Son sending the Holy Spirit. This is foundational. God is the missionary God; the church takes part in God's mission as it is sent by God into the world. The crucial text for this understanding, cited by Lesslie Newbigin several times, is John 20:21: "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. …

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