The Lord Jesus Christ gave the church its commission before he ascended to His Father:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
How public worship fits into this commission is often a matter of confusion. On the one hand, some make every church service an evangelistic meeting and consider worship something we’ll do in heaven someday. On the other hand, others insist that the purpose of a church service is for believers to authentically worship God, and evangelism should happen outside the four walls of the church building.
I would like to suggest that the relationship between worship and evangelism is actually more complementary than either of these perspectives imply. Rather than pitting worship and evangelism against each other, we should shape corporate worship in such a way that it is itself profoundly evangelistic.
The gospel is a call to return to right worship.
The crucial biblical truth to recognize is that worship and the gospel are not two unrelated ideas; rather, the essence of worship is itself the language of the gospel – a drawing near to God in relationship with Him, made impossible because of sin that demands eternal judgment, yet restored through the substitutionary atonement of the God-man for those who place their faith in Him. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes worship possible.
The gospel – the Good News of Christ’s death on our behalf – is a call for people to return to the reason for their existence; it is a plea to accept the simple truths, repent of failure to worship God aright, and call out for forgiveness.
This is what we are called to do as we make disciples of all nations. When we preach the gospel, we are proclaiming the worthiness of God to be praised, the inability of sinners to draw near to a holy God, and the forgiveness that is possible through faith in Christ’s atoning work.
In corporate worship, believers reenact this gospel.
Because this faith in Christ requires belief in facts about Christ and His work and trust in Him as Savior and Lord, evangelism requires preaching the gospel (Romans 10:14).
But corporate worship also proclaims the gospel, not that the sermon and hymns will necessarily always be explicitly evangelistic, but in the act of corporate worship itself. Corporate worship is the public acting out of the spiritual realities of the gospel; it is a dramatic re-creation of drawing near to God through Christ by faith.
In other words, a worship service can be structured so that it proclaims the gospel simply in its order, whether or not the content of the hymns or sermon is explicitly evangelistic. Such a gospel-shaped worship order will look something like this:
- Revelation: God calls us to worship Him
- Adoration: We exalt our glorious God
- Confession: We confess our sins to God
- Propitiation: God declares us forgiven through Christ
- Proclamation: God speaks to us through His Word
- Dedication: We respond to God’s Word
- Supplication: We cast our burdens before the Lord
- Commission: God sends us forth to serve Him
This basic flow of a worship service (one that has characterized worship in many traditions for centuries) reflects the flow of the gospel: God reveals Himself in His Word (Revelation), which leads a person to recognize God’s greatness (Adoration) and his own sinfulness. He then confesses his sins and puts his faith in Christ (Confession), which leads to forgiveness in the gospel through the merits of Christ (Propitiation). This Christian is now ready to hear God’s Word (Proclamation) and obey (Dedication), bringing his burdens before the Lord (Supplication) and ready to go into the world to serve God and fulfill the Great Commission (Commission).
This reenactment of the gospel in corporate worship is profoundly evangelistic.
Structuring worship services in this way both allows believers to truly draw near to God through Christ by faith, which is the primary purpose of a worship service, and ensures that unbelievers who attend the service will always be confronted with the gospel.
Corporate worship and evangelism are, therefore, not mutually exclusive. The gospel is what makes worship possible, and gospel-shaped corporate worship is evangelistic.
If churches would return to this kind of corporate worship, they might see more examples of what Paul hoped for the Corinthian church when an unbeliever witnessed their worship:
“He is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Aniol, PhD, is associate professor and director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)