by Ruth Meyers
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.
—Reviewed by Michael Jordan, dean of the chapel, Houghton College.
Ruth Meyers’ Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission attempts to reconcile the tension many Christians feel between the central practice of our faith—worship—and the intuition we have that our faith compels us beyond simple worship and into participation in the missio Dei.
In her introductory chapter, Meyers argues that worship all too often becomes inappropriately subservient to other goals of a church. In more evangelical churches, worship is used simply as a tool for church growth, while in more progressive churches worship can simply be a handy tool to leverage energy for justice initiatives.
Yet while worship should not only be understood as a tool to accomplish other ends, it must maintain some connection with the overall mission of the church. To illustrate such an appropriate connection, Meyers introduces two helpful images—a Möbius strip and a spinning top. The Möbius strip
illustrates the idea that worship and mission can be of one piece; worship “enters and enacts the truth of God’s reign” (p. 36) and so invites us further into that kingdom. The spinning top image illustrates that worship is at the core of the church’s life, with energy flowing out of and into the core; worship “sends us out from the center, into the world, to be God’s people…”, but then it “draws us back into the center, shaped by our encounters with the God of Jesus Christ in the world…” (p. 40). The bulk of the book is spent
examining how these ideas play out in several of the primary actions of Christian worship: gathering, preaching, prayer, reconciliation, communion, and sending. Meyers concludes with reflections on planning worship well, in a way that attempts to reach various denominations and traditions.
In our current climate evangelical readers will no doubt note that Meyers supports same-sex marriage and several times mentions her involvement in an Episcopal task force to create liturgies blessing same-sex unions. For those of us who view such unions as theologically untenable, it will be tempting to dismiss this book.
But that would be a mistake. Evangelical Christians have often missed the insights of liturgical studies. Meyers’ work is especially helpful as a broad introduction to the insights of the field; she helps the reader to understand how churches’ rituals have an impact on how worshipers intuit their surroundings and understand their callings. She shows that individual practices only secondarily communicate distinct content; primarily, they shape ways of understanding the world by introducing a suite of practices and words that directly impact what worshipers then perceive as important about the Christian life.
Her chapter on intercessory prayer is especially convicting: she argues that few congregations meaningfully practice intercessory prayer beyond a few small requests which directly impact the congregation itself. Surely, this is partly the reason why Christians often struggle to meaningfully articulate our own vocation in a hurting world. Meyers’ work is worth a read for worship planners looking to better understand how what we say in worship impacts the way we see the world.
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EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 1 pp. 109-110. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.