A friend of mine has just sent me an email with this great line in it:
"Much worship is designed to be instrumental for the sake of mission rather than an ultimate place of doing mission."
I think this an accurate observation that deserves a little time being spent over it. Cos what lies behind this position, and what my friend is critiquing, is the basic assumption that worship is not the gospel; we need to give people the gospel, and worship might entertain people whilst we do so or it might even create a good ambience in which to preach at them. But it is an extra, not the core: the icing, not the cake.
This same friend last September whilst I was visiting Kentucky made a comment on a song we both know: "Let worship be the fuel to mission's flame". He said - "but worship is the flame!" And I said, "Amen!" It was the most profound thing I have ever heard in Kentucky.
AW Tozer puts it this way:
"Jesus was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on a cross and rose from the grave to make worshippers out of rebels!"
The point of the gospel is to make worshippers; indeed the force of the gospel is "We can worship God!" Which is to say through Christ we can do and be what we were made to do and be, being saved from doing and being anything else (which clearly can't be as good). So worship is essential to mission - because how can you experience or even talk about this good news without experiencing the truth and power of the true and powerful worship of Jesus? This is indeed the cake, and a very good cake at that.
Let me slice this cake another way.
Really often just lately I get this question thrust at me: what happens to people who don't know Jesus when they die? (They are asking if their friends and family will be OK in the hereafter, or does our gospel exclude the people we love.) But this totally misunderstands the gospel. We are not the travelling salesmen and saleswomen of a heavenly insurance package. We are not! The good news of Jesus Christ is that through him and in the power of the Spirit we can worship God today! Let us not be so fixed upon future destiny that we forget today's reality. Indeed - forget the future: are our friends and families worshipping God today? No? Then who or what are they worshipping and why are we leaving them there? This is the question we need to have: what is happening to people who don't know Jesus when they live, never mind when they die. Let's sort out today for tomorrow is gloriously in the Lord's hands.
Seeing worship at the heart of the gospel places worship at the heart of how we communicate the gospel, and also fundamentally questions how we view people who live outside the gospel.