Playing All Sides
The most important aspect of Christianity is thoughtful worship as the people of God gather. When this is done well and with clarity the liturgy (whether it is formal or informal) forms people over time to be more like Christ. This makes the kingdom of God more visible in the world.
The most important aspect of Christianity is participating in the mission of God in the world. When people participate in this mission and experience the transforming power of God in those around them and in the world they are formed over time to be more like Christ. This makes the kingdom of God more visible in the world.
The most important aspect of Christianity is leading people toward holistic discipleship through mentoring, presence, study, and practice. As people understand their calling as disciples of Jesus they are formed over time to be more like Christ. This makes the kingdom of God more visible in the world.
My guess is that one of the three statements above resonates with you more deeply than the other two. The reality is that people tend to lead with one of the three of these and assume the other two will naturally follow if the first one is done well. In the American Church leading with worship has been the most common (though there have been important movements that have reexamined how to develop liturgy that is truly transformative). The missional movement is an example of leading with mission. And I confess I have most often led with discipleship.
The point here is not that leading with any one of these three is wrong but that it is a false assumption that the other two will necessarily follow. The truth is many people experience and even engage meaningful and thoughtful worship over a long period of time but never develop beyond being consumers. Many people join in projects of renewal, hope, beauty, and witness but fade away when the buzz of serving wears off. And the pursuit of discipleship can become largely individualistic and inward facing.
The best of all three of these “leading edges” of faith do play an important role in the development of a person and communities formed in the image of Christ. But each of them need the others. In fact, when all three are present with a holistic perspective on formation they feed into each other enabling growth that can never take place with a focus only on one. When we champion one to the neglect of the others we are working against the final outcome we desire.
It is natural for individuals and even entire churches to resonate most deeply with one of these three catalysts of formation–I don’t think that’s a problem. But we should surround ourselves with people who don’t lead with the same one we do. What if the staff of a church, under a unified purpose, was composed of individuals who resonated most deeply with each of these three? What if we helped people identify the one they resonate with the most and then connected them with people who saw the great value of the other two?
Mike Breen (from 3DM) uses the words “Up, In, and Out” instead of worship, mission, and discipleship. He talks about the balance needed between the three. It is in the deep integration of all three that true personal and kingdom formation will happen.