3 Missional Opportunities for Sacramental/Liturgical Churches
As Anglicans, we want to use the best of our tradition to engage post-Christian culture. The Rev. Joshua P. Steele suggests three ways we can use our liturgical practices to fulfill the Great Commission.
by Joshua P. Steele
When Jesus told his first followers to “go and make disciples of all the nations,” he didn’t add an exception—“that is, unless you want to focus on sacraments and liturgy instead.”
In fact, Jesus’ very next words focused on a sacrament!
“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach those new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20, NLT).
I’d like to consider 3 missional opportunities for sacramental/liturgical churches. Three things we already do that can and should be used to fulfill the Great Commission.
1. Take the Deacon’s Words Seriously at the Dismissal.
At the end of every Eucharistic service in Anglican churches, a deacon (like myself) dismisses the congregation, saying:
Let us go forth in the name of Christ.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us bless the Lord.
The people respond: “Thanks be to God,” and then they usually think, deacons like myself included, “Great, another successful worship service. I’m hungry!”
But what if we took the dismissal seriously? What if we treated it as more than just the perfunctory way to end the service?
What if we used the dismissal to evaluate our worship?
“Go forth in the name of Christ”? “Love and serve the Lord”? “Rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit”? “Bless the Lord”?
How do we do those things? What does that look like?
Specifically, what does that look like in my life right now, given how the Lord has gifted and placed me?
Our churches should be discipling people toward being able to answer and act on these kinds of questions.
Taking the deacon’s dismissal seriously, then, involves a process of discipleship that begins with entrance into Christ’s Church at baptism.
2. Baptize, Catechize, and Confirm.
If baptism can’t be used to accomplish the Church’s mission, I don’t know what can!
It’s in the Great Commission, after all. And, as Scot McKnight has recently argued in a fantastic book, even (perhaps especially) infant baptism proclaims the gospel of salvation by grace through faith, apart from works.
And yet, I grew up as a Christian without my baptism being emphasized at all as a meaningful aspect of my faith.
Liturgical and sacramental churches ought to put baptism, catechesis, and confirmation to use as a robust process of initiation and training in the Christian life.
I think it would be helpful to “aim” this process toward the deacon’s dismissal. That is, a baptized, catechized, and confirmed Christian, after partaking of Holy Communion, should be ready and willing to take the dismissal seriously and go into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This means, of course, that, in addition to covering the classic basics of the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, catechesis should also involve a discernment of one’s spiritual gifts and unique calling to serve Christ’s Church.
Even when receiving people from other churches (who have already been baptized, catechized, and/or confirmed), I don’t see any reason why such “supplemental catechesis” shouldn’t be offered if needed. (Maybe we should even have some catechetical preaching from time to time!)
3. Offer a Daily, Weekly, and Yearly Rhythm of Life.
Speaking of time, I’m persuaded that the rhythms of the Christian life—the Daily Office, weekly (or regular) Eucharist, and the Christian year—can be put to powerful use to accomplish the Great Commission.
For one thing, the daily and Sunday lectionaries expose us to the Word of God. Coupled with the liturgical calendar, this saturates and situates us within salvation history. It’s an excellent way to learn what Christ has commanded us to do.
Furthermore, the rhythms of the Christian life are a powerful counter-catechesis to the frenetic and materialistic rhythms of the world around us.
Sure, doing morning and evening prayer every day can be an arduous commitment at times. But there’s refreshment to be had as chains of bondage—to outrage cycles, sports seasons, and the high holy shopping days of the secular year—are broken.
The Daily Office, weekly Holy Communion, and the Church calendar remind us that Christianity isn’t just a collection of correct thoughts about God—it’s a way of life!
I think these are 3 ways the Church—especially sacramental/liturgical churches—can fulfill the Great Commission. There are obviously more, and if you have ideas to share, please do so in the comments below.
In the meantime, take the deacon’s words seriously and see what happens!
The Rev. Dcn. Joshua P. Steele is the Managing Editor of Anglican Pastor—an online guide to Anglican life and leadership. He is a Transitional Deacon in the Anglican Church of North America (serving at Church of the Savior in Wheaton, IL), as well as a PhD student in Theology at Wheaton College.