One Sunday I (Steve) served as visiting preacher at a church that had planned a mission emphasis service. As I took a seat near the front, I was impressed by a colorful display of flags representing the countries touched by the congregation’s missionaries. The music carried the energy of the large and growing majority-world Christian movement. A little later in the service, a PowerPoint presentation projected scenes of Christians from around the world gathering to worship the crucified, risen, and reigning Christ. One slide depicted Africans in colorful dress clapping and dancing to the music of drums and shakers. Another showed a house church in China singing a cappella. While these images flashed before the congregation’s eyes, the powerful music and moving words of the Newsboys song “He Reigns” filled our hearts.
Various church members explained the work of each missionary they supported and provided an update or prayer request. It was clear from the warm response that these missionaries were truly known and loved by many in the congregation. Then I opened the Scriptures, reading from Romans 15: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (v. 20).
Every element of the service focused on the mission task of the church. The result was a coherent act of worship to the God who calls the church to participate in the kingdom mission.
Why Hold a Mission Emphasis Event?
I’m often asked to preach at mission emphasis services, but the services aren’t always such stirring events. What made this one stand out? Several things.
The missions committee’s goal was to make the worship service meaningful to the congregation. They had assembled a variety of people, information, and visual and auditory elements into a coherent whole. And they prayed. As part of their preparation, they called on the council, prayer teams, and the congregation to ask the Lord of the harvest to stir up the people and fill them with a passion to see lives and communities transformed worldwide.
For years, mission emphasis events and worship services have been a staple in North American churches. Seniors remember the “mission fests” of a previous generation: on those rare occasions when people got to see a “real missionary,” all the congregations in a given area would assemble, sometimes for a series of mission addresses over a full day. The idea of a Mission Emphasis Week developed in the post-World War II period. In many cases, both worship services on two successive Sundays highlighted domestic and foreign missions, Word and deed, personal and radio ministries. Congregations would host a midweek potluck supper to allow missionaries opportunities to report on their work.
Some suggest that mission emphasis events detract from a year-round integration of outreach ministries into the life of the congregation. They say these events make people think, “We’ve done our duty and don’t need to worry about missions again until next year.”
Of course, this doesn’t need to be the case. The fact that a married couple celebrates their anniversary once a year does not detract from their ongoing appreciation of one another. On the contrary, such a special event enhances the everyday living out of their commitment to love and care for one another. Similarly, mission emphasis worship services and events can result in a congregation that is better informed and more inspired for mission involvement throughout the year.
Many congregations directly tie their mission emphasis week with a “faith promise” commitment to pray for and contribute to the work of missions throughout the year. Instead of dropping a bill or two into the collection plate when the offering is received for missions, a faith promise calls on each member of the congregation to prayerfully consider what God would have them give to the cause of missions through the local church and then to fulfill that commitment throughout the year (see sidebar).
Planning for Mission Emphasis
Planning a successful mission emphasis event can be exciting and meaningful. Here are some guidelines you may find helpful:
Get a variety of people involved
Your main planning and implementation team will probably be your missions committee, but you’ll want to involve others as well. Invite representatives from the children’s committee, hospitality committee, worship committee, education committee, and others. Involve people of different ages. Having various groups represented gives broad ownership of the event, distributes the workload, and encourages new ideas.
Both the event itself and the planning process can lack focus if the event’s goals aren’t clear. So start by asking some questions: What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want people to come away with? Why are you holding the event? Setting goals helps keep your team focused on the purpose of the event, motivates the congregation, and provides a sense of accomplishment. See the sidebar (p. 28) for more information on sample goals.
Choose a theme
To maximize the lasting impact of your mission emphasis event, choose a theme or a topic for the event. The theme may be related to one of your goals and can be specific or general. Having a theme helps to make mission emphasis a coherent whole rather than a group of scattered, unrelated events. It also helps people remember something specific they can take away from the event, and it aids the planning process by guiding choices of songs, texts, and the like. See the sidebar (p. 28) for more information on sample themes.
The Task Isn’t Finished . . .
There’s a great deal to celebrate at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The mission of Christ’s church has reached every continent and virtually every nation. However, there are still many within those nations who have not heard the Good News. The majority-world church continues to seek leadership training from the West, even as they offer their own rich traditions of worship and enthusiasm for the gospel as a gift to the West. Mission emphasis events give congregations the opportunity to be encouraged by this progress and to pray for the task’s completion.
Mission Emphasis Resources at www.crwm.org
Click on “Resources” and look under “Missions Emphasis Resources” for helpful ideas on including the following in a mission emphasis event:
- faith-promise giving
- sample goals
- sample themes
- flag litany
- children’s message
- global update PowerPoint
- interview questions
- commissioning service
- international cuisine: From the Ends of the Earth
Mission Emphasis Liturgy
Liturgy for a Mission Emphasis Worship Service
Note: The symbol * indicates that a resource is available from Christian Reformed World Missions at www.crwm.org.
Theme: His Last Command, Our First Concern
Scripture: Matthew 28:19-20
We Gather for Worship
Flag procession* (can be started five minutes before the stated time of the worship service)
Call to Worship: Psalm 22:27-28
Greeting from God: Revelation 1:4-5
We Praise Our God
Song of Praise (choose one)
“There’s No God as Great/No Hay Dios tan Grande” PsH 517, SFL 240, SWM 244
“Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet” PsH 569, SFL 32
Choir, Children’s Choir, or Drama
We Hear God’s Word
Children’s Message*: “Tire Sandals, Clogs, and the Great Commission”
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:19-20
Sermon: “His Last Command, Our First Concern”
Prayer of Application
We Express Our Devotion
Song (choose one)
“Siyahamba/We Are Marching in the Light of God” RN 306, SNC 293, WR 76
“The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear” PsH 542, TH 368
Focus on Mission (choose one)
- Webcam (or live) interview with a missionary or someone whose ministry is supported by your church
- Testimonies from young people or adults recently returned from a missions trip
- commissioning of people preparing for a missions trip
Offering and collection of faith promise pledges*; short audio-visual program*
We Go to Serve
Benediction: Ephesians 6:23-24
Doxology (choose one)
“Alleluia/Alabaré” PsH 234, SFL 193
“My Friends, May You Grow in Grace” SNC 288, SWM 234