My Journey to Missional Benedictions


An excerpt from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God's Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose:

Thanks for Coming to Church
In my early years of ministry, I always ended church with, “You’re dismissed.” That’s the way my dad did it. During my upbringing, I heard over 3,500 “You’re dismissed”s at the end of worship services, so naturally, it was ingrained in me to do the same thing.

One day, George called and asked if he could take me to lunch. I thought he was just being nice, but he had a burr in his britches.

“As a diehard Presbyterian, it drives me up the wall when you say ‘You’re dismissed’ at the conclusion of the services. I’m standing there waiting for a blessing, something inspiring to take home with me, and you say, ‘You’re dismissed.’ There are only two places where I’ve heard those words: in the classroom and when I got fired from my job. Neither memory is pleasant. I wish you would give us a good, rich benediction—but if you can’t do that, would you at least say, ‘Thank you for coming to church’?”

Benedictions don’t come naturally to me, so in deference to George, I quit saying, “You’re dismissed” and started saying, “Thank you for coming to church.”

Thanks for Being the Church

That went fine for a few years, until Mark called and asked if he could meet with me.

“As a theology professor, it bothers me when you say, ‘Thank you for coming to church’ at the conclusion of the services. It fosters a sense of American consumerism, like ‘Thank you for shopping at Walmart.’ The congregation needs to be challenged to see we’re not doing God some big favor by showing up. Besides, church isn’t just a place to go to; it is who we are. Would you please consider saying something different?”

“How about if I finish with something about being the church?”

“Well, at least that’s an encouragement,” Mark smiled.

So for the next couple of years, I concluded each service with, “Thank you for being the church.”

Go Be the Church

That went along great until Andreas called and asked if he could meet with me.

Andreas, a bright-eyed missionary from Germany, has developed an effective Native American ministry in our area. I call him The German Shepherd.

“As a missional community leader, it concerns me when you finish the services with ‘Thank you for being the church.’ You’re inadvertently saying that ‘being the church’ is what we are inside the building. People might think that if they’ve sat in a pew, sung a few songs, and listened to a sermon, they’ve been the church. That’s pretty passive. Christians need to understand, that they are called to do the kingdom stuff—reaching out to the lost, praying for the sick, caring for the poor, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom outside the church walls.”

“You’re right!” I agreed.

After that, I began ending the worship services with a challenge: “Go be the church. We have worshiped and prayed together. We have heard God’s Word. Our hearts have been filled with grace. Now, take it out into the community. We have been blessed to be a blessing. Go be the church.”

You're Dismissed

And I continued to say, “Go be the church,” until when working on this book, I had a follow-up conversation with theology professor, Mark.

After I shared my journey from “You’re dismissed” to “Go be the church” with Mark, he said, “I think there’s still something more.”

The next day, he sent me the following excerpt from McGrath’s Theology, explaining the meaning of the phrase the Mass: “This term arose in the Latin-speaking western church during the third century. Its original meaning was ‘dismissal,’ referring to the send out of the congregation into the world after the service was completed.”5 At the bottom of the message, Mark added, “So maybe you can come full circle in your “benediction narrative” to saying once again, “You’re dismissed.”

Comments

t-h-u-r-l-a-n-d said…
For years we have used this as the benediction - Although it says everything I want to say, I'm afraid it becomes so familiar that the people don't truly hear what we are saying.

"In the Power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth into the world to fulfill our calling as the people of God, the Body of Christ!"
Mark Wilson said…
Amen! I like that benediction!

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