Worship and Mission

The Church - 3

Worship and Mission
The Heartbeat of the Church
(Mark 3:13-19)

Individuals and institutions often go to extremes. On the one hand we find a driven-ness and activism that can lead to burnout; on the other a self-absorption or indifference that can lead to social irrelevance. Jesus, when he established the movement we now call the Christian church, skilfully avoided both extremes. Comparing the life of the church with a living organism, Rob Yule’s third message in his series on ‘The Church’ was given at St Albans Presbyterian Church, Palmerston North, New Zealand, on 15 August 1999.

A Living Organism

The church of Jesus Christ is a living organism. You cannot understand the church if you think of it as something static or inert. It is something alive, vital, dynamic. The church continually surprises us with its ability to rejuvenate itself when seemingly exhausted, when its critics have written it off, and when its friends have given up on it. The church confounds people by reinvigorating itself even when seemingly overwhelmed by inner problems or external pressures.

The main characteristic of a living organism is a beating heart. There’s a classic line in the Marx Brothers’ movie, A Day at the Races, when Groucho, a horse doctor, poses as a real doctor and takes the pulse of an attractive young woman. ‘Either you’re dead, or my watch has stopped,’ he pronounces solemnly! If you’re reading this, your heart is beating!

Diastole and Systole

A heart beats with a double motion, diastole and systole. Diastole is when the heart dilates or relaxes, allowing the heart to fill with blood. Systole is when the heart squeezes or contracts, expelling blood from the heart and pumping it out through the arteries and around the body. By this simple, continual, double movement the body lives, is oxygenated and provided with nourishment and energy.

Our Bible passage tells us that the church, a living organism, lives by this same double motion. When Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he called them firstly ‘to be with him’, and secondly ‘to be sent out’ (Mark 3:14). This is the diastole and systole by which the church lives. Jesus expands his sympathies, and draws this motley collection of individuals to be with him. Then he puts the pressure on them, and sends them out into a hostile world to be his witnesses. ‘Ca-poomp’, ‘Ca-poomp’. ‘To be with him’, ‘To be sent’ - this is the heartbeat of the church.

Being and Doing

We are drawn together to get to know Jesus, to be with him. We fulfil this by our worship, our fellowship, our relationships. This is the church’s being. This is the church gathered, the church visible, the church as light.

We are sent out to make Jesus known, to be his witnesses. This is the church’s doing. We fulfil this by our service, our witness, our mission. This is the church scattered or dispersed, the church diffused throughout society and the world, the church as salt.

Contemplation and Action

Both movements - the drawing together and the dispersing - are important. The church lives by both movements - not just one or other, but both together. There are activists who are impatient with church gatherings, and there are contemplatives who disparage Christian action, but both are important, and both belong together.

Pastoral churches - and many traditional churches - place a great emphasis on the church gathered: the church worshipping and caring. But the church also needs to be involved in mission, otherwise it becomes just an in-group. Purely pastoral churches become introverted.

Mission churches - and many contemporary churches, place a great emphasis on the church scattered: the church involved in action, service and mission. But the church also needs to remember the importance of intimacy and relationships, of love and worship, otherwise we run the risk of extroversion and burnout. Purely mission churches can become burnt out.

Church Leavers

A recent issue of the Bible College of New Zealand magazine Reality (Vol. 6, No. 32, April - May 1999), examined the issue of why people leave churches. My own conclusion reviewing this research is that people tend to leave churches from one or other of these errors I have been considering. They become frustrated with a church that just gathers together and loses its cutting edge in the society round about. Or they become so busy in projects and causes that they become exhausted, drained, and worn out.

The best antidote for imbalanced churches and imbalanced Christians is to remember this fundamental basis of life - the beating heart. The church lives by a pulsing heartbeat. Jesus draws us together to be with him, and sends us out to make him known. ‘To know Jesus and make him known’ - the Navigator motto is a great motto for every church, for every Christian group, for every individual Christian. ‘To be with Jesus’, ‘To be sent .’ ‘Ca-poomp’, ‘Ca-poomp’. ‘Be with Jesus’, ‘Go for Jesus’.


Evaluate the balance of your own life by this principle. Are you drawing life from being with Jesus? Or are you always giving, wearing yourself out with your activism? Are you taking Jesus’ life out into the world? Or are you always at church services and Christian meetings, always receiving, never giving out to others?

There are two basic principle of life here. Firstly, you can’t give what you haven’t got. An activist who doesn’t drink from the wells of salvation will never bring waters of life to a thirsty world. But secondly, you’ll never receive, unless you give. Water can never enter a pipe, unless water is flowing out of the pipe at the other end.

We have nothing to offer the world, if we haven’t first been with Jesus. And we’re not sharing the life we receive, if we’re not going out into the world to share Jesus with others. A living church is a church that lives by this double movement, this pulse, this beating heart. A living church is where every member knows Jesus, and where every member makes him known. If we all did this, what a pulsating, dynamic, vibrant church we would be.

‘He appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out.’

Rob Yule
15 August 1999

© 1999, St Albans Presbyterian Church, Palmerston North, New Zealand