Not long ago, a mentor of mine and I were talking about the life of the church. I can’t remember how this came up, but he said a mentor of his told him that he was trained to make people comfortable – that that was the job of the church. To make/keep people comfortable.
This is our inheritance: a church that exists to make people comfortable.
This is not the point of the Christian faith, at least not for those of us who are relatively comfortable. Y'all know, when we get too comfortable, we fall asleep. Christ clearly commands us to stay awake.
Jesus didn’t come so everyone could be comfortable. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. To have abundant life – particularly abundant life for ALL – we must be willing to be uncomfortable. We must be willing to let the light of Christ shine into the depths of our soul, forcing us to look at parts of ourselves that are, well, ugly, so that we can deal with them. Abundant life requires we work on our own shit, sometimes spending time really dwelling in it before we can understand it and work to rid ourselves of it.
This puts those of us who work in the church in a precarious place. We have people sitting in our pews who desperately need transformation, who need to have their dirt brought to light so they might be able to examine it, who need to be confronted about their privilege in this world and yet, all too often what they want is an encouraging word, a pat on the head, a wafer and some wine (and I know in some places, they don’t even want that too often) and to be sent on their way to be the same people they were last week. The work of transformation, the path to abundant life requires deep digging, it requires work and pain and self realization and too many people have been told implicitly or explicitly this isn’t the work of the church. So, when leaders take the opportunity to do something that might make people uncomfortable in the name of repentance, we get an earful. We get threats. We get people telling us they will stop giving, stop volunteering, stop coming at all. It’s hard to know what to do.
For many of us, we get an hour or two a week with our people. This isn’t a lot of time. And, when they come, we give them the much same thing they get every week, more or less; the familiar liturgy like a salve for a weary soul. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out if there might be ways within this hour or two to poke our people out of their comfort, to create an opening through which the Holy Spirit might be able to shake and disturb people into discomfort, bringing about transformation. What can we say in our sermons, and how can we say it in a way that people won’t turn off their ears? Are there ways we might be able to use the liturgy this week to address something happening in our community or in our world (and, y’all know, there are like 5 awful things to address every week on the national stage alone)?
This is why we have created the Disrupt Modern Worship Project. We both come from liturgical traditions and appreciate the beauty of the ritual, the timelessness of using words we have used for generations, and the way our rites tie us to Christians throughout time and space. But we also know that, all too often, these rites and rituals can become rote. As a Lutheran who was raised on setting two of the Lutheran Book of Worship, I really don’t need to think about my sins to recite the order of confession and forgiveness. Even before I was a pastor, I could recite all of setting two without thinking or feeling any of it. The occasional new confession, litany, creed, or song can go a long way to shake people out of their faithful slumber. The confession that names things people actually do, the litany from scripture that calls us out on our behavior, the song that deals with the complications of life – these things can all have a deep impact on the people in our pews.
Another way to disrupt worship is to provide preachers access to the kinds of people we may not encounter every day (many of us have super homogeneous communities) and people whose voices are all to often not lifted up and spread around in the church – voices of people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, lay people, people with disabilities and other people who are generally not called upon to write for publications or don’t have enough of a platform to get their thoughts out into the world.
Each season will have a theme, music and liturgical elements to use for the season or for a day that point towards the theme. Each week we will have commentaries for the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary readings written by a variety of church leaders, and if inspiration strikes or there is a holiday we might have a litany, a different confession, or some other liturgical element as well as music suggestions. As we grow, we will look to providing visual art, children’s bulletin illustrations, and original music as well.
We also recognize that there are events in modern life for which the church often doesn’t have words. We are working with people from across the church to provide resources for divorce, miscarriage, infertility, and other life events that would benefit from communal, liturgical rites.
We’re here to help you disrupt worship as little or as much as you want. We are your resources for making holy trouble. We’ve got your back. Let us know what you need. We’re in this journey of making Christ known together.
The blog space is where we'll cover things: why we're using a specific focus during a season, to discuss liturgy, and random things that don't quite fit elsewhere.