OK, this is hard for me. I’m a life-long Christian, and for most of that time, or at least much of that time, I’ve been a regular church-goer. And now I’m a pastor. I’ve always liked church. I like the history and tradition. I like the gravitas, and the songs, and the whole experience.
Rather, I used to like it.
I’ve been to a few different churches in the past months as I explore ways to start a new church community in Bennington, and I’ve discovered this:
Church is boring.
Seriously, the churches I’ve visited have done well what they are doing, and it’s what I have always done, too, when I’ve been serving churches. Opening hymn. Call to worship. Unison prayer. Hymn. Children’s time. Scripture. Sermon. Hymn. Community prayers. Communion. Benediction. Hymn.
It’s a time-honored liturgy that hundreds of thousands of churches use to this day, and it’s fulfilling to many, many people, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But, suddenly, it bores me.
Some of the pastors of the churches I’ve attended recently will be reading this, so let me say again, they all did it well.1 But I hunger for something… different. I yearn for something more participatory. We make a big deal about the fact that the word liturgy2 comes from the Greek meaning the work of the people, but I don’t see it.
I see what we do today, what I have also always done, as the work for the people. It doesn’t do it for me.
How can we ask people to make a personal connection to Christ without making a personal connection with worship?
If we look back at those first few years after the resurrection we find a description of what it meant to be a follower of Christ:
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.3
To me, this sounds like they were worshipping, but like they were doing together, that each person had his or her part. That the experience they were living as followers of the risen Christ they lived in community, in all things.
Christianity was not, then, a spectator sport.
But so often it is, today.
Yes, in Christian tradition we often have a liturgist. One of “the people” who participates in worship on Sunday morning. That person often reads scripture, sometimes does prayers, calls to worship, and so on. But the lived experience from the pew-side of the pulpit is that we observe. We stand when we’re supposed to stand. We repeat the words in our bulletins, or read them off the screen. Sometimes we sing, sometimes we do not. We have a voice on Sunday morning, shared, mingled with the voices of the other people in the pews.
But we don’t have a voice in how we worship. What we say. How we share our lived experience with our savior in community.
I applaud churches that leave space for testimony from the members. But I think we can do more and better. I think there is a way to have a worship community in which the work of building worship is truly collaborative, truly honors the individuality and the individual faith experiences of the people who have come together to grow in faith by understanding one another’s experiences.
In short, I think there’s a way to make church together using the open source model.4 A model which allows church itself to truly be the work of the people. Guided, yes, by a pastor with both education and training, but brought to life through the vibrance of a community with widely varying understandings, theologies, experiences, and faith journeys.
I think there’s a way to do it. And I think it would grow into an incredible community of followers, who would live into the dream of those early Christian followers, and the risen man whom they followed.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Seriously, folks, no disrespect intended! It’s not you, it’s me.|
|2.||↑||liturgy: noun: ritual, worship, service, ceremony, rite, observance, celebration, sacrament; tradition, custom, practice, rubric; formal ordinance.|
|3.||↑||Acts 2:43–47 (NRSV)|