Have you heard that we have just begun a season called Lent? How your church members answer this question might have something to do with your church’s particular worship style or where you define yourself on the spectrum from traditional to contemporary. However the shape or size of your church, you likely will be putting some thought into how you will be leading in the weeks leading up to Easter. This is where even cutting edge contemporary worship leaders and worshippers can learn from an ancient tradition called Lent. This period of time before Easter Sunday has a double focus*…
- The human condition – the reality of sin and brokenness in the world
- The redemptive possibility – the world and the human heart renewed by a resurrected Jesus
Of course many of us have heard about fasting in relation to Lent. And that is a great practice in and of itself. But I really wanted to offer some other ways that you may not have thought of but relate directly to this season’s focus. In this post, I’m going to outline some ways that any church can recognize what Lent means. Even if your church does not use the term “Lent.” These practices are great for redirecting the community of God toward God’s redemption, celebrated at Easter.
1. Sing the Psalms
This is an ancient practice of the church that many worshippers don’t know about. But singing the Psalms can be incredibly powerful. Not only are they the word of God, but they speak in a poetic language. The Psalms cover a wide range of human emotions including even lament, the weighty feeling of contrition that fits perfectly with the first part of Lent’s focus.
There have been many Psalters written, where entire chapters of the Psalms have been set to a musical score. These are great worship resources. Some even use common hymn tunes that anyone can learn. For instance Seedbed has a Psalter where all 150 Psalms are available online to sing, and each comes with a few suggested tunes. For Lent, I highly recommend looking at some of the Penitential Psalms (Psalms ch. 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142). Even in a contemporary setting, worship leaders are often surprised by the power of singing directly from these highly emotional and formative parts of scripture.
2. Bury the Alleluia
This one may seem a little out there to some, but this could be really meaningful for your worship setting. Some traditions choose to forego using the word “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah” in any songs, liturgies or any spoken element starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday. This is called “burying the alleluia.” For some, this symbolic practice can feel quite strange, even limiting. This is actually the point. Lent is a time of self-denial in recognition of the brokenness of the world and the sacrifice of Jesus. Imagine how it would feel to sing loud Alleluia’s again for the first time in six weeks in celebration of the resurrection.
3. Intercessory Prayer
Lent is a great time to put thought behind an intentional prayer focus, especially in worship. Try working in some more interactive prayer elements into the service during this particular season. For example, at Asbury Seminary we made space for some prayer during the last few “Night of Praise” events. One of these took place in the Spring of 2019 when we were gathered in a local coffee shop. The band took a short break and we had everyone gather into small groups. We had a short list of prayer prompts that we would have each group pray through. Even being mindful of physical distances in your worship space (or even online), the small group prayer circle can still be practiced effectively with some planning. Also, it’s good to remember that this could be out of the comfort zone for some worshippers. Keep in mind that you want your people to buy into a practice and Lent is a great time to encourage going beyond the comfort zone in order to take the next step toward identifying with God’s redemption of our brokenness.
4. Make Space for Confession
This practice can definitely be out of many people’s comfort zone. While the word confession may bring to mind the “confessional,” confessing sins can take many forms. It can be an invitation time during a worship service, or it can be encouraged to take place in more intimate accountability groups. In some settings a more general confession and absolution are part of the corporate communion liturgy, and space is made for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of people.
Confession is a way of communicating what Psalm 51 says…
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,– Psalm 51:1-4 NIV
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight
It is also upholding what scripture tells us in James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Notice that healing is a natural consequence of confession. God recognizes a truly contrite heart in a posture of repentance, and His Spirit draws near to that. Lent is a great season for that mode of heart.
5. Make Space for Evangelism
If confession recognizes brokenness from sin, Evangelism connects with the second focus of Lent. Sharing the gospel can be very powerful within a worship setting. Some traditions are adamite to share the gospel message at the end of every sermon leading to an open space for response. But evangelism also happens on a personal level. If you have never done any kind of training as a church about evangelism, this season is a great time. In Lent we try to connect with the mission of Jesus in redeeming the world.
Keeping track of your church’s “wins” in this area can be important as well. This is not to make a quota out of people we share the good news with. But imagine being able to report back on Easter Sunday with your church that the last month saw a certain number of people decide to follow Jesus.
Which leads to the next practice…
6. Prepare People for Baptism
Historically, the early church would do all their new baptisms of the year for Easter Sunday. In fact the Lent season was 40 days set aside to prepare new converts for Baptism.* New Christians would learn about becoming a disciple through a process called “catechism.” Baptism was taken very seriously as a life-altering event. You can see how this is a bit different than today’s standard where we offer baptisms year round, with very little teaching about what it means. What if, taking the cue from the early days of the church, we used the days leading up to Easter to teach our community the marks of a Christian disciple. And what if we spent time encouraging new believers to take the step of baptism while preparing them to lean into the inward grace that baptism demonstrates.
7. Serve the Poor
If the dual nature of Lent is to come to grips with what’s not right in the world, in expectation of Jesus’ redemption, then serving the poor is a practice that can go right along-side everything else you might be doing. Let’s not forget that when Jesus preached in Luke 4 he says that he is here to “preach good news to the poor”, referencing Isaiah 61. Lent is a great time to ask “where does my community need to see healing from the resurrected savior?” Food ministries are a great way to do this. During Lent you may be fasting. This is a practice of denying yourself. What if a community also took the time to address the needs of others? That would be a beautiful picture of the kingdom working. And leading up to Easter, it gives you a chance to share the good news and invite the community to join you for Easter Celebrations.
During Lent, we look forward to new life and the Lordship of Jesus. As we prepare for Easter, let us be sure to be intentional about how we’re bringing the community along this season.
* Stookey, Laurence H. Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church. Abingdon, 1996. (Pp. 79-81)