What Does Lent Look Like in a Non-Traditional Church?

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This year, at our nontraditional, off-site worship service, we’re being intentional about observing Lent in a traditional way. Lent is the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter when we focus on repentance, fasting, and preparing our hearts for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent is a journey to the cross. In the past we’ve focused our Lenten series on the life of Jesus. One year we studied prayer. Another time we took an in-depth look at the events of the week before Easter. This year for Lent, our pastor cast a vision for a Lenten series based on spiritual disciplines. We’ll journey to the cross through prayer and fasting, Sabbath rest, reading scripture, serving, the Sacraments, and gathering in community. As our pastor cast this vision, our worship planning team was led to give this series a simple feel. We want to include traditional liturgical elements in our space, music, and corporate expressions of spiritual disciplines.

Space: Flexibility and Simplicity

Since we meet in a college auditorium, we have the opportunity to regularly change our worship space. Our stage is a blank slate with a black curtain across the back. For Lent, we will have a plain cross, a table, and the band instruments and equipment. We probably won’t have formal paraments, but we will use fabrics in liturgical colors to dress the table. Deep purples, burlaps, and grays will set a somber tone in our space.

Music: Old Becomes New

Like many nontraditional services, we generally sing modern worship songs. Occasionally we sing hymns that have been rearranged or rewritten in a modern way. It seems to me that many churches had good intentions when they set hymnals aside in favor of newer songs. I love fresh expressions of worship and I’m inspired by people who are able to write worship songs. But I also love when I hear an old song – maybe one I grew up singing – and I’m transported in my mind to a memory of worshiping God in a particular place with particular people. It’s also powerful to think about how many people have sung some of our hymns over the course of many years. Some songs just withstand the test of time. I’m personally convicted that we should sing these songs and not dismiss them, simply because they are old. So, as we are intentional about tradition during this Lenten season, we plan to sing at least one hymn each week. Some will use all the instruments in our band, but for others we may take a stripped down, acoustic approach. For some people in our congregation the hymns may actually be “new.” But no matter if the people in our church have grown up singing hymns or if they are hearing them for the first time, our hope is that the rich lyrics will connect people to God and tell God’s story. There are many great arrangements of hymns available to you. Here are a couple we use:

“How Marvelous” (I Stand Amazed in the Presence) by Chris Tomlin

“Be Thou My Vision” by Audrey Assad

Sacraments: Exploring New Rhythms

We believe spiritual disciplines can be observed both personally and corporately. We are working on ways to participate corporately in a spiritual discipline in our services each week. An obvious corporate way to participate in a spiritual discipline is by celebrating the Sacrament of Communion. Generally we celebrate Communion once a month, but during Lent we will gather around the Communion table each week. We’re also looking for ways to pray and read scripture together that are outside of what we do normally on Sundays. Additionally, we are putting together a resource people can take home with suggestions on how they can observe each discipline in a personal way. In our take home resource our goal is to offer a few suggested ways to observe each discipline, offer a reference where you can learn more on your own, and give a few ideas on how to talk about spiritual disciplines with children.

We’re hopeful as we plan a more traditional Lenten season for our worship service. Through space, music, and corporate elements we will worship God and teach and engage his people. How will you observe Lent this year? What traditional elements you use? Will you incorporate any new expressions of worship this season?

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Emily lives in Long Beach, Mississippi with her husband, Ben, and their three kids, Sadie, Joe, and Lizzie. Together they serve at The Well, an offsite service of First United Methodist Church in Long Beach. Ben is the pastor for The Well. Emily volunteers as the leader for the Worship Planning Team and helps with the spiritual formation of The Well's band. Emily graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2006. She loves learning more about planning and leading people in worship. When she's not working on something for The Well, Emily's probably telling her kids stories about growing up in Kentucky. You can find her on Twitter (@emilyhbarlow) but she mostly live tweets University of Kentucky basketball games.

1 COMMENT

  1. Never underestimate the power of the communion of saints past and present. I have personally found them to be formidable allies in my faith journey. I wrote this several years ago:

    The faith journey: Learning to go against our own natural inclinations and doubts.
    Faith is doing what only makes sense in hindsight.
    Three things are required for such a journey to succeed
    My Faith – A God-given understanding that I, as an individual, am included in his plan of salvation. Salvation is not a group plan. This is the lesson the Moravians taught John Wesley that ultimately led to his experience of assurance at Aldersgate.

    Our Faith – Being folded into “the church”: God’s mission to the world; the training ground for forgiveness. Despite being a particularly flawed community, the members strive to watch over each other in love, while continually looking beyond themselves to a greater God.

    Our Great Faith – Being folded into the larger, ongoing story of God’s plan of salvation. Not to worry, we are not the first to attempt this incredible journey of “going against our natural inclinations”. There are 2000+ years of those who have gone before us and they have left us guideposts of encouragement: their writings, catechisms, creeds, hymns and liturgy.

    It takes all three levels of faith. Chances are great that when you go against your natural inclination and follow Jesus into a situation, you will come out beat up and scarred with “My Faith” stretched to the limits, no longer sure if it is even intact. Only hindsight within the context of an unfathomable God of Mystery! who loves “me” and who has an ongoing plan of salvation that includes “me” will make any sense of it. But there also needs to be the realization that “I” am nowhere close to being the first or only one to embark on what, at the moment, seems like such a ridiculous and costly journey.

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