Lewis Center Director F. Douglas Powe says that congregations, as well as individuals, can make a new start during Lent by giving up some things, like fear or lethargy, or taking up other things, like risk and new rhythms.
Typically, we think of Lent and Ash Wednesday as times of individual soul searching. Lent is a time for each of us to recommit ourselves to Christlike living. As a sign of this commitment, we typically give up something or take on something during Lent. I believe Lent can also be an opportunity for congregations to do communal soul searching. What are those things we as a congregation need to give up or take on during the season of Lent? This sort of communal soul searching can help a congregation make a new start.
Congregations can need a new start, just as individuals do. The season of Lent is the perfect time for us to give up fear and lethargy. It is the perfect time to take on risk and new rhythms.
Giving up fear
Many congregations need to fast from fear. Congregations that are experiencing challenges or even congregations that are thriving often fear taking the next step. Those experiencing challenges often fear another low turnout at a ministry event. Instead of believing where two or three are gathered God is at work, an attitude of “Why bother?” permeates the community. Thriving congregations, where things have been going well, often get to the point of fearing it will all fall apart if they try this next thing. In both cases fear can paralyze a congregation, preventing it from living out its calling to be ambassadors for Christ. Fasting from fear during Lent can help a congregation to move forward boldly.
Giving up lethargy
Many congregations need to fast from lethargy. In Revelation 3:16, the church at Laodicea is described as being lukewarm. There are some congregations just going through the motions. They really have no enthusiasm for Christ. Individuals show up for worship and various church meetings just because it is what they have always done. The passion for God and making a difference in the lives of others is not visible. Lethargy is dangerous; the congregation is functioning, but no one seems really invested. Fasting from lethargy during Lent can help a congregation regain passion for its mission.
Taking on risk
In recent years, some have discovered that it is taking on a practice during Lent, rather than just giving something up, that helps them draw closer to God. Some congregations need to take on risk-taking. It is one thing to give up fear, but another to be intentional about trying something new. During Lent, a congregation can try something new as a short-term experiment. For example, instead of talking about starting a Bible Study at the local coffee shop or senior home, go and do it. The risk is limited to the Lenten season, so even if it does not go as planned it will not be devastating. Taking the right risk during Lent can create a new opportunity for your congregation to recommit itself to Christ and participate in God’s transforming work.
Taking on new rhythms
Some congregations need to take on new rhythms. A congregation that is lethargic needs to break out of the mundane rhythms that are currently plaguing the community of faith. For example, instead of holding the Easter egg hunt on the church property as you do every year, why not move it to a park or school near the congregation and make it a community event? The idea is to think about how some of the things you are doing can be done differently to reenergize the faith community. Developing new rhythms is challenging because we are creatures of habit, but the payoff is that it can help us engage with passion once again.
A new start for congregations as well as individuals
Congregations can need a new start, just as individuals do. The season of Lent is the perfect time for us to give up fear and lethargy. It is the perfect time to take on risk and new rhythms. Think about what you can do at your congregation? A new start may be just what you need.