An Introduction to Pentecost Season and Summer
Your worship planning has likely been marked by a good bit of intensity in recent weeks. The season of Lent followed by Holy Week and Easter require a great deal of effort by worship planners, preachers, and worship leaders. The services have hopefully all had a consistent theme focused on the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord.
Seasonal Planning After Easter
Now there are other festive occasions in view. Forty days after Christ arose he ascended to heaven, an event that is all too frequently overlooked in its significance. Ten days after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. Both of these events need a fitting celebration in the worship of the church and should be integrated with the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
In addition, other events need to be observed in worship. Most churches' programs in education and music come to a close at this time of the year. Some churches incorporate the ordination of office-bearers in this season since terms begin in June or July. Often mission teams go out for the summer and they need an appropriate blessing and send-off by the congregation.
Once Easter is celebrated, worship planners may turn their attention to the next five months. Therefore, instead of providing a sample worship service this week, we'll provide an overview of seasonal planning.
A Method of Seasonal Planning
We began our seasonal planning the week after Easter. Other commitments were set aside for a week so that we could focus on such planning. In some of these efforts the Worship Committee was involved in decisions about which congregational events to include in the worship calendar. The group of worship planners worked together on most of the specific details. In our case, the pastor and the Director of Music spent at least a half-day together charting the course of our worship life through the summer.
The process included these stages:
- We constructed a seasonal calendar that charted all the dates of worship from Easter through the first of September.
- We also noted on that calendar all the congregational events that need to be considered in worship planning for this season. We were careful to let Christian events, not secular events, shape the worship calendar. Once this calendar is constructed both the pastor and the Music Director can do their own work in planning.
These events include:
- Ascension Day
- Services of the Lord's Supper
- Baptism services
- Send-off for mission teams
- Ordination of office-bearers
Planned Events in View
In the resources that we'll be providing here during the coming months, a number of events will be included:
Ascension of Christ – Christ's ascension is a strategic part of his exaltation to the right hand of the Father to exercise his Lordship. It should not be eclipsed by other events. Since Ascension Day is on Thursday (40 days after Easter) some will prefer to mark it on that day. Others will observe it in a Sunday service either the week before or after.
Pentecost Sunday – Fifty days after Easter Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on his church in Jerusalem. Worship celebrates this event and marks its impact on the world-wide mission of the Christian Church.
Honoring Graduates – Because graduation from a certain level of education is such an important time of passage for youth, we have chosen to observe it in a worship service. Graduation is not only an academic and educational event but also a marker in the development of youth into mature kingdom citizens who are preparing to be disciples of Christ in the world. We have included graduates from Middle School, High School, College and Graduate Schools.
Celebration of Ministries – In a healthy full-orbed congregational ministry many folks give their time, efforts and gifts from fall through spring. Many of these efforts go unnoticed. Christian grace includes giving thanks to them in the name of Christ, but it also includes celebrating what ministry has been accomplished together. At the end of each “ministry” season we have dedicated one worship service to celebrate the ministries of music, education, children/youth, caring, stewardship and outreach/service.
Ordination of Office-bearers – The calendar of some congregations calls for newly elected office-bearers to begin their term midway through the calendar year. Others do so in January. We've included it here. It seems fitting to ordain new office-bearers while celebrating the work of the Holy Spirit in building the Church of Christ.
Theme Services – From time to time we've allowed a specific passage of Scripture to shape the structure of an entire worship service. It gives worshipers the opportunity to “live through” a complete passage of Scripture. You'll find two of them presented here this summer. “My Light and My Salvation” is a theme service on Psalm 27 scheduled for July 6. “Praise That Won't Forget” is a theme service on Psalm 103 scheduled for July 27.
Summer Ministry of Music
Many churches have choirs who participate in worship from September through May. If yours is such a church you need to begin planning for ministry of music for the summer months. Music needs advance planning to function well in liturgy. We suggest that you develop a resource bank of individuals and small groups who can assist the congregation in its worship through these summer months. Draw up a survey that would open opportunities for congregational involvement in worship. Include options for solo (vocal or instrumental), small groups (vocal or instrumental) and those (particularly youth) who could assist the organist or pianist for the day in service music. Children and youth can serve very well in playing preludes and offertories. Every church has people who are willing to volunteer for such roles, but there are also many people who need to know their service is desired before they will offer it. We have found that people want to serve but need to be invited to do so. Some may need some coaching but when the body of Christ serves together it is very enriching and satisfying for the entire congregation. [If you would like to see a sample of a resource bank survey as a guide to constructing one for your congregation, feel free to contact us and we will share what we have used.]
The service honoring graduates serves as a golden opportunity to involve the youth of the church in music ministry. Involve graduates in this service – those graduating from middle school level through postgraduate degree. Instrumentalists can help in the accompaniments of congregational hymns; pianists and/or organists can play the service music (i.e. prelude, offertory, postlude) alone or as part of a group or they can serve as accompanists for other graduates who play instruments. Depending on the size of your group, you may draw them together in an ensemble or team to assist in the leadership of congregational song.
Consider asking those who serve on the church Council to sing as a part of the Ordination service. This “Council Choir” can sing a very simple hymn of commitment either in unison or harmony as part of their vow-taking.
Summer is a time to work at a more relaxed pace. Working with individuals gives leaders of a church opportunity to both get to know people better and to help them develop the musical gifts that God has given.
Two Series of Sermons
In the coming months, two series of sermon are scheduled and will be presented here. Here is a synopsis of the forthcoming series:
Catching God's Wind – a series of sermons on the work of the Holy Spirit that begins on Pentecost Sunday and continues for four weeks. The series will include these suggested messages:
“Thrust Into Missions”, Acts 2:1-13. The core of the Pentecost event was the power of the Holy Spirit coming into the life of the Christian Church so that it would be equipped to reach the world with the gospel.
“Another Counselor”, John 14:25-27. Before Jesus left the earth, he not only promised the Holy Spirit but gave us insight into the intended personal work of the Spirit as a Counselor/Helper for his followers.
“Keeping in Step with the Spirit”, Romans 8:5-11, Galatians 5:25. Paul makes it clear that the work of the Holy Spirit among us is not only a given, but is dynamic and changing. The Spirit's influence is greater, or lesser, depending to a large extent on our openness.
“Setting Some Apart for Service”, Acts 13:1-5. When Barnabas and Saul were sent off as missionaries, the church did so under the clear conviction that the Holy Spirit had set them apart for this work. Such a conviction is a good one for the church at the time of ordination for office-bearers.
Life's Toughest Questions – a series of sermons that is a direct response to inquiries made and surveys taken about the big questions Christians wrestle with in their faith-life. Though we can easily be charged with answering questions that people never ask, this is a series intended to proceed from much listening. The preacher should take note in his pastoral work of the big questions that trouble Christians. He/she should consult other such surveys taken, and solicit suggestions from members of the congregation. If this is done, a long and significant list of “tough questions” can be composed. Five such sermons will be included here. These are only representative of many more that can and should be included.
“What's the Point of Life?”, Romans 1:1 and Philippians 1:1. This tough question is most often subconsciously felt rather than consciously expressed. But it rumbles beneath the surface of nearly every life. Paul wraps up his whole philosophy and theology of life when he simply and profoundly calls himself someone who is called to be a servant.
“Why Isn't Life More Fair?”, Psalm 73. Dashed dreams, broken hopes, suffering, and seeing loved ones hurt quickly stir up this question. It must be faced honestly that life often is not fair, and we need to wrestle with how to trust God in such circumstances.
“Why Aren't My Prayers Being Answered?”, Proverbs 15:29 and Matthew 21:21,22. Who doesn't ask this tough one from time to time? It seems that the Bible gives us the impression we can expect answers always. Our view of God and prayer sometimes leads us to such expectations. But what can we do when that doesn't happen? Such a message needs to be heavy in pastoral care.
“How Can I Handle My Times of Doubt?”, Mark 9:14-27 and I Corinthians 15:12-20. The journey towards certainty of faith usually leads through times of doubt. The Bible never tells us we may not doubt (which is different from denial) but aims to assist us with doubts so that we can arrive at greater certainty. Paul says the resurrection is the clinching evidence that leads to certainty.
“Why Should I Work So Hard?”, Genesis 2:15 and Colossians 3:22-4:1. Our vocation often raises such a question. Must I work? And why is it hard? And why should I work hard? Are there faith-reasons for that? This may seem like a question that is out of place in the pulpit, but Scripture speaks clearly about the motives that should guide us. It's good material for Labor Day weekend!
A series like this one assumes a healthy pastoral relationship with parishioners. The preacher needs to know and love his listeners, and spend time listening to them. And in the messages they are given the right to know that it's OK for Christians to have big questions. Having such questions is not a sign of poor or weak faith. Creating such understanding is a pastoral act in itself.