The Christian Year: Six Steps for Getting Started
So now, here is your dilemma – you are leading a congregation that worships pretty well, but they don’t know much about the Christian Year. Outside of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, and Easter, there’s isn’t much else about it. And what’s more, they don’t seem to miss it, or feel they ought to change things. And some of them are a bit suspicious of the whole idea. And besides, you don’t trust your knowledge about it all either, and you have no idea where to begin.
What should you do?
If those are your circumstances, we recommend that you develop a plan of “incremental introduction.” In other words, introduce it to them, teach them, and begin to follow it; but do it SLOWLY. A rapid change may raise the resistance level to the point where it becomes an even greater obstacle. Moving slowly with sensitivity to the suspicions people have, the questions they wrestle with and the resistance they may feel gives them the opportunity to realize this is being done thoughtfully and with good reason. You will be blessed if your plan for introduction has some of these elements in it:
- The primary worship planners personally study and prepare on the subject. The primary worship planners are, of course, the preaching pastor and the major musician. Let them be open with others that they are studying the Christian Year to learn more about it. Read books[j1] , attend conferences, worship on occasion with other congregations and observe as they do so. Don’t make a big deal of this, but let it be known that this subject is a matter of research and study. Obviously, before we teach others we must be able to understand it ourselves.
- Share your information and vision with a small group of key leaders. These are the people who will be making key decisions and shaping the reactions of others in the days ahead. It may be the ministry staff, or the Worship committee, or the Praise Team. You need not go into depth with them, but make them aware of the new vision that is developing for your worship life and help them recognize changes and benefits that they can expect to see flowing from it. Leaders of the children’s ministry might be very influential because children’s ministry frequently uses such techniques and ideas in its teaching. So be sure to bring them on board.
- Begin non-controversial changes. The pastor can plan and select sermon series on the basis of the season and label it, for instance, “An Advent Series of Messages” or “A Series of Reflections for Lent.” If not before, folks will recognize that sermons are directly related to special events of the Christian calendar. Let the words “Advent,” “Lent,” and “Eastertide” appear in the church bulletin and worship sheet without drawing a lot of attention. Add some color pieces such as banners or paraments in your sanctuary.
- Increasingly communicate your intentions to the congregation. After several months of reading about “Lent” in the bulletin, an article in the Newsletter can provide an explanation of the term, what it means, and why it’s important. When a new series of sermons is planned for a particular season, introduce it either in print or verbally with an explanation of why this season is so important.
- Provide educational opportunities. Folks are often most suspicious about those things of which they know very little. Knowledge often erases fear, and education provides knowledge. A sermon discussion group can provide time to explain the meaning of a particular part of the Christian Year. A few sessions in an adult education class can be a wonderful opportunity to give an overview of it all.
- Through all of this, move slowly and listen well. Some folks are suspicious because they don’t know, and not so much because they don’t like it. They need to be listened to, patiently answered when possible, and gently guided. Introducing something with a hammer will seldom produce as much fruit as carefully planting seeds and watering them to grow.
In your own minds think ahead to the day when your congregation will be well informed of the Christian Year, when it regularly shapes your worship life. You are blessed so long as you lead in this process thoughtfully. Your ministry will be deepened, faith will be formed more thoughtfully, and your congregation will be enriched.