Wait, what? Why would I be writing about Lent in 2018 when it’s only October, 2017? For church leaders, it is easy to get caught up in what’s known as the “tyranny of the urgent.” We get focused on the next Sunday, the next meeting, the next pastoral care need, and the next thing we know it is Advent and Christmas, then New Year’s, Epiphany and then all of a sudden Lent and Easter! All the while we plan each of those seasons just before they begin, maybe throwing together plans at the last minute. One of the problems with this pattern is a loss of focus on the mission of the church. It’s hard to be thinking about how are we going to bring in unchurched people and make them disciples when we’re just focused on what’s immediately next.
Now is the time to pray and think through what God wants to accomplish in your church during Advent, Epiphany, and Lent. There are several good reasons for this:
- When you plan earlier, you can make plans that produce excellence. This may seem obvious, but if you are planning week to week, it’s hard to take what you do to the next level. By planning now for Lent – at least in a sketched-out way – your plans can develop and be more comprehensive. A couple of years ago we recognized a need to grow our members’ and regular attenders’ understanding and experience of prayer. We had new believers that just had never really been taught enough about prayer yet and we wanted to develop a healing prayer ministry. There was much to cover. So, we decided in the Fall to address all things prayer the following Lent. By the time Lent came we had six full weeks of plans from the music, to a large prayer wall for people to write their prayer needs on, to several special prayer experiences, to a movie night, to small groups on prayer and much more. It proved to be life transforming for many people! Early planning led to excellence and life change.
- As you plan in advance, you can tell members in advance what is coming so they can invite others. A month out from each season you can say, “This is what will be happening in Advent or Lent and this is what the sermons will be on” etc. The church members will have excitement themselves and then be able to think about people they know who would benefit as well. With advanced notice, they can build up their nerve to invite. Much emphasis tends to be put into the Back to School season in the Fall on the theory families will also go back to church. That’s a good thing and is sometimes true. My experience is that New Year’s leads to many more people coming back to church. Our culture reflects on what’s wrong with their lives at the end of the year and makes resolutions to be better in the new year. Some people conclude that God might help them be better and come to church in January. Yet too often the church is so focused on Christmas (also a good thing) then, tired, takes a break at New Year’s. Then, gives Epiphany a brief nod as it prepares for Lent. In so doing, a great opportunity for growth is missed. With a plan now for Epiphany and Lent you can be ready to point your Christmas and New Year’s visitors to what is coming next that will benefit them!
When you pause to plan now you can better hear from God on the areas that He wants to be addressed rather than what the tyranny of the urgent is presenting. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” By making the time to be still, pray and think in the Fall about what God what’s you to do in the New Year, you are not reacting to the urgent. When you make that time, you can really listen to the Lord. You can let Him direct your plans. He knows the needs of both the church members and the unchurched in your community better than you ever can. He loves them more than you ever can. He wants them to be growing in His Kingdom more than you ever can. By pausing now to listen to Him you can better put plans in place for Advent, Epiphany, and Lent that align with His will for your church.
So, what are your plans for Lent 2018? Will you make time this week to “Be still” and listen to the Lord about what He wants your church to focus on? Will you then make plans so your church will better reach the lost and grow believers in the transforming love of Jesus Christ?
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching for the American Anglican Council.