The Rhythm of the Seasons

Each year at our church, during the two major church seasons of Lent (leading up to Easter) and Advent (leading up to Christmas), we encourage people to read a devotional each day and we pass out the same one to everyone in the church. At the beginning of the season, we give them a devotional book designed to take you through the season and help prepare you for the climactic and culminating holiday (Easter or Christmas). Its our way of trying to be intentional about the season so that it doesn't just pass us by, so that we'll be shaped by intentionally engaging in the reality of the gospel, so that we'll come away from the manger or out of the tomb as changed and renewed people... every year.

It seems that just about every devotional we use is from Henri Nouwen (never a bad choice), but this season of Lent we're using one called From Death To Life by Dr. Rich Bimler. As is appropriate for Lent, Bimler allows for an honest acknowledgment of our dependence and depravity while also allowing for a resurrection "moment" to sort of whisper from the horizon of our reflection. Pretty good stuff if you ask me.

I love that the church calendar provides us with such an amazing theological template for ministry. If we followed the church calendar, at least with Lent and Advent, and if we did it with real intentionality every year, surely we'd have the most important elements of the Christian faith internalized and surely we'd be shaped by the realities of incarnation and resurrection. After all, if we understand incarnation and resurrection, everything else is just commentary. Yet I have heard whispers of anxiety in so many evangelical churches, especially in the youth ministry world--anxiety over whether or not our curriculum is covering the most important stuff. What if, rather than searching for multi-year curricula to get students from sixth grade to college without them missing any topic, instead of trying to frantically teach them everything they could know before they go to be corrupted by the world and eventually adulthood, what if we simply taught them these basic and fundamental rhythms of the seasons? What if, rather than shot-gunning as much Jesus-infused information and as many topics as we can at our students, we just walked with them through the Advent anticipation of the incarnation, learning along the way the implications of God becoming flesh and blood and actually entering our experience, engaging in our lives? What if we walked them through the season of Lent to reflect on our dependence and depravity, to see what happens when we connect our stories of grief with Jesus' story of suffering and to discover resurrection around the corner? If a student, for six years, walked that rhythm in fresh and creative ways every year, reflecting upon the commentary along the way, with the guidance of loving mentors, would it not shape them and transform them? What sort of people would we be sending from our churches to colleges and/or the workforce?

It's too bad that evangelicals are so haphazard about Lent and Advent. They mention it, I'm sure, but so few actually engage in a real experience of it. Few churches in the evangelical tradition actually tailor their teaching and worship to the template provided in the church calendar (I recall having to explain what "Ash Wednesday" is to a man who had been in ministry for years). It's too bad because evangelicals are so good at being intentional in their teaching and worship. They're so good at being transformational because that's just their approach to ministry. They want to change lives! I'm afraid that my own tradition, the mainline tradition, is not as good at transformation and intentionality. Too often our approach has nothing to do with transformation, "come just as you are... and stay that way." Our youth groups don't as often enjoy the leadership of paid and focused Youth Pastors and our teaching in the "big church" is often less connectional to youth. And yet we're the ones (of the two) who actually engage the seasons. Perhaps we need the manliners and evangelicals to learn from each other here. Perhaps mainliners could learn a bit about approach to ministry in regards to teaching and connectionality, and evangelicals could learn a bit about rhythm and focus in regards to the calendar.

This Lent season, what are you doing to engage intentionally in the suffering of Jesus? What are you doing to connect your story to his? What are you doing so that when resurrection comes, you'll be able to come to life and walk from the tomb transformed and renewed with Jesus?