In scripture, every significant season of activity or growth was preceded by a sustained period of prayer and fasting. Our faith picks up that tradition for Lent. But Lent isn’t just a time to pray and reflect as individuals, but as an entire church community.
Depending on the authenticity of that discernment of “giving up” something for Lent, the effect can range from a frivolous exercise to serious spiritual transformation. Even though we’re now a week into it, here are a few ideas your church can consider giving up together.
There’s a proper time and way for constructive criticism, but we often fool ourselves that we follow it. We are often quite generous in how we distribute judgments against the Pope, the Bishops, the “Church,” the “Culture,” or other people. At the end of the day, healthy churches are not defined by who and what they are against. What does your church stand for? Ultimately, the unhealthy habit of criticizing our brothers and sisters makes it more difficult to convincingly stand for Christ. If you spend a lot of time criticizing others, try this penance- make a list of what you respect and affirm about the person you are tempted to bring down.
The biggest killer of a healthy church culture is gossip. (Of course pastors never fall into this one about each other). It accomplishes nothing and slowly saps the life and trust of your community. Cut it out and experience immediate results, guaranteed. If it’s something you wouldn’t say to that person’s face, don’t say it to another. Go a step further- If someone is gossiping to you, reclaim the conversation saying something positive about the person.
Doing Too Much
We think of deserts as dead places, but there is actually a lot of life in the desert – it just learns to thrive efficiently and effectively on what is essential. Lenten reflection is meant to expose what is essential and nonessential to our spiritual lives, and the same things go for parishes. Usually we find it’s crowded with a lot of junk and activities. Over the course of Lent at your church, discuss with each other, “How can we do less to be more?”
For Lent a couple years ago, Pope Francis told us we “fast from indifference.” Who are we indifferent towards in our own congregation and zip code? The church exists to make a difference in the lives of the unchurched and lost in your community. Pastor Bill Hybels calls this cultivating a “holy discontent.” Let your Lenten fast fan the flame for your church’s mission.
Church work is hard work. Your church might feel like its been in a desert for a long time and you just want to give up. Remember during Lent you are on a journey unlike any other person’s. Don’t give up on God, your church, your staff or volunteers, or yourself. You and I are not there yet, but we are where God wants us right now. Name the thing you’re tempted to give up, and then give up thinking about giving up.