By Alex Ward
While other churches may look strangely at you for incorporating the historic church calendar, it can be of great benefit to members and leaders alike.
The church calendar begins with Advent, moves to Christmas (a season lasting longer than just December 25), before turning to Lent and Holy Week with Easter Sunday as the centerpiece.
Finally, the church moves into the season preceding Pentecost before occupying “ordinary time” between Pentecost and the next Advent.
Each of these dates has a specific meaning to the church. So here are four ways that you can incorporate and emphasize these periods of time to your members and why you should.
Advent and Lent: A season of expectation and preparation
Advent and Lent are the two periods preceding Christmas and Easter, respectively, meant to prepare us for the coming holy days. These seasons prepare us for Christ’s coming and also the salvation He provided through His death and resurrection.
So as you think about your church, think about framing this as a time for families, small groups, or even the entire congregation to gather together and prepare for these holy days.
This will look different from church to church. Practically, this may include a reading plan for Advent that pairs the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament with the opening chapters of Matthew. It could be emphasizing that the church will perform an act of service together to better prepare hearts.
For Lent, it could look like holding to the actual practice of fasting. In today’s media-saturated world, a technology fast may provide your congregation with a respite to find solace and peace in the truths of Christmas and Easter.
It doesn’t even have to be every day; a shorter or more intermittent fasting is also helpful for providing peace and quiet in life’s busy moments.
However, you approach this time, encourage your members to let it disrupt the normal rhythms of life because we are entering seasons where the most amazing events in history occurred: God took on flesh and our savior was crucified and resurrected granting us salvation.
If that can’t disrupt our normal rhythms, then we are in trouble.
Christmas and Easter: A time of celebration and salvation
As the most important days of the Christian calendar, churches likely have a plan for the congregation. So, I would encourage you to think about the reasons for those plans. The preceding period was about preparation, so what is the culmination of that preparation?
Is it just a packed church or increased offering? If so, then why are Christmas and Easter special? Think of how your church can emphasize the special distinctives of these days, even as it affirms them every week.
Consider how the songs you choose for Easter affirm the truths of Scripture. What does it look like to have the Lord’s Supper and what does this reveal about the New Covenant? Why is there cause for celebration? What do we have to look forward to?
We should ask these questions every week, but especially on these days.
Pentecost: A season of mission
Pentecost marks the indwelling of the church and its being sent out to the world. So how could you emphasize this in your church’s life?
You could make mission a central focus during that period. Incidentally, Pentecost occurs during the summer months just when many of your younger members will have free time.
It’s likely there’s already a mission camp or summer trip planned. Think through how you can focus with them on the importance of mission and evangelism as the calling of the church and the outwork of the Spirit’s power in God’s people.
Also, be looking for ways to emphasize evangelism with all your members. The entire church was equipped by the Spirit, not just the early church apostles and modern student ministry.
Ordinary time: A time of waiting
What about the time between Pentecost and Advent? What do you do during what’s called “ordinary time”? You do the same things you do all year. You prepare, celebrate, and live on mission.
Ordinary time doesn’t mean unimportant time. Unlike the rest of the year that moves you from one season to the next, ordinary time is waiting and listening. The normal rhythms of life are bound by these sacred moments.
As a church leader, you should emphasize that just because we aren’t in a season that seems special, we’re still in a time of growth and mission because Pentecost is behind us, spurring us on, and Advent is ahead, providing us with confident hope that Christ will come again.
In the time between, we live faithfully and exercise the gifts God has given us in the ordinary circumstances where He has placed us.
So as we move throughout the church calendar, I hope that you will think of it as more than just a practice for churches that have a more elevated or traditional style.
It’s a structure for the life of a church that can be used to grow and shape congregations in godliness and faithfulness through every moment of their lives.
ALEX WARD (@alexjward16) serves as the research and special projects associate for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.