The Power of the Liturgical Calendar: Leading Worship in Every Season
The Church Liturgical Calendar (also known as the “Christian Year”) is a powerful tool for ordering the days of our lives after gospel rhythms, year after year. From Advent to Pentecost/Ordinary Time, each season of the Christian Year focuses on a different part and aspect of Christ’s life and mission.
Just as the lengthening, warming days of late spring make many people anticipate baseball, pool parties or burgers on the grill, those who follow the Christian Calendar year after year will naturally begin to think deeply about the Second Coming during Advent, the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice during Lent and the wonders of “Christ in me” at Pentecost.
Every ministry at your church can contribute to your members’ understanding of the Christian Year and their place in the story, no matter what their gifting and no matter the areas of ministry in which they serve.
Let’s walk through each cycle of the Christian Calendar, looking for inspiration and ideas for ministry planning and for communicating your ministry to your larger church body. I’ll use Mission’s Ministry as an example. As you read through the examples, think about how you could adapt the message of each season of the year in your own ministry:
Advent—The season of Advent is a re-enactment of Israel’s wait for the birth of their promised Savior, and a symbol of our longing for the return of Christ. Advent is our chance to explore themes of the Second Coming as we “watch and pray.”
- Missions Ministry Emphasis: Emphasize missionary activity as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,’” in this period between the first and second advents of Christ on earth.
Christmas—We cannot let the miracle of Christmas become sentimentalized and marginalized in our minds, alongside Santa, Frosty and the Whos in Whoville. Find new ways to tell this old story—that the Prince of heaven would lay aside majesty for a lowly stable, knowing what awaited.
- Missions Ministry Emphasis: God is not only the Giver, He is the gift. Christmas is not a Norman Rockwellian, American holiday; it is a celebration of Jesus Christ as the gift given because “God so loved the world.” When we go on mission, we are presenting gifts: perhaps medical supplies and treatment, food, water, clothing, but, ultimately, the gift of the gospel.
Epiphany—Epiphany means “appearance” and traditionally occurs January 6, following the 12 days of Christmas. Many churches hold their Epiphany day on the Sunday closest to this date.
Epiphany is a celebration of the revelation given to the Wise Men that Jesus is the Messiah. Churches that celebrate Epiphany as a full season (lasting until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent) use it as a chance to highlight the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry recorded in the four Gospels.
- Missions Ministry Emphasis: If your missions ministry takes any Bible Storying trips, Epiphany is a great time to talk about it, and to share testimonies from these trips with all your members. Chronological Bible Storying is a way to present the gospel to oral cultures, even if most or all people in the culture are illiterate.
Lent—Lent is a 40-day period of confession, repentance and reflection on why Jesus had to die a horrible death on a Roman cross. The more we reflect on our lost condition apart from the work of Christ, the more we appreciate His work to save us.
- Missions Ministry Emphasis: Reflections on our sin and the cross of Christ should drive us to thankfulness, and then to mission. While plenty of nonprofits and governments do good work to feed the hungry, house the homeless, improve literacy and many other wonderful things, only Christians bring the message of the cross.
Easter—All of our hopes hang on the cross and the empty tomb. One without the other doesn’t save us. Christ needed to suffer God’s wrath for our sake, but his resurrection is a necessity too:
“And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.” —1 Corinthians 15: 17-20
- Missions Ministry Emphasis: Missionary work is scary. It often takes a leap of faith regarding finances, time commitment and even health/safety concerns. Why should we have no fear, even when going into regions that are hostile to the gospel? Because Christ arose, and He promises to raise us up, too.
Pentecost—Pentecost Sunday occurs on the 50th day after Easter (the seventh Sunday). It celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and those gathered in the Upper Room for the feast of Pentecost.
Pentecost season is often known by followers of the Christian Liturgical Calendar as “Ordinary Time.” This is the time to bask in the finished work of Christ, the glory of His Resurrection and the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit as he empowers us to reach the lost and do the work of the Kingdom. It’s a time of mission, evangelism, discipleship and sanctification.
- Missions Ministry Emphasis: Everything we do is in the power of the Spirit, including our missionary work. A huge crowd in Jerusalem witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit upon the 120 at Pentecost, and said, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language … telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” This is still our mission today, as we go to the ends of the earth.
Leading Worship in Every Season