Monday, March 29, 2010

Understanding Your Unique Liturgical Calendar

This is Part 2 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we talk through understanding your church's unique liturgical calendar.

One of the problems with a lot of reading plans is that they don’t mesh well with the natural rhythms and seasons of people’s lives. We find ourselves reading Israeli war history during Easter or being confused in Revelation during Christmas. We decided to develop a plan that tracks with our unique liturgical calendar at NCC.

“Liturgical” might be a foreign word to some of us. Liturgy is a word used to describe systematic orders and processes of worship. Liturgical churches are those that generally follow a prescribed order of worship, prayers, and readings. The Liturgical calendar is a way of ordering the year around the life of Christ, typically beginning in Advent.

Start/Stop Time
First, you must determine your start and stop time. We chose to start our liturgical year on Ash Wednesday. Starting or stopping anything at NCC around the Christmas holidays and New Years is ridiculous. Unlike most churches, the Sunday before Christmas may be the least attended service of the year. For us, Lent has become a season of focused prayer, reflection, and new goal setting. So we decided to run our plan from Lent to Lent. Which actually makes it about 3 weeks longer than an actual year.

Consider The Traditional Liturgical Calendar
Second, familiarize yourself with the traditional liturgical calendar. I feel kinda silly stating the obvious here, but there is much to be learned from church history. Often we who would consider ourselves to be evangelicals have no sense of sacred time. Most churches have several hundred years of experience on helping people order their lives around Scripture in a meaningful and theologically practical way, so look to the lectionary for help.

Pick up Ancient-Future Time or Circle of the Seasons for an overview and to pick up ideas.

Mark Your Church’s Rhythms
Next, look at your church’s unique rhythm. At NCC, we typically use Lent to talk about very hard-hitting topics and themes revolving around repentance, reflection, and forgiveness. Between Easter and Pentecost we tend to talk about the power of life in Christ. We utilize Pentecost Sunday to talk about the Holy Spirit. In the summer, we tend towards a series that allows for topical sermons that are tied by theme but don’t necessarily build on one another to accommodate the incessant comings and goings of NCCers and tourists. In August, we focus on missions. November is a time to talk about thankfulness and gratitude, Christmas is a time to talk about Jesus’ birth, January is a time to talk about new beginnings, and February is a time to talk about relationships. We don’t follow this exact pattern every year, but we found these to be dominant themes that emerged.

What is your church’s unique rhythm? What topics do you talk about when? And why?

Once you’ve established some sense of your unique liturgical rhythms and calendar, you can start to categorize books and passages accordingly.


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