Lent 2016 begins on Wednesday, February 10 – almost as early as possible. Just when we’ve finally vacuumed the last Christmas tree pine needles from our carpets, it’s time to plan for Lent!
Lent can be an important time for your group. The season of reflection, penance and preparation for Easter speaks to our hunger to take stock of our lives, reflect on the Cross, and experience our need for the Savior. If you don’t mark Lent, you’ve missed opportunities to deepen your group’s life and connect it to the larger Christian community.
How can your small group celebrate Lent? Here are some suggestions:
- Ashes: use the first meeting in Lent for marking your members’ foreheads with ashes. Your pastors may bless these ashes in preparation. Do an unscripted prayer of confession in pairs, allowing some private space between pairs. Then, prayer partners mark each other’s foreheads with ashes, made in the sign of the cross, to conclude.
- Water: each meeting place a beautiful basin of water in a spot, such as a coffee table, around which participants sit, a reminder that Lent is time for inner cleansing. Invite everyone to dip their hands in the water before prayer.
- Familiar song: throughout your Lent meetings, sing a brief, simple Lent song to begin your meetings, perhaps accompanied by music played from a cell phone. Browse YouTube for Christian Karaoke versions of songs you want to sing. One great playlist, featuring excellent accompaniments and timed karoke, is by DiversiTune.
- Plan at least one service activity to do together, in lieu of a group meeting. Make this hands-on service among the needy. Pray together before and after serving.
- There are excellent small group studies for Lent. Some come with brief teaching videos that can be watched together. Try Adam Hamilton’s Final Words from the Cross, book, leader’s guide and teaching DVD. Other options are available at RightNowMedia.org, a vast library of available via subscription.
There are times in small group life when conversation and human words just don’t cut it.
A parent has died; a child has gone off the rails; desperately needed employment is finally won; an important milestone is celebrated. In such times we naturally reach for more: expressive actions, heart-felt songs, visual art that say more than we can, that lift our more to God. That is worship!
Because small groups touch these profound topics routinely, we should be ready for that “more” – ready to express our sorrows and celebrations with a moment of worship.
Small group worship is not performance by professionals. It is authentic, extemporaneous expression of emotion and faith of the group. It is “worship extempore.”
How can you prepare for worship extempore?
- First, take an inventory of predictable events that may arise in your members’ lives, including family deaths, estrangements, financial and work distress, illness, children’s challenges, as well as celebrations.
- Then, think about “tools” that can bring God’s presence into such moments. What religious rituals, objects, music speak in such times? Anointing oil for healing? Lit candles for illumination? A prayer shawl for mourning? Holy communion for reconciliation? A small cross for power in suffering? A familiar song of hope? Collect these items and place them in a basket, for ease of use at your meetings. What about things that can be taken home, or delivered to a member? Rocks painted with a key word of encouragement? One group delivers “grace baskets” filled with a relevant inspirational book and other items and food, to show love for a member in challenging times.
- Prepare your group to use these items by introducing your “worship tool kit” at a time your group is discussing organizational questions. Pray together that you use the tool kit with grace and God’s guidance.
Worship isn’t always extempore. Readings and scripture lessons are planned, and there is a predictable flow of time together. These can also be deepened with worshipful elements: a call to order with bells, ambient music at prayer times, centering silence before sharing time, displayed images that speak to a scripture the group is studying, a shared benediction when departing.
The seasons of the church, such as Advent and Lent, also lend themselves to planned worship moments: lighting Advent candles or singing Advent hymns, a simple foot-washing ritual in Lent or marking the foreheads of members with ashes of repentance.
Once you begin to experiment and become confident in using your tool kit, you’ll discover favorites. These may become your group’s “signature symbols,” deeply expressive objects, rituals or songs that exemplify your group’s identity and express its faith in God. And as your members use the worship tool kit, they will build up a strong memory of life together – the night we sang that song, the Advent we used that wreath, the time we used that pottery for holy communion. The aesthetic dimension of worship has the power to cement memory and create group identity.
Small groups are built on authentic, spiritual conversation, using words and stories from our faith tradition to illumine the deepest dimensions of our life stories. But even such rich conversation has limits. We need more – more to express ourselves and more to help us remember. Small group worship is that more.