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Recipe for a Troubled Church

Recipe for a Troubled Church

Robert Webber
Recipe for a Troubled Church

A long-time friend and worship leader recently called me, and as usual, we joked around a lot, laughing together, and enjoying a frivolous moment. But then I asked, “Hey, how are things going at the church?”

I already knew from previous conversations that this once thriving church had headed south, so asking about things was really just plugging into an ongoing conversation. However, I wasn’t ready for his answer and for the serious discussion that followed.


I must first tell you a little about this church. It has been a growing suburban church for years. Because of the steady growth, the church decided to follow the principle of building a new space larger than its congregation. But almost from the day they opened the new sanctuary, the church has gone in reverse with a steady stream of people leaving. “Things have gotten much worse since we talked last.”

“There is division in the ministry team. Moral failures. People at each other’s throats. Discontent with worship. We don’t experience joy anymore. Lots of anger, backbiting. It is a mess, a real mess. Nobody seems to know what to do.”

“Let’s explore something here,” I said. “I think we have to approach this issue from an applied theology. The day has come to turn our back to the wisdom of the world, to business technique or therapeutic approaches to solving problems.”

“I agree with that! What do you have in mind?”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about theology as wisdom and not science. We need to live out theological conviction, rather than merely mouthing theological truths but never putting them into practice.”

“Okay, I agree, but how do we get there?” “Maybe the key to this is the opportunity that lies in an applied Lent and Easter,” I suggested. “Spell it out.”

I then described to him the following idea.

Applied Christian Calendar

What if you take the six-and-a-half weeks of Lent and the seven weeks of Easter as the season to die and be raised again to newness of life? Take Lent. It is a time to repent through fasting, prayer and the giving of alms. Start with the Ash Wednesday service. Get everyone to come. Put your cards on the table and state, “This church is in trouble. Here are the things going on. We are calling the whole community to use the time of Lent to fast, to pray and to ask God to show us what we need to do as a community to restore our love for each other, our joy of working together and our calling to be an effective people of God in this community.”

During Lent, stay away from upbeat music. Sing songs of lament and confession. Follow the Lectionary or preach ser- mons from times of repentance, renewal and revival (like Nehemiah 8 and 9). Again and again, return to the theme that in Lent we bring to light our sin so that we can take these sins to the cross, nail them there and bury them in the grave never to be raised again. This is an applied theology of the crucifixion and grave.

The Turning Point

Make Good Friday a turning point day with the ancient “Service of the Cross.” Urge people to bring to the cross all their upsets, their grudges, backbiting, moral sins, gossip and whatever else binds the community from the fullness of God’s presence. Make Good Friday and Holy Saturday days of bringing into light the sins that nailed Jesus to the cross and days of special fasting, prayer, and repentance.

Then comes Easter. The congregation having gone into the journey of death and burial will be ready for the resurrection. Make the Easter service a time of great joy and festivity. Fill it with “Alleluia” songs, with a spirit of newness and beginning again. Make it the greatest feast day the church has ever known. Call the people to eat in each other’s homes, to embrace, dance, party, and experience the joy of a new beginning.

Easter lasts for seven weeks and ends on Pentecost Sunday. Make every Sunday a day to remember. Preach on the new beginning for each individual, for this church and for the world. Sing your hearts out and fill the season with fun parties for the whole church.

Experience the Season

This is applied theology. It does more than make Lent and Easter a head trip. It is an experience of the body. Bodies that were tired and oppressed, burdened with fasts, extra times of prayer, and confessions of wrongdoing become bodies engaged in joyful celebration, playful relationships, reconciliations, and new beginnings.

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