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Lent and the purpose of mission

By Rev Nigel Hanscamp

For generations Lent has been a time of reflection and action in the 40 days before Easter.

Lent invites us to pause, pray, and act together with Christians around the world as we journey with Jesus towards Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Day.

Recent studies and experience have emphasised the missional nature of the church, embodying and expressing the missio dei (the mission of God) by all of God’s people.

Being an incarnational community of Christ is to be in the world in ways that are transformational and embodying the love of Christ.

Being a missional community, the church is the body of Christ (not simply a gathering of individuals), filled and activated by the Holy Spirit (not simply repeating past habits), sent into the world (not creating more committees or projects) to share the love and hope of Christ (not to fill our pews).

We do this in peace-making, ministries of reconciliation, offering meaning-making conversations, and practical ways such as foodbanks and community gardens.

However in Lent, we have tended to draw lay people out of this world of work and living.

Personal prayer or journaling practices are left to individuals, Lenten studies are conducted in church buildings, and ‘giving/taking things up for Lent’ are individual practices that are rarely reflected on in the context of work or neighbourhoods.

How might our practices in Lent embody a missional posture?

Joy Han has recently challenged the church to rethink our habit of pulling lay people into the church (for example in committees and projects) “instead of utilising their capacity in the world”.

She notes that this habit takes faithful energy and passion out of already missional contexts of work and study, and reinforces a broken theology that ministry and mission is primarily done in the church or in church-sanctioned programs.

“We could start by articulating theologies that enable us to listen to (lay people’s) experiences in the world,” Joy says.

“This in time would help the Church to support lay people to better recognise where God is moving and calling in the places where they already are.”

This challenge might provoke some Lenten practices for 2024 and here are three that might go together: Why not cancel your church committee meetings during Lent; and resource conversations in workplaces about faith and where God might be moving. The following might provoke some ideas: “What are the meaning-making conversations that are happening or are needed in your workplace?” “Where do you see God at work in your work?” “In what practices can I/we be God’s hands and feet in this workplace?” “How can the peace, reconciliation and hope of Easter be experienced here?”

And then bring the experience of those missional Lenten practices into Sunday worship.

Joy reflects that, “Our ways of worshipping still struggle to give voice to the experiences, both joyful and painful, of lay people in the world.”

It might be messy, but part of Christian missional discipleship is learning to “talk about our lives in the world as our context for worship and not as source material for small talk after the worship service is over”.

You may want to use the following for your Missional Lenten journey in your congregation:
Joy J Han, ‘Our Missional and Intercultural natures are to be found in the world’, can be found here.
Benjamin T Conner, ‘For the Fitness of their Witness: Missional Christian Practices’, in J Flett and D Congdon’s ‘Converting Witness: The Future of Christian Mission in the New Millennium’, Fortress Press, Maryland, 2019.
More Lenten resources can be found here

Rev Nigel Hanscamp is Director – Priorities, Focus and Advocacy with equipping Leadership for Mission in Melbourne

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