Would you continue to go to a gym where many of the personal trainers seemed out of shape?
What if those trainers seemed to take little interest in your form, whether your knees were bending too far or your back was arching in a threatening way? Or what if they pressed so hard that you felt something tear? Would you go back?
Would they be worth much as a personal trainer if, year after year, they never encouraged you to try a different routine, to add a bit more weight to your bar, or stretch a bit deeper?
Would you train with someone who had worked out like a beast for three years back in the early ‘90s, but since then has been primarily at the front desk?
Similarly, would you continue to go to a church where most of the leaders seemed to be burned out, unhealthy, grieving, stressed or faking it?
What if those leaders would not weigh in on your theological process, like if you were leaning too much on a particular school of thought to maintain your balance or if you were becoming too ideologically rigid for your own good? What if they were too distant or fearful of hurting your feelings to notice that you had become trapped under the weight of bad theology?
What if church leaders pressed too hard, and something inside you tore and never went back to the way it used to be?
What if your church babied you, so that your thinking never met much resistance at all? What if everyone there agreed with you on most things and, as such, you never had to stretch too much from what you thought when you were young?
What if your church leaders consider seminary to be the time of greatest spiritual and emotional fulfillment of their lives, and yet that was many years ago? They haven’t had time to pray, question, read, stretch or take up something new in a long time.
Lent is a time of spiritual renewal for the church. It is a time for us to take up the spiritual practices that form us, tone us and beef us up to be healthy and healing as the body of Christ in the world.
What if during Lent pastors taught one class that they loved, whether it’s the Gospel and folk music, or the theology of Austin Farrer, that niche theologian they devoured back in seminary?
What if committee chairs took the season of Lent to give up a meeting? Yes, cancel March’s meeting and instead have dinner at someone’s home. Talk about what matters to you about your faith while you check out Judy’s garden or Mike’s book collection or Jane’s favorite photos.
What if Lent, even more than stewardship October, were the season when we upped our giving to the Free Clinic or the church or the Haiti project, because giving stretches us toward growth?
What if instead of giving up chocolate or wine, we gave up the grudges we hold against a particular pastor or a particular church that hurt us in the past? What if we sought some way to practice radical forgiveness within our family?
Lent is a season of growth. Forty days is how long it takes to break a habit or form a new one. Let’s allow a fresh wave of health, growth, joy and passion to spread through our churches, like the breath of spring. That would be good news indeed!
Becca Messman is the associate pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Virginia. She leads “Lunch for the Soul” – a ministry with Hispanic day laborers. Her other passions are preaching and offering pastoral prayers, leading retreats, energizing church leaders to serve the community around them, youth and young adult ministry, and cultivating the “fear and trembling” holy journey of parenting. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Dave, her two young children, and her dog Luna.