Lent as a Spiritual Formation Lab

The Failure Wall

I’ve probably come to this idea too late for this year, but I wonder: what if we didn’t ask all of our individual members to give up something or take on something for Lent? What if instead a church or community of faith decided what they needed to work on together? 

We can do this any time, of course, but Lent seems like a good time to give us this kind of focus. It also keeps us accountable. At Easter, we can ask ourselves: “are we more…” or “did we stop…” 

But what kind of things? Here are a few that occur to me:

  • Listen to different/youth voices: I recently had the pleasure of hearing three youth give the sermon at a church I was visiting. It wasn’t Youth Sunday; they just had something to say. What if as a community, we took on the Lenten discipline of making sure different people were up front and speaking? What if we made a point of inviting people of a range of ages to lead us? What if we made sure to reach out beyond the usual suspects? How might that revitalize our worship or open us up to new thoughts and perspectives?
  • Increase hospitality: I read about a hospital whose new employees were given one primary task: “No one should be lost in this hospital.” What if as a community a church took on the discipline of making sure that all are welcome, new people had someone to help them, and anyone who looked a little lost were given friendly guidance?
  • Give up complaining: A friend of mine recently told me about A Complaint-Free World, a program designed by a pastor to help people get out of the habit of complaining. It involves wearing a wrist band as a reminder, and when someone does complain, you switch the band to the other wrist and start again.
  • Create a failure wall: Amazingly, this practice comes from business, not from the church. The CEO of a Malibu, CA corporation created a Failure Wall on which he wrote some famous and inspiring quotes about failure – and then revealed some of his own most personal and embarrassing failures. Over time, others added their own failures to the wall. What would happen if we allowed our failures to come to light in our faith community? (Please note: failure does not equal sin! That may be one thing we need to learn.)
  • Get enough sleep: What if our community took on the spiritual practice of rest in the extremely practical (and measureable) way of getting enough hours of sleep? I think that would be pretty radical.
  • Practice gratitude together: I don’t know about your church, but in mine, we have a long set of petitions followed by a rather token thanksgiving. What if each week we made a point of collecting the things we were grateful for – however small – and included them in the Prayers of the People? I would be grateful for things like hot tea, Lent Madness, the color blue, a gift of a plant that I got from the neighbors – and that’s just off the top of my head. But they’re not things I think of during the prayers because they seem so small compared to the needs being presented. But what if we added more gratitude to our weekly worship? Again, how would this change us? 

All of this is also part of spiritual formation. Let’s not assume that taking on a practice is somehow separate from the “real” work of spiritual formation. It’s not all in classes or through books. Think of Lent as a kind of spiritual formation lab. What are some of the ways you as a community can experiment together?