The season of Ordinary Time is different from other more event-specific liturgical seasons and offers an exceptionally good opportunity to stray from the lectionary (read to the end to see what I think about the lectionary). Rather than a theological grounding for our brainstorming based in the texts and context of a liturgical season, we can look to various other resources as “starting points” for sermon/worship series.
“Starting points” are places to look in order to come up with ideas for thematic series for worship and preaching. Anything can be a point of inspiration and an entry point to spiritual matters because God works in and through all things. Sometimes flexing our imagination and utilizing some wonderful resources can lead us to new perspectives on our faith narratives. Use the categories below as inspiration to brainstorm. You will end up with more ideas than you can use! But then, you can really discern what will pique the interest of your congregation, further their journey of discipleship, and deepen the spirituality of your community. Brainstorming for Ordinary Time is a great way to share some wonderful books, films, poetry, music, etc. with each other! If you have a church Facebook page, ask people to also give suggestions.
The examples for each category are series I’ve created in the Worship Design Studio where I have five years of series and resource ideas for each series to jumpstart your creativity!
Example Series: Â “Jeremiah: The Cry of the Prophet”
This series looks at the career of Jeremiah, the prophet, and dives into his historical context, the wonderful imagery that he uses to get his messages across, and what it means to become prophets who decry injustice in the world. When I did this series years ago, the image of the Potter was very strong, and we had a potter throwing and molding clay in worship as well as leading workshops on clay and creativity.
Brainstorm: What are some of your ideas of Biblical Books that your congregation could spend time with?
Example Series: “Imagine the People of God”
Hymns and songs have a natural structure that lends to using them as inspiration for a multi-Sunday worship series. In this song "Imagine the People of God" by my friend Mark A. Miller, we are inspired to ask, “What does community look like that is living out its call to be the people of God?” The words in the song are the inspiration for each week, emphasizing a community ”that cares, shares, believes, receives, seeks, dreams and changes.” Readings from the Epistle letters to early Christian communities underscore the song’s message to come together to imagine and create better relationships, better family, better church, better world!
Brainstorm: Make a list of some of your ideas of hymns or songs that your congregation could spend time with.
Example Series: “The Passionate Jesus”
This series idea is based on a powerful book by Peter Wallace by the same name. Using each chapter as the structure for each week, we explore what it means to live authentically and passionately, with Jesus as our guide. Rather than the ever-cool, calm and collected spiritual teacher that Jesus is often portrayed as, Jesus is seen as a passionate, direct, expressive and deeply authentic provocateur. By this example, we seek to embrace our own capacity for passion.
Brainstorm: What books would offer wonderful fodder for worship series?
Example Series: “The Way”
The movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen, offers the inspiration for a focus on pilgrimage and spiritual journeys. I had reports of churches who decided to use this series having viewing parties of the film before the series started, and consequently, the symbolic references to the film brought high anticipation and big impact.
Brainstorm: What films would be inspirational as a worship series inspiration?
Context of a Congregation:
Example Series: “Ready for a Change”Â
Sometimes a congregation needs an in-depth look at something they are facing as a community. For example, this series addresses the concept of change and the change-making actions of Jesus as a way of addressing the spiritual aspects of times of great change. The series uses both scripture and contemporary quotes like, “Change is good… you go first!” to wrestle with our fear of change, the inevitability of change, the difficulty in changing, and the life-giving new lease on life and call to service that change can bring.
Brainstorm: What context or circumstances in your community warrant attention?
Teaching/Spiritual Need in a Congregation:
Example Series: “A Place at the Table”
This line is from a song that speaks of the call to invite all to the table of Jesus Christ and tables of justice-making and is used in a four-week series that moves from setting the table, inviting, blessing the meal, and extending the table. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves what we believe about rituals (like Holy Communion), stories, or doctrines of the church. A series of worship experiences can create unforgettable moments that answer a need to educate and grow in our understanding and experience about a topic of faith practice. Â
Brainstorm: What teaching topics and experiences would grow our understanding of our faith?
A Visual Metaphor:
Example Series: “Holy Vessels”Â
A visual metaphor can speak powerfully in the face of difficult subjects. This series utilizes beach glass as a metaphor for brokenness, healing and restoring to wholeness. I think this series is one of the most popular in the Studio because we are drawn to tangible symbols to express intangible realities. Â Â
Brainstorm: What visual metaphors would be meaningful (or new and surprising) to our congregation? Â
Mission/Commitment of a Congregation:
Example Series: “Moving Out of Scare City”
The play-on-words (“scare city - scarcity”) offers a metaphor to overcome our fear of “not-enough” and focuses on the good news of moving into a belief in abundance and the joy of giving. No matter what your church's mission commitments are, why not create worship that will inspire your congregation to action?
Brainstorm: List some ideas based on the mission objectives at your church.
Creating Series and the Lectionary
I do not believe that thematic worship planning need abandon the lectionary as a point of inspiration. There are many, many themes that flow through any season’s readings. Thank goodness! These scriptures show up time and again, and we must dig deeper and deeper into our biblical vocabulary in order to hear the plethora of wisdom for our discipleship. Following one strand of an idea/theme represented in the lectionary can help us discover new things year after year, cycle after cycle. I read through the lectionary readings book by book (Hebrew texts, Psalms, Epistles, Gospels) to see what threads are weaving themselves in the season’s readings. For Ordinary Time, the readings are not necessarily compiled to coordinate with each other so following a thread through only one book””like the Psalms, for a change””is an appropriate way to handle the lectionary in this long time.Â
With such an extended period of time with little “structure” like the rest of the liturgical year, Ordinary Time can be made extraordinary as we look at the progression of journeys we will take over the six months, creating our own structure and rhythm.Â