Giving Up Church for Lent 2016I didn’t grow up in a Christian tradition that celebrated Ash Wednesday or Lent. In fact, we were not-so-subtly taught that it was something strange or silly that Catholics did. (We were also not-so-subtly taught that Catholics were probably not real Christians.) But when I became a Presbyterian as an adult, Lent quickly became one of my favorite seasons of the Christian year and Ash Wednesday a cherished day of contemplation. Now, for the first time in fifteen years, I’m not serving a congregation in a pastoral role. I’m not leading or participating in an Ash Wednesday service. I’m not sure what my observance of Lent will look like.

As I pondered this earlier today, the thought crossed my mind: perhaps I should give up church for Lent. I already have a Lenten discipline planned, but it occurs to me that this is a good opportunity to more fully explore one of my current passions: the spiritual lives of the so-called “nones” and the “spiritual but not religious”.

A Google search of “giving up church for Lent” reveals a number of bloggers who have explored this notion for a variety of reasons. The Methodist Church in Britain has launched an interesting campaign along these lines. Peter Rollins and others give up God for Lent. (Conversely, Bruce Reyes-Chow famously said that we shouldn’t give up social media for Lent unless we were also willing to give up church.)

So what will “giving up church” mean for me this Lent? Well, it won’t mean not stepping inside of a church for six weeks. In fact, I’m scheduled to preach and teach at a few churches during this time. I’ll also be co-hosting the third annual Progressive Youth Ministry conference in Dallas next week and attending the NEXT Church conference in Atlanta the week after that.

Rather, my intention is to use this time and my blog as a platform to more publicly explore the spirituality of people who no longer (or never have) engaged in organized religion. Instead of dismissing this growing segment of the American population as narcissistic, shallow, or less-than-fully-spiritual, there is an expanding body of literature that seeks to understand the so-called “nones” and “spiritual but not religions” on their own terms. These more charitable studies are essential reading for the church today because I am more convinced than ever that at least part of Christianity’s post-Christendom adaptation requires us to be more attentive to theses shifts and trends.

I hope you will join me over the course of the next six weeks as I dive into these helpful new studies and flesh out some of the ideas I have been formulating about what it might look like to live faithful Christian lives outside of our traditional forms of church. I promise I won’t judge what you do or do not do during these coming Sundays.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit johnvest.com.

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  1. I look forward to your thoughts. I have a feeling that rabbis and synagogues could learn a lot from your observations as well!

  2. I’d love to see a list of some of the books you will be reading (or would like to be reading) regarding the nones. I might see what I can pick up too. Thanks!

    • I’ll probably spend most of my time on Diana Butler Bass’ new book Grounded and Linda A. Mercadante’s Belief Without Borders. I may work in some others as well, depending on how the time goes.

  3. The first thing I noticed was the setting apart of the SBNR and None’s. The airquotes and the term so-called, from my perspective, immediately peg these people not be part of the larger whole…somehow not enough…or not quite up to standards. It see it all over the web and in articles. I really resonated with much of DBB’s book. Look forward to seeing where this Lenten journey takes you.

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