Easter is the biggest day of the year for nearly every pastor and church. You challenge people to invite unchurched friends, recruit new volunteers, create a clean environment to welcome guests, and spend hours preparing a compelling sermon.
You do all you can to get the church ready… logistically.
But what if there was something you could do to help the church be ready… spiritually?
There is. You can leverage a practice that most Christians in history have leaned into to prepare for celebrating Christ’s resurrection: Lent.
Free Lent Sermon Series Templates
Four series templates with message suggestions for the weeks leading up to Easter.
Lent is an early-church practice meant to prepare followers of Jesus for celebrating Easter. It remains a life-giving tradition that has the potential to transform the weeks leading up to Easter from a time of busy chaos into a season of beautiful commitment to Jesus.
Lent has taken many shapes and forms throughout history. There’s no one way to do it.
You don’t have to go all-in on Lent to benefit from this helpful tradition. In this article, you will discover everything you need to know to leverage the Lenten tradition for the spiritual health and evangelistic impact of your church.
What is Lent All About?
Depending on your background, you might know a ton about Lent or hardly anything at all. Either way, there’s probably more to the Lent tradition than you previously realized, from its origin to its relevance today. The history is really quite fascinating and points to some of what you know and understand about Lent today.
What is Lent?
The New Oxford Dictionary describes Lent as “the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness.”
Lent is a 40-day season to repent over sin, lament over the rebellion in our hearts, and anticipate the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. Often, Christians have fasted or abstained from things or behaviors (food, sweets, meat, coffee, television, social media, etc.). In addition to abstaining, some Christians also add something to their lives during Lent (more church attendance, prayer, giving, Bible reading, etc.)
Where Did Lent Come From?
The first documented mention of this practice was part of the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. In addition to producing the Nicene Creed, this council also produced twenty practical directions (called “canons”) for church practice.
Lent is mentioned in the fifth canon of Nicea—not explained, just mentioned—in such a way as to indicate that Christians were already familiar with the practice. In this document from Nicea, the word used for Lent is tessarakonta (in the original Greek), which means ‘forty.’
So where did this familiar practice come from?
Long before Nicea, Christians had begun celebrating Easter Sunday as a day to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection. Many of these early churches fasted for two or three days in preparation for this special day.
Additionally, many early churches celebrated baptism on Easter Sunday and instituted fasting as a way for baptismal candidates to mourn their past sins, consider their need for cleansing through Christ’s blood, and anticipate their baptism.
By the time of the Council of Nicea, many churches had extended this time to forty days, modeled after the forty days of Jesus’ fasting in preparation for His public ministry (Matthew 4:1-2).
Fast Facts About Lent
- The English word “Lent” comes from the Saxon word that means “spring” and has roots in the Germanic word related to “lengthening” (since in springtime days start getting longer).
- In many languages, the word for “Lent” is connected to “forty”: Cuaresma coming from cuarenta in Spanish, Quaresima deriving from quaranta in Italian, and Carême deriving from quarante in French.
- The Bible describes a number of 40 day fasts: Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28), Elijah fasted for 40 days on his way to meet God at Horeb (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert before being tempted (Matthew 4:1-11).
- Until the 600s A.D., Lent began on a Sunday, but Gregory the Great moved its beginning to a Wednesday (now called Ash Wednesday) so that there were exactly 40 days in Lent—not counting Sundays, which were feast days.
- Gregory the Great was the first to commemorate the beginning of Lent by marking the heads of Christians with an ashen cross. This was to remind them of repentance (often symbolized by sackcloth and ashes) and mortality (referred to as dust in Genesis 3:19).
- Because the Council of Nicea was an ecumenical council (taking place before the split of the Eastern and Western churches), Lent has been celebrated by both Catholics and Protestants.
- The official color of Lent is purple (often with a reddish hue), representing mourning for Jesus’ crucifixion as well as celebrating His royalty as King of kings.
- In some traditions, Lent does not actually end on Easter Sunday, but on Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating Jesus’ last supper with the disciples.
- Research in 2017 indicated that 61% of Catholics and 28% of evangelicals celebrate Lent.
- A 2014 Barna study found that 17% of Americans who know about Lent practiced it in the previous three years.
- Barna also found that Millennials “are by far the least likely age group to be aware of Lent (57%)—but, interestingly, they are more likely than average to say they are planning to fast in 2014 (20% compared to 17% among all adults).”
Why Should You Preach a Sermon Series Related to Lent?
Lent has a long history of blessing the church. It’s a season of reflection, intentionality, and preparation for Easter, which we’ll unpack in the next section.
Ultimately, preaching a Lent-related sermon series could be the perfect way to prepare your congregation for Easter and deepen the spiritual impact you could make in your community.
What a Lent-Like Sermon Series Could Give Your Church
People in your church want to be challenged to grow spiritually. Not only do they want to be challenged, but they need to be challenged to grow.
When your people grow spiritually, their lives get healthier and stronger. They become more patient and caring at home, they become more integrity-filled and courageous at work. They become more resilient to face suffering and pain.
Most of all… when your people grow spiritually, it impacts the world around them.
You’re going to preach evangelistically on Easter and you may even do an outreach-oriented series to encourage guests to come back. But what if you prepared for those moments by challenging your church with a spiritual growth series that focused on themes from Lent?
Imagine what would happen to your church and community if, for the 40 days (6 weeks) leading up to Easter, your people experienced:
- Increasing frequency and fervency of their prayers — through a focus of consistent prayer during the Lenten season
- Growing desire to connect with Jesus — through greater reflection on what Jesus has achieved for us
- Deepening dissatisfaction with what the world has to offer — through experiencing the greater joy of walking closely with God.
- Expanding habits of generosity — through practicing the joy of giving to the church and beyond.
- Surging distaste with sins that normally go ignored — through intentional reflection on areas that need repentance.
- Swelling faith that relies on God instead of on self-medication through food or screens — through fasting from some of our typical comforts.
- Hungering deeply for the things of God — through redirecting our appetites toward Jesus.
- Escalating courage to face a hostile world with boldness — through contending prayer for God to work through Easter
A series that grew your people in those ways would be worth doing anytime. But imagine the impact that it could have if this was how you prepared for the biggest day of the church’s year!
Themes and Practices of Lent
The good news about Lent is that Christians throughout history have practiced Lent differently. This means there’s no one right way to lean into Lent.
Rather than bogging down in rigid approaches to Lent, it may be more valuable to consider the major themes and practices that Lent can leverage.
The Lenten tradition emphasizes a number of important biblical themes:
Following Jesus. Jesus’ call to be His disciples included the expectation of self-denial (Luke 9:23). The call to discipleship is not one involving ease and comfort, but one that is costly.
Repentance. Jesus’ first gospel preaching announced that His kingdom was at hand, so repentance was required (Mark 1:15). We can’t get to Jesus without repentance, and we can’t grow in faith unless we embrace a lifestyle of repentance.
The Horror of Sin. Sin distorts God’s good world in thousands of ways (Romans 8:21). What seems normal to us is an awful offence to a Holy God (Romans 1:32). Sometimes we need to be reminded of how bad sin is, so that we can appreciate our great Savior.
Hunger. Have you ever noticed how much of the Bible deals with food? Sin comes through food (Genesis 3:6), Israel’s exodus is remembered with a Passover meal (Exodus 12-13), food laws made the Israelites distinct (Leviticus 11), Jesus was known for His eating and drinking (Luke 7:34), His sacrifice is remembered through the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19), and history culminates with a wedding feast (Revelation 19:9). Lenten fasting invites us to hunger for what truly matters (Matthew 5:6).
Salvation by Grace. Our deep sinfulness means we have only one hope: to be saved by grace (Ephesians 2:1-9). As we remember our sin, we are drawn to the reality that He alone can save.
Forgiveness. Followers of Jesus regularly see their sin and plead for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). As those who have been forgiven, we also forgive others (Ephesians 4:32). Mourning for our sin reminds us that we need forgiveness, are forgiven in Christ, and can also forgive others.
Substitution. From the first sin of Adam and Eve, the way God atones for sin and covers His people is through the death of a substitute (Genesis 3:21). Atonement came through the blood of an innocent animal in the place of a guilty person (Leviticus 17:11). As we reflect on our sin, it becomes clear that our only hope is Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Hebrews 10:11-14).
Similarly, the Lenten tradition emphasizes a number of important Christian practices:
Prayer. All Christians agree that prayer is how we deepen our relationship with God. Though followers of Jesus are commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), having a focused season of intentional prayer can function as a jumpstart or reset to a life of prayer.
Fasting. Though fasting may be the most neglected spiritual practice in contemporary Christianity, Jesus assumed His followers would fast (Matthew 9:15). Fasting reminds us that our deepest hunger is for God, rather than created things.
Fighting Temptation. Sin leads to death and misery (James 1:14-15). It dishonors God and leaves us empty (Jeremiah 2:13). Christians must imitate Jesus in fighting temptation, and a season of introspection may be helpful in revealing areas of unbelief and sin.
Confession of Sin. Healthy Christians regularly confess sin to the Lord. It should be a regular part of how we pray (Matthew 6:12), and is connected to our overall well being (James 5:15). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we have confidence that confession leads to forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).
Giving. Because of Christ’s generous sacrifice, His followers are generous people (2 Corinthians 8:7-9). Giving generously of our financial and material resources reminds us that all we have is God’s (Psalm 24:1) and that our truest source of life is Jesus, not stuff (Luke 12:15).
Trusting Jesus in Suffering. Not only did Jesus suffer, but He said His followers would too (John 15:20). Suffering produces endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4). A season of embracing suffering and pain reminds us that our deepest treasure is Jesus.
Bible Reading. After His 40 day fast, Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations by remembering that “man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). A season of focused Bible reading invites Christians to find their satisfaction in God, who sustains us with His word.
These themes and practices are not exhaustive, nor do they all demand our attention during the Lenten season. However, they provide a helpful menu of ideas for Christ-centered content that could shape your people in preparation for Easter.
Don’t Let These Objections Stop You
We grow through challenge and risk. Maybe it feels difficult or risky to preach a Lent-like sermon series. Don’t let these objections stop you:
“I Don’t Like Preaching Topical Series.”
Every pastor has habits or convictions around how to arrange preaching. Not everyone wants to preach topically or thematically. No problem.
Lent does not need to be preached topically. See below for a number of ideas on how to do an expositional series that connects with Lent.
“I Plan My Sermons Week to Week—That’s How the Spirit Moves.”
There’s no question that the Spirit of God often moves in the moment. Jesus Himself said that there would be moments when the Spirit would provide just-in-time content:
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”Luke 12:11-12
But notice the setting of the Spirit’s last-minute provision: “when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities.” In other words, when you are arrested for your faith in Jesus, then the Spirit will give you the power to say what He wants.
Our regular preaching, however, is totally different. It’s not in the middle of persecution (though in some churches with grumpy people it might feel like it!). Rather, it’s the intentional spiritual feeding of a congregation that we love.
As we read through scripture, we see that God’s planning and the movement of the Holy Spirit are not at odds with one another. On the contrary, they work in perfect agreement with one another and our teaching should show this agreement. God makes plans and the Holy Spirit works within them while interceding between us and God.
If the Spirit can lead us in the moment, He can also lead us in advance. Stop the last minute planning, build a preaching calendar, and trust God to provide what you need in advance.
“I Don’t Know Enough About Lent”
None of us want to preach on things we don’t know about. But there’s a good chance you don’t know enough about most of the things you preach about! Use this article as a starting point to investigate Lent.
More than preaching Lent, however, think about preaching the themes evoked by Lent.
- You may not know about Lent, but you probably know about following Jesus.
- You may not know about Lent, but you probably know about repentance.
- You may not know about Lent, but you probably know about self-discipline.
- You may not know about Lent, but you probably know about fighting temptation.
- You may not know about Lent, but you probably know about suffering.
- You may not know about Lent, but you probably know about the cross.
In the end, you’re not preaching about Lent anyway (it’s not a church history class). You’re preaching about following Jesus in a life of self-denial, repentance, and faith as you wait for God to more fully bring His kingdom reality into daily life. You don’t have to be an expert on Lent to preach the gospel!
“I Don’t Want to Force People Into Something That Isn’t Prescribed in the Bible”
Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m really interested in Lent and love what I’m learning about it — but I don’t really want to impose it on the whole church since it’s not commanded in Scripture.”
That’s a good instinct, but it shouldn’t stop you from preaching a Lent-like series for at least two reasons.
First, while Lent is not prescribed in the Bible, it’s also not prohibited. We do all kinds of things as churches that aren’t prescribed in the Bible—kids ministry, refreshments, announcements, printed bulletins, and a host of other ministries. We do these because they aren’t prohibited by Scripture and they are practically helpful. So is preaching a Lent-like series.
Second, you don’t have to force anybody to fast or put ashes on their forehead to engage with Lent. You can focus on the heart of Lent more than the specific forms of Lent, encouraging people to pursue Jesus in a focused way as you prepare for Easter.
How Do You Answer Common Objections to Lent?
Some folks might resist the idea of bringing a full-fledged Lent experience to your church. Whether that resistance is practical (just hard to bring change), theological (based on biblical reflection), or experiential (based on past life experience), there are good ways to address these concerns.
You Can Preach a Lent-Like Series Without Doing Lent
Some pastors would love to leverage the themes of Lent, but cringe at the thought of doing a Lent series for an assortment of reasons (addressed below).
That’s 100% fine. Just preach on the themes connected to Lent without calling it anything about Lent.
If you’re concerned about not being too tied to Lent, don’t sweat it. You probably already know how to do this with another part of the historic church calendar… Advent.
Most churches have some kind of Christmas related series every year that points to the hope, love, joy, and peace that Jesus brings. You know that those four themes are straight out of the Advent playbook, right? But most churches don’t call it an “Advent” series.
In the same way, you can benefit from the themes of Lent and call it whatever you want.
But some people (especially former Roman Catholics) might sniff it out and have some questions or concerns. How do you address those?
Objection 1: Lent Is Just for Roman Catholics
Sure, Lent is most commonly practiced by adherents in Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. But the practice of Lent belongs to all Christians, because it predates the Great Schism of 1054, when the church split between East (Orthodox) and West (Roman Catholic).
If you affirm the truths of the Nicene Creed, you can also joyfully practice Lent. The same pastors and church leaders who formed that great statement of faith also affirmed Lent as a practice to grow in faith.
Objection 2: Lent Is a Kind of Works-Righteousness
Christians should be rightly concerned about avoiding works-righteousness, where a person attempts to merit God’s favor by doing something good or avoiding something bad. Sadly, any spiritual discipline can be distorted into legalism, where we mistakenly imagine that our status with God depends on our obedience.
We would not tell people to stop praying or reading their Bibles just because some people turn these practices into efforts to earn God’s favor. Neither should we avoid Lent just because it could be mishandled.
We must avoid turning Lent into a form of works-righteousness, where we suppose our fasting, prayer, generosity, or confession earns us more grace. Instead, we should let these practices remind us of our only hope in life and death, Jesus Christ.
Objection 3: Lent Is Just The Latest Fad
There’s no question that Lent is rising in popularity among Protestants and evangelicals who are hungry for a Christian experience that is rooted in strong traditions and robust practices.
But is celebrating Lent just a spiritual equivalent to eating kale, doing CrossFit, buying local organic vegetables, or some other trendy thing? It doesn’t have to be.
If your motivation for leading people toward Lent is to be gimmicky or trendy or cool, please do something else.
On the other hand, if your desire is to engage people with an ancient Christian practice that will help their hearts soften in preparation for Easter, then go for it. Lent has lasted for hundreds of years because pastors and leaders courageously called people to deny themselves and focus on Jesus (which is rarely cool).
Objection 4: I’ve Had Some Bad Experiences With Lent
While Lent can be a beautiful and transformative practice, there’s no question that some people have been hurt by pastors and traditions that weaponized it—demanding that people fast, give money, pray, and attend church without a vision for why it mattered.
As a result, people with this experience hear about Lent and can’t help but feel like they’re being invited back into a dead religion.
Don’t make it worse by forcing these dear people into another cold, harsh experience of Lent. Instead:
- Ask about their story, listen, and acknowledge the legitimacy of their pain.
- Give them permission to abstain from some of the practices that others in the church might engage. It would be better for them to pursue Jesus in preparation for Easter in other ways.
- Invite them to consider if there are other Lenten practices that don’t have the same trigger-effect that reminds them of a painful past.
- Explain the vision and heart you have for Lent and how that might be different from the tradition they’ve experienced. Sometimes the “why” can go a long way.
Objection 5: The New Testament Prohibits Asceticism and Food Restrictions
This is a good objection to get, because it means folks are reading their Bibles!
Someone might bring up 1 Timothy 4:1-3, where the Apostle Paul writes:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (ESV, emphasis added)
Another might bring up Colossians 2:16-23, where the Apostle Paul writes:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (ESV, emphasis added)
What is happening in these passages? Is Paul forbidding the practice of fasting (or a season of fasting)? This seems unlikely, considering that Paul himself fasted in preparation for baptism (Acts 9:9) and was a proponent of bodily discipline for the sake of Christ and the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Rather than prohibiting fasting, Paul is warning against false teachers who taught that anything physical was bad, while anything spiritual was good. In this teaching, created things were evil (including the human body) so “salvation” was being freed from the embodied life and all it entailed—things like food, drink, or marriage.
This early Gnostic-like heresy runs contrary to the biblical story and the gospel.
In the beginning, God created a physical world with human beings in physical bodies and declared that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Jesus himself comes in a physical body (John 1:14), is resurrected in a physical body (John 20:27), and will return in a physical body (Acts 1:11). Additionally, in Christ, God is reconciling heaven and earth (Colossians 1:20).
Christ-centered fasting, prayer, and repentance should not be confused with heresies that deny who Jesus is and the goodness of His creation.
Lent Sermon Series Options From Ministry Pass
Perhaps your mind is spinning with ideas for preaching a series that leverages the beautiful tradition of Lent. Or maybe you’re stuck and thinking, “Where should I begin?” Either way, consider these ideas for a sermon series that leverages Lent.
Lent traditionally involves an Ash Wednesday service followed by six Sundays. Thus, these suggested series are either six or seven weeks.
This seven-week series explores the historic Christian season of Lent—from Ash Wednesday through Palm Sunday. This rich Christian tradition points us back to the reality of our sin and our desperate need for a Savior. During this season, we focus on the multifaceted aspects of repentance: recognition of our sin, hope in a Savior, and obedience as a response to His grace. Rather than engage in empty ceremony or purely internal spiritual growth, we learn that observance of this season produces in us a richer faith for the sake of the world.
This seven-week Lent sermon series exposes the rebellious nature of sin and helps you teach your people about the beautiful resolution offered in the hope of the gospel through a researched series guide. It includes seven specific messages on the weight of sin, death, and darkness in the world, and that ultimately through faith in Jesus Christ, we too can be given victory over death, and our hearts can be transformed by the beauty of the cross.
This six-week series for the Sundays during the season of Lent (plus Ash Wednesday) takes congregations from a serious reflection on their mortality on Ash Wednesday toward a joyful vision of the New Heavens and the New Earth on the last Sunday of Lent. This pathway—from death to everlasting life—will bring the congregation to a place of expectant hope in preparation for Resurrection Sunday.
Other Churches’ Lent Series
In addition to these Lent sermon series resources, be sure to check out what Apostles Brooklyn, Apostles Uptown, Veritas Dayton, and Park Church have done previously to prepare for Easter. Church at the Cross has done multiple Lent series, Unself and The Prospering Soul.
Free Lent Sermon Series Templates
Four series templates with message suggestions for the weeks leading up to Easter.
How to Engage Lent Beyond Sunday
Every pastor knows that sermon series are crucial tools for moving a congregation forward (which is why you spend so much time thinking about them). But every pastor also knows that if people engage beyond Sunday, the impact increases dramatically.
The Perfect Short-Term Window
Lent is the perfect opportunity to experiment with beyond Sunday practices because it’s a short-term window. It’s really difficult to challenge people to begin a new lifelong habit, but many Christians are remarkably open to a short-term challenge.
Many churches have proven the effectiveness of 40-day spiritual growth campaigns or 90-day tithe challenges. The shorter commitment makes people more open and churches more focused.
It’s hard to stay focused on something for too long. But challenging people to commit to their spiritual growth for six weeks feels totally doable.
History + Flexibility = Great Options
Because of Lent’s rich history, there are many tried-and-true practices to borrow from. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to help people engage.
Because of Lent’s great flexibility (having been practiced in such varied ways), there’s no one right way to engage. You don’t need to feel the pressure to conform to something that won’t work for you.
Below are some ideas and options for engaging your people beyond Sunday. Some will work wonderfully in your setting, others won’t. What might be a huge success in one place might be a disaster in another. Feel free to adapt and adjust.
At the same time, not everyone has all day to dream up perfectly customized spiritual growth campaigns. Feel free to borrow with joy.
Idea 1: Hold an Ash Wednesday Service
The most visible aspect of Lent is usually the beginning—Ash Wednesday. It’s the day when you see some people walking around with ashen crosses across their foreheads.
Of course, you don’t need to celebrate Ash Wednesday to lean into the Lenten tradition. But one fresh way for many of the folks in your church is to hold a simple Ash Wednesday service.
Some ideas for getting started with an Ash Wednesday service:
- Consider where to meet — Some churches use this as a chance to meet at a park, beach, or other special location.
- Schedule it for the morning — Since it’s a weekday, it may be important to schedule at a time when working people or students can attend before getting too deep into their day.
- Keep it short and sweet — It’s a Wednesday and people have things going. Don’t drag it out.
- Reflect on scripture — Have a short Bible reading or exhortation, casting a biblical vision for this season of repentance.
- Embrace silence — Create a few spots for people to silently confess sin and reflect.
- Apply the ashes — Traditionally, congregants come forward and the pastor makes an ashen cross on the forehead and says, “From dust you came and from dust you will return.”
- Get some coaching — Might be good to talk with a pastor acquaintance from a more liturgical background and see what else they’d add (read this article too).
- Find resources — Ministry Pass has a few different Ash Wednesday bundles to use during these services
Idea 2: Use These Free Guides
A number of leaders and churches have created helpful guides for Lent. Use one of these or find inspiration and create your own.
Imago Dei Lent Journal — a simple journal that guides participants through a weekly Bible reading and reflection.
The Village Church Lent Guide — a short guide with weekly fasts, prayers, and Scripture reading.
The Village Church “Seasons” Guide — an e-book that walks through the seasons of the historic church calendar, including Lent.
Providence Church “Journey to the Cross” — a devotional guide consisting of Scripture readings, meditations, reflection questions, and prayers.
Sojourn Montrose “Cross & Crown” Devotional — a 40-day devotional with confession, scripture reflection, questions, and prayers.
Idea 3: Encourage These Books & Resources
In addition to the free resources above, a number of authors have created excellent books and guides. Consider picking a resource and either recommending it or making it available during the Lent season.
Redeemer Presbyterian Church “A Journey Through Lent” Devotional — a 40-day devotional from Tim Keller and Redeemer.
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter — more than 70 readings from some of the best authors in Christian history.
From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional — A.W. Tozer’s best insights on faith, repentance, suffering, and redemption.
On Calvary’s Hill: 40 Readings for the Easter Season — Max Lucado’s reflections to prepare for Easter.
Idea 4: Lent Albums & Playlists
One of the most practical ways to keep people engaging with Lent on a daily and emotional level is to share these Lent-related albums and playlists (or use them to curate your own).
- Village Church Lent Playlist
- Lent @ Trinity by Casey Royals
- Modern Lenten Hymnal by Bobby Giles
- 40 Songs for 40 Days: A Lenten Playlist
- Lent Playlist by The Rabbit Room
- A Lenten Listening List by Cheryl Magness
Idea 5: Creative Fasting
Throughout history Lent has almost always involved fasting, whether by abstaining from one specific food or drink throughout the entirety of Lent or by having a daily fast from all food during daylight hours.
The idea of fasting from food is that by abstaining we direct our attention to the Lord whenever the cravings for food rise up within us.
Food is not our only source of craving or enjoyment, however. So what if we thought creatively about fasting from other things where we might sometimes go for refuge rather than God?
In their “Seasons” guide, the Village Church offers a thoughtful way to approach this kind of fasting by providing a new fast for each of the weeks of Lent. Here’s how they approach it:
Week 1: Food
Consider fasting from lunch this week and spending that hour in prayer, reading the Word, or praising the Lord through music. Or choose a specific type of food—candy, soda, meat, etc.—to fast from for the week. Or choose one day to fast from dawn until dusk, again spending the time you’d usually be eating to sit in God’s presence.
Week 2: Television and Movies
Think about unplugging your televisions or devices and spending that time soaking in the Lord’s presence. If your family typically watches a show or movie together, consider exchanging that hour or two each day to open God’s Word, pray, and discuss the reality of sin in our hearts and in our world.
Week 3: Social Networking and Internet
Think about exchanging the time you would normally scroll through social media or browse the internet for a time of intentional prayer, Bible reading or worship. Consider staying off certain platforms at certain points of each day or for the entire week, deleting the apps off your device or blocking those websites as you fast. (Of course, many people will need to use these during work hours for employment purposes)
Week 4: Caffeine and Sweets
Consider fasting from your favorite caffeinated beverages or candy this week. Think about placing sticky notes with Scripture or prayer requests on or near where you keep those items so you are reminded to refocus your heart and mind on the Lord throughout the day. Consider setting aside the money you would typically spend on those beverages and pray about where you could give it to help those in need.
Week 5: Radio, Podcasts, and Music
Consider trading your favorite podcast or your daily dose of music or talk radio for silence and solitude. Instead of turning on something when you get in the car, use this time to ask God to fill your heart and mind with His presence and to hear His voice more clearly. Consider choosing a few verses to memorize and use the time you’d normally spend listening to music, the radio, or a podcast in thoughtful meditation of God’s Word.
Week 6: Shopping for Non-Essentials
Consider fasting from shopping for anything that is not absolutely necessary this week. Reflect on the ways that God has provided for your every need. You could choose to start a list of God’s provision in your life, spend time praying for God to help you remember that He is your ultimate sustainer and giver of life, or find small ways to be generous toward others in gratitude for what the Lord has given to you.
Week 7: Sleep
As we approach the end of Lent, think about getting up an hour earlier than usual or staying up an hour later to intentionally spend time with the Lord. Whether that be in prayer or confession, consider giving up a portion of your sleep to focus your heart and mind on God, specifically the passion of Christ.
Idea 6: Lent Generosity Challenge
As we look ahead to celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter weekend, we remember that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). Thus, generosity is in the heart of the gospel.
Consider challenging your people to step up their generosity during Lent. You could do this a number of ways:
- Receive a special Lent offering — pick a cause or community partner outside the church who is making a good impact in your community. Consider a testimony or interview related to this cause, and invite people to give a one-time special offering.
- Receive a weekly “Fast & Give” offering — challenge people to fast during Lent from a particular thing and give what they would have spent on that to a special offering. For instance, challenge people to give up buying coffee and instead give that money during Lent.
- Organize serving days — challenge people to be generous with their time and energy by serving in special ways during Lent, either in the church or community.
Idea 7: Daily Prayers for Lent
One of the simplest ways to engage people beyond Sunday sermons is to use simple daily prayer prompts that invite them to connect with the Lord on their own. These could be printed on a card, emailed out, sent via text message, or shared on social media.
W: Desire to repent and walk closely with Jesus
T: Growing love for those around me
F: God to be exalted and loved all over the world
S: God to save unbelievers in my life
S: My church to be healthy
M: Unity between Christians
T: God to show His power in unexpected ways
W: Gratitude in the hearts of God’s people
T: The next generation to treasure Jesus
F: God to protect the unborn
S: God to provide wisdom where it’s needed
S: My church to be filled with love
M: Opportunities and courage to share the gospel
T: Power to comprehend the love of God
W: Self-control for fighting sin
T: College students who are questioning faith
F: The church to demonstrate racial unity
S: Deeper sense of hope despite trials
S: My church to be bold in evangelism
M: Forgiveness for ways we fail to love
T: Deeper trust of God
W: Increased desire to obey God’s word
T: Ability to see people like Jesus does
F: Persecuted Christians to stand strong
S: Pastors to preach the gospel with power
S: My church to be generous
M: More awareness of God’s work in my life
T: Sexual purity in myself and others
W: Willingness to embrace suffering for Christ
T: Parents to nurture children in the gospel
F: Joy in all circumstances
S: Those who will be invited to Easter services
S: My church to impact our community
M: Discernment to know God’s will
T: Direction on who needs encouragement
W: Increased gratitude for God’s kindness
T: Deeper experience of God’s Spirit
F: Church leaders who are preparing for Easter
S: God’s kingdom to come on earth as in Heaven
S: My church to be hungry for God
M: Strength from God to obey Him
T: Compassion towards those different from me
W: Christian students to boldly live their faith
T: Growing ability to pray with faith
F: Powerful confidence in God’s love
S: God to open the hearts of people to His love
S: My church to enjoy Jesus
Idea 8: Engage Through Email
What if you could use Lent to not just engage your people and prepare them for Easter, but also to identify the people in your congregation who are hungriest for more equipping? It’s actually easier than you think.
Using Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or whatever email service you prefer, invite your people to subscribe to an exclusive Lent email list where they will receive devotional thoughts, prayer ideas, resources, etc. Be sure to let them know in advance about how frequently they should expect to receive content (daily? weekly?)
Then make a simple schedule for what you plan to send and when. If you organize it well, you can probably take three-four hours and schedule these emails in advance so that you’re not scrambling week-by-week.
Not only will this encourage the people who receive what you send, but it will also show you who wants more of this kind of content. You can use this list in the future to continue to send out additional discipleship content or prayer requests. Additionally, you can use it to invite people to certain events that fit this kind of congregant.
Idea 9: Prepare for Easter
The focus of this resource has been largely about leveraging Lent to prepare people spiritually for Easter. As you do it, be sure to keep an outward focus and think of how you can utilize Lent to challenge people to invite friends to Easter.
Collect names to pray for. At the beginning of Lent, ask people to provide three names of non-Christians in their lives who they want to see God touch. Begin praying weekly for these people.
Create Easter invite cards. Most Christians want to invite their friends to experience Jesus, they just need helpful tools. Create a simple invite card and challenge your people to invite the people they are praying for. Having a tactile, physical card might help the challenge feel more real.
Create online invite tools. As important as physical invites may be, we live in a digital world. Create a social media event, post, or link where people can easily invite their friends. Some churches even create a special landing page for Easter making it easy to share.
Prepare an Easter service that won’t embarrass them. If you’re praying for non-Christians, and they get invited and show up, your people are counting on you to create a good experience. It doesn’t need to be Cirque du Soleil quality — it just needs to not embarrass the person who did the inviting. Pray, make a plan, and trust God with the results.
Idea 10: Fast & Feast Days
Most people who know anything about Lent think about fasting from food. That’s surely part of the experience for many people who have done Lent. But what if you created an experience that didn’t seem so negative?
One idea is to create a Fast & Feast event during Lent. You might pick one day during the 40 days of Lent or decide to make it a weekly event during this season.
What is a Fast & Feast day? Simply, it’s a day where people fast from breakfast and lunch and then join together for a feast (meal) in the evening.
Whether you do it as a potluck or a catered event, it’s a chance for your congregation to experience the solidarity of fasting and the joy of feasting.
Fast & Feast days are especially helpful for combating the idea that Lent is all doom and gloom. We are resurrection people, which means that our fasting is always in light of the promises of Christ’s return when we will feast.
Last but not least, Fast & Feast days invite people into a deeper experience of community and friendship that will last well beyond Lent.
Final Thoughts on Preaching and Leading Through Lent
Nothing in the Scriptures mandate that we celebrate Lent. It’s a practice that has helped millions of Christians in our shared history. Though Lent has some baggage, it can be incorporated in a way that can be life-giving and even fun.
Lent is totally optional. But maybe it’s an option you should opt-in on.
Done well, Lent can raise the spiritual temperature of your church and engage your people with spiritual focus as you prepare for the biggest and most impactful day of the year.
More and more evangelical churches are practicing Lent, but there’s still a lot to learn and experiment with. So go experiment. Try some things, learn along the way, and keep making it better.
Most of all, may your Lent experience give you and your church a taste of spiritual refreshment as you follow Jesus and walk closely with Him.
Free Lent Sermon Series Templates
Four series templates with message suggestions for the weeks leading up to Easter.