Teaching as We Celebrate the Christian Year

June 30th, 2011

Celebrating the various seasons brings new meaning to our worship and removes the distance between the past and the present. That alone would be reason enough for following the Christian year. However, the impact doubles when we recognize the teaching potential of the seasons. Using the church year provides a review of Jesus’ life and opportunities to reflect on its meaning for us today. While the Jewish celebrations revolve around the exodus and deliverance from Egypt, the Christian year focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus.

As early as the Old Testament we find the concept of sacred time as a vehicle for teaching the faith (Ex. 12–13). It is important that this teaching come from the pulpit as well as the classroom.
In the last chapter of Matthew we read that Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:19).

In Nehemiah 8 we find the story of the gathering of the community to hear the word, followed by a great celebration. In Jesus’ day the synagogue carried on this tradition of gathering to hear the word (Lk. 4:14-21), and the early church adapted this gathering to the first day of the week. Today, some churches have emphasized only sermons as “the word” when in fact we grow through many more experiences than just listening.

Jesus commanded us to use teaching in all aspects of our ministry, not just in the Sunday school classroom. Jesus exemplified this in his own ministry. He approached the people using every intelligence with which we learn:

  • Verbal/Linguistic—has to do with language and words, both written and spoken. Jesus approached his listeners in this manner with his stories.
  • Logical/Mathematical—has to do with inductive thinking and reasoning, statistics, and abstract patterns. Jesus used questions and answers to reach his listeners who learned this way.
  • Visual/Spatial—has to do with visualizing objects and creating internal mental pictures. Jesus used common objects to explain his meanings to persons who learn in this manner.
  • Body/Kinesthetic—related to the physical, such as movement and physical activity. Jesus involved disciples in learning by fishing and washing their feet.
  • Musical/Rhythmic—involves recognition of patterns, both tonal and rhythmic. Singing hymns was a part of the common experience of Jesus and his disciples.
  • Interpersonal—follows relationships between persons, including true communication. Jesus worked with persons on a personal level and also developed small group settings, his most successful being the twelve disciples.
  • Intrapersonal—primarily through self-reflection and awareness of that within us which guides us. Many times the Bible mentions Jesus drawing away for solitude or to be by himself (or taking his disciples away) for reflection.
  • Nature—use of nature in learning. Jesus used nature in many of his illustrations. He taught in the out-of-doors most of the time.

Let’s look for a moment at how these intelligences can be used as we celebrate the seasons:

  • Verbal/Linguistic—This is most often used as we explain the seasons through spoken and written word. It is important that some written information about the season be included in the bulletin at each seasonal change. We must assume that there are new persons in our congregation who were not here in previous years and are unaware of the meanings. As we celebrate and worship with litanies and hymns we also teach through this form.
  • Logical/Mathematical—Sermons offer great opportunities for questions to be posed to worshipers, who will then inwardly reflect on their own answers. Asking open-ended questions forces the worshipers to reflect. Time lines and statistics may also be used for this type of learning. Comparisons, such as the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem compared to the distance between local cities of today, bring the event into our present world.
  • Visual/Spatial—Visual representations of the seasons are important. Some people are audio learners, and some are visual learners. In the same manner, some people worship best audibly and some visually. Symbols, paraments, and focal points are excellent ways to enable the visual learner and worshiper. Even the architecture of the gathering place can be used.
  • Body/Kinesthetic—Just as Jesus used the act of eating the bread and drinking the cup, we also enhance our celebrations by reenacting that last supper that Jesus had with his disciples. Drama engages this type of learning, whether we are in the drama or simply observing it. The body/ kinesthetic learning happens when we, as a congregation, stand from time to time in order to express our adoration for God. But the congregation needs to understand that this is the reason that we stand in order for the learning to be effective.
  • Musical/Rhythmic—This intelligence is one of the most common ones used in celebration of the seasons. Through song and special music we refresh our understanding of Christ’s life. Rhythmic litanies or clapping help musical/ rhythmic learners.
  • Interpersonal—Simply being together as we celebrate is important. Some people believe that we must have a group gathering to have worship. Whether you define worship in that way or not, it is important for a congregation to experience community when they worship together. Reciting creeds and singing together can help with this, and an opportunity for “passing of the peace” builds interpersonal relationship. Study groups are more enhanced if they are small enough for communication between the members, or larger gatherings can be broken down into small groups. There is no law against pausing in the middle of a sermon and asking worshipers to turn to a neighbor and share or discuss something.
  • Intrapersonal—All too often our worship and our study periods ignore this type of learning. Moments of silent reflection and prayer can be ignored or shortened when we become too time conscious in our worship. Conse-quently, they need to be built in. I become very frustrated when it’s suggested that I pray silently, and then the leader speaks a verbal prayer the whole time. This gives me no opportunity for intrapersonal prayer.
  • Nature—Most churches use live flowers or plants in their sanctuaries, reminding us of the life-giving power of Christ and reminding us of his resurrection. Congregations need to be made aware that we do not use live flowers just for decoration, but that there is a deeper meaning. We can also enhance this style of learning by making reference to nature in sermons, hymns, and study times.

This article is excerpted from Teaching and Celebrating the Christian Seasons: A Guide for Pastors, Teachers, and Worship Leaders by Delia Halverson (copyright © 2002, Chalice Press), pp. 6-10. Used by permission.

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