To lectionary or not to lectionary

September 28, 2011

In the church where I did my internship (and spent three years) we used the
lectionary. In my last church, where I served for 4 years, we also used
the lectionary. I like the lectionary and understand its strengths, of
which there are many. I considered it a spiritual discipline to have
to think about different texts that I might normally not use to preach
on and think about what I would say.

Now I know that one of the arguments for why the lectionary should
be used is that it forces us to have to cover texts we otherwise would
not preach on. But, since there are always at least four selections,
most of the time I could avoid some troublesome texts, and have found
that most preachers do as well. As an example, in the three churches I
have now preached to, I have used the Jacob stories found during the
summer in year A. But, in all of those churches most people said they
had never heard a sermon preached on Jacob, so I know other ministers
are just skipping over those passages they would rather not cover.

In my newest church, I was told that past ministers have
used the lectionary but the preference would be not to be glued to it,
and so for the first time in my ministry I have gone "off lectionary." I
have to say it is completely refreshing and reinvigorating for me, and
the congregation seems to be liking it as well. I am now into my second
sermon series and it's done a lot to allow me to sort of set down my
own theology and thinking at the beginning of my ministry here.
In addition, I find that I am doing a lot more
independent research and reading for each sermon than I ever did using
the lectionary. As someone who loves to read and study, this has been a
huge strength and can see the benefits in my own spiritual life and
disciples. While I still use different commentaries they are coming at
the very end just to make sure I didn't miss anything that might be
important, rather than being what I sort of start my thinking around.
I also find that my sermons are longer (and then are cut
down) as I have a lot more to say then I did with the lectionary
readings. This is then generating ideas for new sermon series. For
example, on September 11, I did use the lectionary readings for that day
on forgiveness, and after sitting down to write that sermon came up
with at least 4-5 different sermons that could be preached about
forgiveness. Now I know you could also do this with the lectionary, but
it would take you a long time to accomplish and would be a little
disjointed because, unless you are using the Hebrew scripture or the
epistle, the themes tend to change too often.
As I am building out ideas into the future I still
reference the lectionary readings to see if they match, and will
obviously keep themes matching the seasons of the church, in particular
for Advent and Lent, but not using it all the time, for the moment, has
made a huge difference in not only what I am preaching on and how I am
preaching, but even how I am approaching my sermons, and I like the
difference.
Originally posted at Yankee Pastor.

Comments

Interesting the opposite experience

I have been a Baptist pastor and preacher for the last 15 years or so. In our brand of Baptists we do not use the lectionary at all and I am almost positive that a large number of my colleagues won't even know what it is. However, two years ago I started following it and preaching rigorously out of it. I also use the other three readings during the service. I find very interesting that I could have written this line myself "I have to say it is completely refreshing and reinvigorating for me, and the congregation seems to be liking it as well". So actually, what I am already thinking about is at the end of next year, when the three year cycle is done, what do I do? Will I go back to my free choosing or restart the cycle? Only the Lord knows .... Thanks for the column!

As one who did not grow up in

As one who did not grow up in a church that used the le.ctionary, I always thought it would stifle creativity in preaching. However, I've been visiting churches lately and one is United Methodist. It was actually a nice feeling to hear a sermon and then read comments online from someone else in another city about the sermon topic on which their church preached out of the lectionary. I would suppose one benefit of the lectionary is having many, many people focused on one text of scripture. However, I don't think there's an absolute here for or against lectionary preaching. I think the lectionary can be helpful, but I would encourage more than that, that preachers allow themselves to be led by the Spirit and use whatever means seems best for bringing a message that builds up, encourages, teaches, etc

I'm all for jumping off the lectionary bandwagon

I was trained to use the lectionary in seminary, and the church where I was an associate pastor for seven years used the lectionary almost exclusively. But for the more than a year that I've been the solo pastor of a new church start, we've been working our way through books of the Bible a chapter at a time. We started with Mark. Then for Advent, we slowed down and spent four weeks going deeply into Luke's account of the Annunciation. And for Lent we did a book study (a chapter a week of Bruce Epperly's book "Holy Adventure"). On Sunday, we'll be 18 chapters into Matthew. To me the lectionary is so episodic. In contrast, my congregation has appreciated seeing the full context of Mark, then seeing the marked contrast of how differing the Gospel story is told "according to" Matthew: http://broadviewchurch.net.

Nothing Hard And Fast About Using The Lectionary

When I first began preaching, I never thought of preaching any other way than to draw on the texts of the lectionary. I think that as I began to preach it was a discipline that served me well. It also enabled me to engage with other pastors in various tex-study groups who were preparing to preach on the same lessons, often the same passage as I was.

Nevertheless, as the years of ministry have rolled by (35+), I found myself wanting to preach a series of sermons the focused on a broader theme. I have found the greatest freedom when I have bounced between lectionary preaching and constucting a sermon series centered on a broader theme that isn't connected with the lectionary. Maybe I am trying to straddle the fence, but I think that for me, at least, that practice offers the best of both worlds.