6 Reasons Why I Love the Lectionary

By February 25, 2015My Thoughts

In seminary, I developed all of these ideas about preaching. Some of them were related to things I was taught in my classes, but others were things I developed by watching my classmates and other gifted preachers.

One of these ideas was that faithful preaching used lectio continua, which is preaching that works little by little through one book of the Bible at a time. Lectio continua means “continuous reading,” and that’s exactly what it is.

There are some very real benefits to lectio continua. When preaching straight through a book of the Bible, the preacher and the congregation have the opportunity to study verses in their original contexts. Thematic elements specific to that particular book of the Bible become quite evident. This method of preaching also requires preaching (or at least reading) every verse in a particular book, rather than skipping over the difficult sections.

When I first came out of seminary, all of my preaching was lectio continua. 

And I still think there is value in this method of preaching. But, something happened to me when I started preaching from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), and it transformed the way I preach and the types of sermons I prepare. I don’t think the lectionary is the only way to go, and it isn’t necessarily the best way to go for every preacher, but it has become a life-giving discipline for me.

1. Ministry is lonely. The lectionary connects the preacher to a wider community. There is something about knowing that countless pastors and priests are wrestling with the same passages of Scripture I am that strengthens and inspires me. When I’m in the solitude of my office, or dealing with the isolation that can often accompany ministry, knowing that I can call up a friend, or post a question about the weekly texts in a study group reminds me that I’m not doing this alone.

2. The lectionary pushes me outside of my comfort zone. As a young seminary student, I had the opportunity to talk to my pastor-mentor about the way he approached preaching. He said, “If it was up to me, I’d only preach from the Psalms. They are my favorite. The lectionary invites me to step out of that bias and wrestle with other texts.” Sure, there is a psalm (sometimes two) selected for every Sunday, but there are also three or four other passages given. The lectionary can force a preacher to shake it up when he or she is stuck in a rut.

3. Reading/preaching in community inspires creativity. Using the lectionary as my starting point for preaching is like having a brainstorming session with people across the miles. We can bounce ideas off of each other, be inspired at the vastly different sermons that can be preached from the same set of verses, share ideas when a colleague is stuck, and commiserate when the texts are especially difficult that week. Even though we’re located in vastly differently contexts in communities that are hundreds and thousands of miles apart, using the lectionary makes me feel like I’ve pulled up a chair at the table with many who inspire me in my faith journey.

4. There are countless resources available for study. In addition to commentaries on books of the Bible, the lectionary preacher can make use of countless online commentaries that have been created to follow the lectionary. I am particularly fond of TextWeek, which has modern commentaries, sermon prompts, links to podcasts, and even artwork that has been selected to go along with the lectionary texts for each week of the year.

5. Texts are chosen with the church year in mind. And I’m talking about more than just Lent and Advent. The texts are chosen to go with Trinity Sunday, Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, and many others. Other preaching methods can take these into account as well, but it requires months (if not a year or more) of pre-planning in order to choose texts that keep in mind all of these themes. Even though I select sermon texts months in advance, I still found it difficult, personally, to maintain lectio continua during certain seasons of the year. It was a strain for me to try to tie every text back to specific Sundays of the church year when those texts did not naturally lend themselves to those observances. This is a personal decision, but following the lectionary has helped me with this.

6. The lectionary reminds me to teach evenly from the Old and New Testaments. One of the biggest struggles I had when doing lectio continua was how to strike a balance between Old and New Testaments when preaching through a lengthy book of the Bible. If a church spends an entire year in the book of Acts, intentional efforts must be made to ensure that the congregation is also learning from the Old Testament. Should the church spend a lengthy season in the Old Testament, the same would be true for ensuring that the New Testament is read and taught from as well. Every week, the lectionary offers 4-5 texts for the week, with a balance between the Old and New Testaments. I have appreciated the weekly reminder to be reading and teaching from the whole of Scripture, and not just certain sections.

In my denomination (Reformed Church in America), following the lectionary is not mandatory. Pastors and churches have the flexibility to try other things, and I think that works well in many cases. I do not use the lectionary 100% of the time (we often do a short lectio continua series over the summer), but I have found it to be a very helpful and fruitful practice for me to use it much of the time.

Does your church use the lectionary? I’d love to hear your feedback on this.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Anna Marion Howell

    This is perfect! And I’m honored to get to take part in #3 sometimes. Across the miles and even across denominational lines, the lectionary unites us all as we seek to proclaim the Good News.

  • These are great reasons to enjoy the lectionary! Thanks for sharing them. We don’t often follow the lectionary (mostly lectio continua), but do switch to lectionary some of the time.

    • Thanks! I have found great benefit in lectio continua, too. And, I always appreciate what you and Stephen do as you select books to preach through and how you lead your congregation 🙂

  • Pingback: » 6 Reasons Why I Love the Lectionary()

  • I think #1 is the main reason I’ve enjoyed using the lectionary, and I’ve honestly never thought about it that way. I love using the lectionary because of the wider community it draws together…revealing and addressing loneliness in ministry though, wow…definitely hits the nail on the head.

    • Thanks, Greg! It was something I realized all of a sudden yesterday. I knew I enjoyed being able to talk about the upcoming Sunday with friends and colleagues, but never really understood what the deeper reason behind it was.

  • Xerepo

    It is fascinating to me to read this as this was my own experience. I am a Baptist preacher formed in Venezuela and now in Texas. I came out of seminary loving expository preaching and preaching through full books of the Bible. Then I “discovered” the RCL and spent several cycles going through it for all the same reasons you mentioned above.

    • I love this! It’s exciting to me to learn of your journey, and how it has mirrored my own with regards to preaching. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • LP

    It’s interesting for me to see arguments in favor of the lectionary. Personally, I find the lectionary to be one of the biggest turnoffs at church. There are too many readings each week for the priest to comment on all of them, and often they include some disturbing content that really needs commentary! I wouldn’t mind the lectionary if it had just one reading per week, because that would allow enough time for needed commentary.

    • LP – thanks so much for your comments! Personally, when I use the lectionary, I have one main reading. I don’t really try to work them all in. I see them as options to choose from. If the Psalm for the week is appropriate to the theme of the service, part of it might become the call to worship.

      I have never been a fan of trying to weave all the readings together. Like you said, that makes it hard to provide commentary on all that needs to be commented on. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • LP

        The way you use the lectionary, treating the readings as options to choose from, sounds great! If I lived closer to you, I would check out your church.