5 Reasons to Consider Using the Lectionary

June 12th, 2011

The lectionary has gotten a bum rap. First of all, lectionary is one of the worst-sounding words on the planet. It’s as if someone took two of the most boring things imaginable, a lecture and a dictionary, and combined them. In fact, I can’t think of a term more deserving of eradication from the vocabulary of the church, except maybe Sunday school. (I’m not against the idea of Sunday school, but if you’re an unchurched teenager and someone tells you they’re taking you to a place where there’s school on Sunday, what are you going to think?)

The lectionary, like many other things in the contemporary church, has been the victim of shoddy marketing, but the reality is, the lectionary hasn’t always been executed well either. And today’s megachurch culture with its needs-based marketing and current preferences for sermon series has made the lectionary seem like an antiquated relic from mainline church history.

But even with those things working against it, I believe the lectionary is a buried treasure, waiting to be discovered. Here’s why I like it:

  • The lectionary exposes congregations to scriptures that their pastors might not normally preach on. When’s the last time your pastor preached through Isaiah? If you’re a pastor, would Isaiah be your first choice to use for a sermon? The lectionary will take you down roads less traveled, to those places you might not go as quickly on your own.
  • The lectionary makes sermons more Bible-to-life than life-to-Bible. There’s nothing wrong with mixing your methods up a little from time to time, but I know that as a writer who preaches and teaches on occasion, I find it refreshing to pull apart a passage of Scripture and see what it might be saying to my audience today rather than going to Scripture with a preconceived idea of what I want to preach about and finding verses to back up my established viewpoint. With life-to-Bible preaching, sometimes we tell God what we want him to say before we give him a chance to speak.
  • Lectionary sermons can be topical. The topical preaching vs. lectionary preaching dichotomy is a myth. Lectionary sermons can be practical, topical, hard hitting messages. They don’t have to be drawn-out expositions or watered down feel-good homilies. Granted, the lectionary doesn’t work as well with sermon series, but I think it’s possible that those are overblown in the first place. Television networks moved away from mini-series years ago because people weren’t watching them anymore. Do you know anyone who would be more likely to visit a church because the pastor is speaking for four weeks on marriage instead of one week? Neither do I. I believe sermon series are popular in megachurches partly because they help churches consolidate marketing costs.
  • The lectionary provides opportunities to create synergy between churches. Not that most lectionary-based churches are actually doing this, mind you, but it’s a nice dream, isn’t it? Think about it, if mission-minded churches around the world really got together and focused on excellent preaching using the same Bible texts each week, that could become a cultural phenomenon in itself!
  • The lectionary emphasizes the Christian year. My non-denominational evangelical friends in college thought I was Catholic because I observed Lent. That’s because many of the cutting-edge churches don’t do much with the liturgical calendar. That’s unfortunate, because I believe the Christian year is a rich resource that, if used correctly, can add a sense of variety, beauty and discipline to worship. As with the lectionary, I think the stigma attached to the liturgical year in many evangelical circles can be blamed on poor execution in mainline churches and lousy PR.

Following the church calendar and lectionary doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. I believe all churches could benefit from trying it-- because it can be done well.

Question: If your church is already using the lectionary, how might it do a better job at execution and marketing?


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