There are various lectionaries for Sunday use, the most popular among Protestants being the Revised Common Lectionary. A lectionary is simply a list of prescribed scripture readings. Most contemporary lectionaries, including the Revised Common Lectionary, follow a three year cycle for Sunday readings. But why should a pastor/priest use it?
- You may be required to and you are almost certainly not prohibited from using it.¹ If you are in a church that expects you to follow a lectionary, the other nine reasons on this list are just icing on the cake. Follow the polity of your church.
- A lectionary enables you to follow the rhythms of the church year. Even “low church” pastors see the significance of Christmas and Easter. Using the lectionary helps you build up to these and other key events in the life of the church. The seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost are all valuable didactic tools in the spiritual formation of your flock.
- Related to number 2, the lectionary provides stability in preaching. It prevents reactionary sermons to the latest crisis/fad/natural disaster.
- It provides predictability for your congregation. Yes, many of your flock will come in on Sunday morning not having given any thought to the texts for that day, but some will, if they know what is coming up. It also makes it easier for your musicians and others to plan out what will happen in the weeks to come.
- It enables collaboration in a shared pulpit. Every preacher/homilist knows not only what they are doing on their Sunday, but also what is being covered the weeks before and after.
- It enables collaboration across pulpits. If you and your fellow pastors/priests are all looking at the same texts, you can share resources, form study groups, and generally support each other.
- It simplifies resource capture. With a lectionary, it is fairly easy to file away resources for upcoming sermons. Articles, fragments from books, etc. can all be filed for future use when those readings come up in the lectionary.
- It encourages discipline in preparation. When everyone knows what the texts are for Sunday, there is no reaching back for your favorite hip-pocket sermon. These are the texts, so you must deal with them.
- It infuses your service with more scripture. If your service doesn’t follow the lectionary, consider adding the reading of all four texts to your order of worship. This will probably quadruple the amount of scripture your people hear each Sunday.²
- Finally, it prods you to preach the whole counsel of Scripture. I have never seen a lectionary that covers every chapter of every book of the Bible,³ but if you looked at what you covered in the last three years of non-lectionary preaching versus what the lectionary covers, the lectionary will have covered more ground every time.
¹ While researching on the internet, I often read contrarian views to whatever topic I’m studying. I could not find any serious anti-lectionary rhetoric, however, but merely a few posts explaining why some individuals choose not to use it, though they were not advocating that no one should.
² This is what first led me to using the lectionary. If you are concerned that reading that much scripture will cut into your sermon or the singing, you need to keep saying that out loud until the Holy Spirit brings conviction upon you for placing yourself above his word.
³ There are some passages whose absence is more glaring than others and discussions and arguments abound over what should and should not be in a lectionary. All are selective, because you only have 156 Sundays in three years. I have a dream that someday I’ll do a midweek service or teaching on texts that don’t show up in the lectionary.