Preaching with the lectionary

This article is from GCI Equipper editor, Ted Johnston.

Ted Johnston

A challenge faced by all preachers is choosing the passage of Scripture (pericope) they will preach from. In GCI, we urge preachers to choose one or more of the passages specified for each week in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). An important and helpful feature of the RCL is the way it tracks with the Christian worship (“liturgical”) calendar. Here is a related comment from Fuller Studio (part of Fuller Theological Seminary):

The liturgical calendar spans the life of Christ in a single year—from anticipation (Advent), to hope (Christmas), to transcendence (Epiphany), to lament (Lent), to redemption (Easter), to the birth of the church (Pentecost), and through long, numbered days (Ordinary Time) back to Advent.

The liturgical year as followed in the RCL 
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Following the RCL in our preaching aligns our sermons with the liturgical calendar. It that way our sermons stay focused on Jesus as, through the course of the year, we look again at his birth, presentation at the Temple, baptism, temptation in the wilderness, transfiguration, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit. In that way, our sermons are shaped by the story of Jesus, rather than by some other story. Our sermons then show our congregants how Jesus’ story is their story, and from that perspective then address their particular life situations.

Some preachers object that following the RCL would stifle their flexibility in addressing topics they see as more relevant/needful for their congregations. While their concern is understandable, it’s important to realize that the Christ-centered and gospel-shaped way to address individual-situational needs is to start not with the need itself, but with the truth of the gospel. This approach is seen in Paul’s epistles, where he begins by proclaiming the gospel and then (and only then) identifying a particular issue (challenge, problem, sin), showing how the gospel points to the solution. Following the RCL in our preaching leads us to, even necessitates, this approach.

Another advantage of following the RCL is that the preacher will have their preaching plan for the year (and beyond) laid out in advance. This is helpful not only to the preacher, but also to other members of the worship team—worship leaders, musicians, the folks who prepare the weekly bulletin, etc. Following the RCL also helps multiple preachers in a congregation follow the same plan, thus leading to continuity of message over time.

To assist preachers in following the RCL, GCI publishes RCL-synced sermons in each issue of EquipperFor some preachers, these sermons are a resource to inform the writing of their own sermons addressing the RCL passages assigned for that week. Other preachers use these sermons directly, adding illustrations and applications specific to their context. To learn more about following the RCL in your preaching, click here.

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