Using the RCL

Participating in a three-year plan to preach through the Bible

By Bill Hall, National Director for Canada

I still remember the day 21 years ago when I started in my first pastorate. In my discussions with the outgoing pastor, he mentioned that it would be beneficial to meet with some pastors from other denominations who got together each Wednesday morning at the local coffee shop to discuss the Bible. So, the next Wednesday morning I went to the coffee shop, and gazing around the crowded tables, I saw a group of 5 men and women sitting at a table near the back of the restaurant. I walked up to them, introduced myself as the new pastor in our town, and was welcomed into the group.

I quickly found out the group wasn’t just discussing the Bible, they were analyzing the scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary for next Sunday.

One my first questions was, “what is the Revised Common Lectionary?” They explained that the RCL were passages of scriptures that were assigned for reading in many churches that followed the themes and seasons of the Christian Liturgical Calendar.

The RCL is based on a three-year cycle. The gospel readings in the first year (Year A) are taken from the Gospel of Matthew, those in the second year (or Year B) from the Gospel of Mark, and in the third year (or Year C) from the Gospel of Luke. Portions of the Gospel of John are read throughout Eastertide, and are also used for other liturgical seasons including Advent, Christmastide, and Lent where appropriate.[1] (The website: http://www.commontexts.org/rcl/ contains exhaustive articles on the origins and use of lectionaries since the fourth century.)

This lectionary study group became my anchor each week as we discussed the significant passages of scripture for the following week. In the process, we would craft a sermon for the next Sunday as a team. We would share the latest book we read on a particular passage, how we had preached the topic in the past, or a new insight we gained from some of the many RCL resources available.

In time we found ourselves writing a common sermon that spoke to our larger community with the nuances of each pastor’s particular denomination added in.

While my lectionary study group disbanded after about four years because group members moved out of the community, I learned many lessons that I apply today in preaching through the RCL.

Allow me to share a few of those lessons:

  1. I always survey the various lectionary resources available (see below) (including those found in the Equipper and “Speaking of Life” https://equipper.gci.org/) before I begin crafting a message. For me this takes the place of my former Lectionary Study Group. Something often jumps out at me from this investigative process and enables me to bring in additional stories or thoughts.
  2. I find it useful to concentrate on one passage of scripture (usually from the Gospel reading) from the four scriptures listed for a Sunday. If the topic lends to it, add one or two other scripture passages that fit with your message. It is preferable to not use all four RCL scriptures in your sermon.
  3. Following the RCL doesn’t mean you can’t do more in-depth studies of a particular book of the Bible from time to time. This is especially true during “Ordinary” time or when the Lectionary is featuring an Old Testament book or an Epistle over a number of weeks.
  4. One should always consider the needs of the congregation when crafting your messages. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in selection of passages and themes.
  5. Remember all resources have a bias. Often the tradition of a particular writer or resource will come out in their material.
  6. Reflect on the significance and power of reading and preaching of the same verses, on the same day, as others of the greater body of Jesus.

Finally, I have found the RCL to be a good guide through the ebbs and flows of my congregations as we follow the Christian Calendar from the birth of Jesus to his glorious return.

Resources:

  1. https://www.workingpreacher.org/ Features commentaries, and podcast
  2. https://www.ministrymatters.com/ A number of ministry resources including Lectionary resources
  3. “Looking Into The Lectionary” by Jill Duffield: https://pres-outlook.org/ Weekly Blog
  4. http://www.davidlose.net/ Weekly Blog
  5. http://www.textweek.com/ A compilation of a variety of Lectionary Resources from many sources
  6. http://day1.org/ Radio messages and scripts that follow the Lectionary
  7. https://wordtoworship.com/ Lists lectionary passages with suggested hymns
  8. https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu// Many lectionary resources including PowerPoint slides
  9. https://asermonforeverysunday.com/ Downloadable sermon videos and scripts based on the RCL

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Common_Lectionary

One thought on “Using the RCL”

  1. Thanks Rick, I think that you gave us excellent reasons for using the RCL. I will (continue to) use it as I’m Spirit led to do so. I only speak once a month and to this point, in my blessed circumstance, Holy Spirit has led me to speak on topics that members of our fellowship have asked me to speak on, exciting subjects from our Your Included’s, a direct request from Greg or my pastor, etc. and topics that HE has revealed that our fellowship deeply needs. For example, I was moved to speak on Trinitarian prayer using Jesus’ outline. The message series started with “Our Father” and at the end of the sermon, a member stated that for 2 years now ( since a daughter died in a car accident) the member had not been able to pray or study the Bible but did read a daily devotional. The member then stated that the message would now cause this deeply hurting parent to use the term Father at the beginning of the devotional reading. I almost wept out loud when several months later (while I was still giving what had now turned into a series on Trinitarian Prayer) prayed openly for a friend and began the prayer with “Father”! It is truly amazing how the messages normally fit with the Speaking of Life videos and usually at least one of the RCL scriptures. I do follow the RCL series when ever a special event is to occur on my speaking week, such as Christmas season, Pentecost, Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, ascension, etc. I know that if I were a bi-vocational pastor then I would most likely follow the RCL much more closely. It is truly a great blessing to have this tool. I also deeply appreciate the example of you getting together with other speakers which all our speaking teams could be emulating as I was discussing with Randy (Bloom) while we were reflecting on Holy Spirit leading our denomination to emphasize the concept of Healthy Churches. Thanks again Rick and keep “equipping” us!
    Tony

Leave a Reply