Imagine the body of Christ all speaking the same thing at the same time. What a powerful message that would bring to the world.
My daughter, son-in-law and grandbabies attend a local church that is only a few miles from their home. My daughter often asks me what my sermon is about and 8 times out of 10 it is the same scripture and similar topic being presented at her congregation. She finds this fascinating; I find it affirming. This is the work of the Holy Spirit and the beauty of using—dare I say it—the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).
Have I lost you yet? Stay with me, please. Some find the idea of using the RCL as akin to cheating, or worse, not following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I used to be one of those. I used to believe my job was to evaluate and pray about the needs of the local congregation and build my sermons off the topics I believed the Holy Spirit was giving me. I preached this way for several years until it was pointed out to me some of the possible pitfalls with topical preaching. While there may be legitimate needs for topical preaching from time to time—and it works well in a small group study—the practice can lead to the following problems:
- There is a tendency to use Scripture to prove a point, rather than to interpret a verse within its full context. This can easily lead to proof-texting—finding verses to “prove” the point you are making. Even if your topic is needful and your point is valid, unless we use the verse in context, we are misusing it.
- It tends to show personal bias—the personal focus of the pastor is more evident than the centrality of Christ.
- It’s easier to avoid “difficult” topics or passages of Scripture.
- It can easily lead to a stunted understanding of the whole plan of God or the centrality of Christ.
- It’s easy to neglect using the full testimony of Scripture. For instance, I know of some who rarely, if ever, preach from the Old Testament. (A way to avoid this is to have the Old Testament passages read out loud during the worship service.
Neglecting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
One of the arguments I used to raise against using the RCL was that it stymied the Holy Spirit. I laugh at myself now at how foolish I was. I used to write my sermons out word for word—it was my way of preparation. I never read the sermon, but my notes kept me on point. When I mentioned this to a fellow pastor, he told me he believed writing the sermon out like I did kept me from allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire me while preaching. Let’s ask a few rhetorical questions:
- Does the Holy Spirit inspire us only while we are preaching?
- Is it possible the Holy Spirit can inspire during both the preparation and delivery of a message—even if they are days, weeks, months or years apart?
- Is it possible the Holy Spirit can inspire other writers to produce a sermon outline that any pastor or speaker can give on any given Sunday?
- Is it possible that the Holy Spirit can inspire people to write things (like letters to various churches) that are timeless?
- If this is true, is it possible that the Holy Spirit can inspire the development of the RCL enabling churches all over the world to use the same texts on the same weekend? How cool would that be if the Holy Spirit could do that?
Ok, sarcasm aside, I believe the point is made. GCI is one part of the body of Christ, and all the parts of the body fit together make up the whole. When we are joined to the body, we are more effective in presenting a unified message of communion to the world, and we are more in step with our participation with Jesus, who is the center of the center. Using the RCL is just one way of building that unity.
Other benefits to using the RCL
- While GCI Equipper provides a sermon—usually from the Gospel passage—there are four different scriptures each week to choose from.
- It provides a holistic (some might say systematic) way of taking you and your congregation through the Bible in a three-year plan.
- It provides you with theological insight as you delve into four different passages each week.
- It prevents pastors from nurturing a form of spiritual superiority.
- It is built on the season of the Christian year and provides themes for each week that coincide with the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It keeps reminding us Jesus is at the center of all we do and preach.
- By using an RCL sermon in Equipper, you may spend less time on sermon preparation and more time focusing on elements of the Love, Faith, and Hope avenues. You will have more time to reach out into your community, to train your leaders, to become the healthiest expression of church you can be.
- It provides a framework for children’s classes, youth classes, small group studies. https://sermons4kids.com/ This encourages family interaction.
- It provides connections to church history and to the larger body of Christ.
- By sharing each week’s theme in advance, members can be reading and studying the same passages as the pastor.
GCI does not require pastors to preach from the RCL, but we strongly encourage our pastors to follow it and preach from it the bulk of the time. Each RCL sermon in Equipper has the theme of the week. We encourage you to put the next week’s theme in the bulletin (make sure you label it “Next Week’s Sermon Theme” or something similar) or send it out on email. Even if you preach from one of the other passages, you can edit the theme accordingly. This gives study material to members and better prepares them for each week’s message.
If you still aren’t convinced, allow me to challenge you to try it for six months. That’s what I did. At the end of the six months I was absolutely convinced this was the way to move forward. And, as mentioned in the introduction, affirmation occurred as I found I was preaching the same passages as other parts of the body. Just imagine all the congregations of GCI preaching the same themes each week. Talk about being in communion. Some will find that fascinating; most of us will find it affirming.
Anticipating more communion in GCI,
20 thoughts on “One Body, One Voice”
Well “argued” points for the use and value of the RCL. I occasionally still shudder at the way we used to butcher (in fact dishonor) the Bible when opting to deliver topical sermons. The old saying still goes-“A Text without a context is just a pretext for what we want it to mean…”.
I’m sold on it! I also find that, even if I don’t use the sermon GCI provides, preaching from the block of RCL scriptures is so easy! I often read online 5 or 6 articles on the set of scriptures and that provides the accompanying material! The congregation seems to appreciate my “unpacking the scriptures” and highlighting areas that they had simply read over and not noticed before.
I attend a bible study called Bible Study Fellowship which is worldwide even International and we all have the same lessons weekly with a lecture. I have friends in different cities that attend and it is so encouraging and inspiring to talk with each other through the week in our study. We spend between 28-32 weeks in a book or like this year we are doing the book of Acts with Paul’s letters.
I love that we can be on the same page and see a powerful work of the Holy Spirit keeping us so connected. Thank you for this excellent article. Thelma Davies, Bellflower Congregation\
Excellent explanation Rick.
This is exciting!! I grew up in a church that followed the RCL. Some may think it dull but I think there is a tradition that puts Jesus at the center of it. Thanks for sharing this message.
Well said Rick, well said. I’ve been using RCL sermons for over 20 years. Often members told me they thought it neat when they came across other churches using the same scriptures and concepts. It also aides the Worship Leaders in preparing hymns supporting the same theme. Many pastors, including myself, often waited until the end of the week to prepare. It was always neat when the hymns and the sermons went hand in hand. Now, using the RCL’s, it happens most every week!
I appreciate the SOL does the same.
I couldn’t do my job responsibly without it. The RCL.
It amazes me how the Holy Spirit works through us.
Ah yes it all makes sense now.God certainly knows what He is doing.Thank you for this insight!
I was uncomfortable at first with the RCL, but I have grown to appreciate the benefits of the service provided by headquarters, especially the unity that it fosters.
F Daniel Graham
The other benefit of the RCL is it places the desired emphasis on the inspired cannon. For instance there is a reason why there are four gospels as it tells us where our emphasis should be, on the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. By working our way through the canon over a three year period we get in alignment with the inspired emphasis that comes from reading all of scripture rather than on our own personal preferences and subjects.
You make a number of excellent points about the benefits of using the RCL. I would just point out that the use of the RCL has some of the same drawbacks you listed for topical preaching, namely:
1. “It’s easier to avoid “difficult” topics or passages of Scripture”. The RCL makes a point of avoiding difficult passages by leaving them out. (In I Corinthians, for example, the following verses are not read: 3:12-15; 4:6-21; 5:1-6a, 9-13; 6:1-11; 7:1-28, 32-40; 9:1-15; 10:14-22, 23-33; 11:1-22, 27-34; 14:1-40; 15:39-41)
2. “It’s easy to neglect using the full testimony of Scripture.” The RCL neglects most of the Bible. Only 8.4% of the Old Testament is read over 3 years; and 50% of the New Testament (64% of the four gospels). (Source: “Liturgy Canada”, Vol XI, Issue 1, Michaelmas, 2005).
The remedy for this is to switch up and preach through entire books of the Bible from time to time. Expository preaching is an under-rated alternative.
When you get to be 86 years of age and in poor health you will further be surprised at how your thoughts change. When we read 2nd Cor 12:9 we thought we understood what was being said. Now that our restrictions are intensified we understand that living through it broadens our horizon on God’s strength being sufficient for us, the present being more God than us, the future on the other side of resurrection day #1 being all God Who allows us to enjoy our inheritance. It is one thing to learn something academically, it is another thing to learn something by living through it.
Thank you Pastor Shallenberger.
I was a “rebel pastor” when it came to using the RCL until I realized that sermon preparation is a lot easier when the Holy Spirit shows us what He wants us to see through the scriptures. Many of our random personal issues are answered by the Word of God no matter how difficult we may think they are. Jesus is the answer; now, what’s the question?
Thanks for writing. I agree that the RCL also makes in easier to avoid difficult topics because four scriptures are given each week. The idea, of course, is that all four are read and tied together during a worship service. This gives members more exposure to Scripture and prevents avoidance of some. BTW, I’m not sure why the passages in 1 Corinthians would be considered difficult scriptures. We encourage pastors to read the context of the RCL passage – this is good exegesis. However, preaching through entire books is more applicable to discipleship classes than a weekly worship service. Every worship service should be focused on the centrality of Christ – preaching through a book can become more of a history lesson. I realize I am generalizing, but just to make a point. When you are preaching through a book, you often lose people who aren’t in attendance each week. If a visitor comes in, there is a good chance they will feel a bit lost – and they are not going to be inclined to listen online to the rest of the series. We have spent years preaching to the choir (internally focused) and not preaching with new members and new believers in mind (externally focused). Using the RCL will have the drawback of not covering large passages of Scripture – any preaching style will do that. If you preach through books, you may only get through 5-8 books in a year. In a three year period, maybe 15-25 books. But there are 66 in the Canon. The RCL gives a more balanced diet. Can I challenge you to try it for six months? It’s been a blessing to many of our congregations.
Many blessings, Rick
Couldn’t agree more.
We in Charlotte have used RCL for years now. Not only are the RCL and GCI sermon great resources especially for times when there is no time or no clear inspiration, but the progression of moving through sections of scripture helps to bring clarity to the point of the whole story piece by piece.
The Holy Spirit seems many times to be weaving the whole service together in ways that were not planned but revolve around the scripture and theme. Totally reinforces our spiritual experience.
(In response to your reply to my comment) Great points! I fully agree. I should clarify that we used the RCL for about ten years (reading all four scriptures as part of the service) as well as a sermon. I found preaching through the books of the Bible a refreshing change up. I spent less time wondering what to speak about and more time preparing my sermon.
My only point is that the RCL has its limitations as well. I am sure that congregations who have never used the RCL will find the change refreshing and inspiring.
You asked which difficult topics are omitted in the I Corinthian readings. I was quoting “difficult” from your article, perhaps the word “contentious” would be better: the issue of church discipline (5:1ff); Christians suing one another (not uncommon in our litigious age) (6:1ff); divorce and remarriage (7:1ff); tongues (14:1ff). These are topics that should be addressed, but are often avoided because they are uncomfortable. Other verses are difficult in the sense that they are subject to different interpretations and so are (understandably) avoided: e.g. the question of purgatory (3:12ff); head coverings (9:1ff); resurrection bodies (15:39ff).
Great article. I am a true believer in the RCL.
Love the article Rick. I am sold on the RCL and have seen the Holy Spirit take the same message and enhances it to meet the needs of each congregation. Nothing limits what the Holy Spirit can do.