Lectionary Pros and Cons

For most of my ministry I have been a solo pastor and had the daunting privilege of preaching from week to week … to week … to week.

Like most preachers, sometimes I got into a groove for a few weeks where I believed the Holy Spirit was moving through the preaching process and then there were others times I felt as if reading the TV Guide might be more enlightening than anything I could force onto a page on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Keeping fresh and energized about one’s preaching is hard work.

Loving the congregation and taking the time to prepare are both vital, but I also found some mechanical strategies just as important. For me, the structure with which I organized my preaching was crucial.

The three structures that I have used are as follows:

The Revised Common Lectionary — A set of texts that are used by churches around the world to shape and form daily and weekly life. The lectionary is a three-year cycle that is meant to provide a sweeping survey of the entire Bible. 

A Topical Series — A set of consecutive Sundays where you dive into a particular theme or set of questions. Topics can take on a variety of topics from social issues to congregational processes to a liturgical season.

A Verse by Verse Series — A series of Sundays where one book of the Bible is broken up into manageable and appropriate parts and each week’s worship is framed around that section of the book.

There is, of course, no right or wrong answer to any of this as you can tell from this link to a Facebook thread: To Lectionary or Not To Lectionary.
Some preachers will lean toward one structure and rhythm and some will lean toward the other. There are pros and cons to each for sure. As you think about your own past and future practices, let me offer just a few pros and cons for each structure. I am giving these to you in tweetable 140 character morsels. Just cut and paste if you want to share on Twitter.

LECTIONARY PRO – Forces you to preach on a breadth of Biblical texts; many resources to help in planning – @breyeschow via @WorkingPreacher

LECTIONARY CON – Important/difficult passages aren’t included, nor do you get to dive into any one book – @breyeschow via @WorkingPreacher

TOPICAL SERIES PRO – You choose to take on difficult passages and target specific needs of a community – @breyeschow via @WorkingPreacher

TOPICAL SERIES CON – Tend to preach within a comfort zone and can leave out a breadth of Biblical texts – @breyeschow via @WorkingPreacher

VERSE BY VERSE PRO – You dive deeply into one section of Scripture: history, context, implications, etc. – @breyeschow via @WorkingPreacher

VERSE BY VERSE CON – Can feel forced if not prepared and assumes weekly attendance by congregation – @breyeschow via @WorkingPreacher

This is not an exhaustive list of pros and cons by any means, just a few thoughts to get you thinking about your preaching structure and rhythm. Interruptions in the life of the church, your own understanding about how God is calling you to lead a congregation and your own personality should all be taken into consideration when thinking about the planning and proclamation.

Still, as you think about what you will do, I believe the most important thing is to avoid getting into a preaching rut is not being overly wed to a single structure or pattern.

Preach on, preachers!