The Preacher’s Debate

pulpit_3027cI didn’t debate anyone over my decision to preach by the lectionary (see last post) … except myself. I thought I had some pretty strong arguments, but in the end I prevailed. How could I lose?  (Be kind…hey, I’m nice people.) Here are some of the things I thought through before deciding to move ahead with my decision.

This takes a potshot at your creativity. Come on now, John, this appeal to pride is earthy and usually effective. The truth is that I will be supplied a text, not a sermon. I’ll still study, depend on commentaries, and sermon ideas of others. Creativity has never been my strong suit anyway. I doubt that there will be any perceptible difference in this process, except I always hope to improve!

This seems Catholic. I know, it does. The Roman Catholic church does use a lectionary (one that differs from the Revised Common Lectionary). I probably delayed any interest in the lectionary because of this. (No offense, Catholic friends, but this just relates to the fact that I am not Catholic!). Once I realized what the lectionary was, this objection evaporated.

Do you know what’s happening to the denominations that follow the lectionary? They are dying. Is that your goal? This could be translated, “Are You Crazy!” Maybe, but that is not relevant to the decision. The Revised Common Lectionary was assembled by representatives from a variety of denominations, among them the most liberal. No one can deny that the most liberal denominations are dying the quickest. I don’t claim to have all the answers as to why Christianity is in a bit of a struggle these days, but I do not think it is because of the selection of texts for preaching. It could relate to the content of that preaching, but the lectionary does not direct that.

Don’t you know that the Revised Common Lectionary skips over sections of Scripture – what about that? Yes, I do know this. Knowledge is power! As I stated previously, I do not intend to be a slave to the RCL, but to use it as a tool. I am aware that texts that speak of judgment and specific sin are often left out. They are, though, nearby the selected text – and remain in my Bible- I will not pass them over.

Nobody knows what a lectionary is, it will just serve to confuse people. I’m not quite so pessimistic about the ability of people to use Google.

There go sermon series. All good preachers preach in series. Maybe they do, but my first month in the lectionary will be in the form of a series. This is grasping at straws, John!

Liturgy, lectionary, lectio continua … you’re speaking in tongues. True, high-church language is not in fashion these days.

You do not know any other Church of Christ preachers using the lectionary, do you? Of course I do. But as you know, we are an independent bunch. That argument doesn’t hold much water.

Well, I think I’ve about worn this topic out. In this post I did want anyone interested to know that I did think through some potential objections, and I did treat them seriously. I did read some blog posts by those who have been using the lectionary but were breaking free (as they saw it). That gave me some perspective as well. Looking forward to a new adventure in preaching. In working on my first sermon (early in the week, no less!) I have been energized in my studies.

First post in this series, in case you missed it:

The Preacher’s Dilemma.

Thanks for reading!

John

Related to the lectionary…

Living the Lectionary

Unlikely Conversation: A Lectionary Blog

The Text This Week

Upper Room Daily Reflections

Living a Holy Adventure

The Lectionary Lab

Lectionary Worship Resources

Pulpit Fiction

Next, a guest post from Ray Hawk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Preacher’s Decision

pulpit_3027cI have examined The Preacher’s Dilemma and The Preacher’s Direction. Now it stands to reason that it’s time to make a decision. I have made a decision for me, and that doesn’t mean that I think every preacher ought to make that same decision. Our common focus is to faithfully proclaim all of the Word of the Lord.

Now I’m going to mention the “L” word. I do not believe I ever heard it in Bible college – but I can’t swear to that. I wasn’t exactly a star student. To tell you the truth, in another point along my faith journey I would have rejected it as useless denominational  red tape. All sects have useless red tape, but the lectionary is not that.

A lectionary is a book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion (wikipedia). When you follow a “one year through the Bible” reading schedule, you are reading along with a lectionary. In our Sunday School we are following the International Sunday School Lessons as we study the Standard Lesson Quarterly. This is a lectionary, a study through the Bible in six years.   There are many lectionaries of various types. They were in existence even in ancient times before the church existed.

One lectionary used across a broad spectrum of faith families is the Revised Common Lectionary. Now if you are not familiar with the RCL, you might have a lot of questions. Click HERE for a list of frequently asked questions about the lectionary that I think will answer most of your questions.

On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.” ~Acts 13:14-15

Here are some of the reasons that I plan to begin preaching along with the RCL, starting this Sunday:

– This is a three-year preaching plan that takes my studies through the Scriptures. That is a swift enough pace to keep interest, but not too quick so as to be too light.

– I will be challenged to preach some texts I normally might be tempted to ‘save for another day’ (i.e. skip over).

– The church for which I preach deserves to hear from a wide spectrum of the Scriptures, not just me cherry-picking passages that I think might be of interest or use. Every honest preacher knows his hobby horses. Permission to dismount.

-Topical Preaching may soothe an itching ear (or allow a preacher to gin up a sermon he really likes), but it does not serve the hearer well. God’s Word is the source of real spiritual milk and meat for sustenance and growth.

– I will be joining with the faith community at large that surrounds me. Though not all churches use the RCL, many do. I will be preaching on texts being used in any number of churches throughout our city on that day. I’m sure my sermons will be flavored with the language and leanings of my heritage, but I wonder if there isn’t something powerful about the same basic message being proclaimed across a city?

– I will have at my disposal a large number of resources and information each week. With the advent of the internet, this is true no matter what text you select. However there are excellent resources for those preaching through the RCL.

– We will, at times, note the important days on the church calendar. Churches of Christ are notoriously anti-holiday. By identifying the historical observances of the events of the Bible we establish a rhythm of study and understanding of the flow of the Scriptures. Christendom is ancient and there is  body of historical insight that is of interest. Recognizing where we are on the calendar also has potential to connect us with those of the past. Many were inspirational, many were failures, above and beyond any connection with them, we can note how they attempted to follow the Christ.

– We will place our studies in the context of the life of Christ throughout the year. There is a Gospel reading for each week. Each year ends with Advent and Christmas, then begins the new year with Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and then the after-Pentecost season. Those are not all terms that we commonly use in the Churches of Christ, and I do not plan to begin using all of them. But they do at least follow the life of Christ and we will follow the text along.

– On every Monday morning I will know my text for the coming Sunday. All of my preaching friends understand the value of this.

– Since there are four texts for each week, I have a built-in Scripture reading for Sunday morning, and a potential text for my LifeGroup to study.

Here is what I do NOT plan to do:

– I do not plan to talk about the lectionary. I figure most of our members do not know what the lectionary is, nor does it matter in their everyday life. They want to study the Bible – and that is what we will be doing. (Of course all of them read this blog regularly, I tell myself, and they will now know what this lectionary talk is all about!)

– I do not plan to be enslaved to the lectionary. If we have needs that are not being addressed by the week’s text, we will put that aside and address the issues before us. If the lectionary calls my attention to a certain text, but I want to expand that text, I will feel free to do so. It is a tool to help, not a master before which I am trying to bow.

– I do not plan to abandon my Restoration Heritage. This is not an attempt to become something else religiously. It is simply a map through the Scriptures. I have no interest in adopting the practices of denominations that would feel odd to us, or even seem to be a compromise of our beliefs  I am in contact with a number of ministers in the Churches of Christ / Christian Church fellowships who are using the lectionary without becoming Methodists (No offense, my Methodist friends!).

– I do not plan to hide my use of the lectionary. I suppose that one is obvious, since I’m posting this publicly. One friend who used the lectionary did not disclose this to his church. The members of that church were amazed at how often the text of the day was the same one that their friends’ preachers had used. He wished he had been up front from the beginning and felt odd talking about it later.

– I do not plan to slavishly remain connected to the lectionary if, after a time, it seems unprofitable.

– I do not plan to list so many disclaimers that it begins to feel uncomfortable. Well, too late for that one!

In my next post I plan to share why I should not use the Lectionary, and the way I thought through those reasons.

Next post: The Preacher’s Debate

Thanks for reading!

John

 

Lectionary Resources for your Kindle

Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary by Roger E. Van Harn

Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C Volume 1 by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor

The Word is Very Near You: Feasts and Festivals. Reflections on the Lectionary Readings Years A, B and C by John Pridmore

Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today by Reginald H. Fuller

Twelve Months of Sundays Year B – Reflections on Bible Readings (Relections on Bible Readings) N. T. Wright

Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV, Vol. 2: Year B by Walter Brueggemann

Not Available for Kindle

Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: A Guide by Gail Oday and Charles Hackett

The Preacher’s Direction

 

pulpit_3027cIn my previous post, The Preacher’s Dilemma,  I suggested that there ought to be a plan that would prompt preachers to teach through the Biblical text and assist in that heavy decision of what to speak each week from the pulpit.

Preachers need direction. The problem with just drifting from series to series, topic to topic is that we are working from within the bookends of our prominent knowledge. Preachers know a lot more than they ever talk about from the pulpit, but most of us have favorite subjects. We also have those subjects we do not like to talk about very much. Without direction, we veer toward our strong suit. And that is a problem for the faithful parishioner who is hearing these messages each week. It robs them of hearing a well-rounded message spoken to the church. It is in the neglected areas of our preaching that weaknesses in the local church can develop.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. ~Hebrews 2:1

Preacher-types are as diverse a group as you can find. What inspires one will seem dismal to the other. Beyond the common convictions about the sacredness of the text, there is a great divide. Just as pulpits take different shapes and colors, every preacher over time carves out their own method for planning and preaching sermons. I am not writing to argue against that. Preaching is a most personal exercise. But if I want to escape the highly personalized selections for Sunday’s texts, I need to turn to some other means of text selection.

What I’m going to suggest will sound odd to most of my Church of Christ / Christian Church / Restoration Movement friends. I grew up as a part of the churches of Christ, attended a college associated with that fellowship, and have spent all of my Christian life within that fellowship. A group that highly values individualistic religion, whose congregations are autonomous, and who eschew evangelicalism for the most part, I have had very little acquaintance with ancient church traditions that are very common to other Christians. And yet, not so ancient that it is out of touch with contemporary needs.

“What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this: It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.” ~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones

What if there was a rhythm of reading the Scriptures that drew into sync many Christian traditions? What if that rhythm had ancient roots and that by following that path one would be observing a rich heritage of Christians and even the ancient Jews of the days before Christ? What if the selection of texts throughout the church year led you through the life of Christ each year, continuing to reinforce His central place in our hearts and in the life of the body of believers? I’m interested.

Remember, I’m not looking for something to preach outside the Scriptures. Not a bit. I’m looking for a path through the Scriptures to present them to myself for study, my church for hearing, and our lives for living.

Posts in this series:

 

The Preacher’s Dilemma.

The Preacher’s Decision.

______________
A few books recommended by readers of the last post:

Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones

Planning Your Preaching: A Step-by-Step Guide for Developing a One-Year Preaching Calendar by Stephen Nelson Rummage

And some other books of interest…

The Truth of the Cross by R. C. Sproul

Applying the Sermon: How to Balance Biblical Integrity and Cultural Relevance by Daniel Overdorf

Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look at Doubts, Plans, Hurts, Desires, Gripes, Questions, and Pleasures by Dave Sterrett

Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching by John MacArthur

 

Thanks for reading,

John

The Preacher’s Dilemma

 

pulpit_3027cI don’t know if you’ve ever considered it, but most of us preacher-types share a common weekly dilemma: what am I going to say this coming Sunday? 

There are some parameters for most of us, of course. We want what we say to be a message from God that reaches the heart of those who hear. Most of my preaching compadres are committed to the effort of presenting a message from the Bible that is true to the text. It must have ancient connections to modern struggles in order to be both biblical and relevant. The sermon needs to be something that addresses the concerns and lives of the church as it is gathered before them each Sunday.

It will have, of course, elements of the preacher’s personality scattered within. Hopefully it is presented in a lively manner so that it is not boring (although someone will always be bored, sleeping, or staring off into space!). Since this is an ongoing effort, there are attempts made to connect key teachings and doctrines over time to help develop a panoramic view of the Scriptures. In addition, one feels compelled to toss in some video illustrations, adorn the screen with power points and references, choosing appropriate backgrounds for the media-raised generations before us. But not too busy, too loud, or too distracting for the agrarian-raised generations before us. Suggestions to the worship leader for Sunday singing can be made. Sermon planning is done with much prayer, and with consideration of the loved ones in the pew. And a subscription to Homiletics Magazine.

So, it’s easy. Just do that fifty-two Sundays a year. Don’t forget your other classes, presentations, support groups, the essential blogging, and expected pastoral duties.

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

~2 Timothy 4:2-3

I think I have been presenting messages from God’s Word most every Sunday since I was a junior in Bible College (circa 1983) driving out to the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in central Mississippi. There were those five years I spent in youth and campus ministry and a couple of years working in admissions for a college (both of which required weekly lessons numbering two or three a week anyway). That doesn’t make me the most experienced minister in the room but that is roughly 30 years of preaching and teaching the Bible.

Most of it I have done at my own text and topic selection. True, there have been times when I preached through the Bible in a year. Once I subjected the church to an entire year of messages from the Sermon on the Mount. Even I wanted that series to end! I certainly have preached through specific areas of the Bible … the Gospels … the Minor Prophets … and certain books as well.

Still, many of us are making our way through the year praying, searching, sharing and generally trying to avoid sermon panic. I’m really tired of that. For those of you who have a ‘Word from the Lord’ for every week, God bless you. Sometimes when I have let busyness keep me from my studies I feel a ‘Smirk from the Lord’, but that’s not something I’m proud of.

What to do about this? Some of my ultra organized friends plan out their sermons six months or a year in advance. I wish I could do that. I’ve tried. Instead, what ends up happening is a kind variety of topics and texts woven throughout the year, sometimes with intermittent series on interesting subjects or the holidays as they occur. But I really am convicted that sermons should not be presented around the subjective whims of the preacher. Nor should parishoners be satisfied with such.

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. ~Acts 20:27

How do you know that you’re preaching the whole will of God? In my thinking there has to be a plan. Something in place that will veer me toward the passages I might otherwise not choose. Some of those hard-to-explain passages might find their way to the “preach another Sunday” file, never to emerge. And as much as my generation of preachers has bent over backwards to make the sermons relevant, seeker-sensitive, media-rich, and evangelistic, the truth is that the assembly time is for the Christian. And Christians who gather weekly have a right to expect that the Word of God is being carefully presented to them with all effort made to be clear, exhaustive, and connective.

There ought to be a plan. You won’t be surprised when I tell you that there is.

Next Post in this Series: The Preacher’s Direction. Thanks for reading!

John