Pastor Explains: Revised Common Lectionary

Our congregation, for the most part, uses the “Revised Common Lectionary“, to choose our readings for each Sunday worship. You can read about the history and other frequently asked questions on the RCL here. But for this edition of “Pastor Explains”, I’d like to focus on why we use the Revised Common Lectionary. And why sometimes we don’t.

Why We Use the Revised Common Lectionary

1. There’s Spirit in this process

Part of the Revised Common Lectionary is trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in the whole system. I hope and trust that just as the Spirit is with me in my sermon preparation, the Spirit guided the creators of the RCL so that the scripture that should be read on a particular Sunday is likely the right one.

How many times have you thought that your pastor MUST have chosen the scripture texts based on something going on in the world that week? It’s true, that sometimes congregations and pastors will change the texts to better speak to issues of the day.

But honestly, it’s rare I’ve felt the need. In fact was is far more likely is in the middle of my sermon preparation me turning to my husband and declaring that the lectionary creators were fortune tellers. That somehow the text for this Sunday fits PERFECTLY with what’s going on. How did they manage that?

Well…that’s probably a Holy Spirit thing.

2. It’s not as repetitive as you think

Okay to be fair, there will be some repetition. The lectionary is a three year cycle, and so every three years the same texts will come up. But the truth is, even if the congregation only ever does the Gospel reading, both you and your pastor will find something new and different in the text.

That’s part of our believe that scripture is the living word of God. It’s living and breathing and our understanding of it can change. It’s not just pastors who hear the same words differently, but hopefully you do as well!

3. It pushes your pastor, while still giving options

There are lots of Sundays where I am super mad about the texts. The year of Matthew is a great example of this. The Gospel of Matthew is often a difficult task for your pastor. Parables of furnaces and gnashing teeth. And in the middle of the summer of Matthew, I would love a break from all those hard lessons on discipleship.

This is why in some congregations that don’t always follow the RCL you’ll notice you might hear the same handful of scripture texts over and over again. Why deal with the difficult text from Matthew that seems to be written for a sermon on sexual harassment? Especially when the Good Samaritan or the Woman at the Well stories are just waiting in the wings.

And don’t get me wrong – I LOVE those stories. But when I was on internship, somehow those texts came up in at least half of the sermon series.

The RCL pushes your pastor to wrestle with texts that aren’t always easy, and if you’re in a congregation like we are that uses all four lectionary texts (an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel), there are LOTS of options for directions to take the text.

Why Sometimes We Don’t Use the RCL

1. It does miss huge chunks of the bible

And yes, some of those chunks better fit in after-worship adult education. Sometimes it’s better to quarrel with the book of Daniel in a small group. And it’s true, a sermon on an obscure story from Genesis isn’t always filled with Gospel.

But sometimes the Spirit calls us to preach on other pieces from our scriptures that otherwise we would miss if we were entirely committed to only the RCL. It might not happen this month, but I do think there is a place for the Narrative lectionary or other kinds of sermon series focused on the scriptures that the lectionary or our own preferences often leave out.

2. Logistics

Truthfully sometimes our readings change away from the RCL simply because of the logistics of a worship service. For instance, our Small Seeds kids Sundays usually will have one less reading, and they may have the readings changed to better suit the worship experience. Sometimes we shorten or lengthen the readings to better equip the message.

And honestly, sometimes it’s necessary for the readings to better relate to the events of the worship. It’s rare, but it does happen.

3. There’s Spirit in this process

And sometimes, the Holy Spirit is just moving around and things need to be changed. It doesn’t happen often that as a pastor I feel the need to change the texts based on the direction of the sermon – but it has happened. This summer there was a Gospel reading from Matthew about the weeds and the wheat. It was a parable filled with judgment and furnaces.

In my preparation, in my prayers, Daniel chapter 3 kept popping into my mind. I was drawn to the three Israelites thrown into a furnace, and to God’s action there.


Yes, we use the Revised Common Lectionary in our congregation for most Sundays. And I personally am a big believer in the importance of working with this calendar.

Because yes our congregation reads these texts each Sunday, and so do congregations all over the world. Together we read the same words from God, and together we experience the Holy Spirit working in those words.

And…sometimes we’ll be doing something totally different. And guess what? The Spirit is there too!

Do you have a topic you’d like to see Pastor Megan write about for “Pastor Explains”? Comment below or let her know!

Pastor Megan Filer

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