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lynne baab: using the lectionary

Recently someone asked me if it is possible to use the lectionary and also preach expositionally. I have served in associate roles in two churches where the lectionary was used part, or all, of the time and where the preaching was largely expositional. I preached once every month or six weeks in both churches, so I saw the process from the inside.

In both churches, the sermon usually focused primarily on one of the lectionary passages and would expound the passage and try to apply it to life today. In both places, sermons were 20-25 minutes. Few sermons attempted to discuss all the lectionary passages for the day, although sometimes the preacher would refer to one (or two) of the other passages, if it related in some way to the main passage. Very occasionally, if two or three of the passages fit together in an interesting way, the preacher might talk about those two or three passages equally, but still have one main point to the sermon.

One of the churches always used the lectionary. The minister there treated the lectionary readings like a series of sermons. He always preached on the Gospel passages during Lent and then always preached on the Acts passages between Easter and Pentecost. Other times of the year, he might choose to preach on the Old Testament passages, or the Epistle passages for several weeks or months in a row. So, for example, when Galatians appears in the lectionary, he might choose to preach only from Galatians in the weeks it is there. Or Esther. Or Isaiah.

He usually let the congregation know ahead of time what he was doing. The lectionary passages were advertised in advance on the church website and in the newsletter, and he would often say, I’m going to be focusing on Galatians for the next few weeks, so when you read the lectionary passages ahead of time, be sure to read that passage carefully.

This practice doesn’t cover the whole book of Galatians, Esther, or Isaiah, but it’s not a lot different from a sermon series that picks a few significant passages from a long book of the Bible, which is a common practice in some churches with expositional preaching.

In the other church where I served, the senior minister used the lectionary during Lent and Advent. (For the rest of the year, he planned sermon series based on books of the Bible, and occasionally on topics.) In that church, the sermons during Lent and Advent might draw on the Gospel passage one week and the Old Testament passage the next week. But just like in the other church, most sermons focused on only one lectionary passage and addressed the passage expositionally.

I’ve seen varied practices about which passages are read aloud when only one of them is going to be preached on. Sometimes I’ve seen all three passages read out loud. Anyway how can it hurt to have Scripture read aloud? Other places, only the passage that would be preached on, plus perhaps one other one that was going to be mentioned, would be read aloud.

I like the lectionary because it exposes a congregation to wide swaths of the Bible in a three-year rotation rather than the preacher’s favorite passages, which happens all too often. And because the lectionary is widely available online (for example, the ‘Revised Common Lectionary’ used in many Protestant denominations –, congregation members can easily read the passages ahead, and preachers can confer with other preachers who are engaging with the same texts.

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Lynne M. Baab teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago. She is a Presbyterian minister and the author of numerous books, including Reaching Out in a Networked World, Sabbath Keeping and Fasting. Many of her articles and information about her books can be found on her website:

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