Pastors and church leaders can naturally provide structure and sustenance to each weekly church service when you use the Lectionary to create powerful worship experiences all year long.
I will never forget a particular lecture in seminary many years ago. In a course on worship, the professor wrote the number “52” on a white board. He circled it and then just stood there for a moment before commenting on its meaning for us. After his dramatic pause, he began to describe the challenge the worship leader faces in planning creative, vibrant, God-honoring worship services, Sunday after Sunday, for 52 Sundays every year (not counting Christmas Eve and other occasional services)!
That is the challenge for anyone responsible for planning worship in the local church.
Scripture Within Worship Experiences
In addition to this daunting task, worship planners are called to steward the gospel, the story of redemption, through the various elements of worship that we choose each week. Within this task, there is an inherent responsibility of stewarding the Word of God.
With this in mind, I have noticed an interesting dynamic in the life of the church over the years. Ironically, in a tradition that highly values the centrality of the gospel and the Word of God, many evangelical churches do not actually have much Scripture woven into the fabric of their worship services.
Churches may have Scripture passages projected and made available during the preaching of the Word, but that may be the only place where Scripture is read aloud. Additionally, it is either read by the pastor or another leader in the church, not in a participatory way by the congregation as a whole.
Why I Started Using The Lectionary In Worship Services
In the Spring of 2018, to help remedy this situation, I began to craft my own worship aids based on the Scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday in the Christian Year. The Revised Common Lectionary is a collection of readings from the Bible for use in Christian worship, and is organized into three-year cycles of readings. The years are designated A, B, or C. Each yearly cycle begins on the first Sunday of Advent.
Though my church does not follow the Lectionary in its preaching, I have found that it provides an intentional structure from which to craft Scripture-based calls to worship, prayers, and affirmations of faith. Thus, our congregation is feasting on the gospel and the Word of God, not only during the preaching, but throughout our worship service as we use the Lectionary.Church leaders have the daunting task of planning at least 52 worship experiences every year. Using the Lectionary provides an intentional structure from which to craft Scripture-based calls to worship, prayers, and affirmations of… Click To Tweet
To provide structure and sustenance as you plan 52 Sunday services every year, discover 3 meaningful ways to use the Lectionary to create powerful worship experiences.
The Lectionary can serve as:
(1) A weekly guide for crafting various elements of worship
(2) An annual guide for following the seasons of the Christian Year
(3) An ecumenical resource that fosters a sense of community with the church at large
1. A Weekly Guide For Crafting Various Elements Of Worship
Over the years, I have utilized many of the Lectionary-based resources available through books, journals, and liturgical planning calendars. I have found it creative and edifying to use the Lectionary in worship services by incorporating readings and prayers. Above all, utilizing these resources throughout the Christian Year is a way to tell God’s story and offer our people a healthy diet of the Scriptures and prayer.
Russell Mitman’s book, Worship in the Shape of Scripture, played an important role in inspiring me to craft my own calls to worship, prayers, and affirmations of faith. I have made these worship aids available through a resource I have titled Lectionary Journey.
Below is an example from Lectionary Journey for the First Sunday in Lent (Year B):
Sample Of The Lectionary For A Powerful Worship Experience
1 Peter 3:18-22
Call To Worship
Psalm 25:1, 8-10
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Prayer Of Renewal
Based on Psalm 25:5-7; Mark 1:12
Holy God, we thank you for keeping your covenant with us,
for you are a God of mercy and steadfast love
who does not remember the sins of our youth or our transgressions.
By your grace, would you lead us in your truth,
and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation.
As you were sustained in the wilderness for forty days,
may we be filled with the Spirit when the enemy tempts us.
Protect us and keep us that we would follow you and flee from sin.
In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Affirmation of Faith
Based on 1 Peter 3:18-22
What do we believe regarding our salvation and baptism?
We believe that Christ suffered for sins once for all,
the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God.
We believe that baptism, which the flood prefigured, now saves us—
not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
When To Use The Lectionary In Service
- Call to Worship could be used after an initial welcome, inviting the congregation to sing and respond to God whose paths are “steadfast love and faithfulness.”
- Prayer of Renewal could follow a couple of opening songs, asking the Lord: “Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation.”
- Affirmation of Faith could follow the sermon, providing a way for us to proclaim the nature of our salvation. We state that Christ “suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God.”
- That affirmation could be followed by a song of response, putting an exclamation point on the sermon, the affirmation, or both.
As an example, I’ve included a video of me leading the above Prayer of Renewal for the First Sunday in Lent with our congregation in Florida.
2. An Annual Guide For Following The Seasons Of The Christian Year
The Lectionary can also serve as an annual guide for following the seasons of the Christian Year. The seasons can inspire creativity by providing different themes to celebrate throughout the 12 months.
The life of Christ – His role in creation, His birth, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, and future return – is at the heart of the story of redemption. In worship we remember and appropriate these events and realities. We do this, in part, by following the cycles and seasons of the Christian Year.
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Remembering Christ’s Story During The Cycles and Seasons
- During Advent and Christmas we retell and reorient ourselves around the reality that God put on flesh and walked among us.
- Throughout Epiphany we tell about his manifestation to the world, recalling the Magi, his baptism in the Jordan River, and his transfiguration. These services offer the opportunity for an Advent wreath and candles to accompany the Scripture readings, symbols that act as meaningful visual aids to our worship.
- On Palm Sunday we sing and shout “Hosanna!” to the King of kings; however, we also remember the irony of this day as Jesus wept over Jerusalem for her blindness and hardness of heart. We walk through the sobering events of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion on Good Friday.
- We rise on Easter Sunday to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the hope of new life. These services offer us the opportunity to involve the children (Palm Sunday processional); to remember the agony of cross (in a contemplative Tenebrae service on Good Friday); and a joyful, vibrant celebration of the resurrection (with a full band and orchestra on Easter Sunday).
- Though it is the forgotten festival among many evangelicals, many congregations recognize the Ascension and the reality that Christ is now at the right hand of the Father interceding and advocating for his people.
- We remember the day of Pentecost, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit in power to the church. In other words, it is a time to remember the third person of the Trinity who empowers, comforts, fills, and guides us, the people of God.
As a result, we are formed and transformed over time by the spiritual realities of a living, sanctifying God. With the daunting task of crafting weekly services, these seasons offer variety and creativity from Sunday to Sunday throughout the Christian Year.The Lectionary is both a weekly guide for planning various elements of worship and an annual guide for following the seasons of the Christian Year. During Advent, Epiphany, Palm Sunday, and other seasons, we purposefully reflect on… Click To Tweet
3. An Ecumenical Resource That Connects Us With The Church At Large
Finally, following the Lectionary not only serves as a weekly and an annual guide for our worship, but it also connects us with the larger body of Christ. We may identify other churches in our local community that follow the Lectionary and hold weekly gatherings to brainstorm and share resources for upcoming services. In addition, we can utilize the many ecumenical resources already available for us in worship, like Feasting on the Word: Worship Companion and Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship.
At the very least, we can remind our congregation of the communal aspect of using Lectionary in the worship service. As we participate in corporate prayer on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, or in sing a carol on the Third Sunday of Advent, or read a Scripture on Pentecost Sunday, we are proclaiming the gospel along with others. We are joining our voices with those around the world and across the centuries who have retold this gospel story each week as they followed the Lectionary in their worship.
For further resources or to find out more about his ministry, visit Rhythm of Worship.