Scripture and the Revised Common Lectionary
First 7th is a new church start focused on reaching young families who do not participate in church, and yet our worship services feature long readings of scripture chosen from the lectionary, an approach typically established with “traditional” worship and older congregations. Why do we do what we do? Here’s a quick guide to understanding how we made the decisions that we did, and how it impacts each time we gather for church.
1. A foothold for something greater.
A First 7th is intended to be a community that engages new people in powerful ways. A great way to do that is to help people encounter God as many different ways as possible during a single worship service. Every service includes visual art, music, spoken teaching, the sacraments, and scripture reading. We all respond to God in different ways, and including as many elements as we can in worship helps God reach into the hearts of different people in different ways.
2. “God speaks to us in the reading of scripture.”
When we say the words listed above, we mean them. But passages of scripture are more than just stories, lessons, or even verbatim accounts of divinely-inspired communication. Regardless of what is being said in the text, God often uses scripture to reach us through the text. Just like great works of literature are conduits for deeper, unsaid truths, the act of reading and listening to scripture opens up channels to of communication to an active, responding God.
3. Making the unknown known.
If you want people to do something, you need to model the values yourself. We want people to read, consider, and reflect over scripture, and use it as a way to better understand and communicate with God. It’s so important that we devote time in every service to doing it together.
Those are some of the most important reasons we use so much scripture in worship. The following questions will answer why we choose to work off of the lectionary texts in building our worship services.
4. What is this thing?
The Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of texts that provides a weekly recommended reading of an Old Testament selection, a psalm, a reading from the New Testament, and a reading from one of the four gospels. It is organized around the church year, the seasons of which reflect the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
5. Letting go of the wheel.
A major strength and struggle in ordering worship around the lectionary is that it forces pastors and worship leaders to give up control over much of the content of worship. It leads the entire congregation into deep reflection on intimate issues such as money, morality, trust, sacrifice, and much more. This is an important part of the ministry of the church and our role as church leaders, and letting the lectionary guide us makes sure we don’t keep ourselves stuck on comfortable shores.
6. A story big enough for God.
Most churches that don’t use the lectionary create small sermon series, packages of four or five scripture selections and messages on a common theme. They are always formed with the needs of the congregation in mind. The church leaders think, “What does the congregation need to hear, need to know about Christ, and how can we best share that message?”
That’s a great motivation and it leads to some amazing worship. While the lectionary texts don’t fit into nice, marketable packages like those, they do tell a bigger story. The texts through the season of Advent prepare us for the coming of the King. The scripture through Lent and Easter prepare us for the coming of the Kingdom. The prophets and preachers of the Old Testament share the long narrative of God’s relationship with humanity, and the writers of the New Testament help us understand how Christ recreates that relationship forever. And of course, each week we hear a gospel story, illuminating another scene of the most important life ever lived.
7. We’re in this together.
Every time we order worship through the Revised Common Lectionary, First 7th joins with thousands of other United Methodist Churches who are using the same scripture at the same time. Beyond our own denomination, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and many other communities also use the same lectionary to form their worship. We feel that it’s important that we join with the millions of other people who are encountering the same God with the same words at any given time.
I hope this was informative. Let me know if you have any thoughts, questions, or responses.