The Benefits of a Lectionary-Based Curriculum
You can also download a printer-friendly version of this article.
A. Why Use the Lectionary as the Basis for Creating Curriculum?
Integrates Worship and Education
This is the number one reason we chose to use the lectionary. Author and lecturer John Westerhoff had suggested that one of the main reasons we were losing our youth is that education and worship are so totally separate. When young people attend worship it is a foreign environment and most cannot make the transition from the close, free, lively atmosphere of their education programs, to the formality of adult worship. To remedy this, two changes were needed. Christian education programs needed to prepare children and youth for full participation in the worshiping community, and worship needed to be designed with the needs of children and youth as an important component. Lectionary-based curricula facilitate this as children, youth, and adults are all learning and worshiping focused on the same passages. It puts clergy in touch with the content of Christian Education in a way not possible before (without hours and hours of reading).
Adult Study Greatly Enriches Worship Experience
Those in Adult Study groups who have wrestled together with the lectionary passages prior to Sunday worship report that worship has suddenly taken on a much greater depth of meaning. From the Call to Worship onward they recognize how the worship has been crafted to lift up the passages of the day in hymns, prayers, responses, etc. But most important of all, they just can’t wait to hear what the clergy have to say about these passages! (Read more about the Seasons of the Spirit Adult resources.)
The Lectionary Structure Encourages a Holistic Approach to Scripture
If you did not miss worship during the 3-year cycle of readings you would have heard most of the major passages of the Bible read as scripture readings. This is a much more holistic approach to scripture than in the past where it was possible to use passages that were our favourites or that we agreed with. The 3-year lectionary forces us to look at all the passages including those difficult ones that we might prefer to avoid. While children’s lessons focus on only one passage each week, The Whole People of God team tries to use different passages in the next cycle than those used in a previous one.
Encourages Family Interaction
Because all ages are focusing on the same scripture passages, follow-up conversations at home are natural and easy in a way not possible when children, adults, and youth are focused on different Bible stories.
Lectionary/Church Year Encourages the Senses
Worship and education in most instances has been very word oriented and intellectual. The lectionary was developed to accompany the cycle of the Christian Year which is alive with colours and symbols which assist children and youth in their learning and understanding of worship and liturgy. Again, this fits with John Westerhoff’s (and others) call for a less schoolish model and a more affiliative and experiential model for learning.
Worship Is More Accessible to Lay People
When learning groups are structured around the lectionary, lay people become empowered in special ways. Much of the mystery about how worship is created is gone when the Church Year and lectionary are explained and understood. Lay scripture readers who attend lectionary study groups in the week prior to their Sunday to read, will read with better understanding and emphasis. When clergy have to be away, lay leaders can easily move into planning and leading worship. The Prayers of the People can be written and prayed by those who have studied the passages for the Sunday and have their ear to the community and world news. Church musicians can plan ahead using the lectionary passages and don’t have to wait for the clergy to tell them passages.
Encourages Ecumenical Relationships
The Revised Common Lectionary is used by many denominations, so common activities are also encouraged among congregations using the lectionary. Congregations of different denominations using The Best of Whole People of God Online have met together for teacher training workshops, and done church school exchanges during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Children visiting in the home of a friend of a different denomination recognize common activity sheets and art work, and a special ecumenical bond is built.
The lectionary is not a perfect Christian Education tool, but its strengths far outweigh its difficulties. In the hands of a good team of writers who know educational process and are experienced in working regularly with children and youth, a lectionary-based curriculum can bring a special vitality and wholeness to any congregation.
B. The Revised Common Lectionary
A lectionary is a system of selected Bible readings for use in worship on each Sunday of the Church Year. Since ancient times there were fixed scripture readings appointed for Jewish festivals, and readings for ordinary Sabbaths. When Jesus returned to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16-17). This was probably the prescribed reading for the day. The Revised Common Lectionary, on which The Whole People of God is based, was published in 1992 and is used by 19 different denominations in Canada, the USA, Australia, and Great Britain.
We use the lectionary as our base so that what happens in worship and in church school is directly related to the same scripture passages. When parents, children, and youth are all reflecting on the same scriptures it encourages continued conversations and questions at home. (And we have provided an At Home Leaflet to help in this follow-up.) We also believe that being able to share resources ecumenically within a community, and knowing that a visit to another church will mean the same focus as at home, is a big plus. The Revised Common Lectionary follows a 3-year cycle. Each year emphasizes a different synoptic gospel. The gospel of John is used throughout all 3 years.
The Season After Pentecost (Sunday after Pentecost Day through to the beginning of Advent) also has a distinctive emphasis each year from Hebrew Scripture. Year “A” has semi-continuous readings from Genesis and Exodus, telling of God’s covenant with the People of Israel recorded in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible). Year “B” focuses on God’s covenant with David, the period of the monarchy and the Wisdom literature. Year “C” focuses on the prophets and the exile.
If you did not miss worship once in those 3 years you would hear all the major portions of the Bible. Lectionary-based worship and education can help us all become more biblically knowledgeable. We also recognize that biblical study that is not related to the issues and concerns of our lives today remains an academic exercise. That is why The Whole People of God is written fresh each year, containing current issues facing our world. The Bible is a living vibrant model of people who have struggled to understand God’s will in their time and place, which can urge us to confront the same hard questions of our lives and time in history.
C. Living the Christian Year
The lectionary is built on the seasons of the Christian Year. The Christian Year is a re-enactment of the life of Jesus from birth through ministry, death and resurrection, to the birth of the church and its witness in the world today.
The way we use our time in daily life is one of the best indications of what is really important to us. The church also shows what is most important to its life by the way it keeps time. One answer to “What do Christians believe?” could be “Look how we keep time!”
In Advent we prepare for Jesus’ birth, and our own renewal. At Christmas we celebrate the joy of Jesus’ birth—of “God with us.” Through the Season After Epiphany we read of Jesus’ Baptism, his call of the disciples, and his ministry of teaching and healing. Lent is a season of penitence and preparation for Easter. It is a time of decision and commitment. The Easter Season, or “The Great Fifty Days” is a season to celebrate the Resurrection appearances, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the Christian Church. We see the power, that Jesus embodied, being passed on to the disciples. In the Season After Pentecost we look at what it means to be part of the church—Christ’s body—carrying on his work in our world.
As the seasons and their colours change and repeat, we can better understand the rhythm of our lives as the followers of Jesus the Christ.