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Scripture 101: How are Bible passages picked for worship?


  The same passage may be read in multiple churches
  on the same sunday. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

While there may be a growing number of pastors who preach on a passage of Scripture that they picked, many still follow a three-year cycle called the lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary, as used in the United Methodist Church, generally has four passages for each Sunday or religious holiday. These passages typically include a reading from the Old Testament, a psalm, a reading from one of the four gospels and another New Testament passage. The three-year cycle is intended to hit many of the key passages while also relating to the Christian calendar.

For example, the lectionary calls for the following passages on August 16: 1 Kings 2:10-12 and 3:3-14; Psalm 111; John 6:51-58 and Ephesians 5:15-20. In planning worship, pastors may use one or more of these as the basis of their sermon and they may be read during the service.

However, many pastors and congregations do not use the lectionary. The Reverend Adam Hamilton, author of numerous books and studies from Nashville-based Abingdon Press and the senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Mo., plans his services by first looking at the needs of his church and community. As he explores those issues, passages of Scripture come to his mind in ways that may benefit the congregation.

Both methods of selecting passages may be valuable. Pastors are not required to follow one form or another. Nevertheless, the lectionary may serve as a guide when no other piece of Scripture comes to mind. It can also help to connect with people in the congregation who like to plan their devotional life. Religious publishers provide devotional books on the lectionary passages. One such book is the Upper Room Disciplines, published each year by Nashville's Upper Room. A different author each week explores the lessons for the upcoming Sunday.

Sometimes pastors get together and discuss the lectionary, either with other pastors or with members of their congregation. This could help with the pastor's sermon preparation or with the congregation's understanding of the lesson being shared. In any case, it is hoped that the Good News of Jesus Christ his heard and understood by all of God's people.

For more info:  Follow the lectionary on twitter.
Other stories by Andrew J. Schleicher:


  • Tracy B Ann 5 years ago

    It might be more fun and just as useful to choose passages by throwing darts.