Focus for March, 2020


Imagine the body of Christ all speaking the same thing at the same time. What a powerful message that would bring to the world.


One Body, One Voice

My daughter, son-in-law and grandbabies attend a local church that is only a few miles from their home. My daughter often asks me what my sermon is about and 8 times out of 10 it is the same scripture and similar topic being presented at her congregation. She finds this fascinating; I find it affirming. This is the work of the Holy Spirit and the beauty of using—dare I say it—the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).

Have I lost you yet? Stay with me, please. Some find the idea of using the RCL as akin to cheating, or worse, not following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I used to be one of those. I used to believe my job was to evaluate and pray about the needs of the local congregation and build my sermons off the topics I believed the Holy Spirit was giving me. I preached this way for several years until it was pointed out to me some of the possible pitfalls with topical preaching. While there may be legitimate needs for topical preaching from time to time—and it works well in a small group study—the practice can lead to the following problems:

  • There is a tendency to use Scripture to prove a point, rather than to interpret a verse within its full context. This can easily lead to proof-texting—finding verses to “prove” the point you are making. Even if your topic is needful and your point is valid, unless we use the verse in context, we are misusing it.
  • It tends to show personal bias—the personal focus of the pastor is more evident than the centrality of Christ.
  • It’s easier to avoid “difficult” topics or passages of Scripture.
  • It can easily lead to a stunted understanding of the whole plan of God or the centrality of Christ.
  • It’s easy to neglect using the full testimony of Scripture. For instance, I know of some who rarely, if ever, preach from the Old Testament. (A way to avoid this is to have the Old Testament passages read out loud during the worship service.

Neglecting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?

One of the arguments I used to raise against using the RCL was that it stymied the Holy Spirit. I laugh at myself now at how foolish I was. I used to write my sermons out word for word—it was my way of preparation. I never read the sermon, but my notes kept me on point. When I mentioned this to a fellow pastor, he told me he believed writing the sermon out like I did kept me from allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire me while preaching. Let’s ask a few rhetorical questions:

  • Does the Holy Spirit inspire us only while we are preaching?
  • Is it possible the Holy Spirit can inspire during both the preparation and delivery of a message—even if they are days, weeks, months or years apart?
  • Is it possible the Holy Spirit can inspire other writers to produce a sermon outline that any pastor or speaker can give on any given Sunday?
  • Is it possible that the Holy Spirit can inspire people to write things (like letters to various churches) that are timeless?
  • If this is true, is it possible that the Holy Spirit can inspire the development of the RCL enabling churches all over the world to use the same texts on the same weekend? How cool would that be if the Holy Spirit could do that?

Ok, sarcasm aside, I believe the point is made. GCI is one part of the body of Christ, and all the parts of the body fit together make up the whole. When we are joined to the body, we are more effective in presenting a unified message of communion to the world, and we are more in step with our participation with Jesus, who is the center of the center. Using the RCL is just one way of building that unity.

Other benefits to using the RCL

  • While GCI Equipper provides a sermon—usually from the Gospel passage—there are four different scriptures each week to choose from.
  • It provides a holistic (some might say systematic) way of taking you and your congregation through the Bible in a three-year plan.
  • It provides you with theological insight as you delve into four different passages each week.
  • It prevents pastors from nurturing a form of spiritual superiority.
  • It is built on the season of the Christian year and provides themes for each week that coincide with the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It keeps reminding us Jesus is at the center of all we do and preach.
  • By using an RCL sermon in Equipper, you may spend less time on sermon preparation and more time focusing on elements of the Love, Faith, and Hope avenues. You will have more time to reach out into your community, to train your leaders, to become the healthiest expression of church you can be.
  • It provides a framework for children’s classes, youth classes, small group studies. This encourages family interaction.
  • It provides connections to church history and to the larger body of Christ.
  • By sharing each week’s theme in advance, members can be reading and studying the same passages as the pastor.

GCI does not require pastors to preach from the RCL, but we strongly encourage our pastors to follow it and preach from it the bulk of the time. Each RCL sermon in Equipper has the theme of the week. We encourage you to put the next week’s theme in the bulletin (make sure you label it “Next Week’s Sermon Theme” or something similar) or send it out on email. Even if you preach from one of the other passages, you can edit the theme accordingly. This gives study material to members and better prepares them for each week’s message.

If you still aren’t convinced, allow me to challenge you to try it for six months. That’s what I did. At the end of the six months I was absolutely convinced this was the way to move forward. And, as mentioned in the introduction, affirmation occurred as I found I was preaching the same passages as other parts of the body. Just imagine all the congregations of GCI preaching the same themes each week. Talk about being in communion. Some will find that fascinating; most of us will find it affirming.

Anticipating more communion in GCI,

Rick Shallenberger




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