Narrative Lectionaries

Narrative Lectionaries

A final example of Lectionary Mods is what one might call narrative lectionaries.[1] Narrative lectionaries are ways to explore, to greater or lesser detail, the narrative arc of the Bible or specific parts of the Bible beyond the scope of a focused sermon series.  The Narrative Lectionary being developed by Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester, for example, is a forty week schedule of texts from September through May—the school year—which takes one rapidly through the biblical narrative from Genesis (starting with Abraham and Sarah) through Acts.  The Narrative Lectionary is a work in progress, with two forty week cycles developed so far.  While not necessarily a replacement for the RCL, the Narrative Lectionary is a way to walk the congregation through the biblical story in worship and Christian education for one school year.  As explained on The Narrative Lectionary website, “Though the revised common lectionary has united the church in its reading of scripture and has given much needed structure, it doesn’t present scripture—especially the Old Testament—in a way that helps people to become ‘fluent in the first language of faith.’ The Narrative Lectionary is an attempt to take nine months to do just that.”  The first year of the Narrative Lectionary walks through the Old Testament story from September through Advent, then explores Jesus’ story in the Gospel of John from Christmas through Easter Sunday (from birth to Resurrection), and finally spends the Easter season exploring Acts.  The second year is organized similarly, with different texts and the Gospel of Mark taking the congregation through the Bible from September through May.  Independently of Jacobson and Koester, Pastor Steve Knudson of Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, Minnesota developed a one year (52 week) narrative lectionary that also moves through the biblical story.[2] Knudson’s Journey through the Bible includes scripture passages and their corresponding stories in the Spark Story Bible and Spark Children’s Bible (NRSV); his congregation began this journey in September of 2010.[3] The goal is to walk with the whole congregation through the story of the Bible in one year.

Other narrative lectionaries have recently been developed.  In chapter 1, we noted Prince of Peace Lutheran Church’s journey through the New Testament over a two year period (with some returns to the lectionary texts especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent), for the stated purpose of growing in discipleship.  Thomas Bandy has produced the Uncommon Lectionary, a two year lectionary designed to replace the RCL.[4] The first year is called the Seeker Cycle, 52 weeks of readings of essential biblical texts (one for each week), organized around the secular calendar, rather than by what Bandy calls “the calendar of Christendom.”  The second year is the Disciple Cycle, focusing on five major story lines of the Bible (8 to 10 weeks each): Israel’s Covenant, David’s Legacy, Faithful Servants, Jesus’ Purpose, and Christians’ Mission.[5] One of the criticisms of the RCL that Bandy makes is that it tries to do too much: covering the Bible in depth over three years, with four readings per week.  The Uncommon Lectionary simplifies the plan to a two year cycle, with one reading per week (plus an extra reading for the Worship Team’s weekly meditation).  Like Prince of Peace’s journey through the New Testament, the Uncommon Lectionary is explicitly designed to introduce the congregation to the major narratives and themes of the Bible, and to grow disciples for the sake of God’s mission.  Introducing the Uncommon Lectionary is more than simply a list of Scripture texts for worship and preaching; Bandy’s book and website include strategies and guides for implementing the lectionary in the worship life of the congregation.  While intended as a complete replacement for the RCL, the Uncommon Lectionary is worth including here as a possible Lectionary Mod, because it is possible for a congregation to use it for one or two years and then return to lectionary based worship.  The Uncommon Lectionary would also be worth considering for a weekly mid-week worship service or a particular Saturday or Sunday service in a larger congregation.  But for a congregation to always and only preach and hear in worship the 104 biblical texts of the Uncommon Lectionary cycle seems unnecessarily limiting.

[1] The term “narrative lectionary” is borrowed from Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester’s Narrative Lectionary. Personal email from Rolf Jacobson, August 11, 2010, and Dan Smith, “Narrative Lectionary,” Narrative Lectionary, (accessed March 5, 2011).  Also, see Eric Lemonholm, “Narrative Lectionary,” Open Source Lectionary, (accessed March 3, 2011).

[2] Private conversation, August 10, 2010.  Vinje Lutheran Church has weekly updates of the Journey through the Bible on their website, Vinje Church, (accessed March 2, 2011).  A complete version of Journey Through the Bible may be found at Eric Lemonholm, “Journey through the Bible,” Open Source Lectionary, (accessed March 2, 2011).

[3] Arthur, P. T., P. Grosshauser, et al, Spark Story Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009); The Spark Bible (NRSV) (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009).  In conversation on August 10, 2010, Knudson noted that one book that is missing from the Spark Story Bible is the book of Revelation.  Thus, this one year plan ends with highlights from Paul’s letters.

[4] Thomas Bandy, Introducing the Uncommon Lectionary: Opening the Bible to Seekers and Disciples (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2006).  The Uncommon Lectionary is also available online at Thomas Bandy, “Uncommon Lectionary,” Thriving Church, (accessed March 5, 2011).  Thanks to R. Karl Watkins for sending to me his copy of Introducing the Uncommon Lectionary.

[5] Bandy, Introducing the Uncommon Lectionary, 101-103.