Do all Christian Churches/Denominations have a common set of readings they read throughout the year and repeat on a 2-3 year cycle?

If not, how do pastors in churches without a common set of readings decide what they're going to talk about in any given week?


@Caleb pointed out that many church traditions use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as a guide. It's a three year cycle of readings. In most seasons of the church year, there's a reading from the Hebrew Bible, a Psalm, a reading from the epistles of the New Testament, and a Gospel reading appointed for each week. In the time between Easter and Pentecost (seven weeks later) the Revised Common Lectionary offers a reading from the New Testament in place of the Hebrew Bible reading.

This follows a Jewish tradition of reading through the entire Torah (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Deut) on either a one-year or three year cycle. But the Jews read the whole Torah in that time, whereas the RCL chooses (dare I say "cherrypicks?") the passages.

The Roman Catholic Church has an appointed set of readings very similar to the RCL. Many Reformation-heritage churches also use it, as do Orthodox churches. In fact, there's a (fading) tradition of naming Sundays after the Gospel reading, such as Good Shepherd Sunday and Prodigal Son Sunday.

The RCL is not mandatory in the Lutheran and Episcopal traditions I am familiar with; the preacher may choose other scripture to read, usually when the preaching is following a multi-week theme.

But most Episcopal and Lutheran preachers follow the RCL.

Somebody else will need to answer for other traditions.

  • The Lutheran church I attend used to follow the RCL maybe 85% of the time, but would make changes to suit local events as required. Now the pastor sets his own sets of readings around a given "topic" usually lasting 6 weeks or so. This seems to re-enforce your answer. – Mark Henderson Aug 26 '11 at 2:51

No, certainly not. There are lots of available resources. Some denominations have guidelines and some reference materials exist for those who do not (such as the Revised Common Lectionary), but by no means do all traditions have set or repeated liturgies.

When it falls to me, I build each weeks liturgy based on passages that have some bearing on the sermon topic. Often these are passages that have a history of being used in liturgies, but that isn't a requirement. Each week takes time in research and prayer to decide what these will be. As church elders we settled on a general format of for the liturgy and the kind of readings to include, but each week varies some to accommodate the main passage. The sermon material follows an exegetical path through whatever book we happen to be working through. We do use fixed readings for confessions and Lord Supper, but improvise to work those readings into the overall flow of the service.


Baptist churches do not generally follow an appointed set of readings.

In small churches with only one pastor, it is most common for the pastor to decide the topic of each week's sermon. Many pastors will structure a series of sermons on a given topic or from a specific book of the Bible, though some are more... ummm... haphazard than that.

In larger churches with multiple pastors the topic and structure of a sermon series can be determined by the pastors working together.

There is no repetition cycle except for Easter and Christmas sermons being somewhat predictable.

The length of a sermon series can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to multiple years. A non-Baptist example is Pastor Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle series on Luke that is over 2 years long.

  • 1
    only two years? he's got a ways to go to match Lloyd Jones on Romans :) – warren Aug 30 '11 at 21:29

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