The Lectionary Companion: An Inspirational Tool for Christian Writers

As a Christian writer, you have no shortage of inspiration available to you. Through prayer, Bible reading, worship, and enjoying God’s presence in nature or in Christian fellowship, not to mention looking at all the names of God, all the testimonies of what He has done, and all the needs lifted up to Him, you have an endless supply of topics to write about.

Sometimes the inspiration is so vast and deep, you may need help to find a simple starting point. Your first starting point should always be prayer and allowing God to lead you. Sometimes it also helps to pray over specific writing prompts.

Here is a good resource that can help you in this process: Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary (published in three volumes, A, B, and C), Paul Scott Wilson, editor.

While the book’s title may not sound very inspiring, the book gives simple yet vivid themes, imagery, and hands-on application and description for weekly groupings of Bible verses. I’ve found this book to be helpful in coming up with ideas for Christian writing.

What is the Revised Common Lectionary?

The book is a companion to the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a weekly grouping of Bible verses that follows the Christian calendar and is used as a reference by many churches. Beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, the lectionary goes all the way through the Christian year. Many churches use the lectionary for their Bible readings, and many pastors write their sermons based on the lectionary scriptures.

The Revised Common Lectionary rotates every year:

Year A = 2019-2020

Year B = 2020-2021

Year C = 2021-2022

Then back to A again, and the cycle repeats.

The Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary has three volumes: Preaching Year A, B, and C. These volumes correspond to the rotation described above.

How the Lectionary Companion Can Inspire Christian Writers

These guides are not just for preachers. They provide wonderful inspiration for Christian writers too, based on a year’s worth of Bible reading and weekly themes.

As a writer, you can use the Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary to write about any of the lectionary verses. You don’t need to write seasonally or for that particular preaching year. Writers on a budget may not want to purchase all three volumes, and that’s okay. Just choose one and it will give you plenty of inspiration for your writing.

If you do decide to use the lectionary companion as a seasonal guide for a particular year (A, B, or C), it may give you an opportunity to write devotionals for your church. If your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, as many denominations do, your devotionals would add to the biblical experience. Even if your church doesn’t follow the lectionary, you would still be inviting readers to experience the Christian calendar through scripture.

Each week, the lectionary brings together four scripture passages spanning Old and New Testament. As a writer, you can choose one passage to focus on, or prayerfully see how the passages come together and write from that convergence.

The lectionary companion can inspire your writing in many ways. You might be inspired to write on the main theme highlighted in the companion guide. Or you might pick up on one of the theological questions that arise from the readings that week, discussed in the companion guide.

The lectionary companion also gives tangible descriptions and images for pastoral and ethical issues. These can often inspire writing that applies scripture in daily life. The companion also connects the Gospel reading to the bigger biblical narrative, and that connection can also inspire your writing.

You might decide to write one piece based on the lectionary readings for one week. Or you might choose a particular week and write several pieces, perhaps a week-long devotional collection that covers 6 or 7 days and explores the week’s theme more in-depth or from many angles.

Example of Topics for Christian Writers: Second Sunday of Advent

Let’s look at an example to see how the lectionary companion might inspire Christian writing. This example will be from Preaching Year A, second Sunday of Advent (Dec 8, 2019). The readings are Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12.

For that week, the Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary, Preaching Year A, discusses themes of justice, hope, and peace.

Here are some topics you might write about for that theme, inspired by the lectionary companion:

  • How Jesus helps those who are oppressed.
  • How does the Holy Spirit bring justice, or peace, or hope?
  • What are the characteristics of the Holy Spirit? How do you know you’re seeing Him in action?
  • Testimony of when the Holy Spirit brought you into peace or gave you hope.
  • Letter of encouragement to someone who needs the Holy Spirit to meet them in their deepest needs.
  • How does hope give us glimpses of God’s kingdom in the midst of a suffering world?
  • How is biblical hope different from worldly hope or from specific concrete outcomes?
  • Who is Jesus as the Prince of Peace?
  • What kind of Peace does Jesus bring? How does it differ from the world’s peace? What are some examples of this contrast?
  • How does Jesus lead us to befriend one another? What are some specific illustrations?
  • What limits do we put on our hope? What does it mean to expect hope beyond those human limits? Testimony of a time when your idea of hope was expanded. When you were willing to stretch your hope, how did God change your heart?
  • How do we recognize the peace of Christ?
  • How does the peace of Christ differ from earthly peace? What are some examples of this contrast?
  • How do we move deeper into the peace Jesus offers? Helpful tips. Or what kind of story might illustrate this process?
  • Where does the world tempt us with its definition of peace, leading us away from the peace of Christ?
  • What wounding in us causes us to be tempted toward the world’s peace and away from the peace of Christ?
  • How do Isaiah and Paul (in the scripture verses above) suggest we (as individuals or as a church) move deeper into justice, hope, and peace?
  • How does our church relate to people who feel like outcasts or misfits? What would Isaiah or Paul say about it?
  • What do we need to repent of to see greater justice, hope, and peace in our midst?
  • How do we renew our hope?
  • What is the hope Jesus calls us to?

Those are just a few of the topics you might be inspired to write about after reading the lectionary companion for the second Sunday of Advent. If you dig deeper in prayer, you’ll have even more ideas and/or you can drill down further into one of these topics. Each week has new scriptures, new themes, and lots of inspiration for Christian writers.

Always Begin with Prayer

As always, read the scriptures and the lectionary companion prayerfully. See what God highlights for you, what stands out to you or speaks to your heart the most. Pray about which topic to work on next. Then present that topic to the Lord and let Him inspire you for how to approach it. There are so many different ways to write about each topic. Different angles, different readers, different testimonies, different types of writing. Your way will be as unique as you are in this moment.

As you grow in your Christian writing life, you will find many sources of inspiration. The Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary is just one helpful source that I have enjoyed using. It can help you find themes, images, and tangible questions and applications from the lectionary readings. Of course, remember your Bible readings should always begin and end with prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Have You Thought about Writing Responsive Readings?

Does your church ever use “responsive readings” in your worship services?

If you’ve grown up in a liturgical tradition, you know immediately what responsive readings are. If you are from a church tradition that doesn’t use much liturgy, you might not be familiar with this.

As a writer, creating responsive readings is one way you can help your church (and others) to increase participation in the worship service.

Regardless of your tradition, responsive readings can be a wonderful way to encourage people to respond to God’s presence and to the scriptures.

Responsive Readings Invite our Response to God

A responsive reading (also known as an antiphonal reading, where two or more voices respond back and forth) involves all the people in the church reading out loud together in response to a scripture or to something a leader says or prays.

Responsive readings mean that each person participates in the worship service and responds to God together. Responding is an important function of worship, and we often miss those opportunities. Worship becomes passive, where we just sit and listen or watch.

With a responsive reading, we all become part of the response to God. Whenever we actively participate in worship and respond to God’s presence, we open our hearts for His response to us.

Different Ways to Experience Responsive Readings

There are many ways to experience responsive readings. Some traditions take a passage of scripture, like a Psalm, and highlight which lines people will read out loud. This is often done where the worship leader reads a line, and then the congregation reads a line, and this goes back and forth.

The responsive readings I enjoy the most are the ones where different sections of the congregation read back and forth to each other. For example, the left side of the sanctuary might read one line out loud, then the middle section reads another, and then the right section reads another. At other times, it might be the men reading one line and then the women reading another.

The responsive reading isn’t just passively done. The congregation actively reads the words to each other, and they really focus on the action of speaking these things out loud in a dialogue. The readings might include a refrain or closing lines that all people read together.

The global church has a rich tradition and history of responsive readings. You might be delighted to find responsive readings that have been used historically in your church tradition. I have also enjoyed in my seminary classes when professors have used responsive readings from many different cultures around the world. A quick search for “responsive readings” on the internet shows many examples to choose from.

Writing Responsive Readings

But that’s just the beginning. As a writer, you can play a role in creating responsive readings that help people become active participants in the worship experience and learn how to respond to God.

Some writers create blogs where they supply responsive readings that anyone can download and use. Or you might simply ask your pastor or worship leader if they would like for you to write a responsive reading for a particular occasion.

An Example of Lenten Encounters

One year during Lent, our pastor was highlighting a different biblical person each week, with the theme of “Lenten Encounters.” We were invited to see ourselves in each part of the biblical story, and also to discover how those biblical persons responded to God.

Our pastor invited our church writing group to create a responsive reading. Using the theme of weekly “encounters,” we added a couplet to the responsive reading every week. The new couplet reminded us of the biblical person we had encountered the previous week.

We started out with our foundational responsive reading, which talked about the encounters we hoped to have during our Lenten season. The second week, we added a couplet about (for example) Peter, who we had encountered the week before. The words of the couplet reminded us of Peter’s particular response to God. The next week, we added (for example) Blind Bartimaeus, who we had encountered the previous week. And so on.

As we moved through the Lenten season, we continued to include the couplets from previous weeks. So we continued to remember and acknowledge what we had discovered with each biblical person. Each week, the responsive reading (which was printed in the bulletin) grew a little longer.

When we reached Palm Sunday, the focus shifted to our own response to God. We added a final couplet looking forward to our ongoing encounters with Christ.

That is just one example. The possibilities are endless. Writing responsive readings is a very creative task for a writer or group of writers who want to help people experience and participate in the worship service in a very unique way.

Do You Feel Called to Write Responsive Readings?

If this is something you feel called to try out, begin with prayer and ask God for His guidance. Then do a simple online search for “responsive readings” and look through the many types of examples. Don’t forget to look for responsive readings that might have been used in earlier times in church history. And look for responsive readings that have been created in cultures around the world that are different from  your own. The global and historical church has such a rich tradition to experience.

Then, with God’s leading, either begin to create responsive readings for your blog, or ask your pastor if your church might be able to use a responsive reading that you or a group of writers in your church would create especially for the church. You can even create these for your own family in worshiping and praying together at home.

In whichever ways you choose to write responsive readings, you will discover that this is an amazing experience. Writing responsive readings will also remind you of your own daily responses to God.

Writing for Christmas Eve

Does your church have more than one service on Christmas Eve? Or special services leading up to Christmas?

Did you know sometimes it is a challenge for the pastor and church staff to come up with fresh ideas for the service, and especially for the bulletin? Let alone, the materials to advertise the service.

I remember sitting through many years of church staff meetings and a collective sigh would go around the room, as we tried to think up some new ideas at that very busy time of year.

That’s where you, the writer, come in.

Does your pastor or church staff know you love to write? If not, this might be a great time to let them know. And maybe ask if there is anything you can write for the Christmas season that would help them.

You might be surprised at the suggestions they might give you!

If you want to start with one item, you can offer to write a Christmas prayer. I can tell you that every year, we could have used your prayer in the bulletin for our 11 pm Christmas Eve service. Or placed your prayer on the tables of our Christmas Day community lunch. Or in the church newsletter during the week leading up to Christmas. Or in the last Merry Christmas message of our “daily news” email letter. Not to mention on the church website or Facebook page.

Churches need words to share with people. You create words. Ask how you can help your church as a writer this Christmas season.

And don’t stop with Christmas. If you love writing, your church would love to know – all year round. God bless you.

Advent Is a Great Time for Writing Devotionals

The Advent season will be here soon. A wonderful way to celebrate is by writing devotionals. There are so many creative possibilities to explore. You can write Advent devotionals personally, as a family, or as a church.

Personal Devotionals

Advent is a great season for writing creatively and for reflecting on scripture in your writing. You might enjoy writing your own personal devotionals.

You can take a scripture verse and write a devotional for each week of Advent. If you feel like really digging in, you can write a devotional every day. When the season is over, put your devotionals together as a collection and save them to read each day of Advent next year.

You can also write devotionals as Christmas gifts. Pray for a Bible verse that is meaningful to a family member or friend. Then write a devotional with that person in mind. Give it as a gift. You can also write a devotional as a prayer or blessing for their new year.

Family Devotionals

Writing devotionals together as a family can be a wonderful way to celebrate the Advent season.

On one Sunday of Advent, you can spend family time together writing a devotional. Think about which Bible verse you’d like to share with each other and what story you want to tell to illustrate that verse.

Or maybe take each Sunday to work on one part of a devotional that will be ready by Christmas. Then you can read and pray through the finished devotional together on Christmas Day.

To create your family devotionals, you can choose a scripture verse and decide on a theme. Have each person write a paragraph or even a sentence, then piece those together like a beautiful quilt. You can even write the words on pieces of colored paper and glue them on construction paper – and maybe add some artwork.

Or your family can all pitch in with their thoughts, and you can write them down and weave them into a devotional message.

You can also divide up the parts – one person chooses the scripture verse, another person (or two!) tells the story, another writes the prayer, and someone else chooses the closing thought for the day.

Whichever way you choose to write your family devotional, the important thing is to spend time together, reflecting on what it means to each of you that Christ is born.

Church Devotionals

I enjoyed many years of editing church devotional collections. Each year, I offered a workshop to help people learn devotional writing. Then we would choose our theme and scripture verses. Each person at the workshop would write a devotional – sometimes they would take it home to work on it, but they would start it that day at the workshop and we helped each other.

If other individuals or families wanted to write but couldn’t attend the workshop, I would email them a devotional writing guide, let them know what the theme was, and assign them a scripture verse.

Usually we would have an overall Advent theme, and then a more specific theme for each week of the season. We had enough writers that we wrote a devotional for every day of Advent. But if that’s too many, it would be a blessing to write a devotional for every Sunday in Advent.

Then we would create a PDF file and upload it to the church website. We would also print a few booklets for shut-ins and people who didn’t have internet.

When you are preparing a devotional collection for your congregation to use, it’s important to have pastoral oversight and guidance. Sometimes a devotional writer might inadvertently take liberties with scripture. Your pastor can help you find a loving way to edit the message so it lines up with God’s Word.

The devotional for Christmas Day needs to have a joyful impact. Sometimes the pastor might want to write this one. Or whoever writes it, be sure Joy is the theme and that it really takes readers through a celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Wishing you and your family a very creative and blessed Advent season!

 

Your Words Mean the World to a Child

Have you considered how you can use your writing gift to speak encouraging words to a child?

Every month I have the privilege of sending a letter to a young girl in the Caribbean. I am her “correspondence sponsor” through an international program. As a missionary, I don’t earn enough to financially sponsor a child. But I am allowed to write letters to a child whose sponsor is not able to write on a regular basis.

Many organizations that help children are glad to have volunteer letter writers. Letters are so important to the children, and not all sponsors have the time to write.

You might find opportunities closer to home as well. Not every organization is able to connect letter writers with children. Usually, this depends on their level of administrative support and security for the children. But it doesn’t hurt to inquire around your town. There might be an organization – even your own church – that would love to give encouraging letters to children. They might even ask for a general letter of encouragement that they can share with all the children.

Or perhaps you feel called to write for organizations that serve the elderly, or the homeless, or others in need. I will never forget when our mission team took a package of letters – written by children in our church – to a group of women living on the streets in Guatemala City. The looks on their faces as they read those letters (in translation) will stay in my heart forever. Those children truly brightened the women’s lives with their words.

You can also write letters of encouragement and blessing to children in your church’s youth ministry, or children’s ministry, or confirmation class. When the kids go to camp or to a retreat, or on a youth mission trip, they also love to receive letters. Talk with your church’s youth or children’s leader to learn how you can put your letter writing skills to good use!

Even closer to home, write letters of blessing and encouragement to your own children and to the children in your extended family.

Pray about it and see where you might fit in best as a letter writer. Don’t underestimate the power of your words to bless a child’s life.

Good Writing Means Good Reading

If you are a writer, there’s a pretty good chance that you love to read. When you start writing, you may be tempted to put your reading on hold. But reading time is not something you should sacrifice. The most effective writers are avid readers. Reading is one of the best ways to inspire your creativity and strengthen your writing skills.

You can also create writing projects around your reading. Choose a book of the month to read. Then think of a few creative ways you can practice your writing in response to that book:

1. Write a book review and post it on Amazon and Goodreads. Or find a magazine that publishes book reviews and consider submitting one, based on their specific requirements.

2. Discuss your favorite line from the book on your blog.

3. Join a book discussion group online and share your thoughts in writing and in conversation with others online. (If you have your own writer’s website, some discussion groups will let you link to your website in your profile.)

4. Is this book in your church library? Write a set of small-group discussion questions and see if your pastor is interested in making those questions available with the book. (This might lead to a request for more!) You might even want to send your discussion questions to the author. I created a series of worksheets for teens, based on Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven for Kids, and his ministry published these worksheets on their website.

What other ways can you practice your writing by responding creatively to a great book?

Use Your Writing Gift for Prayer Cards

Prayer cards are a wonderful way to use your writing gift.

While prayer doesn’t always require words – some of the most powerful times of prayer are done in silence – we use words in prayer for several reasons. One is to express what’s in our hearts for confession, repentance, forgiveness. Another is to get the words of scripture into our hearts. And one of the most important reasons we use words in prayer is for the sake of the person receiving the prayer.

When you are praying with someone, your words offer a way to convey God’s comfort, hope, forgiveness, and assurance. Your words can help the person receive God’s love into their hearts. This can happen through spoken prayer but also through written prayer and blessings.

Does your church send prayer cards to people? If not, this might be a great time to ask. If they already do this, consider volunteering your writing skills. If this isn’t something your church does yet, maybe they would consider it – especially if they know they have a writer willing to volunteer.

Outside of your own church, what kind of ministries exist in your town? Is there a jail ministry, or a ministry to seniors, or a ministry to homeless kids, or a recovery ministry? Perhaps they can use prayer cards as well.

You can also write prayer cards on your own to send to people you know who need a word of comfort and encouragement.

If you are not sure how to write a prayer, remember that the most helpful words are often the simplest:

1. God loves you so much.
2. I pray that you will feel God’s [comfort, presence, hope, encouragement, peace … choose the right word for the situation].
3. I am praying for you. [We are praying for you … if this comes from the church.]
4. God bless you.
5. Then write a scripture verse as a closing prayer.

I hope you will enjoy the blessing of writing prayer cards. I know your words will really bless others.