I’ve been wading into the details of the liturgical year, so I asked Evan if he had any threads I could pull on. He promptly handed me me Volume Five of Robert E. Webber’s eight volume project, The Complete Library of Christian Worship. Taking a survey of variety of Christian worship services among denominations, the section on Free Churches by Doug Thiesen makes a astute observation, which speaks really to every church to which I’ve been a part:
One factor which keeps free churches in America from observing the Christian church year is the preaching style to which many of our congregations are accustomed. The vast majority of pastors preach in the expository style, taking one book of the Bible ast a time and preaching through that book to its conclusion. The theme of the worship service is determined each week not by the church year but rather by the theme of that particular morning’s message. Often these series, which last two or more years, will be interrupted by a special Advent series of Lenten series. usually, the message is simply adapted to the occasion and themes are drawn from the biblical book being used which lend themselves to the particular season. (p. 33)
In other words, a sermons series is never perfectly going to align with the church calendar so the pastor or preaching team chooses the series over the calendar. A commitment to expository preaching (to which I wholeheartedly subscribe) is going to make Holy Days and traditional seasons always feel like an interruption, one that is hardly ever handled gracefully.
Still, I wouldn’t say this is an argument in favor of topical preaching. If you choose not to do a walk through of a book and also choose not to follow the church calendar, then you’re just left with whatever happens to be on the preacher’s radar and that seems like the worst of both worlds.
That said, if holidays and holiday seasons feel short changed or shoehorned into the preaching (who among us hasn’t tried to preach a Mother’s Day sermon from whatever text happened to be on the schedule?), there’s rational explanation.