I’m convinced that the public reading of Scripture is an important and too often overlooked aspect of our worship services. We spend considerable time preparing sermons, prayers, and music for our gatherings, but often Scripture reading is reduced to something mechanical. Like most things we do, with some attention, we could improve a bit in how we read the Bible in our churches.
What follows is something I wrote up for our church to help standardize how we prepare for and accomplish public reading of Scripture. I realize that our context and tradition might be different than yours, so please overlook differences in matters of preference or tradition. If there is something useful for you then the post is worth it. Thanks for reading.
WHAT ARE WE READING?
Remember that you are reading God’s Word. This is far different from reading any other book—or any other words! These are the holy, God-breathed Words of Almighty God (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible is infallible, inerrant, and fully authoritative. It has the power to make alive, make new, convict, comfort, and bring everlasting joy. If we want the reading of God’s Word to have the people’s attention then it must have the reader’s attention. You are reading the very Word of God.
WHY ARE WE READING?
We are reading the Bible because God wants his people to prioritize the reading of Scripture when his people gather together (1 Tim. 4:13). When the Bible is read, God is speaking. This is actually the only perfect portion of our worship service! We are reading God’s perfect Word. And in so doing, we are loving God and loving others. The unfolding of God’s Word brings light (Ps. 119:130). There is a simple reason why we are reading: to prepare for the preaching of the Word. But, there is a deeper, underlying reason: because God is glorified by us reading it in our assembly.
HOW SHOULD WE PREPARE?
During the Week
Pray. Before you read the Bible on Sunday you should spend time praying through the passage. Illumination, understanding, and joy come from God. He grants these as gifts by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:18; Ps. 119:18; 90:14; 86:11). Ask God to impress the truth and beauty of the passage upon your heart.
Understand. You will better serve the congregation if you understand what the passage is saying. Work to understand it. This may mean using some resources like a study Bible (ESV or NIV or Reformation Study Bibles are helpful options) or send an email to a pastor.
Practice. You should plan to practice reading the passage daily. This practice should include reading aloud (since you’ll be reading the passage aloud on Sunday). You want to do your best not to stumble over words or mispronounce them. If you come across difficult words that you aren’t sure how to pronounce, listen to the ESV audio version to learn the proper pronunciation. You may find it helpful to ask someone to give you feedback as you practice during the week.
Appropriate dress. Remember that you are going to be standing before the congregation to read the Bible. You are obviously not to be the focus of everyone’s attention, so it’s important to not dress in a way that will draw undue attention to yourself. Dress in a modest way that reflects accepted business casual attire.
Hydrate. When nervous, our mouths often get dry. If you combine this with drinking caffeine you will likely have a very mouth when you come up to read. You can be proactive here by drinking water and limiting coffee and tea.
Bookmark. Place a bookmark in the passage on Sunday morning when you are practicing so that you will have it ready when you go up to read.
Prayer. You should pray for our gathering every Sunday morning, but especially on the week when you are reading Scripture. Remember also to join us for pre-service prayer in the back conference room at 9:45 as we walk through the liturgy and roles.
HOW SHOULD WE READ?
Identify the passage and page number in the Pew Bible. Say something like, “This morning’s Scripture reading is from Leviticus chapter 1. You will find this on page 81 of the Bible in the pew rack in front of you.”
Give ample time for people to turn there (a full 20 seconds).
Repeat the Scripture Reference. “Leviticus chapter 1″
Begin reading after saying something like, “Hear the Word of the Lord” or “Let’s hear God’s Word.”
Mind your pace. The tendency when we are nervous is to speed up. You want to read at a reasonable pace that gives people time to hear and consider the Word.
Use your finger. It helps many to put your finger under the words as you are reading. This helps you keep a reasonable pace and from jumping around.
Observe punctuation marks. Stop at periods and allow commas to break your pace.
Consider your tone
- Remember the context. If you are reading a passage like James 5:1-6, you should have a sober tone. It would be inappropriate to insert a mood that does not reflect the passage. Similarly, in reading a passage like John 1, one should not read like they are reading bad news. The incarnation should produce joy. If you’re reading a prophet’s words of rebuke, or a dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees, it shouldn’t sound the same as instructions for building the tabernacle or as a genealogy.
- Read with feeling. You should read with expression in your voice that reflects the passage.
- But not too much feeling. You should avoid turning it into a dramatic reading of Scripture.
- Don’t use a “preacher” voice. Remember that you are trying to draw attention to the Bible and not to yourself. This is not the time to try out your John Piper voice or favorite gestures.
- Be careful not to swallow your words. Sometimes we have the tendency to trail off at the end of sentences and “swallow our words.” In general conversation, this makes it difficult to hear and understand. On Sunday morning people will miss your words altogether. Pronounce each word and follow punctuation.
When you conclude say something like, “This is the Word of God” or “May God bless the reading of his Word.”