The Word of God is the high point in the service. It is the primary way that God speaks to us today. If the Word of God is the high point in the service then it needs to be treated in a way that is honouring and captivating. Anything less is to diminish the importance and impact of the Word of God in the public assembly. Churches will so often fine tune their music, the multimedia, the special features and the sermon and yet neglect the proper presentation of the scripture.
There are constant referrals in the Bible to the public reading of scripture (2 Kings 22:3, 2 Kings 23:1-3, Jeremiah 36:2, Nehemiah 7:73b-8:1-3, Luke 4:16-22a, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, I Timothy 4:13). There is no need to justify the importance of the public reading of scriptures so rather, I’ll focus on the “hows” of effective public scripture readings.
I hope you find the ideas below helpful in improving this very important aspect of the public worship service.)
Here are some ideas for increasing people’s attention to the reading of the Scriptures:
· When reading scripture publicly, the first obvious pointer is to practice and to do so aloud. Most people have the ability to read silently but as soon as you read aloud you need to learn pronunciation, diction, and projection. Of course, if you are someone who facilitates those that are reading scriptures, this means that you have to make sure the reader receives the scriptures well in advance so that they can rehearse the reading.
· Know your gifts. If you have not been gifted to read the scriptures aloud with conviction and excellence, this is OK. We all have different callings and giftings. This is the way God has made us.
· Get to know the context of the scripture. This is not just recitation of the text without considering context. When you live within the words by considering the context, they will naturally come out with greater conviction. After spending time in Ephesus, Athens and other places where the Apostle Paul ministered, I will never read those passages in the same light. You may not be able to visit these sites but at the very least, read a commentary on the scripture to get to know the context. There are many valuable commentaries online or you can pick up a printed copy. It’s a great resource to have at home even when you’re not preparing to read the scriptures aloud.
· Consider how the Word applies to your life. My theme verse is 2 Corinthians 5:17 which states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” It’s hard for me to read this scripture without passion as it is so pivotal in my life. I went through some dark years, made terrible mistakes and hurt many people. When I read this scripture I remember that I am “in Christ” and that I am a “new creation” despite the darkness of my past. In the same way, when you apply the scripture reading to your life it will take on
a new life as you share it aloud.
· Look at the text from a distance. That may seem to contradict what I’ve already said. However, if it is an extremely familiar Bible story (Jonah and the fish, David and Goliath), it can become very stale to us. Set yourself on a path of discovery where you look for something new buried in the story that you haven’t seen before. This again is a great place for a good Bible Commentary.
· Place it on the screen. People are used to the screen as a primary source of receiving current information. While I love to read a physical book, I rarely buy a physical newspaper anymore, opting instead for the computer screen. Projecting the scriptures on the screen certainly has its detractors but most people find it helpful.
· Encourage the reader to live it for a few days. When an actor prepares for a role they often go into character in order to live in the skin of the character they are presenting. This helps them to project the character with authenticity. In the same way, when you live with the scripture reading for a few days it helps you to identify with the passage. It also helpful to look at a commentary to truly understand the spiritual, cultural and human side to the scripture reading. While these reflections will seldom be shared in the reading, as the reader understands the depth of the scripture, it will be shared with greater clarity and passion. My father was a pastor. He used to read and soak up the assigned scripture readings well in advance and then live them throughout the week prior to preaching. This allowed him to preach the word from “inside out” rather than “outside in.”
· Train your readers. It’s not a position that simply defaults to the person who is least likely to say no. The Word can be read with such dramatic flair that people will sit on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next sentence.
· Give a personal comment on why the text has meaning for today, and perhaps special meaning for you personally. Some pastors may be uncomfortable with this so make sure you run this past your pastor in advance.
· If you are reading a very long passage, consider breaking it down into a couple of sections, interjecting a well-seasoned personal observation before moving on. Again, as before, run this past your pastor to make sure that they are comfortable with you doing this.
· If you make a mistake on a word just keep moving. People will forget that you’ve made an error. If you draw too much attention to your mistake it will detract from the impact of the scripture rather than enhancing it.
· Be dramatic but not over the top. Don’t over-act. It doesn’t work in the movies and it doesn’t work with scripture reading. You never want to sound like a late-night infomercial.
· Pause. Really. By pausing ever so slightly after significant phrases you increase the ability of people to absorb the phrases and you also increase dramatic tension. The primary places for pauses are after commas and periods.
· Slow down. When you speak too quickly you appear nervous, even if you aren’t.
· Breathe. Take a couple of deep breaths before you speak. This will calm you and will loosen your voice.
· Don’t let your voice drop off. Many people start strong and then begin to trail off in volume and projection. Start strong and finish strong.
· If you are a regular reader in your church, practice by reading a little bit of scripture each day aloud. This way it becomes second nature and more confortable to you. You also become more comfortable with the sound of your voice, learn to speak clearly, with good emphasis and diction.
· Do some voice exercises. You don’t need to prepare like the late Luciano Pavarotti. However, yawning, performing tongue rolls (brrrrrr), lip buzzes, and the famous ambulance exercise (singing ahhh from your lowest note to your highest note and down again, repeating several times) will always help.
· Use proper microphone technique. (see the section on announcements in a prior blog – click here)
· Try reading the scriptures in another version or paraphrase such as The Message.Now, we’re ready for some tips on the sermon. I’ll have a few personal tips in the next blog and then I’ve asked a very special guest to give some great pointers. You don’t want to miss these.
For more worship training, take in the Break Forth Canada 2011 Intensive Learning Workshop featuring veterans, Paul Baloche and Brian Doerksen. For more information click here.
Also, take in the Integrity Night of Worship Concert at Break Forth Canada 2011 featuring Paul Baloche, Brian Doerksen, Jared Anderson, Desperation Band, Don Poythress and Joel Auge. For more information click here.