Switching on my iPod, I prepared to skip the Bible reading and go straight to the preaching. But something about the well-modulated tones stridently spiced with a Bronx accent arrested my attention. Aside from the fact that the woman’s voice was reading from a modern translation, this oral presentation of God’s Word brought fresh perspective to 1 Corinthians 7. And that was even before the sermon had begun.
Public Bible reading. It ought to be central in our gatherings if we call ourselves “Bible believers.” In most churches I’ve attended, however, the pastor reads through the text just before launching into his sermon, making it appear a necessary formality before the really interesting part begins. We know that the Bible is the Bread of Life, but the way we serve it up in our public worship services is stale and unappetizing. What can churches do to make the Bible reading itself more engaging, a stand-alone feature in our public worship?
1. Purposefully select expressive readers. It doesn’t have to be the pastor’s job to read the passage as part of the “message”. Find people in the church who are talented and thoughtful at reading aloud, and let them bless the congregation with their oral interpretation of the Scriptures. How we read communicates the meaning as much as what we read.
2. Allow women and children to read. Language learning experts assert that acquisition of a new language is easier when the target language is modeled by a woman’s voice. The clarity and tone of a some feminine voices can make listening easier. People’s ears will also prick up when a child reads clearly and expressively.
3. Try dramatic readings. Narrative portions are especially good for this technique. If the passage is divided into sections for narrator and characters, readers can be selected to perform the parts. Some epistles would also work well in this style such as the age and gender specific instructions in Titus 2.
4. Practice ahead of time. Don’t thrust the reading responsibility onto an unsuspecting church member as he walks through the church door on Sunday morning. Give readers the Bible verses a week ahead of time so they will have opportunity to practice. Mispronunciation can mar the loveliest reading. Also, when the meaning of the text is carefully considered, the reader can have his heart as well as voice prepared to communicate God’s Word.
5. Provide visual backup. Churches that use powerpoint can easily project the text on the screen for the congregation. Printing the passage in the church bulletin achieves the same goal. Group visuals like these are especially helpful for people who are not yet comfortable finding their way around the Bible for themselves or for people who carry a different version than the one being read aloud. I once visited a church that handed out Bibles instead of hymnbooks at the door. When the time came for the public reading of Scripture, the page number was announced as well as the chapter and verse reference. What a great way to engage unchurched visitors as well as underlining the centrality of the Bible for each person!
God’s Word is essential life-giving nourishment. As its truth enters our souls, it nurtures us with both comfort and conviction. How are we spicing up this staple of our corporate spiritual lives to ensure that our appetites are stimulated for this necessary food? Do you have ideas for adding zest to our public Bible reading?