The Associate Pastor slowly meandered to the pulpit. The congregation could nearly hear the second hand on the clock ticking it took so long as the final words of the last verse were sung and Mr. Pokey finally reached the microphone. “This morning we are going to read from the Bible,” he announced. Well…good. “Turn to Matthew 19.” Suddenly, Captain Dilly Dally hit the hyper drive. Before I could find Matthew he put a period on the prayer with his “amen.” And that was that for the Bible reading.
The Apostle Paul valued the reading aloud of Scripture with the congregation. He exhorted Timothy “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:13. The reading of Scripture during the Lord’s Day worship service deserves special care, attention, and effort. Where the Bible speaks, God speaks. Here are a few practices that will immediately make your public reading of Scripture more meaningful and powerful for everyone.
- Choose a Scripture related to the theme for the day or from the text being preached.
Be thoughtful in the text you will pick to read. Perhaps it is part of the text you will preach. Maybe it is a cross-reference you found during sermon study. Be intentional in selecting a text that sets the theological tone for the service.
- Read through the text.
Read through the text several times. If you are having a lay person or staff member do the reading, encourage them to read through the text several times. Read it out loud. Read it to someone. Read it in the version you will read from on Sunday, preferably the version being preached from. Hear each word with your own ear. Pronounce words. Do not be surprised by words in the text while you are speaking into the microphone.
- Coordinate the timing of the reading in the service with the worship leader.
When it is time for the reading, get to the pulpit or the microphone. Don’t make everyone look up from singing or from sitting down to see you slowly strolling from the back of the room. Anticipate the timing. Get there so you can do your thing.
- Announce the text and give people time to find it.
Literally pause after saying “Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 19 verse 1. Matthew 19 verse 1. We will be reading the first ten verses. (Pause).” Listen to people turning in their Bibles. Wait just a little bit longer than you are comfortable. Then announce the text again and begin. You want people not only to hear you read, but to see the text with their own eyes.
- Find the drama of the text.
Read the text with appropriate passion. Read with a strong voice. Put the emPHASis on the right sylLABLE. Avoid a monotone voice. Pause after periods. Practice reading the text aloud so you know where more volume, a gesture, or a facial expression adds to the reading. Kill the boring man inside of you that just wants to get through the reading to check off the box. People should learn something about the text when they hear you read it. Reading the text publicly serves as an act of worship. Be a good reader. Be a good leader by being a good reader. Demand from other readers that they be good readers.
- If you pray after reading the text, PRAY the text.
Use the words of the Scripture you just read for your prayer. Pray what the Bible talks about. Make the main idea of your text the main idea of your prayer. On top of being an expositional preacher, be an expositional prayer. Pray, say amen, sit down.
Reading the Scriptures has become an overlooked element of our worship. Ezra read Scripture publicly for nearly six hours after the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt (Nehemiah 8). Let them hear the Word. Let your reading allow them to FEEL the Word where appropriate. Where the Bible speaks, God speaks. So let Christ be exalted and God be worshipped by your reading of the Scripture publicly.
Andy Taylor is the East Central Regional Ministry Partner for Oklahoma Baptists.