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Reading the Bible Publicly

If you sit in an average church service on an average Sunday you’ll probably hear an average reading of God’s Word. That’s heartbreaking. Lacklustre public reading of the Scriptures is a discredit to God’s people and a slight to God! An average reading of God’s Word isn’t good enough. When we read the Bible publicly we should read it well – very well! It is, after all, God’s Word. And God’s Word, invested with the life giving power of His Spirit; is dynamic, transformational, and alive. So let’s read it like we believe it. Let’s read it energetically, passionately, thoughtfully, dramatically, inspirationally, and motivationally. Let’s read it like it’s coursing through our veins and pounding in our hearts. And let’s make sure that we never ever read it in a boring, nondescript, half-baked way.

From its inception the Bible was given to us to be read aloud and heard. So how do we devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture? (cf. 1 Timothy 4:13). Here are some pointers for reading the Bible publicly:

  • Prepare, practice and pray
  • Use a script and identify who is speaking
  • Become the character
  • Help the listener hear it for the first time
  • Read from your heart and then from your lips
  • Convey the meaning of the words (not just the sounds)
  • Use pauses and break up the text so that it’s easy to hear
  • Highlight the meaning of a text through tone, modulation and emphasis
  • Read with dynamism (the Bible is not a telephone directory!)
  • Bring freshness and vitality
  • Let the text inform how you read it

And here are some common mistakes that should be avoided:

  • Inadequate preparation
  • Reading too slow or too fast
  • Using a sing-song or preacher voice
  • Speaking too loud or too soft
  • Reading in a monotone
  • No feeling or too much feeling
  • Trailing off with words or sentences
  • Not looking up (use a music stand to get the right height)
  • Not reading like a town-crier or with passion

There’s awesome power in God’s spoken Word. When we’re reading the Bible publicly let’s read every passage like we’re hearing it for the first time. Let’s read the Scriptures believing that they’ll bring salvation, comfort, understanding, discomfort, remorse, joy and all manner of life-changing encounters with the living God. And let’s be done with the humdrum reading of the Word. Yes, we’re inadequate for the task, but God’s grace is sufficient for everything we do. So let’s go for it! Let’s ask God to empower us in our weakness. Then let’s read God’s Word with stirring voices and enthusiasm – expecting God to engage people’s hearts, minds, wills and souls.

Recommended books:

Max McLean and Warren Bird, Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture, Zondervan, 2009.

Clayton J. Schmit, Public Reading of Scripture: A Handbook, Abingdon Press, 2002.

Jeffery D. Arthurs, Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: Encountering the Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word, Kregel Publications, 2012.

Recommended articles and apps:

Glen J. Clary, The Public Reading of Scripture in Worship: A Biblical Model for the Lord’s Day

Scott Newling, Devoted to the Public Reading of Scripture

Bible Audio Pronunciations – Confidently Read any Bible Verse Aloud

Stefano Russello, Biblical Pronunciations

BibleSpeak

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Preaching and Teaching

I love to read, study, teach and preach the Word. But looking back on more than three decades of ministry I realize I could have done more to help others develop confidence in the Word, build community focused on the Word, and encourage conversations about the Word.

So what can teachers and preachers do to promote confidence in, community around, and conversations about the Word? Consider the following:

Read the Scriptures every time you teach or preach the Word. Don’t cut out or truncate the reading of the Word to make more time for what you want to say. The Word of God should always be the main point, not the footnote of the lesson or sermon.

Public reading of the Scriptures should be done with conviction, enthusiasm, passion, fluency and expression. Worship teams/choirs practice their singing – Scripture readers should likewise practice their reading.

God’s Word is holy. Read it with reverence. At the conclusion of a public reading say something like, “Hear the Word of the Lord” or “These are the most important words you will hear today.”

Be prayerful. Before you preach/teach ask God to address and apply the Word to your heart and life. When you preach/teach begin with the prayer, “Lord speak to us, we’re listening . . .” or “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” Psalm 19:14 (NIV).

“Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), not your ideas, philosophy, or personal agenda. Make every effort to weave the Scriptures through every facet of what you say. Emphasize the Scriptures by saying, “The Word says . . .” or “In . . . God says . . .”

Teach the whole canon of Scripture. Don’t reduce the Bible to a canon within the canon by only preaching/teaching your favourite books, texts or stories. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV).

Preach and teach all the major themes of the Bible. Over the course of time your group/congregation/class should learn/understand the meta-narrative of (creation, fall, redemption and consummation) and how events are still unfolding.

Let the Word speak for itself. Don’t overshadow it with your stories, presentation style, exegetical prowess, “wisdom and eloquence” (1 Corinthians 1:17), creativity or personality. And don’t distract from it by lack of preparation, personal reservations, luke-warmness, academic arrogance or intellectual presumption.

Never forget that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives life and power to the Word – enabling the listener to hear the Word and live it out. Only God can speak and sustain His Word. The role of the preacher or teacher is to serve as a conduit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5) – nothing more and nothing less.

Remember that God’s Word is far more important than anything we can ever say about it. The primary aim of all preaching and teaching should be to equip others to actively indwell, engage and get caught up in receiving and reenacting the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:20 NLT).

What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything?

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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In Community

Among the highlights of my early adulthood were the times spent lying on the campus lawns at the Johannesburg College of Education while reading and discussing the Scriptures with fellow students. We had no program, no leaders guide, and no set time for our meetings. No one told us to do it. We simply had a desire to get together, open the Scriptures, read and debate. It was organic, compelling, and Spirit empowered. Along with, and spawned out of our Bible reading and discussion, we provoked and encouraged one another to love and good deeds. Our campus lawn meetings usually lasted for a few hours. Generally we’d read a whole book in one sitting (we chose the shorter ones). To this day I still remember our lively deliberations as we reflected on the prophecy of Hosea.

The Bible reading and discussions on the campus lawns resulted in significant outcomes. It deeply informed our faith development, and for many, clarified God’s calling on our lives. Several members of the group have served, or are serving, as full-time vocational missionaries, pastors, evangelists or teachers in Singapore, Egypt, South Africa, USA and Canada.

One of the characteristics of the church should be community. Yet individualism is often deeply entrenched in the church. Bible reading and reflection are a case in point. A strong person centred approach is the hallmark, particularly of Evangelicals. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with personal Bible reading and reflection – far from it. But it is to say that the fullness of Bible engagement comes into being when we read the Bible in community. This shouldn’t surprise us. God is shaping me as a person; but more importantly He is calling, gathering and forming us as a people. We’re in Christ together. That’s why life with God, by definition, is life shared with God’s people.

So what does this mean in practice? How do we do Bible engagement in community? Here are three suggestions:

  • Read, discuss and live out the Bible at the dinner table. Families should crack open the Bible together. The starting place for reading the Bible in community should be the home. God placed us in families. One of my highlights most every evening is reading and chatting about God’s Word with my wife, mother-in-law and children.
  • Read the Bible in a Bible reading small group. Now there’s a unique concept! Many church small groups are program centered or needs oriented but rarely Bible-centric. Imagine a small group where the primary focus is reading and listening to the Scriptures. Why not give it a try – it changed my life!
  • Read the Bible publicly. The norm for most Christians, historically and biblically speaking, is listening to God’s Word. Some local churches have strayed from these roots. When we gather to worship, the Bible should be read “not as information, not just as instruction, but as a summons to assemble together” Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams.

We’ll leave the final word to Richard J. Foster: “Wherever we are located within that all-inclusive community, we have the great privilege of seeing the Scripture through the eyes of the whole community . . . How boring life would be if we listened only to our own insights! How narrow our vision would be if we limited it only to our own understanding! How sad it would be if we missed out on what God has for all of us by failing to listen to how God speaks at various times and in various ways through parts of the whole.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2013