Worship is a conversation between God and his children, and the Scriptures are the surest and clearest means through which God speaks. The Scriptures are his voice, and when the Scriptures are read, God is speaking to his people.It is wise, therefore, to pay close attention to the role that the reading of Scripture has in our worship services.
Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-6 and Luke 4:14-21
Imagine that you were there! You've been gone from Jerusalem for some years, away in captivity, knowing that Jerusalem had been ransacked and the walls had been broken down. Finally, you are back in Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 8). As soon as you returned, you rebuilt the walls under Nehemiah's leadership. You resettled the city. Now you are gathered in the city square, and the Book of the Law is brought out. Ezra begins to read it aloud. You all stand, listen, and respond with "Amen." In this moment you heard from God.
And imagine that you were there in Nazareth (see Luke 4) where the devout were gathering in the synagogue for worship. Jesus happened to be in town, and he participates in the leadership of worship by reading Scripture. He reads from Isaiah 61, a clearly messianic passage. And when he's finished reading, he says, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." It was an electric moment!
Both of these settings remind us that the reading of the word of God is central in worship.
Worship is a conversation (dialog) between God and his children, and the Scriptures are the surest and clearest means through which God speaks. The Scriptures are his voice, and when the Scriptures are read, God is speaking to his people.
It is wise, therefore, to pay close attention to the role that the reading of Scripture has in our worship services. When we evaluate worship, we should discuss the prominence of Scripture in the worship service. Ask questions such as:
How many Scripture passages?
In our next lesson we'll address matters of proclaiming the Word in preaching. For now, perhaps we should ask ourselves how much Scripture should be read in worship. It can fairly be said that most of us err on the side of reading too little Scripture rather than too much. If Scripture is God's voice among us, we must let him speak more, rather than less!
Three considerations will likely influence our selections of Scripture readings and their place in worship.
We should also be aware that while we normally think of Scripture as being read, it may also be sung. In some instances an anthem will proclaim the Word in sung form. Likewise, many songs for congregational use are a proclamation of the direct words of Scripture. The heritage of Psalm-singing in the church has also served this purpose.
Creating the Set-ups for Scripture
Often the effectiveness of a Scripture reading can be greatly increased if we place it in the right setting and surround it with meaningful words and actions. The purpose of these settings is to make clear that this is a very privileged moment. It should be received attentively and gratefully. Here are a few suggestions you may want to consider:
If we want Scripture reading to be a vital part of our worship services, here are a few other considerations we'll want to bear in mind.
In all your efforts, aim to make the hearing and receiving of the inspired Word of God a high point in your worship conversation with God. When God speaks, it should be a powerful moment!
Tips for Discussion Leaders
Your goal in this lesson is to ask the basic question: Does the Word of God have as much prominence in our worship services as it should? As the chairperson leading this discussion, it would be good to remind all the participants that we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit to do God's work among us. As such, the reading of the Bible in public worship should receive very noble attention. You may want to discuss together whether you think everyone is aware of this.
Then your discussion can turn to the evaluation of your worship services. Be sure you point to the positives as well as the challenges you face. By the end of the discussion, aim to have reached a consensus on some actions that your church could implement to improve the role of the Word in worship.
1. How conscious is your congregation of the importance of Bible reading in worship? Describe some of the behaviors and responses that you see as you look around the congregation during the reading of Scripture.
2. On an average Sunday, how many different passages are heard by your congregation? Is this sufficient, too many, or too few? Do worshipers know why each passage is included?
3. Are those who read doing so in a way that is interesting and expressive? Are they well-prepared? Is someone available to coach the readers when necessary?
4. Analyze who does the reading in your worship services. Look at the worship services of this past month. How many different readers were included? Were they diverse in age and gender?
5. How are readers selected? Are they the same few each time, or do you have a method for discovering willing volunteers from the congregation? (You might want to consider a Volunteer Resource Bank.)
"Getting the Story Off the Page: Advice on putting life into Scripture reading," by W.J. Beeners, Reformed Worship, 17:11.
"When You Read Scripture: Suggestions for helping lay readers be more effective," by Kenneth Baker, Reformed Worship, 21:41.
Next Month: "Proclaiming the Word"