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Reading Scripture Well: A Workshop

Suggestions for reading scripture well in worship

Why should Scripture be read well?

  • Scripture comes from an oral tradition. Revelation 1:3: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud thewords of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and who take to heart what is writtenin it, because the time is near.”
  • Quality of presentation is necessary in contemporary rhetorical culture.
  • Distractions in the pew.
  • Engaging congregants in the Scripture reading has the potential to influence their own attitudes and actions about personal Bible reading.

How do I prepare myself and others to read Scripture well?

  1. REHEARSE! For choral/group readings, have at least one mid-week rehearsal and go through the text again before the service.
  2. Understand the context of the text. What happened before? What will happen next? How does this text fit into the cannon of Scripture?
  3. Talk to your pastor or priest about his or her understanding of the text, especially if it is the sermon text.
  4. Live in the text. Try to memorize it (even if you don’t). By rehearsing and meditating on the text, the Holy Spirit will speak to you and you will learn new things about God and God’ story.

What performance skills can I utilize to read Scripture well?

  1. Emphasize meaning. First, understand the text. Then, communicate what it means through your vocal work. Avoid the “Bible reading” tempo and voice quality. This is exciting material! Don’t let it sound boring--it’s not.
  2. For narratives, ask yourself “What does this character want?” Answering this question will help communicate meaning of the text. In narratives with more than one character, each one will have his or her own motivation. Often, different motivations cause conflict. Conflict is what makes stories interesting and compelling. Go with this.
  3. Make strong choices about meaning. Not crazy choices, but strong choices. Don’t be afraid to take risks. The Bible is a risky book. Live in it.
  4. Make sure the congregation can HEAR and UNDERSTAND the words. If the readers prepare for ten hours, but can’t be heard, all the meaning is lost.

What are some challenges I may face in an attempt to improve the quality of Scripture reading at my church?

  1. Willingness to participate and/or spend time rehearsing and preparing.
  2. Disagreement about the physical presence of the Bible. (Some worship leaders provide folders rather than the Bible.)
  3. Lack of professionalism in some younger readers (posture, elocution, dress.)
  4. Unwillingness to take risks or deviate from the habitual “Bible reading” tone of voice.

What are ideas for creative approaches to Scripture reading?

Note: Before trying anything new and different, make sure it fits within the tradition and culture of your congregation and denominational affiliation.

  1. Try different translations, or combinations of translations.
  2. Tell the story using a Bible story book for children such as The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones, 2007). This can do double-duty as part of the Scripture reading and the children’s message or sermon.
  3. Re-write the text as a script (particularly good for narrative stories in the Old Testament and New Testament) or choral reading (good for poetry, prophecy, and wisdom literature).
  4. Ask a trained actor in your congregation to present the text memorized, as he or she would a monologue in a play or at an audition.
  5. Place readers in different locations throughout the worship space.
  6. Mix scripture reading with music, or incorporate music into the scripture reading. (For example: Luke 1:26-56 can end with the sung Magnificat.)
  7. End with a liturgical response
    • “This is the Word of the Lord.” (Thanks be to God.)
    • “The Word of the Lord.” (Thanks be to God.)
    • “This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Praise be to you, oh Christ.)

Additional Resources

Network of Biblical Storytellers Int’l
Reading Scripture Aloud” 
Reading Scripture in Public Worship” 
Ten Tips for Reading Scripture in Public Worship” 
Tips for Effective Public Scripture Reading in Worship” 

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