I go to a church where we read the Bible out loud during our worship services. Right after we finish singing and praying together, a few people slip from their pews, making their way toward the front. At the podium, looking out to the congregation, they begin reading that morning's passages. No flashiness in their readings really. They try to read honestly, speaking the Word of God with conviction and submission. And with them, we try turning our ears toward what God has said and is saying in the mouths of his servants.
This is one of my favorite parts of my church's service. When we get to it, I remember what a unique ministry the reading of God's Word is. The whole Bible is built for this kind of reading, really. Right alongside preaching or playing in the worship band, public Scripture reading is a ministry. It's an opportunity to lead others into communion with God through the Spirit and the Word.
Sometimes, though, it's easy to forget that communion is the goal. When we read Scripture to each other, it can be easy to use too many dramatic tricks in order to help the congregation "get it." But corporate Scripture reading isn't a time to unpack what the text says...that's what sermons and discussions are for. No, Scripture reading is a ministry of presence. It's where we, as a reader and congregation together, encounter God together in the living and active Word.
I like to think of Scripture reading as a ministry of hospitality. It isn't about forcing others to think or feel a certain way. Rather, it's working to create a time and space for the listeners to hear, receive from, and meet with God. As Scripture readers, we are trying to clear the way for the church to meet with Christ in the Word.
So how does one read Scripture hospitably? The thing to remember is that we're inviting others into the Word with us. Think of it this way: when you read Scripture to others, you should try and be the "first listener" of what you read. Your reading is the model. But you're not modeling a perfect oratory delivery of the text; you're modeling what it looks like and sounds like to be in submission to what you read.
This makes sense, because even when we get up to read we never really leave the congregation. Though we might stand, we're still in the audience. We, too, are hearing from God's Word. And the ministry we have to offer is showing others what it looks like to hear God's Word and be convicted by what we find. We show scripture's power not when we deliver the perfect dramatic flourish, but when we submissively feel the power of what we're reading and are willing to show it.
The great thing about this is that it means anyone can be an effective Scripture reader. Since the goal is to be the "first listener" to the text, reading doesn't require a show-stopping stage presence. Good readers are ones who read as themselves, using their unique personality to exhibit reverent, attentive submission to what they read. Because of this, good readers can have any personality. Dynamic readers can use their cadence and pace to explore the text and make new discoveries. Slower readers can find hidden nuance and the text's weight. Some people can't help but expressing their joy in exuberance while others like to quietly treasure and ponder the riches they find. None of these is wrong; all of them are right. And that's because when we read out loud, the goal is to hear and read at the same time.
So when you get ready to read Scripture to others, here are some things to consider:
1) Get to know what you're saying before you say it. Spend some time with the text before your reading, trying to see everything that's there. As you begin exploring the text, put yourself in a posture of searching, listening, and exploring. Remember, you're to be an "active listener" of the text.
2) Let your imagination be held captive, whether it's imagining a scene or allowing yourself to be intuitively caught by certain words or phrases. Hold on to what actually interests you--not what you think should interest you, or what you've been told to be interested in. What do you see?
3) When you read, show what you feel. If you suddenly feel the need to pick up the pace because the passage excites you, do it. If you suddenly feel that you have to stop for a moment because you just realized the passage's weight, then stop. But remember, the goal isn't to manipulate the congregation. It's to show them what honest reading looks like. If you've got something honest to show, try showing it.