Helps for Reading Scripture in Worship

Here are a number of thoughts and tips for reading scripture in public worship.  During the Advent season, many churches often read scripture in worship more than usual and need a few pointers in how to direct congregation members of all ages helping out.

Public Reading of Scripture is the proclamation of God’s Word.  Honor that through prayerful-heartfelt preparation and presentation.
1 Tim 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

1.     Prepare Prayerfully. You are not just giving a public reading; you are giving a reading of God’s holy Word.  Therefore, you must come before the Author of the text humbly and ask Him to use you to proclaim His Word (in speaking and in attitude).  Pray for deeper understanding of and fresh insights into your passage.  Ask the Spirit to help you ask the right questions of the text and pay attention to the right details as you study the text.  Your goal is not to be a “dramatic” reader; your goal is to be an authentic, Spirit-filled storyteller. Excellent storytellers know and understand their stories.  If you have not adequately prepared yourself, you communicate the message that “this text was not worthy of my attention, so it is not worthy of yours either.”

2.     Know the text thoroughly. Check the pronunciations of names and difficult words.  The scriptural texts read in the special services are usually very familiar ones.  One of your tasks will be to make the familiar unfamiliar during your preparation.  Do not assume you already know the text.  Find out the background or context of your text.  Commentaries and Study Bibles are helpful here.  Check out other translations of your text ( is a good place to visit).  This can be helpful in unpacking phrases that might be difficult to understand.  You may want to listen to a professional do the reading first so you will get an idea what the passage should sound like.  Audio Bibles are wonderful tools to help.

3.     Practice diligently and creatively. Print out your part of the text on separate paper, allow enough space in between the lines for marking it up with cues such as when to pause, when to crescendo / decrescendo, when to pick up / slow down the pacing, which words to give special emphasis, and practice variations intonations with words and pitch changes for different roles.  Practice it before a mirror and watch your posture.  Take it one step at a time.  Begin with a phrase, complete a verse, add the next phrase, and recite two verses, until you know your text well enough that you can confidently look up at people frequently. Finish well. Anticipate the end of your reading with a slowed tempo. Look up as you prepare to end.  A liturgical responsive reading after the scripture is a wonderful way to keep your people engaged in listening.

Practical Tips (Mike Farley)

Here are some practical tips for effective Scripture reading:

1. Use of the body

§  Stand upright and with good posture.
§  Take deep breaths to support reading, and breathe by expanding the diaphragm (not raising the shoulders).
§  Some eye contact helps emphasize the personal nature of the act.

2. Mechanics of reading

§  Practice aloud repeatedly.

§  Enunciate clearly.

§  Use sufficient volume to be heard comfortably by all hearers.

§  Read slowly enough to allow attentiveness to details and time for the congregation to absorb and feel the impact of Scripture’s weighty importance.

§  Read quickly enough to communicate the flow of thought and/or the movement of a narrative sequence.

§  Avoid stumbling, especially over words difficult to pronounce.

§  Leave space for natural pauses according to punctuation (commans, periods, semi-colons, etc.)

§  In one’s rehearsal for the reading, over-dramatize the emotions expressed in the text or the various possible emotional responses that the text seeks to evoke in order to discover the emotional high points of the text.

§  Emphasize what is most important with use of volume, vocal inflection, pace, and spacing. No manner of reading is neutral; rather, the manner of reading always interprets the text by what it emphasizes or highlights in different ways (or by what it fails to emphasize or highlight). Therefore, attempt to discover objective features of the text that indicate the words that are most important in the literary structure and primary theological purposes of the text. Practice the differences in meaning and impact when emphasizing different words.

§  When practicing, read from a copy that allows you to mark up the text with cues for reading.

From CICW Worship Weblog

This morning Tim read an article he wrote entitled “The Power of Words” from the latest issue of Reformed Worship.  In it, he shared a scripture-reader’s to-do list.  They are worthy principles that we all can apply to public reading of scripture, so I thought they were worth another look.

1.  Warm up before you go up.
2.  Look into people’s eyes and not over their heads.
3.  Slow down.  Reading is more like a walk in the park than like the Indy 500.
4.  Slow down.  Make every body movement a servant of the text.
5.  Remember that punctuation marks were made for the reader, not the reader for the punctuation mark.
6.  Feel what you are reading as deeply as you can.  What the reader does not feel deeply, the hearer will not feel at all.
7.  Treat every word like an only child.  Enunciate.
8.  Treat every sentence like the last bite of a favorite dessert.  Be sure to finish!
9.  Remember that microphones are “equal opportunity” amplifiers; they magnify the good and the bad.
10.  Don’t forget to breath.  Words should rise up out of your belly, not be strained through your throat.

Further Resources:

Harvey Smit, “So You’ve Been Asked to Read Scripture” (Faith Alive Resources)

Christopher Wright – Reading Scripture Missionally

G. Robert Jacks, “Getting the Word Across” (Erdmann’s: 1995)

Thomas E. McComiskey, Reading Scripture in Public (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991);

Clayton J. Schmit, Public Reading of Scripture: A Handbook (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002).

Max McLean and Warren Bird, Unleashing the Word (Zondervan, 2009)

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