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Scripture reading is one of the most important tasks for any worship leader, pastor or volunteer reader on Sundays. This worship practice might seem easy enough when compared to the skill needed to play an instrument, but it is fraught with peril if taken lightly. In Christ-Centered Worship, Bryan Chapell writes,

“Readers can fail to group words or phrases properly, begin or end a selection in inappropriate contexts, speak in tones wholly foreign to the sentiment of the text, or, in short, by a myriad of variables fail to communicate what the text says …

“Readers should be concerned to make climactic what the writer intended to be the climax, to connote feelings appropriate for the sense of the passage … In this way oral reading becomes a type of exposition of Scripture, and its presentation becomes a tool for both communicating and discovering the truths within the text.”

With this in mind, here are five tips for liturgical readers:

1. Understand the text. You can’t serve it well until you understand it through the mind of Christ. Pray for the Spirit’s illumination on the passage you’re presenting.

2. Practice reading aloud beforehand, just as you would practice singing or playing worship songs. Don’t wing it.

3. Make eye contact at the beginning and end of the reading. No matter how long the reading is, you can quickly memorize the first sentence. Look at your congregation while reciting this sentence, to help focus their attention on your words.

4. Emphasize verbs, particularly action verbs. This will make the reading flow well, and help draw your congregation into the passage.

5. Pace yourself well. Nervous people often read too quickly. Read at a comfortable pace, and pause after key sentences or phrases.

Do you have any additional tips you can share with us? Let us know in the comments!

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20 thoughts on “5 Tips For Effective Public Scripture Reading”

  1. Martin says:

    When I was chosen to read the eulogy at my father’s funeral service, the presiding bishop gave me a very helpful hint (primarily because I was very close to my father and tears would be close at hand – I was known as Marty “The Faucet”). He suggested that I breathe from my diaphragm as I read the eulogy. It worked … I read slowly and deliberately, free from emotional display.

    I think that is also a very wise suggestion when reading Scripture to the congregation. When you breathe from the diaphragm, you are unable to rush your words.

    I also agree that one should put life into the words by adding emphasis and pauses to the reading.

  2. Bobby Gilles says:

    Great tip; thanks for sharing!

  3. Brandon Nunnally says:

    Great article Bobby! I read scripture every week in our services and these tips are much much appreciated.

    One thing I’ve started doing is formatting my reading in a way to help me read the passage a certain way. I do this because I’m also leading the singing and playing guitar, so I may finish a song and still be distracted by ‘what just happened to the monitors’, ‘that singer’s mic is WAY to loud, hopefully the sound guys fixes it’, etc…

    So, I will format my reading by breaking up phrases into seperate lines and highlighting certain words that need to be emphasized. It’s hard for me to rush through a few phrases if they’re broken into seperate lines. It’s my way of forcing me to deliver the passage at a deliberate pace, so, hopefully, the congregation better understands the content, emotion and meaning behind the text.

  4. Rob says:

    Thanks Bobby, my spirit is stirred when I hear Scripture read well. No wonder Paul told Timothy to give attention to this. A church I attend does this well. I get the impression that the reader has spent time with the speaker……along with the one who offers congregational prayers. They both reflect an understanding of the text and it shows.

  5. Teck Poh Choo says:

    I think it is good to close a reading with “May God bless the reading of His Word” and the congregation encouraged to respond “Thanks be to God” as an expression of gratefulness.

  6. I would say, let the tone of your voice match and express the tone of the passage.

  7. Gordon Moore says:

    A very good resource on this is Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture by Max McLean. It includes a DVD where he shows you how he prepares the Scripture to read as well as samples from the team at his church.

  8. Ryan Fishel says:

    Something I’ve also found helpful for others, is to not begin reading until I eye that the majority of the congregation has found the passage. I might even pause patiently another moment for the unfamiliar.

    Also, for practice, read books aloud with your spouse ;0) A few years later and some great adventures together, you’ve likely fixed up any monotonous tone.

  9. Bobby Gilles says:

    Thanks Brandon. Formatting the text is a great idea!

  10. Darrell Young says:

    Involve children and young people…

  11. Chadley says:

    Awesome article–thank you!

    Lately, my co-pastor & I have been slightly dramatizing the Scripture reading (in the Gospel of Mark). He reads the narration, I read the dialogue–we both try to read expressively (I even use voices for different characters), conveying emotions that seem apparent/natural in the text.

  12. Andy says:

    Remember that you are reading the Word of God aloud and that it is a privilege which should be done with some semblance of passion and excitement.

  13. Delina says:

    When I listen to Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Tim Keller) online, I am always so impressed by the reading of Scripture. It’s dramatized, expressive and intentional. Love it!

  14. Arpan Patro says:

    Thanks for the article.

    One point that I can add is that when you have to read a scripture portion and you announce the reference to the congregation you may want to wait for a few seconds to allow the congregation to turn their bibles to the passage or navigate to the passage on their mobile devices.It helps in them not being left out while you start.

  15. Jeff Bourque says:

    The little booklet I’ve linked to below has been a great resource that I purchase in bulk and give to all of our readers. It has really helped increase the excellence with which our public readings are done over the past year. It’s a short, yet comprehensive prep tool for understanding and reading Scripture publicly.

  16. David Lee says:

    Some good comments there. Note that almost all of them are about preparation. The three key points? Preparation, preparation and preparation.

    A couple of comments were about the congregation having time to find the passage in their Bibles. IF.. the intention is for the congregation to follow along then this is a good thing. IF…

    But note that “if”. There may be a different side to this.

    Much of scripture derives from oral (spoken) tradition, with its hearers NOT reading but listening. Scripture was constructed for hearing, in an age when the relevant read-along technology (the printing press) didn’t exist.

    For many passages it can be appropriate for our congregation NOT to follow, but rather listen to the story-teller telling the story. When we’re watching a live play or a film or a TV drama, do we follow a copy of the script on our knees? Of course not! So why, when hearing the drama of scripture delivered to us, do we insist on the unnatural act of following the written script?

    A few random examples: Anything from Genesis, especially from its first few chapters. Almost anything from Samuel-Kings. Any of the Psalms. And see how much of the Prophets engage with the imagination and with life, rather than with follow-along reading.

    Similarly from the Gospels, especially Mark which is, amongst other things, a rattling good story-teller’s story. Or from John, which is engaging with our deeper knowledge and imagination (close your eyes against distraction and let the heard text speak). Or from Revelation.

    Paul’s letters? Trickier. Paul was great as a writing theologian, but (dare I say) less good as a story-teller. Pragmatically his letters were heard by a listening congregation, because the printing press had not been invented; there was no way that they could follow along. But I’ll readily admit that much of his writing may be better understood if the reading is followed.

    So I suggest that a case can be made for congregational bibles remaining firmly shut, and the speaker delivering the text in a story-like or poetic voice, as was originally intended, according to context.

    After all, what’s the point of having it read aloud at all, if all that is going to happen is that the congregation, the gathered corporate body of Christ, fragments itself into each individual isolating themselves into solitary, walled-in islands with nose buried in book?

    As individuals we’ve each had all week to read scripture to ourselves. All week. Plenty of time. By contrast, the corporate service is not about us as individuals; it is about our gathered, corporate nature as church.

    Nehemiah 8. A six-hour (not two minute!) scripture declamation. No silent reading along by the people. And the same the next day. And the day after. No silent reading along. But the congregation listening (not reading) the proclaimed Word.

    Of course, that requires preparation, preparation and preparation by the reader. But is that really too much to ask when we are entrusted with the life-giving Word?

    Dare we try reading scripture as it was intended?

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Bobby Gilles has written several of Sojourn Music’s popular worship songs for albums like The Water and the Blood, and Before the Throne. He serves as director of communications for Sojourn Church in Louisville, Kentucky.