Express the Excitement of God's Word When Reading Scripture
- 2003 17 Nov
Creativity should never obscure clarity. For example, if a puppet reads the scripture on Children's Sunday, but the microphone isn't well-placed or the sound technician doesn't have the cue, the congregation will experience creativity but will not hear a word. Creativity must be rehearsed carefully and then delivered in a competent way that opens hearts rather than closing minds.
Not everyone cooks well; this doesn't make them inadequate people, it only means they have not yet acquired a particular skill. In the same way, not everyone reads well. Public reading and speaking is an art form to be taken seriously. When a passage of Scripture is read by someone who has rehearsed the reading and somehow gotten "behind" and "inside" the meaning of the words, those listening will be moved to deeper awareness or to greater service. Scripture poorly delivered carries with it the risk of reducing the encounter with the living God to another random blip on the screen of our weekly experience or, even worse, to a source of irritation.
Appropriateness in worship flows directly from how well the church leaders know and understand each individual church member - not only their dislikes and prejudices, but more importantly, their openness and appreciation of creativity. You may be surprised, as I have been, at many people's high degree of openness and receptivity to innovative Scripture reading. Knowing what will lead your congregation to new depths and what will make them afraid to come to worship is a fine line that can only be walked by one who knows the people who regularly attend the church.
Suggestions to Improve Scripture Reading
1. Read more Scripture in worship, not less. For the gathered people of God, especially in the Protestant tradition, Scripture reading is the basis of our encounter with God. The lectionary usually provides four texts for worship each week: an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a Gospel, and an Epistle. Each of these types of Scripture has a different intent, style, and impact. If you do not use the lectionary, find a way to read a selection from all of these kinds of Scripture each week in worship.
2. Allow silence after a Scripture is read. A profound gift to be given in worship is silence. In a world of constant noise and sensory bombardment, allowing people to rest in the words they have just heard restores and transforms the congregation. However, because our world is so noisy, many people don't know how to use silence and only feel uncomfortable with it.
Following the reading of the Gospel, invite the congregation to one minute of silent reflection. Without filling the silence with words, guide them by suggesting they replay the message of the selection, repeat a significant phrase from the Scripture, or wait in quiet for an inspiration or thought to rise up within them. ...
3. Develop a lay readers school. Throughout church history, Scripture reading in worship has belonged to lay readers. Professional clergy have too often taken this gift away from the laity. Many people in your congregation are excellent oral interpreters. If Scripture readings are often chosen ahead of time, these readers could meet once a month with a teacher and practice the fine art of reading in public, giving attention to voice projection, emphasis, changes in loudness and timbre, etc. ...
Vary men and women's voices throughout the service, and vary ages, races, and accents as well. Doing so will give people an expansive view of God. If the biblical passage is a story with characters, different voices can be used for each character in a semi-dramatic or "readers' theater" performance.
4. Arrange a visit from a prophet. Another dramatic way for a congregation to experience an encounter with prophetic words in Scripture is hearing from that prophet "in person." Create the prophet's costume for one of your dramatic readers, affix the prophetic Scripture passage into a scroll, and maybe even give the reader a dramatic entrance such as from the back of the church. Allow the congregation to get a feel for "a voice crying in the wilderness." For example, if your congregation celebrates the Advent season, the church could experience a visit from the prophet Isaiah on the first Sunday of Advent.
5. Read responsively or antiphonally. Responsive readings are a valuable way to involve the entire congregation in the experience of reading Scripture. In this setting, an individual reader and the group take turns reading a Scripture text verse by verse. Different sections of the congregation - for example the right and left sides or choir or congregation - can also read verses back and forth to each other.
Antiphonal readings are slightly different; one of the groups or an individual repeats a single phrase or sentence (called the "antiphon") between verses of the Scripture passage. ... For example, the congregation may read a Psalm and an individual reader would say, "The steadfast Love of the Lord never ceases" between each verse. ...
6. Sing one of the readings as an anthem. As the choir's contribution to worship that day, ask them to sing the Scripture reading, allowing a moment of silence to follow. ...
7. Sign the Scripture reading even if you have no hearing-impaired members. Of course, if you have hearing-impaired members, you're doing this already. For those who do not understand sign language, the interpretive movement of the signs will reinforce what they are hearing through a different sensory avenue.
8. Create a short antiphon and teach the sign language for it to the congregation. For example, if the prayer, "The Lord Is My Strength and Song" fits into the Scripture reading as an antiphonal affirmation, have the congregation sign those words each time it is said or sang. The last time the antiphon is said, use only hand signs with no spoken words. Your congregation can take that gift home with them and sign that prayer to each other when words seem inadequate.
9. Re-create an important event on a special Sunday of the church year. This suggestion works extremely well on Pentecost Sunday. Find people who read well in another language and ask them to provide the text for Acts 2 in their language. ... When this reading is carefully rehearsed and artistically directed, it has a profound effect. ...
10. If you have the technology, use it. If you have the capability to effectively use video technology in your sanctuary, there are many excellent resources available to you. ... videos would add a sense of drama and authenticity to the reading of the Word in worship.
11. Stand or kneel for the lesson. Invite your congregation to stand or kneel for the reading of the Scripture lesson. By symbolizing respect and giving special attention through the posturing of your body, you will find that the reading of the Scripture takes on new emphasis and importance as a high point in worship.
Excerpted by permission from Reinventing Sunday: Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship, copyright 2001 by Brad Berglund. Published by Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pa., www.judsonpress.com, 1-800-4-JUDSON.
Rev. Brad Berglund directs Illuminated Journeys, an ecumenical ministry devoted to deepening the spiritual life of individuals and churches. He has been a pastor, church musician, and worship leader for more than 20 years.
Think about a time when a passage of Scripture came alive for you. How can you convey the sense of excitement you felt at that time to others when discussing that portion of Scripture? How can you encourage others to discover more about the Bible for themselves? Visit Live It's forum to respond, or read what others have to say. Just click on the link below.