By Howard Vanderwell and Norma de Waal Malefyt
In the interest of making Scripture reading in worship more interesting, noteworthy, and formative, we offer some suggestions for worship planners to consider.
- Consider including more Scripture passages, not less. Let God's voice come through multiple times in multiple ways in a worship service. When this is done it's usually best to carefully examine the length of each passage. A larger number of brief passages may be more effective than one long passage.
- Take a new look at the prayer for illumination. Sometimes the church neglects this vital element of worship. When the Word of God is read and proclaimed, the worshipers acknowledge their need for the Holy Spirit's guidance in reading, preaching, and listening. This prayer may be offered by the preacher or a lay member, or sung by the congregation; it may take place before the Scripture reading or after it. But it makes very clear that we can receive God's Word only when the work of the Holy Spirit illumines our hearts.
- Consider using an introduction to the reading of Scripture. Since this is such an important act in worship, the congregation's attention should be carefully invited and encouraged. Identify the book, chapter, and verses, and possibly point the congregation to the page in the Bibles that are provided. A brief introductory statement may aid the worshipers in understanding the type of passage being read and knowing what to listen for. To invite their attentiveness, you may want to begin with, "The word of the Lord from . . ." or "A reading from . . ." or "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church . . ." or some similar statement.
- Encourage the congregation to respond to the reading of Scripture. Whatever we do to highlight the importance of our reception of God's Word will aid our worship. A thoughtful response to the reading of Scripture reinforces in the mind of the congregation that this is no ordinary book. A response helps them to receive this as nothing less than God's voice to us. A time-honored practice is to use a response such as one of these: The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God! The Gospel of Christ. Praise be to you, O Christ! The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. Amen!
- Encourage the use of multiple readers. The Word of God belongs to the entire congregation and we exercise a great privilege when we read it to one another. Different voices of different ages illustrate the office of believer and the oneness of the body of Christ in receiving and sharing his Word.
- Provide both encouragement and training for readers. All Scripture reading, because it is public, must be done in such a way that will enhance its meaning and make it easy for others to hear, follow along, and become engaged in it. Those who are readers must possess some gifts to be able to do this well, but we should also consider providing some encouragement and coaching for them. Reading publicly is a craft to be developed, especially when it is for a large group. With some, instructions and guidelines may be sufficient; with others times of rehearsal and practice may be necessary. At a bare minimum all readers must be sure they are familiar with the content and spirit of what they are reading. You may find it very helpful to get in touch with folks at All Nations Heritage Christian Reformed Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They have developed a Worship Renewal Project that involves multiple weeks of training sessions for those who are lay readers of Scripture in worship. You will benefit from their insights and materials. Contact Doug Porter ([email protected]).
- Historically, some groups stood for the reading of Scripture. Consider asking your congregation to do this, at least on an occasional basis for special seasons such as Advent or Lent. It will be impossible to overlook the seriousness of what is being read.