So does it matter how well the Bible is read? Many of us have heard extremely flat readings of truly exhilarating parts of the Bible, as well as little Jonny reading the lesson at the carol service, with all the emphases in the wrong place. I'm not a kill joy, but God's word matters and I believe it honours him if we try to read it well. But reading it well, what might that mean? I've certainly been helped by others, particularly Max Maclean and his book, Unleashing the word, as well as Public Reading of Scripture: A Handbook, by Clay Schmit, a Lutheran minister and Fuller Theological Seminary professor. But this is what we have come up with,
The 10 commitments to good Bible reading at Grace
- Practice the passage. This means that you will need more than 10 minutes notice that you are going to read. Preferably you should know at least a couple of days in advance. Practice reading it out loud to get a feel for the passage. Read silently to. yourself will not help you identify pronunciation and pauses.
- Aim to understand what you are reading. This will have a enormous bearing on your emphases and pauses. If you are not sure about the meaning check with the preacher (who has likely chosen the passage), or the service leader, or a good commentary.
- Do not read too fast, nor too slow. Take a slow deep breath at the beginning and try to breath slowly.
- Look for the pauses, emphases and questions in the passage. Look for the question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks, and adapt your reading accordingly. Use pace for emphasis.
- Use emotion but do not be over dramatic. Be interested in the passage, don't read it as though it were a telephone directory.
- Look up only occasionally. Avoid the bobbing head.
- Introduce the passage by referring to the text you are going to read, the page number in the church Bible, and the fact that the reading is in the meeting guide and on the screen. Use your own words to introduce and close the reading, eg 'Let's hear God's word', and 'This is God's word'. This suggestion is optional and can be left entirely to you. Whatever you do or don't do, let people know that the Bible is special!
- Print off the reading in larger type, and extra spacing, so you can see it more clearly, and mark it as necessary. But make sure you use the correct version. Avoid biblegateway.com, since it has multiple NIV versions. Instead use http://www.biblestudytools.com/niv/ it looks as though it is the same 1984 version that we have in the church Bibles.
- Try not to let you voice tail off at the end of sentence. Don't sound like a cleric, sing-songing the reading
- Pray. Pray that the reading will speak to you and that God will speak to others as you read the passage.
Other practical points we discussed were whether a very short (2 sentence max) intro to set the reading in context might be helpful. But rather than doing this off your own back it would be better to discuss with the service leader or preacher.
Practically it is a good idea to approach the lectern after the preceding song/prayer, and don't wait to be announced then (that the Bible reading was going to take place should have already have been announced).
OK it's an effort-but worth it!