Reading the Word

Dear Lectors,

This is guidance for those who read the Holy Scriptures to God’s assembled people in public worship.

Reading God’s word to God’s people is a great privilege. Think about it: God’s own word will come forth from your lips. The pastor will preach a sermon to help the people understand and apply God’s word, but sermons are secondary to the text itself. Preaching is essential but it depends on God’s word for its authority. Only God’s word “containeth all things necessary to salvation.” Preachers can and do get it wrong. If you could only have a scripture reading OR a sermon during worship, it’s not even a close call. Read the scriptures and let God speak for himself. As acts of worship go, there is nothing more important than the public reading of the Holy Scriptures. Don’t screw it up.

Treat God’s word with respect. Careless reading is a sin. That doesn’t mean that you should be anxious or overly concerned with doing it just right. As in all things, proper scripture reading depends most on simple faith and trust that God speaks through his word. The following tips are intended to help you get out of the way so that the congregation can hear God speak.

Before reading the Holy Scriptures public worship, read the passages silently and then read them out loud. Repeat until you feel comfortable. There is no substitute for practice. How do the words feel on the tongue and the lips? How do the words sound, and how do they connect to each other when spoken? Where are the audible transitions in the text? What rhythm is there to the speech? Silent reading alone will not help you avoid the “Oops, I wasn’t prepared for that” moments that are so common in the public reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Understand the basic meaning of what you are reading. If you have no idea what the author is trying to say, the congregation won’t either.

Don’t try to dramatize the reading. You are not an actor on a stage.

Use your natural public speaking tones. Don’t try to sound holy or religious.

If there is a good analogy from everyday life, it might be something like this. Imagine you are gathered around the dinner table with your family, and you are reading a letter from a loved one who has gone off to war. Of course not all scripture texts are letters. For me, though, this image captures both the warmth and the weight of a good scripture reading.

In any case, read humbly, remembering that you are not only speaking God’s word to others, you are listening to it and submitting yourself to it. You are subject to the word’s judgments and admonitions. You are an unworthy recipient of its gracious promises. Read like you are a servant of the word.

Speak loud enough to be heard, but try not to strain your voice. Get closer to the microphone if you must.

Read clearly and with a moderate tempo, not too fast and not too slow.

Announce the reading, and then stick to the inspired text until you complete the reading.

Be sure your announcement of the reading is accurate. If the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles (as it often is during the season of Easter), please don’t announce it as a reading from the “Old Testament.” I have heard this done on more than one occasion. Just say, “The first reading is from …”

Don’t read the passage headings that some Bibles use to break up the printed text.

If the lectionary passage skips verses, don’t interrupt your reading by announcing the jump. Take a very brief pause at the break in verses, and continue the reading without further announcement.

God’s blessings accompany the reading of his word. Bless the church by reading it well.

Related: Hearing the Word