Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Saturday, February 13, 2016

ON THE PUBLIC READING OF SCRIPTURE

Saturday Seminar 
Recently,   our  eldership, which  ordinarily leads  the public  worship services has decided  to encourage  men in our congregation to participate under our oversight   in the public reading of the Bible. Subsequently  we have organised this seminar  on a Saturday morning to  prepare men for reading  the Scriptures. With the help of periodic evaluation we  have also committed ourselves to  practically help each other to become better readers  of the Word of God.  Below is the sum and the substance of what was shared at this seminar , followed by a  time of application.  


                         THE PUBLIC READING OF THE  SCRIPTURES

“Until I come , devote  yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…”  (Paul to Timothy – 1 Timothy  4:13)

“ … man does not live by bread alone , but man  lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Deuteronomy  8:3 and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:4)

The Bible is the very Word of the Living God. It  is  breathed out by God and given to us to train us in all that is necessary for life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16).  As God’s people we are deeply reliant on Scripture, since  the Bible is the only means through which God speaks reliably by His Holy Spirit to us. For this reason  the   Scripture ought to  be central to our worship services. We ought to read it, sing it and preach it every Sunday,   trusting that this is a means by which the Lord blesses, instructs, pursues, convicts, heals  and draws us to Himself.

Because of the importance of the Word of God,  we  desire to help people to read  the Scriptures well.  The reading of the Bible,  is in fact  a teaching ministry since  the reading of the Bible imparts to us the knowledge of the Word of God, which means  that in public worship  this  is a ministry reserved for men.  Having said that,  all would benefit from reading the Bible well,  whether  it is in a Sunday School setting or  at a  women’s Bible study or simply reading the Scripture to someone in hospital. 

 A SOLEMN THOUGHT: To stand  before a church and to  read the Bible is to stand in the place of God and to  proclaim his Word. This must  therefore be done  with  reverence and thoughtful  preparation.

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        HINTS  AND HELPS  FOR READING THE SCRIPTURES

1.   PRAY!  Pray  for  the Spirit’s illumination on the passage  that   you are asked to read.

2.  UNDERSTAND!  In order to read a passage well, you first need to understand it. You need to understand the  message, the genre, the tone, the purpose for which this specific portion of Scripture  was written. You need  to have a general comprehension of what the passage says  so that you can reflect the tone which  the  specific Scripture  message bears.   Is this a triumphant passage proclaiming the glories of God?
·         Is this a poetic, meditative passage reflecting on pain and persecution?
·         Is this God speaking to man or man speaking to God?
·         Is this a story or a letter?
·         What is God seeking to communicate to us in it?

Use  a commentary  to help you understand  the text  better.  Although we use the English Standard Version in our public worship, it may be useful to read the passage in a couple of other translations for further help and clarity.  It may be useful (but not necessary)  to give a very short introduction  or explanation   to  the passage  you read. Remember however that you are not called to  preach, but to  read  the Bible at this stage.

3.  PRACTICE: Once you have a basic understanding of the passage, you will need to practice reading it. As you read you will  need to understand its flow,  and to take notice of any natural divisions. You need to ensure that you know how to pronounce every word. Because you will be reading out loud, will need to practice  by reading out loud. Read the passage from beginning to end until you are confident that you will be able to capture its flow.  As you practice, learn which words or phrases you will need to emphasize, find natural places to pause and look for places where you will need to increase or decrease volume. Practice varying your tone and pace, but be careful that people do not become more overawed by your  skillful presentation  than  the Word of God.  Your task is to read the Scripture in a way that aids understanding without drawing attention to yourself. You have succeeded well if people are drawn to the Word of God and take no notice of you!

If you encounter any difficult names, places or other words, you can visit  websites like http://thebibleworkshop.com/category/bible-pronunciation/a-words/ to help you in your pronunciation.  Make sure  that you practice those difficult words enough times that you will not hesitate or mispronounce them   when  you read.   

4.  BEFORE THE SERVICE: Dress appropriately and according to the front-of-the-room dress code. Shorts and  T-shirts  are  casual wear, and   whilst not expecting you to wear a tie, be sure that  you look presentable to all.     Make sure  that the passage you will be reading has been bookmarked in your Bible so you can turn to it without  wasting time in finding your passage.  Adjust your microphone to your height. Make sure that the microphone is switched on.  Keep a distance of  at least  30 centimeters  from the microphone.

5.  READING: At the appropriate time in the service, walk to the front without hurrying, turn to face the church and open your Bible to the relevant  passage. We like to preface our readings with these words: “This is what Holy Scripture says.” Stand tall without slouching.  If possible, try to make  eye contact  from time to time with the people you are reading to. Use your hand to guide your reading, if necessary.  

Here are a few common mistakes that you should be aware of   when reading. 

a.   Too Fast!  Do not be surprised if you find yourself a little bit nervous at  the beginning. This nervousness typically causes people to  read too quickly.   This is why preparation is important. Preparation provides confidence.  Try to keep a good, natural pace. Your natural  tendency will probably be to read a little  too  fast.  Slow down, and read  with emphasis.  Through it all, remember that you are reading for the benefit of the church, and so serve your brothers and sisters by reading God’s Word to them with love and care. 

b.  Not Enough Preparation:  Let us make this point again ! Do all you can to prepare properly for the reading of  God’s Word. God’s Word deserves our best efforts. If you are constantly stammering  and mispronouncing words, you may be irritating  those who know how to read, and thus  you  are   not serving your brothers and sisters as well as you could. 

c.   Voice:  The key to good vocal projection is to take a good breath  before your first word and then to use  your  diaphragm to push the sound forward out of your mouth. Read clearly and loudly (without shouting)  as  if you  were  trying to help the man sitting at the back wall  to hear you without amplification.  Keep your voice constant  and  practice  clear pronunciation throughout. One bad   habit is   to project well  in the first part of a sentence, but  then   drop  off to a near-whisper by the  end of the sentence.

d.   Emphasis :  Here  are two dangers:  

     (i) Reading without feeling or 

    (ii)  reading  with too much feeling.   By all means do all you can to “feel” the text as you read it. Having prepared well you will understand  the text, and  you will  allow the truth  impact your  own soul  and cause you to  interact appropriately with the  text as you read  it. Now, while you want to “feel” the text as you read it, be careful that you do not become an actor performing a dramatic recital, drawing attention to yourself rather than the Word of God.

e.   Lack of Authority :  God’s Word is  read  publicly to call people to listen  and to act, so learn  to read  as a messenger  or  as a town-crier[1]. You are  a messenger of the King and you  have something to say and you must  expect those  before you  to give it attention.  Let this frame of mind  accompany you when you take up the Bible to read  to the congregation.  Much public reading of the Bible  fails  at this point, because the reader does not carry the  authority of God with Him.

6.  ENDING WELL! At the end of the passage pause for a moment, look at the congregation before saying your words of conclusion: “This is the Word of the Lord. Amen.” Thereafter, go  back to your seat, but do not rush.

  







[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_crier  :   in England, town criers were the means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier. In Goslar, Germany, a crier was employed to remind the local populace not to urinate or defecate in the river the day before water was drawn for brewing beer.

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