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Reviving the Word
By David Williams

“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” 1 Timothy 4:13

What is the current state of reading Scripture in your church? If your services are anything like the ones I often experience, the Scripture Reading is on life support, hardly the living Word. I wish to impress upon you, pastors and worship leaders, “devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture.” 

A little over a year ago, I was questioning whether we should have the Scripture Reading AT ALL in the church service. My thinking was like this: What is the point of having this formal reading? Can I not just read this text myself in my own Bible? If all we are trying to do is fulfill a line item in a liturgical order, then what’s the point? If our preacher is bringing a powerful message, then isn’t that enough Scripture? Aren’t we singing Scripture in our services, too? 

Then I attended the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta last fall. The Worship Studies group was focusing on the role of Scripture in worship. I heard many great theologians and practitioners advocate for an increased role of Scripture. They had a passion for Scripture that I too shared. This experience helped me see that Scripture was not the problem. Our leadership in worship is the problem. 

Much of the change for the Scripture Reading starts at the top, with pastors and worship leaders. 

Pastors, if you read your passage in your sermon, then please select a different reading for the Scripture Reading. There is nothing wrong with selecting a Scripture Reading that is not the key passage you are preaching on. In fact, an alternative passage may enlighten not only the sermon, but the entire service. 

Another issue that is prevalent in the denomination is when the preacher selects a “proverb” for a reading. A phrase or verse is NOT a Scripture Reading. I have actually witnessed preachers giving texts that are little more than “Jesus wept.” This tendency suggests a very low understanding of what the service is about in the first place. 

The sermon is central, but not the only important part of the service. All our singing, reading, and praying, prepares us to hear the Word, as expounded by the preacher. And just as important, we respond to the Word in praise, dedication, and service. Our services are actually about a relationship with God in which he speaks to us in His Word, and we respond in song, prayer, listening, and service. Short proverbs as Scripture Readings do not facilitate this. 

Please stop selecting proverbs. Select a more sizeable reading. 

There is also the issue of practicality involved with the person reading these proverbs. Why are we wasting time to read a mere proverb? I feel this dishonors those involved and dishonors God’s Word. You do not need a chapter of Scripture for your reading, neither do you need a proverb. Strike a balance. 

Worship leaders, if your preacher gives you a proverb, feel free to expand the verse to include more of the context, or CHANGE the reading altogether. Worship planning is not a dictatorship. It is a collaboration with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him what reading would complement the sermon, and would bring a devotional hearing of God’s Word to your service. You can always use the proverb in your call to worship’s wording, in setting the theme, or use those words in between songs. 

Finally, I strongly recommend NOT putting the words for Scripture on the screen, unless you are doing a type of responsive reading. The public reading of Scripture is not to be read by the listeners, but to be heard. So often what is read and what is on the screen do not match. For instance, there are numerous versions of the NIV translation. What the reader has, and what the computer has may be different. It is distracting to the worshiper when these do not match. I have begun implementing this last point in recent weeks to much success. I am personally more engaged in the reading, and I know others are listening more as well. 

Worship is an art. Hearing a heartfelt Scripture reading may be one of the most beautiful, engaging, devotional exercises in the entire service.