How to Read Scripture Aloud

March 26, 2012 — 7 Comments

Most Christians never read the Bible outside of church. So when you have an opportunity to read Scripture aloud during a worship service, you are providing all the Scripture most people will hear that week. That makes Scripture reading a critically important part of any worship experience.

Young girl holding Bible in hands

Too often we think of the public reading of Scripture as a perfunctory part of the service or as a fill-in between the offering and the sermon. That’s tragic, because Scripture reading has always been a cornerstone of worship among Christians, and it is always an opportunity for God to speak.

Reading the Bible aloud is more difficult than it seems, however. When I was a seminary student, our first assignment in preaching class was to read Scripture to the class. “This will be easy,” I thought. “You just stand there and read it.” I didn’t bother to prepare.

What a mistake! The passage was from one of Paul’s letters, so there were lots of long, awkwardly worded sentences. And I encountered a couple of names I couldn’t pronounce. When I stumbled over a a word, my throat began to tighten and I turned beet red. The next two minutes seemed to last an hour. I slurred through the last couple of verses and quickly sat down.

Your Bible reading opportunity can become the high moment of the worship service, a time when God speaks powerfully to people. Here’s what you can do to make that happen.

1. Pray for God to Speak

Pray that God will use your reading to impact someone’s life. Remember, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

2. Use the Congregation’s Preferred Translation

Many congregations have a preferred translation of the Bible, either in the pew or projected on the screen. Find out what that is, and use it. If unsure, ask the pastor. At Fall Creek Wesleyan Church, we use the New International Version (NIV), 2011 edition, for two reasons: (1) it is the Bible most of our people own, and (2) it is very easy to read aloud.

3. Practice Reading Aloud

Practice reading several times aloud. Just relax and read with expression. Try to grasp the meaning so you can emphasize the important words or phrases. When you “read it like you mean it,” people will be more engaged and will learn more from the reading. Here are some tips:

  • Read slowly, clearly, and in a strong voice.
  • Hold your Bible at chin height so you can read it without bending your head down.
  • If your Bible has small print, you may want to print your passage in larger print from BibleGateway.com and tape it inside your Bible.
  • Use facial expression. This will transfer into vocal expression subconsciously.
  • Alter the pitch, rate, and volume of your voice to communicate emotions.
  • Find the impact words in the passage and give them special emphasis. For example, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
  • Pause to show special emphasis. For example, “Then Nathan said to David . . . “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 2:17).
  • Look up and make eye contact with the audience occasionally; this will help them connect with you and with the Word.

4. Be Sure You Know All the Words

If there are words you can’t pronounce, listen to the audio at BibleGateway.com. There’s also an audio pronunciation guide at Net Ministries.

5. Wear the Right Clothing

Dress modestly so that the Word is the star, not you. If you will be using a lapel microphone or wireless headset, wear something that includes a waistband, belt, or pocket so you’ll have a place to clip the battery pack.

6. Arrive at Early

As a Scripture reader, you are a leader in worship for the day. Arrive in plenty of time to consult with the pastor or worship leader, check in with the sound tech if needed, and join the worship team for prayer if that’s their custom. Prepare your heart to lead God’s people in worship.

7. Move into Position Quickly

The Scripture reader is generally not introduced, so be in position so that you can quickly move to the platform or lectern and begin. It may be appropriate to begin moving into position even before the previous speaker or song has concluded so there is no gap in the service.

8. Introduce the Passage

Say a brief word of introduction before you read to provide context for the passage. That might be as simple as saying “Today’s Scripture is taken from Paul’s second letter to the Christians living in the ancient Greek city of Corinth,” or it could be more lengthy, if the listeners need more detail in order to understand what they are hearing. When in doubt, consult your pastor. At the very least, announce the book, chapter, and verse, then give listeners a moment to find the text in their Bibles so they can read along.

9. Close with an Affirmation

After you have finished reading your passage, say something that encourages people to take the words heart. Here are a few commonly used affirmations. You could choose one of these or use one of your own.

  • “The Word of the Lord.”
  • “This is the Word of God to us.”
  • “May God bless the reading of his Word.”
  • “May God help us to apply these words to our lives.”
  • “Let’s not just be hearers of the Word. Let’s do it!”

From the earliest days of the church, reading Scripture aloud has been a vital part of Christian worship. You can make this practice a vital function in your congregation and help others to hear and understand the Word of God.

What would help you gain more meaning from Scripture reading?

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I'm lead pastor at Fall Creek Wesleyan Church and the author of a few books including A Different Kind of Crazy and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering. When I have ideas that might help you transform your life and community, I post them here.
  • Bethany Macklin

    >Thanks for this helpful post–I hope those who serve in this capacity read it. You are right, often it seems tacked on or a "filler." As a Bible teacher who reads Scripture aloud as a matter of course, I appreciated your emphasis on all the finer points involved. My customary prayer, in fact, is that I don't rob Scripture of its power by a weak, stumbling presentation of it.

    After reading this, I will pay closer attention when Scripture is read during service.

  • Bethany

    >Re: "…rob Scripture of its power…" I meant rob my audience of the opportunity to enjoy the power of Scripture… :)

  • Lawrence W. Wilson

    >That's a great distinction, Bethany. Blessings to you as yo make the Word come alive.

  • http://sukofamily.org/ Caleb

    Lawerence, thanks for providing much needed direction on an important topic for our churches. It always bothers me when I hear someone reading the Bible as if they were reading Websters dictionary! We need to honor the reading of the Word just as much or more than we honor the preaching of the Word.

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Thanks, Caleb. Any reading tips you could add to the list?

      • http://sukofamily.org/ Caleb

        I like to practice reading out loud by myself where no one can hear me. It gives me the confidence to try different emphases and give it all I’ve got. Sometimes it can be helpful to record yourself reading and then listen to it. I actually do that to help me memorize too. http://sukofamily.org/?p=2254

        • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

          Recording and playback is a great idea. Very hard to listen to oneself, but worth it.