I love hearing the Bible read aloud in my worship service. It is a powerful experience. Unfortunately the scripture reading can be the low point in many services. In many contexts when the scripture reader stands up to read, eyes glaze over all over the congregation. The living and active Word obscured by a bad reading.
Jeffrey Arthurs wrote Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture to increase the quantity and quality of scripture reading in church services (11). As professor of Preaching and Communcation and the Chair of Practical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Arthurs is invested in helping ministers communicate the gospel. Yet this is not a book written exclusively for clergy. Anyone who is involved in the ministry of public reading will benefit from this book.
Borrowing the phrase ‘Eat this book’ from Eugene Peterson (who stole it from Ezekiel), Arthurs whets the appetite and discusses how public readers can set the stage for a congregational feast on the Word. Seven chapters explore the eating/feasting metaphor. The first three chapters lay the groundwork while the last four chapters explore the dynamics of effective public reading.
In chapter one, he ‘builds the appetite’ by making the biblical and theological case for reading the Bible in public. In chapter two, Arthurs ‘sets the table’ by discussing what a reader of scripture does and does not do and the necessity of spiritual, emotional and mental preparation. Chapter three talks about ‘inviting the guests,’ that is, creating a culture which values the public reading of scripture.
Chapters four and five talk about ‘serving the meal’ and the dynamics of effective communication. Chapter four focuses on nonverbal communication (i.e. distracting mannerisms, gestures and body language, posture, facial expressions). Chapter five examines the dynamics of verbal communication (projection, phrasing, pauses, pace, pitch and punch). In the final two chapters, Arthurs discusses creative methods by ‘adding some spice.’ Chapter six gives suggestions for solo readers and churches seeking to develop their public reading ministry. Chapter seven discusses using a team of readers.
The book closes with sample scripts which demonstrate the dynamics of public reading, and group readings. Additionally, the book comes with an accompanying DVD where Arthurs demonstrates visually what the book says about verbal and non-verbal communication and some examples.
Arthurs field makes him attuned to the dynamics of communication and he emphasizes that in the text and DVD. He recommends paying attention to bad habits and communicating with body language, diction and a good delivery. I think a lot of the suggestions he makes are really helpful and I like the book enough to give it 5 stars; however some of the most powerful readings of scripture I’ve heard were technically flawed. When someone opens up their Bible and reads a passage that is meaningful to them something special happens. They’ve taken the time to internalize it and the Word is not merely in their mouth but in their heart. This is real power. Arthurs alludes to this in chapter two when he talks about the reader preparing themselves spiritually but I would lay a stronger emphasis on living with the Word we speak.
But I didn’t write this book and I find it helpful, sound and informative. I would recommend this book to anyone entering the ministry of public reading or for those who would like to hone their skills at it. I am passionate about public Bible reading and Arthurs is a good guide as to how to do it well. ★★★★★
Question for Discussion: How does your church practice the public reading of scripture?