Training Church Lectors (Worship Readers)

Feb 4 09:56 2009 James Love Print This Article

Training Church Lectors (Worship Readers)
Why is Bible Reading Important for the Christian Life?From the earliest times of the church,Guest Posting the reading of Scripture has been an essential part of Christian worship. Throughout the ages certain members of congregations have been called to the important task of reading Scriptures in public worship.

At times during the life of the church, we have lost sight of the centrality of Holy Scripture in our community's life of faith. During the church reformation of the 16th century, our protestant forebearers reaffirmed the centrality of Scripture in our worship life. Although there may be varied understandings of how our Scripture is authoritative, for protestant life, Scripture remains a central authority for our spiritual lives.

Reading the Scriptures well is an important task. The preachers sermon may miss the mark, our prayers may be weak, and some of our hymns may have impoverished understandings of our faith, but if Scripture is read well, then the gather community will have had the opportunity to hear the Word of God through Scripture.
What is a Reader? Since the beginning of the church, communities have chosen persons for the task of reading Scriptures at worship. Being a reader, however, is more than just fulfilling a task. At its best, Reading is a calling, vocation, and a spiritual discipline. Reading is a commitment to effective sharing of Scipture during our community worship time. It is a commitment to preparing oneself so that one's reading becomes a vehicle for God's Word.
Who can be a Reader? Anyone who the community feels has the gifts and commitment to read can be reader. One need not be a shapespeariang actor or a public speaker, in order to be a worship reader. There are many folks in your community that, with preparation and instruction can become faithful worship readers. Do not overlook children as readers. Many children are gifted readers and if their gifts are nurtured some of them will become effective lifetime readers or feel called to other leadership.
Choosing Readers. Most congregations choose their Readers badly. Active members are asked at the last minute to read and occasionally with "arm twisting". Some congregations will even ask people to read as arrive on Sunday morning! Congregations that engage in this practive end up with readers who feel imposed upon and readers who can not prepare enough to be effective. Ultimately both the readers and the congregation suffer.

Identify a group of persons with gifts for reading and set up a schedule. Give the readers preparation time and instruction. When Readers are supported many change from seeing reading as an obligation and begin to see it as a vocation and blessing. Well chosen and trained Reader can significanty improve the worship life of the community.

Choose as wide a diversity of readers as possible. Have male and female readers; a variety of ages; different ethnic groups, and a variety of socio-economic groups. This will add a richness to worship.
Preparation for Reading. Preparation is essential to good reading. Too often readers have been chosen at the last minute or have not prepared well to read Scripture. This has lead to reader fumbling through readings leaving the congregation bored or confused. It has also lead to a lack confidence in readers, due to not being able to feel competent in reading. Preparation will bear fruit in good readings and more confident readers.

1. Early in the week (Monday!) the readers should have the readings. If it has not been determined which of the lectionary readings will be used for the following Sunday, begin preparation for all the readings.

2. Prayer. Before and after reading the Scriptures, pray. Ask God to help you in your reading and to help you understand more fully what is being read.

3. Practice. Read the Scripture passage out loud to yourself. If a particular passage is difficult to read, then give it enough practice until you are confident.

4. Research. If the Scripture has words you do not know how to pronounce or you do not know what they mean. Look them up in a Bible Dictionary. Your church should have a Bible dictionary available for this purpose. You may also wish to buy one for your own study. Knowing how to say words is of obvious importance, but understanding what the words mean will also give added clarity to our reading.
What Version to Read! Congregations should have a policy on what versions of scriptures can be read in worship. The policy will likely include the following;

1. A current language version of the Bible. King James and other older versions contain language that is no longer in common usage, therefore they are no longer useful nor desirable to have in public worship. The people need to understand the Bible reading. Hopefully, your community will have a large current language Bible, since reading from a large book conveys the importance of the Biblical Text.

2. Avoid Paraphrases. Bibles like "The Way", are useful for young or new Christians who are learning to read the Bible, but are not appropriate for Christian worship. Although they convert the message of the Bible in an easier format to read, in doing so they lose some of the richness of the message. A translation should be used rather than a paraphrase.

3. Good Choices. The NIV (New International Version), the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) or NJ (The New Jerusalem), are a few examples of versions that will be acceptable for reading in public worship. The NRSV is the most commonly used Bible for United Church worship.
Effective Reading! 1. Slowly. Reading too fast is the biggest beginners mistake. Read slowly but not so slow that the reading drags on. Ask someone to judge your speed in reading.

2. Clearly. Good diction and enunciation is important, especially for those who have difficulty hearing. Often people complain about the volume of reading, but in reality it is the lack of clarity in the voice of the speaker.

3. Using Microphones. Practice using the microphone before worship time. Have someone test you volume. Be loud enough, but do not blast the congregation. It is better to be a bit too loud than too quiet. Remember that some folks have hearing difficulties.

4. Expressive. Be expressive with the tone and mood of the text. Let the text guide you for the tone. If you have prepared then you will have some sense of the tone of the text. Monotone speaking will create boring readings. Worship should be lively and that begins with lively readings. A note of caution to the overly expressive! Too exuberant reading can take the focus off the scripture and put it on the theatrics of the reader. Scripture is the focus not the reader.

5. Decorum. Since the focus should be on Scripture, readers clothing should not be excessively flamboyant nor too casual. If people are shocked, distracted, or disturbed by what we are wearing, then this will be a distraction from the reading of Scripture. Readers should be humble enough to dress appropriately for reading.

6. Mistakes. Since we are not God, we are not perfect. If a mistake is made, stop and reread the verse. It is not necessary to say "Sorry" or "Excuse Me". Continue reading with confidence, knowing that God expects faithful worship, not perfect worship. Faithfulness will include mistakes at times. If you accept that it is OK to make mistakes, this will lessen one's nervousness.
Resources for Readers For those who take the public reading of scripture seriously, a number of resources are available:
1. A Bible Dictionary. This is a useful an interesting book for use by any Christian but for readers it is especially valuable. Get a version that includes pronunciations of Biblical words.

2. A Bible commentary. Commentaries include background scholarship on the books of the Bible. They will help you understand the Bible better. A good one volume Bible commentary is affordable. Ask your clergy for one that is appropriate for a United Church context. Some commentaries are overly evangelical or fundamentalist in perspective. Get a good mainline commentary.

3. Church Library. Suggest that your congregation have available in your church library, a full multi-volume modern commentary. Full volume commentaries go into much greater depth than a one volume commentary obviously can. These are expensive, but since Scripture is central to our lives, this is a resource that is well worth investing in.

4. Lectionary. This will list the Scripture readings for each Sunday of the year. Voices United has a lectionary in the back index section. Ask your clergy to show you where we currently are on the three year lectionary cycle.

5. Books. This guide is helpful for beginning readers, but those who wish to become exceptional readers will want to order books on how to be better lector (reader). One example is "The Ministry of Lectors" by James A. Wallace
Conclusion This guide will set a beginner reader on the right track for being a good church reader. It may even provide a few new ideas for the experienced reader. Whether new or experienced, the public reading of Scripture is an important task in the life of the church. Learning how to read better will enrich worship life and will give the reader an opportunity to learn more about our faith.

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James Love
James Love

James Love is a former Pastor who lives in Vernon, BC

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