by Eric Raymond; ORDINARY PASTOR
I’ve had conversations with pastors and church leaders who obsess over the production value of their Sunday morning service. Both the amount of money and time spent on trying to make the service flawless reflect our desire to make the service perfect. But here’s the truth: no matter how many times you practice the song, how well you angle the lights, or build your props, you will never get it perfect. The truth is, everything we touch is smudged with sin. No matter how hard we try we can’t produce a perfect worship service.
But don’t check out in hopelessness on me. There is a way to have at least a portion of your service be perfect. The answer may come from a surprising source. The only perfect part of the Sunday service is when the Bible is read. When we open up the Scriptures and read the Word of God we are ensuring that perfection is on display. After all, the Bible is the perfect Word of God. The Bible is God’s very words. At the risk of understating the matter: the Scriptures are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), living (Heb. 4:12), pure (Ps. 12:6), true (Ps. 19:9), sufficient (2 Tim. 3:17), trustworthy (Ps. 111:7), and enduring forever (Ps. 119:60). Indeed, the Word is perfect (Ps. 19:7)!
Little wonder then, in addition to preaching the Bible, Christian ministers are called to prioritize the public reading of the Scriptures when they gather together:
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13)
For some this is a novel concept. It has become increasingly unfashionable to preach God’s Word let alone spend additional time reading it. However, think with me, if our worship services are intended to glorify God and encourage those assembled with who God is, what better way to achieve this than reading God’s Word?
Here are some suggestions for making your worship service more perfect.
Frame the entire service around the Word. Consider making your Sunday service an inclusio (bracketing the service) by having a Call to Worship where you read the Word of God at the beginning and then a benediction at the conclusion where you also read the text aloud.
Introduce different genres of Scripture. If you are preaching an Old Testament narrative consider reading a New Testament Epistle. By doing this you will help show the continuity of the Bible and the developing trajectory of themes. If you are intentional with this you might work through a sampling of the entire Bible in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Don’t be afraid to read lengthy sections of Scripture. This past Sunday I preached Genesis 24. This is the longest chapter in Genesis. It takes an astounding 9 minutes to read. One of our elders read through the entire chapter with emotion and precision. He let everyone know that it was going to be a longer passage than normal but also challenged everyone to focus upon the Word of God. I was encouraged by the positive feedback I received during this week. I’m not suggesting you load up Genesis 24 this Sunday; you may need to do some teaching here to bring your congregation along. Be patient, but aim toward a more robust appreciation of the public reading of Scripture.
Read the Bible before preaching. I remember the first time I witnessed this. The preacher just walked up to the pulpit, opened the Bible, read it, then prayed and then he preached it. I was struck by the way he enthroned the Bible. Guys may be worried about time, but I can assure you that you will never waste your time when you are reading the Bible before you preach. Certainly there are other things you could cut out of your sermon instead?
Provide explanation before reading. Those in our Sunday gathering are from a wide range of backgrounds. Those who read the Bible will provide a few “expository thoughts” prior to reading it. They often show how the passage breaks up, its theme, and how it relates to the passage that we will be preaching.
Train those reading Scripture to read it well. Those who read the Bible should be familiar with the text. Effective public reading of Scripture has some degree of public interpretation of Scripture. This serves to be a fitting way to involve elders who may not preach regularly as well as those men who are training for ministry.
Utilize responsive reading. For those unfamiliar responsive reading is simply the congregation reading a portion of the Scripture aloud in response to the leader. If you use a projection screen you might consider underlining a portion of the Scripture and asking the congregation to read aloud the underlined portion. If you use the ESV Pew Bible there are responsive readings included in there for public readings. This helps to engage the minds and hearts of those gathered with the Word of God.
These are just a few ideas that I thought might be helpful; space and time preclude more. If you have suggestions, include them in the comment box below.
I applaud the sentiment behind wanting a perfect service but cringe at the way we often go about it. It’s my hope and prayer that more local churches will become places where Bible reading is expected (and even demanded) by its people.