It may not seem that important to read well Scripture that you plan to expound, but you are mistaken on this account: You have failed to see that Scripture is the most important thing about your message!
As I’ve grown older in the ministry, I’ve come to see that Scripture read well is a potent way to impact your audience for good. “Give much attention to the public reading of Scripture,” Paul said.
Try these ideas for better listening:
1. Do your best to introduce one translation as the best for people to use in church meetings. The plethora of versions out there may be interesting to you, but it is confusing to the people. It often weakens your reading, especially when your translation differs from theirs interpretively. By providing inexpensive starter Bibles for all guests, putting Bibles in the chairs or pews, and selling better quality Bibles of the same version in your bookroom, you will help people comprehend the text. Also, when necessary, copy the Scripture on a half sheet to hand out in the version from which you are teaching.
2. Read the text two or three times aloud, asking the people to concentrate on what is being read. You may also have people read aloud together one of those times, that is, if you have the same version. You should not be ashamed to do this since Scripture is more important than what you say about it.
3. Give them something to look for in the text as you read. Say, “Let’s read this one more time, slowly, to try to find out why Jesus claims everybody is under obligation to repent.” In other words, have them looking for answers even before you teach it.
4. At times, begin your teaching time by quoting your text without warning. Just pause after your first casual remarks (or with no remarks at all) and begin quoting the first lines of the text, reading or quoting it all one time. Don’t tell people to turn to the text until a second read through.
5. Put far more color into the reading than you have before. Vary your speed of reading and modulate your voice, higher and lower. Be louder on some parts and softer on others. Change intensity and pace. You’ll have to practice to do this effectively, and you will need to know the text well enough to concentrate on how to say it rather than merely getting in all the words. It’s criminal to be boring reading the Bible. If you read the passage over 25 times and try to memorize the beginning or perhaps all of the text, you will find it much easier to be colorful. Read it to your spouse and kids to get impressions about how well it is being read.
6. Remove the sing-song preacher voice. You don’t find this like you used to . . . thanks to God. I won’t go into the way this is typically done, but some men have become masters at it. Suffice it to say, the “preacher voice” is an unnatural way of talking. It’s not you. It’s unbecoming for gospel preachers to do it, even if some pulpit heroes in bygone days succeeded in doing it well. Believe me, for every one doing it well, there were a thousand who put the whole congregation to sleep before they got into the second half of the sermon.
By careful, interesting, repeated readings of the text, people will come far closer to understanding what you are talking about. I’m assuming you will actually talk about the text itself, however (but that’s another lesson).
In some churches, the eyelids get heavier as each phrase of the Scripture is read. That’s inexcusable. The people in those churches were trained to do this by poor reading of Scripture in the past. Even if you were not the one teaching them this bad habit, it is still your job to wake those people up and demand their attention to the Bible. Make them lock their ears and eyes on it. And don’t be happy until the text is more important than your funny story or emotional diatribe. (Copyright April 9, 2012 Jim Elliff, revised March 25, 2021)