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Reading the Bible in Church

This is proving a popular topic for Baptist bloggers and those who write letters to the Baptist Time at the moment.  I have to smile a very wry smile, and wonder what C H Spurgeon would have made of the more conservative churches whose overt use of the Bible is minimal whereas the more middle-of-the-road and liberal churches retain traditional patterns with reasonable chunks of Old and New Testament each week.  Sorry CHS, my old mate, the downgrade wasn't where or what you thought it was!

A lot of what has been shared is the "how much" rather than the "how," and I suspect that the latter is important too.

When I first arrived here, one of my weekly tasks was to advise the church secretary of the readings for the morning service so that details and page numbers for the 'pew Bibles' could be included in the notice sheet.  The demise of the notice sheet, and the building, and the morning service for that matter, meant that that stopped, but we continued to announce the page number along with the reading for a while.  Then it became quite clear that no one uses the pew Bibles - some people bring their own, but most are content just to listen (and if the reader chooses a particularly odd translation we all have to!) so we reverted to simply announcing the book, chapter and verses.  I have retained this as we've moved over to PowerPoint (other, apparently superior, projection software is available). 

One of the worst uses of projection software, in my view, is to show the Bible passage.  I cringe at some of the breaks that result, mid-sentence, between slides, and the blandness that results.  If people are going to read the words, then let them read a real live Bible (or use their own electronic one if that's their thing).  There is, I think, something vital (as in lively) about finding the page, learning to track down those three-page minor prophets or epistles, seeing how this passage sits in the middle of other stuff and maybe doesn't even match the heading the translators have chosen to use (and which some people actually think are there in the Hebrew/Greek - aaaaargh).  If you have a real Bible, and keep it open, then you can see if what the preacher says is valid (or valid-ish anyway) and if the sermon gets too dull start reading around for yourself.  I have a habit of looking up the odd verses people seem to love throwing in now and then, to see if they really do connect.  All of this makes the Bible more 'alive' than just hearing or seeing it on a screen.

I also think it matters who reads it - in a kind of anti-clerical way.  I always experience a gentle seething when I am in a church that permits only the most senior cleric to read the gospel.  If it happens that I am in a context where I can subvert this, I do, assigning the priest the psalm or epistle, and giving the gospel to a lay person.  It is rare that I read the passages I am about to preach on in the service; I prefer to hear them afresh read by my congregation.  I am blessed to have over half my members on my readers rota, and most read pretty well.  My logic is more than mere participation, it is also about ownership of what is being shared.  The Bible is not the preserve of the preacher, it is everyone's.  If I had children in my church who were learning to read, I'd be hoping that they'd want to have a turn too.  I was, I think, seven the first time I read in church.  I read Psalm 100 from a children's Bible, and not that long afterwards John 3:16-17 from the KJV.  I doubt anyone heard me, and I probably stumbled over some of the words, but I'm sure it was a formative experience (why else do I recall it?).  If I'm honest, I am also very open to dramatised and paraphrased Bible readings, so long as they are used appropriately and don't constitute the only engagement we have with this book we claim is so special.

I hope that this interest in Bible reading in churches becomes more than a passing fancy, more than a few whingers like me moaning about what we regret.  I hope that, instead, it impacts those who have the potential to influence others - the Baptists who get centre stage at big Christian events and have the opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be a Bible-loving people.


  • Preferred means of Bible reading? Well, telling or reciting rather than reading is good and so is reading without the text on the screen and without the congregation having Bibles open so that rather than reading they listen, hopefully with imagination. I sometimes think G├╝tenberg has a lot to answer for. Another preferred option (also good for sermons) is reading with an appropriate or challenging image on the screen in the hope of stimulating reflection, engagement, imagination.

    Worst use of digital projectors? The near universal tendency on the part of operators of said devices to change slides too late during singing. The result is periodic pauses as the congregation waits for the next line to appear. I have this vision of God tapping the divine hearing aid wondering why it keeps cutting out. Just in case any projector operators read this, here's the secret - nearly everyone reads a word or two a head of what they sing so why not give God and the congregation a break and change the slide just before the congregation get to the last word?

  • I agree. More Bible reading is needed today. Romans 10 says "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." Hearing God's Word and then discussing the passages will grow the faith of all involved.

  • I have encouraged my new home group to listen to me reading the passage we are going to look at. I ask them to really listen and then see what stands out for them - has lead to some very interesting discussions only then do we actually start looking at it in more detail. Much better than pre-prepared notes, even my the minister, as it sctaches where the bible and the people itch and God gets a word in!

    It has been a very fruitful way to read the bible and one deacon said he had learnt more about the ible and his faith in the last 6 months than in the previous 60 years!

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