Qualifications to read the Bible in church

bible-readingLooking for people who can read the Bible out loud in church? Trying to fill the Bible reading roster? Building a team of Bible readers? Then let me ask you “What qualifies someone to be able to read the Bible?” Do they need to have a background in performing arts? Or perhaps have been a newsreader in a previous life? Should they audition for the task? Or complete a training course for reading in front of others? Is volunteering enough or is vetting needed? What makes a good Bible reader?

I’m sure that there are plenty of good ideas that will help people to read well in church, but I wonder if we might overlook the most important qualifications. Here are four qualifications to keep at the top of your lists.

To qualify for reading the Bible out loud in front of church you must be…

  1. One who trusts that the Bible is the authoritative, inspired Word of God. Only if you appreciate the author will you read with the attitude needed to pass on a message from God. We’re not reading shopping lists or Facebook posts. We’re communicating the very words of God.
  2. One who reads the Bible regularly for your own instruction, edification, comfort, encouragement, or rebuke. We mustn’t cause one another to stumble in hypocrisy by asking them to do something in public that they don’t do in private. Let’s get our own house in order before calling on others to do the same.
  3. One who understands the meaning and implications of the Scripture you are reading. This will require studying the passages of Scripture beforehand. If we don’t understand what we are reading, then we won’t communicate the message clearly or faithfully to others. We might need to look up a commentary or spend time with the preacher in advance to help us fully grasp the meaning. The key to good communication is understanding what you are saying.
  4. One who prayerfully seeks to apply the message to your life. This will require us to read over the text well before reading in public so that we can meditate upon it, pray about it, and determine what difference it should make to our life.

Does this all sound a bit much? Does it sound more like the qualifications for the preacher or teacher? Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul called Timothy to devote himself to it.

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  (1 Timothy 4:13)

There’s an obvious lesson in all this for service leaders and preachers. If we want good Bible readers at church, then we need to find suitable people and give them plenty of time to prepare. We should be willing to work with people in helping them to understand, apply, and communicate the Scriptures. Extra work? Absolutely—and worth it.

Now to go and put this into practice.

14 thoughts on “Qualifications to read the Bible in church”

  1. Good points, Macca. We certainly talk about the need for us as readers to delight in God’s Word and humbly submit to it in the first session of our new course “Reading the Bible Aloud: how to read God’s Word with expression, clarity and conviction”.

  2. As a question: why do we still read short passages out in church? I can understand the need when substantial numbers in the congregation couldn’t read (or access their own Bible even if they could read it). But these days, surely everyone can read and obtain a Bible for themselves.

    I find I open my Bible and read the passage anyway while it is being read.

    1. A few ideas: I think it is encouraging for people to hear the Bible read. It creates a sense of community as we listen to it together. It shows its importance as we read the Bible from the front. Some who hear it don’t have Bibles and some aren’t Christian, so it helps for them to hear it read. It sets the agenda and lays the foundation for the preaching/teaching. Hearing and reading together engages two senses.

  3. Some thoughts:
    The person best placed to read the text with meaning on the day will often be the preacher.

    Regarding preaching:
    I think an interesting and valuable question to ask is: Would reading out the passage in context at the end of the sermon add or take away from what was intend(ed)/said?

    On personal learning style preference note, I often find just listening to something better for comprehension than looking at it at the same time, (though preferably already having read / heard it before), but even more than that, actually imagining I am listening to the original author (and the ultimate / in(ex)spiring (eternal;) One, who of course I am listening to. I also find prayerfully responding to it as i hear it, engaging for the mind, good for the sole, and relationally right, in Christ.)

  4. My church is in a very socially mixed part of the east end of London. We are very keen to hear all sorts of voices and accents from the front of church, rather than give the impression that only ‘educated’ people can be Christian role models. That means that often the Bible is read bravely but frankly not with great fluency or meaning.

    I understand the right desire you have to hear the Bible well-read. But how would you go about getting less literate role models up front in church?

    1. Hi Richard, I think this aim at hearing different people is excellent. The main thing for me is that people understand what they are reading, more than how eloquent they are. Hence, it would be great for the preacher/pastor to spend some time helping the reader to understand what they are reading before they stand up in front of all.

  5. But seriously, MikeL, your church quite likely has functionally illiterate people present. They’re just too ashamed to admit to it. You say “these days, surely everyone can read and obtain a Bible for themselves.” But I quote Simon Gillham in August Southern Cross (Sydney Anglicans): “According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 44 percent of Australian adults don’t have the literacy levels they need to cope with everyday demands in life and work.” Of course we need to read the Bible aloud, and read it excellently. And if the preacher reads most of the same passage again in the course of the sermon, all the better!

  6. Thanks for your strong list Dave!
    I posted some questions on the TGCA website where your post had been put up too:
    A) Would you mind sharing how the Holy Spirit fits in and flavours your list? (Ie relating to the reader, hearers, Word itself etc)

    B) These are all very wise comments that I would look for in a reader too (and to remember to test my own heart!). That said could it be that “qualify” is not the most helpful choice of word – as (unless I am missing something) I don’t actually see these being straight-up biblically mandated in quite the same way as those qualifications for eldership/decons etc? Again, not saying that they aren’t important…

    C) Is there enough warrant from the Scriptures to blur the distinction between the reader and the preacher, in that the reader must understand everything that is going on in the text in order to read faithfully/well? I think it can be helpful for the reader to emphasise a little of what the preacher might have noticed in their exegesis of the text, but I would hesitate to suggest that the reader should get neck deep (my words) in a commentary. Tone and tenor of a text maybe picked up on well by a reader, but it is the preacher’s job to ultimately expound the text (and the hearer to test the preacher’s words/exegesis back against the Word).

    C) While the list of course could always be added to, I would also consider the importance of ethos/perceived character, and maybe even something to do with prayerful confidence in the Word not returning void? Then again if the Word itself will not return void, a reader’s confidence on a given day in that fact is surely secondary to the power of Spirit working through the Word itself! Thinking out loud now… 🙂

    Thanks for your challenging words Dave! May the public reading of Scripture make more of a comeback in our churches and be well and prayerfully planned for. Many Pastors sadly drop it in their churches perhaps for priority or pressure to do something else, or it gets pushed to being of secondary importance/preparation as the command to do so has been overlooked or minimised.
    Cheers m8!

    1. Thanks David. My intention with this post was to encourage our churches to value the public reading of Scripture. It is possible to read badly in a way that confuses or disguises the meaning of the text. My call is for the reader to work at understanding what it means so he or she can read with clarity. I am also keen for them to be modelling the reading of Scripture to the church, which requires them to act with integrity.

      I am grateful the the Holy Spirit works without and despite us, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t called to work hard in our different ministries. We should do all we can to bring God glory in every aspect of our ministry.

      May God bless you.

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