Today, we have a guest blogger: Pastor Bob Dimmitt. He has written on the necessity of the Public Reading of Scripture and Prayer, as well as he has offered us a few tips. Here is what he has for us:
I believe it is important in the development of our churches that more men become involved in our Sunday Morning and Sunday Evening Worship through the public reading of Scripture and prayer.
The Public Reading of God’s Word
The public reading of God’s Word is an important part of our churches corporate worship. Even so, many churches have neglected this discipline, even though Scripture itself commands it. 1 Timothy 4:13 says, “Until I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”
In commenting on this verse a noted Pastor once said,
“Of course we of this generation cannot know by firsthand experience how the Word of God was read in other times. But it would be hard to conceive of our fathers having done a poorer job than we do when it comes to the public reading of the Scriptures. Many have read the Scriptures so badly that a good performance draws attention by its rarity.
It could be argued that since everyone these days owns his own copy of the Scriptures, the need for the public reading of the Word is not as great as before. If that is true, then let us not bother to read the Scriptures at all in our churches. But if we are going to read the Word publicly, then it is incumbent upon us to read it well. A mumbled, badly articulated and unintelligent reading of the Sacred Scriptures will do more than we think to give the listeners the idea that the Word is not important….”
In this pastor’s opinion, not only do churches fail to obey Paul’s command to Timothy to read Scripture, when they do attempt it, they do a poor job, giving the congregation the idea that the Word is just not that important. If this is the case, how can we show the congregation Scripture is important?
Tips for the Public Reading of Scripture
1. Assign or acquire your text ahead of time.
If you are a pastor, assign ahead of time a specific date and Scripture to be read. If you have been asked to read Scripture in a service and you have not been assigned a specific text, then ask the pastor, or worship leader to provide you with the text you will read at least one week before it is your turn.
2. Read from a designated version.
If your congregation has invested in pew Bibles, then read from the version offered. It is also a good idea to read from the version the pastor uses, since most people will bring that version to church with them.
3. Practice in advance.
Several days, if not a full week before your turn to read the passage in the service, practice reading the passage to yourself aloud. If the passage is short enough, then work on committing it to memory. Memorizing the passage and reading it aloud several times will help in learning the flow of the passage, allowing you to read it smoothly in the service.
4. Read with emotion and meaning.
When reading the passage, read with emotion and meaning without being dramatic. Know the emotion and emphasis you bring to the reading will be felt and seen by the congregation. If you are fumbling through the passage, or reading it in a monotone voice, you are sending the signal that the passage is not important to you.
Following the public reading of Scripture should be a public prayer. The one reading the Scripture should be the one to lead the congregation in this prayer. As you do, don’t think that your prayer has to be long. John Newton once said,
“The chief fault of some good prayers is, that they are too long; not that I think we should pray by the clock, and limit ourselves precisely to a certain number of minutes; but it is better of the two, that the hearers should wish the prayer had been longer, than spend half the time in wishing it was over.”
With Newton’s advice in mind, let’s look at some tips for praying in public.
Tips for Public Praying
1. In private we offer our own prayers and confessions to God, but in public our prayers are different.
In private we will use language such as: I, my, me, mine, but in public the language is different, we should use language such as: us, we, our, ours. Private prayer can also be silent, and groaning. Public prayer cannot be silent nor can it be groaning. It must be audible, in a language understood by all, at a speed accessible to everyone, with phrases that do not jar, and at a length everyone can sustain.
2. Public prayer is didactic.
We are teaching our people something when we pray. If we fill them with sickly repetitions, they will think that that is OK. If we do not pray in the Holy Spirit then they will not learn. If we pray in public for certain themes, then they will pray the same.
In addition, when they see and hear you emotionally engaged in prayer, that will teach them much about Christian experience. When we pray in this way, our prayers are deep and whole. The result is that the congregates theology will be challenged by your whole praying, so that praying is a kind of discipleship.
3. Public prayer is pastoral.
It is one of the means we lead the people into holiness and comfort. We must think of the various needs of the members of the congregation, as well as the congregates themselves.
In addition, we should know that prayer does things: It brings down blessings on people. It makes people more loving and understanding. It restores the backslider. It takes up all the needs of the congregation.
- Public prayer must be fresh, but prepared.
We can prepare our prayers without preparing them. We can consciously include every main element of biblical prayers – adoration, confession and thanksgiving – as well as we can incorporate the passage that we read into our prayer.
Example if the passage dealt with the resurrection then that can be a theme; you thank God for the resurrection, the reality of the resurrection, and what the resurrection means to us. If the passage deals with spiritual growth, make that the main theme of your prayer asking God to do for us what Paul asked God to do for those he loved.
The reading of Scripture and Prayer in our congregations publicly is an important act. One that not only fulfills the Scriptures command, but serves as a means to teach and care for those in the congregation. It is my prayer that we all take this duty more seriously.
Bob Dimmitt is the Senior Pastor of Ferguson Avenue Baptist Church (FABC) in Savannah, GA. He has served there for the last 12 years. Prior to serving as the pastor of FABC he was a jail chaplain in Hawaii, Virginia, and Savannah. You can learn more about Bob and FABC through their website: www.fabchurch.com