SPOKEN WORSHIP: Congregational Readings (part 1)

Volume 10, No. 7 (July 2015)

Participatory worship involves more than singing, of course. The people of God can lift their voices to express their hearts through various types of readings as well.


Paul’s command to Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) can and should certainly extend beyond the pastoral role. The power of God’s Word read, perhaps even more so when the people of God are proclaiming it out loud together, lies in the fact that these are indeed God’s words, and hence we can hear it as God Himself speaking to us (see Colossians 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you“; this need not be seen merely as a Word about Christ, but indeed as Christ Himself speaking through the Word of God read and sung and preached. The verb “devote” connotes a regular, habitual practice based on due consideration and preparation. It does not have to mean a constant sameness to its practice; rather it can take different forms.

Forms of Scripture readings

  1. Unison reading
  2. Responsive readings (Leader/People)
  3. Antiphonal readings (alternating between left and right sides, men and women, choir and congregation, etc.)

Facilitating Scripture readings

“Getting on the same page,” so to speak, to make congregational Scripture reading (and other readings) feasible (i.e., from the same translation) may involve projecting the text onto the screen, printing it in the bulletin, or perhaps reading together from a pew Bible. In cultures where there is one predominant translation in use, reading from people’s personal Bibles can also work.

Putting together Scripture readings

We are not limited to the readings provided in the back of many hymnals. Readings in any of the forms listed above can be comprised of texts that can be easily sought out using tools that are readily available today, such as computer and online Bible concordances. This is especially effective in a thematic service, where verses from different parts of the Bible can be strung together to highlight how God addresses that day’s theme (whether an attribute of God or another biblical emphasis) in different parts of His Word. An example of such a responsive reading, constructed for Ascension Sunday:

Leader: Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,’ but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”
People: God raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.

Leader: If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
People: Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth.

Leader: Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
People: We have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.

Leader: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
People: For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

All: Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

(John 20:17; Eph 1:20-21; Col 3:1-2; Rom 8:34: Heb 4:14-16; see other relevant passages in “An Ascension Concordance,” Worship Notes 2.5)

An Advent focus on Jesus Christ as the coming Light of the World could be enriched by a reading like this:

Leader: The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light;
People: those who live in a dark land, the light has shone on them.

Leader: Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
People: In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

Leader: For this reason it says, “Awake sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
People: For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Leader: Joyously give thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
People: For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son!

(Isaiah 9:2; John 8:12; 1:4; Ephesians 5:14; 2 Cor. 4:6; Colossians 1:12-13)

Scripture passages can be paraphrased and arranged for a service celebrating the Names of Jesus:

Leader: His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
People: He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Leader: He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
People: He is the Head of the body, the church.

Leader: He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead.
People: He is the Resurrection and the Life.

Leader: He is the True God and Eternal Life.
People: He is Lord of lords and King of kings.

Leader: He is the Word of God, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd.
People: He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

(Isaiah 9:6-7; Revelation 22:13; Matthew 16:16; Colossians 1:18; John 11:25; 1 John 5:20; Revelation 17:14; 19:13; John 6:35; 8:12; 10:11; 14:6)

Psalm 136 is obviously constructed in responsive style, and was undoubtedly used this way in the public worship of Israel, with the priest proclaiming the first half of every verse, and the people responding each time with the same refrain. The message about the enduring faithfulness (hesed) of God would have been clear for young and old alike.

It can be used this way as a responsive reading between the leader and the people (with verses 10-22, which are more Israel-specific, removed). The repetition will be more striking if all the readers will build their volume through the end of the reading.

1    Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
      for His steadfast love endures forever.

2    Give thanks to the God of gods,
      for His steadfast love endures forever.

3    Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
      for His steadfast love endures forever;

4    to Him who alone does great wonders,
      for His steadfast love endures forever;

5    to Him who by understanding made the heavens,
      for His steadfast love endures forever;

6    to Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
      for His steadfast love endures forever;

7    to Him who made the great lights,
      for His steadfast love endures forever;

8    the sun to rule over the day,
      for His steadfast love endures forever;

9    the moon and stars to rule over the night,
      for His steadfast love endures forever;

23   It is He who remembered us in our low estate,
       for His steadfast love endures forever;

24   and rescued us from our foes,
       for His steadfast love endures forever;

25   He who gives food to all flesh,
       for His steadfast love endures forever.

26   Give thanks to the God of heaven,
       for His steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 150 provides an exclamation point of praise at the end of the Psalter. This emphasis can be highlighted, and the praise heightened, by having the leader read the Psalm slowly, with the people joining in on the word “praise” each time it occurs (13 times in the Psalm!):

1  Praise the LORD!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
praise Him in his mighty heavens!

2  Praise Him for his mighty deeds;
praise Him according to his excellent greatness!

3  Praise Him with trumpet sound;
praise Him with lute and harp!

4  Praise Him with tambourine and dance;
praise Him with strings and pipe!

5  Praise Him with sounding cymbals;
praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!

6  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

On the theme of the love of God:

Leader: God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
People: so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Leader: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.
People: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Leader: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,
People: that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

(Ephesians 2:4-7; 1 John 4:9-10; John 3:16)

On peace with God:

Leader: You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.
People: In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Leader: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
People: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Leader: Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
People: May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace!

(Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 4:8; Colossians 3:15; Romans 14:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Psalm 29:11)

For a Reformation Sunday celebration, the Five Solas of the Reformation can be remembered and expressed with relevant Scripture passages:

Leader: We reaffirm on this Reformation Sunday the great principles for which these heroes of the faith lived and died: SOLA SCRIPTURA (the Scriptures alone):
People: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching,for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Leader: SOLA GRATIA (by Grace alone):
People: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, beingjustified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

Leader: SOLA FIDE (by Faith alone):
People: Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law.

Leader: SOLUS CHRISTUS (through Christ alone):
People: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

Leader: SOLI DEO GLORIA (to God alone be the glory):
People: And because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(Romans 3:23-24; Galatians 2:16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 12:1-2; 1 Timothy 2:5-6a); 1 Corinthians 1:30-31)


Indeed, “let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you”!

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