One thing I remember about the church as a kid was the older men. There was the man who gave all the kids sticks of Juicy Fruit before we went into the service. There was the man who sang loudly (and well!) They all seemed bigger-than-life with calloused hands, large laughs, and practical jokes (“Kid, do you know how the turkey looks over the log?”).
What I don’t remember, however, was these men reading Scripture in front of the church. This is not because they were not God-fearing men who did not follow Christ. Rather it was how the church service was structured. Aside from the sermon text and an occasionally responsive Scripture embedded in the hymnal, I don’t remember anyone reading Scripture to the congregation other than the pastor.
Let me suggest two reasons why I think it is a very good thing to have the men, but only the men, in the congregation, stand in front of the congregation and read the Scriptures to the congregation: one is theological, and another one is practical.
Theologically, Scripture’s public reading is a part of the church’s teaching office (1 Tim. 4:13). The teaching office of the church is reserved for men (1 Tim. 2:12). While the men who read the Scripture are to read the text without comment, they nonetheless do so from the pulpit and thus with the church’s authority, or, rather, as an authority of the church. Reading God’s Word is a form of teaching the congregation, even if there is no explicit teaching.
Practically, having the older men read the Scriptures means the boys and teenage young men of the church see these older men serving God. Too often, the church is seen as “women’s work.” After all, one of the pervading jokes is that every church is controlled by the pastor and three women. Seeing these men participating in leading the church, the boys and young men will understand that they also will one day bear the mantle of leadership in the church and home (Deut. 6:7-9; Eph. 5:25-33). Therefore, the Bible is not just something for the pastor but is for all Christians.
Having the men of the congregation, and not just the men in leadership, read Scripture imparts to the minds of the boys and young men that anyone, regardless of looks or vocation, can serve God (Mt. 25:14-30). For example, the men who read the Old Testament reading in our church are grocery store managers, truckers, construction workers, EMTs, and IT guys. Boys and young men do not need a sort of “holy man” syndrome concerning the Word of God; they need to know that the pastor is not the only one who needs to handle Holy Scripture. The Word of God is for them as well, and one day they will lead their own families and churches according to the Word of God.
Who should be leading the public Scripture reading?
Any faithful men (and older teenage young men) in the church membership should lead the public Scripture reading. They should be of solid Christian character and not under the discipline of the church. If a man were in open, unrepentant sin and led the reading, it would bring reproach on himself and the Word, which we do not want. Also, it needs to be men who can read aloud clearly and well.
How does this benefit the men?
For some men, reading aloud before the congregation is a way for them to step out in faith. Perhaps, they do not like speaking in front of people, or they do not feel worthy. Reading before the congregation forces them to rely more upon Christ and his strength, thereby strengthening their faith.
Leading the Scripture reading spurs the readers on in Bible study. The men should read the passage several times before Sunday and study the passage through reading the notes of a study Bible or a good commentary. They must do this to emphasize the correct words and phrases in the passage in order to convey what the biblical author meant in the passage (Neh 8:8). This spurs them on in Bible study, especially when they are reading a difficult text.
Reading Scripture in the worship service also spurs them on to personal holiness. These men know that standing before the congregation and reading God’s Word is no small task (James 3:1). To read God’s Word before the congregation with unrepentant sin in their heart and life will bring coals down upon their head (1 Pet. 2:12). Reading God’s Word before the congregation with unrepentant sin in one’s life is hypocrisy (Mt. 6:5). Therefore, the readers are spurred on to repentance and changed lives because they want to honor God and His Word.
How can a church set up the men for success?
- Make sure they know when they are reading and what they are reading weeks in advance. Using a lectionary or just reading through books of the Bible enables the pastor to do this easily. For example, we use a lectionary, and I assign the weeks and readings at the beginning of the year, so everyone knows when they are reading next, and they know what they are reading. This also allows the readers to make arrangements with another reader if they are gone the week they are scheduled to read.
- Have a short training class. While it seems easy enough to get up there and read Scripture, training enables excellence. The training does not have to be long, perhaps 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how many readers you have. Through this training, the elders of a church can set expectations and demonstrate how the reading of Scripture is to be done. Have everyone in the training read through a passage aloud and give some simple critique (you read too fast or too slow, too loud or too quiet, etc.) Dramatic renderings are unnecessary and not desirable. Instead, there should be good, solid, and clear reading. To help with training, we usually read this article from Tim Challies and go through it together (https://www.challies.com/articles/the-public-reading-of-scripture/).
- Use the teenage young men. Teenage young men will soon be husbands, fathers, and eventually leaders in the church. Allow them to serve as well (obviously with their father’s permission). This will help them understand the importance of the Scripture reading and the great responsibility of reading Scripture before the congregation.
- Be encouraging! Encourage the men in the church to become one of the Scripture readers and then encourage them after they have read on a Sunday. Tell them thank you! Thank the Scripture readers from the pulpit during the service.
I pray that the men of Christ’s church would know the importance of reading Scripture in corporate worship, and they would take up the mantle of leading this vital ministry. If you don’t currently read Scripture in your corporate worship, take time this week to talk to your pastor about doing so. If you are a pastor, remember that reading Scripture in corporate worship is not just a nice thing to do; it is a command from God (1 Tim. 4:13). And how better to fulfill one of God’s commands but by having the men of His church fulfill it!