Becoming a More Effective Lector

Introduction

The lector performs one of the most important roles in worship on Sunday mornings and on other occasions. To the lector is entrusted the responsibility for the public reading of the Bible-a vessel of God’s Word. Consequently, the work of the lector should always be pursued with a sense of reverence, responsibility, and diligence.

Every lector brings his or her own personality and style to the reading of scripture. This adds flavor to our worship together. At the same time, there are certain preparations and practices that all lectors should undertake in order to insure that the Bible portion to be read aloud to the gathered congregation will be communicated and shared as effectively as possible. Indeed, good lectoring is best seen as a process that begins well before you arrive at church on Sunday morning or on any other worship occasion.

In Turning Ink into Blood: Resources for the Public Reading of Scripture, Dr. Thomas Rogers, who teaches homiletics (preaching) at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, divides the lectoring process into four parts or phases, as represented below.

Study of Outer Text
1. The Ink of the Story–
or being familiar with text
as printed

 Study of Inner Text
2. Blood of the Text–
or what biblical
text is really saying.

 Becoming an Inner Reader
3. Personally connecting with
the story and meaning of the
 biblical text.

 Becoming an Outer Reader
4. Effectively communicating
the story and meaning of the
text to the congregation.

 

Review and Study ‘Outer’ and ‘Inner’ Texts

To be able to lector confidently and to communicate effectively, carefully review, study, and thoroughly familiarize yourself with the biblical texts that have been assigned to you. In getting started, some lectors find it helpful to type up their own copy of the scripture passages they will be readings. Others prefer to create a large print copy for easier reading and review by using the church office photocopier. (A member of the church staff will assist you with the enlargement.)

As you study the texts, note and write out unfamiliar names and terms. Figure out how you can best pronounce these names or terms phonetically. If you have any questions regarding a pronunciation, feel free to contact the pastor at the church office or the parsonage. You may also want to familiarize yourself with any biblical characters mentioned in your scripture text by consulting a reference work on the Bible (e.g., Who’s Who in the Bible or Interpreters’ Commentary on the Bible). The church maintains a small library of biblical reference books and commentaries in the church parlor. Your background knowledge can enhance the sense of confidence you bring to your reading.

After your initial reading of your biblical texts, take another more thoughtful look at them. As you reread the texts, ask yourself some simple questions and make some notes as you go along:

  • What is happening in the bible passage?
  • Who are the main characters in the bible passage?
  • If there are no characters mentioned, who is the voice to whom you will be giving voice as you read aloud to the congregation? (e.g. God, Moses, Jesus, a prophet or apostle)
  • What conflict, problem, or issue is at the heart of the bible passage?
  • Is there a particular topic, theme, or concern that is prominent in the particular bible text and which ties in with the other reading that you may be sharing with the congregation simultaneously?
  • Is there a particular phrase in the bible passage that meaningfully stands out for you? If so, how and why is it personally relevant?
  • Does the scripture passage have a special insight or assurance that you think should be emphasized in reading aloud?

Give yourself more time: allow your thoughts and observations on the bible passages to gestate and jell. Go back and re-read particular phrases and verses that you consider especially important, interesting, or engaging.

Becoming an Conscientious ‘Inner Reader’
and an Effective ‘Outer Reader’

To become an effective “outer reader”-as we read scripture aloud to the congregation-we need to be a conscientious “inner reader,” emotionally connecting with the text as much as possible, as well as identifying any signals the text may give us about the way it should be read. With this in mind, consider the following:

  • As you prepare yourself to read your assigned passages aloud to the congregation, take a pencil and underline the words or phrases in the text that are most important and meaningful to you.
  • Think also about what you want your audience to gain from hearing this passage, based upon your own understanding of the text.
  • Study the phrasing of the biblical text: are there particular verses that read awkwardly for you or that cause you to stumble?
  • Mentally strategize ways that you can master these stumbling points.
  • Are there words, phrases, or verses that might be likely to confuse your audience, especially if they do not have a printed copy of the biblical text in hand? If so, how can you help the congregation better hear what you are actually saying? (e.g., enunciate words more distinctly, read more slowly).
  • Audiences have more difficulty hearing biblical verses read in a monotone. Review your biblical text: are there particular words where your intonation, inflection, and voice volume could add color and emphasis to your reading?
  • Intentional pauses can enhance your reading and help you retain audience interest and engagement. Review your text: is there a particular moment when a pause would be helpful in creating anticipation on the part of the audience or in emphasizing to your audience something you have just read? Note: Many experienced lectors make it habit to pencil appropriate slash marks in their text where they intend to pause for special effect.
  • Practice reading your biblical text both silently and aloud until you feel completely comfortable with it. To find a reading style that is not only natural for you but also communicates effectively with the congregation, experiment with your oral delivery. For instance, try reading the entire text as dramatically as possible. Also, read your text through several times as slowly as possible. Then choose an emphasis level and reading pace that you judge best for your audience. Note: worshipers usually prefer lectors who read more slowly with a thoughtful emphasis that makes the biblical text come alive. Ironically, the lector may sometimes feel as if his or her slowness and emphasis are exaggerated. But the audience very differently experiences it as “just right.”
  • To convey a sense of confidence and poise to the congregation, some lectors also make it a practice to memorize the first and last sentences of each biblical text they are reading aloud. Such memorization is optional and strictly a matter of preference. But it can help assure a smooth start and a smooth ending.

At first glance, the many steps suggested above may seem daunting. But once you begin putting them into practice, they will soon feel more natural and automatic. Your own poise and enjoyment in serving as a worship lector will also increase. What we all gain as we conscientiously prepare ourselves for lectoring is a sense of being part of a true ministry of the Word.