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  • Hannah Williamson

‘Devote yourself to the public reading of scripture.’

I recently spoke to a friend who has been sharing Jesus with a young muslim man. He has been searching after Jesus and so got a Bible and has begun reading it. He was challenged through the words and had begun to see the world through the eyes of what Jesus taught. In many ways his views were refreshing because they were so raw. ‘If Jesus said something in the book,’ as he called it, ‘why were Christians not following it?’ He had a valid point.

Reading the Bible has always been a part of my life. As a little girl I would sit with my parents and either be read to or read for myself. It was in that context that I came to follow Jesus after having read the story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. As I grew into my teenage years my reading of the Bible become more personal although we still read together as a family. I recently met a woman who told me she had become a Christian in her 20’s. She now had small children and was wondering the impact her faith would have on them. She asked me how I did not walk away from God in my teenage years. The honest answer is that I learnt to hear the voice of God for myself. In all honesty, this comes down to the daily habit I had made to both read the Bible and journal what God was saying to me.

In my daily bible reading a few months ago I read in 1 Timothy 4:13, ‘Devote yourself to the public reading of scripture.’ Paul was writing to Timothy as a young Pastor and really guiding him on how to lead a church. This got me thinking if a mentor said this to me, what would I do with it? Maybe it wouldn’t be worded like this. Maybe they would say, ‘Hannah, make sure that the church you are leading in is actively reading the Bible aloud.’ I wonder as church leaders how often we stop and reflect on some of these ‘one liners’ from the Bible? So, along this line of reading ‘The Book’ here are a few things I journaled about how we can ensure we are devoting ourselves to the public reading of the Bible…..

1. Create SPACE for the reading of the Bible.

This sounds a bit silly to say because of course we should be reading the Bible in our services and I am sure many of us are but I think at times we can become so programmed in what we do, that we don’t always allow space for the things that matter - the public reading of the Word of God. If you go back to the time of the early church, letters would have been sent to the churches and the whole letter would have been read aloud. This kind of thing is certainly not common nowadays from what I have seen but it’s something interesting to consider. I remember growing up and my mum would read a book to me before I went to bed. As time went on I began to read for myself and so that was no longer needed. I am an avid reader so would rather read than listen however I have found that when I listen to the Bible I often hear things differently than to when I read. I can’t say I have some deep reason why, but maybe the way I hear and the way I read are just different. Maybe it might be an interesting thought to consider how we create space in our services for people to listen to the Word of God spoken. Take that in for a moment - God speaking to us. That is what is really happening!

Action: Look at your Sunday service - how can you create space for the reading of God’s Word? How can you encourage others to listen to God’s Word?

2. Use CREATIVITY to read the Bible.

For a period of time, I oversaw all the creative elements of our church and although it wasn’t always easy working with creatives I absolutely loved it! I don’t get to do anything like that so much these days so I often laugh with people that the creativity has to come out somewhere and it appears it comes out in my cooking - I love the opportunity to have guests over and to create a meal that is not just about food but is a whole experience. I received new dining ware items recently and so go all out in preparing the table to look beautiful to receive hopefully some tasty food I have made! Creativity, I believe is a gift from God - if we look into those first few chapters of the Bible we see God’s creativity to the extreme! I want to challenge us when it comes to the reading of the Bible in church to use this God given creativity. I often spoke with my team of creatives about using a variety of the senses to capture people’s imaginations. Take for example the passage about the feeding of the 5000….what would it be like to read that passage of the bible while people can see you holding a loaf of bread and some fish or even take it a little further and allow them to smell it!!! Do all you can to get people into the text so that they have a more broader experience of reading it.

Action: Spend time thinking how you can make the reading of the Word of God come alive creatively.

3. Ensure your MUSIC is based strongly around the words of the Bible.

This is an interesting one but important. I found working with musicians and singers that often the sound of the music was what interested people to the song above the words but as we know words are important!!! Over the covid pandemic and particularly during lock down where we could not be in physical buildings for church I was extremely grateful for ‘Maverick City’ who brought worship to my living room! What I loved about them was not just great music (of which it is pretty exceptional) but words that were directly from the Word of God mixed with the anointing of God as they led. I found myself having such incredible worship sessions! One thing that might be interesting for worship teams is to get them to review the songs they are singing to ensure there is a good amount of Biblical language in them. Thats not to say we need to use words that nobody understands but are our songs express Biblical truths that will help to get the word of God into people’s minds. I remember when I was studying French and German in school we would be taught songs in the language (I cannot imagine this ever happening now in schools! Haha!). As annoying as they were they are still in my head today. Music helps people to get the Word of God into their minds and that is transformative.

Action: Consider the songs that you sing in church - are they rich with Biblical text?

4. Encourage adults as well as children to MEMORISE verses from the Bible.

Growing up in church a ‘memory verse’ was a standard part of kids ministry. It was normal to have competitions to see what you could remember. This is something the Jews could teach us a lot on. As children they would recite chunks of scripture and this would continue right into their adult years. The interesting thing is we often see this as an activity for kids when in reality it would probably completely change our lives if we could memorise more of the Bible. I speak to myself as I write this as I am not sure I do this enough and I know I need to. I had a friend who was a missionary in Hong Kong and I remember hearing that he had memorised the entire book of Ephesians! What an inspiration. Maybe we need to learn from the kids here and start giving our selves memory verses to learn. And maybe we need to start talking more in our churches about the transformative power of remembering and being able to recount verses or even whole chunks of the Bible?

Action: Work out how you could encourage memorisation of the Bible through your small groups or even through talking about it in church.

5. Commit to HELPING people learn how to read and understand the Bible.

I was a Youth Pastor for 15 years and throughout that time had groups of young people I was discipling. We would meet every Friday and often talk about our lives, discussed questions from the preach that had been given during the programme and would talk about how we could grow in our relationship with God. I realised the only way to help young people get into their Bibles was not just to tell them to read it but was to actively show them how to have time with God. This involved me often getting out my journal, reading a passage with them and showing them how I open my ears to listen to God. I would often show them something I wrote in my journal from the passage I had read. This normalised reading the Bible and showed them how to do it. This sounds overly simple but I found that when you move out of youth world and into a more ‘adult’ environment these kinds of conversations do not exist. Maybe we assume people know what to do? But I actually think 90% of the time people have no clue. The majority of people in your church may not have come through a youth group or been discipled in a way where someone practically taught them how to read and understand the Bible. We have to help everyone in our congregations understand that they can teach another person how to read the Word of God. This is to just reserved for Pastors or leaders but everyone has a responsibility to disciple someone else and help them in this way. Sometimes we just have to normalise doing this.

Action: Think through how you can help people in your church normalise talking to others about reading the Bible.

It can be easy to read small verses in the bible and skim over them without taking time to think through how they relate in our current world and churches. This, I think is one of those verses! I hope having read some of my thoughts, you’ll consider this tiny verse. We know there is so much power in the Word of God. It has not become outdated. Matthew 24:35 says, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’ Let’s make sure we think through creative ways to ensure we place enough value and position to the Word of God.

The same friend I mentioned at the beginning has a real heart to reach Muslims with the love of Jesus. She once told me how Muslims keep their important book at the highest part of their home. For example on a shelf, it would be at the top rather than the bottom. It has always stuck with me. We should have even more of a honour for the Word of God. I have made a point of ensuring my bibles are always on the top shelf. No one would really know why but for me it reminds me of its high importance not just in a room but in my life.

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