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Unleashing the Word
November 03, 2009
When was the last time you read a book about reading? Maybe you have read Adler’s How to Read a Book or another like it. When was the last time you read a book about reading Scripture? Maybe you have read a book about how to do better personal devotions and have found there some ideas about reading Scripture in a more effective way. But when was the last time you read a book about the public reading of Scripture in the worship service? It’s a pretty safe bet that you never have read such a book; only a very few exist. I was excited, then, to see Max McLean’s Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture. “I want to help you learn to present the Bible in such a way that your audience can engage the Word with their heart, mind, and soul as they hear it being read aloud,” he says in his introduction. “The goal is ultimately transformation—their lives will be touched and changed, just as the original hearers were.”
If I had read this book a few years ago, it would have rocked my world, I think. It is only since I began attending Grace Fellowship Church that I’ve come to see the value of the public reading of Scripture not as a simple means to an end—a way to get us from the music to the sermon—but as an end in itself. In this church I’ve come to see the reading of Scripture as a core part of the teaching ministry of the church. The Word preaches; the Word is the sermon before the sermon. And if this is true, then we ought to invest effort in reading it well. This can only be the case where the reading of Scripture is given prominence within the worship service and where the person reading is talented and passionate about what he is doing. And this is what I have seen with consistency at my church. So I have seen modeled what McLean is so passionate about and can attest to the great value in treating the reading of Scripture in this way.
McLean teaches what he does under several headings. He first shares a bit of biographical information, telling how he came to know the Lord and, from there, how he came to love to read Scripture. He has, after all, begun a Scripture-reading ministry within his church; he has recorded the whole Bible several times; he has done one-man dramatic presentations of some of the books of the Bible; he continues to do a daily radio show that is nothing but the reading of Scripture. The Bible—the simple reading of the Bible—has been the core of his whole ministry.
Having shared his story, McLean offers very practical guidance on how to begin a Bible-reading ministry within the local church. This is what he wants to see: talented individuals who make it their ministry in the church to participate in the worship service by reading Scripture. His tips range from how stand before a crowd and deliver an effective reading of Scripture to how to prepare a passage to how to breath when nervous to everything in between. He then provides some teaching on how to teach others to participate in this ministry before concluding with some more practical guidance on preparation, delivery and so on. It is in all ways a practical book. I love his vision here and would rejoice to see churches adopting it.
I was not without a couple of concerns when reading the book. The foremost has to do with gender roles within the church. McLean is clear that he considers the reading of Scripture part of the church’s core teaching ministry. At the same time, he considers this a task that can be performed equally by men and women. In fact, most of the examples he offers in the book are of women who participate in this ministry. It seems to me, though, that if this is a teaching ministry within the context of the worship service at a local church, then it would be most consistent with Scripture to have men being the ones who teach through reading. Without knowing McLean’s views on women in ministry, I do wonder if we can have this both ways. This is an issue individual churches would want to ponder before beginning such a ministry.
So much for concerns. Unleashing the Word is narrowly-focused and that is one of its strengths. The book is almost wholly concerned with reading Scripture in worship services. Yes, McLean does dedicate a bit of attention to other contexts (such as public marathon readings of the Bible) but really, his concern is to have Christians rediscover the public reading of Scripture in the worship service and to see it as a core part of the ministry of the local church. And in this I could not agree with him more. I would love to see Christians reading this book and allowing McLean to help them rediscover a most important practice. Buy this one and read it yourself. Then pass it to your pastor and ask him to read it too.
Unleashing the Word