Multiplication Center

The Worst Moment in Most Church Services

November 13, 2009

Quick: What’s the worst moment in a lot of church services? Too often it’s when God’s Word is read aloud.

McLean-Max-2007 That’s not the case when Max McLean (left) reads or quotes Scripture, which is why I bugged him for years to teach others how to do it. Then when I heard he had started a Scripture reader group at the church he attends, I knew that would make a great “thread” for a story-based book on how to read Scripture aloud.Unleashing-the-Word_small

The result just came off the press, a widely endorsed book with DVD titled:

Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture, Max McLean and Warren Bird, Zondervan, 2009. 128 pages (book), 75 minutes (DVD, with most clips under 5 minutes). ISBN 978-0310292708.

Max McLean’s life’s calling is to recapture the rich oral tradition of telling classic Christian literature with insight and appropriate dramatic expression. He does that with the Bible, having recorded three translations available on Bible Gateway and as speaker on the radio program, Listen to the Bible, which airs daily on nearly 700 radio affiliates worldwide. In the past year 45,000 people have experienced his live performances of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters or Mark’s Gospel, a one-man retelling of the entire gospel from memory. That production was recently awarded Chicago theatre’s coveted Jeff Award for Best Solo Performance in 2009.

See these two highly engaging examples from Mark: 


(1:40, Mark 3, Man with Shriveled Hand)

(2:28, Mark 10, Two Disciples Ask to Sit by Jesus in Heaven)

The purpose of the book is to inspire and instruct people — both pastors and lay readers — how to elevate the public reading of the Bible to a more honored and anticipated moment in our worship services.

As Max’s pastor, Tim Keller, at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, wrote in his endorsement of the book, “In most church services, the reading of the Word is poorly and hurriedly done. What a missed opportunity! Max’s book will help your church restore this neglected worship practice. There’s nothing else like it.”

In many ways this book is a compilation of a lifetime of work. It is story based, drawing from Max’s experiences with his reading team at church, where he has led the Scripture reading ministry since 2002.  The book is also informed from various other contexts where Max has coached other readers, or been coached himself.

My role was to tell Max’s story for him and to help Max translate his life experiences into practical guidelines and steps for how to prepare a reading, which we especially bring out in chapters 6 and 8, as you can see from the outline of the entire book:

My Story (Part 1)
    1. How I Got Started Reading Scripture Aloud
    2. Recruiting Others Who Love the Game
    3. No Longer the Worst Moment
    4. The 9 Percent Isolation Factor
Butterflies and Breathing  (Part 2)
    5. How to Sound Like You
    6. From the Page to the Stage
    7. Take a Breath—It Even Helps with Nervousness
    8. Quick-Start Guide to Reading the Bible Aloud
How to Teach Others  (Part 3)
    9. Train Your Pastor to Read the Bible Better—Really!
    10. Invite Youth and Children to Make Scripture Come Alive
    11. Scripture Reading at Home, at Weddings, and More
Next Steps  (Part 4)
    12. What to Do Next
    13. Q&A with Max McLean
    A. Things You Might Say before or after Reading
    B. How I Prepare a Scripture Reading
    C. Suggested Texts for Practice
    D. Discussion Questions for Accompanying DVD
    E. Resources Available from Max McLeandvd

Since so much of this type of instruction is “more caught than taught” we included a DVD that can be used for individual or class settings. It includes several compelling readings from members of my church’s Scripture reading team as well as a brief commentary in which Max describes what he finds to be particularly effective about each one. There’s also a panel discussion about how to pick readers as a church develops a Scripture reading team. 

I believe that this unique book with DVD has the potential to help many churches experience God’s Word during worship in fresh, compelling ways. Together Max and I believe that Scripture reading can be elevated from one of the more perfunctory, least-engaged moments, to one of the most meaningful and powerful moments in worship.

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