Coming together with young people through communal reading of Scripture
With all 5 Powells home—all the time and with each other—during the pandemic, Dave and I felt it was an opportune time to reinvigorate our weekly “Family Church.”
So every week during either Sunday brunch or Monday dinner, we gathered around our coffee table to connect with God and with each other.
Wanting to experiment with different ways to grow in faith together, I ransacked my youth ministry files and books for ideas.
I tried old video curriculum.
A variety of devotionals.
A few Bible study series.
We did manuscript studies of books of the Bible.
In the midst of all of those experiments, one of the ideas that worked the best was new to our family but not new as a spiritual practice: public reading of Scripture.
Public (or communal) reading of Scripture is basically what it sounds like: coming together with others to listen to the Scriptures being read aloud.
Don’t let its simplicity fool you. This simple spiritual practice that you can do anywhere, at any time, and with anyone could be just what you and the young people closest to you need to grow closer to God and to each other.
Why read Scripture publicly?
When we come together as believers for a Bible study or sermon, we often listen to a short passage of Scripture. While that’s meaningful, our typical worship and youth group gatherings usually allocate far more time to hearing from our teachers, pastors, and fellow believers than hearing directly from God’s Word.
Maybe in some of our gatherings, we should reverse that ratio. Maybe it’s time to hear more from God’s Word directly and less from others who comment on God’s Word. As a first main reason to practice communal reading of Scripture, it seems prudent to periodically emphasize listening to God’s Word instead of listening to others’ impressions of God’s Word.
Tweet this: Maybe it’s time to hear more from God’s Word directly and less from others who comment on God’s Word.
A second reason to read Scripture publicly is because there are plenty of powerful Old and New Testament precedents of God’s people coming together to listen to Scripture read aloud.
From Moses reading the Book of the Covenant with the Israelites in Exodus 24,
to Jesus reading the book of Isaiah in the synagogue (Luke 4),
to Paul and Barnabas reading the Law and the Prophets on the Sabbath in Acts 13—
God’s people have found value in hearing Scripture together.
To appreciate more instances of God’s people reading Scripture together, check out this helpful video from the Bible Project.
How do we read Scripture publicly?
Here’s the good news: It doesn’t take much preparation, technology, or Bible knowledge to host or lead a communal reading of Scripture.
Whether you’re reading Scripture aloud with all generations or just young people, we recommend the following:
Ahead of time
- Identify the people, time, and place for your public reading of Scripture. You can either meet in person or meet online.
- Choose a passage and decide if you’re going to have attendees take turns reading the Bible passage aloud, or use a recorded version. The Powell family found the Streetlights audio Bible worked best for us. Others find it powerful to hear a diversity of voices (especially peers and adults they know) read Scripture aloud.
- Identify a facilitator who will do a bit of preparation ahead of time (see #1 and #2 below under “when you gather”).
When you gather
- If you’re meeting in person, try to prepare a few tasty snacks (especially if you’re inviting young people!).
- Once the group has arrived, the facilitator can welcome everyone and briefly introduce the passage, giving a paragraph or two of context for the Scripture. Consider framing this passage in light of the larger narrative, or story, of that particular book of the Bible, or the Bible’s overall salvation narrative.
- Listen together to the passage (we recommend 10 minutes minimum). You might consider listening to the same passage multiple times so that students can better absorb its insights and nuances.
- When you’re finished listening, invite attendees to share any reflections or portions of the Scripture they found especially meaningful. That could either be in the form of a group discussion, or a meditative time of silence and journaling followed by an optional opportunity to share aloud.
- Consider turning your communal reading of Scripture into a lectio divina. Developed in early monastic tradition, lectio divina invites hearers to listen deeply as a particular passage is read three times. After the first reading, the group sits for a few minutes in silence and reflection. The next time around, listeners name a word or phrase that stood out in the reading. Finally, after the third reading, group members answer a question—such as How is this passage challenging you?, or What might God be calling you to through these words? “I invite teenagers to visualize themselves in the story—perhaps as a member in the crowd, or sitting next to the speaker in the passage,” suggests FYI team member Rachel Dodd. “Some young people admit they struggle to keep their minds focused throughout the repetition of lectio divina. ‘Stepping into’ the story helps them connect empathetically with the very real humans throughout the Bible and stay engaged with the passage to make their experience of it rich and personal.”
- I love how my colleague, Brad Griffin, engaged communal reading of Scripture in his church by inviting kids, teenagers, and all generations to listen to the gospel of Mark together—in one sitting. Intergenerational small groups gathered in homes and took turns reading each chapter aloud. Brad found that “it hadn’t occurred to most of us that you could read through a whole telling of the story of Jesus in an evening. We were all so used to focusing on one passage at a time; it was surprising how different this felt. Another surprise was the way this memory stuck out to my daughter a handful of years later as a really formative moment in her faith.”
To find out more about how communal reading of Scripture can help you and the young people you care about, visit prsi.org.
Tweet this: Communal reading of Scripture could be just what you and the young people closest to you need to grow closer to God and to each other. Read these tips to help you get started.
Open Scripture in new ways with young people.
Is there more than one way to read and study the Bible in our youth ministry?
What do we do with all of our students’ questions?
How can engaging the Bible be spiritual, not just educational?
Find fresh inspiration and engaging ideas to refresh the way you read the Bible with teenagers in How We Read the Bible.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
 Many of these recommendations come from the very helpful website, Public Reading of Scripture: prsi.org.
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