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How to Playfully Remember God’s Story

Invite your congregation to experience Scripture

In this series, I’ve considered the importance of playing with Scripture and the significance of public Scripture reading as a time for communal remembrance of God’s actions in history. Now in this final segment, I’ll provide some practical ways to heighten the communal experience of hearing Scripture in worship.

First, if Scripture is usually read by lay readers, it is important to provide them with training. When I’ve suggested training to my own teams, the idea has been met with every response from “Yes! We needed this!” to “Why do I have to train to read? I went to school.” To the doubters, I just gently point out that our musicians rehearse every week. The choir rehearses (and they already know how to sing, right?) and the pastor prepares. Scripture reading is no different. The Roman Catholic tradition teaches and trains their lectors on the significance of their work, and some Evangelical congregations are following suit. Actor Max McLean has written about his process of coaching and developing a team of skilled Scripture readers at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

My favorite training resource, one that could be used in congregations of all sizes, demographics, and education levels, is a small volume by Jeffrey Arthurs with a title taken straight from 1 Timothy: Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word. This 144-page volume also includes a DVD tutorial. Consider planning one or two evenings to train Scripture readers periodically.

Second, if you want to start playing with Scripture, consider inviting the artists in your congregation to join you. Practice a variation of lectio divina with the visual artists, theatre artists, dancers, and musicians within your congregation. Meditate on a passage from an upcoming sermon series or lectionary texts. Give the artists time to play with Scripture. Together, assess the work that comes from this meditation. Wonder together: “Is this pastorally appropriate for our congregation?” (This question is challenging for many artists who have been taught that a primary purpose of art is self-expression.) If your goal is to empower the congregation to remember God’s story through artistic expression, discern together how you may do so in prophetic, beautiful, and contextually-appropriate ways.

One of the gifts artists bring communities is their prophetic vision. I like to think of Ezekiel, my favorite prophet, as the first biblical performance artist. Here he is, in Ezekiel 4, drawing a map of Jerusalem and laying siege to it with a frying pan. God gives artists weird and esoteric ideas that can produce evocative experiences that help transform the way congregations understand what it means to be part of God’s story.

Finally, remember that it is possible you will fail. You’ll fail logistically: someone forgets to show up, someone else has an emergency. People forget their parts or move to the wrong places. You’ll fail artistically. A picture you had in your mind just doesn’t look right once it’s staged or represented on canvas. Sometimes strong artistic choices are misunderstood by the community.

These moments of failure become invitations to relinquish perfectionism and trust God. In failure (or presumed failure) it’s good to remember the Spirit’s continued direction and illumination as we meditate on, speak, and hear Scripture. Jeff Barker, theatre professor at Northwestern College and faculty at the Robert E. Webber Institute of Worship Studies, reminds workshop practitioners that “the Holy Spirit is your director.” Whenever I begin work, staging a Scripture story, or learn a Bible story to tell, I hold to this truth in my hand and pray, expecting God’s ability to create ex nihilo to transform our small offerings.

For further reading:

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts edited by W. David O. Tayler (Baker Books, 2010)

The Storytelling Church: Adventures in Reclaiming the Role of Story in Worship by Jeff Barker (Parson’s Porch Books, 2011)

Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence (MCS, Regent College) is an M.Div. student at Calvin Theological Seminary, a writer, a speaker, and a biblical storyteller. Find her at www.pathlightstories.com.

July30, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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