I loved being responsible for the scripture readings each night last week in the Big Top, Spring Harvest Skegness. For each one we looked to appropriately engage people with the text, at the moment it was being read, instead of rushing through it to let the preacher tell us 'what it really means'! I thought I'd share the ideas, and the principles behind them, so you can have a go in your own context.

Often for me the 'Bible Reading' moment in church goes by like the traffic report on my car radio. I think 'I must listen to this', and yet in the car they get to the end and I realise that I zoned out, and missed the information about my road! Similarly, in church, I do intend to focus on the passage as it is read, but I'm easily distracted and then as the person sits down I think 'Oh, what did they just read again?'! God's word has power in and of itself to challenge, encourage and transform us (2 Tim 3:16) as the Holy Spirit reveals it to our spirits (John 16:13). It is not that the Bible needs creativity to be powerful. The issue is that so often we are distracted, or disengaged, and so we don't allow the space for God to speak to us through his word. Careful reading, music, art, physical actions, silence and other gifts of God help to focus our minds and hearts, and open us up to revelation from him.

Night 1 - Acts 2:37-47 (video)
A video had been made for this passage, by John Bowen. It has a contemporary, grainy, black and white look, which avoided being to 'literal' in it's depiction of the scene. That is something to think about when putting images together with scripture - sometimes a more abstract or tangental images will spark more thought than obvious cliches (eg: if you read about the Spirit, avoid doves and waterfalls but find other visual connections - breath on a cold day, running tap, swirly abstract patterns, etc).

The film maker had connected the reading with the classic 'six marks of the church' - Baptised, Evangelistic, Biblical, Corporate, Eucharistic, Worshipping, which he put on the video at appropriate points. This is a good way to use screens with Bible readings - rather than post up the whole thing as it is read, just flash up particular words or phrases you think should be highlighted.

You can buy this video, along with a load of other resources made for SH, on a DVD collection.

Night 2 - 1 Peter 2:4-10 (paraphrase)
I stole Abby Guinness' idea of reading this from Rob Lacey's Word on the Street paraphrase. This version is really designed to be read out loud - with feeling! So my second tip would be practice your reading aloud a number of times, so you can really perform it meaningfully. Think about the words you want to emphasise, the places you want to go faster or slower, raise your voice or quieten to a hush, bring out the humour or get very serious. If you have actors in your church, why not ask them to read scripture, or lead a workshop on bringing texts to life? I don't have a video of me or Abby doing the 1 Peter reading, but here she is bring Nehemiah 8 to life:

Night 3 - Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Live music, dancers, actors)
This passage definitely deserved a big 'song and dance' number to bring it to life, and so we went to town! The text was directly from the NIV (except we edited some of the 'and then God said' bits), but I spoke Ezekiel's narration offstage, and Ben from Saltmine Theatre Company spoke the words of God, also offstage. We had three dancers play the 'dry bones', first contorted on the floor, then rising up as jerky bones, and then finally two using a length of cloth to symbolise the Spirit, as the third danced to show the risen Israelite army. Matt from Saltmine was the on-stage Ezekiel, walking around the scene and 'prophesying' to the bones. The finishining touch was Geraldine Latty's band, who begun the piece with ominous, dark music, but built it up with rattling percussion, the blowing of the Shofar to symbolise the Spirit, and then climaxed the reading with drums and melody for the 'army' to dance to.

You may not have such resources in your church (who does?!), but it is still possible to be creative and dramatic with Bible readings like this. Do you have frustrated musicians, bored of the G, C, D chords of most worship songs? Then why not invite them to play appropriate music to interpret a Bible passage? Dancers are also a great asset for interpreting scripture visually - give then plenty of time and they can choreograph something for you. We've already talked about using actors - but even something as simple as a multi-part reading from the Dramatised Bible can be very effective. The key to all this is rehearsal - make sure you go through your reading, in the church building, with all the participants, so that nothing distracts from God speaking through his word.

In addition to what was happening on-stage, our artist Chris Gilbert was cartooning his way through the scriptures and themes - here is how he interpreted Ezekiel! You can see all of his work on his website. Do you have any visual artists in your church who could help bring this element to Bible readings?

Night 4 - Nehemiah 1 (BSL Signer, prayer, song)
Spring Harvest always uses some fantastic signers to interpret for hard-of-hearing guests, and these are often a blessing for hearing folks too. So for this passage we invited a deaf guest, Cathy, to sign along on stage, adding a visual element to the reading. The band also helped us out by humming the 4-part harmony of the Taize chant 'O Lord, hear our prayer' under the reading.

We wanted to pray in response to this powerful scripture, so we split the reading into three sections. After verse 4, where Nehemiah laments the broken walls of Jerusalem. I said to the congregation "Take a moment to think about your own community, your own town, the areas that are broken down, the people that are in bad shape. Picture the brokenness and hold it before the Lord." After about a minute we sang together as a congregation 'O Lord, hear our prayer'. Then we read/signed verses 5-9, Nehemiah's prayer of confession, and I followed this by inviting the congregation to confess to God any ways in which they or their church were responsible for some of the brokenness in their area, by actions or inaction. After a minute we sang the chant again. We finished the reading with the final verses.

Placing prayer, silent or outloud, individually or in groups, in the middle of a Bible reading helps us to remember that God is speaking to us by his word, and so it is appropriate that we also respond. It gives people a model they can take into their personal prayer lives - letting scripture inspire and lead their prayers. In this case it was silent prayers of lament and confession, but it could be praise, thanks, intercession or other things appropriate to the passage.

Night 5 - Revelation 7:9-17 (Congregational participation)
This reading involves the voices of the 'multitudes' and the angels praising God, so I invited people to join with me in saying verses 10b and 12b, which we projected on to the screen. But to add to the sense of 'every tribe and tongue', we said that if people spoke another language, they should feel free to speak the text out in that language, expressing our divesity!

Involving the congregation in reading some of the passage with you is a great way to get them engaged. They can play the part of a crowd in a story, or emphasise words of praise, or bring out a section you want to highlight. Psalms can be read 'antiphonally' (alternating lines between Leader/All), or you can get more complicated by splitting them into groups, to read different parts. Try to make the interaction relevant to the passage, and explain clearly how it is going to work, or put obvious instructions on the screen.

Morning 6 - 1 Cor 11:23-26 (Reflective)
This is a short and very familliar passage, read before Communion in many traditions. I was keen for people to hear God afresh through it, before the preacher had even stood up. So I invited people to get out a pen and paper, or their phone to write on. Carey Luce played soft keyboard underneath. I read the passage once, and then before reading it a second time I invited them to listen out for words or phrases that jumped out to them, and to write them down or remember them. After reading it, slowly, a second time, I then asked the congregation to look at the words they had written down or remembered, and to ask God to take them deeper into those words. Why were they important? What deeper truth did God want to emphasise? I then left about 90 seconds quiet, as Carey continued to play and people meditated on the words that had struck them.

This is a kind of mini-version of Lectio Divina, an ancient Bible reflection technique. It was quite special to be able to give people chance for God to speak to them through his word, and I hope it deepened people's engagement with the sermon and the following Communion response. You could do a similar thing by giving people the reading on paper, and inviting them to chew it over with some music playing, or reading a passage from a screen with 30 second gaps between each verse.

In the UK we live in an increasingly biblically-illiterate culture. Many churches talk about being biblical, but neglect to actually read scripture each Sunday! And then when we do, we forget that the Bible is made up of many divese genres - poetry, history, law, prophesy, letter, song, story - and so in and of itself deserves to be read in a variety of ways. Then add to that the many different learning styles and character types in your church, and you've got a strong mandate for putting some effort into creative, engaging and thoughtful scripture reading in your church! I've talked about a few ideas we've used - how about you? What has worked in your context?