Those of us in the Lay Reader Ministry love God’s word. We love to share the life-giving message of the Lord to his people in the context of Sunday worship. And when everything goes well, we have plenty of time to prepare our readings so that we are equipped for whatever the lectionary throws at us: crazy Hebrew names, complicated sentence structures, and profound theology.

Then there are those other times where providence throws us a curveball and we find ourselves tasked to read at the last minute. Maybe the scheduled lay reader called in sick, or a surprise service pops up, or we (gasp) forgot it was our week and we find ourselves thrust into the limelight without much of a chance for proper preparation.

If you’re that lay reader, you know the adrenaline surge that comes with the job under those circumstances. Even seasoned lay readers can get the flutters when unexpected service is required.

If you have at least five minutes before you face the lectern, don’t panic. Here are three things that will get you safely to “the Word of the Lord.” Thanks be to God.

1. Find a corner and read the passage out loud. Twice.

Find all the landmines (genealogies, anyone?) and practice any tough words several times. Figure out the flow.

2. Quickly answer these questions for yourself:

  • Who wrote this?
  • Who did they write it to?
  • What is the most important sentence in the reading? Hint: it’s probably at the end.

3. Read slowly.

As you step up to read, take a deep breath and think about reading slowly. Under pressure, we tend to rush, and that can cause us to trip over words, or miss important words (it’s “you shall not commit adultery”).

Reading slowly helps our brains stay ahead of our mouths and we can navigate the reading successfully.

You made it! Great job!

If this is a regular communion service, you can now sit back, relax and listen to the preacher open up those verses you just read and bring them further to life. Thank you for handling the precious gift of scripture with as much integrity as you could under the gun!

And here’s the best news: the Holy Spirit will use your reading to further his purposes, regardless of how eloquently you perform.

It’s his job to convict the congregation with the marrow-piercing truth of his word. It’s our job to be faithful. We read God’s word to the people and we worship. Don’t forget to worship.

Bonus tip for you and your Lay Reader team:

Assemble an emergency kit that’s accessible to anyone before a service.

This should include:

  • a good study Bible with introductions and footnotes,
  • a pronunciation guide book,
  • cough drops (for dry throats), and
  • some sample prayers to help you submit yourself to the Lord before you read.

Next time, you’ll be ready!


If you’d like to learn more from Cindy Telisak about the important ministry of Lay Readers, check our her helpful and practical book, The Eloquent Lay Reader: A Guide to Skillfully Preparing and Delivering the Biblical Text for Your Congregation.

Email editor@goodshepherdpublishing.com for a free PDF. The Eloquent Lay Reader in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.com. Bulk discounts available.