Does your church ever use “responsive readings” in your worship services?
If you’ve grown up in a liturgical tradition, you know immediately what responsive readings are. If you are from a church tradition that doesn’t use much liturgy, you might not be familiar with this.
As a writer, creating responsive readings is one way you can help your church (and others) to increase participation in the worship service.
Regardless of your tradition, responsive readings can be a wonderful way to encourage people to respond to God’s presence and to the scriptures.
Responsive Readings Invite our Response to God
A responsive reading (also known as an antiphonal reading, where two or more voices respond back and forth) involves all the people in the church reading out loud together in response to a scripture or to something a leader says or prays.
Responsive readings mean that each person participates in the worship service and responds to God together. Responding is an important function of worship, and we often miss those opportunities. Worship becomes passive, where we just sit and listen or watch.
With a responsive reading, we all become part of the response to God. Whenever we actively participate in worship and respond to God’s presence, we open our hearts for His response to us.
Different Ways to Experience Responsive Readings
There are many ways to experience responsive readings. Some traditions take a passage of scripture, like a Psalm, and highlight which lines people will read out loud. This is often done where the worship leader reads a line, and then the congregation reads a line, and this goes back and forth.
The responsive readings I enjoy the most are the ones where different sections of the congregation read back and forth to each other. For example, the left side of the sanctuary might read one line out loud, then the middle section reads another, and then the right section reads another. At other times, it might be the men reading one line and then the women reading another.
The responsive reading isn’t just passively done. The congregation actively reads the words to each other, and they really focus on the action of speaking these things out loud in a dialogue. The readings might include a refrain or closing lines that all people read together.
The global church has a rich tradition and history of responsive readings. You might be delighted to find responsive readings that have been used historically in your church tradition. I have also enjoyed in my seminary classes when professors have used responsive readings from many different cultures around the world. A quick search for “responsive readings” on the internet shows many examples to choose from.
Writing Responsive Readings
But that’s just the beginning. As a writer, you can play a role in creating responsive readings that help people become active participants in the worship experience and learn how to respond to God.
Some writers create blogs where they supply responsive readings that anyone can download and use. Or you might simply ask your pastor or worship leader if they would like for you to write a responsive reading for a particular occasion.
An Example of Lenten Encounters
One year during Lent, our pastor was highlighting a different biblical person each week, with the theme of “Lenten Encounters.” We were invited to see ourselves in each part of the biblical story, and also to discover how those biblical persons responded to God.
Our pastor invited our church writing group to create a responsive reading. Using the theme of weekly “encounters,” we added a couplet to the responsive reading every week. The new couplet reminded us of the biblical person we had encountered the previous week.
We started out with our foundational responsive reading, which talked about the encounters we hoped to have during our Lenten season. The second week, we added a couplet about (for example) Peter, who we had encountered the week before. The words of the couplet reminded us of Peter’s particular response to God. The next week, we added (for example) Blind Bartimaeus, who we had encountered the previous week. And so on.
As we moved through the Lenten season, we continued to include the couplets from previous weeks. So we continued to remember and acknowledge what we had discovered with each biblical person. Each week, the responsive reading (which was printed in the bulletin) grew a little longer.
When we reached Palm Sunday, the focus shifted to our own response to God. We added a final couplet looking forward to our ongoing encounters with Christ.
That is just one example. The possibilities are endless. Writing responsive readings is a very creative task for a writer or group of writers who want to help people experience and participate in the worship service in a very unique way.
Do You Feel Called to Write Responsive Readings?
If this is something you feel called to try out, begin with prayer and ask God for His guidance. Then do a simple online search for “responsive readings” and look through the many types of examples. Don’t forget to look for responsive readings that might have been used in earlier times in church history. And look for responsive readings that have been created in cultures around the world that are different from your own. The global and historical church has such a rich tradition to experience.
Then, with God’s leading, either begin to create responsive readings for your blog, or ask your pastor if your church might be able to use a responsive reading that you or a group of writers in your church would create especially for the church. You can even create these for your own family in worshiping and praying together at home.
In whichever ways you choose to write responsive readings, you will discover that this is an amazing experience. Writing responsive readings will also remind you of your own daily responses to God.