In my first article on Epic Bible Reading I explained what Epic Bible Reading is and why it is a valuable practice. In a nutshell, I recommend that before you break up a book of the Bible for a sermon series or a Bible Study you should gather together and read through the entire book—out loud from start to finish in one session.

In this article I am going to give some tips from my own experience, for the eager and the apprehensive, on how you can run an Epic Bible Reading at your church.

Keeping People’s Attention

You may be thinking, there’s no way your congregation will be able to sit through such a long Bible reading.

If that’s actually true then it’s a sad reflection of our culture—one worth trying to change. How far we have come from the example of God’s people in the Book of Nehemiah, where Ezra the priest read Scripture “from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Nehemiah 8:3)!

But I wonder if it is true. Some presume that Gen Zs, for example, have a short attention span. But how many regularly listen to a two-and-a-half-hour Joe Rogan podcast, or binge multiple episodes of their favourite TV show, or go to the cinema and sit through over three hours of an Avatar sequel? People do have the capacity to be engaged with God’s word for more than five minutes. Trust me!

You can get creative as well. Romans was written to both Jewish Christians and Gentile converts, and at times the letter addresses one group and then switches to the other. So when I ran an Epic Reading of Romans, I asked the left half of the congregation to imagine themselves as the Jews in Rome and the right half the Gentiles. The Bible readers then would address the left or the right or both, as they read.

If the book is long enough, you are of course allowed to take breaks, too. I acknowledge that tackling some giants like Genesis or Jeremiah may be a challenge to read all the way through in one session. Others books, like Psalms, lend themselves to being broken up and don’t need to be read as one whole.

Generally though, many books of the Bible do not take hours to read. The gospel of Mark only takes around an hour. Ecclesiastes about the same. Many books are shorter. Some are so short they can be done as part of your Sunday service. For those which take a few hours, why not make an event of it, say on a Saturday with a lunch break? It truly is a joy to soak in an entire book of the Bible. As John writes at the beginning of Revelation: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).

Nine Helpful Tips

  • Start by just looking at your preaching roster and planning ahead. I recently found that in April we will doing a short series in Philippians asked if I could read the entire epistle in the first Sunday service of the series. Later in the year, we will be preaching through Jeremiah and so I am hoping to run an Epic Reading over one or two Saturdays.
  • If you are leading a Bible Study group, when commencing study of a new book, consider spending the first week (or two) reading it in its entirety. You can supply some notes which puts the book in its context and at the end, you can discuss what you picked up from that first reading.
  • For larger books, hold an evening or Sunday afternoon or longer Saturday session. Perhaps even make it an open invite and tell people to feel free to invite their friends along. Consider whether to provide drinks, snacks or a meal. You could even make the food fit the theme of the book!
  • When the book requires multiple readers, choose your reading team well. Use this as an opportunity for ongoing training and practice for those already on the public Bible Reading roster at your church. If you don’t have enough people who can read well, consider getting your elders or pastors involved.
  • Prepare the text for the readers. Copy it from a website like BibleGateway.com and have it printed out in a large clear font. Assign passages well in advance to give your readers time to prepare.
  • If possible, have the team of Bible readers meet together a week or so before the event. Use that time for training, discussing how to read that particular type of book, practising the reading, planning the logistics of the event and praying together. You could invite those who will be preaching on that book to give an overview for the reading team.
  • Set up the space appropriately. In my church building, I often move the chairs into a circle rather than the usual lecture configuration of a Sunday service. This helps the listeners feel more involved and creates a different mood as we gather around God’s Word together.
  • Presenting a brief introduction to the book before the reading begins helps to prepare those attending for what they are about to hear. Afterwards however, resist the urge to conclude with a talk. Let people mingle and discuss with the words of Scripture filling their minds and hearts. Formal explanation and application are important, but if the Epic Reading is done at the beginning of a sermon or Bible study series, the text will be explained in more detail in the coming weeks.
  • Pray as you prepare the readings, pray as you begin the event, pray at the end. God’s Spirit wants to use God’s word to edify God’s People and so you can pray with confidence that, as God says in Isaiah, His word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

An Epic Bible Reading may be an unusual event for your church to consider, but I want you to be inspired by Paul’s instruction to Timothy, to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13). However we do it, we need to think of more bold and creative ways to be devoted to the ministry of public Bible reading than simply a five minute reading once a week. I hope next time you watch an epic film all the way through in one sitting, you’ll wonder, “Why don’t we do this more often with God’s word?”

Simon is developing training resources for churches to support their public Bible reading ministry. To find out more go to: www.PublicBibleReading.com