Responsive Readings

May 25, 2013

By Walker Moore

I grew up in a small country church. When our family first started attending this church, it had one large room called the sanctuary. The seats were long wooden pews that bent like a horseshoe as they went from one side to the other.

Directly below the sanctuary was the basement. Most of our Sunday Schools, RAs, GAs, Training Union classes, Vacation Bible Schools and golden wedding anniversary celebrations took place in the basement. I don’t know why, but from my observations (which have been many), Baptists have some of the dampest, dankest-smelling basements of any denomination.

I should know. I went out with a girl who attended the Methodist Church. She took me to their basement, and it was a lot nicer than ours. When I shared that with my parents, they mumbled something about how Baptists gave our money to the Cooperative Program.

I don’t remember when I started reading, but I do remembering reading out loud as our family drove down the road. I read billboards, gas station prices and exit signs. If it had words, I read them aloud. I’m not sure my parents always appreciated the parrot in the back seat.

I grew up in the old Baptist church, where prayer meeting was about as much praying for the lost by name as praying for the sick and Aunt Gertrude’s bunions.

Now, I enjoy this modern music about as much as anyone, but I grew up in a time where Scripture reading was as important a part of the worship service as singing. I remember in the back of The Baptist Hymnal there was a section called “Responsive Readings.” Nod with me if you remember those. Each reading presented a topic and a set of scriptures strung together concerning that topic. The reading was printed with one set of verses in normal font and a bold font for the next set. The leader read first, and then the congregation and leader read the next set of scriptures in unison (that means out loud, together.)

Since I’m a dreamer, I thought responsive readings might be as close I would ever get to experiencing Old Testament times. I pictured Moses standing in front of the throngs of Israelites, using his best reading voice to bellow out the Ten Commandment. The crowd responded with “Amen,” “Hallelujah,” “Oh, No” or whatever they said back then. And yes, Moses used notes when he read the Ten Commandments. They just happened to be written on stone.

We might have been from the old Baptist Church, but it was one of those old Baptist Progressive Churches. Every once in a while, the pastor would ask one of the children, a teenager or even a woman to lead the church in reading the Word of God responsively.

Back when I was growing up, coming together for the reading of the Word of God was the norm. Each week meant a different topic:  one Sunday grace, another Sunday, love. I don’t ever remember having responsive readings when the pastor preached on tithing, though. And now that I think about it, we didn’t have responsive readings on “Thou shall not commit adultery” Sunday, either.  But what I found incredible was how the scriptures fit together when you removed the white spaces between the lines. From the Old Testament Prophets to the books of History or the Gospels, His truth came running across the page until you had the whole counsel of God.

I know I’m neither the prettiest nor the sharpest crayon in the box, but it does seem like the placement of the scriptures in our churches and families has shifted. The flocks are scattered, and the shepherds are running from farm to farm seeking answers. A little less running and a lot more reading of that Holy Book, and you might be amazed when the Holy Spirit begins to speak.

Many parents ask me to recommend a children’s devotional book that they could read together at night. There are many, but the best thing families can read together is the Word of God. And if your children are old enough to read the highway signs from the back seat, how about getting yourself a Baptist Hymnal? At least one night a week, pick a theme and take turns going over the responsive reading scriptures together.

What if you come to words nobody can pronounce? Take a page from my hymnal. When that happened to me, I performed what I call “unison lip synching.” Move your lips, make a mumbling sound and pick up with the next word as if you had a lump in your throat.

You can learn a lot in the basement of a Baptist church. And best of all, you can come to know … Him.


Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available


Your experience with responsive readings is similar to mine. As a child, I built up a great love of scripture through the process of reading those words out loud in worship. That, plus hymn-singing, was the most corporate, congregational process we had. These days the SBC churches I have been a part of no longer employ responsive readings ( a pastor reads, usually), and words to the songs are on the boards. One of the great worship and scripture aids should be the printed hymnal: it can be consulted for scripture backgrounds to hymns, responsive readings, and worship aids, in addition to hymns. Words on a screen don’t give us any of that. Baptists are people of the Book, but our worship does not seem to reflect that. Thank you for these important thoughts.

James McDuffy

I love Responsive Readings and am glad my church does them weekly.

I grew up Catholic, got saved a Baptist, and never saw Responsive Readings until I attended Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Now, thankfully, the church I serve at does them weekly as well. In fact, we read a large portion of Romans 8 together this morning.

There has been a major upswing in having Responsive Readings amongst YRR, A29 churches. I hope the same can be said of all Baptist churches!

David R. Brumbelow

Walker Moore,
Good article that brings back a few memories.

Great idea about families using the Baptist Hymnal at least once a week for a Responsive Reading.

I’ve said for years that every believer needs a Baptist Hymnal at home. It’s a great worship guide. Churches, buy a few extra copies and sell them at cost to your members. Get a different color than the hymnals in your church, so they don’t get accused of stealing!
David R. Brumbelow

Jim P

I do appreciate the article.

I would like to contribute one comment relating to the last sentence,

“You can learn a lot in the basement of a Baptist church. And best of all, you can come to know … Him.”

I’d like to accentuate that the purpose and intent of any Church is be focused on ‘knowing Him.’

I believe this is why Baptist have had the impact they have had in this country and the world.

Happy ‘memorial day,’ including those Baptists who’ve sacrificed all for Him.

Johnathan Pritchett

During my brief stint as a pastor, I instituted responsive readings. I took a passage from the Psalms, went line for line with the congregation’s bit in bold, and printed them in the bulletin. Always made sure they went with the sermon.

I love responsive reading.

The congregation, mostly elderly, hated it. My son had to lead the congregation in it because neither the two deacons, nor the worship leader, wanted to do it.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available