Does Hannibal Lector Lead Your Worship Service?

Stop Chopping Up Worship

Catchy title, eh? Did you also catch the pun? Lecter/Lector? I'll wait while you read the wiki's short...but come right back now...

I'm using Hannibal the cannibal as a reference because, if you'll pardon another pun, sometimes we church music and worship professionals spend so much time getting the "music" part of a worship service, with all the musical transitions and sermon topic subtexts in place, that we forget that a bad reader can chop a worship service to pieces.

I witnessed an example not too long ago, while visiting a church. The choir had just finished a wonderful call to prayer. The music had drawn the congregation into a prayerful attitude, and at the end of the anthem the entire congregation was metaphorically on their knees.

The lector got up from a seat in the front row pew, strode purposefully to the lectern, and said in his best stentorian voice: "will you all please bow your heads for prayer."

OK... first that wasn't necessary, which would have been obvious if the lector had been paying attention to the worship going on in the building. Strike two, by not being at the lectern ready to make a seamless transition to prayer, the focus became the lector, and his passage to the chancel. Strike three? Look up the word stentorian. OK, I'll do it for's the link. For those in a hurry, think Foghorn Leghorn without the stutter.

But, you say, that's too much to ask of a volunteer reader.

To which I say, how much do you ask of your volunteer choir or worship team members? Sunday School teachers?

I've sat through enough mangled Scripture readings to drown my ears in sorrow. (OK...fair warning...rant...when you are asked to read the Luke Christmas story passage, how is it possible that you don't know how it goes? I understand reading from the page. I don't understand either not ever having looked at it before you read it, or that you never have seen the Peanuts special where Linus reads it...end of rant...).

Now before you accuse me of insensitivity, please understand that I believe know the problem is almost always that the lector is so busy worrying about what they are doing next that they aren't paying attention to what's happening in the moment. I believe know that circumstance is easily fixed. We call it rehearsal.

So my suggestion to you is that you consider the following two step process to eradicate Hannibal Lector from your worship services:

  1. Have a meeting with all the lectors in your church's rotation at which you gently and sensitively explain their role in worship both big-picture and specifically. Spend some time doing some training during this meeting, perhaps by working in advance with a lector who can both "do it wrong" and "do it right." Pair off the lectors with a couple of readings and have them lovingly help each other get better. Bonus points: bring a video camera and have everyone watch themselves.
  2. Institutionalize a mandatory "sound check" before your first service of the weekend (it could even be before or after your mid-week choir or band rehearsals, or after the service one Sunday in advance) at which the lector's parts of the service are actually rehearsed (with a worship professional in attendance to gently coach if needed).

Yes, this will take time. And by mandatory, I mean every time a lector is scheduled, not just one and done. The end result will be worth it, I guarantee you.

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