Since the beginning of COVID-19, people have been asking us how their public reading of Scripture (PRS) gatherings can continue online. For our team, we’ve had to shift from hosting our gatherings in our office to now gathering via Zoom, but it’s been a blessing to open our office gatherings to the broader PRS community. And we’ve seen people join from all across the United States and around the globe!
We’ve been blessed to be able to still gather virtually and listen to the Word, and in order to share this with the world, we hosted this virtual training on how to facilitate a virtual public reading of Scripture in times like these. You can find the slide deck we presented here. We hope that this can serve you well. If you would like additional help, feel free to fill out the contact form at https://prsi.org/contact.
Join Our Virtual PRS Gatherings
Lastly, if you would like to join our Zoom PRS gatherings, you can find the information below.
Meeting ID: 385-927-752
Dial-in: +1 (646) 558-8656
Please join 5 minutes before the start time
We sat down with Amir Tsarfati, founder and president of Behold Israel. He shares about the importance of the public reading of Scripture to combat Biblical illiteracy and urges us to start gatherings in our communities.
The Word of God is changing people. It’s not pastors, and it’s not preachers, and it’s not professors. It is the Word of God that is sharper than a two-edged sword. So if people want to see change in their life, they first need to go back to the Word of God.
But this is exactly why Paul told Timothy to always, always continue with the public reading, the preaching, and the teaching. And it’s interesting because you go to church; you do have the teaching, you do have the preaching, but for some strange reason the reading of the Scriptures is either vanished completely or it’s there for about 25 seconds, for two or three verses only.
And so, I believe that one of the biggest problems of Christianity nowadays is Bible illiteracy. And one of the best ways to counter that one and combat that illiteracy is literally sitting together and listening to the Scriptures.
All you need to do is just read. The Bible is right there, you can do it in a way of pressing play and then listening to the drama Bible. Or you can have just someone reading out loud. But all you really need is to read or to listen to some audio Bible and that’s it.
And I urge people to form groups. If you don’t have it in your church, form groups and do it together in home Bible groups, or at your church maybe sometimes during the week, or maybe come earlier to church and do that reading. But do not neglect that which Paul told Timothy to practice.
Stefy Rojas, counselor advocate at Restore, shares her experience with the public reading of Scripture. This practice has not only affected her, but also her work community. She has seen how listening to God’s Word in community has replenished and filled her to do the difficult work of ministering to survivors of human trafficking.
SoundCloud link: The Word is for Everyone by Stefy Rojas (3:09)
My name is Stefy, and I work for Restore, and I’m a counselor advocate at Restore, working with survivors of sex trafficking as well as labor trafficking.
First Experience with Public Reading of Scripture
I was at work, and we got this email and it just said something about public Scripture was going to be read on Fridays. And I was like “What is that?”
Then I talked to who was then our executive director, and he explained it a little bit. He was like, “Just go. They read Scripture in the morning.” And I said, “Okay!”
And I was a little thrown off by the amount of people that gathered. And it was actually a really wonderful experience. And it was the audio and we had the Bibles that were provided to all of us who were there. And I can’t recall exactly the passage that we read at that time, but I just left feeling like, “Oh my gosh. I just incorporated this practice, that as a Christian, is so crucial to our lifestyle, that sometimes we tend to neglect because life gets busy.” And so, just being able to hear it and read it at the same time for me was so powerful.
Starting Our Day with Scripture
And so we sort of start our day with Scripture and enter our weekend being filled with Scripture. And for me, that was one of the most important aspects because I do deal with heavy work. And so making sure that I got there at 9 o’clock, but I was like, “Oh I’m so filled.”
And [my coworkers] were like, “Where are you coming from?” And I’m like, “I’m coming from the reading the scripture, or listening to it.” And they’re like, “Can we come too?” And I’m like, “Are you going to show up?”
So it was so wonderful to see that integration of my faith and then even my job itself. And so knowing that even my own work community comes as well and is part of such a wonderful experience, to be able to share that with them is really cool.
Hearing the Words
I think being able to listen to the Scripture and read it at the same time, you sort of pick up certain things that you wouldn’t pick up if you were reading it on your own by yourself. And sometimes you would see certain words and are like, “Oh they are there.” But when you hear them, they have a complete different impact.
I think there’s a big powerful thing to be able to do things in community. There is more accountability and there is more of the idea that you are not by yourself doing something. I think when we read the Scripture alone, I mean, I can definitely read the Scripture at home alone and just study the word of God. But then again, I go back to that there are certain things I may miss. Right?
The most wonderful thing about doing it in a community, especially if you know somebody that’s coming with you to the public reading of Scripture, is you can ask them, “What did you think about the reading? Did anything stand out to you?” And sort of take that from them and share what God spoke to you, because God speaks to us in very different ways at the same time, at the same place as any other person. But it just may be another word that He has for you.
But ultimately, the gospel is for everybody. And regardless if you are experienced in something, that’s going to be used for somebody else’s life. And I think that’s the most powerful thing about the public reading of Scripture.
Arne and Faith Mathingsdal have their own ministry called City Refuge Brooklyn. They spend time walking the streets of New York City and ministering to the homeless population. The public reading of Scripture strengthens their lives as they continue to work in a physically, emotionally, and spiritually tiring ministry.
SoundCloud Link: Unity in the Word by Arne and Faith Mathingsdal (4:43).
Arne: Building Relationships with the Homeless
My name’s Arne. This is my wife, Faith, and we have a ministry called City Refuge Brooklyn. And basically what we do is just walk the streets of Manhattan, and we sit and talk with the homeless. And it’s really just to build relationship with them, just to become their friends and give them, you know, whatever they need, whatever we have: socks, food, clothes. But it’s basically what we do. And we’ve been doing that for two years.
Arne: Listening to the Father Speak
I’ve always read the Bible ever since I came back to the Lord, for about 20 years. And I usually just get up early and I just read it. You know, always read it by myself, never really do it as we do here, in community and family. And at first, before we came here, I was just kind of wondering what that was going to be like. It’s been really special. I just see a picture of how we’re all God’s children and we’re just sitting before the Father listening to him speak to us.
Faith: Being Washed with the Word
Similarly, for me, I really enjoy actually coming to a place with other people and just building community and then enjoying the Word together. And I feel like sometimes especially with what we do, we’ll come straight after being out on the street and coming in and just, that real sense of being washed with the Word.
You know, you’ve got the day on you, and whatever junk people are carrying, it gets on you. So you come in and there’s no pressure on you to perform, to be anything other than God’s kid, and you just listen and His Word washes you. So that’s been really powerful for me.
Faith: My Heart Gets All Excited
And just the dramatized version. It just comes alive especially with the Old Testament. And I do find that when I hear Jesus speaking, my heart gets all excited. It’s just a whole other dimension to it, which is new and awesome.
Arne: Living in Community
I think anything we do, whether it’s praying or worshiping, there is a time to do that with just you and God, in the secret place. But then, God also created us for community and relationships, so there’s that. It’s good to pray by yourself, but when you pray with others there’s a synergy that happens. Like usually, when we eat, you can eat by yourself, but if you’re living in community, it’d be kind of weird to not all eat as a family.
Faith: Jesus is the Equalizer
And you know, the Word says where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them in their midst. It doesn’t have to be a big group, it can just be the two of us. We’ve brought a few different people to come and listen. And at first they’ve been like, “What are we doing?” But they’ve come and afterwards been like, “Wow! I want to do that again. That was really impactful and very different.” It’s just a different experience. You can’t manufacture that experience. It’s the coming together of people of like mind.
The other thing that’s beautiful is we’re sitting in a room with all these people from all different walks of life, all different experiences, but they all want to know Jesus. And that is the great equalizer. He is the one who reminds us that we are his body and that there’s no difference. So, to me, I think there’s real value in coming together, and we would never have known that. We’d never done that before we came here. It’s really cool.
Arne: Unifying the Body
And just to see the unity. It’s really an answer to Jesus’ prayer, “Father, make them one.” And to see people from all different denominations and that this is a fulfillment of what Jesus prayed and that he would use his Word to unify his body. It’s a pretty beautiful thing.
Faith: Being Still with the Lord
But I will say it’s interesting on occasions where I’ve observed. Just sitting back and just watching and people, whether they claim to know Jesus or not, just coming in and feeling the peace and just listening to the Word. And some of it might have been familiar and stirring up things. Who knows what the Word can do?
But just to have that space where no one is preaching at you, it is just the Word. And you can do with it whatever you want. There’s no pressure on you: you have to pray this prayer right now, you have to believe this, you have to do that. There’s the freedom for anybody to respond in whatever way that looks like, and that’s really a personal thing between the listener and God. So inviting them to be a part of something, having a place where they can come to and actually just be still with the Lord. That’s something really special.
Mark Gornik, Director of City Seminary of New York, and long-time facilitator of the public reading of Scripture, shares how this practice has shaped him in ways that are different from his seminary training. He explains how facilitating a gathering and listening in community has shaped how he communicates the Word of God.
SoundCloud Link: Listening to Scripture as an Academic by Mark Gornik (3:58).
My name is Mark Gornik. I’m the director of City Seminary of New York, and I live here in New York City with my family.
Undergraduate Biblical Studies
So, I was a biblical studies major in college. I went to Covenant College. And I had a really excellent group of teachers. My foundation was in my undergraduate work at college. It was a liberal arts college, but I majored in Biblical studies.
And then I went to seminary. It was a very significant academic seminary, and I had that whole experience. So, I had seven years of very strong grounding in linguistics, in hermeneutics, in the books of the Bible, in history of Israel, in the New Testament studies. I had a wonderful education in those fields. I’m very grateful for it.
Sharing the Bible with Non-Academics
But what I found is that [my education] is not necessarily the same thing as knowing about the Bible in the same way. You know, to be able to talk as if you are sharing it with others on the subway between stops. Be able to clearly talk about what is happening in Ezekiel, what is happening in the book of Numbers or Proverbs. To be able to know the Scriptures and to be able to communicate them in a way which is down to earth, which is not academic, which doesn’t presume you’ve been to seminary.
I think one of the biggest gifts to me of the public reading of Scripture, and teaching at City Seminary of New York, is that you have to be able to communicate clearly what really matters. What the real story is, not what is peripheral, but what really matters. What is the narrative? What is the story? What is happening?
And I think being able to be able to crisply say, this is where this text is taking place, and this is what they were hearing, and this may be a question for us today, in this way or that way. That’s not a preaching way, that’s not an academic way. It’s a way of clearly understanding how the Bible is for life. And so, I think the Public Reading of Scripture has profoundly sharpened my understanding and my desire to communicate clearly about the Scriptures.
And as someone who is professionally trained as an academic and done doctoral work, I think I think there’s nothing more significant in my understanding of Scripture than in the practice of hearing it and being prepared to speak very clearly and briefly about what is happening there. It is a challenge, but I don’t think there is anything more important.
I think the most powerful experience that I’ve had of the public reading of Scripture in seminary is in a class called The First Urban Churches and Today. So, one of the texts we really spent a lot of time in was Paul’s letter to the Romans. And one of the sessions we began by simply listening to Romans straight through. And in hearing that, you know, we’re reminded how much that is how the first Christians heard the text. They heard it at great length, they heard it with one another, they heard it in a way that felt fresh and they were hearing this letter written to them.
And so, I think that was really life-changing for me to do that. As many times I’ve ever heard the text read aloud, as many times as I’ve read them, I think that was life-changing for me as a way of understanding Romans in its first century context, but as something very, very real for the 21st century.
And it continues to reshape my imagination about God’s story. There’s so much noise in our culture and our times. Much of it is passing and fleeting. Some of it very important. But the Scriptures, that, being shaped with that imagery and that imagination and that sense of possibility is life and world-changing.
Manny Maldonado, Metro Director in New York City for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has seen the public reading of Scripture benefit his ministry and his personal life.
Athletes and Coaches Transformed by the Public Reading of Scripture
We sat down with Manny and were able to hear his experience with this biblical practice. He shared how this practice has led to transforming athletes and coaches in his ministry, building a rhythm in his personal life, and experiencing a diverse community that is rooted in God’s Word.
SoundCloud Link: Combining Sports and Christ by Manny Maldonado (4:32).
My name is Manny Maldonado, and I work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and I’m the Metro Director for New York City.
And I love it because you infuse two things: sports and Christ. For me, public reading of Scripture looks a lot of different ways in my life actually. It’s definitely benefited my ministry in a lot of ways. One way is that we do something that we call huddles, where we do Bible studies with coaches and athletes. And one of the things that I’ve loved about being here has been, you know, we listen to Scripture, but it’s helped us to see our Christian life in the everyday context.
It really was helpful for us to really know, like, what does it mean to be a disciple, right? Like what does it mean to follow Christ? And what I think it has done for us and what I’ve seen and what I’ve witnessed is that it has cultivated a place of reflection and brokenness and honesty. And so, through all of this, what we’re realizing in our ministry is that it’s creating conversation. It’s created some curiosity and that has led us to be able to have conversations, to be able to walk people along in their faith journey and build a friendship and a relationship that can lead to a transformation. And that all rooted in the Bible and rooted into cultivating an environment that’s learning, that’s welcoming, and loving, and hospitable.
And even personally in my devotion time, I’ve gone from reading the Bible, actually touching it, to now listening to it and having my laptop in front of me and kind of going through it at the same time. I think it’s been really sharpening my listening skills and that’s really hard for a preacher, being that preachers like to talk a lot, so I think God has been using it to slow me down, and to really think, and to really be a little more reflective of my life.
And, uh, in the beginning it was a little bit challenging, but the more I sat through it, the more I felt like I was practicing it and it became a part of my life. And I really enjoy it and it’s even inspired messages as I’ve been able to communicate God’s Word to the people on the athletic field and to some of the coaches that I’ve been able to minister to and even some of the staff that I’ve been able to train.
Becoming an Ambassador
And I think it’s been impacting my life in such a way that I’ve become an ambassador to the staff and to everybody on the FCA team to let them know, like, hey this is something that’s good. But I love it because it’s something that has been infused into our culture, and it’s helping us to meditate on God’s Word a little bit more. And even before we even start our meetings, we’re listening to Psalms together. And you know, I think God has been using it in my life to be able to meditate on God’s Word a little bit more. So, I think deeply just creating an appetite for God’s Word, I haven’t always had that honestly speaking. But I think that God has been using this to speak to me in ways that have been even more refreshing than how it was in the previous seasons of my life and I’ve been grateful for it.
But also, it’s become a rhythm in my life. I get a chance to listen to Scripture, but I also love being with people that come from different walks of life. I’m Puerto Rican and I come up growing up in a tough neighborhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But what has been awesome is to come to a place in the middle of my workday, or in the beginning of my workday, and take a time out. Like in sports, we normally take a time out. But here, it’s a time out to listen, to meet with people that don’t look nothing like me, to learn their stories, to be in community and to feel welcomed, and to feel loved.
And I think in New York City religion is something that people talk a lot about. And I think people want to see it lived out. And I think the beauty of coming to PRS is being able to rub shoulders with other brothers and sisters in the faith and see how we sharpen each other. And how they may have never met a kid from the Lower East Side of Manhattan on 10th Street and Avenue D redeemed by the blood of Christ. May not talk the same way, even walk the same way, but knowing that Jesus has made himself real in my mind and in my heart, and they can learn from me and I can learn from them, has been just the beauty of sitting with a cloud of witnesses.
On May 8, 2019, N.T. Wright led four hundred people in the shared experience of the public reading of Scripture at Central Presbyterian Church in the heart of Manhattan.
N.T. Wright: A World-Renowned Bible Scholar
N.T. Wright is an Anglican bishop and the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews. He is known as one of the world’s leading Bible scholars and is the best-selling author of many books, including Simply Jesus and Surprised by Hope.
Wright was eager to help revitalize the biblical practice of the public reading of Scripture. He said, “When I heard that this project was underway, I was delighted. And when PRS asked me to be part of it, I thought ‘Yes, I need to do this.’”
Introduction by Andy Mills
The evening opened with an introduction by Andy Mills, the executive chairman of Archegos Capital Management. Andy Mills shared that biblical literacy is at an all-time low in the church today, and Christians are thirsty to have more of God’s Word in their everyday lives. Reading the Bible by yourself at home is the expectation, but it is a strategy that has failed us.
Mills explained that when you see examples of Scripture being read in the Bible itself, it is read out loud in community. As Christians, the Word of God is our food, and we are supposed to be consuming it regularly in order to grow. We need extended portions of Scripture, rather than singular verses, to help us grasp the larger themes of God’s Word. The church has practiced the public reading of Scripture throughout its history and has only left this practice dormant in recent times. In order to satisfy our hunger for the Word of God, we need to remember how to receive God’s Word together.
Captivated by Scripture
After this introduction, the collective focus turned exclusively to the words of God.
N.T. Wright served as a guide, offering “program notes” for each passage. He highlighted key themes, whetting our appetites for the Word. The participants listened to forty-five minutes of Scripture through a captivating dramatized audio Bible.
The words of the Bible resonated throughout the reverent environment of the grand stone sanctuary, creating an unforgettable listening experience, and letting the substance of Scripture shine.
The passages included 2 Samuel 7, Isaiah 42, Matthew 27, Acts 4, and 1 Corinthians 15. Psalm 2 and Psalm 22 served as opening and closing prayers.
We Are People of a Story
At the end of the program, N.T. Wright remarked that it is powerful to listen to extended scripture passages together because, “you remind yourself that we are people of a story—not just of a few isolated ideas… You are people who belong within a long, great, extraordinary narrative, and in prayer we learn to find our place within that narrative.”
Experience It for Yourself
Enjoy the video coverage of this event.