Pastors, when was the last time you heard something similar to the following statements in reference to God’s Word?
“It’s too intimidating.”
“It’s just boring.”
“It doesn’t relate to my real life.”
Recent, nationwide studies on Bible engagement confirm what many of us have already realized: while Americans, and Christians, as a whole believe the Bible is a “Good Book,” they don’t necessarily believe they need to read it for themselves. A study by Pew Research Center in 2014 concluded that 45% of Americans seldom or never read Scripture of any kind. We learn, more specifically, from a survey done by Lifeway Research, that 10% of Americans have read none of the Bible; 13% have read only a few sentences; and 30% say they’ve read a few stories. The reasons that Americans, and even a large percentage of Christians, aren’t opening the Bible are numerous. A number of the most popular reasons reported include the following:
“It’s too big.”
“I don’t know if I can trust it as a legitimate source of truth.”
“It’s out of date.”
“It’s not essential to my life.”
“I perceive it to be manipulative and judgmental.”
So, given these arguments, what can we, as pastors, do to help our congregations read and make sense of the Bible? How do we increase Bible engagement in our churches in a tangible way? Deron Spoo and Kyle Idleman provide 5 key strategies to encourage individuals to discover the Bible in a personal way. We’ll examine each key point and the questions it answers.
One of the primary struggles potential Bible readers have is the Bible’s sheer size: containing over 750,000 words and 66 books, it can be an intimidating volume to crack open, much less to study closely and committedly. Inexperienced readers may end up taking verses out of context, and becoming confused or convinced that Scripture contains contradictory teachings. They may read in one place, for example, that God instructed people to kill their enemies, and in another that Jesus said to bless one’s enemies. These interested individuals need guidance and encouragement in order to delve more deeply into the Bible’s rich, intricate truths.
1. The first key to encouraging Bible reading is to break the Bible down into smaller sections, and to show how these sections are parts of the big picture.
As pastors, we do this in our weekly sermons; however, it’s critical that we encourage our flocks to do this for themselves, whether in small groups, Bible studies, or Sunday school classes. When you are teaching children (or adult readers who are newer to Scripture) it’s important to give background to each stories. Answer fundamental questions, such as, “Where in the Bible is this story located?” “Who are the main characters?” “Who wrote this story or passage?” Breaking down the large volume of the Bible into manageable portions is an art and a science: we don’t want to confuse readers by providing them puzzle pieces without giving them a reference for where each piece ultimately fits. Lead your congregation in discovering the richness in each section of Scripture; and then encourage them to begin seeing how a story fits into the bigger tapestry of God’s Word.
A second issue Kyle and Deron address is the propensity of readers to question whether the Bible is a reliable source of truth. We live in a media-saturated, postmodern culture that provides thousands of voices of “truth.” These sources are infinitely varied and always available at one’s fingertips. “Why,” many wonder, “should the Bible be held in esteem above all the other truths at my disposal?” The response to this is simpler than we can sometimes assume.
2. The second key is to tell compelling stories about the power of God’s Word.
While complex apologetic arguments have their place, everyday conversation is often the way that we can advocate for reading the Bible. A historical argument may not always appeal to someone you’re meeting for coffee; however, a personal testimony about how the Bible has impacted your life is indisputable. Proof of a truth’s power—its effect on people—is what validates a source of truth to audiences today. If Biblical truths ring have changed your life or the life of someone you know, that testimony alone can compel a listener to explore the benefits the Bible will have for him or her.
Multiple modern-day Americans are convinced that the Bible is old and, therefore, out-of-date. “How can a book written thousands of years ago be relevant to my day-to-day experience?” these individuals wonder. Deron and Kyle tap into a fundamental truth embedded in the reality of the Bible’s age: Scripture, in its very origin, possesses an authority that no other source of truth does. The Bible’s survival is precisely tied to its enduring subject matter—the fact that its truths have spoken into people’s lives for millennia.
3. The third key to encouraging Biblical literacy is to link sections of the Bible with these timeless themes, and directly relate them to people’s lives.
Deron Spoo’s new publication, The Good Book, strategically does this by highlighting forty Bible chapters with key themes that speak into modern life. He then provides an authentic, rich reading of each passage. When your congregation begins to perceive the priceless value contained in the pages of the Bible—when they realize how it addresses and offers hope toward their inward struggles—they will realize even more the gift that God has given His people, and how its age only validates its relevance.
We’ve established that the Bible is knowable, compelling, and relevant. Potential readers may parry with another question: “Why is it essential?” There are plenty of understandable, engaging, relevant sources of truth in the world: music, movies, secular speakers, and self-help books, to name a few. “Why is the Bible the one source of truth that I need to make my life fulfilling?” someone may ask you.
4. The fourth key is to make the biggest deal about the Bible.
If others don’t see church leaders advocating for the essential nature of this book, what motivation do they have to integrate it into their daily lives? The Pew Research study, referenced earlier, found that 37% of Christians don’t believe reading the Bible is essential; and 21% of believers don’t even see the Bible as an important part of their Christian identity! We are the primary front in pushing back against this belief. If we catalyze church-wide campaigns to place the Bible in its rightful place at the center of our daily lives, we’ll witness an astounding change. Additionally, if we challenge our own assumptions about how much Bible we really know—if we don’t settle for where we’re at today—we’ll inspire others to continually dig deeper, as well. People will discover the supremacy of the Bible above every other source of truth.
There’s also a concerning amount of confusion circulating among Bible readers. Some Christians can can recite more facts off the top of their heads about politicians and pop stars than they can about Jesus. Some who are distant from the Bible assume that Scripture is condemning, judgmental, and that it was written to control people. Modern Americans’ perceptions are being skewed because they don’t see studying Scripture as an expected part of living the Christian life.
5. The fifth and final key is to present the reading of God’s Word as an ongoing, expected part of following Jesus.
One cannot surrender to Jesus in part: the Christian life requires listening to Christ, reading His Word (in fact, His identity is the Word, so how can we know Him unless we’re regularly reading it?), and being fluent enough in the Bible to maintain an accurate understanding of it. Bible reading must not become a Sunday morning pastime, but a crucial element to growing more intimate with the God who breathed its contents. We need to communicate that none of us can be close to God without reading His Word throughout our lives and submitting to it.
Deron and Kyle present these 5 strategies as means to awaken people’s interest in exploring the Bible’s richness and applying it to their everyday lives. The Good Book curriculum is a valuable resource to use in tandem with these strategies, as it provides a church-wide campaign for leaders to implement. The main book includes 40 full Bible chapters with key themes, each followed by readings from Deron Spoo that engage the mind and encourage the reader’s sense of wonder in God. The curriculum also includes The Good Book for Kids, a small group study, a DVD, a participant’s guide, and a facilitator’s guide, along with multiple other resources for deeper study.
Which of these 5 key strategies resonate with you? Here are some questions for thought as you ponder how to encourage your congregation and those within your influence to love God’s Word increasingly more:
- How would you respond to people who desire to skip “irrelevant” passages of Scripture, such as Leviticus or genealogies?
- What testimonies can you share, either from your own life or someone you know, to communicate the truth of the Bible and its relevance today?
- What timeless themes are your favorites to use to relate the Bible to everyday experiences?
- What is your personal Bible reading routine? How can you use it or adapt it to encourage your congregation to read Scripture more regularly and wholeheartedly?
If you are interested in learning more about the Good Book curriculum, or in purchasing it for your congregation, more information can be found here. You can also watch this video with Devon Spoo and Kyle Idleman’s conversation on the 5 key strategies:
God bless you as you work weekly to introduce your congregation to a life changing relationship with Jesus through the authority of His written Word.