Eight ways to lead others in Bible engagement
By Philip Nation
“I just want our people to make some progress.” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard from many church leaders. It has also come from my own mouth about the churches I have led.
Tired of the shock-and-awe style of event-driven ministry, we just want people to grow in their faith and faithfulness to Jesus. The people attending church want the same. But the “how” often escapes all of us.
In 2012, Lifeway Research embarked on a project to understand the key elements that help a person mature as a disciple of Jesus. The team surveyed 1,000 pastors and 4,000 Protestant churchgoers across North America.
Additionally, researchers did one-on-one interviews with more than 25 discipleship experts. From the study, eight attributes were identified that help people mature in their faith.
The number one factor for spiritual growth should not be surprising: Bible engagement. Paul wrote the Scriptures are inspired, profitable, comprehensively good for us, and prepare believers for God’s assignment in their lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We know getting people into the Bible is the key to getting them growing in Christ. In the familiar passage, Paul highlighted the all-encompassing nature of what the Scriptures do for us and in us. In every way a believer needs to grow, the Bible provides the power and instruction for it.
Churches have systems in place that facilitate Bible engagement. They are in the forms of regular worship services where the Bible is preached and a small group system where it is discussed.
For many congregations, a quick tour of the ministries lets you hear preschoolers singing songs with biblical principles, children listening to the stories of the Bible, and student ministries discussing how the Bible applies to life.
Beyond the standard congregational work of teaching the Bible in one-hour ministry increments, leaders must train believers how to personally engage the Bible. It must become a spiritual discipline for all believers.
The idea of a “spiritual discipline” obviously carries two components: a spiritual act of devotion toward Christ and a foundational activity of maturing in Christ. Bible engagement has implications for the soul, mind, and body that directly impact our relationship with God.
Reading the Bible requires intentionality; we must look into a book, consume its content, and then do something with it. Discipline is required to do this on an ongoing basis. We live in a soundbite, 24-hour-news-frenzy, Twitter-reading culture that consumes bits of information as quickly as possible.
Much of what we take in or are exposed to is perceived as disposable. Thus, we have become great at consuming but terrible at applying. Bible engagement is a discipline that requires intentionality and regularity.
Let me offer a few ways to lead others in Bible engagement.
Comprehensively. We tend to repeatedly read our favorite parts of the Bible. Meanwhile, other sections are left to be the clean, white pages with the gilded edges stuck together. (I’m looking at you, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai.)
Any one passage is best understood in light of the totality of the Bible. To be a follower of the Lord, we need the whole counsel of God. Putting together a Bible reading plan for the whole Bible is crucial for the serious disciple.
Prayerfully. The Bible is not a sterile compilation of spiritual principles. It’s God’s self-revelation and thus a personal word to us. We need to study it in the context of our relationship with Him. In prayer, we can ask the Holy Spirit to personally lead us through His truth.
Closely. The Bible should be read and studied with its parts in mind. We should take note of the historical context, original audience, and genre of each book. Poring over each passage is helpful. We need the big story, but we also need the particular truths of each passage.
Rapidly. Though odd at first for many, doing quick reads is not disrespectful. Rather, it will give you the opportunity to see the whole and not be bogged down in the parts. As part of your comprehensive read, move quickly so your close study can take on more meaning.
Joyfully. Spiritual disciplines are sometimes perceived as duty rather than delight. As you engage the Bible, do so with joy. It’s the place where our Savior is speaking authoritatively to us.
Audibly. Much of the Bible was originally delivered via speech to the people of God. For example, a copy of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was not given to each member of the church. It was most likely read aloud for all to hear.
As you engage the Bible, read it out loud with inflections in your voice to better comprehend the drama unfolding before you in what God teaches us.
There are two other ways we should see Bible engagement as a spiritual discipline. Historically, the disciplines have been perceived as only part of our private devotional life.
They are personal, but not exclusively private. Instead, I hope you’ll see Bible study and all spiritual disciplines as personal, congregational, and missional.
Congregationally. The Bible was not written to “you.” It was written to all of us. It applies to you, but it also applies to God’s people. As you engage the Bible, discipline yourself to do it with brothers and sisters in the faith. As you read and study together, it will bring about unity and effectiveness in the church.
Missionally. God’s self-revelation is a missionary act. With the Bible, He spans the eternal gulf to tell us who He is and what Christ has done for us. Engaging the Bible should also be a missionary endeavor for us.
The people around us want to know the truth and need direction. We know—even if they do not—they need the gospel. Engaging those around us with God’s Word is part of the missional life of a believer. As we teach people to study the Bible for themselves, help them also study with their neighbor.
The spiritual discipline of engaging the Bible is foundational to Christianity. It’s a beautiful gift given by our Savior. As we live our faith and lead others to do the same, do so in the power of God’s Word.
PHILIP NATION (@PhilipNation) is director of content development at Lifeway.