By PJ Tibayan
Eat your salad. The greens are good for you. You can’t leave the table until you finish your vegetables.
These phrases horrified my 7-year-old self. I believed they were good for me, but the bad taste outweighed the benefit. Over three decades later I enjoy eating my spinach salads and kale-filled protein shakes (though kale requires extra peanut butter and honey).
What changed? Two things. First, my body felt better when I ate healthier. Second, my wife’s habits and exhortations slowly, eventually, and effectively, changed my habits and values.
According to Lifeway Research, more than 1 in 4 Protestant church attenders fail to read their Bible at least once a week. Less than half say they read their Bible more than once a week. In our society of literacy and Bible accessibility, this Bible neglect is concerning.
The more our people neglect their Bibles the less they will know, obey, and enjoy the Lord Jesus Christ. Less Bible means the body of Christ embodies him less faithfully, less joyfully, and less effectively.
Even though Bible reading is not specifically commanded meditating on it is commanded and commended (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:1-2, Colossians 3:16). It’s through the Word of God that we grow in learning and godly living (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible renews one’s life, makes the inexperienced wise, makes the heart glad, and lights up our eyes (Psalm 19:7-8).
Meditating on Scripture establishes us and causes us to flourish (Psalm 1:2-3). It is through hearing the truth with faith that we receive the Spirit (Galatians 3:2) and are increasingly filled by him (Ephesians 5:18).
Many church leaders are discouraged by the lack of spiritual fervor in their congregations. Trials burden our people. And many of us lack the spiritual resources to joyfully endure or spiritually encourage others with a timely word from the Bible.
We pastors need encouragement to move forward. While 40% of those attending our churches won’t read their Bibles more than once a week, it doesn’t have to be this way. Your church can be different.
As a pastor I’ve been faced the difficulty of leading people with dusty Bibles and outdated phone apps. By God’s grace through some church practices our church has enjoyed a culture of Bible reading in the home and with one another.
One of these practices might help you shift your church’s culture to read the Bible more. Raise their expectations, seize your Sundays, and practice what you preach.
1. Raise their expectations.
We must raise the expectations of our people. Do they expect to grow spiritually? Do they feel the responsibility to serve others the way a parent feels the responsibility to care for their children?
Parents eat and sleep because they know they need to serve. It seems many Christians don’t feel the need to serve others spiritually. Consequently, the regret of neglecting their Bible is minimized.
Christians who gather on Sunday should expect themselves to be spiritual providers for their fellow members and neighbors. How do we raise their expectations?
Remind them that they are a community.
The members of the church are a community of believers mutually committed to one another’s discipleship. If pastors disciple members to understand their mutual responsibility for the discipling of all the other members of the church, then the members will begin to feel an appropriate pressure.
Clarify who is a member of the church and who is a valued guest. Teach them to love each person appropriately while understanding the categorical distinction.
Clarifying both whom we’re mutually responsible for and what our responsibilities are raises the people’s expectations. They understand they each contribute to the collective responsibility of each church member (Matthew 18:17, 1 Corinthians 5).
Make the responsibilities explicit. We tell members they are responsible to care for other members, influence them toward Jesus (discipleship), gospelize them and their neighbors, attend Sundays and members’ meetings, and support the church and leadership.
Encourage them to continue caring for each other.
Christians already have a God-given love for one another (1 John 4:7-8). As they feel the weight of collective accountability before God their concern for one another shifts to spiritual health.
They ask more intentional questions about how they are doing. People volunteer more information. They are willing to be more vulnerable. Sharing burdens adds to the pressure to help. They long to say something helpful.
Challenge them to communicate the Bible to one another.
This is where Bible reading becomes crucial—when concern to say something spiritually helpful arises the desire to communicate the Bible. Even normal conversations take on a new significance where they want to make a spiritual deposit in the lives of their community.
Therefore, you should encourage your church to read the Bible together. There are several methods of reading the Bible together and leaders should empower their people to do it.
Our church has used a modified version of the Swedish Method of Bible reading together because it takes no preparation, gives space for everyone to share what their thinking, and it allows the leader to learn from others. Incoming members are asked if they’re interested in reading the Bible with another member to shift their expectations of how we share life.
We also encourage members to read the Bible text for the next Sunday with others. We even host a church-wide Bible reading a conference video call each week on the upcoming sermon text.
2. Seize your Sundays.
If culture is the meaningful patterns of life in a community then your Sundays not only continue the culture but provide opportunities to shift the culture in a healthier direction. Cultivate the habits of public reading, expository preaching, connecting, and praying to leverage Sundays.
Paul wrote to Timothy (and all church leaders), “Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). There are many words spoken in our Sunday gatherings. None are more important than the actual words of the Bible.
Therefore, don’t merely teach and exhort; read the text. Read it slowly, patiently, and clearly. Read it in faith that God will change the people by the power of His Word being read. In our Sunday gathering we have a Scripture reading of at least 12 verses or more from the Testament opposite the sermon text.
In our Sunday evening gatherings, we read through books of the Bible by reading half chapter week after week. Public Bible reading helps our people feel the Bible’s importance. Sadly, our people can feel the unimportance of Bible reading through its absence or quick readings.
God tells us to give attention not only to public reading but to teaching and exhortation (1 Timothy 4:13). People enter a Protestant church expecting to hear someone preach to them.
Churches that hear expository preaching have an advantage because at its best it teaches people how to read their Bible and increases biblical literacy. In expository preaching the words and goal of the biblical text, in Christ-centered canonical context, control the words and goal of the sermon.
Explaining and applying the Sunday text in the context of the overall story of Scripture is essential to capturing the imagination of the people and helping them feel the relevance for the story of their own lives. To increase their preparation, anticipation, and reception of the Sunday sermon let people know the text beforehand and encourage them to read it.
The church gathers on Sundays to encourage and provoke one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). They do this by greeting, knowing, and encouraging each other. They are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). There are two opportunities for leaders to strengthen their churches here.
First, a pastor can have the congregation take one minute each to share one of their takeaways of the sermon with someone sitting around them. This helps the sharer crystallize a thought from the sermon. If expected to share weekly there will be healthy pressure to listen more carefully. It stimulates thinking for the listener.
Second, because most of the direct conversation with one another happens after the service, encourage people to continue to share their takeaways with one another on their way to lunch. Even families will talk about what their takeaways are from the teaching in their car rides home, helping family discipleship (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4).
Pray for the church to read the Bible together. Pray for the members to read the Bible on their own. Pray the discuss the Bible with one another as they exercise faithful responsibility for one another’s discipleship.
At our weekly Sunday evening prayer gathering I ask members to raise their hands if they are reading the Bible with another person, whether Christian or non-Christian, in the coming week. Then we assign a member to pray for all those who are reading the Bible together and that more members would initiate Bible reading with others.
3. Practice what you preach.
As leaders we understand that we not only lead with our words but with our lives. We model mature Christianity as we call others to follow us. If we want to increase Bible reading in our churches, we must practice what we preach. So read the Bible and lead your family.
Read the Bible with other people one on one. You can’t expect people to read the Bible with others if you aren’t reading the Bible with others. Model for your people what you want to see in them.
As you read with others listen and learn from their perspective too. Be encouraged by what other people see, ask, and share from the Bible reading. You are modeling to them what you want them to do with others inside and outside the church.
Lead your family in Bible meditation. Have a family chapel time. You can keep it short and simple. Sing a song. Read the Bible. Pray according to what you read. Your family will see your life.
From a life of consistent Bible reading you can more powerfully and passionately shift your church’s culture to build Bible reading habits.
Do you want to see more of your people read the Bible and grow in Christ? If so, I ask you to shift one practice in your leadership to encourage and equip your people to read their Bibles more. Consider the practices above and pray that God would give you an idea to strengthen a Bible reading culture in your church.
The Bible is being largely neglected by 40% of our attenders and our people are weaker for it. If you don’t shift any of your practices your church may continue in the status quo of Bible neglect. Your rhythms of church life and leadership may even reinforce it.
But if you shift your practice your people will begin to read more frequently, be nourished spiritually, be stronger in speaking God’s Word to others, and the God of the Word will be glorified.
Even long time Christians in our churches can learn to habitually eat their spiritual vegetables. By God’s grace you can lead your church to read the Bible more habitually.