Again, I’ve got just a few stats at the bottom to illustrate our need to address this issue.
Faithful and Fruitful: How Do We Fix the Problem?
Of course, you already knew that reading the Bible helped you to grow. It’s actually doing it that’s a challenge. What are some ways churches are helping people to engage the Scriptures more intentionally? Based on work with churches, we’ve seen a few patterns. Those producing the most fruit concerning Bible engagement do the following:
See the Bible as a Whole.
It’s not just that we read our Bibles, but the way we read our Bibles that increases biblical literacy. I believe there’s a link between biblical illiteracy and our habit of fracturing the Bible into pieces and parts. We read a verse here, a chapter there. We need a quick verse for anxiety, so we run to Matthew 6:34 (“Take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself”). We need another verse about fear, so we jump to 1 John 4:18 (“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”). These verses can help when we’re dealing with life’s difficulties, but a steady diet of verses and chapters digested in this way amounts to spiritual “fast food” from our McBibles. We need a whole Bible approach to Bible reading and study.
I served as the founding editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum that takes such an approach. TGP has grown from zero to over 1.7 million weekly users. Why? Because people see walking through the Bible, following Scripture’s redemptive storyline, as a way to combat biblical illiteracy. The Bible isn’t 1,000 stories or even 66—it’s one story. Helping people see this encourages them to read the Bible more faithfully and fruitfully. Some resources for this include The Drama of Scripture (Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew), Gospel-Centered Teaching (Trevin Wax), The Story: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People (Zondervan) and, for kids or families, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones).
It’s critical for church leadership to challenge believers to be in the Word of God, consistently growing in their knowledge of the Scriptures. I often hear of people who’d rather read devotional books than read the Bible. That’s because most of us need a specific plan to consistently be in the Word.
One thing I do for my own Bible engagement is to make a habit to read through the Bible once a year. If I simply read the parts I think I need the most, I’ll miss a big part of God’s design for my growth. Though my tendency, like many Christians, is only to read the New Testament, I need to spend time in the Old Testament as well. It’s essential for all believers to get the full picture of God’s revelation.
You, or your whole church, can follow a plan. There are plenty available online and already in many Bibles. You can lead your church through plans from YouVersion, George Guthrie’s Read the Bible for Life or others. The important part is that you and your congregation are engaging all of God’s Word.
Teach the Bible.
Teaching through books of the Bible at church models for the hearers how to read the Bible on its own terms, especially the unfolding of the one storyline of the Bible that culminates in Christ. Fighting biblical literacy means preaching from the pulpit the way people read the Bible—moving through the text.
When people see and hear their pastors preaching the text as a whole and allowing the text to determine the message (not vice versa), they go home and read their Bibles the same way. When they see us jumping around the text in sermons, they jump around in life. Let’s teach them that the Bible is worth engaging, one book at a time.