An older neighbor of ours recently came over to the house. He was carrying a large box. After a little small talk, I welcomed him inside and motioned toward the box. “What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s a box of old Bibles.”
My neighbor had recently retired. He was moving into a smaller home and cleaning out his possessions. These Bibles had been in his family for a few generations. He wasn’t religious. Last year he told me he hadn’t been to church since before he served in Vietnam. He knew I was a pastor and thought maybe I’d want the Bibles. It was a kind gesture.
“You don’t want them?” I asked. “How about your kids. Would they want to keep them in the family?”
“No,” he said. “My wife passed away. My kids aren’t interested in them. They don’t read the Bible, and neither do I. If I throw them away, God might strike me dead or something.”
I almost laughed but realized he wasn’t kidding. He honestly thought God would punish him if he threw away the Bibles. The Bibles stayed with me. So did the conversation. It’s an extreme example of many people’s contradictory relationship with the Bible: they believe there’s something special about the Good Book, but they seldom, if ever, actually read it.
While Bible ownership and sales remain strong, Bible reading and engagement are down significantly. According to the Institute for Bible Reading, the average household in North America owns four Bibles and the average Christian household has 11 Bibles. Yet every day, 700 people stop reading their Bible for good.
As pastors, what are we to do with people who possess more Bibles than ever but have little interest in reading them? Furthermore, how can we move people beyond rote, check-the-box Bible reading and into practices of deep Scripture engagement?
How important is Scripture engagement? Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, in their book Move, share their findings from researching spiritual growth in 1,000 churches. This was their conclusion:
Nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than reflection on Scripture. If churches do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice is clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives. … The Bible’s power to advance spiritual growth is unrivaled by anything else we’ve discovered.
But Scripture engagement means more than merely reading the Bible’s words. According to Paul Caminiti, senior director of mobilization with the Institute for Bible Reading, Scripture engagement is about immersing ourselves in the Bible. We were meant to bathe in the Word, to soak in it. He says many people are told to just “pray and read their Bible.” We naively expect people to read their Bibles successfully without direction or guidance. The result, says Caminiti, is that people read the Bible in fragments, out of context, and in isolation. Caminiti suggests that the best way to reverse this shallow engagement is to teach people to read Scripture in larger portions, within its original context, and together in community.
Phil Collins, professor of Christian Educational Ministries at Taylor University, describes Scripture engagement as a process of marinating in and mulling over Scripture in a way that leads to transformative encounters with God. “It’s not for information or guilt or pride,” he says, “but to meet and know God. It is relational.” Collins says that this kind of engagement leads us to delight in God and his ways (Psalm 119).
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, J. R. Briggs