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4/14 Bible Engagement

“Connecting children with Jesus and His Story should be the priority of the church today!” This, according to the keynote message at the December 2014 Forum of Bible Agencies- North America meeting in Niagara Falls.

“God’s Word for a Young World”, the theme of the FOBA-NA meeting, centered attention on the importance of reaching children and youth. “A new focus is needed for a new era . . . what we’ve done in the past will not cut it in the future . . . each successive generation (in the Western world) has fewer Christians than the previous generation . . . we must do all we can to share the Scriptures with our children and grand-children while we still can!”

These impassioned comments were fuelled by the injunction in God’s Word to “Impress them (the Scriptures) on your childrenDeuteronomy 6:7 (NIV). Or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrased this verse in The Message, the task is to first “Get them (the Scriptures) inside of you and then get them inside your children.”

The call to connect children and youth with the Bible is amplified by research. According to the Pew Research Centre, the religious unaffiliated in Canada has gone from 4% in 1970 to 24% in 2011 and in the USA from 5% in 1970 to 20% in 2011. Couple the rise of the “Nones” with the growth of other religions in North America and the need to impress the Scriptures on our children is more urgent than ever before.

So how do we do Bible engagement with a special concern for children? Forum members were encouraged to review, revise and restructure their operational budgets. Finances could then be used to envision and develop new resources. The work should not be done in isolation. Collaboration and working partnerships with children’s/youth agencies should be integral to the efforts as well as the creation of innovative marketing/promotions that invite and encourage children and youth to engage with the Bible.

But the challenge to connect children with the Bible involves much more than the creation of, distribution or marketing of resources. Stress was placed on the fact that “Belief matters! When people love Christ, they will love His Word.” A correlation of findings from Bible engagement studies revealed that most people who intentionally engage with the Bible are people who embrace Christ by faith. Bible engagement paradigms must therefore include evangelism, specifically child evangelism, as a core component of a 4/14 Bible engagement strategy.

With the above in mind, the concluding comment of the opening address was, “The decline in Bible engagement is primarily a relational problem – people aren’t getting connected to Jesus . . . we need more than a Bible reading revival – we need a Jesus revival!”

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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Why We Should Read The Bible Every Day

There are many good reasons and one essential reason why we should read the Bible every day.

First, several good reasons:

  • to fuel our faith
  • to inform our world view
  • to direct our activities
  • to nurture wisdom
  • to reflect on life
  • to strengthen our convictions
  • to incline our hearts to righteousness

There are many more reasons why we should read the Bible. People have told me they read it; “To know what to do”, “To be changed internally”, “To enjoy God’s grace”, “To think more accurately”, “To get a word from heaven”, “To be emotionally and psychologically nourished” and so on. If you’re a regular Bible reader you probably have a few more reasons why you make it a priority to read/listen to the Word.

While there are hundreds of reasons why people read the Bible, there is one essential reason why we should read it every day – to meet with God.

Why should the essential reason for reading the Bible be to meet with God? An analogy with marriage helps answer this question:

A marriage thrives when it’s constantly being renewed. Chatting with one’s spouse once or twice a week simply doesn’t cut it! It’s expected, understood, implicit to the laws of relationships that married couples listen and talk to each other regularly.

Karen and I have been hanging out with each other nearly every day for more than thirty years. During our time together we’ve been able to ‘read’ and ‘re-read’ every ‘page’ of each other’s ‘books’ to the extent that our ‘books’ have sort of become one ‘book’.

When I came to faith in Christ I made a marriage type commitment to love, obey and serve Him for the rest of my life. If I don’t connect with Christ for a couple of days the relationship suffers. My communion with Christ needs to be constantly renewed. Meeting with Him daily is nonnegotiable. For my relationship to thrive I must spend time ‘reading’ and ‘re-reading’ His Book and allowing it to ‘read’ me.

Life is a dash from the cradle to the grave. With the passing of years, I’ll soon be dead. When I come to the winter of my life I doubt I’ll be thinking I should have written better blog posts, spent more time gardening, or gone for longer walks. No, when death rolls in I suspect I’ll be thinking about my relationships.

So remember your mortality. Remember your relationships. And read the Bible to meet with Christ every day.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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The daily practice of Bible reading and reflection is essential for our spiritual health and growth. Yet most people don’t read the Bible regularly (e.g. only 4% of Canadians read the Bible on a daily basis).

One of the reasons why so few people read and reflect on God’s Word may be because we lack discipline. To say we lack discipline is to suggest we’re deficient in the assertion of our willpower over our more base desires. Rather than doing what we know is best, we prefer to take the easy street, chase the fast buck, seek the quick fix, or enjoy the things that give us instant gratification. At the root of the problem – we’re basically lazy. We simply don’t want to do the hard work required to align our motivations with reasoned aims.

My mother used to say, “Sometimes the things we don’t like are good for us”. Last year my doctor wanted me to take medication for high cholesterol. It would have been easy to pop a pill. But I refused, knowing that if I went on a strict diet, exercised more and lost weight, I could bring my cholesterol level down. So I’m on a low sodium, low cholesterol, low trans fat diet (probably for the rest of my life). I dislike the diet because I don’t get to eat some of the foods I really enjoy. But the diet is good for me – according to the latest blood test my cholesterol levels are now satisfactory.

The dictionary defines a disciplined person as someone who’s established a goal and is willing to achieve that goal at the expense of his or her individuality. I love cheese. Just the mention of brie, aged cheddar, gruyere or pepper jack, gets me salivating. But cheese is high in cholesterol and if I want to be healthy (the goal) I must hold back when the cheese board is on the table.

Yes I know, all you fellow cheese lovers are saying, “Take the cholesterol medication Lawson!” And maybe I should . . . But then again, maybe I shouldn’t. Why? Because deep down I believe it’s more important to do what is good for me, even when I don’t feel like doing it. Right actions lead to right outcomes. Even though I need to exercise strictness and denial in pursuit of lower cholesterol levels, the bigger goal is what really counts – being physically healthy.

If the bigger goal, spiritually speaking, is growth in faith, then discipline may be what today’s believers need the most but want the least. Let’s be honest. Discipline has probably fallen out of fashion because it runs counter to the whole “it’s a relationship, not a religion” mantra that’s so appealing to those who want their spirituality to be “organic”, “authentic”, and “flowing from the heart”. That’s not to say these things aren’t worthwhile; it’s just that they’re sometimes used to mask our spiritual laziness.

Spiritual outcomes require work and discipline. Effort needs to be expended in order for us to mature and flourish. A healthy faith doesn’t just happen. The number one thing we should do to grow spiritually is meet with God every day. There are no shortcuts. Discipline is essential. Spiritual health and growth require a long obedience in the same direction. We must show up daily to read, reflect and act on God’s Word.

“That’s easier said than done!”, you say. You’re right. Experience dictates that the discipline of Bible reading and reflection, when undertaken as a solo affair, usually fails. As many of us know from personal experience, even the most disciplined of us don’t get it right all the time. Relying, as we so often do, on our own strength and willpower, we still come up short.

So if we can never muster enough discipline in and of ourselves to faithfully and consistently read and reflect on God’s Word, are we doomed to failure? No. We can be successful. But only if we’re prepared to ask for help. Here’s the bottom line: The discipline of Bible reading and reflection thrives when it’s a mutual affair. Specifically, when it’s a partnership with God.

A partnership with God . . . Don’t try to go it alone. The discipline of Bible reading and reflection blossoms when you incline your heart to God (cf. Proverbs 2:2), ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:18), look to Him to renew your mind (cf. Romans 12:2), and seek, not your own ends, but the kingdom of God and his righteousness (cf. Matthew 6:33).

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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More Than Words

According to Hebrews 4:12, God’s Word is “alive and active”. So what does that mean?

Quite simply, it means the Bible is fundamentally different to any other book. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the Bible desires to be known, dares us to chase after it, invites us to connect with it, and challenges us to be immersed in it. Like a person, the Bible is complex, mysterious, dynamic and difficult to comprehend. It is not a book we can fully fathom or dissect. In fact it takes decades, if not a lifetime, to get to know. Which is why we need to view the Bible relationally – as a ‘friend’. And as with all friends, we must recognize that the Bible has emotions, layers, nuances, diversity, personality.

The Bible is much more than words on a page! It’s a friend who speaks to us – directing, challenging, comforting, coming alongside. One committed to our wellbeing – deserving of our time. A friend to be respected, trusted, known. A friend to be pursued, listened to and loved.

So don’t use the Bible for your own ends. Don’t manipulate its words, label, objectify, view it as an inanimate object or reduce it to something to be studied. Don’t dismiss it, ignore it, spurn it, disrespect it, trivialize it or do anything that would treat the friendship lightly. Why? Because the Bible is God Himself speaking to us . . .

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


In Love With the Author

International Evangelist, Ken Terhoven, my late father-in-law, used to tell this story:

There was a young woman who bought a novel, read several pages, decided it was boring, threw it in a box and forgot all about it.

A year later she met a guy and fell madly in love. Some months into the relationship it was obvious they would get married.  It was just a matter of time. She was waiting for him to pop the question. He was looking for a ring.

She was constantly wondering when he’d do it. Would he get down on one knee? Where would they be? Would he do it privately or publicly? She was looking for clues, gearing herself for the big event. So on the night they were enjoying a wood oven pizza at their favourite Italian restaurant she gave him her full attention when he announced, “There’s something I want to tell you . . . I’m a published author.”

His announcement, though not what she expected, was a surprise. Why hadn’t he mentioned it before? This was important. Her mind was buzzing with questions: What genre of literature did he write? How many books? Who was the publisher? Where could she buy his book?

“I’m not much of an author”, he said sheepishly. “I’ve only written one book. A novel. It didn’t sell many copies.”

She sensed his pain, immediately understood why he hadn’t talked about it before. He’d obviously hoped for more – maybe dreamt about the book being the launch of a successful writing career.

“What’s it called?” she asked gently.

“Justice Spurned”, he replied.

She was gob-smacked! That was the title of the boring novel she’d thrown in a box. What should she do? Should she say something? She decided not to say anything . . .

Intrigued, she was eager to get home to resurrect the book. She found it in the box behind the shoes in her closet. Pulling on her nightdress she climbed into bed, turned on the bedside light and began to read. The first paragraph captivated her. After a few pages she was spellbound. Every word was devoured, every page sent shivers up her spine. Enthralled, she read right through the night. Finally, with the first rays of sunshine poking through the chink in the curtains, she finished the book, placing it on the side-table with a contented sigh. It was the best book she’d ever read!

So what changed? Why was the book boring the first time around but riveting on the rebound? It was the same book – the same words.

Of course we know what made the difference – know what changed. She was head over heels in love with the author.

Similarly, when we’re head over heels in love with Jesus, we’ll want to read His Word for all it’s worth!

© Scripture Union Canada 2014



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Ten Bible Engagement Facts Every Pastor Needs To Know

Here are ten key Bible engagement facts* every pastor needs to know:

  1. Bible engagement and church attendance are inextricably linked
  2. People who read the Scriptures a few times a week will usually attend church frequently
  3. Local churches that major on Bible engagement are more likely to grow
  4. Bible engagement is the primary factor that sustains and nourishes faith
  5. Robust conversations about the Bible are strongly correlated with church health
  6. Christians are built-up spiritually primarily through conversations about the Scriptures
  7. When confidence in the Bible is nurtured, church attendance is strengthened
  8. If people don’t have confidence in the Bible, they probably won’t attend church
  9. People who believe the Bible is relevant to life are more likely to attend church
  10. People who believe the Bible is the “Word of God” are six times more likely to attend church weekly

With the above facts in mind, how should the local church be aligned to better facilitate and encourage Bible engagement? Pastors, here are ten practical suggestions:

  1. Encourage everyone in the congregation to regularly read and reflect on the Scriptures
  2. Equip people with Bible reading guides, plans and resources that help them develop and sustain daily Bible reading disciplines e.g., Scripture Union Guides
  3. Cultivate small groups that facilitate vigorous conversations about the Scriptures
  4. Promote, preach and teach the trustworthiness, relevance, usefulness, inspiration and uniqueness of the Bible
  5. Create opportunities or forums for people to discuss the weekly sermon and associated Scripture text
  6. Train people in public Scripture reading so that the Bible is read dynamically, clearly and compellingly
  7. Have Bibles available in the pew and actively encourage people to use them during services and gatherings
  8. Provide opportunities for people to publicly share how God strengthens, supports, comforts, inspires, informs or guides them by His Word
  9. Give everyone who doesn’t have a Bible an age appropriate easy to read version (maintain a supply of Bibles, advertise availability of free Bibles)
  10. Highlight the importance of Bible engagement with an annual program, quest or activity that the congregation does together e.g., E100 Challenge


*[The ten facts are gleaned from the research findings of the Canadian Bible Engagement Study (CBES). The CBES is the first ever comprehensive national study of why Canadians do or do not connect with the Bible. World-class market research company Angus Reid Strategies, led by Angus Reid, conducted the survey. The CBES sampled 4,500 Canadians regarding their use, beliefs about, and attitudes toward the Bible. You can download the CBES for free at www.bibleengagementstudy.ca]

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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Canadian Bible Engagement Study

The majority of Canadians seldom or never read the Bible – this according to the recently published (May 1, 2014) Canadian Bible Engagement Study (CBES).

Sad news from the CBES:

  • 55% of Canadians have never read the Bible
  • 50% of Canadians who read the Bible weekly in 1996 no longer do so today
  • 69% of Canadians believe the Bible has irreconcilable contradictions
  • 64% of Canadians believe the Scriptures of the major world religions teach essentially the same thing

Other news from the CBES:

  • 18% of Canadians strongly agree that the Bible is the Word of God (down from 35% in 1996)
  • 21% of Canadian Christians reflect on the meaning of the Bible for their lives at least a few times a week
  • 11% of Canadian Christians talk to others about the Bible outside of religious services
  • Bible reading frequency among Canadian Christians is roughly the same across all age groups
  • 80% of weekly Bible readers strongly agree that the Bible is the Word of God
  • 61% of Evangelical Christians strongly agree that the Bible is relevant to their lives
  • Confidence in, community around and conversations about the Bible helps deepen Bible engagement
  • People who strongly agree that the Bible is the Word of God are six times more likely to attend church weekly

One of the findings of the CBES is that the fate of Bible engagement and church attendance are inextricably linked. Church attendance, like Bible engagement, has been declining for decades (16% of Canadians attend church weekly – down from 27% in 1996).

While the Study hasn’t unearthed anything new, it is a wake up call. Hopefully God’s people will take a good long prayerful look at the state of both Bible engagement and the church in Canada . . .

The Canadian Bible Engagement Study is a must see (check out the engaging video) and a must read (Executive Summary and Full Report). Watch the video and get the free download of the CBES Report at www.bibleengagementstudy.ca

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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Passing the Baton

How do we engage young adults with the Bible? Or to phrase the question slightly differently, what can we do to help Millennials (those born between the early 1980’s and early 2000’s) connect  with the Scriptures?

To begin, we can’t continue doing what we used to do. Twenty-first Century young adults don’t think and act like their parents and grandparents. Marketing a cool new youth Bible or promoting a radical Bible reading plan really don’t work anymore. Different approaches and tools are required.

So if the models and paradigms of yesteryear don’t cut it, then what does? How do we create new strategies and resources that will capture young people’s attention and help them engage with the Bible?

Perhaps the first step is knowing that Millennials value authentic relationships, respect personal stories and experiences, prefer non-prescriptive interactive approaches, and enjoy opportunities to grow in understanding through discussion and partnership. They are also suspicious of the institutional church, wary of authorities, and distrust meta-narratives.

If the first step is to understand the core values of Millennials, then the second step is to be aware of how Millennials exist in and are defined by a digital world dominated by technology (unlike their parents who may be digital immigrants, young adults are digital natives). This generation are intrinsically linked to the devices and software they own and use. For many young adults, being offline or unable to interact on social media sites is intolerable!

Building on the first two steps, the third step may be one of advocacy (reestablishing the Bible’s relevance and credibility). Because Millennials distrust metanarratives and view the church with suspicion, their fears need to be allayed. This is a mammoth challenge. Confidence in the Bible has declined over many decades and it will probably take many years of collaborative efforts to reverse the decline.

Closely associated with the need for advocacy is the need to discover new ways to help Millennials read/hear/see/experience the Bible. Before a young adult will use the Bible they have to be exposed to it in ways that are multi-sensory, tie in with their core values, and build relational trust.

Finally, the strategies and resources that are developed to help Millennials engage with the Bible should facilitate the following:

  • online and face to face connexity
  • dialogue, questioning and sharing
  • discovery of truth and meaning
  • sharing of stories and experiences
  • living out the biblical faith

How does this fit with your perspective? Join the discussion. Make a comment.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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What Helps People Connect With the Bible?

Research indicates that the primary factors helping people connect with the Bible are:

  • being a committed Christian
  • accessibility and availability of a Bible
  • attending church
  • reading books that aid Bible reading

Simply stated, people are more likely to engage the Bible when they are committed to Christ, linked up with other people (go to church, attend a Bible study or youth group, speak to friends and family about what they read in the Bible) and use easy to read or contemporary versions of the Bible together with devotional books, reading guides, or commentaries.

Conversely, the main reasons why people don’t connect with the Bible are:

  • they are not relationally connected to the Christian community
  • they do not read books or don’t own a Bible
  • they say they are too busy or have other priorities

Slick advertising campaigns or just handing a stranger a Bible are unlikely to have much success in helping connect people with the Bible. Relationships are crucial. We must facilitate and nurture vertical (with God) and horizontal (with God’s people) relationships. For this to happen we must share the good news (evangelize), teach people how to live for Christ (make disciples), and foster authentic Christ centred communities of faith.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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Inviting Non-Bible Readers to Read the Bible

How do we invite non-Bible readers to read the Bible? Here are six important things we need to think about and do:

Nurture trust. Some people are innately suspicious of the Bible but may consider reading it if they trust the person who shares the Story with them. Dan Kimball, in a discourse on speaking to emerging generations, says, “So our first big challenge . . . is to regain our voice by earning the trust of our hearers . . . teach the trustworthiness of Scripture” and not “by talking just one-way”.

Serve others. Jesus came among us as one who serves (cf. Luke 22:27). Coupled with the issue of trust is the problem of power and control. Christians should be servants of the world rather than its masters (cf. Luke 22:26). Actions speak louder than words. When Bible readers live the Story, non-Bible readers will be enticed to read the Story. In particular, Christian leaders should be seen to be compelled, not to build big churches or make names for themselves, but to look out for the poor, show compassion (cf. Isaiah 58:10) act justly, and walk humbly (cf. Micah 6:8).



Cultivate interaction. Due to the electronic culture and the awareness that all communication is interactive, a two-way flow of information is encrypted into people’s brains. In what Leonard Sweet describes as “the Age of Participation” it is unlikely that non-Bible readers will read the Bible if we do not cultivate ways for them to interact with it. People need to be helped to connect with the Story in relationally interdependent frameworks where there is a participatory flow of imaginative reason and metaphor.

Communicate contextually. Our language has to be right. Non-Bible readers are unlikely to read the Bible if our syntax doesn’t fit with the culture. Communities of faith must share the Story in ways that address real issues in real time with appropriate symbols and prophetic metaphor delivered in a multisensory and user-friendly manner.

Build community. Reading, learning, and living out the Bible within the relational networks and presence of a Christian community is essential because people need the strength of friendships and the practices of a faith community to adequately overcome sin and lead transformed lives.

Use new media or technology. In addition to face to face interactive communities, screen to screen connexity is a vital component in cultivating Bible engagement. For effective Bible reading and reflection to occur, community has to be developed both in church gatherings and through the internet. Flexible use of time and space is required. We must harness media and technology to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime, and in every possible way.

Have your say. What would you add or subtract from the comments above?

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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