According to the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey conducted by Willow Creek, only one in five churchgoers in the USA says their church offers in-depth Bible engagement. While I’m unaware of similar studies in other parts of the world, I strongly suspect that training and equipping congregations to read, reflect, remember, and respond to God’s Word is desperately needed in most churches.
Unleashing the Bible in the church should be at the top of the to do list. This because the spiritual health and growth of the local church is strongly correlated to Bible engagement. As the authors of the REVEAL Survey concluded, “The Bible is the most powerful catalyst for spiritual growth. [Its] power to advance spiritual growth is unrivalled by anything else we’ve discovered.”
To make church Bible engagement stronger people must be taught the practical basics of interpreting, contemplating, journaling, studying, memorising, praying and obeying God’s Word. Pastors, preaching about the importance of Bible engagement isn’t enough. Your congregations need seminars and workshops where they can learn the essential practices (activities or methods) of Bible engagement.
Vigorous churches don’t just happen, they have to be nurtured. To attain kingdom outcomes, we’ve got to concentrate on the things that under-gird long-term change. Do we want people to thirst for Jesus more, know Him more, contemplate Him more, magnify Him more, love Him more, and serve Him more? If we do, we’ve got to help them get into God’s Word so that God’s Word gets into them!
Obstacles will have to be removed if the Bible is going to be unleashed in the church. There are three things that get in the way:
Pastors who don’t get it. There are many reasons why pastors don’t prioritise Bible engagement. Some are traditionalists – more concerned with maintaining the liturgy or customs of the church. Others are liberal or progressive – more concerned with promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, and tolerance, often through political activism. Others are legalists – more concerned with right behaviour or morality. Others are denominationally inclined – more concerned with upholding the systems and distinctives of their group. And others are dismissive, unaware, or blind to the vital role that Bible engagement plays in the health and growth of the church.
People who don’t want it. Tragically, there are many people in the church who want a Bible that starts and ends with “me.” But the Bible doesn’t start and end with “me.” It starts and ends with “Him.” We’re not the primary theme of the Bible, Jesus is. People don’t want Bible engagement because they don’t want Jesus. What they want is good morals, religion that helps them feel good, and a God who is more a concept. This is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). MTD is at odds with Bible engagement.
Principalities that oppose it. The rulers and powers of this dark world are diametrically opposed to the Bible being unleashed in the church. They have everything to lose when God’s Word is preeminent. Satan and his demons lie, confuse, confound, disrupt and generally do whatever they can to destroy every connection with the Bible. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 6:12.
These three obstacles can’t be taken lightly or dismissed. They have to be defeated. If the Bible is going to be unleashed in the church there are three things we need to do:
Pray earnestly. Bible engagement will only advance when we persistently call on God to renew the church and restore the preeminence of His Word.
Pursue Jesus. We must look to Jesus for our help and strength. Apart from Him we can do nothing to advance Bible engagement (John 15:5).
Proclaim truth. The entrance of God’s Word gives light (Psalm 119:130). Bible engagement is strengthened when we explore and have conversations together about the Bible.
That’s not to say we simply need to do these three things and the Bible will be unleashed overnight. Far from it! The church didn’t get in the mess it’s in through a few years of slippage. The decline in Bible engagement (in the West) has been happening for a long time. We need to be in it for the long-haul to get to where we need to go.
Yes, persistence and unwavering faith is required to overcome the obstacles hindering the unleashing of the Bible in the church. But that’s just our part in it. The good news is that Jesus wants His Word to run free. So as we co-labour with Him, we can be assured that at the appointed time, He’ll restore and unleash His Word in the church.
© Scripture Union Canada 2019