Among the highlights of my early adulthood were the times spent lying on the campus lawns at the Johannesburg College of Education while reading and discussing the Scriptures with fellow students. We had no program, no leaders guide, and no set time for our meetings. No one told us to do it. We simply had a desire to get together, open the Scriptures, read and debate. It was organic, compelling, and Spirit empowered. Along with, and spawned out of our Bible reading and discussion, we provoked and encouraged one another to love and good deeds. Our campus lawn meetings usually lasted for a few hours. Generally we’d read a whole book in one sitting (we chose the shorter ones). To this day I still remember our lively deliberations as we reflected on the prophecy of Hosea.
The Bible reading and discussions on the campus lawns resulted in significant outcomes. It deeply informed our faith development, and for many, clarified God’s calling on our lives. Several members of the group have served, or are serving, as full-time vocational missionaries, pastors, evangelists or teachers in Singapore, Egypt, South Africa, USA and Canada.
One of the characteristics of the church should be community. Yet individualism is often deeply entrenched in the church. Bible reading and reflection are a case in point. A strong person centred approach is the hallmark, particularly of Evangelicals. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with personal Bible reading and reflection – far from it. But it is to say that the fullness of Bible engagement comes into being when we read the Bible in community. This shouldn’t surprise us. God is shaping me as a person; but more importantly He is calling, gathering and forming us as a people. We’re in Christ together. That’s why life with God, by definition, is life shared with God’s people.
So what does this mean in practice? How do we do Bible engagement in community? Here are three suggestions:
- Read, discuss and live out the Bible at the dinner table. Families should crack open the Bible together. The starting place for reading the Bible in community should be the home. God placed us in families. One of my highlights most every evening is reading and chatting about God’s Word with my wife, mother-in-law and children.
- Read the Bible in a Bible reading small group. Now there’s a unique concept! Many church small groups are program centered or needs oriented but rarely Bible-centric. Imagine a small group where the primary focus is reading and listening to the Scriptures. Why not give it a try – it changed my life!
- Read the Bible publicly. The norm for most Christians, historically and biblically speaking, is listening to God’s Word. Some local churches have strayed from these roots. When we gather to worship, the Bible should be read “not as information, not just as instruction, but as a summons to assemble together” Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams.
We’ll leave the final word to Richard J. Foster: “Wherever we are located within that all-inclusive community, we have the great privilege of seeing the Scripture through the eyes of the whole community . . . How boring life would be if we listened only to our own insights! How narrow our vision would be if we limited it only to our own understanding! How sad it would be if we missed out on what God has for all of us by failing to listen to how God speaks at various times and in various ways through parts of the whole.”
© Scripture Union Canada 2013