Recently I had a phone meeting with Paul Caminiti who serves on staff with the Institute for Bible Reading (instituteforbiblereading.org). Formerly, he served as the Bible Publisher for Zondervan and the Vice President of Bible Engagement at Biblica (formerly known as the International Bible Society). Paul shared with me the research that he and his team had discussed: the average America (religious or irreligious) household owns four Bibles – and yet, over 700 people give up Bible reading for good every single day.
The research also found three main reasons people give up Bible reading: (1) People read the Bible in fragments. (2) People read the Bible out of context (3) People read the Bible in isolation.
What are pastors to do with the disconnect between Americans’ Bible ownership and the lack of Bible engagement? Well, Paul and his team are encouraging people to read the Bible in three ways (as a foil to the findings in the research): (1) Encourage people to read the complete story of God (2) Challenge people to understand the Bible in context (3) Work to have people read the Bible in community.
In our conversation, Paul shares three “mantras” with others in an effort encourage further Scripture engagement:
Fluency is more important than literacy
Implication is more important than application.
On the surface, the research and mantras may sound simplistic, yet I find it to be incredibly helpful as I think about people in our church. But I’m left with questions: Where have I (maybe without knowing it) encouraged people to read their Bibles, but not challenged them to engage with it? Am I preaching only out of my “favorite texts” or heavy on the New Testament passages? Where might I be able to provide more context, background and understanding of what was going on in the time of the Biblical story that might help shed light on understanding and impact on my own life?
More questions come to me: Where could we encourage people to read, discuss and live out Scripture together with others, rather than simply prescribing a “personal daily quiet time” approach to Scriptural engagement? Where and how might I encourage people to be fluent with the Bible (like being fluent in Spanish) rather than simply know facts (like just knowing Spanish vocabulary words)? Where can I encourage people to “read real” by asking the tough, hard, complex and uncomfortable questions about the text rather than just moving on and ignoring the questions themselves? Can I challenge people to search for what implications this story/passage has on our personal and communal lives rather than just giving them a few application points at the end of the teaching?
On a ridiculously practical side of things, we’ve taught people in our church (whether they’re seminary graduates or they’ve never owned a Bible) to ask five questions every time they read a Bible passage.
- What’s going on in the passage itself?
- What comforts or encourages me in the passage?
- What makes me uncomfortable or confronts me, frustrates me or upsets me in the passage?
- What does this reveal about the nature of God or the character of Jesus?
- What will I do with what I just read within the next seven days?
Certainly, there are other questions that could be asked when engaging with Scripture. But try these on for size in your congregation and see if people are engaging the Scriptures more deeply, broadly, frequently and authentically.
J.R. Briggs has three passions: to equip and invest in hungry kingdom leaders, to grow fruit on other people’s trees and to collaborate with others to create good kingdom mischief. In short, his calling is to help leaders who want to get better.