I recently had the opportunity to attend a Transformational Church Summit at Campbellsville University. One of the leaders of the summit was Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay. Based upon research that organization has done, the number one key to transformational discipleship is getting people to read their Bible every day. Further research by the organization has found that only 20 percent of Christians read their Bibles daily. A study done by another organization reported that 35 percent of born again Christians never read their Bibles, and of those who say they do, many of them admit they only read their Bibles when they attend church services. Clearly, the church has much work to do in this area.
That work must begin by the pastors and other ministers on staff setting the example. I recently had a phone conversation with a minister who told me he graduated from a relatively liberal seminary. In one of his early classes the professor asked how many students had read the entire Bible. Out of a class of about 50 students he was the only one who raised his hand. If our clergy do not find it important to read the Scriptures we should not be surprised that many in our pews don't read them either. Although I did not do it every year, as a pastor I often followed an annual Bible reading plan that allowed me to read the entire Bible that year as part of my devotional reading. When I knew that would be part of my devotional practice for the year I would buy a new Bible in a translation I had not read before and use it for my reading. I also made sure the congregation knew what I was doing, not to impress anyone with my spirituality but to encourage them to follow my example. Many years I would issue a challenge to our congregation to make that the year they would read through the entire Bible before the end of the year. We in pastoral leadership should not expect members of our congregations to read the Scriptures if we are not setting the right example. And, if they are not reading the Scriptures we should not be surprised at their lack of growth as disciples.
Studies find that people often rise up to meet the expectations they are given. This is an area in which I find many church leaders fail to challenge their people. As Christians they should know that it is expected that they will spend time in the Bible each day and apply what they learn to every aspect of their lives. The Bible is not a book that is to be thrown in the back seat of the car after church and not taken out again until the next Sunday. It is the textbook for the Christian life. It teaches us how to grow as believers and become more mature in our faith. But none of this can happen if we are not diligently spending time reading and studying it.
Church leaders must set the example, we must establish the expectation that members of our congregations will spend time in the Word each day, and thirdly we need to present a high view of Scripture to people. I've been in a few churches where the Bible was never read as part of the service or as a text for a sermon. I've been in many more churches when a passage was read and then forgotten about as the pastor began to discuss some issue that didn't pertain to the passage. I've occasionally sat in services in which a text was read and then challenged and rejected by the minister as error.
If clergy have such a low view of Scripture we can expect our congregations to have the same view. Such people, in my opinion, have forfeited their right to serve as church leaders. The Scriptures are the infallible Word of God given to mankind to teach us how to live and how to conduct ourselves in this life and prepare for the life to come. The Bible is not a book about God; it is God's self-revelation of Himself to humankind so we can worship Him and trust Him. I may misinterpret or misunderstand what the text says, but that's my fault, not God's. It reflects my own lack of knowledge and understanding, but it doesn't change the truth of God's Word.
I often hear pastors complain about the lack of discipleship evident in the lives of their people, but one has to wonder what they are doing to address that. Are they demonstrating by their own behavior that we need to be regularly reading and studying the Scriptures? Are they setting the expectation before their people that they are to be reading the Bible daily? Are they demonstrating a high view of Scripture before the people? If the most important factor in helping people grow as disciples is to be daily reading the Bible, what are you doing to promote that in your church?