When it comes to the Bible, if there’s one thing that drives a pastor crazy it’s that many people in the church don’t make time to read, study and meditate on scripture. If there are two things that drive this pastor crazy it’s 1) see the previous sentence and 2) many who do read the Bible are content with the sound bite versions they read.
This isn’t anything new. And many have often complained. I, for one, have been preaching for years about Bible Study Death By Devotional.
Is it good to use devotional reading like, for example, The Upper Room? Of course! I’ve been encouraged many times by doing so; I’ve even written a few that I meant to submit–I just couldn’t find the right picture of myself to include. What can happen, though, is that we can connect so much to a writer’s story or memories that the Bible’s words become secondary. We look forward to hearing what others have to say. If we’re not careful, we begin to depend upon someone else’s experience with scripture or what they have to say about it, rather than experiencing it ourselves. It’s kind of like when spouses share their Facebook. Which one is speaking and who really has control of the account?
Even those who recognize that danger may fall for another.
The Gideons wouldn’t put a devotional in every church foyer if it didn’t include a Bible passage. Usually, it’s a 3-10 verse passage with which a regular Christian like you and the loud candy-wrapper opening lady who sits behind you has connected their experience. The assumption is that you will go and read that passage so that you can appreciate what God has shown them. After all, this was the verse that came to mind when they reflected on what they had been through.
Or you could just get by with reading the one verse the publisher had room to print for that day’s reflection. Whatevs.
We all what they say about devotional writers that assume their readers go and read the whole passage they have referenced. They assume their words like “this reminded me of the Bible story…” or “just liken when I read in [Bible book]….” will connect readers to the scripture. Well, they are right. And for many people, the connection stops there. And true Bible study dies in the process.
Truthfully, I’ve wondered if I contribute to the problem as well. For over three years I’ve been sending daily text messages. The messages are mini sermons based on, usually, a single passage of scripture. Since they’re not God Only Wants to Take Care of You kind of messages, I’ve been able to justify them against the dangers of BSDBD. Actually, I’m pretty sure I sent a message not too long ago that said something like, “Don’t rely on these words. Go read the Bible.” Or something like that. Still, we need to be mindful how we’re receiving the wonderful words of life God has given us.
Once you’ve heard one too many I’ve Never Read That Part of That Bible Story Before from people who by now should have read that part of the Bible story, you want to Braveheart your way to bringing the people of God back to the Word of God. And that’s what I try to do–without actually lifting my kilt.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
In our church studies, we try different ways to fully delve into scripture. Things like:
- Reading entire chapters at a time. We read whole passages out loud before unpacking verse by verse. If you just open up to the middle of The Three Little Pigs you don’t know that their mother kicked them out of the house. Context is key, little piggie. The same is true about other biblical stories (not that the 3 pigs is biblical; that’d be a weird sermon).
- I’ve even used an evil trick I learned in seminary. A professor once had us study a passage without using verse numbers. See? Devil things happen in seminary!
- Sometimes, we even read a passage twice before I open my big mouth or give others the chance to (Did that come out right?).
- Not going to the Bible study notes too quickly. We like to ask questions first and discover our own responses. Sure, you have to be kind of smart to edit a Bible, but that doesn’t mean us regular folk don’t know stuff.
- Ever study a passage twice in a row? You preacher types need to be careful with this one. Some people may wonder what they’re paying their preacher for if he’s just going to do the same thing each week, but you’d be surprised how going back to a passage can deepen your understanding.
- Listen to scripture being read. Don’t read along to a text. Follow along to a story. For some of you, this will be like going back to the days of listening to Orphan Annie on the radio. A Christmas Story anyone?
A new book entitled Saving the Bible From Ourselves addresses how we have underused the Bible, and ways to counter what we’ve done with the Bible. Consider reading it. It’s a resource I want to use at church soon. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
In the mean time, keep reading. Read scripture for all that’s it’s worth. And it’s worth more than you realize. Yes, you can and should use devotionals. But don’t let them kill your Bible study.
So, what are you going to do to resuscitate your Bible study? Let me know. It drives preachers crazy when people don’t give feedback.