Although Christians confess the Bible is God’s Word, many don’t read it regularly — much less daily.
According to Lifeway Research, 1 in 3 Americans (32%) who regularly attend a Protestant church say they read the Bible personally every day. Close to 1 in 8 (12%) admit they rarely or never read the Bible. Reading the Bible can be challenging — even for the Christian who believes Scripture is the inspired Word of God.
George Guthrie, professor of New Testament at Regent College, believes reading the Bible is foundational for all of life. He says the church should come alongside believers, equipping them with tools for reading the Bible well and developing a heart eager to hear from God.
In his book, “A Short Guide to Reading the Bible Better,” Guthrie gives Bible readers a road map for reading God’s word well and offers pastors a resource for equipping their congregations to read the Bible better next year (and beyond).
Here’s a look at a recent conversation with Guthrie.
Q: Why do you believe the regular practice of personal Bible reading is the number one predictor of spiritual health?
Guthrie: Reading the Bible is foundational for every other aspect of life. Years of research projects demonstrate that Bible reading is the number one predictor of whether a person is thriving spiritually. The spiritual reason behind this is that hearing from God on a regular basis is the foundation for life. It gives us a basis for who we are as people and for how we’re to live in the world.
If I am living out of an openness to God in my daily life, it’s going to affect the way I relate to my wife, do my job and interact with my neighbors. It really goes back to Scripture being foundational for everything.
Q: Why is it, then, so many Christians get hung up in their faith journey when it comes to Bible reading?
Guthrie: One thing that’s very common for many of us, including myself, is that we are busy.
We live in a frenetic culture that is running all the time. We are distracted by the pressures and pleasures of life. Another reason we struggle with settling into Scripture is because we’re dealing with an ancient body of literature. We don’t always get the point. And we don’t always understand why what’s happening in the story is significant. We don’t always understand the intended impact.
For whatever reason, in the church we have not gotten into a pattern of giving people basic training in how to read the Bible. We say, “Read the Bible.” But how many churches have a basic yearly course on how to read the Bible effectively? We need to think through our strategy for helping people get into a rhythm of life that would include reading the Bible.
Q: Why is it important for pastors to help equip people with tools to understand Scripture on their own?
Guthrie: There are lots of tools out there, but a lot of laypeople are in contexts where they haven’t been exposed to those tools. Pastors can be facilitators of helping people get in touch with good tools.
A second thing pastors can do is build a community around Bible reading. And then facilitate training opportunities.
Q: Can you give pastors a vision of what it could look like for their congregation to read the Bible better?
Guthrie: When we think about church history, what happened when people started getting the Bible in their own language? It began to transform the culture. More people started thinking carefully about the church, leadership in the church, and their own lives.
When we invest in building a community of Bible readers, it begins transforming the culture itself. When we build a community of Bible readers, we not only enhance the level of spiritual life and maturity in the congregation, but we make people more able to track with us in our sermons. We build a community where people are making decisions in their families and in the life of the church based on Scripture and not on the cultural fads or impulses of the day.
Q: How is better Bible reading about more than simply reading the Bible more?
Guthrie: Eugene Peterson talks about the need to settle into more of a leisurely reading of the Bible rather than trying to stuff information into our brains. We need to foster a type of reading based on a deep rhythm of life. And that kind of reading is not textbook kind of reading. So, I tried to make my book beautiful and compelling in the way I talked about the different aspects of Bible reading.
We need to be drawn into the power and the beauty of God’s word, not just the information in God’s words.
So, in Bible reading, we’re not trying to master the Bible, seeing if we can become the champion of Bible quizzes. We’re trying to be mastered by the Bible — by the Master of the Bible. It’s about a heart relationship with God. If we’re growing a love relationship with God, then that’s going to affect the way we hear and listen to the Bible.
Q: As we head into the new year, what are some practical ways pastors can lead their congregations to read the Bible better?
Guthrie: The calendar can help us build rhythms into life. The calendar of the Christian year has helped Christians through the ages live in a rhythm of coming or back around to our commitments, coming back around to our joys. And in that sense, the turn of the calendar year can be an opportunity in the life of the church.
Lead your congregations through a process of reading that is doable, but also model that. The other thing pastors can do is use the beginning of the year to give people basic training. Take the opportunity to take your congregation through fresh training on the basics of good Bible reading.
Q: How might it be helpful for a church body to commit to reading the Bible better together?
Guthrie: It’s easier to read the Bible when you have support in a community. There are times in which we, as people, need a spiritual ecosystem where we are drawing from other people around us, getting encouragement from them. And then we can contribute back to the process of what God is speaking into other people’s lives as well. Be creative in creating reading communities and have various opportunities where people who have different schedules can benefit from some form of community.
Q: Why is it important to remember the goal of reading the Bible better?
Guthrie: We believe this is the word of God — that God has spoken His truth into the world. And if that is the case, pastors, act like it. Give people the training they need. Give them the context they need to not only come and listen to people preach and teach but to build it into a rhythm of their lives, where they are hearing God speak to them on a daily basis. There’s nothing more important we could do to build people up in the faith and help them participate in the advancement of God’s kingdom in the world. So, let’s help people with that process because it really is foundational to everything else.