Can we have a moment of intellectual honesty? Is it okay to put down our pride and protective instincts for about five minutes, and admit that things in our churches aren’t really going that well?
Here’s where I could insert a ton of stats. The ones about divorce, and child abandonment, and porn use by pastors. Or, I could take a different angle and talk about Biblical illiteracy among Christians. I’m not going to do that. Stats are powerful at times. But we’ve heard them before and, quite frankly, they’ve lost their impact.
And here’s one more thing that I refuse to do: I won’t blame you, pastor. You’re doing everything you can. I love pastors. I know that you’ve got one of the toughest jobs on the planet. I don’t believe it’s your fault.
Having said all of that, it’s still critical that we get some things on the table. The “people in the pews” are struggling. Family; work; relationships; substance abuse; finances; and more. These are not the exception in our churches. They are the rule.
I’ve spent my whole life in the Church. I joke that I was born on Palm Sunday and in the nursery by Easter. I love the Church. I love the people in it. And for the past several years, I’ve been asking questions of the average church member. And what I’m finding is alarming and hopeful at the same time.
Most Christians don’t read their Bible. That’s it. That’s the problem. Jesus said it. David said it. Moses said it. The Prophets said it. Paul said it. The Christian that ignores the daily practice of Bible reading will not make it. That is alarming.
You already know that. But you’ve tried everything you can think of to fix the problem. You can’t use guilt; that isn’t helping anyone. And trying to get a church-wide Bible reading program rolling may help a little, but systems and programs aren’t really sustainable. What needs to happen, is each individual church member must have a desire to read.
Again, not exactly rocket science. How do you do it?
I’m not talking about being unbiblical. And I’m not talking about cursing from the pulpit, or talking about sex for six weeks. That’s not going to do it. What I’m talking about is challenging the flannelgraph images that dominate the minds of your church members. Take the Bible, and point out things that make them scratch their head and say, “What?” Then, challenge them to open up the Bible during the week and look into themselves. Provoke them to open their Bible.
Trust me on this one. I’ve done it. Here’s what one person said afterward
Through your teaching I wound up studying the Bible more. First, because you encouraged us to do so. But more so, because you challenged doctrinal traditions and I needed to know for myself if you were right. – Rebecca C.
Do you have the guts to do this? Here’s what can happen.
I’ve seen young couples with marriages on the rocks, ready to walk away from God, get so stirred up in a Sunday School class that they started reading the Bible during the week to see if what was being said was crazy. I’ve seen college students who thought that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, become so passionate about Scripture that they would rather sit in Chipotle talking about Genesis 6 than go to the latest movie. And I’ve seen seventy year old church “know-it-alls” begin to realize that they don’t know it all, and crack a dusty leather binding on Monday for the first time in decades. It can happen.
And that’s why I have hope.
What would that do for your church? What would happen if you didn’t have to be the sole source of all Biblical wisdom and teaching in the lives of your members? What if Monday through Saturday, they were feeding themselves? And what if the Holy Spirit was able to take what your members were reading, give it roots and wings, and use it to do what the Word always does when heard and obeyed: change lives
I couldn’t go through this entire post without at least one stat, so here it goes. Less than 20% of Christians are considered “engaged” with the Bible. Stop and think about the faces you speak to each weekend. You can identify exactly who the 20% in your church are by their lives and service. Now, double that number. How would things be different in your church?
It’s time to figure out how to get “the people in the pews” excited about reading the Bible again. Their lives depend on it.
The Hebrew word for “hear” is “shema.” But it means so much more than just to physically hear the words being spoken. It means to “hear and obey.” You know the importance of doing something about what you hear or read. So do something about getting your church members excited about the Bible again. Present an alternative interpretation of a common passage, and challenge your members to study whether it’s valid or not. Speak on something in the Bible that doesn’t make sense, and tell the church you don’t know what it means. Ask them to help you with it. Whatever you do, don’t just click on another website and move on. Jesus called that being a fool. You’ve got to do more than read this article.
If you want me to help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for some ideas. I’ll respond and help in any way I can.
The Church depends on it.