3 Ways to Get People Excited About Engaging Scripture
Identifying and overcoming obstacles
My friend Deb was approaching her first day at a new job, and she was not excited about it. A highly creative person, she had an advanced degree in music, but the only employment she could get was in a doctor’s office as a receptionist. “Well, maybe I’ll be able to read some books while I wait,” she said.
I checked back with her a few weeks later, and she had a whole different perspective. “Who comes to a doctor’s office?” she asked me. “People who are hurting. They might also be anxious about whatever ailment brought them there. Maybe they’re frustrated or confused about the paperwork. But I can help with all of that. If I’m friendly and reassuring and helpful, maybe I can truly help them get through a bad situation.”
In The Truth about Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni discusses what he calls “job misery,” and he identifies three root causes: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. Deb gives us a good example of irrelevance turning to relevance—she found the meaning within her work—and that led to employee engagement.
At American Bible Society—and in your ministry—we deal with a different kind of engagement. How do we get people excited about Scripture? Lencioni’s triad might give us good ways to troubleshoot issues that keep people away from the Bible.
For many, Scripture comes alive when it speaks directly to them, identifying specific personal needs and situations. I remember, as a teenager, discovering Romans 7 and being blown away by the honesty of Paul’s description of temptation. I was facing that same thing every day, and the apostle nailed it in this 2,000-year-old letter. It was as if this passage was reading my mind. Though I had grown up in the church, this was an important moment of connection for me—of engagement. I realized the Bible had something to say to me.
Maybe you’ve had similar experiences with the cynicism of Ecclesiastes or the head-shaking surprise of Psalm 126. You might see yourself in the stage-fright of Moses, the dashed expectations of Martha, or Peter’s tendency to say exactly the wrong thing. Our Creator knows us intimately, and that knowledge is often displayed in the verses of Scripture.
Yet, for many, there are obstacles. The Bible seems distant to some, especially if they only have old translations. Even in modern parlance, the stories are still set in ancient cultures. It might be tough to identify with the sandal negotiation of Boaz or Abram’s slicing of animal carcasses. I also suspect that some Christians unwittingly make the distance even greater by over-emphasizing the sacredness of the Bible’s main characters. When we make Gideon or David or Paul good in every way, we lose some points of connection with them. As a result, people might not see themselves in Scripture. It’s a book for holy people, they might think; it does not know me.
Employees are less engaged when they feel their work doesn’t matter, just like my friend Deb. And Bible readers quickly lose interest when they feel the reading doesn’t make a difference. That’s why true Bible engagement drives toward life change. We don’t stop with reflection on its great truths. Scripture is inherently transformative.
Described as “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12), God’s Word slices through our lives, changing us. Meant to be acted on, not just heard (James 1:22), it corrects and challenges us (2 Timothy 3:16). Throughout Scripture, we see the power of God’s Word on display. He calls for light—verbally—and there is light (Genesis 1:3). It lights the way ahead of us (Psalm 119:105). As sure as rain falling and snow melting, God’s powerful Word achieves its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Relevant is actually a tame description of Scripture; it aims to be disruptive.
Lencioni may have coined this term, but we understand it immediately. People want to know they’re getting somewhere. Without some kind of measurement, there’s no sense of progress. This is true in our jobs and in our Bible reading. Witness the popularity of read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans, despite the inevitable rough patches in Leviticus and Chronicles. People like to accomplish something, to check it off the list.
Some Christian leaders resist attempts to quantify any aspect of spiritual growth. Didn’t Jesus describe the Spirit as a wind that blows wherever it wants? While we can measure Bible reading in pages perused, can we really rate these encounters with the mysterious God? Yet these can be a major disconnect between leaders and Bible beginners who long for a sense of progress. As much as we’d like to sing the virtues of resting in God’s presence, wafting on the breeze of the Spirit, and meditating on the divine wisdom, lots of folks still like to get stuff done.
Addressing the Obstacles
As leaders in Bible engagement, we have the crucial task of navigating around these obstacles. In one respect, it’s simply a matter of sharing what we’ve experienced. We have seen our own portraits in the Scriptures; we have seen the Bible’s message transform our lives and our world; and we have moved step by step into a greater awareness of our immeasurable God. We delight in welcoming others to do the same.
But once we’re aware of these obstacles, we might also invent some creative approaches to deal with them.
- Could you (or another Bible teacher) meet with Bible beginners in your church and create a personalized reading plan for each one, based on unique features of their personality and background? (A philosophical person might be sent to Romans, while a practical person might get James.) Such a plan could have weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals, as well as an accountability mechanism. (This might address both anonymity and immeasurement.)
- Could a Bible study session or a worship service focus on the relevance of Scripture, with various people getting up to say, “Because of what I read in the Bible, I did this”?
- Could you prepare your sermons or small group sessions with the names (or even pictures) of your people in front of you? Draw scriptural principles specifically from their experiences and needs.
Surely you can devise even better ideas than these. Just tune in to the factors that are keeping your people from fully engaging with Scripture and imagine how to tackle them.
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