Four Key Moments in Bible Engagement

And How We Can Help Them Happen

“Have you been reading my email?”

The woman who rushed up to me after a sermon was only pretending to be upset. “What you said about that Bible passage—it was exactly what I needed to hear. It was like you were speaking only to me.”

Perhaps you have had similar conversations. Sometimes three or four (or more) people report such “only to me” experiences from the same sermon, and about different issues in their lives. This is the miracle of the Word. The Spirit brings it into people’s lives and speaks the truth they need to hear.

This is especially delightful to encounter when it happens to someone for the first time. The thought that Paul or David or Jesus can speak across the ages into a person’s life is truly awesome. It’s exhilarating to be part of that miracle.

Growing into engagement

As we try to help people engage with the Bible, we recognize a progression. People don’t just flip a switch and become instantly “Bible engaged.” They grow into it. And this personalization of the Word is a key moment early in the process, the first of four such moments we’ll consider here.

1. Realizing the Bible is for me.

It’s a book, and who reads books anymore? It’s an old book, and we live in the now. It’s an old religious book, and so it’s often relegated to holidays and funerals. In the modern age, people have lots of reasons not to expect much from the Bible. It’s that anthropology text you haven’t touched since college. It’s that classic novel that everyone respects but no one reads. Words, words, words.

Until the moment it slices into your life.

Can we make this moment happen for people? No. But we can open the way for the miracle by continuing to welcome the Spirit into our preparation and delivery. And, while it’s important for people to understand Scripture fully, including its historical, geographical, cultural and literary background, our goal must be more than education. We are opening the “alive and active” Word to our people, and opening our people to the Word.

2. Finding the discipline of regular interaction with Scripture.

Establishing a Bible-reading habit takes more than a moment, or a morning. It might take a month, or three, or six. Clearly it’s a good habit to get into—research shows that regular Bible readers tend to go to church more and cheat on their spouses less (along with links to other good behaviors and avoidance of bad behaviors). This habit-forming is another crucial part of a Scripture engagement process, but it can be difficult.

How can we, as leaders, help?

Here’s a crazy idea. What if a church set up some Bible-reading “coaches” with the task of helping people start a Bible-reading habit? The coaches would need wisdom and sensitivity, along with a certain winsomeness. This would be established for those in the church who wanted to get into this habit—in the same way that someone might hire a coach to help them exercise routinely. It would be assumed that each person’s routine might be different. Don’t force a person into a “5:30 a.m. kneeling by the bed” mode just because it works for you. The coach would help a person find the right time, place, pattern, version, and passages for them, and hold them accountable.

3. Reflecting on the meaning of Scripture.

Some people treat Bible reading as a religious task—something good Christians do to keep being good Christians. We need to let people know that it’s far more than that. Yes, the discipline of daily Bible reading is valuable, but it’s meant to open us up to the voice of God.

This “moment” in the Bible engagement process—when the words become the Word—is difficult for some. How can we help people navigate that?

For a long time people have relied on devotional writing to do their reflection for them. Often an insightful writer can model a process of Scripture engagement, adding helpful information about the text and exploring deeper meanings, but in some cases the reading of devotional material can become merely another religious task.

We can help promote true reflection by offering questions to consider after reading. (In my experience, one of the most difficult things for small group leaders to learn is that good questions are far more valuable than good answers.)

It can also be helpful to grant permissionto grapple honestly with difficult material in the text. Many of us rush to explain away any seeming discrepancies in Scripture, but this might actually discourage people from honest reflection. The Bible regularly debates with itself, and that provides a rich tapestry of truth. James expands on Paul; Paul expounds on Deuteronomy. If we stop ironing out the differences, we might find some interesting new wrinkles in Bible engagement.

4. Letting Scripture change me.

At one level of Bible reflection, we say, “Isn’t it wonderful what God says here!”

Yes, it’s wonderful, and comforting, and inspiring, but there’s a deeper level that asks, “So what?”

God speaks, and things happen. Light invades the darkness. Our lives change. The Word of God leads us into new territory, lighting our path every step of the way.

There is great value in contemplation of God’s truth, but that truth always moves toward incarnation. As leaders, we can promote a sense of propulsion, exploding out of our interaction with Scripture. This is a fourth key moment, when the Word of God becomes more than syllables, more than memes—when it gets enfleshed in our own bodies.

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Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen

Randy Petersen is Director of Scripture Engagement Content for American Bible Society. Writer of more than sixty books and hundreds of church curriculum lessons, he has also served churches as a Bible teacher, small-groups coordinator, drama director, preaching consultant and softball pitcher.

Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.

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