A radical idea?
It’s a radical idea, isn’t it – getting Christians to read the Bible? Perhaps you’ve seen the statistics of how few Christians read the Bible at all between one Sunday and the next. Yet people grow as they read the word and sermons make more sense (which is bound to be a good thing!) when the hearers know their way around the Bible.
In December 1842, just a few months before he died, Robert Murray M’Cheyne published for his own flock a Bible-reading plan designed to take the user through the whole Bible each year. Among the advantages he saw, he spoke of the fellowship believers would be able to enjoy with one another: ‘We shall pray over the same promises, mourn over the same confessions, praise God in the same songs, and be nourished by the same words of eternal life.’
Here at Moordown, we began in January 2011 a slightly less ambitious plan: to encourage one another to read the whole Bible in three years. It is much less formal than M’Cheyne’s, too; ‘daily portions’ are not given, just monthly targets. In January 2012, for example, our reading is in Mark’s gospel: sixteen short chapters and not at all demanding. In February, 1 and 2 Corinthians are our books, but in May, much more demanding, the book of Ezekiel.
Many Christians who use M’Cheyne have had the experience of falling behind, and feeling disheartened and unable to ‘catch-up’. Worse still, they can be caught up by feelings of guilt and worthlessness; they’re not doing their ‘quiet times’, how can they possibly be Christians? By not setting daily portions, only monthly ones, we hope to avoid this. I say repeatedly from the pulpit, ‘It doesn’t matter whether you read the month’s book in a single sitting, or in daily portions; let’s just read God’s word.’
Some of you reading this will have realised already that it’s not our original idea; it’s one we’ve lifted gladly from Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea: their RBT (Read the Bible Together) programme. We need, I am sure, to be much more imaginative in making the most of this programme, but this is what we do at the moment.
Every month, the first Sunday evening has a sermon which focuses on, and summarises, the book for that month: quite a challenge for the preacher. As I write, I’m beginning to think about a single sermon (a single sermon!) on Jeremiah and Lamentations. This helps newer Christians, and any who are not familiar with the book we’re reading, to be oriented and less daunted.
Then, on the first Tuesday of each month, our home groups meet to discuss the book they read the previous month. January 2012 will see us reading Mark so the first Tuesday in February will see us discussing Mark in our groups. We focus our discussions carefully on eight questions, questions that are designed to show the centrality of Jesus in every part of the Bible, and the relevance of the Bible for us all. So the questions include: what did you learn about Jesus? what did you learn about us? how were you corrected and rebuked? what did you learn that will teach you to do works of service to build up our own local church?
A real thrill
I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have told me what a help this programme is in their Christian lives and how thrilling they’re finding the Bible. That’s a good thing for a pastor to hear! (Reading the Bible, it’s a radical idea. What next? Will we be getting Christians praying, too?)
Here are two brief accounts of different ways people are finding RBT a blessing. First, from Stephen Coombes who works with computers and has always loved everything ‘IT’ related.
I have recently discovered a new way to pass the time profitably, travelling to and from work on a daily basis. Armed with my Blackberry and a small FM transmitter, via the free app ‘YouVersion’, I can listen to the Bible being read aloud, through my car radio, during my journey. The software helpfully continues from one chapter to the next, meaning completely hands-free operation. (The YouVersion software is available for both Blackberry and Apple devices, and the FM transmitter cost me all of £4, including a 12-volt car power adapter. It is also possible to achieve the same end without a smart phone device; the Amazon Kindle has a text-to-speech function which reads whatever passage you have on-screen.)
What used to be a period of around forty-five minutes each day virtually wasted has become forty-five minutes extra I can spend considering the portion of scripture from this month’s ‘RBT’ programme. During the time I have been doing this, I have found it very beneficial to surround my working day with passages of scripture. The RBT programme so far has given me insight into how the Old and New Testaments hold together and how the promises of the Old are fulfilled in the New. It has been fascinating to see Jesus in all parts of the Bible; the discussion questions often act as points of focus whilst reading (or listening!). My understanding has deepened and my appreciation of what Christ has done for me has developed as I have read entire books of the Bible systematically. I’m praying that I will grow as a Christian and that we as a church will increase in fellowship, faithfulness and fruitfulness as we continue to ‘Read the Bible Together’.
Secondly, from Eve Mhlope who is a pharmacist, originally from Zimbabwe.
RBT has helped our family to have time to read and discuss the Bible together. We have discovered sections of the Bible that we never understood made much clearer, especially after it has been preached on. Reading the whole book makes a big difference because everything is knitted together. We have learnt a lot and have been encouraged a lot about the history of the Israelites and how sacrifice is important to God. In every book we have picked some encouraging verses e.g. Romans 8:31-38, Psalm 55:22-23. Discussions in our home groups make us realise how we need to be praying for each other in order to stay encouraged. We have also been corrected/rebuked as we read, and most importantly realised, how God hates sin and how we also fall into the same category of the people who lived then. We have also been encouraged by God’s abundant love.
Gary Benfold is the pastor of Moordown Baptist Church, Bournemouth.