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The church alone cannot develop disciples. Individual believers must take responsibility for their own spiritual growth. We can and should provide as many “nets” as possible to aid in our people’s maturity, but the believer must step up and take advantage of these nets, as well as develop and work a plan for personal Bible reading and study. I have found over the years that most people who really know Christ want to spend time in the Word, but many lack a structure to adequately help them be successful.
Nagging and making people feel guilty are not good motivators, so we seek to be more constructive in helping them desire to be students of the Scriptures.
Toward that end we …
- Encourage and aid in personal Bible study by providing a reading schedule which, if followed, would guide the users through the Bible every three years. The reading schedule is placed in the bulletin and on the church app weekly.
- Encourage projects such as reading certain sections of Scripture, perhaps in tandem with a Bible class they are attending. In a recent Bible survey class, I taught on the Pentateuch and asked the class to read these books as we studied them. I was thrilled to read on Facebook that two of our members were highly impressed and blessed by the holiness of God as found in Leviticus. That was an unexpected surprise.
- Encourage our people to develop a simple Bible reading program. We ask them to first determine the best time of day for them to spend time reading. And, if they have never done this before, we ask them to carve out just 15 minutes per day because far too many people begin with an hour on Monday and give up by Thursday. In addition to the time commitment we request that they find the best place in their world for reading. This needs to be a quiet, out-of-the way location, free from the distractions of children, cell phones, and other hindrances. This may be a nook in the basement, an isolated room at work, an outdoor building or even the bathroom. At this location, it is best to keep your Bible, notebooks, pens and other study aids handy. Committing to just 15 minutes a day alone with the Lord can be life-changing.
- Encourage finding an accountability buddy. Not everyone does but many need accountability. If two or three people would meet weekly over coffee and share what they have read it would be most helpful on many levels.
- Encourage listening to good sermons. Via internet and apps, as well as radio and CDs (for those yet to transition to electronic forms) there are ample choices to hear good exposition throughout the week.
- Encourage use of audio Bibles. Some men, in particular, struggle with reading and comprehension, but have found listening to the Scriptures helpful. Many Bible apps, such as YouVersion, offer audio Bibles in many translations. What a great use of time especially as we travel in our cars or exercise. Rather than spending all that time listening to music or talk radio, use some of it to listen to Scripture.
The Bible clearly calls on us to study the inspired Word of God personally (2 Tim 2:15), as well as be taught the Word of God by others (Eph 4:11-12). Both are essential and the church of Christ in the 21st century needs to take the importance of this far more seriously than it sometimes does. Only the Word of God is designed to transform us by the renewing of our minds.
I have found an amazing thing: when believers feed on a steady diet of biblical truth they have little craving for cotton candy fads. Why would anyone trade in the fountain of life for cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13)? Of course, many have and do, but the solution is not to crawl into the cistern, it is to showcase the fountain. Church growth gurus tell us today that people have little interest in the Word of God and we will never build a “great” church if teaching truth is the focus of our ministries. They have a point. In most cases, big churches have grown due to church growth techniques, marketing, excellent music, exciting programs, and mirroring the culture by telling people what they want to hear. But no matter the size, whether 20 or 20,000, a great church must be defined by God, not culture. It must never be forgotten that it was the richest and most prosperous church of Asia that the Lord said He would spit out of His mouth (Rev 3:16), while those churches which seem to be insignificant received the Lord’s commendation (Rev 2:8-11;3:7-13). Let us strive to please our Savior by obeying His instructions to proclaim the Word and making disciples.
Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.