Remember all of those Bible verses we used to diligently memorize in Sunday school? I do. I vividly remember my childhood Sunday school room displaying a large banner with the names of every student in the class. Next to each of our names was a blank space for a star. Every time we memorized a verse we received a star. This star also translated into a trip to the candy bucket. I loved that candy bucket and was also quite fond of gold stars. Hence, I became a Bible scholar by the fourth grade.
I’ve heard the term “Bible literate” used quite a bit recently. The question asked is: does your church know Scripture? This question is often used to distinguish between churches that really teach Scripture and others who aren’t as in depth in their preaching and teaching. I’ve been thinking about this lately in regards to my church and many others. How well do we know Scripture?
Since I’m a pastor, I tend to listen to a number of sermons every month. It’s always interesting to hear what other churches are preaching on and what I can learn as a communicator from others in my field. There are a number of preachers around. They have their unique styles. Some are insanely creative; others a tad bit boring. But they have one thing in common—they’re teaching from Scripture. Their congregants are listening to them so they can interact with a text. The preaching moment happens on Sunday morning or Saturday night and people come to listen. It doesn’t matter the size of the church. People are coming to hear. How we teach the Scriptures is important.
I heard someone sing a song the other day that listed all 66 books of the Bible in order. It was an assignment they received in their Christian school. They learned a song, so they could know the order of the books of the Bible. I was asked recently if I could recite every book of the Bible in order on the spot. I could not. I got mixed up somewhere in the Minor Prophets. I forgot about Obadiah. This person was shocked that I couldn’t recite the books of the Bible. “I thought you were a pastor,” they said jokingly.
All of this makes me wonder what knowing the Bible means? What are we really getting at when we ask that? Jesus certainly knew the Scriptures in his day. He quoted from them, taught from them and applied them to his ministry. He certainly had an understanding of the Scriptures, but it was more than that. He understood the Scriptures to be full of life. He embodied them in a way others didn’t.
I’ve heard it said that knowledge is a gateway to action. The more you know, the more you care. I’ve often wondered, though, if the way we talk about “knowing” Scripture can be misleading. Instead of equipping our churches, we’ve left them believing retention and fill-in-the-blank inserts are the key to knowing the Bible. Perhaps many of our congregants who know so much about the Bible, are missing a fundamental insight: what to do with it. We try so often to interpret Scripture, but how often do we allow Scripture to interpret us? We strive to know more, but do we attempt to live out with what we do know?
Is knowing Scripture the same as being changed by it?
I certainly aspire to know the Scriptures. I study them, take courses on them and engage in conversations about them. I desire that my church knows Scripture too. But I also want them to embrace Scripture. Whenever I preach, I’m not looking to simply transfer information. Rather I desire to invite my church to experience transformation.
I have a few students that I disciple on a monthly basis. Some of them want to know more about Scripture, theology and ministry. I’m happy to teach them and help them study Scripture. But my goal is not for them to be the new day Hank Hanegraaff (the Bible answer man). Instead, I hope that in learning about Scripture they would be prompted to do something with it. Because God’s word comes alive when we live with the text.
Here are some ideas that I’m trying to use in order to help my church move beyond the realm of informative and into the realm of transformative:
-Preach sermon series that are focused on a book of the Bible or a particular genre of biblical literature. This way, we have the chance to get a better understanding of a book’s overall message and context. Instead of simply memorizing individual verses, we have a broader understanding of the book as a whole.
-Promote quality Bible reading over quantity. There is something important about meditation and repetition that many of our modern churches miss out on. Liturgy is powerful. Rather than have our church members read chapter after chapter, challenge them to reflect on a smaller portion of Scripture several times a week.
-Allow creativity to intersect with a Bible study. Scripture can inspire us. Can we allow our church’s to react in creativity to the Scriptures through art, music, video, song, dance and craftsmanship? This way, a passage or book becomes alive to an individual.
-Expand the preaching experience. Sometimes we (myself included) put too much emphasis on what happens Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. Preaching and Bible study, though, are not confined to that hour every week. Find ways to broaden the preaching experience. Allow our churches opportunities to live with a text in their world—events, projects, and outings.