At the end of quarantine, all of us are going to be saying things like, “During Covid-19, I _______ more than ever before!” There will be lots of common ways to fill in that blank – watched Netflix, worked in my garden, ate ice cream, etc. But what if after all of this is over, the members of your church said things like read my Bible, prayed, memorized scripture, called other church members, or sang? How can you as their pastor encourage them to grow in these disciplines during this unprecedented time? In this article, Cole Penick, Campus Minister for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Arkansas, shares how to encourage them to “Read the Bible more than ever before.”
Psalm 1 tells us that when we delight ourselves in God’s word, we become like “a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither.” A great way for your congregation to grow their delight in the word is to immerse themselves in it. But it’s a big book and for many people, it is hard to know where to start or where to go next. That’s where Bible reading plans and community can be helpful. There’s always the option to just start on page one, read as much as you can each day, and keep going until you finish. But too many valiant attempts like that have fizzled out somewhere around Leviticus 15. Often this strategy makes it hard to pace yourself and it doesn’t allow you to vary your diet of genres within the Bible which can leave you stuck.
Below are some plans I have found helpful as well as some other tools that have helped me and others succeed in this challenge.
Pick a Plan
The first time I ever completed a Bible in a Year plan, it was using this one. Before that, I had tried many times but always quit after feeling too far behind. This plan gave me the wiggle room to miss a few days and not get behind. Plus, it gives you Old Testament and New Testament passages every day with a few Psalms each week to keep you from getting bogged down in any one place.
If reading the whole Bible this year feels like too much to ask, then try out this plan that helps you read the whole New Testament in a year. There are 260 chapters in the New Testament. Conveniently, that’s exactly five chapters a week. Robby Gallaty and his team at Replicate Ministries have created all kinds of handy resources to utilize this plan across the board within your church.
The M’Cheyne reading plan is the gold standard – it’s a tried and true plan created in 1842. It has you read the New Testament and Psalms twice and the Old Testament once. It’s an everyday reading plan which sets your people up to create a discipline of daily Bible reading.
Pick the right tools
Help your track what they’re reading. I always print out my reading plan and stick it in my Bible for the year. It’s old school but there’s something about the tactile piece of paper that helps. Of course, there are great digital tools as well. The YouVersion Bible App can do a great job tracking what you’ve read, days you’ve read, and what comes next. It also has the ability to play audiobook versions of most popular translations, which is a great way to further immerse yourself or to engage folks who aren’t big readers.
Along with my reading plan printout, I always use this colorful chart that has a box for every chapter in the Bible. It is super satisfying to see all the boxes fill up with little X’s as the year goes on. It’s especially helpful to see what ground you’ve covered when using a plan that skips around.
Modern Bibles are super helpful for studying the Bible. Headings, cross-references, and commentaries help us understand our Bible better and see how it all fits together. They can also be distracting when the goal is to read more broadly. They trick your brain into thinking you’ve read a lot and can stop when really you should keep going if you want to stay on pace. A Reader’s Bible can help clear those distractions and help you build the stamina to read four or five chapters in a single sitting. I’ve used both this ESV and CSB versions.
Pick a Partner
The best plans often die because people try to do this alone. Think of ways for your church to do this together. You could use existing structures like your small groups or Sunday School classes to group people together for encouragement and accountability. The YouVersion App is very helpful here once again. There you can create communities to foster better engagement. I’ve also seen churches add daily devotional blogs or 60-second commentaries from their members on social media that track with the reading plan. Those are both great ways to keep people going as well as utilize members to lead out in this effort.
In 2019, my dad, who has been a Christian for 45 years, read through the whole Bible in a year for the first time. He told me that the things that helped the most were picking the right plan (5-Day plan) and having a group text between himself, my mom, and another couple. They encouraged one another to keep going or catch up and discussed questions that came up along the way. How great would it be to have testimonies like that in your church as people excitedly share that during the quarantine, they read the Bible more than ever before!
-Cole Penick, BCM Campus Minister, U of A