The first and typically most transformative spiritual habit is, surprisingly, scripture reading. I’m fond of saying “I’m a scientist’s son and a mainliner at heart,” so when I tell church leaders that if they’ll just start reading scripture regularly their lives will be transformed, they sometimes look at me as if I was from a different planet. I don’t know what it is… I can’t explain it… but here’s what I’ve experienced over the years. If I can get the church leaders to start reading the Bible, the remaining steps to affecting sustainable church transformation are significantly easier.

Following a recent congregational coaching training event, the president of the council complained to the pastor: “Coach Bill seems to think that our church will grow if we just all start reading the Bible.” Of course his words bordered on overstatement – but only just. Three months later when I returned for their next training event I was approached by no fewer than three council members who each relayed how the council president had changed. He was more focused and patient, he listened more, and he was more open to hearing alternative view points.

What brought on the transformation? According to him, it was when he started reading the Bible. But there’s a counterpoint to my tale. I was introduced to a couple who shared they had a habit of reading from Proverbs each day. Since Proverbs has thirty-one chapters, they read the chapter corresponding to the day of the month. Now, I suspect that once upon a time their practice was transformative, but years later they were mired in Proverbs and expressed their reservations about the transformative value of scripture reading. Although Proverbs is a great book filled with witticisms and wisdom, perhaps immersion in the words of Christ and the Gospels themselves might be a wiser choice, at least for travel on the transformative road. It’s been said that variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to transformative scripture reading, too much variety will stunt your spiritual growth and too little variety will starve you. 

Here are the basic guidelines I offer to the church leaders I work with.

  • Choose a version of the Bible that is (1) easy to read and understand, and (2) not so familiar to you that it’s become stale. If you’re unfamiliar with The Message, it offers a fresh perspective that will help you see the stories and instructions in a new light.
  • Start in the Gospel of Mark. It’s the shortest of the Gospels, it’s fast-paced, and you’ll get better acquainted with the guy whose name you carry. I tend to recommend reading Luke or Matthew next, followed by the book of Acts. After that, when asked, I invite folks to read pretty much whatever seems to call their name, but that they revisit the Gospels at least four times a year, the book of Acts at least twice a year, and the rest of the scriptures at a ratio of two New Testament books to every one Old Testament book. Nothing magical about the ratios – it just seems wise to invest in getting to know the author of the faith and the practices of the first century church.
  • Read whatever book you choose from the beginning to the end (not necessarily in one sitting!). Context is everything and if you read the book in the manner the author intended, it will make better sense.
  • Read logically. Read logical “chunks” of a book. In other words, don’t let the chapters or verses be the master of where you start and end reading. “Versification” was added long after the Bible was compiled and many chapters and verses seem to have been placed randomly. Read chunks of scripture that include complete stories or topics.
  • Read reflectively. I’ve found there are two primary Bible reading styles. First, there are those who read the scriptures so carefully and deliberately that it may take them a month to get through the four-paragraph book of Jude. These folks may be missing the big picture. On the other hand, there are those who read the Bible as if it’s a novel they can’t put down. These may miss subtle nuances. If you have to err on one side or the other, read more quickly. We’re finding that those who are biblically “conversant” often fare better in conversations with non-Christians than those who can cite chapter and verse.
  • Read regularly. If you or your church leaders aren’t reading at all at this point, any scripture reading is better than no scripture reading. For a new reader, reading the Bible weekly is alright. Reading a couple times a week is better, but the reality is that reading a chunk or two daily (or more) is best. Remember, it’s not how much scripture you get through, it’s how much scripture that gets through you.

Finally, how do you get your leaders to start reading? First ask them the Discipleship Development accountability question: “What did you read in scripture this week that intrigued you?” It typically takes three to four consecutive weeks of asking, but if you’re faithful in your query, you’ll generally be rewarded with a positive response. In fact, I’ve never had to ask small group members more than four weeks in a row before 100 percent of them are reading scripture every week. And if you get your leaders reading scripture, before you know it, you’ll notice a change in your leadership culture.

Question: How do you encourage regular scripture reading by your church leaders and members? How have you seen it affect the health of your congregation? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.