By Daniel Im:
Growing up, my favorite sermons were the ones where the preacher would get into the Greek or Hebrew and explain to us common folk what the Scriptures really meant.
In the Greek, this word is translated, pistis, and it means…
In the Hebrew, this word is translated as hesed, and it means..
Those were the moments where I felt like I was being fed “meat,” rather than “milk.” Those were the moments when my ears perked up. Those were the moments that made the sermon worth it…since I couldn’t get that sort of insight on my own. Reading the Scriptures in the “simpleton language” of English just didn’t cut it. Unless I knew the Greek or the Hebrew, I could never attain the level of depth in my relationship with God that my pastor had.
How did that last paragraph make you feel? Did something feel off to you?
In my pastor’s pursuit to be exegetically sound, and to provide “meat,” depth, and insight into the Scriptures, he unintentionally made the Scriptures inaccessible to the congregation.
Without verbally saying it aloud, he was basically saying that the English language wasn’t adequate to understand the true intent of the Scriptures. In his desire to be helpful and shepherd us toward spiritual growth, he was actually going against the point of the Reformation—to make the Scriptures accessible to all.
Who else is guilty of this? As a pastor myself, I know I am…
If you’re like me, the last thing that you want to do is make the Scriptures inaccessible.
After all, as articulated in the discipleship research in my book, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, the frequency of one’s Bible reading was one of the key indicators and influencers toward spiritual growth.
In other words, the more you read your Bible, the more likely you are going to grow in all aspects of spiritual maturity. ALL ASPECTS. Isn’t that incredible?
Unfortunately sometimes, there are things that pastors and church leaders (myself including) unintentionally do that hurt, rather than help.
If reading the Bible makes that much of a difference, what are things that we can do to help our congregations and/or those that we disciple dig deeper into the Word? In other words, how can we normalize Bible reading?
Here are three ways to normalize Bible reading:
1. Don’t use the Greek or Hebrew words when preaching.
I know it makes you sound smart, and I know that it makes you feel better that you’re putting those Greek and Hebrew classes to work, but when you do this, you’re actually telling everyone that the English translations aren’t trustworthy or readable. Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you should never consult the Greek or Hebrew texts while preaching a sermon. I’m just saying that what happens in the study doesn’t always have to make it to the pulpit.
If you studied the languages, then by all means, get insight from the original texts (make sure that you’re referencing lexicons and commentaries to ensure that you’re interpretation is accurate), but share your insight in English. Use illustrations to articulate the original intent of the Scriptures. Read the passage from several different English translations across the spectrum and then explain the meaning.
By preaching this way, instead of making the Scriptures inaccessible, you’re teaching your congregation and/or those that you are discipling that they can do what you’re doing. All they need is a few different English translations to dig deeper.
2. When illustrating a point, share about your personal Bible reading.
When preaching or discipling, illustrate your points by sharing what you’re learning through your own personal Bible reading. By doing this, you’re emphasizing the importance of reading the Word without necessarily saying it outright. This is one of the most powerful ways to normalize something.
For example, this past summer, while I was preaching through the Book of James at my church, there was this one particular sermon where I spent 5-10 minutes sharing what I learnt in 1 Samuel 13 that week. You can read more about this specific example here.
By making my personal Bible reading the illustration, I was not only showing my congregation that God speaks through His Word, but I was also teaching them a way to engage with the Scriptures.
3. Use the Bible to disciple others.
I love curriculum, study guides, and books. There are so many helpful resources out there that can help you disciple others. Even when I look at my own spiritual life, I can point to several books and studies that have been influential in helping me overcome sin, temptation, and the strongholds of the evil one. However, if these resources aren’t pointing you to the Bible, or helping you read and understand what God is saying through the Scriptures, then what good are they? What power do they actually have to change you and I?
That’s why, when I disciple others, I make reading the Bible the central component. And when I use curriculum, study guides, or books to disciple others, I make sure that they are supplementary to the discipleship process, so that they don’t take the place of the central role that the Bible has in one’s discipleship.