– By Rick Hiemstra
“I don’t want any more of those the-church-is-in-decline stats” a ministry leader recently told me. “I want to know what is working.” In many ways the Canadian Bible Engagement Study data is more the-church-is-in-decline-stats, but it also says what is working.
Here is what works:
- Teaching that the Word of God is reliable and trustworthy.
- Getting people talking about what the Bible means for their lives.
Right from an early age we respond to things by the actions of the people around us. A baby will cry if someone starts or cries. She may not understand what is going on but she knows that if you reacted badly, it likely isn’t good for her either. If we ignore the Bible, that gives a message to others about they should do with the Bible.
One of the most important things a ministry leader in Canada can do today is to teach on the authority, reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. We do learn from other’s behaviour toward the Bible but authority needs its own reasons. Most people have no idea how or why the Bible was put together. Scratch below the surface and many people will tell you they think the Bible was written to control those with weak wills and minds. How will they know this is not the case unless the real story is carefully and sensitively told? Teach also with your actions. You need to live as if the Bible has authority in your life.
It seems so simple. If we start talking about what the Bible means for our lives, we need to read it. We can’t talk about the Bible if we don’t know what is in it. Watching how others discern this meaning and work it out in their lives teaches us how to do the same. The Apostle Paul frequently told people to imitate him, to put into practice what they saw him doing. All of this presupposed that they had the chance to see what Paul was doing. We also need to see each other engage with the Bible so we can learn how.
We know that some churches do a much better job at promoting Bible engagement than others. This means that a church’s teaching and conversation must have real impact. Through all my analysis of the Canadian Bible Engagement Study data I’ve been impressed by the powerful influence that the local church has in promoting (or not promoting) Bible engagement. The Church is the arena where faith (teaching) and practice (talking) are put into practice. Of course the Church is more than a place for teaching and talking, but it is certainly not less. And it will not be more of what Christ intended unless it is grounded in God’s Word.
Teach. Talk. Church. It’s simple. It’s not easy. The data says it works.
Rick Hiemstra was the lead investigator in the Canadian Bible Engagement Study. He lives in Ottawa, where he serves as director of research for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the publisher of Faith Today magazine). Read more about the study at theEFC.ca/BibleEngagementStudy.