Biblical Literacy Needed for Vital Congregations

Article excerpt

Like many of you, I have given a lot of thought to the question of congregational vitality. What does it take for a congregation to become vibrant and magnetic, growing its members into mature disciples and bearing a credible witness to Christ in our contemporary world? The more I think about this the more I am convinced that the primary issue for any congregation seeking revitalization is biblical literacy.

It is fair to say that for some time now the majority of our congregations have not done a very good job of developing biblically literate members. Most members of most congregations, I believe, would readily admit to a lack of familiarity with the Bible: its over-all story, its major themes, its main characters and how to ready it personally for inspiration, insight and growth. Congregations with a biblically illiterate membership do not have much hope of influencing the surrounding culture with the Gospel.

There are many and various reasons why this situation has developed, but basically it has just been a matter of being busy with other things and letting this slip. We seem to have been operating on the assumption that the work of teaching the Bible and developing people who think and see the world through the lens of Scripture has been done elsewhere. But this is clearly a fallacy.

Teaching Scripture is the work of the church. Indeed, we might even say it is the primary work of the church because everything else in the life of the church -- from worship to prayer to witness to service, and even our expression of compassion and justice -- is informed by Scripture and grows out of our understanding of it. To neglect this for any reason is a classic example of letting the urgent crowd out the truly important.

There are four areas on which churches seeking to develop biblically literate members need to concentrate. The first is how we read Scripture in church, with a view to helping people truly hear and understand. Personally, I am not convinced that four quite different readings in a service are particularly helpful in this regard. …