The Bible Challenge for Bishops

The Center for Biblical Studies (CBS) offers these suggestions for bishops to lead their diocese in reading the entire Bible in a year.

The Center for Biblical Studies (CBS) offers these suggestions for bishops to lead their diocese in reading the entire Bible in a year

One of the early Church Fathers wrote, “As the bishop goes, so goes the diocese.”  A bishop’s stature and example can inspire thousands of people towards spiritual growth.

Studies show that the most effective way to develop spiritual maturity as Christians is daily Scripture reading.  Hearing the Bible read in church is like sitting in the passenger seat of a car.  It does not teach us how to drive a car or learn the roads to our destination.

The CBS encourages each bishop to invite the clergy and laity of their diocese to join the bishop in reading the entire Bible in a year with the ultimate goal of helping thousands of individuals to develop a life-long spiritual practice of daily Bible reading.

Studies reveal that if a person reads the Bible for 21 days in a row they have an 80% chance of developing a lifetime discipline of daily Bible reading and that reading Scripture four times or more a week has a positive measurable impact on moral behavior.

In order to assist bishops, we recommend the following practices:

Timing

  • Your diocese and you can start The Bible Challenge at any time of the year.
  • We have found that some ideal times include:
    • Start on January 1, when many people make New Year’s Resolutions.  Encourage your clergy and laity to join you in making a spiritual resolution as you read the entire Bible together during the calendar year.
      Start in Lent and use The Bible Challenge as a Lenten discipline that continues throughout the year.
    • Start at the beginning of the summer when many people experience a slower pace of life and have more time to read.
    • Start in the fall and go from September to August.
    • Start in Advent to read the Scriptures during the Church Year.
  • Zondervan offers a 90-day challenge to read the entire Bible, but this short time frame can appear daunting to most readers or persons with busy schedules.  Our preference is to follow a slower, more meditative reading of the Bible.

Translation

  • We recommend reading the New Oxford Annotated Edition of the Bible – a fine translation with excellent study notes and maps.  If you wish to read and recommend a different translation, please do.

Reading Pace

  • We encourage you to invite your clergy and laity to: 1) read three chapters of the Old Testament 2) one psalm and 3) one chapter of the New Testament each day.  This will get you through the Bible in a year.
  • This strategy leads to successful reading of the books of the Bible in sequence, and provides diversity to help those reading dryer parts of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Employing Technology and Providing Bibles

  • We recommend encouraging clergy and lay members of your diocese to consider downloading the Bible on their iPad, iPhone, Kindle or Nook or listening to it on CDs.  The NIV Bible is readily available on CDs.
  • We recommend that you offer free Bibles to those who do not have one.

Reaching Out

  • We encourage bishops to reach out to friends and acquaintances in their diocese and beyond to join them in reading the Bible in a year, including seminarians from your diocese and all those seeking ordination.
  • You are your diocese’s number one evangelist.  We encourage you to lead by example and encourage your clergy to do the same in their parish.
  • Write about your success.  Share the results.  Let your diocese know how many active diocesan members and seekers are reading the Bible.
  • Let them know if your college roommate or a close friend has accepted your invitation to read the Bible with you.

Communicating the Transforming Experience of The Bible Challenge

  • Share testimonials in your diocesan newsletter, parish visits and diocesan convention about how The Bible Challenge is transforming you and others.
  • Share with your diocese what you are discovering as you re-read the entire Bible.
  • Discuss the portions of the Bible not found in the Daily Lectionary.
  • Help those in your diocese comprehend the challenges of understanding portions of the Bible that associate God with violence and suffering.
  • The CBS website offers articles by Professor Walter Brueggemann about these issues, which are good resources for diocesan study groups.

Recommended Strategies for Reading

  • Give permission to those who participate in The Bible Challenge to skip or skim over genealogies and dietary codes, so they do not become mired down but complete their goal of reading the entire Bible.
  • Starting in 2012 the CBS website will offer a one-year Bible reading plan.  It will include a meditation on each day’s reading, a question and a prayer to go with the daily readings written by bishops, clergy, seminary deans, authors and scholars.
  • We advocate using a devotional approach to reading the Bible as opposed to a purely intellectual or academic reading of the Bible.  Each reader should put him or herself in God’s presence before reading.
  • We like the ancient monastic practice of lectio divina, where readers read the text, meditate on it, offer a prayer to God and listen in silence for God to respond – lectio, meditation, oratio and contemplatio.  Encourage those who read the Bible with you to pause to pray during or after their reading.
  • Our website: thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org offers many resources to help the members of your diocese and you.

How to Promote The Bible Challenge in Your Church and Beyond

  • We recommend writing all diocesan clergy and placing an article in your newsletter inviting the diocese to join you in reading the entire Bible in a year.
  • Ask each rector to promote your invitation to join you in The Bible Challenge in their parish newsletter and Sunday announcements.
  • Consider using newspaper ads to invite members of the community to join your diocese and you in The Bible Challenge.
  • Ask your clergy to make a concerted effort to invite people in the community outside of their church to join The Bible Challenge.

Harnessing Free Publicity

  • We encourage letting the media know that you and your diocese are participating in The Bible Challenge.
  • Consider writing an article for the newspaper about your Bible Challenge. Since Anglicans are not known for being strong Bible readers, we have seen very strong favorable responses by the media to The Bible Challenge.
  • Each month ask a member of the diocese to write an article for your newsletter sharing their experience of reading the Bible and how it is transforming them.

Reaching All Ages

  • We recommend parents read The Big Picture Story Bible by Scripture Union with children ages 2-7, The Spark Bible by NRSV or the DK Bible for older children.
  • For more information visit the CBS website for “Resources for Children, Youth and Families.”  We encourage diocesan teenagers with a mature faith to join The Bible Challenge using the NIV Teen Study Bible.
  • We suggest for those less certain of their faith to read the New Testament first before attempting to read the entire Bible.
  • We also suggest inviting church youth groups to read and discuss one of the gospels each year and one other book of the Bible as well.

Providing Ongoing Support

  • It is vital to offer ongoing support, to hold people accountable and to assist them especially during the first three months of The Bible Challenge. Those who meet with success in the first 90 days are likely to read the entire Bible.
  • These are the most difficult weeks when novice Bible readers discover challenging stories that are never read in church.
  • Churches can offer ongoing classes to support Bible Challenge participants in the first 90 days.  Some churches call these groups “Intelligent Talk about the Bible” or “The Good Book Club.”

Creating Accountability and Offering Assistance

  • We recommend printing in your diocesan newsletter the names of everyone in your diocese who participates in The Bible Challenge.
  • This lets others know who and how many are participating.  It also celebrates their spiritual commitment and holds them accountable to their commitment.
  • Participants will be aware of others participating in The Bible Challenge and can seek them out to discuss the Bible.
  • We suggest collecting the names and e-mail addresses of those participating in The Bible Challenge so that you as their bishop can use Constant Contact or other means to send out regular messages of support and wisdom to participants.
  • Many readers find this regular nudge inspires them to reach their goal.  E-mail will allow you to offer special insights about the Bible.  By sharing how reading the Bible strengthens your faith, you can inspire others.
  • We recommend that bishops occasionally send personal e-mails to clergy whose parishes are participating in The Bible Challenge to support them.
  • This can create online spiritual conversations between bishops and clergy about the Bible and God, which they rarely share face to face.
  • Encourage participating churches to pray each Sunday for the spiritual transformation of those participating in The Bible Challenge and mention by name several Bible Challenge participants in the parish each Sunday.
  • Preach about the importance of Bible reading when making parish visits.

Celebrating Your Diocesan Achievement

  • At the end of a year, bishops are encouraged to hold a celebratory banquet for those who have participated in The Bible Challenge.
  • We recommend that you speak at the banquet or invite a guest speaker to talk about the spiritual gift of daily Bible reading.
  • We encourage you to have clergy and laity offer brief testimonials about how reading the Bible has transformed their lives.
  • Award a certificate to everyone who has been a faithful Bible reader for a year and a special award to those who have read the entire Bible.

Re-launching The Bible Challenge in Your Diocese

  • Have clergy and lay persons who have read the entire Bible offer testimonials at your diocesan convention and at other diocesan functions to share how reading the Bible has transformed their lives.
  • Encourage participating churches to offer follow up classes for those who read the entire Bible and those who have struggled and did not finish.  Both groups will have more questions and hunger to learn about the Bible.
  • Invite those who read the entire Bible to become parish mentors for those who participate in Year Two.
  • Encourage those who read the entire Bible to join Education for Ministry (EFM), which is an excellent follow-up to The Bible Challenge.

Providing Options and Re-Launching The Bible Challenge in Year Two

  • Re-launch The Bible Challenge each year in order to get more members of the diocese to read the entire Bible.
  • In Year Two provide more options to participants such as:
    • Read the entire Bible with the bishop
    • Read the New Testament with the bishop
    • Read the Psalter in Lent with the bishop
    • Read one gospel with the bishop
    • Read the Book of Acts with the bishop
    • Consider using the E100 produced by Scripture Union.  This highlights 100 Bible passages that convey the sweep of salvation history.
    • Join your bishop in becoming part of a home Bible study.
    • Read The Message by Eugene Petersen (a rendering of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs in ordinary language and ideas)
    • Read The Story by Zondervan (a seamless Bible story, which omits genealogies, dietary codes, etc.)  It is designed for Bible novices.
  • Invite those who have read the Bible with you in one translation to re-read it with you in Year Two using a different translation.
  • Re-launching The Bible Challenge affirms that the goal for each reader is to become a life-long daily reader of the Bible.

Building Upon Your Success in Future Years

  • Invite those who have read smaller portions of the Bible with you (the New Testament, Psalter or a gospel) to take on a larger challenge the next year.

Long after you have retired, the most important thing that you will have done for your diocese is to have shared God’s Word, implanted it deep within their hearts and inspired them to read the Bible each day for the rest of their lives.

May God bless you in your ministry and in the vital work of sharing God’s Word.

With gratitude for your leadership,

The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie

Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
Founder and Executive Director of The Bible Challenge and The Center for Biblical Studies

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