In his wonderful book The Contemplative Pastor Eugene Petersen poses the question, “How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?” Today, clergy are pulled in countless directions, communicated with constantly in more ways than ever and lead extremely complex and demanding lives.
What helps us to stay grounded? What enables us to go deeper in the journey of faith? What inspires us so that we may inspire others? How will others follow us on the spiritual journey unless we lead the way? I am convinced that The Bible Challenge can transform entire parishes and countless lives, but only if we clergy commit seriously to reading the entire Bible and invite others – both within and beyond our church – to join us. Our members and our friends know our voice. They trust us to lead. They will emulate what we do, but only if we go first, commit to a daily spiritual practice, share our experience, invite others to join us and support them as they undertake a similar practice.
In Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality, a powerful book filled with short biographies and selected writings, Richard Schmidt writes about many leading Anglicans, including Charles Simeon. Simeon was called at the age of 23 in 1783 to serve as Rector of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England. He was unknown and inexperienced and was nearly forced out of his own church during his first year. Simeon persevered and finally won over his congregation. He went on to serve 54 years as a faithful, inspiring leader, and God used him to build one of the great churches of his day.
In 1833 Simeon produced his famous 21-volume collection containing 2,536 of his sermons. It went through several editions in his lifetime, producing royalties, which he used to found the Simeon Trust and further the work of the Church. Simeon labored 12 hours or more over each sermon, became the leading preacher of his day.
The most distinctive feature of Simeon’s preaching was his faithfulness to Scripture. He arose at 4:00 a.m. and spent four hours a day in Bible study and prayer. Simeon knew the Scriptures extraordinarily well. He read the Bible more than any other book and believed that the preacher’s task was to let the Scriptures speak to people. “My goal is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there, said Simeon. He wrote that the true test of a preacher’s work is for one’s sermon to “humble the sinner…. exalt the Savior….and promote holiness….”
The Bible Challenge inspires my ministry each day because it grounds me in Scripture and allows God to have the first Word as I begin my day. It reminds me that this day is actually God’s day. A meditative and prayerful reading of Scripture shapes my day. This same practice can transform your daily life, inspire your ministry and allow God’s grace to flow powerfully through you into the lives of others.
Many clergy read The Daily Lectionary. This, however, omits significant portions of the Bible, especially some of the more challenging passages, which we Christians need to know and address. The Lectionary is a wonderful gift, but it can grow stale and monotonous and is rarely used by the laity. Reading the Bible in different translations, encouraging others to join us and discover the source of our spiritual strength and helping them develop a daily life-long spiritual practice of daily Bible reading is a fundamentally different spiritual exercise. It is a communal rather than a private exercise, which we can do at our own pace and in our own time and space, yet share completely with others.
Unlike most other ministries where members of our church do something for the church, The Bible Challenge is an activity where we lead by doing what we invite others to do, and together we experience the joy of God’s wisdom and grace. God honors our commitment and will guide us as we give ourselves over to engaging the Word.
Finally, imagine what it would be like to preach to a congregation where most listeners have spent considerable time prayerfully reading the Scriptures during the week. Think what it would be like for them to come to church not running on empty but spiritually alive and aware of the Scriptures that are read and proclaimed. Imagine what it would be like to have your members thirst to have the Scriptures opened to them, offer to lead Bibles studies and be anxious to go deeper in their faith. The Bible Challenge can be your entry point into a church that is revitalized and transforms lives.
To find out more about how to invite others to join you in reading the Bible each day, visit “For Churches” and “For Individuals” on our website. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your stories, suggestions and questions.
With prayers for your spiritual journey,
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