In October, I had the privilege of meeting privately with Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales and later that week Bishop Justin Welby, who was then an 11-1 favorite to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, and two days later with Archbishop Rowan Williams. I met with many English bishops and Church leaders. Everyone was very enthusiastic about The Bible Challenge and the promise that it holds.
One of the bishops that I met with, however, mentioned how many things that bishops are encouraging their clergy to pursue and how the relationship between a bishop and his clergy is more distant in Great Britain than it is in the United States. While being very enthusiastic about The Bible Challenge, he said, “This year, my diocese and I are focusing on the Eucharist, and next year we will focus on baptism. Perhaps we could focus on The Bible Challenge that following year, but I shall be retiring about then.”
I mention this conversation, because it strikes me that this is the great challenge for the Church today everywhere. We have so much on our agenda that we do not set clear priorities. We are trying to cover all bases and are doing a little of this and a little of that. The Bible gets lost in the midst of our desire to do so much. Even if we focus on an annual theme, the following year we are onto something different.
Several bishops told me that they made a big “push” on the Bible in 2011 to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. This is laudatory, but I have come to believe that you cannot change a culture in a year. You need at least five or more to change a culture.
While the Episcopal Church ranks number one in terms of having the best educated members of 22,000 Christian groups and denominations in the United States, we rank almost dead last in terms of biblical literacy. We will not be able to change that Bible illiterate culture with a year-long program. It takes five years or more to change the spiritual DNA of a church, a diocese or a denomination.
Each church and diocese has early initiators, who follow whatever the bishop or rector suggest doing. There are many more who stand on the sidelines, skeptical, apathetic or busy with other things. They are likely to hear reports from others experiencing transformation through The Bible Challenge, and they may think, “I’ll do it next year.” Unfortunately, by then the bishop or rector is onto something new.
We recommend leading The Bible Challenge five years or more in a row, utilizing Next Steps in The Bible Challenge in year two and offering The Parent/Child Bible Challenge and The Teen Bible Challenge to reach all ages and offer options such as Read the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs in a Year or read the gospel appointed for the year in order to increase participation.
The main goal of the Center for Biblical Studies is to utilize Bible Challenge resources to help as many individuals around the world as possible develop a life-long spiritual discipline of daily Bible reading. Studies reveal that those who read the Bible four or more times a week have a much stronger, positive moral behavior and feel far closer to God. Isn’t this what we are seeking? Regular engagement with the Bible is the single most important spiritual tool for developing strong Christians. Why not spend five years making the main thing the main thing for the folks that you love and lead?
-Rev. Marek Zabriskie