Re-engaging with the Bible

up arrowHaving highlighted the downward trend towards greater disengagement with the Bible, it’s time to consider what can be done to turn things around. Like all spiritual transformations, a change for the better will ultimately be a work of God’s Spirit. But God’s Spirit often works through God’s people to accomplish His will.

In upcoming posts, I’ll highlights several ways pastors and other church leaders can cooperate with God’s Spirit to encourage a greater engagement with God’s Word.  Here’s the first and most basic way:

  1. Model engagement with the Bible

“You cannot impart what you do not possess.” That’s a saying I heard repeatedly from Dr. Howard Hendricks during my seminary days. He was reminding us that our pastoral impact is linked to our personal example.

Increasing Bible engagement in our congregation begins by modeling it in our own lives. In our hallway conversations, counseling appointments, board meetings, prayers and sermons, it should be apparent that we are personally and presently engaged with the Bible—reading it, meditating on it, delighting in it and responding to it. It should be obvious that we share David’s delight in Scripture: “How I love your law. I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97). It must be clear that we are seeking to align our personal convictions and ministry decisions with the teaching of God’s Word.

I’m not advocating an ostentatious attempt to impress people with our Bible knowledge. Rather, we should marinate in Scripture until it naturally permeates and flavours all we say and do.


John Bunyan

A pastoral example of this kind of deep engagement with Scripture is John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. Charles Spurgeon had this to say about Bunyan: “Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.”

Here a question to ask yourself:  Would the people who know me best say my “very soul is full of the Word of God”?

If we hope to call others to engage with Scripture, it must be evident that we are enthusiastically leading the way.


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Who Reads the Bible Anyway?

woman reading bibleIn a previous post, I cited evidence from the Bible Engagement Survey that shows Canadians in general, and Christians in particular, are becoming increasing disengaged from the Bible.

There are undoubtedly a number of reasons for this decline, but the Canadian Bible Engagement Study highlights one of the major causes:  loss of confidence in the Bible.

Confidence in the Bible has taken a big hit in the past two decades.  The number of Canadians who are convinced the Bible is the Word of God has declined from 35% in 1996 to 18% in 2013. Seven out of ten Canadians (and one out of four Evangelicals) believe the Bible has “irreconcilable contradictions.”

When confidence in the Bible dips—even a bit—engagement with the Bible plummets. Among Evangelicals who “strongly agree that the Bible is God’s Word”, 61% read it at least several times a week. By contrast, only 3% of Evangelicals who “moderately agree the Bible is God’s Word” read it more than once a week.

Stop for a moment and let that  sink in:  61% of Christians who have “strong” confidence in the Bible read it more than once a week.  But only 3% of those who have “moderate” confidence in the Bible read it at least weekly.

“Canadians who frequently read the Bible are confident that it is the reliable word ofman reading God, with a message that is unique among world religions and relevant to their lives. Those who strongly agree that the Bible is the Word of God are far more likely to read and reflect on it and attend religious services than those who only moderately agree” (Canadian Bible Engagement Survey Report, page 12).

While there has always been an assault on the reliability of the Bible, we live in a day when the attack has become high profile and wide spread. Not only is this attack coming from skeptical professors at secular universities, it is coming from professors who claim Christian loyalties. For example, Peter Enns, who teaches at a Christian university, recently published a book that contends the Bible is riddled with internal contradictions and historical inaccuracies.  Yet he still encourages people to read the Bible for spiritual benefit.

If Enns would read the results of the Canadian Bible Engagement Study, he’d be hit with a harsh truth.  His viewpoint, which undermines confidence in the Bible’s reliability, is certain to cause a demise in the Bible’s readability.  The subtitle on his book’s cover says, “Why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it.”  Actually, the sobering truth turns out to be that undermining confidence in Scripture makes us unwilling to read it.

So what can we do to strengthen confidence in the Bible among believers? How can we seek to reverse the downward slide towards disengagement from God’s Word? In the upcoming posts, I’ll put forward a number of practical steps we can take as individuals, church leaders and local congregations.

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Disengaged from the Bible?

Evangelicals are Bible people. We believe the Bible is God’s Word. We preach the Bible in our churches. We read the Bible in our homes.

At least we used to.

If you examine the results of a recent survey conducted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, you’ll see evidence that things are changing. And not for the better.

In 2013, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada released the results of the Canadian Bible Engagement Study. This study sought to quantify the percentage of Canadians who engage meaningfully with the Bible by reading it, reflecting on it and discussing it with others.

The report shows that trends in Canada are moving strongly towards greater disengagement with the Bible rather than towards greater engagement with it.arrow down

“The percentage of frequent Bible readers has dropped significantly in the last two decades, for the general population and for Christians. In 1996, 21% of Canadians reported reading the Bible at least weekly, compared to 11% in 2013. Among Christians, the percentage of those who read at least weekly fell from 27% in 1996 to 14% in 2013.” (Canadian Bible Engagement Survey Report, page 9).

Not only has the percentage of Christians who read the Bible weekly tumbled by half in the past two decades, a large number of Evangelicals (36%) now admit to reading the Bible “seldom” or “never” (CBES Report, page 10).

read meIn short, more and more Canadian Christians are reading the Bible less and less.

I remember my dad telling the congregation he pastored, “Seven days without the Bible makes one weak.” As a kid, I thought that saying was pretty amusing. Now I see it as painfully accurate.

Christians who have a deficient diet of God’s Word inevitably become anemic and malnourished. They lack the vitality they need to stay spiritually healthy. They lose the energy they need to sustain a robust ministry.

In future posts, we’ll consider why this disengagement has been happening and what we can do to reverse the downward trend.

But for today, I’d like to ask you to do some self-assessment. How often have you taken time to read and reflect on God’s Word this past week?  What is your plan for reading it today?  Tomorrow?

I’ll leave you with another of my dad’s favourite sayings about the Bible.  He told people that Bibles should only come in one colour.  When someone asked “What colour?” he’d smile and say, “Every Bible should be red.”  That’s true:  Every Bible should be read!

red bible


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Upcoming Courses for Women in Ministry

This past September at Heritage, we had the privilege of having Dr. Bev Hislop, professor of Pastoral Care to Women from Western Seminary, teach the first course in our Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry program.  The class was well-received with 22 women IMG_1583attending.  The class assignments are keeping the students challenged, while dialogue continues between classmates on a Moodle interactive learning site.  These women are now busy preparing for their class presentations (November 15th ) on significant women who have served Jesus over the years.  Some of the women being studied are:   Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth Elliott, Joy Smith (a current M.P.), and Katie Davis, a young woman in ministry in Uganda.  We’re looking forward to being together again and learning from one another.

PhyWe’re looking forward to our second course this Spring.  Dr. Phyllis Bennett, who directs the Centre for Women in Ministry at Western Seminary, will be here to teach Developing Life-Changing Bible Study Curriculum (click here for more information on the course).  If you’d like to sharpen your skills as a woman in ministry, or you know someone interested in writing or leading small groups, please let them know about this course.   If there’s a better Christian teacher on this subject, we honestly don’t know her.   It’s a great privilege to have Phyllis join us.  The dates of the course are March 19-21 and April 18.

And just to get you thinking ahead, we’re now planning a course on “Great Women of the Christian Faith” for next June.  Watch this website for further details!

To register to take a course for credit or audit, please contact Karyn Mowbray at

May God bless you as you serve Him today – wherever you are, and whatever you do.  May we all glorify Him!


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Pastor, You are a Well-Known Unknown

Tony Campolo tells the story of driving up to preach at a church and finding only three other cars in the parking lot. Tony’s seven-year old son, Bart, looked at the empty lot and said, “Dad, nobody’s come to hear you. And you’re so famous.” Bart’s older sister, Lisa asked, “If dad’s so famous where are all the people?” Bart got defensive for his dad. He replied, “Knock it off Lisa; it’s tough being famous when nobody knows who you are.”

mysteryBart is right. It’s tough being famous when no one knows who you are.

A pastor friend recently sent me an email suggesting several possible speakers for the annual preaching lectures we host at Heritage Seminary. The names he recommended were heavy-hitters in the homiletics world. He closed his note by saying if we couldn’t get one of them, he was available. Then he added that we would have to charge $1,000 dollars per ticket to make up for the fact that only four or five people would show up to hear him—one of whom would be his mother.

His note made smile. It also made me reflect. My friend was voicing how many pastors feel. We’re not about to get an invite to headline a conference anytime soon. And if we did, there would only be three cars in the parking lot. And one of them would belong to mom.

It’s tough being famous when no one knows who you church

Most of us pastors will always be relatively unknown. We may serve in city churches that are lost in a metropolis. Or we may serve in rural churches that are located on the outskirts of obscurity. In either case, we’ll be known to the people in our congregations. But beyond that—not so much.

Most of the time, that’s just fine. We went into ministry to be faithful, not famous. But sometimes, when we compare ourselves with higher-profile ministry colleagues, we start to feel small and insignificant.

The New Testament has a message for all of us who qualify as unknowns. It reminds us that we are in good company. When Paul wrote the believers in Corinth, he described himself and his colleagues as “known, and yet unknown” (2 Corinthians 6:9)

Paul knew that he was relatively unknown in the larger Roman world. He also knew he was well-known to the One who mattered most. He had come to know God and be known by Him (Galatians 4:9).

A number of years ago, when I was serving as a solo pastor in a smaller community, I wrote a song for my own heart—and for those who feel they labour in obscurity. It’s a reminder that those of us who serve Jesus are “well-known unknowns.”

Well-Known to Jesus

You’ve probably never heard their names
You wouldn’t recognize their faces
They’re seldom given much acclaim
They’re tucked away in isolated places

With faithfulness and without fanfare
They’re leaving a lasting legacy
And though I imagine they are quite unaware
They are heaven’s true celebrities

And they’re well-known to Jesus, though they’re unknown to us
Overlooked on earth but up in heaven they are obvious
And though they labour in obscurity
It’s their passion and their purity
That make them well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns

One day with heavenly hindsight, we’ll see what we should have foreseen
When the brightness of eternity’s spotlight shines on those who served behind the scenes
With faithfulness and without fanfare
They left a lasting legacy
And though I imagine they were quite unaware
They are heaven’s true celebrities

And they’re well-known to Jesus, though they’re unknown to us
Overlooked on earth but up in heaven they are obvious
And though they labour in obscurity
It’s their passion and their purity
That make them well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns

And all of this makes me wonder why I’m so mesmerized
By lightening and by thunder, by status and by size
When will I realize it? Don’t tell me I’d despise it, if I were…

Well-known to Jesus, though unknown down here
What’s hazy now in this life, in the next life will be clear
So if we labour in obscurity
May our passion and our purity
Make us well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns
I’d rather be well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns.










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Getting Better at Preaching

I recently read a fascinating article by Hershael York entitled “Four Reasons Why Some Preachers Get Better and Others Don’t.” Since York has been a preaching prof for sixteen years, he has some street cred on the topic. The four reasons he highlights (calling, teachability, passion and reckless abandon) are certainly instructive, but his list is not meant to be exhaustive.

So here’s a fifth reason why some preachers get better and others don’t: some learn to be more Christ-centered in their preaching.

Becoming more Christ-centered as a preacher was the focus of this year’s Heritage BryanPreaching Lectures with Bryan Chapell. Dr. Chapel is probably best known for his excellent book, Christ-Centered Preaching. It’s a book we use in our homiletics courses at Heritage and one every preacher should own.

You may think that every Christian preacher or teacher is automatically “Christ-centered”. Sadly, that’s not the case. As Chapell points out, we easily slide into preaching what he calls “the deadly be’s” (be like. . ., be good, be disciplined).

While these messages are not bad in themselves, they are bad by themselves. If they are disconnected from the gospel of Christ, they can turn sermons into moralistic, self-help messages. The solution is to make sure our sermons are legitimately Christ-centered. They must highlight what Christ has done for us as the basis for what He calls us to do.

As preachers come to better understand what it means to preach Christ-centered sermons, their sermons will get better. And their hearers will be better for it!

We’ve posted Dr. Chapell’s preaching lectures on the Heritage website (click here). If you are a preacher, do yourself and your people a favour by listening and learning!

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Big Mistake

As I’ve written in a previous post, I’m spending this year with Jeremiah by studying the book that bears his name. Ten months into it, I can tell you that focusing repeatedly on the same book of Scripture has proven a rich way to get into God’s Word.

boxset-transparentI was reminded of one of the chapters from Jeremiah last weekend at a Steve Bell concert. Steve performed a number of songs from his newly released project Pilgrimage. One song, entitled Big Mistake, made me think of Jeremiah 2. It also made me think of how we are prone to do what Israel did—trade in our freedom by returning to old patterns of slavery and bondage.

Jeremiah 2 laments Israel’s descent from devotion to desertion. The Lord recalls the loving devotion His people had shown Him when He rescued them out of Egypt: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert” (2:1-2).

Sadly, the honeymoon didn’t last long.

In spite of God’s goodness in protecting them from their enemies (2:3), leading them through the desert (2:6) and giving them a fruitful new homeland (2:7), the Israelites quickly became unfaithful to Him. Instead of remaining a devoted bride, they played the harlot. They ran into the arms of other gods and wound up trading freedom for slavery.

It’s easy to shake our heads at the foolish choices Israel made. Except we sometimes do the very same thing. We turn our back on God’s goodness and turn back to old sin patterns. We treat our freedom in Christ as if it were a Big Mistake.

As you listen to Steve’s song Big Mistake, ask the Lord to reveal if you are descending from devotion to desertion, from freedom in Christ to slavery to old ways.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13)


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