April 11, 2013

By Phil Maynard

5 Ways to Get People into the Word
(the most critical element of spiritual growth)

Reflection on scripture is the vanilla ice cream of spiritual growth.  It is the stuff that all the other spiritual growth catalysts are built upon.  Engaging scripture personally and regularly is critical for spiritual growth.

Now this would seem to be a given since, as John Wesley put it, “we are a people of one book”.  But the reality is far from this.

In our survey of congregations using the Real Discipleship Survey, well short of 50% of participants have a regular daily practice of reading scripture and prayer.  The Reveal study confirmed these results noting that as few as 3% and as many as 42% of congregations have established a daily practice of prayer and scripture reflection (source:  Move, Willow Creek Association).

Nothing is more predictive of spiritual growth than the personal discipline of daily reflection on the scriptures.  If congregations did nothing more than teach people how to engage the scriptures and encouraged a daily practice of the discipline of listening to God through the scriptures it would have a profound effect on our spiritual vitality.

So, how do we help people ‘get into the Word’?

I want to suggest several options.


First, the leaders of the congregation
must model a focus on the Word of God.

They need to be the spiritual role models for the rest of the congregation.  It is a fact of life in all congregations that where the leaders go, so goes the congregation.  If the practice of reading and reflecting on scripture is not the focus of this group, it will not be the focus of the congregation.

This certainly includes the practice of daily devotions including scripture reflection and prayer by leaders.  But it also includes a focus on scripture in the way life is done within the congregation.

For example:

  • Conflict within the church is handled according to the biblical model (Matthew 18:15-19)
  • Ministry of the laity is encouraged and developed according to the biblical model (I Corinthians 12 and Acts 6 for examples)
  • Community life is built around the biblical model of Acts 2
  • Every gathering begins with a reflection on the scriptures, including committee and team meetings
  • Mission/service teams are consecrated and sent out for ministry (Acts 13:1-3)
  • When making decisions about the life and ministry of the church, ask the question “what does the Bible say about this?”

There, of course, are many more examples.  The point is, be clear about the focus on the scriptures as the way of doing life together.


Second, encourage the daily practice of scripture
reflection and prayer for all participants in worship.

Every worship gathering should include some form of witness or invitation or equipping for the development of this practice.  For example:

  • The pastor might include a reference to some deeper understanding that came through a personal devotional time
  • The bulletin might include a set of scripture readings for the week as a follow up to the theme of the worship experience along with a set of questions for personal reflection.
  • The corporate prayer time might be formed around the practice of praying the scriptures with an invitation to engage that practice for the next week in personal devotional time
  • The presentation of the scripture during worship might be done using a Bible study tool engaged by the congregat­­ion (e.g. Theological Bible Study, Reflective Bible Study)
  • Provide family devotions based around the theme of the corporate worship event for the week following worship.

You get the point.  Be creative.  But get the people in the Word.


Third, focus the message in corporate worship around the scriptures.

I think this should go without saying.  However, as one preaching coach puts it when talking about the traditional three-point sermon as it is often applied, some:  “Take a text, leave the text, and never come back to the text”.  The Word of God is amazingly relevant to our contemporary lives.  The message should be a time when we hear God speaking into our lives with both clarity of application and an unequivocal challenge to take our next steps obediently.


Fourth, take away people’s excuses.

Find creative ways to make it easier for people to get into the Word throughout the week.  For example:

  • Print the scripture readings and reflection questions in the bulletin for the week
  • Provide a link on the church website to resources for daily scripture reading and reflection
  • Provide devotional guides (e.g. Upper Room) for the congregation
  • Teach the SOAP (Scripture, Observations, Applications, Prayer) method of reflection (developed by Wayne Cordiero) and provide journals for this purpose
  • Text people devotional readings each day with an insight or question for reflection
  • Introduce people to online tools with mobile apps like YouVersion

There are an almost unlimited number of ways to help make the scriptures accessible for the congregation.


Fifth, provide appropriate ways to introduce people to the practices of personal devotional times/personal worship and studying/reflecting on the scriptures.

By appropriate, I mean appropriate for where they are in the journey toward maturity as a disciple.

For example, those in the Exploring phase might be encouraged to use a resource like the Upper Room to begin developing a practice of a daily devotional time.  It is a low commitment tool, takes only a few minutes to complete, but includes a scripture reference, reflection, and prayer.

For those Beginning the relationship, providing a Foundations class that introduces the participants to beginning prayer, how to have a daily devotional time, and an introduction to reflecting on scriptures is a good starting point.

For those Growing the relationship, encouraging participation in a Disciple Bible Study, and/or Companions in Christ study provides a much deeper connection to the scriptures and introduces the disciple to a variety of Bible study tools and Spiritual Disciplines.