How can we help people to let Christ’s word dwell in them richly?

My friend Steve Kneale has frequently pointed out that we are not commanded to “read the Bible every day.”  That’s a shock for a lot of us evangelicals because we grew up believing that was the command. That’s not to say that reading the Bible isn’t a good, helpful and enjoyable thing for many. Nor does it mean that we are to give low priority to Scripture.  However, what we are invited to do is:

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 

Colossians 3:16

Psalm 1 also talks about the blessed and righteous person meditating on God’s Word.

That’s good news for those of us who particularly struggle with reading, for those who are time pressed to find space to sit down and read a Bible, for those living in countries where access to printed or even digital Bibles is restricted and for those of us serving in contexts where literacy and reading rates are low.

However, I also think it creates a challenge for pastor-teachers.  If , God’s people are told to meditate on God’s Word and to let it dwell in them, then a significant part of our responsibility is to help them do that. It is worth asking yourself

“Is my ministry geared up to helping people have Christ’s word dwelling in them richly? Or am I running on the expectation that they will be reading it for themselves.”

The latter is fine to some degree in highly literate cultures but even still I think many people are functionally literate but don’t tend to read for enjoyment and so may not be studying the Bible. Further, I would suggest that the commands above ask us to go deeper than reading and intellectual engagement through study.

So I wanted to open up a further conversation about how we can do this.  I’d encourage you to have a read of what Steve has written on the subject.

Here are some things I’d like to consider

First, it is worth stopping and asking “is my preaching memorable and sticky.  Do I hold people’s attention.  Are they able to remember it through the week, particularly the engagement with key verses? 

Secondly, we might want to give time to teaching people to memorise Scripture.  What about for example asking those in a small group to learn a few verses each week. Pastorally I found it helpful with one couple when they called in a worked up and anxious state to askt hem to recall to mind some verses we had talked about together. This would often help to calm their minds so that we could then talk about how those verses applied to their current situation.

Thirdly, we also need to train people in meditating on God’s Word. That’s so, not least because people associate the word with Eastern meditation and emptying your mind when it really has the opposite meaning.  I would encourage people to

  1. Memorise the Scripture and repeat it back to themselves
  2. Say it slowly, each time putting the emphasis on a different word or phrase
  3. Pause to think about what that word/or phrase means
  4. Take time to pray around each element of the verse.

Fourthly I think we can continue to make use of technology that we’ve discovered more about during COVID. Things like daily podcasts can be helpful with this. People can listen whilst out walking, doing the housework, snatching a few minutes whilst watching the kids, getting the bus to work or driving. It’s one reason why I’ve put time into the #DailyDose. What about preparing a podcast for each day of the week going back over Sunday’s passage?

Fifth, poetry and music help. I know of one preacher is also a talented poet and rapper. He produces his own liturgy to help us engage God’s Word and pray.  Most of us probably are not gifted in the same way but perhaps this will get us thinking about what we sing in church. Do the songs we choose help the congregation to learn and remember Scripture. Are they likely to be singing these songs to themselves in the week.

Sixthly, teach people the storyline of Scripture. It’s not just about having a few verses and passages memorised. It’s about knowing, deeply grasping and treasuring the Gospel.

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