How well are we eating?

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Not physical food but spiritual food. The question was prompted by these comments from my friend Tim Suffield.

They link to an article he wrote, arguing that we need more parachurch institutions not less, especially when it comes to theological education and training. As it happens I disagree with Tim’s particular solution here but I share many of his concerns and a lot of the same goals to see the church better fed and to see pastor teachers raised up and equipped.

Anyway, the claim was a bold one. There’s something in my gut that tells me he may be getting quite close to the bone but is there a way of checking or are we only dependent on gut feel and anecdotal evidence?

Well, I thought I’d try one of those social media type polls. It has its limitations, it’s self selecting and I don’t have the data to do all the clever adjustments required for a scientific poll, it will also only tell us what people think/feel themselves. It’s entirely subjective. How do you get people to know what they don’t know? However, it gives me a feel for where those who engage with me on social media are. I would also assume from general interactions that generally speaking these people are most likely to be engaged with church, Scripture etc.

So, here are the responses:

First of all, I asked how people engaged personally with Scripture. I asked this because of Tim’s comments about people reading the Bible. I wonder if “reading” is the right word because many people are not “readers” anyway. Is there actually a scriptural requirement to “read the Bible” or is it possible to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” even if you aren’t a great reader. My personal view is that people can do this by hearing, memorizing, mediating. As it happens, and unsurprisingly given the context, most of the participants engaged through daily reading, though there were a number who distinguished meditation from this.

I then asked about how often people engaged with God’s word as part of a Bible study group. The results suggested that the majority do but a significant proportion don’t regularly. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the figure is higher in the broader Evangelical context.

A follow up question with the 15.4% would be why? Is it because this isn’t provided, there isn’t a perceived need on their part, they struggle with that type of engagement or because they don’t have time.

I then asked whether people have either read the whole of the Bible in the past 5 years or heard it read.

A good 35.7% have read or heard read the whole Bible at least once during that time but nearly 43% have heard or read less than 70% of the Bible in that time.

The next few questions are far more subjective. First, the vast majority considered themselves well fed in what we might consider the more cerebral nuts and bolts of Bible teaching. However, a significant minority did not and it would be interesting to see what this looked like with a broader, more representative sample.

Furthermore, over 35% of those responding could not say for sure that Scripture was helpfully applied to their lives.

One of Tim’s concerns -and mine too – is to encourage deeper reflection on God’s Word. We sometimes refer to that as “theological”. By that, I don’t mean intellectual/academic. Theology is simply, the knowledge of God but it is about moving beyond a bit of explanation and then application for the week ahead. We might think of it in terms of what Christopher Watkin calls Biblical Critical Theory -deep reflection on what the whole Bible message has to say to us as it engages the world around us.

With that in mind, I asked a question about opportunities for theological reflection. The figures here are interesting given I would expect my particular audience here to be the most actively seeking this type of engagement.

I also asked where those engaging with the questionnaire were looking for their teaching.

Of course, the purpose of eating is not to grow fat and this is true spiritually. We are really interested in the impact of our spiritual/Biblical diet. So, I asked two questions.

First I asked if people think they’ve grown as a Christian over the past few years.

Most said that they had grown, at least a little and I think this is particularly encouraging given that this includes the pandemic years. Again, is this representative though?

My last question might be a little left field. I asked about spiritual gifts for a few reasons but primarily because I personally think that these are a sign of health in the church because they should arise out of a well fed congregation. However, there is no guarantee that this is the case, so I’d want to dig a little deeper into that question if I had the opportunity.

Now, a reminder again that this is not an extensive survey. It’s a few people who interact with me on social media, a subset even of those who follow me and I follow on twitter. I am not, therefore claiming that this is a scientific survey, representative of wider society.

However, I do have a feel for the kinds of people who tend to interact with me the most on twitter regarding such things and they tend to be evangelical Christians, they tend to be those who want to engage and think, who take faith seriously.

So, as with previous surveys, I’m less concerned about the actual proportions and more with the presence of certain responses. I suspect that if I’m picking up people who don’t have opportunities to reflect deeply on God’s Word who don’t find it helpfully applied, who seek their food outside of the local church that there will be greater proportions present in a wider, larger sample.

So, whilst it is positive that I have lots of friends who have a good experience of Bible teaching and study in the church, I am concerned that I also have some who do not.

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