Helping Your Church Learn To Read The Bible

This post has been adapted from episode 7 of our podcast. You can listen to the full podcast here, watch the video below, or keep reading.

Kevin Fontenot: Hey. I’m Kevin Fontenot and I’m here with Scott Magdalein. We’re your hosts of the Thriving Ministry Teams Podcast where we talk about all things related to church leadership, discipleship, and training. And on today’s episode we’re going to be talking about helping your people learn to read the Bible. Fun topic that we’re going to dive into. I’m really excited about this, and learning to read the Bible and applying it to our lives is one of the fundamental aspects of our Christian walks. In fact, it’s one of the eight areas of spiritual help that we found make the most impact on a person’s life. And that’s something that we measure at Disciple Labs.

Kevin Fontenot: So if you want to learn more about measuring spiritual health and getting the tools you need to help your church grow in a real and tangible way, head over to disciplelabs.com. You can check out some of the tools that we’ve created there to help you measure spiritual health, help you equip your people in these different areas. If you use the code, THRIVING when you sign up, coupon code THRIVING, when you sign up, you’ll get a special discount. If you have any questions about that, head over to disciplelabs.com and we’ll be able to answer all the questions for you there. And before we jump in to some of the practical aspects of the topic today about helping your people learn to read the Bible, I’d love to spend just a few minutes kind of discussing why this is so important for us to focus on. And Scott, can you give us an introduction to why we’re even talking about this today?

Scott Magdalein:    Yeah. It’s probably like the foundational point of discipleship. So when we talk about in this Thriving Ministry Teams, we talk about leadership, discipleship, and training. And in the context of discipleship, you really can’t disciple people if you’re not getting them to read the Bible on their own. You can have mentoring sessions and you can do coaching and you can do counseling. You can pray for people and help them to pray, but if you’re not moving them to read the Bible and to hear from God directly through the Bible, the discipleship is kind of losing its teeth. You’ve got a mouth full of no teeth. So to me, helping people learn how to read the Bible is step number one in the process of making disciples yourself.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s really good. I know from personal experience. I’m going to just share a little bit about myself. I really started really following the Lord in high school. Became a Christian in elementary school, raised my hand in the back row of my Baptist church at that point and-

Scott Magdalein: Back row. You were a back row Baptist?

Kevin Fontenot: I was a back row Baptist, of course I was. We came to church maybe once a month with my family, that sort of thing, so we were like the real Back row baptists. Slip in, slip out before anyone could notice you. I didn’t even raise my hand or anything like that. I just kind of prayed the prayer in my pew. And yes, it was a real pew at that time. So that was great. And so for me, I didn’t really read the Bible growing up. We didn’t make it priority in our home. We never, as a family, read scripture or anything like that. So for me really, the turning point in my life was in high school. I started coming to youth group in about eighth grade and getting involved, felt the Lord have a calling on my life to do more ministry related for the rest of my life.

Kevin Fontenot: And so I figured if I’m actually going to be called to do some of these things that I hear the Lord telling me to do, I should probably actually spend some time reading what the whole Bible thing has to say about life. And so for me, I spent probably a good solid year just immersing myself in the word, reading through as much as I could. I carried my Bible with me to school every day, not just because I wanted to be that Christian that was just carrying the Bible around to bash people with it, but actually being able to read it at all times. And that was probably the most important turning point in my life, was just spending time in scripture every single day.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s not surprising at all. So when I was a college minister for a little while, in that realm there was a lot of new believers or people who had accepted the Lord or become a Christian when they were younger, and then kind of for … There was a gap of high school, and then they were brought back into the church world through campus ministry kind of thing. And for those, just a lot of young Christians are new Christians. And the thing that I would always start with to help a newer, younger Christian get started in their growth and their walk with the Lord is just getting consistent about reading the Bible.

Scott Magdalein: And so I kind of used lots of different frameworks, lots of different tools to help them do it. But the main tool … so there’s one tool, and it’s not like a thing. It’s more of something I would do, is every time I would see them, I would ask them about what they read. What have you been reading in the Bible? And a lot of times they would say, “I haven’t been reading.” Or, “Well, actually I’ve been reading this other book, Blue Like Jazz.” Or, “I’ve been reading The Secret,” or whatever. All these different … I guess it’s kind of aging me when you know those are the books I’m telling you that college students were reading.

Kevin Fontenot: Yeah. Donald Miller’s doing marketing now. He’s not even writing Christian books anymore, but you’re still popping off Blue Like Jazz. We won’t judge you too much, Scott.

Scott Magdalein: The college ministry was a while for me, while ago. Anyway, they were reading these Christian-esque kind of books that they picked up online or whatever. And I would always tell them, that’s fine to read those things if you want to explore what people have to say about the Bible. That’s fine. But if you’re not reading the Bible yourself, then you’re not hearing from God. And so everything I would talk to them it’s, “What are you reading from the Bible?” And they would know. They would understand over time that when I talk to Pastor Scott, that he’s going to ask me. What am I reading in the Bible?

Scott Magdalein: And so with that, I would help them with different frameworks. I guess we can talk about a few of those things. The biggest thing that was helpful for me helping them was just to bring it up, just to ask them. And it’s not even that it’s so much of a point of accountability. It’s just a point of reminder. If they know that I’m going to be asking them about it, they at least needed to have something to say about it, so they’re going to pick up their Bible and read.

Kevin Fontenot:  Yeah. I remember some of those one on one meetings that I had with pastors growing up. And right before our one on one meetings, I’d quickly jump online and find a scripture. That way, I had something to talk about, so when that question came up I could kind of cheat a little bit instead of feeling guilty. Well, I haven’t really been reading. Well, yeah, I have this profound thought about this one scripture that I just read this morning.

Scott Magdalein: Well, you know what, even some exposure is better than no exposure when it comes to scripture, so the word never comes back void.

Kevin Fontenot: Yeah, definitely. So a few months ago, we added a ton of Bible training resources to the TrainedUp library. And a few of them kind of talked about some of these frameworks that can be used for studying scripture. Can you talk about a couple of those frameworks and kind of tell us a little bit more about them, Scott?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah. We added some things to the TrainedUp library specifically to help a few categories. There’s people who have been reading the Bible, but they’ve maybe been reading the Bible as a discipline, to establish a discipline, which is great. And so, but they maybe want to move more toward, I want to read the Bible with an eye towards spiritual growth, not just as a discipline, but I want to grow spiritually and specifically through the Bible. So we have a course on there about how to read the Bible for spiritual growth.

Scott Magdalein: It goes through things like the Bible as spiritual nourishment, so moving from discipline to nourishment. It talks about moving past just Bible discipline and consistency and talks about different kinds of tools to study the Bible, so moving from Bible reading toward Bible study and understanding what you’re reading beyond just what is kind of like the text on the page. And then also, understanding and having the right expectations for what you’re going to get out of the Bible and what your experience with the Bible should be.

Scott Magdalein: So a big part of reading the Bible for spiritual growth and moving from just a daily reading discipline to a spiritual growth discipline with Bible reading is having the right expectations about what’s going to happen. And so what I find is that a lot of people get derailed in their Bible reading because the Bible reading … Their time in the Bible isn’t always life changing-ly profound. Sometimes it’s just, you’re just reading through things that aren’t a super big deal. Sometimes you’re reading through genealogies. Or sometimes you’re reading through something that’s not really challenging to you at the moment. Sometimes you’re reading through things that are just a good reminder, like things that you just need to know about, and you know about already and you just need to be reminded of those things. And you’re going to go about your day and it’s not going to change the colors of the grass and the fullness of the trees. It’s not going to make life different for you. It’s just going to be a good reminder.

Scott Magdalein: And then sometimes, sometimes the Holy Spirit chooses to, in His wisdom, chooses to pull something completely mundane out of scripture and make it life changing for you. And to me, it’s one of those things where, if we have the right expectations about what we’re going to experience from the Bible on a day to day basis, that sometimes it’s going to be interesting. Sometimes it’s not going to be interesting, that we just trust the Holy Spirit’s discernment and how the Spirit reveals scripture to us, then we can come to the Bible and have a healthy expectation and not be disappointed that maybe one day, or a week, or a month, your Bible reading is not this big life changing, profound thing.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s really good. I’ve definitely struggled with that at times, where you’re just going through. You’re doing the Bible in a year plan and you get halfway through Leviticus, and you just kind of zone out for a few weeks trying to get through it, and it’s tough and it’s difficult. But as we mature and we look towards scripture as nourishment, then even in those mundane things and those things that seemingly aren’t related to our lives today, we can still get a lot of value out of it and find little nuggets of wisdom and nuggets of inspiration from the Lord, even in those scriptures that don’t necessarily seem like they’re really relevant for today. And so a couple of the courses that we’ve created are on specific Bible frameworks and Bible study frameworks, like SOAP, and different study methods. Can you walk us through a couple of those, Scott?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, sure. So one of the ones I love, I love it because it’s tried and true. And it’s simple and it’s easy to understand and it doesn’t take a ton of time, is the SOAP method. The SOAP is an acronym, an acrostic or an acronym. I always get that mixed up, but whatever.

Kevin Fontenot: It’s an acronym.

Scott Magdalein: But whatever, let’s call it an acronym. SOAP, S-O-A-P, stands for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. And so the idea is, when you open your Bible in the morning, whether you have a devotional or not, it doesn’t matter, it works with a devotional or without a devotional. Whatever the assigned scripture for the day is, or if you do like a close your eyes and point kind of scripture assignment, it works with both of those methods as well. The method is pretty simple. You read the scripture. You just read it through like you’re just reading. You’re not studying it and you’re not trying to look for any specific things in there. You’re just reading that passage of scripture. And then what I like to do with SOAP is, the next step, the observation, is you read it through again with closer eyes.

Scott Magdalein: And so you observe things, so you observe: Who is it about? What’s happening in the passage? What are some key phrases or some key repeated phrases in the passage? A lot of times Paul will repeat himself and go back to themes over and over again. What’s something like a pivotal moment in the passage? So you’re observing the important pieces of the passage? And then of course, when you’re reading different types of scripture, you might be reading wisdom books, or you might be reading poetry, or you might be reading commands from Paul, or you might be reading stories in the gospels. No matter what, there is something to be pulled out and to be observed about it.

Scott Magdalein: Again, not all the time is going to be like the things you observe are going to life changing. Some of the times it’s going to be, well, I’m going to observe Moses’ genealogy and where he was born. Who was his parents? And so that’s what I’m observing today. I’m learning about Moses. Anyway, so the second step is reading it through again and observing. Third step is applying. So you’re going to see. What in this scripture can I learn? And again, it’s not always going to be profound, but sometimes I’m applying that God is faithful, and it’s something about God that is going to … Just a truth about God. But again, I’m not going to maybe necessarily apply to my certain to day to day. But it applies to my life as a whole, as a Christian, because the Bible is always valuable to us.

Scott Magdalein: And then of course, at the end, prayer. So the SOAP method ends with prayer. And in the SOAP method specifically, the prayer is about what you just read. So the prayer in the SOAP method isn’t supposed to kind of replace your prayer life, or your more casual or personal intimate communication with God about the things that are going on in your life. It’s specifically a prayer about what you just read. So usually, it’s around the kind of idea of, God, help me to understand what I just read. God, help me to apply. Let me do something that I’m supposed to do as a result of what I just read. Sometimes it’s helping, God, open my heart and soften my heart to some of the things I just read. So the prayer is a specific prayer related to your Bible reading for that morning, so it’s scripture, observation, application, and prayer.

Kevin Fontenot: It seems like a really good and simple tool to be able to use.

Scott Magdalein: It is. And you don’t need a bunch of tools. You don’t need to go buy a journal. You can journal, for sure. It works with a journal, but you don’t need to go out and buy stuff. I’m not a journaler, personally. I own one pen and it gets used like three times a year. I’ve never been a journaler, but I also wasn’t a note taker in high school and college. I was a listen and remember as much as possible kind of person. And so I approach my Bible reading the same way. I read it. I do my best to focus while I’m there. I pray about it, ask God to help me to understand it and apply it and move it from thought to action in my life. And then I get up and go about my day.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s a really good one. My favorite Bible study method that I use is immersion. So I love getting in a single book and just reading it over and over and over again just to really immerse myself in that book to see the common themes, the common things that are happening, figure out if we’re talking about Paul, if we’re reading through Galatians, we can kind of read that really easily in a day. It’s not something that takes us a really long time to go through. It’s not like the Book of Matthew, where we have to read 28 chapters in a single day. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do that on a consistent basis. May be able to push through it one day, but if we’re reading a short book, I can read through that in a single day and just read through it for about a week. So I’ll read it five to seven times, and start to really be able to observe some of the common things that are happening over and over again, where we may not be able to see if we’re just casually reading through it.

Kevin Fontenot: I really love Bible reading plans, but sometimes it’s difficult for us to see the continuity of scripture, especially with chapter breaks and different headings and things like that. When a lot of times, scripture has this over-arcing theme where we can see if we study it a little bit more in depth. So my favorite method is just getting into a book, reading it over and over again, and then pulling out thoughts, themes, and different things from that. And that’s been really effective for me.

Scott Magdalein: Cool. I like that idea. Honestly, I didn’t think of it as a method, but it totally is a really good method. So there’s probably only a few books I’ve ever done that with. I didn’t know that I was doing a method. I just found them really interesting. My favorite book is Colossians, and that’s like, if I don’t know what to read on any given day, I’ll go to Colossians and just read the book of Colossians because it’s four chapters and it’s super straightforward, very thematic through the whole thing, and one of those things where one day I’ll read it and it’ll be super challenging to me. And another day, it’ll be really encouraging. But that’s a great method. I like that idea of immersion. That’s cool.

Kevin Fontenot: Yeah. It’s a nice little thing to do. So let’s shift a little bit. Let’s talk about some tools as far as how we can do this. So I’ve really been loving the YouVersion Bible app as a ministry tool. They’ve added some really cool features in the last few days. One of the downsides of having this big mic with iPhone 10 is face ID doesn’t work. So I’m trying to open it up so I can show the video, kind of some of the things in there that I’ve really liked. One of those things is streaks inside the Bible app. This has been one that’s been really cool for myself, just to kind of see how I’m doing as far as reading the Bible goes. So for me, after today, done 46 days in a row, eight weeks solid inside the Bible app, which feels like a great accomplishment. And so that’s been one that’s been really cool to see over and over again that kind of makes you want to keep up that streak because I see a number on the screen there when it tells me that I’ve done it for eight weeks in a row. I’m like, “Man, I really don’t want to skip a day and mess it up.”

Kevin Fontenot: And of course you can game it if you just open the app and it’ll count it. But that’s been one of the fun things to really get into the word every single day. And something else they recently introduced that is really great for a ministry tool is plans with friends. And this is one that I’ve been using with my wife. We’re actually going through plans together. And this is a cool little feature because it allows you to go through a plan with someone that you want to go with it. So my wife’s been using this in her small groups with people she’s been doing one on ones with. And she’s seen a lot of success with it. And so we’ve been doing it as a couple. Right now we’re doing 40 days through the gospels. And so it’s kind of cool. You can just kind of see, read through some scripture. You have a little devotional with it sometimes. And then there’s the ability to talk back and forth as well, and leave comments for each other.

Kevin Fontenot: And so that’s a really cool way for you to kind of … Instead of having to go and Pastor Scott ask you, “What are you reading?” You can actually jump in a plan with someone that you’re discipling, you’re mentoring, and really be able to jump in and study scripture together. And that’s been something that’s really cool. We’ve done it as a church. We’ve done it as small groups, and something that I’ve been really liking lately. Scott, do you have any favorite tools that you like to use?

Scott Magdalein: You know me, I’m a big fan of the YouVersion Bible app. I was the project manager at YouVersion for a few years, back when we rolled out the first version of reading plans back in 2009, I think it was, or 2010. And it was a big deal. I mean, not just as a feature roll-out, but for people who were wanting to stay consistent about their Bible reading. The reading plans feature eight years ago or nine years ago was kind of a paradigm shift for a lot of people on how they were able to keep up with it. And so even just the simple tool, the reading plans in YouVersion, I still use those even to today just to stay current and also to get access to really nice, really good devotionals that are right there in my Bible app, so that’s one.

Scott Magdalein: The other one is, I just use my Bible, so I just open it and read a chapter. Depends of if I’m in between Bible reading plans, if I’m not actively on a Bible reading plan. I typically don’t do super long ones. And this probably goes back to a little bit of our conversation last week, where I don’t typically set super long goals, like long-term goals. We call it runaway goals. So I also don’t subscribe to long reading plans because I generally fall off the wagon. I’m just not good at it. So I tend to be in the 30 day range, maybe a little shorter sometimes, like 21 day reading plans. And then I’ll take a couple of days in between and just read what I want to read. And that’s if I’m being completely transparent, if I’m staying really consistent on an every single day reading habit. But the tools I use are … I’ll just go back to the beginning. The reading plans with You Version, and then in between that, I just open the Bible and read, usually from something like Colossians or The Book of John.

Kevin Fontenot: Jon Acuff would be really proud of your Jesus juke there, well, my favorite tool is the Bible.

Scott Magdalein: The Bible itself.

Kevin Fontenot: Okay. It’s like when you have those Facebook posts. What are some of the most influential books you’ve read to help you in your Christian walk? And without fail, there’s always that one person that says, “The Bible.” They just kind of do it judging-ly. It’s like, of course it’s the Bible. Of course, we all know that the Bible is the one book. But let’s talk about some of the others. That wasn’t the question that we’re asking.

Scott Magdalein: For me, I keep my quiet times pretty simple and straightforward.

Kevin Fontenot: And that’s the key with reading the Bible. We can’t just have this one system or this one framework that’s going to work for every single person. We’re all different people. We’re all going to connect with scripture a different way. I may be able to go down and read through the entire New Testament in 30 days, which I’ve done multiple times. It’s like nine chapters a day that you have to go through. And that’s been really impactful for me. But when I share that with other people, they just kind of look at me like I’m an alien and some crazy person that wants them to read through scripture in 30 days and the whole New Testament. They’re like, “I don’t have the time to go through nine chapters a day.” I’m like, “Okay. Well, maybe you can do three.” Let’s go it out to 90 days instead of the 30 days. So we’re all going to connect with scripture differently.

Kevin Fontenot: But some of these things that we’ve talked about on the podcast today, they’re good starting points. They’re good things that you can kind of adapt, that you can share with people. Like Scott said, the YouVersion Bible app has tons and tons and tons of plans that you can go through. There are things that I really enjoy going through in my personal life. I’ll pick a plan. Go through it, move on to a new plan, just kind of like what Scott said. And so those are great resources for you. And so that’s going to do it for today’s episode of the Thriving Ministry Team’s Podcast. If you have any questions or want to connect with us about this topic, head over to trainedup.church.

Kevin Fontenot: We have chat right there on the website. You can connect with Scott and myself. And we answer every single chat that comes in, so head over to trainedup.church. Get in touch with us. Before you sign off though, before you exit out of the podcast, one thing that we would really appreciate, if you just left us a little bit of a rating on iTunes. So leave us a five star rating, if you would be so kind, and we’d really enjoy that. It helps us get the podcast out to more people, helps Apple kind of put it out inside their algorithm to more people. And that’d be something that’d be really great. If you’re struggling to figure out how your people are growing, how to help them, head of to disciplelabs.com. Use that coupon code, THRIVING. And that’s going to be it for today’s episode, and we’ll see you guys next week.