We should all be concerned.
It’s important for every believer to read Scripture regularly and well, to allow God’s Word to shape their hearts and minds so that they live according to Scripture’s story rather than lesser stories peddled by the Word. It’s important that every believer live in prayerful dependence on God and participate in the life of the church.
But the evidence shows it’s not happening as much as we’d like. “I don’t want to sound alarmist, critical, or preachy,” writes George Guthrie in Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word. “But let me speak frankly. I am concerned about where we are currently in terms of our reading of the Bible, and I want you to be concerned with me. Let me say it again: we are not reading the Bible, much less reading it well.”
Ask one hundred church members if they have read the Bible today, and eighty-four of them will say no. Ask them if they have read the Bible at least once in the past week, and sixty-eight of them will say no. Even more disconcerting, ask those one hundred church members if reading or studying the Bible has made any significant difference in the way they live their lives. Only thirty-seven out of one hundred will say yes.
If this is true of Bible reading, I imagine that many Christians are also struggling to pray. And, according to Lifeway Research, it also seems that COVID has “accelerated a trend of less frequent church attendance that was already in place.”
The solution? We need to build onramps to help people build spiritual habits.
It’s not enough to tell people, “Start reading the Bible, talking to God, and attending church.” We need to help people begin to build these habits into their lives. Doing this can often involve a number of steps:
- Understanding why a habit is important
- Assessing readiness to change
- Making time and space for the habit
- Learning how to begin (where to start in reading the Bible, for instance, and what tools to use)
- Ensuring that the habit starts small and builds, rather than choosing behaviors that are unsustainable
- Dealing with internal resistance and setbacks
- Sustaining the habit for the long haul
The goal with all of this is to help people take small steps to build the habits of regular Bible reading, prayer, and participation in the life of the church into their lives, not just for a short time, but for a lifetime. We want people to live Psalm 1 lives: delighting in God’s Word, meditating on it continually. We want people to be able to live in prayerful reliance on God, and to grow along God’s people.
All of this usually begins with small, unsteady steps, slow habits that become ingrained in one’s life, setbacks and recoveries, and lots of modeling and encouragement. Small, consistent habits, practiced over a long period of time, make a huge difference.
Help people build these important habits in their lives. Have honest conversations with others and try to find people who are interested in learning how to grow in these areas. And then build onramps for them, helping them to start slowly without getting overwhelmed.
Your efforts really will make a difference.
My upcoming book 8 Habits for Growth can be used by individuals, but I’m hoping that many pastors and leaders will use it to help other Christians build key habits into their lives. If you’re interested, check it out here.