While most Christians want to read their Bibles regularly, we often fall short of integrating Scripture reading into the daily rhythm of our lives. We rely mostly on Christian “professionals”—pastors and popular Christian teachers—to teach us what we need to know about the Bible. Sitting down to read on our own or in a small group doesn’t seem nearly as inspirational or enjoyable.
The Bible isn’t just for “professionals,” though. It’s for all of us. When we as church leaders are given the privileged task of introducing new believers to the sacred practice of reading and reflecting on Scripture, we can change this pattern and set them up for a lifelong journey of Scripture reading. Here are seven essentials for getting new Christians started:
1. Offer a Way of Life, Not an Extracurricular Activity.
In an advertisement-driven world, we are tempted to sell spiritual disciplines to new believers. We say things like, “It’ll only take five minutes of your time,” and, “Just try reading a few verses a day.” I suppose it’s better to read for five minutes than not to read at all, but I want to suggest that we approach Scripture with a greater sense of gravitas, especially when it comes to introducing new believers to the Bible.
How we present the discipline of reading Scripture reveals its value to us. We must resist the lure of offering an easy, convenient, cheap form of Christianity. Being transformed by the Spirit through reading Scripture is not an extracurricular activity—it’s a way of life. After all, we know that we do “not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). We are called to form a habit of immersing ourselves in these sacred texts until they become integrated into our daily lives. This is no easy task, but it is ours. Let us present it as such.
2. Posture Yourself as a Friend, Not an Expert.
One of the ways church leaders keep new believers from getting serious about Scripture is by unintentionally sending the message that only experts can understand God’s Word. When we present ourselves as biblical elites with all the right answers, we promote the idea that Bible study is for “the experts” rather than for all who want to enjoy fellowship with the Father.
As you introduce the Bible to new believers, posture yourself as a friend inviting someone to join you in the lifelong journey of exploring and being formed by Scripture. Your role as a leader is not so much to be a biblical scholar, but a sister or brother sharing the endless meal of communion with God’s Word.
To do this, read with new believers, sharing what you’re discovering in your own reading. Openly share your own questions and doubts. When you don’t have an answer to a question, admit you’re not sure and try to find the answer together. The aim here is not scholarship, but devotion and discipleship.
3. Begin with the Triune God of Love.
This cannot be overstated. We must not introduce Christian disciplines without introducing God. Reading the Bible, as with all Christian activity, begins with the Trinity, and it is done in an effort to draw closer to our triune God.
At the foundation of all creation and reality is this divine relationship of love. God the Father is pouring forth love upon God the Son; God the Son is pouring forth love on God the Father. And together, in love, they send the Holy Spirit that we might come to experientially know this divine interpersonal love (see John 14:23–31; John 15:26; Acts 2:32–33; Titus 3:3–7).
This active, alive, relational God of gracious love is seeking us. To know this God, then, is not a matter of information gathering, but interpersonal engagement. Our aim in reading the Bible is not only to hear about God, but to hear from God. Often, Christians have a bent toward utility and knowledge: “What can I get from this book?” To be sure, there will be plenty to learn, but the discipline of reading Scripture is first and foremost a means of enjoying sweet fellowship with the triune God of love.
4. Name and Address the Cultural Value of Immediacy.
In our Google-searching, fast food, social media world, reading and reflecting on large chunks of literature is not natural. We have become hardwired for immediacy. But when I plan a date with my spouse, we make the time special by setting it aside and limiting distractions.
We must plan for our Bible reading in a similar way. As I guide new Christians in reading Scripture, I suggest this practical advice:
- Create an appointment on your calendar. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not a priority.
- Find a space void of distractions. A quiet patio, a coffee shop, or even just a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones will go a long way.
- Turn off your cell phone. We can go off the grid for 30 minutes to be in fellowship with God.
- Use inspiring tools. Get a nice study Bible, journal, highlighter, and pen that inspire you to engage.
5. Lead with the Gospels.
While all of Scripture is helpful, point new believers to the life and teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. We believe that this Jewish carpenter-turned-rabbi is God in the flesh, the clearest revelation of God. The very essence of being Christian is knowing and imitating Jesus Christ, so begin here.
It will also be helpful to offer some overview of each Gospel. Two engaging resources I recommend are Eugene Peterson’s thought-provoking and inspiring introductions to each book of the Bible in The Message, as well as The Bible Project’s short animated summaries of each book on YouTube. These will offer a good primer and enough contextual background to help new believers in reading the Gospels.
6. Encourage Reflective Reading.
I have come to use the following five-step method to help new believers approach the Bible less like a textbook and more like an on-ramp to engaging the Spirit. With the focus on reflecting on Scripture rather than getting the “right answer,” I’ve found new believers are better set up for success.
1. Start in silence.
Begin with a moment of mental detox and an awareness of God’s presence. Ponder God’s affections toward you as you open up the Word.
2. Mark up what you read.
As you read, mark any verse, phrase, word, or theme that strikes your heart or raises a question. Highlight, underline, and jot down your thoughts in the margins. The Spirit may be speaking to you. Your notes and highlights will be a visual sign of your conversation with God.
3. Summarize the passage.
It’s easy to read and forget. In order to slow down and really digest what’s going on in the text, take time to write a brief summary of what you’ve read. If this proves difficult, try paraphrasing each verse. Rewrite the Scripture in your own words. This will force you to pay attention to what you’re reading.
4. Reflect and listen.
After looking over your highlights and summary, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and begin to contemplate their implications. Then boldly ask, “What is the Spirit of God speaking to me in this present moment?” You may hear a word of comfort, direction, or wisdom. You may find a connection between the text and your own life. Or you may not. That’s okay. The key is to listen, believing in faith that God is speaking through his Word. If you need some direction, start with these questions:
What does this reveal about God?
What does this reveal about humanity?
What does this reveal about the Christian life?
How does this contrast with the world I live in?
How does this call me to live differently?
5. Pray the text.
Finally, close your time by praying through what you have reflected on. For instance, if Jesus’ words on giving to the poor in secret stand out to you after you read the Sermon on the Mount, pray, “Father, teach me to give with a pure heart. May I seek a greater reward than the praise of people.”
7. Welcome Controversial Questions.
Any honest Bible reader is going to have questions. The Gospels, for instance, should raise some interesting questions about divorce, money, and how to interact with coworkers we despise. Furthermore, many new Christians will have questions about what Scripture has to say regarding controversial social issues. It's also likely that new Christians may disagree with a particular reading of the Bible. Don't demonize or judge; instead, engage in conversation, seeking to understand their point of view. The more we welcome difficult questions, the more we'll model the reality that God is big enough to handle whatever questions we may have.
Mike Whang is a United Methodist church planter in the Houston, Texas, area.