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How I Spent 20 Years in Ministry Without the Bible

I called others to spiritual growth, but I remained unchanged.

The Bible was big in my home growing up. My spiritual heritage includes an aunt who pitched crusade tents in the middle of the countryside, preached Christ, and planted churches; uncles who pastored and preached; and a grandfather who taught preachers how to dissect the Word and share it with integrity.

My spiritual heritage also includes hypocrites, legalists, and perfectionists. I grew up wondering why the people who did the most Bible reading, preaching, and teaching seemed to be completely unchanged at their core. What difference did memorizing, studying, and knowing the Bible really make? It didn’t seem to change the people I knew.

Despite this, I remained faithful to the things I’d been taught. The Holy Scriptures had given me the wisdom to receive salvation. I was sure of its truth. But being sure about those family members from whom I’d learned? Not so much.

Over time, my distrust in them subtly twisted my relationship with Scripture. I still read, studied, and memorized the Bible, but with less consistency. The Bible became a book I felt pressured to know, a task I crossed off a daily to-do list—when I had time to do it. My quiet times sputtered, reviving only around Advent and Lent or when I decided to follow the latest formula for spiritual growth from the evangelical author of the month. I stacked my bookshelves with Christian classics, and I read the best commentaries that I could find, but I rarely read the source text.

Some years I’d pick and choose the books of the Bible I wanted to read. Other times I’d go for days, sometimes weeks, without opening my Bible. I knew a lot about what others knew about God and the Bible, and that knowledge was enough to get me by for over 20 years in ministry!

For 20 years, I did what I needed to do when I had to preach, lead worship, teach, write Bible studies, or lead women’s retreats. I’d read others’ commentary on the Bible and maybe pull out a verse or two. To a large extent, I’d become what I’d despised growing up: an articulate hypocrite who knew enough to minister, but whose core remained unchanged. I was a fraud who lived vicariously through the Bible encounters and spiritual insights of giants like Beth Moore, Joyce Meyers, Ruth Haley Barton, Philip Yancey, and Walter Brueggemann. But following their ways into Scripture proved too elusive.

A New Way of Relating to Scripture

All that changed during a year of painful transitions at work and at home. The sudden changes caused me to recognize God’s desire for me to experience deep and true spiritual transformation, no matter the cost. If I truly desired that transformation, I would have to lay down my history of distrust and choose to be available and vulnerable to God. Could I embrace a teachable spirt toward his Word?

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