It’s less than a week into the new year, and, presumably, resolutions are still going strong: Gym passes are still jingling on key rings, wallets are still thriftily sealed shut.
Or, for the faith-minded, maybe that Bible is no longer coughing up dust.
“Probably the No. 1 resolution I’ve heard regarding faith is that I want to read through the Bible in the new year,” said Pastor Kirk Schneemann, of First Alliance Church in Toledo.
Pastor Schneemann is one of several local church leaders who hears about the New Year’s resolutions that his congregants make each year. Perhaps not surprisingly, they often involve faith: A late 2015 LifeWay Research study puts the frequency of resolutions regarding one’s relationship with God just under resolutions regarding one’s health — 52 percent to 57 percent.
While the study didn’t specify how these well-intentioned resolvers planned to tackle that relationship, it’s likely their approach will involve the Bible, church leaders said.
Just over 60 percent of American adults express a desire to read the Bible more than they do, according to a study published in January, 2017, by the American Bible Society and Barna, a research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture.
Of course, “more” can mean different things to different people. As Lifeway reported in a separate study last year, the majority of Americans have not actually read the entire book.
Just less than a quarter of respondents put their first-hand knowledge of the book, at best, at “only a few sentences.” Thirty-two percent described reading all or almost all of it.
There’s merit in pushing through the whole book, even if some sections can admittedly make for complicated reading, according to pastors Schneemann and Mike O’Shea of Waterville Community Church; each encourages his congregants to take advantage of a reading plan, available to the public online or on an app, that packages the book into manageable day-by-day selections.
“You kind of need the whole book to understand any small part of it,” Pastor O’Shea said. “If you read it part to whole, you can use bits and pieces of it to do things that the book as a whole wouldn’t want you to do.”
The reading plan that Waterville Community Church suggests to its members is chronological and covers the entire book.
At First Alliance Church, Pastor Schneemann favors a different daily plan curated by the popular Bible-reading app YouVersion; it pairs Old Testament and New Testament passages in each suggested daily reading.
Pastor Schneemann said he finds it helpful to make connections between the two parts of the Bible, the first which was written before Jesus’ birth and the second which was written after his death. And, the pastor added, it makes some of the admittedly complex passages of the earlier book seem more manageable.
“This plan doesn’t include every word of the Bible, but there’s a lot more people who are still doing it in December than if you start in the beginning,” he said. “That’s why I like the plan.”
At Little Flower Catholic Church in Toledo, Sister Marilyn Marie Ellerbrock, SND, is also an enthusiastic backer of Bible-reading. Sister Marilyn Marie is the church’s director of evangelization and discipleship, a role that puts her in contact with the three Bible study groups that the church hosts each week.
She said the focus there is less on working through the entire book than it is on understanding and appreciating the Gospels.
Sister Marilyn Marie said she’s increasingly seen parishioners take an interest in Scripture. That’s notable in a Catholic tradition where a parishioner who carried a Bible into the pew might have stuck out in the past as somewhat unusual.
Consider Jacob Kempf, 26, and Paul Figliomeni, 56, as two examples. Both are regular Little Flower Bible study attendees who said that, while they’ve always been active in their faith, they never really incorporated personal interpretation of the Bible into their religious life before they connected with the groups.
“A lot of Catholics weren’t raised to do that,” said Mr. Figliomeni, who since joining the group in 2012 said he’s developed a morning reading habit as well.
Mr. Kempf echoed the thought.
“It’s always been kind of difficult to talk about scripture because I never broke it open, read it myself, and interpreted myself,” he said.
Both Mr. Kempf and Mr. Figliomeni said they find that reading the Bible today is a practice that deepens their faith. That’s in line with 57 percent of American Bible Study and Barna respondents who said they open the book because it draws them closer to God.
Those who plan to incorporate the Bible into their faith lives in the new year might benefit from a reading plan or from a group, which can both be helpful in interpreting tough passages and holding the reader accountable for continued reading. On the practical side, Sister Marilyn Marie also suggests choosing a regular reading spot, keeping a pen or highlighter handy for notes and reading passages aloud.
Pastor O’Shea also offers this advice:
“Don’t evaluate your reading. A lot of people, especially in Western Protestant Evangelical traditions, they kind of grow up in cultures where every time I open the Bible and read it, I’m supposed to have some sort of spiritual experience,” he said. “We just encourage people to read the story. Don’t evaluate your reading. Just read it.”
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