This post has also been published on the Cor Deo site I share with Peter Mead. To visit please click here
My conversion came as a distinct moment as I spoke to Jesus about what I had just read in Matthew 6:33 of the Bible. Christ’s new life brought a “lights on” change in the dark room of my soul—a sense of relief and joy. I kept reading and found more and more delight: I was hearing God’s voice in what I read.
This post is a reflection on what followed my new birth rather than on the conversion itself. I remember going back to my church camp cabin where the cabin counselor was there by himself, reading.
“I just gave my life to Jesus!” I gushed.
He turned towards me with a puzzled look. Conversion wasn’t on his agenda just then.
“That’s nice,” he responded, “but just remember that these sort of emotions come and go so don’t be too upset when your low moments come along too.”
“No,” I answered, “it wasn’t some emotional splurge. I was reading my Bible and I finally realized that God wants us to be totally committed to him—so I made that commitment!”
“OK, that’s nice, but be ready for it to fade after a while.” He turned back to his book.
It dawned on me in an instant that he didn’t know what I was talking about—that he seemed not to have had the sort of meeting with Jesus I just experienced in reading the Sermon on the Mount. And his prediction was sheer nonsense: my delight has never faded.
What has faded is my expectation that all who claim to be Christians will have a distinct moment of becoming united with Christ. The experience of having night turn into light in a given moment, I now realize, is a rare feature in Christendom rather than its standard entry point. Yet my issue here isn’t to explore who is and who isn’t a Christian. God knows and that’s fine.
Instead my reflection is on the problem that comes with “spiritual leaders”—like my cabin counselor—who don’t actually lead, at least in term of cultivating a love for God. His response to my story was more like a local barista putting a tight lid on a coffee cup so nothing would spill out. It seems that he saw my raw enthusiasm—a word from “en theos” or “in God”—as messy . . . an event to be contained or managed. And in the years since I find that many others are like my counselor: more concerned to put a lid on faith by managing Christians than in stirring and cultivating faith. Even in Bible colleges and churches.
My experience with bold Bible reading illustrates this. I regularly promote partnership Bible read-throughs—reading the entire Bible in 3-4 months—as a remarkably effective way to build life in a church. At least five percent of any healthy evangelical church will be ready for a bold growth option. But pastors willing to try it themselves, or to offer it to their church members are rare indeed!
I know. When I share the proven track record of this approach—telling stories of how Bible reading has transformed lives—I’ve been met with stunning silence. Pastors just turn and continue reading their books. And in that moment they prove to be lids rather than leaders.
In one setting I was leading the church home group ministry. I suggested to the pastor I served under that it would be good to have one of our groups try the “read through” approach—with volunteers invited on the basis of their obvious appetite to grow.
“Absolutely not!” the pastor growled. “That has the potential of dividing groups into the ‘more spiritual’ and the ‘less spiritual’—we can’t have divisions like that.”
And I’m sure he was right on that point: there would have been a division. But I’m also sure the Bible reading group would have been gracious rather than proud—assuming the Spirit of God still produces his fruit in growing believers—and they would have offered a dynamic and winsome alternative to the relatively placid faith of the majority.
Was this pastor a lid or a leader? And, for that matter, what are we?
My own experience has been similar: When I talk with others about the kind of bold Bible reading you mention, even with leaders, they look at me like I have two heads, even while acknowledging that they can see the rich relationship with God that results. May we make the most of every opportunity to encourage each other in our faith and love for the Lord, and not be “lids”!
Thanks, Gretchen. Yet I don’t doubt the sincerity and personal devotion of many leaders who are still timid about encouraging bold Bible reading. Some might even be willing to try it themselves.
I think part of the problem is a reactive leadership among many leaders (as in “guarding the church”) rather than proactive (as in finding every way possible to build up the church in Christ). Spiritual growth, in turn, is treated as individualistic and privatized. And with that view comes a bare-bones “whatever works for the majority is what we need to offer.” Hence the example of the pastor I once worked under.
Perhaps a better reading of the Spirit’s ambition among us is to see the need for a full buffet of opportunities, ranging from milk to meat. I find that in my present church home so I know it’s possible.
You make some very important points, Ron. One is that it is not a question of sincerity or devotion on the part of leaders. The vast majority sincerely love the Lord and the flock they are shepherding. Also, the concept of having more of a “buffet” offering is helpful so that those who are in the milk stage can be nurtured towards maturity, while those at the meat stage are not starved to death. I think you’re absolutely right that spiritual growth is treated in the church as something that is “individual” or “private.” Yet, I don’t think that’s at all the picture we get in the Bible of what the body of Christ is supposed to look like. On the contrary, love for one another, interdependence, spurring one another on, the sharing of spiritual gifts and material goods for the benefit of the whole, etc., seem to be the model. And, no doubt, in some cases the upside down power pyramid we discussed in the Cor Deo Intensive plays a role here as well. Thanks for your thought-provoking post.
I have known you for about 15 years.. i’m one of the pianist @ Family Bible Church in Oak Harbor and have also been the Awana Commander there for some time. Had heard and enjoyed many a sermon from you over the years. however, in 2010.. you preached a sermon about bold bible reading (while our pastor was taking classes, poss may) and i’ve been boldly reading ever since. read the Bible in 66 daze… ummm.. days in 2010. this year, i’m on my 3rd read so far.. trying to cram in 5X. I too, get the blank looks.
i recently signed up for *A Spreading Goodness* and have totally enjoyed each post. I am now on the lookout for a reading partner at our church, i might have to go *old school* and try the bulletin board. I am constantly encouraged when i tell our Awana clubbers about bold bible reading! as the commander, i get to speak to all of our clubbers several times a year and i let them know that i boldly read the bible and i’m never ashamed of that. i actually had one teen ask me if I was *cheating,* because, in april/may.. i *listened* rather than read, because my cataract was too developed for me to read anymore!! i asked her if blind Christians were cheating?? In jan, one of the elder’s wives, told me i can read and memorize well *because* i’m the awana commander, as if reading is a spiritual gift!! i told her that i HAD to read AND memorize because i’m the awana commander! we are called to be IN the scriptures!! joshua 1 says to meditate on it day and night!
thanks for all you do, i still smile when i find a passage in my bible where your name is written because you were speaking about those verses. we’ll see you next time you visit our little church. we missed you a couple of weeks ago due to our vacation. Stand Firm In Christ! Pamelas Ketchum awanacommander4fbc
Thanks for your good report here, Pamela. I should say that I enjoy listening too, either while I’m reading the text too; or, if I listen on a cross country drive, afterwards I come back to mark some of the verses I noted as I listened. It’s good to be engaged in any way possible, isn’t it!