We’ve all been there.
Recent college or seminary graduates excited to teach our future churches all the wonderful things we have learned about biblical studies in order to open up the newest vistas of biblical truth and knowledge, only to find that our congregations are not nearly as excited as we had hoped.
There are a number of reasons it is difficult to teach our parishioners to read Scripture.
It is complex and requires careful attention to do rightly. We have to sift through tradition, local context and the means by which our congregations hear and receive the Word of God.
Many have preconceived ideas about what Scripture already says, and any method of study that challenges these already formed ideas is going to have an uphill battle.
Why should they listen to the newly minted minister from seminary who comes along challenging long-accepted approaches, interpretations and perspectives?
All this begs the question, “How can we take the things we have learned in our ministerial preparation and share the same gifts of study we have received with a church that desperately needs more depth in its approach to Scripture?”
Addressing the issue of teaching Christians how to read Scripture again for the first time has been one of the challenges of my own personal ministry.
At first I was unsure how to go about this task, where to begin, how to confront old ideas and how to stretch my congregation.
But after three years I have learned several things and I am amazed at the conversations we are beginning to have in my theologically conservative tradition.
As you struggle with how to teach Scripture to your local church, perhaps keeping some of these things in mind will help move you in the right direction.
First, come to the task with a sense of community and humility.
The problem with those of us in higher education is that we often approach the task with an expression of condescension and superiority. The knowledge we have acquired has changed our lives and we want our church to learn what we have.
Our attitude is that we have something to teach, rather than adopting an attitude of “we need to learn together.”
If our goal is to teach people Scripture, then an approach in which our ideas and methods are offered against their ideas, traditions or experiences will not help toward this end.
So rethink your spirit, your approach, how you view the opinions of church members and then make sure your goal is always about making better disciples, not proving that your method or interpretation is right. If you do the former, the latter will naturally occur.
Second, start with basic ideas about the Bible.
When I began this journey, we started with general conversations about the Bible. Before you can begin any new interpretive methods, you and your congregation need to be on the same page or else your interpretive results won’t make much sense.
So, we started by asking very foundational exegetical questions that many pastors are scared to ask:
â— What do we mean by authority?
â— What do we mean that Scripture is inspired?
â— What does it mean to say Scripture is inerrant?
â— What is the relationship of inspiration to fact or fiction?
These questions are important because they lay the groundwork for future study and growth. We don’t have to agree on answers to these questions because we are having the conversation, and the church is thinking about these questions for the first time. And that’s the important part.
Remember how long it took the Spirit to shape you into the thinker and leader you are now. Give people the same time and patience when beginning to ask questions that many of them have always taken for granted.
Third, church members will not listen to you if you do not remember the old cliché: “people don’t care about what you know till they know that you care.”
This has never been truer than in ministry.
In our church, we have been able to bring into our local church setting multiple topics often considered taboo.
We have tried to be conduits of exploration through Scripture, and my church has trusted me to take them to these places because they have seen me cry, heard my shouts for joy, prayed with me, heard my sermons and felt the sincerity of my faith.
Had I not first been a pastor to them, I would merely be a specious, liberal academic trying to change the gospel to fit my liberal biases. Your church will not listen because of what you know, but they will listen when they know who you are.
While these three things are not exhaustive, if we keep them in mind we may finally begin to have the conversations that so many pastors desire to have, and we may finally be able to move our churches toward a deeper dimension of faith.
Nathan Napier is pastor of Christian education at Cleveland First Church of the Nazarene in Cleveland, Tenn., and a graduate of the McAfee School of Theology.
A bi-vocational minister for over 20 years, Napier currently serves as a lay minister at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, and his current research focuses on faith, culture and ethnography as pastoral practice.