Call them what you will—small groups, community groups, life groups, missional communities, neighborhood gatherings, etc.—we need the Bible to be studied in these groups. We need, for lack of better terms, more Bible Studies. Now, I know that the label “Bible Study” is falling out of vogue these days, so hear me out. I’m not saying we need more churchy programs, where a group of “us four and no more” hunker down and study the Bible in order to confirm all their presuppositions in a non-missional setting. But I do think that the church needs to forge many avenues for its people to study the word in a corporate setting.

One objection I hear is: “Don’t we know enough about God? Should we focus more on living it out?

Of course living it out is the goal, so any Bible Study that doesn’t have this as its aim is wrong headed. But I don’t think the way to live out the Bible is to study it less. And I would not say that the church today knows the Bible too well. The last 100 years has seen biblical illiteracy soar high among believers in the church. In the history of God’s people, we study, memorize, and know the Bible far less not far more that ever before. According to a study made by the Barna Group, less than 10% of born again believers have a biblical worldview. (They define biblical worldview in terms of the basic orthodox truths of Christianity—sinlessness of Jesus, salvation by grace through faith, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, etc.) We can quibble over the accuracy or nature of such statistics. But even if they were off by a 100% and only 20% had a biblical worldview, this would show clearly that most Christians need more Bible study and not less.

And they need to study it in a corporate setting. Another objection I hear to corporate Bible Study is: “shouldn’t we be reading our Bibles ourselves as individuals (through personal devotions, etc.) and not relying upon other people to study the Bible?

This may sound shocking, but my answer to this is no. I don’t want to knock personal reading; I greatly encourage it. But reading the Bible by yourself is insufficient and the church will continue to be biblically anemic if it relies upon mere personal study of the Bible for its congregants to have a Biblical Worldview. In fact, very few Christians ever did a personal devotion (i.e. read the Bible by themselves as individuals) for the first 1500 years of the church. Were they unspiritual? No, quite the opposite. They simply didn’t have access to the Bible. For one, only 10% of the population was literate in Jesus’ time, and this didn’t improve much through the later years (Byzantine era and Middle Ages). So very few Christians read the Bible by themselves, until recently. Second, most of these 10% could not afford to purchase their own Bible; that is, not until the printing press was invented in AD 1450. So for the first 1500 years of the Christian church, believers were dependent upon other believers to know, understand, and memorize the Bible. In fact, for the first few centuries of the Christian church, new believers would attend a Church based class that lasted for 3 years, which consisted of hearing the entire Bible read aloud (since most of them couldn’t read) and hearing a teacher comment on every single passages. This was mandatory for every new believer (not just aspiring pastors or Bible College students). New believers were inundated with the word of God, because the early church believed that this was foundational for living the Christian life. (A sweet study was performed by Clinton Arnold of Talbot Seminary on this. Post a comment and I’ll email it to you.)

Relying upon personal reading among church congregants is a naïve and quite modern means of getting God’s word into the hearts and minds of Christians.

And neither can the church rely upon one 35 minute Sunday sermon to teach the text to its congregants. If it were up to me, our churches would be filled with tons of avenues to corporately study the Bible (if it’s a priority, we can find ways of making it happen.) And I don’t mean going through the latest Christian living book, or watching a video of some famous speaker whom you’ve never met. I mean gathering around a gifted teacher who has studied the text and can help others understand it. Over, and over, and over. Monday morning, Tuesday nights, Wednesday afternoon. The Pentateuch, Historical books, Psalms, Proverbs, Matthew, Romans, Revelation—drink deeply from the delicious wells of God’s written word! It is not an idle word; it is your very life (Deut 31). You can get by on bread, but if you truly want life, then study, study, study the text. And you will get more out of it if you do it in a corporate setting. This is the way the Bible was designed to be studied.

As we move into a new age that desires authenticity, relationships, and community, let’s not leave behind the Scriptures—the catalyst for sustained missional living.


  1. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I would love the link as well.

    It’s very interesting to me that most American Christians would put a strong emphasis on a personal devotional time.
    Lately I have been attributing the general lack of true Biblical principles, which create a Biblical Worldview, to the huge overemphasis on private devotion. Do you think this is a true statement?

    I know that in my early Christian life, and even now if I’m being honest, I have drawn some strikingly arrogant, heretical, and just straight wrong principles and exegesis from my personal reading of scripture. The more and more I study and encounter the church and their understanding of scripture as well as my own understanding and principles; the more and more I realize that God’s word desperately requires mediation.
    Do I believe that the spirit of God can speak to us while alone? Yes, and there are no ‘buts’ about that. Yet, it’s interesting to me that we tell brand new believers to “just go read it” and turn around and ask ourselves why the Church is in “theological shambles” or “desperately in need of reform”. This is a little bit of an ironic paradigm. I would suggest that this need for reform is because we tell uninformed laypeople (such as myself, I’m not separating myself from the uninformed reader; I have much to learn) to just head out and read the Bible, which could unintentionally create assumptions about the Word of God and God himself that could be completely wrong.

    • Ya, David, I think you’re dead on. I really think that the Bible was designed to be studied in community. This isn’t a retreat to Roman Catholicism, where the priestly elite were the only ones who could understand and interpret the Bible. Rather, it means that all believers have the Spirit which guides their understanding–an understanding that is sharpened further when Spirit indwelt believers discuss, study, correct, interpret, and apply the word in a corporate setting. Most often, heresies started when one loan ranger with a charismatic personality failed to consult others in his or her interpretive conclusions.

      And yes, I’d agree with you that “the general lack of true Biblical principles, which create a Biblical Worldview,” is partially attributed “to the huge overemphasis on private devotion.” Well said.

  2. I understand a shying away from a Roman Catholic elitist view of reading, teaching and studying scripture. But I think there is some wisdom in believing that a correct study and reading of the Biblical text almost requires a good bit of Biblical training. This doesn’t have to look like moving far away from my church to go to Bible college, as I have done. It can totally be an integrated part of regular Church people living lives among one another; teaching one another HOW to read the text and not simply teaching them the text. I would, as you have, shy away from an elitist view of “rightly dividing” scripture. But I would still be a part of making sure that people who are given access to teach the Word of God and to learn it, maybe given access to church resources, are properly guided and taught HOW to study the word of God. Mediation, in my mind, is a very key part of this entire process and discussion.

  3. Love the post…. by the looks of i,t so does everyone else… I don’t wanna pick apart your words… so just tell me if this is a stupid thought… but I’m a big picture kinda guy and understanding the purpose always helps to align me…. you said, “Of course living it out is the goal, so any Bible Study that doesn’t have this as its aim is wrong headed.”

    Is living it out actually the goal? Or do you think that knowing God and growing in our relationship (both individually and corporately) with Him is? Maybe living it out is the natural consequence of growing closer in our relationship to Christ? Less the goal, more the result?

    • Thanks for dropping in, even if you’re a week late 😉

      Ya, if you press my language, living it out wouldn’t be the ultimate goal. The goal of all we do, including reading the Bible, is God’s glory through our worship of Him. But I guess this could be including in “living it out.” And I chose “goal” over “result” since result sounds more like it’s going to happen, but studying the Bible doesn’t automatically trigger this. “Goal” is more what we aim for, though don’t necessarily attain.

  4. Sorry, I too am “a week late” 😉

    My question has more to do with how this calling into question a “personal devotional” reading of the text influences our understanding of personal discipleship within the church body. It is clear that inherently a discipleship relationship involves more than one person… however I have heard it said that the goal of one on one discipleship in the church is to “create a person who is independently dependent on the Lord”. This SOUNDS great, however a post like this calls this approach to discipleship into question. Thoughts? Insights?

    Furthermore- “being a big picture guy” (love ya bobby)- what are some practical ways do you all feel hearing the text read aloud can be played out in the church? Is this something that’s even desired among church leaders and lay people?

    thanks for the wisdom.


    • What’s up Eric,

      Ya, I would wholly disagree with “creating a person who is independently dependent on the Lord.” There is not a shred of evidence in the Bible, and it would be completely foreign to the culture in which it was written, that we should be creating individualism in the church. Interestingly, the Bible talks about Christian “growth” in terms of growing together as a unified body (Eph 4:14-16), yet we’ve hijacked the term “growth” to refer to an individual’s progress in the faith.

      Practically speaking? Everything flows from leadership. The leadership dictates the tone of the church. If you visit Piper’s church, they all sound the same and have the same passion for God’s glory, missions, Calvinism, etc. Cornerstone is quite Chanian in many ways, and Driscoll’s church swears and wears biker boots :). For better or worse, the church takes on the tone and passions (and sometime even the dress) of the leadership. So if the Bible is to be studied vigorously in a corporate setting, the leaders must see a need for it. Otherwise, it’ll never happen. We (leaders) need to spend loads of time cultivating a perceived need and desire to study the Bible in such a way.

      Even more practically, I really think the highly out of vogue idea of Adult Sunday School is brilliant and should be brought back. I mean, everyone is there already. Stick a killer teacher in a Sunday school class and advertise it like crazy, perhaps begin with a few hot topics that capture interest, and you’ll get the ball rolling. Just an idea.