Does Bible Reading Make You Feel Frustrated and Bored? It May Be Time for a Reset.
“Can I share a secret?” the woman asked. Sitting in an empty sanctuary with an interviewer and a cameraman, about to begin recording, she suddenly felt the need to come clean.
“I’ve never really told anyone this,” she said, “But I have a seminary degree, I’m on staff here at the church, and I’ve never really cared much for the Bible.”
It’s a story we’ve heard time and time again. Everyone knows they’re supposed to read the Bible, that it’s vital for spiritual health and growth, yet for scores of Christians, it simply feels like a religious chore. Many pastors have even admitted that they rarely or never engage with Scripture outside of sermon preparation.
While you may not personally struggle to spend time in the Bible, I can guarantee that many people in your congregation do. So what’s the deal? Why do so many people open up God’s Word hoping for the best only to end up confused, frustrated, and bored?
Here’s the truth: Motivation and attention span play only a small role; the much larger culprit at the root of Bible disengagement are systemic norms that have been baked into modern western Christianity. We need to reset the system.
When you reboot a computer or a cell phone, it clears out all of the electronic junk that has accumulated over time and starts fresh—closer to the way it was meant to operate. We need to do something similar with the Bible. Here are three components of Bible engagement that could use a reset:
Have you ever stopped to consider why the Bible looks more like a dictionary than a library of literature? Chapter and verse numbers, footnotes, section headings, cross-references, callouts—not exactly begging to be read, is it?
Ever since chapters and verses were invented and implemented several hundred years ago, the Bible has undergone a massive transformation, resembling something more like a reference book. Its formatting is optimized for searching and finding rather than for reading.
We need to reset the Bible’s form by introducing people to Reader’s Bibles: Bibles printed without chapter and verse numbers or any of the other modern “features” that clutter most Bibles today. Giving people a Bible made for reading is the first (and perhaps most important) step of the reset.
Over time we’ve adopted some norms around Bible reading that run counter to the way it’s intended to be read.
The first bad habit is that we read in small fragments. Aided and encouraged by our Bibles, which chop up letters and poems into chapters and verses, we increasingly read smaller and smaller bits at a time.
If you were to read Ephesians at a chapter-a-day pace, it’d take you nearly a week to finish. Have you ever read a letter over the course of a week? Do you think Paul intended for his original audience to do that? Reading slowly and taking a deep dive into small portions of Scripture certainly has a place in the Bible-engagement ecosystem, but it has superseded the first and most natural thing to do with the Bible: to read big.
Our second bad habit is that we read in isolation. Evangelicalism has created a culture centered on personal devotions and quiet time. And while these private habits of reading, prayer, and communion with God are important, we rarely stop to consider what is lost when they become our exclusive means of engaging Scripture.
The Bible is first and foremost a community-formation book. By recovering community-oriented reading and discussion, we allow the Spirit to move in and among us as we unpack God’s Word together.
When I was growing up, I knew a lot of Bible stories. Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Daniel and the Lions’ Den, Jesus Feeding the 5,000. These are all good stories, but they were always neatly packaged as individual stories with a moral or spiritual takeaway.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I heard anything about the grand narrative of Scripture—the massive story arc from Genesis to Revelation that is centered on Jesus. Once I began to grasp the intricate, multifaceted ways that God has orchestrated the narrative over thousands of years to bring salvation through Christ, everything began to click.
Teaching people about the big story of the Bible is one of the most important jobs a pastor has. Because once we understand the story, we see that we are being invited into it to participate in our time and place. The story doesn’t simply recount what happened in the past; it speaks into the here and now and points forward toward a future filled with light and life. Christians need to be soaked in this story until it is deep in their bones and learn how to faithfully live it today.
It’s time for a Bible reset. One in which people are equipped with a Bible made for reading, trained in habits that immerse them in the text, and taught the grand story in which we live. Doing these three things can help Scripture come alive as pastors and their congregations have always hoped.
Alex Goodwin is cofounder of the Institute for Bible Reading and cocreator of Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience and Immerse: The Reading Bible, winner of the 2022 ECPA Bible of the Year award. He counts himself as one of many Christians who have struggled to read the Bible and believes that changing how we interact with Scripture can help us become immersed in its transformative story. Alex lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Lacey, and their children, Jack and Ellie.