“I wish my congregation didn’t read the Bible so much!” said no pastor ever.
As an evangelical pastor in the Reformed Baptist tradition, I think I speak for all of us in saying we want our people to know the Bible, so that they can “grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
As pastors, we’re called to the ministry of the Word. We’re to feed our people the Word because that’s how faith comes and grows (Rom. 10:17; John 17:20). And we don’t just want them to listen to us read and preach it on Sundays; we also want them to read and meditate on it day and night throughout the week.
The question is, how can we help them do it? Of course, some won’t need your help. There’s a man in my church who’s been reading through the Bible yearly since before I was born. But many others do need help. There are probably numerous Christians in your church right now who’ve never read through the whole Bible. They would benefit from some pastoral direction.
There are probably numerous Christians in your church who’ve never read through the whole Bible. They would benefit from some pastoral direction. I have a suggestion for you.
As a fellow pastor, I have a suggestion for you. It’s not new, and it wasn’t my idea—both reasons I heartily encourage you to consider it.
Wisdom from a 20-Something Scottish Pastor
On December 30, 1842, a Scottish Presbyterian pastor named Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote a tract for his congregation titled “Daily Bread: Being a Calendar for Reading through the Word of God in a Year.” It laid out a reading schedule that, if followed, would take the reader through the entire Bible in a year, including the Psalms and New Testament twice. He prefaced it with some pastoral meditations on the dangers and benefits of following such a plan. Sadly, M’Cheyne didn’t live to see his people read through the plan; he died less than three months later at the age of 29.
It speaks volumes about this young pastor’s priorities that he not only felt a deep desire for his people to read the Bible, but also took creative pains to guide them in how to do it. As long as they’re doing it, he could’ve reasoned, who am I to dictate how? He could’ve allowed his relative youth to make him hesitant to guide older (and perhaps more mature) saints in their spiritual walk.
Of course, M’Cheyne wasn’t dictating anything. He knew he couldn’t force his advice, and he was well aware of the dangers of reading by plan. Just read his list of potential pitfalls, and you’ll be reminded there’s nothing new under the sun. But he also knew the potential payoffs.
Why Not Follow M’Cheyne’s Example?
I’m not suggesting you reinvent the wheel and write a Bible-reading plan for your own congregation (though there’s nothing wrong with that). But why not grab the baton from young M’Cheyne and do what he never got to do—namely, lead your own congregation through his Bible reading plan in 2020?
Prudence would suggest that if you want your people to read the Bible more faithfully, then you need a plan.
You can start with leading by example—let your flock know that if nothing else, you intend to follow M’Cheyne’s reading plan this coming year. Then encourage others to follow your example. Also, imitate M’Cheyne’s wisdom by acknowledging the downsides of Bible-reading plans, while also rehearsing its benefits.
Of course, there is no Bible verse commanding pastors and their flocks to read Scripture together according to any pre-written plan, much less this specific one. The challenge I’m commending is clearly a matter of prudence. But prudence is something the Bible commands. And prudence would suggest that if you want your people to read the Bible more faithfully, then you need a plan. You don’t have to use this one, of course. But then again, why not?
Be the Lead Readers of Your Flock in 2020
There are lots of good Bible-reading plans out there. But here’s an advantage of using this particular plan in 2020: We at The Gospel Coalition are using it our new initiative called Read the Bible. TGC will supply a daily devotional audio podcast (Apple | RSS | Stitcher) and newsletter (subscribe) that follows M’Cheyne’s plan (download the PDF reading plan), along with Bible and theology articles that track with the daily Scripture readings.
But pastor, your flock needs you more than it needs us. And they’ll benefit more from your godly example and guidance than they will from anything extra we can provide. That’s why I’d encourage you to lead the way for your people in this area.
Why not grab the baton from young M’Cheyne and do what he never got to do—namely, lead your own congregation through his Bible reading plan in 2020?
One of the unique things about Bible reading since the printing press is how individualized it has become. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We should be thankful that individual Christians can each have their own Bibles to read in their own homes on their own time. But there have also been downsides, one of which has been the diminishing of Bible reading as a corporate enterprise where people literally “heard” the word of God together.
Of course we still have corporate Bible reading in church on the Lord’s Day. But I think M’Cheyne saw how pastors leading their whole church in a common Bible-reading plan could restore some of the communal nature of even individual Bible reading. As he pointed out, not only will “the pastor . . . know in what part of the pasture the flock are feeding,” but:
The sweet bond of Christian love and unity will be strengthened. We shall be often led to think of those dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, here and elsewhere, who agree to join with us in reading these portions. We shall oftener be led to agree on earth, touching something we shall ask of God. We shall pray over the same promises, mourn over the same confessions, praise God in the same songs, and be nourished by the same words of eternal life.
And that, my fellow pastors, seems like a goal worth striving for. So let me encourage you to take up M’Cheyne’s baton and be your flock’s lead readers in 2020.