The Bible can transform our lives. It also can transform your church. The past year was phenomenal for our congregation. David Petro, our Minister of Education, gave us a novel idea: He suggested we "read the Bible."
Seriously, his idea was that we—the entire congregation—covenant together to read the Bible through during the year. We had a commitment service the first Sunday in November, and every member committed to read the Bible through in a year beginning on Jan. 1.
In our staff discussions, we took David's idea to task. The one thing we knew for sure was that if we read the Word of God, it would change our lives. We wanted to saturate ourselves with God's Word, believing it would help us understand better the Bible and God's covenant with us. After weeks of discussion, we decided to use Alan B. Stringfellow's Through the Bible in a Year as a general guide and study outline for our reading plan.
The Bible is divided into two "covenants" of God with man, so we decided to call it "The Covenant." Our goal was to learn how God developed the Old Covenant and brought His plan to completion in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.
This required careful consideration and planning. The plan developed in this way:
Year One: THE COVENANT
1) Every member was given a copy of Through the Bible in a Year and asked to commit to reading through the Bible within the year according to the schedule.
2) Sunday School teachers were asked to give an overview of the book we read that week. The teachers felt threatened by this until they fully understood their assignment; it is difficult to go from exegetical teaching to giving an overview of many books. Genesis, for example, has 50 chapters, so you must stay focused on giving an overview of how God began the covenant with the first fathers after the sin of man. Once the teachers understood the task, they complied with the plan willingly and have done a wonderful job.
3) The pastor was to preach a sermon from the book of the week. He was not to try and teach the book—his goal was to find a passage that spoke to the need of this covenant being active in the lives of the members each day.
4) With all this, we did not feel there was the saturation we envisioned. What would we do with all the questions that would be raised in the reading of an entire book in one week? When do you talk about ways to let the covenant affect your life? Many questions and ideas can come from just one verse.
We looked at having small groups of 10 or 12 discuss the readings each week. Even this presented a challenge; we are committed to preserving family time with minimal extra church meetings. Therefore, we entertained the idea that we could do this on Sunday evenings instead of holding our regular worship service.
After getting through the discussion of not having an evening service at the church, we began to see the benefit of small fellowship groups in which covenant
principles could be studied, discussed and practiced. Because this was to be the Year of the Covenant, we could think of no better name for these groups than
Covenant Home Groups.
What was the result? The results were wonderful for our congregation. The teachers enjoyed the overviews of the books. The covenant members enjoyed the reading and study of God's Word on a daily basis. The Covenant Home Groups gelled into support groups that learned the Bible, but much more—each member developed his or her testimony and shared it with the small group. Each group has put the covenant into action in witnessing and in several community ministry projects, emphasizing that the Word of God always leads us to action.
We saw a substantial increase in Sunday night attendance. We actually doubled the number of people involved by moving from worship to Covenant
Where do we go from here? We only have the skeletal plan but feel confident that God has given us the plan, and we will work hard to flesh it out in the next two years. The home groups have worked so well that we want to continue this time of fellowship, challenge and action.
Year Two: THE COVENANT IN LIFE
How do you take what you learn from the Word of God and apply it to life? You look at the way the biblical characters applied it to their lives. God has given us many wonderful examples of how He has worked in the lives of men and women through the centuries. So in 2009, we plan to look at 52 of these men and women and study the covenant God made with them.
Stringfellow also has a book in this series about biblical characters. We are going to use the book as an outline yet still need lessons for the group leaders. The plan will be a little different. We will not teach the biblical characters in Sunday School. We will go back to our regular curriculum materials for our Sunday School lessons. The rest will be essentially the same as the Year One plan. The pastor will preach a sermon on the character of the week, and the Covenant
Home Groups will have a 20-minute lesson taught on the character; discussion of the character will follow.
The Bible readings for the second year will be chronological, which will give us a feel of the timeline of the Scriptures. We will continue to focus on the Word of God, the people of God and the group dynamics of trust, fellowship and intimacy and how they lead us to service.
Year Three: THE COVENANT IN ACTION
Year Three is a blur—we have not developed more than our idea and goal. The first year we focused on reading the Word of God and knowing about the
Covenant of God with us. The second year, we want to see the difference the hand of God and the Covenant of God made in the lives of the characters of the
Bible. The third year, we want to be able to find many ways to let the Covenant of God live in and through our lives.
We plan to focus on taking the Word of God and putting it into action in ministries to our community and maybe around the world. It would be wonderful if
we carry on three mission efforts simultaneously that would involve all four areas as we categorize them in various levels of life and witness: in the shadow of our steeple (our community), in our state (state missions), in our country and continent (North American missions) and in our world (international missions).
The Word of God is God-breathed and is active, living and wonderful. I know more than ever if we read it, God will speak. If we read it, we will be convicted. If we read it, we will be changed. If we read it, we will be challenged. If we read it, we must serve Him. If we do all this, He will be glorified in our lives. Read, study and live the Word of God.