A blog by Josh Humbert
Imagine yourself crafting the perfect hamburger. You’ve purchased a bakery-quality hamburger bun. You’ve assembled all the finest toppings: slices of cheddar (or maybe swiss, cuz YOLO), tender strips of crisp-but-not-overdone bacon, fresh cuts of tomato or greenery if that’s your thing. All the goodies are there. Fries or tots (TOTS!!) are now golden brown. With great foresight, you’ve placed a glass mug in the freezer to hold that IBC Root Beer in the fridge. This meal is about to be epic.
Buddy, it’s ALL there!!
Except the single most essential ingredient to the perfect hamburger is missing: the burger patty itself!
Queue up the age-old question: Where’s the BEEF?
What if our churches today are facing something similar? Not the missing beef…but the Bible itself.
The majority of my ministry happens on the road. Throughout the year, I travel and speak in a broad range of contexts: a D-Now full of teenagers, a church revival, a college event, a junior high retreat, a summer camp, preaching at my home church, etc. I get to experience and observe an incredibly vast collection of pieces of the church at large.
What has disturbed me and gripped me over the last several years is the Word problem I see developing before my eyes. It’s simply this: people show up without their Bible. Across age groups and events, I see it more and more. People just don’t bring their Bible (and I realize many use a phone/tablet, but I can also see what people are holding/not holding).
I’ll never forget speaking at an event over a long weekend. As I begin the first of several sessions, I ask them to turn to a particular passage and was met with about 85% blank stares and no movement. I listened for the sound of those pages turning but didn’t hear it. At all. One person bravely just stated the obvious: “Oh, we didn’t bring our Bibles with us.”
This is the burger without the patty, but let me examine it from a few different angles.
To be sure, there are a couple very valid reasons someone may show to an event where the Word of God is going to be preached without a copy of the Word itself. Those would be:
There could be other valid reasons. However, I think instead of those reasons, in most other situations, the lack of a Bible could be pointing us to painful realities that exist. Why might others not have their Bible with them?
What’s happening here? Why are we seeing this?
I’m not up to date on McDonald’s symbology but when I was young, they incorporated a character called the Hamburglar. As best I recall, his whole deal was stealing people’s burgers. A true force of evil, because c’mon dude, don’t be taking people’s burgers. That’s so not cool!
I don’t see the Hamburglar around much anymore. Maybe Ronald McDonald conquered him in some supreme clash of titans? Maybe the Hamburglar has finally been brought to justice for his crimes and is now serving time somewhere? I don’t know. But that was his deal: stealing people’s burgers, which, when you think about it, is basically stealing their joy too.
Friends, the stakes are infinitely higher in our churches and wherever the Word is being proclaimed or taught. We don’t face a Hamburglar, but we have an Enemy who wants to steal our joy, our peace, our growth, our encouragement, and a billion other things that come with the Word of God.
Do you think my premise is too dramatic. People aren’t bringing their Bible to hear preaching, so what? What’s the big deal?
Quite frankly, it’s one of the biggest deals. The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). It is the key to a joy-filled LIFE and eternity (Psalm 1). The Word is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
Way more than a patty, it is the very promises of God and it is DELICIOUS to our souls!
This Word problem MUST be solved.
I believe every Christian can play a role in securing and restoring the primacy of the Bible in our churches today. Yes, that means YOU too. Each of us can work toward creating an environment where everybody HAS a Bible, knows how to use it, and ENJOYS/FOLLOWS/LEARNS from it as it is preached in every different context.
I know this will be the second list in one blog post but bear with me. I promise I’m not trying to Buzzfeed you here. How can each of us solve the Word problem?
Seasoned Pastors: Take the preaching of God’s Word seriously. Encourage people following along as you preach a text. Help them find where it is in Scripture. Tell them the passage and give them a minute to get there! Don’t just refer to a verse or two and think that’s preaching. Get to a text, get the people to a text, and BRING the heat!
Young or aspiring Pastors: From the very beginning, nail it down for the rest of your ministry that you will preach the Word (as outlined above). Set the expectation with your people that whenever you get up to speak, it won’t be just nice stories and clever bullet points (nothing wrong with those), but it will be the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from His Word. What works is God’s Word faithfully, clearly, and passionately proclaimed from a humble servant of God. Listen to me, don’t preach about the Word…preach the Word. Fall in love with it, let it burn inside you like a raging fire, and then unleash that from the pulpit. Be strong and do it.
Worship pastor: Keep the Word central and always grounding the singing of praise to God. Don’t overlook the impact you can have by centering your entire service around the Word. Here’s a very helpful reminder from the Austin Stone team:
Parents: Really easy one here. Model this. Bring your Bible to church and follow along. Let your children read along with you. Let them see you delight in hearing it preached. Let them see you open that thing more than just Sundays.
Church Leader/Deacon: Ensure your church has an abundance of Bibles. The sanctuary, the youth room (!), the children’s area. Put this in the budget. If people are saying, “we sure do spend a lot on Bibles around here!” then you know you’re doing it right. Encourage your pastoral team to announce/incorporate these Bibles from the stage so that all members and guests can engage with the Word.
Youth Leader/Children’s Pastor: Build this into kids now. Do whatever it takes to foster a culture and a rhythm where the Word is primary and to be treasured. Don’t listen to the Hamburglar who argues this is for the “adults.” Train them up! Ensure every student has a Bible. Give them away. Be extravagant here.
(Not trying to be all mystical, but when I get up to speak in an environment where I see people with Bibles open, ready and anxious to hear God’s Word preached…it just SEEMS different. Maybe, just maybe, God also delights in us having open Bibles and open hearts!)
College/Youth student: Set the example yourself, if need be. Bring the Word, every time. Find an older person in your church who loves the Bible and ask them questions about it. When you bring friends/unbelievers to church, get them a Bible too.
See, everyone plays a key role. The church will be stronger, healthier, wiser, more gracious, and more impactful when each of us will prize God’s Word. We don’t go to church to listen to somebody talk for 30 minutes. We go to hear the Word of God preached and the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed. The more we participate in that process with an open Bible and a prepared heart, the more we will be changed for the better.
Has the Hamburglar been creeping around your church/youth group/ministry lately? Has he been quietly stealing the most essential ingredient?
That ends now.
Don’t show up empty handed. No matter who you are….bring the Word!
Now if you’ll excuse me, that IBC is calling my name.
Thanks for reading. Your comments and insights are always welcomed. If you enjoyed this, please share it. Want more content? Check the archives or listen to me on the Cross-Cutting Culture Podcast on iTunes.
Out of the park on this one, Josh – way out. I can recall church services where.I could hear hundreds of Bibles being opened and pages rustling as members made their way to the verses to be read. As you point out, many are now using smart phone Bible apps, may not have a Bible, etc., and I would add one more: Powerpoint slides with the verses written out. I think this last one has had significant impact on why Bibles are left at home or otherwise not used. I know I have thought, more than once, that I didn’t need my Bible at church, knowing the verses would he projected on the screen. I was personally convicted, however, to get back to bringing my Bible, or at least following along on my Bible App. I agree fully that we must be careful, and on guard, to ensure we are not just “eating” bread and vegetables, leaving off the spiritual “meat.”
You know I see a lot of positives too though w screens. My philosophy is always push them to Bible for main passage but utilize screen for support verses from elsewhere for quick reference. I think gives a balance. But I know what you mean. Thanks as always for reading, brother!! Appreciate ya!
I agree with you. I don’t oppose screens/slides at all …. they greatly benefit in helping people better follow the message and provide additonal info. Balance is the key, for sure, and using the word to reinforce what is onnthe screen or being said.
Appreciate you, too, Josh … your passion for scripture and service to others is both an encouragement and incentive to do more.
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