When a new believer is introduced to the Bible, a whole new world opens up to them. And we want to encourage the exploration of that world. We want them to learn how to read and study the Bible so they mature in knowledge, faith, and most importantly, Christlikeness.
So below are some ways you can encourage mature in their Bible reading. Oh – and these would also be great ways for YOU to mature in your reading.
Two things very quickly: (a.) I’m not going to discuss how to STUDY the Bible, just ways to enhance and deepen their reading of it; and (b) I’m also not going to discuss praying about what’s being read, because I’m just gonna go ahead and assume that (1) YOU are praying about what you are reading, and (2) you’ve taught THEM to pray about what they are reading. (Right? Tell me I’m right about this…)
Here are 10 ways to help someone mature in their Bible reading:
- Point out that the Bible is not a book, it’s a library.
Why is this important? Because the Bible can be intimidating, especially for a new believer. If they see the Bible as a book, they’re logically going to want to start at the beginning – which can be intimidating for even seasoned believers. And since the Bible is not put together chronologically, it can be confusing, especially when getting into the prophets.
You don’t walk into a library and grab the book closest to the door and work your way to the back. You go to the section that has the information you need at the time, allowing you to by-pass the sections you don’t need yet (or ever – for instance, you’ll never see me in the home improvement section…).
In the same way, get them started in the section that is most relevant for the new believer, which leads me to suggest that you…
- Have them begin the Gospels and Acts.
Start with the historical biographies of Jesus. These were written by eyewitnesses and investigators, so they are the place for every believer to start.
It doesn’t really matter which one they start with, although I generally start with Mark, because it is shorter, is more “action-based,” and doesn’t deal with genealogies, which a new believer might get lost in. Yes, the genealogies are important, and in truth, I enjoy reading them – but I suggest getting into Matthew and Luke after Mark. Again, how you do it is up to you. Many disciplers have their people start with John, and that’s awesome, too.
The point is, start with JESUS, not Paul, Peter, Moses, or David.
This will provide the best foundation for a new believer, right? After all, learning about the One they’ve recently put their trust in would be a good place to begin…
After that, have them…
- Finish the New Testament before transitioning to the Old Testament.
The NT is where all the foundational theology, doctrine, and application for the new believer is found. They need to start there. Since the whole NT is about Jesus, and the idea is to help new believers become devoted followers of his, it’s vitally important that the new believer be grounded there before trying to tackle the Old Testament.
Expose them to the great teachings and promises of God for the Church. Help them appreciate how practical and relevant Jesus’ teachings (and the rest of the teachings of the NT) are for our everyday living here in the 21st century. Let them gain some foundational growth by getting rooted in Jesus first of all, then getting fed through the rest of the NT as they mature a bit in Christ.
When they’ve read through the NT, reading through the OT becomes a bit more feasible and the get a better grasp of the flow of Scripture.
Speaking of the OT…
Since the OT is put together in “types” of literature, it’s okay to skip around a bit in terms of what books to read.
For newer believers, I suggest they begin their OT journey in the Psalms and then Proverbs, because they give great theology about God and His care for His people as well as great practical advice for daily living.
You might have them start in Genesis and work through the first 5 books, since those obviously set the foundation of the rest of the OT. That’s up to you. However, be ready to discuss the issues of stoning rebellious children, tattoos, homosexual relationships, and mixing fabrics, not to mention eating pork.
As a “pre-believer” reading the OT, I was racked with guilt each time I ate a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, because I had no one to explain that Jesus had taken care of that when declared all foods clean in the NT. This is another reason for a new believer to start in the NT instead the OT.
- Encourage reading Scripture instead of devotional books at first.
I’m not against devotional books. I’ve used a couple myself over the years.
But too often they are used to REPLACE reading Scripture instead of SUPPLEMENTING the Scripture reading. And often they use a snippet of a verse without any context whatsoever, which can lead to misunderstanding and misapplication.
Also, if they are leaning too much on the writings of the devotional writer, they might never develop the habit of meditating on the Scriptures for themselves, almost guaranteeing a “devotion” to Christ that rarely goes below surface level. This can lead to a very nominal life and casual commitment to Jesus.
Obviously, some are better than others, and some of the classic devotional books never lose their punch over time. But I’m willing to bet my sister-in-law’s cat that even these authors would caution against using their books to replace actually reading the Scriptures.
After developing a healthy Bible reading habit and exhibiting a solid walk with Jesus through the Scriptures, then maybe the occasional devotional can be a beneficial addition to their time in Scripture – but only as a supplement, never as the main dish.
- Have them journal their insights and questions.
Encourage them to write these things down. Invite them to ask you the questions that come up. Let them know that these things are great to look back on as they mature and see how God worked in their lives. And I have found in my own relationships with new believers that hearing what God is teaching them is a great encouragement to me. Why? Because new believers haven’t yet lost that “pure and simple devotion” to Jesus that can often get pushed aside in more mature believers if we’re not careful.
- Discourage random reading.
Maybe you know people who think that the best way to read the Scriptures is to just open the Bible at random, throw their finger on the page, and read that – believing that God will direct them to what they need for that day. Let me point out two problems with that:
- God commands us to study and learn the Scriptures. Random reading doesn’t allow that – rather, it often leads to error, as passages are taken wildly out of context and used to for a basis for belief and living.
- God put the Scriptures together in BOOKS and LETTERS for a reason: He wanted us to understand His Word in the context of what else is written and the history in which it was written. Again, random reading keeps this from happening. Not only can error occur, it robs us of understanding what was going on when that passage was written and therefore, what God was up to – so we lose an opportunity to further be in awe of Him.
There is a humorous story of someone who used this method to read the Scriptures. One day, his finger landed on, “…and Judas hanged himself.” Puzzled, he tried it again, and his finger landed on, “Go and do likewise.”
Obviously, that wasn’t the Lord leading his reading!
To me, this is one of dangers of devotional books. As I mentioned a little bit ago, they often take a single verse (or FRAGMENT) of a verse and make a lesson from it. But there is little or no context given, and very little or no encouragement to read the material surrounding the verse of the day.
Simply put, reading through BOOKS of the Bible instead of mere verses or passages gives the best foundation for understanding and applying the Scripture (with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, of course!)
Another way to help this is to make sure the Bible your new believer is reading is printed in paragraph form rather than each verse on a separate line. Seeing a verse or phrase in a paragraph will automatically alert them that there is a context to consider when reading.
A sign of a person maturing in their Bible reading will be recognizing context as they pray over the passage and look for application.
- Stress baby steps, then walking.
Have them start with baby steps of 5-10 minutes reading. New believers don’t need to spend 30-60 minutes per day reading, or even get through a whole chapter each time they sit down to read.
The important thing is to read in a way that allows them to think, ask questions, meditate on what they are reading and pray about what they are reading so they can apply it to their lives.
As their love for Jesus and the Scriptures grow, they will naturally want to spend more time in the Word.
- Investigate reading programs.
There are TONS of great Bible reading programs (Ok – I don’t know how much they actually weigh…). My favorite place to look for them is www.Youversion.com. You can find reading programs that will help a person read through the New or Old Testament, books of the Bible, or even topical programs.
If you are helping someone establish a habit of daily reading, you might choose one of these to help them. Many of them have reading calendars to help keep track and let them see their progress, which can be very encouraging. These are especially helpful if you do them together.
But choose one that starts with gospels if they haven’t read through them yet.
- Read the Bible chronologically.
This one is for the more mature and advanced Bible reader, but it is one of my favorite ways to read through the Scriptures when I read through the Bible.
This arranges the passages in the chronological order of the events as they happened. This way, you see what was going on when David wrote that particular psalm or when Haggai wrote his prophecies. It really puts these things into perspective and enhances the understanding of those passages.
This may seem to go against my earlier admonition to read books, not mere portions lifted from here or there. However, reading through the Scriptures this way takes you through the entire Bible and the arrangement actually FOCUSES on the context of the verses. This also helps in avoiding errors from not recognizing the context of a particular passage.
My favorite one is HERE. It takes you through in a year, but obviously you can go at your own pace.
- Read the same passage as the person you’re discipling between meeting times.
This is a great way to encourage regular Bible reading. If you’re reading the same portions of Scripture, your new person is more likely to actually do the reading. And it’s a great foundation for your conversations as you disciple your new believer. Asking them what they’ve learned in those passages and if they have any questions is a great way to help them grow in Christ – even if you have been meeting for years.
I’m doing this right now with someone, and I’m really enjoying it.
So there are 10 ways to help a growing believer mature in their Bible reading, but these are good for any believer, even if they’ve been walking with Jesus for many years.
I would suggest that the next time you meet with the person you’re discipling that you discuss some of these options. If the person has never read through the gospels and Acts, start there right away.
These are just suggestions, of course. You will have a better handle of where your person is in terms of their handle on Scripture. A lot can be affected by their background – whether they had a lot of exposure to Scripture prior to coming to Christ or not much, if any. That will make a difference in how you approach it.
But again, regardless of their past exposure to Scripture, if someone is new to Jesus they should begin with the gospels. Having them start in the “Jesus” section of the library instead of the “Israel” section, or the “Church Leaders” section will help build the solid foundation of their life in Christ.
On a related note, I believe everyone should read through the Scriptures at least a few times in their lives. But I think it’s a mistake to ask a new Christian to do that. Sadly, I don’t even think most Christians have read through the Bible. You can set an example of that down the road a couple of years, and maybe even do it together then.
Other suggestions for moving on after covering the gospels would be to use great book studies which work through various books of the Bible. This will enhance their reading while also exposing them to the discipline of studying a book of Scripture.
God bless you as you invest in helping someone mature in their reading and understanding of Scripture. It’s absolutely crucial they learn to make this a habit early. Not only is it a great discipline, it brings the foundation to solid rock – so when the storms inevitably come, they will stand strong – as you can probably attest to in your own life.
Obviously, there are other ways to help people mature in this area. I would LOVE to hear what you are doing to help people. Please comment below and share with the rest of us what works for you as you work with new believers.