My father-in-law, who pastors a small church in the mountains of northern California, loves teaching and does it well. His preaching style is typically to take a medium- to large-sized passage and walk through it with his people, explaining it plainly but taking time to address issues or difficulties in the text. As he and I recently talked about his approach to ministry, he mentioned that he purposefully preaches larger expository units, even though he knows he could spend more time on each passage.

His reason? “People don’t know their Bibles,” he said.

Let’s rewind to, say, the first 1500 years of Christianity. Copies of the Scriptures were rare and expensive, so for most people, the words of God were learned and understood aurally (e.g., “faith comes by hearing…”). Scripture memory was precious, which made singing Scripture especially helpful, and Scripture reading in the public gathering of the church was indispensable. Few could go home and read a Bible for themselves.

But now that we can read for ourselves, perhaps we overestimate how many of us actually do.

As pastors and teachers, it’s our responsibility to slowly mine the depths of Scripture for our people and to teach and preach deeply. For example, our pastor is currently working through Romans, a book which is best absorbed slowly. But we also find ways to establish breadth as well, covering larger units of Scripture over time. It’s a balance issue. So as much as my generation feels the need to avoid weak, aimless preaching by attending to depth, we also have to avoid neglecting breadth.

I can think of two possible benefits of this:

  1. People will know what’s in the Bible. Both new and old believers will be exposed to a maximum amount of Scripture and develop a better idea of what comprises the “whole counsel of God.”
  2. We’ll guard ourselves against doctrinal and practical imbalances. Scripture adds nuance to its own statements throughout its pages, and as we encounter these “balancing truths” more frequently, they’ll challenge the tendency of our hearts, our minds, our ministries, and our families to pendulum swing.
  3. It deters those of us who teach from parking excessively on “pet” books (or testaments) or wandering through an aimless string of topics that we think our people will find interesting. It reminds us that all of us have an urgent need to hear the words of God, and we’re going to have to be intentional to get through all of them.

So while we rightfully lead our congregations to read their Bibles at home, I sometimes wonder if it’s helpful to act as if they don’t. That is, we should give more weight to aural communication, to the public reading and explanation of large portions of Scripture, and to thoughtfully assessing the “coverage” that our members get from the church’s various  services. We should find and teach songs that quote or paraphrase Scripture.

After all, we already do these things for the children’s Sunday School curriculum because we assume that they’re not all readers. Is it any different with our adults?