From the beginning we have looked for ways to coax, bribe, bait, and equip everybody from kindergarten up to engage in some kind of private devotional exercise. I’m constantly telling people during the weekend services to go home and read their Bibles. The practical application for many of our messages is to go home and begin praying a specific prayer. Often, we will print the prayer on a card and hand it out at the end of a message or series. Occasionally, I will select four to eight passages that go along with a series and we will create memory verse cards to hand out to our congregants. Not an inexpensive endeavor. We encourage people to read ahead for the next week.
As mentioned earlier, one of our most important ministries, Starting Point, introduces seekers and returners to the importance of self-study and prayer. In that environment, attendees are given simple guides for reading the Bible on their own. In addition, they are given Bibles along with the curriculum.
On the giving side of things, we are very upfront with the importance of what I refer to as priority, progressive, percentage giving. Priority as in: give first, save second, and live on the rest. Percentage as in: choose a percentage and give it consistently. Progressive is a challenge to up the amount by a percentage every year. While I’m a big believer in tithing, people who have never given away a percentage of their incomes are not going to begin with 10 percent. Sure, some will. But if you are going to teach people to tithe, you may have to start with some baby steps.
On the family side, parents of elementary-age kids are given a Parent Card every month. This card is a simple guide to help parents lead their children in a daily devotion. Every year our middle school and high school divisions create a curriculum or weekend event around the importance of private spiritual disciplines. Recently, our high school ministry created an entire weekend experience around the theme To Hear God Speak … Hide and Seek. We build a gadget-free quiet time into the daily schedule of all our student camps. Each student is given a devotional to read and is required to sit alone for thirty minutes to read, reflect, and pray. One of the most emotional and memorable moments of my summer is standing on a hotel balcony and seeing eight or nine hundred high school students spread out along the beach reading their Bibles, scribbling notes, and praying. It gives me hope for our nation and our world. For many of those kids, that exercise jump-starts their devotional lives.
Now, before we move on to the third catalyst, there’s an important facet of this one I don’t want you to miss. The sooner we can get unbelievers reading their Bibles and praying, the better. You don’t need to be shy about pushing them to do so. But for it to work, you’ve got to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. The way you talk about the Bible on the weekend will determine their interest in the Bible during the week. You’ve got to make it accessible. You’ve got to give them permission to read it before they believe it. As I mentioned during the discussion of the first catalyst, if you present the Scriptures in helpful terms, you’ve just removed an obstacle.
This is another reason we print prayers and hand them out. People who don’t normally pray often don’t know where to begin. It may be second nature for you. It’s terrifying for some of them. Terrifying. They need printed prayers to prime the pump. Now, I’ve been around long enough to know that somebody out there in reader world is thinking: But does God hear the prayers of unbelievers? I’m inclined to think God hears whatever he wants to hear. Based on what Luke tells us in Acts 10 about Cornelius, the Roman centurion, we know God hears sincere prayers. Heck, Cornelius got a visit from an angel. I’ve never had one of those and I have a master’s in theology. So I wouldn’t worry too much about encouraging the seekers, skeptics, and Roman centurions in your church to start praying.
Here are a few other things to ponder:
- In your model, at what age do you begin teaching the importance of private spiritual disciplines?
- How and how often is this value reinforced with your students?
- What devotional and personal Bible study resources do you make available, and how accessible are they?
- How difficult is it for people in your church to get a Bible?
- When is the last time you did a weekend message on spiritual disciplines?
- How could you use the weekend to reinforce this value on a regular basis?
- What could you do to prioritize this in the mix of everything else you are doing?
- Are spiritual disciplines a priority in your life?
Stanley, A. (2012). Deep and wide: creating churches unchurched people love to attend. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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