Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Reading the Bible at Home: 5 suggestions to help you fulfill that New Year Resolution

Recently our family took on the task of reading the Bible together every day for the first time ever. At breakfast each morning of Advent, we read a story or short passage from the New Testament. I used a list of suggested readings from the back of my son’s Bible and put a slip of paper with each reference into our Advent calendar. 

Nothing miraculous happened. We didn’t change into a different family. My son didn’t suddenly start begging for more church or even more Bible reading. We didn’t discover some previously hidden truth. 

But what we did do was have 24 conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Sometimes they were about the nature and character of Jesus. Sometimes they were about where the Bible comes from and how it is translated. Sometimes they were about faith and faith expression. One time they were about where to find the part of the Bible that talks about the mark of the beast. 

A couple of weeks later our breakfasts have returned to their previous rhythm and conversations, and I am still thinking about how we might find a way to integrate daily Bible reading into our family routine. 

For each family, finding the moment in your day or your week when you and your children are most open to the practice of reading the Bible together is a very unique thing. Breakfast works the best for us. It is the meal that we all eat together most consistently, and it is also a short meal, which means that we are under no pressure to have a long conversation about what we read. The time it takes to eat a bowl of cereal is about the same time it took to read a short passage and ask and answer a couple of questions. That’s what works best for us at this moment in our lives. 

For others, reading together at bedtime or after school or at dinner might work better. 

But even if you figure out the best “moment” to start a practice of reading the Bible more together at home, how can you put together a plan of what to read outside of just starting with Genesis 1:1 and working your way to the end of Revelation?

Here are my five suggestions for plans to kickstart Bible reading together at home. Each example can be adapted or enhanced based on your particular needs and situation.

1. Read straight through your child’s picture Bible: 
While I just pooh-poohed reading the Bible from cover to cover with children, there is a lot to be said for reading a Children’s Picture Bible cover to cover with younger children over the course of several days and weeks - typically ages 7 and under. A picture Bible will cover the most well-known and beloved stories, and while it probably won’t give children a sense of the different books of the Bible, it will illustrate the over-arching story of the Bible from the Old Testament to the New Testament in a child-friendly way. 

I have mentioned previously that my two favorite picture Bibles are My First Bible and Everlasting Stories. Even though they are a little hard to track down, they are worth the effort. The next best choice would be the newish Spark Story Bible that is published by Augsburg Fortress. If you want to read about a children’s picture Bible that I would not recommend, click here. 

2. Read through one single book of the Bible together: 
The Bible is not a single book, but rather a collection of books some of which are basically short stories that are very manageable for children. Make a plan to read the books of Ruth, Jonah and/or Esther together as a family. The easiest way to break them down into daily reading would be to tackle one chapter a day. Reading all three that way would just take 18 days. Once you have tackled that, move to the New Testament and set a plan for reading the Gospel of Mark together. Reading half a chapter a day in Mark every day would only take a month. These kind of simple short term goals can go a long way towards creating a habit of regular Bible reading. 

3. Read a Psalm a day: 
Originally the psalms were used as songs and liturgy for ancient worship. We continue that tradition today as many communities and individuals sing or pray through the psalms on a daily basis. As a family you could use the psalms not just as a way to read the Bible each day, but as a means of daily prayer as well. While taking on this practice won’t improve your child’s awareness of many of the narrative portions of the Bible, it will go a long way towards teaching them the language of the Bible, the language of faith and the incredibly diverse language that the Bible offers when describing God and our relationship to God. Reading a Psalm a day will give them a rich awareness of the different ways that we speak to God - in times of praise or in times of mourning, in our frustrations and in our penitence. Reading one Psalm a day would take you about five months.

4. Read along with the Lectionary: 
Many congregations rely on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) to guide the scriptural focus of worship and the rhythm of the church seasons. The RCL assigns one reading from the Old Testament, one Psalm, one Gospel reading, and one additional New Testament reading (typically from one of the letters) to each Sunday of the year. Readings are based sometimes on a season spent working through a particular book or on a specific holy day  (i.e. Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Pentecost, etc.) 

The benefit of reading the lectionary assigned reading through the year (especially when done prior to the Sunday for which they are assigned) is that both adults and children will be more keyed in to what is going on in worship on Sunday morning. Yes, we read these passages in worship immediately before they are preached on, but hearing them once earlier in the week helps us to hear them even more clearly when we are in worship together. 

Older children and youth would especially benefit from this kind of regular Bible reading. Imagine reading the four assigned readings together throughout the week, having some simple discussions on them at home, and then sitting together in church listening to how your pastor has interpreted them for the community. 

Click here for a link to a simple reading guide that I have put together that will take your family through the four assigned readings for the weeks of January 11 through May 24th of this year. 

5. 100 Things to Know - 30 stories from the New Testament: 
Finally, if you are familiar with this blog, you know that I have assembled a list of 100 things from the  Bible and the life of the community that I think children should know before they move on to their confirmation year. Most of the items on the list would be covered in a traditional Sunday School program, but many of them should also be reinforced through regular Bible reading at home.  

The great thing about this list is that these are almost all memorable and familiar stories that you as a parent probably already know and are fully equipped to talk about with your children. When we read daily with our son this past Advent, again and again he would mention to me that he knew about a particular story we read but had never read it for himself. For example, he knew that Jesus walked on water, but didn’t know the actual story from the Bible. This list is full of stories like that - the ones we assume our children know, but that we rarely take the time to work through with them. 

Click here for a link to a guide I have created that will take you through 30 items on my list from the New Testament. The list can be worked through in about a month’s time if you just read one gospel’s version of each story, or you can read through all of them over about three months time.

Over the next few months I will be sharing even more about this list and the ways parents can use it as I look forward to my upcoming book from SPCK.

Blessings on your reading together in 2015. As soon as we work out our own family’s plan, I will be sure to share it here! In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about what has worked for your family in the past, or what plans you have made for this new year.