by Michael Whitworth
In September 2010, I was blessed to begin my ministry with the Jersey Village congregation in Houston, Texas. My wife and I fell in love with the brethren here and immediately felt like a part of the family. I soon believed that circumstances were right to attempt a very ambitious project I had always wanted to launch. After seeking God’s will in prayer, and receiving the overwhelming support of my shepherds, the Jersey Village launched the “Eat This Book” program in 2011.
The program was launched out of a concern for the famine for the Word of God that exists in our culture. Whereas there was a time when members of Christ’s church were known as a “people of the book,” those days now regrettably belong to a bygone era. Too many preachers are painfully aware of the biblical illiteracy in their congregation but feel helpless to improve it. In some churches, various Bible-reading programs are launched each New Year, only to fall by the wayside when the body gets to what I call the “pots and pans” section of the Old Testament (known to you as Leviticus and Numbers).
Jersey Village didn’t want “Eat This Book” to be just another garden-variety “read your Bible” program. Simply put, we wanted something that would actually excite our members, especially those who do not attend regularly. By God’s blessing and power, here is what we did:
- A schedule was published with the Bible broken down into 365 daily readings. This schedule was made available on a 5.5” x 8.5” post card that could easily fit in Bibles. The schedule was also made available on the website we created.
- A family devotional was published each week online and also made available at our Welcome Center. These devotionals were written by our ministers, elders, and other men in the congregation. We know that families are very busy these days, but felt that if we could make it easy for them to have just one devotional together weekly, we would have been successful. Our education deacon designed a fantastic program to reward our children if their family completed these devotionals.
- A readers guide was published in book form on a monthly basis and also made available online in blog format. These guides were a brief sketch of the passage for that day that would discuss what was going on, its importance to the rest of Scripture, and explain any odd details (i.e. what is a covenant of salt?).
- Our monthly small-group devotional lesson was written based on that day’s passage (e.g. if on Feb. 12 the daily reading covered Numbers 8-10, the small group devotional focused on something from that passage).
- In December 2010, we took the names of those willing to pledge to read their Bible in 2011. These names were compiled in a list and the ministers and elders prayed over these names regularly. On the first Sunday of each moth, these names were read publically in worship and then prayed for. We ended up with over 300 pledges, some from out-of-state, and even some from other countries who heard about the program and wanted to participate.
- We designed t-shirts with Ezek. 3:3 on the front and the Eat This Book logo on the back and made these shirts available to members for purchase. These ended up being overwhelmingly popular.
- A website was created with the daily reading schedule, family devotionals, readers guides, and several other Bible study resources, including book recommendations, links to audio Bibles, Keys to Bible Study tips, etc.
- The congregation was encouraged to read the daily passage together whenever possible (Ladies Bible Class, Men’s Prayer Breakfasts, Youth devotionals).
We kicked-off the program in January 2011 with our first Eat This Book Marathon in which I endeavored to read the Bible through in 70 hours. I had planned to do this all on my own without any help, but God had other ideas. It took nine hours for me to finish Chronicles, and I became very sick, so some of our teenage boys read for me for about an hour in the midnight hours. I also had help with the prophets and portions of the Gospels. Five hours late, I finished Revelation just before midnight on Wednesday night. I believe the marathon did a lot of galvanize the congregation and excite them.
When this program was first launched, we clearly outlined three goals to the Jersey Village family. With this program, we wanted to:
- Increase biblical literacy
- Bring the congregation closer together
- Bring families closer together
It was the shared belief that the program accomplished these goals. The elders and ministers regularly heard members discussing on Sunday what they had been reading that week. Questions came up regularly about something that had been read. We frequently heard someone remark, “I never knew that was in there.” Families were motivated to read the Bible with their children. More importantly, people who said they had never read the Bible through in a year did so for the first time.
In 2012, we have continued the Eat This Book program, but scaled down a little bit so that we could concentrate on other things (this year, we are focusing on doing for prayer what Eat This Book did for Bible reading). But we offered various reading plans (chronological, OT/NT in the same day, etc.) and again encouraged people to be daily in the word. We also hosted the Eat This Book marathon once again, streamed it online, and invited all the men of the congregation to participate (there was no way I was going to do that again by myself!). The response was overwhelming and provided a great kick-off to the new year once again.
My experiences with our Eat This Book program convinced me that any congregation can have a successful Bible-reading program. And it can carry any name that you can come up with. But the key to its success is that it has to be made a BIG deal. The elders and ministers have to constantly make it a BIG deal. Please don’t settle for a schedule published in the bulletin and a weekly count of those who read their Bible. Dream big and trust God to bless your endeavors. Friend, there is a famine in our land for a word from the Lord (Amos 8:11-12). We must feed God’s people; we must encourage them to eat this book! If you have further questions about this program, would like to receive some of the resources we created, or would simply like to discuss how to implement a similar program in your congregation, please contact me.
God bless you and your congregation as you eat his book!
Michael Whitworth is the pulpit minister for the Jersey Village Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.