Thursday, December 3, 2009

Free Bibles on the Way: thoughts on Bibles in Congregational Life

First Lutheran Community Church is the 11th congregation I've served either as pastor or intern. The availability of Bibles and the word of God in those congregations and others where I have worshiped is spotty at best. Some observations and reflections:
+ Some congregations have Bibles in the pews, but in most places, they are not actively used.
+ Some congregations have many Bibles in education rooms, but they can often be old translations, or not suited to the group that meets in that room.
+ Doesn't it feel sinful to get rid of an unusable Bible (because of translation or condition)?
+ What are the important factors in connecting people with the word of God in congregational life? In worship? In Christian education? In encouraging personal and family Bible reading? How are these three segments of Bible use distinct and/or related?
+ Most congregations take for granted that the NRSV is the be all, end all translation for all Bible-related matters.

One of the most joyful legacies for me related to Martin Luther was his translation of the Bible to the language of the people. If I am working with an affirmation of baptism or adult Christian education group, I often spend significant time addressing the importance of this legacy and what it means for the life of faith. I do my best to be intentional about engaging the people of the congregation with the word of God, and I have developed leadership practices that reflect that intentionality.

+ Availability of free Bibles. If we believe that the Bible is instructive for faith and life, let's make the word of God available to people so that they can explore and learn about God's saving love in Jesus! At First Lutheran Community Church in December, Free Bibles will be available for you. You can take one for yourself, you can give it to someone who might use one, you can give it as a gift--whatever. People have made generous donations so that the word of God can flow freely. In some traditions, giving Bibles away is common practice, but the practice seems slow to develop in Lutheran congregations. The Bibles are indeed free to you or anyone who comes to FLCC and asks for one (or more).

+ Availability of Bible translations. I have a strong sense of people's listening ability during a worship service. That sense led me to change my preaching style early in my first congregation after ordination. Moving away from a manuscript made me aware of the oral/auditory connectivity of a Bible passage and a sermon. Though I prefer the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) for Bible study because of its solid scholarship and appropriate gender inclusivity, I think that Bible parallels and use of other translations can be helpful in study as well. I think the NRSV lacks impact and comprehension on the oral/auditory level. In some congregations I have used the New Living Translation or The Message for the purpose of comprehension of a public oral reading (worship). I find that people are much more engaged during preaching when they connect with the lesson being read aloud. There is a trade-off in using the NLT or The Message because of interpretive issues, and I'm not formulaic about implementing more audio-conducive translations. Sometimes I'm not sure if I want to make the interpretation trade-off for the sake of hearing. Some of the auditory issues can be addressed with pew Bibles--but one can't force people in the pews to both listen and read for the greatest comprehension. I believe scripture engagement is important in congregational life, and the quality of that connection takes careful discernment.

+ Use of screens. Is it better to have Bible readings displayed on a screen? Is it more effective to have people become more familiar with Bible use by working with a pew Bible instead of using a screen? Are images that go along with Bible readings more helpful for communicating biblical story themes? What combination of image, audio and translation will offer the best opportunity to more intimately connect with the biblical story?

I am thankful that FLCC leadership has embraced giving away Bibles, and I hope that the way we give away Bibles reflects both hospitality and a desire to connect people to the grace of God. The Bibles will arrive soon, I will keep you posted. If you want to give a donation so that Bibles will continue to be given away freely, please contact me at

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