I recently got on the phone with Rachel Jankovic, author, speaker, and mom of seven, to talk about the Bible Reading Challenge that originated at her church.
Christ Church, pastored by Doug Wilson up in Moscow, Idaho, renovated its women’s ministry two years ago. Previously, they’d done monthly meetings, weekly studies, and brunches, and experienced all the normal struggles keeping up with childcare. Women would volunteer to organize events and perform other roles within the ministry, but in the end they had a nagging feeling that a lot of effort was being spent with little spiritual return.
“We just scrapped all of it,” said Jankovic. “We didn’t want women to think we have to have somebody making coffee for us and watching our kids in order to be doing well spiritually. We bagged up all the women’s ministry items and just encouraged women to read their bible.”
This is how the Bible Reading Challenge was born. Jankovic and others devised a fairly intensive schedule, taking them through the entire Bible during the school year and then again through the New Testament in the summer. Taglines for the challenge used online and in print have included “Theologically diverse, literally on the same page,” “#samepagesummer,” and “It’s time we all got on the same page.” The plan averages six chapters a day. There’s a Facebook group for women to hop on and encourage one another or discuss the day’s reading. Last year, the plan was downloaded 25,000 times in nine languages.
Moderators encourage people not to get bogged down or try to “catch up” if they miss days; the challenge is to get right back in with everybody else and keep going. They use the metaphor of a table: when you skip breakfast, that doesn’t mean you should skip lunch and dinner too. It just means you come back to the table and eat.
“We’re not trying to teach the Bible here,” says Jankovic. “We’re trying to teach a love of the Bible. We’re trusting God’s word to be better than us at bringing somebody’s attention to things. I think the word can handle it. I think the Spirit can handle it.”
Their women’s ministry budget was redirected in time to cover things like buying paperback Bibles to give away, printing Challenge invites and cards to hand out in the community, and throwing Bible Reading kickoff events. They began to see overwhelming responses to the plan that first year. Soon, other churches joined in, and then churches across continents were involved. Across the board, organizers have been surprised to find that women in very biblically literate communities are still getting more out of the constant scripture intake than they expected.
“We think we know what the world looks like when Christians read their Bibles,” said Jankovic. “But I think that’s just because all Christians have a Bible. I don’t think we actually know what happens when all those Christians are reading the Bible, because I don’t think we’ve yet seen that.
“My whole life, we’ve been praying for reformation and revival. I thought reformation and revival would lead to people wanting to be in the word, but now I realize that the Holy Spirit is in the word, and so having people being in the word means that reformation and revival can come out of it. That is someone responding to the spirit in the word.”
The challenge also encourages women to use their social media platforms for something that is actually edifying and meaningful. Women naturally strengthen and encourage each other with positive words online and in person–complimenting a purse or accomplishment–so the idea is to use these natural skills in inviting one another to eat at the table of scripture.
In the spirit of that exhortation, I invite you to join me this summer! The Bible Reading Challenge offers a standalone summer reading plan that puts you through the New Testament in three months (June-August). I’m printing my plan out now and excited to join these ladies. If you decide to join, let me know online or in person and we can keep up with each other! The plans are also available from a Bible reading app (directions here).
No need to post pictures of your coffee-and-potted-plant Bible reading setup; a lot of these ladies are listening on the go or carrying beat-up paperback copies of the word in their cars. Just keep it up and pass it on!