As churches continue to stay closed amid COVID-19, free resources are being offered by Tyndale Bible and the Institute for Bible Reading (IFBR) for communal Bible studies.
“One of the things that we’ve seen recently in the midst of this is that reading the Bible by yourself can be lonely. You're there alone to wrestle with your questions. And so ... we want to bring people together," senior director of mobilization for IFBR Paul Caminiti, told The Christian Post.
In the past few years, Tyndale, a book publisher, and IFBR, an activist think tank, have collaborated to produce the Immerse Bible Reading Experience, which has been growing in popularity.
The program features a six-volume Bible aimed at providing the “best reading experience possible.” Each chapter of the Bible is displayed “according to its literary genre” and void of annotations, section headings and chapter and verse numbers. Additionally, the Scripture is formatted in a “single-column setting.”
Amid stay at home orders due to COVID-19, together the organizations decided to launched a new 10-day virtual Bible “book clubs,” called Immerse From Home. The program offers an online communal Bible study of books Luke through Acts.
“This initial engagement with Scripture would be centered around the big stories of the first century: the life of Jesus, and the birth of the early church,” Caminiti said.
Included in the program is a free copy of the initiative's book Immerse Messiah, which tells the stories of Luke through Acts in narrative novel form. The initiative also provides plenty of digital resources for users to host book club sessions of their own with fellow church members, friends or family members.
“We had created a brand new Immerse Audio. There are several videos that are kind of like trailers of what people are going to read that week.”
Users of the initiative can host video conference studies from home along with others as they discuss the text. Included in the free resources are instructions on setting up Zoom video conferencing accounts along with prompts for open-ended questions.
“We're still inviting people to read on their own but then to get together at least once a week,” Caminiti said. “And you know, what we're hearing is that some groups are doing this now in four weeks instead of two weeks. And they're still reading substantial amounts.”
“The way the two-week plan is set up is that people would read about eight or nine pages a day,” he added. “If you listen to the audio version, the average is 29 minutes a day. And it's a five-day-a-week plan.”
Caminiti noted the benefit the program offers as it keeps people together, whether it is from church small groups or amongst close friends or family members from across the country.
“So we're really urging people not to do this as a solo event,” he said.
As a former Bible publisher for Zondervan, Caminiti noted that many who championed the Bible publishing movement experienced a “crisis of conscience” some 13 years ago, concerning the number of niche Bibles being published and consumed by the modern church culture.
“As we began doing some research about our study Bibles and our devotional Bibles, we discovered to our chagrin that people were reading the notes, and the prayers and the devotionals, but very little reading of the text,” he explained.
“And so that sent me and several of my colleagues kind of on the tour to Christian thought leaders and scholars to ask the question, ‘How is it that when Bible access is skyrocketing (the average household in North America owns four and a half Bibles), why is Bible reading in freefall?’”
He expressed concern on “a culture of misuse of the Scriptures” which is evident in the modern church.
“In our Western individualism, Bible reading has turned into a solo sport, even amongst the devout,” he said. “We go years at a time, getting up in the morning, go into our private area, and read. It’s us and the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. That's just far removed from the intent of the Scriptures at the beginning.”
Caminiti noted that in the early centuries, “communities of faith” would read the Word together.
IFBR and Tyndale are encouraging churches across the country to facilitate what they call “Ezra Moments,” or opportunities to engage in “community Bible reading in this time of crisis.”
Caminiti went on to explain how in the Bible, when the people of Israel returned to their homeland after being held captive, some still felt as if something was broken. In response, Ezra organized a corporate Scripture reading.
With this in mind, Caminiti shared, “Shaken from our usual routines and frenetic pace, the coronavirus has given us an opportunity to refocus on our founding story told in the Scriptures; to observe a modern-day Ezra Moment.”
Photo courtesy: Ben White/Unsplash
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.