Ok, I’m about to get up on a digital soapbox. As a Baptist, I adamantly and unashamedly place my authority in the written word of God which bears witness to the incarnate Word of God. In my sermons, in my theological presuppositions, and in my daily life, I believe that the Bible is authoritative. Period. So it does my heart good when my brothers and sisters clap and shout “Amen!” when a preacher makes the comment “We just need to get back in the Word” or when a friend asks “How much have you been in the Word?”
Many times this is just lip service.
What I mean to say is that we don't take the admonition far enough. Let me explain. Our Christian culture tells us to get into the Word—great! The problem is we don't follow up that statement by telling ourselves to dissect, research, and obsess over the Word with the hermeneutical fine-tooth comb and intellectual vigor that it requires. The preacher implores his congregation to get in the Word, but he needs to finish his sentence by begging them to stay after the service so he can teach them how to study it.
Why is this important? Quite simply, you can make Scripture say whatever you want it to if you aren’t studying it (correctly). All of us have read into a passage something it was not saying at one time or another. How many church splits, divorces, false gospels, etc. have you seen justified by some guy who has a Bible verse to back himself up? There is a right and wrong way to understand a passage of Scripture and getting to the correct understanding often takes time and work. God doesn't always put His cookies on the lower shelf.
I might just offend one of you with this next paragraph: I think most pastors are just concerned about getting the average layperson to do any form of Bible study. “If I can just get them reading it at all, we can go from there,” they think. Or, maybe some believe we need to get people to the application quick so we don’t lose their attention. In these cases, rigorous study is just an antiquated idea in a fast-paced American lifestyle. After all, who has the desire (or ability?) anymore to have a sustained thought? Pastors can just throw their people a one-page devotional with fifteen applications and call it a successful day at Sunday School (tongue placed firmly in cheek).
Church leaders, I speak to you now: A professor told me something in a class on Bible study methods that has really stuck with me through the years. Imagine you were giving a book report on the newest book by (insert your favorite author) and you knew he was going to be present at your report. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing and even dishonoring to misrepresent what the author was saying? That’s precisely the risk we take when we share the Word when we haven’t properly studied it. It is quite arrogant, actually, to think that we can just treat others’ spiritual growth so frivolously as to have so little fear of misrepresenting God in our teaching and preaching.
Just read the Word...and then study it.