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The Bible Challenge: how a personal goal became a global movement

Posted on: December 21, 2017 2:52 PM
The Revd Marek Zabriskie
Photo Credit: St Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh
Related Categories: Bible, USA

Inspired to stretch his own spiritual practice, Marek Zabriskie, a priest in the US-based Episcopal Church, decided to read the entire Bible in a year. Seven years later, what began as one man’s personal challenge has turned into a global movement with thousands of people participating.

The story begins on Christmas Day 2010, when Zabriskie stumbled across an article about a local priest who invited his parish to read through the entire Bible as a New Year’s commitment with him. After first deciding the idea of involving his own parish that coming year was unlikely, Zabriskie decided to try it himself. By the end of January, he invited some members of his congregation at St Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh, in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, to join him.

“I believe 1 January is the very best time to begin The Bible Challenge and to make a spiritual New Year’s resolution to read the Bible in a year. That’s how I started,” he recalls.

He first sent an email to the members of a men’s Bible study group at his church called “Burgers, Beer and the Bible” in the end of January. That following Sunday, 37 members of the church had signed up. He announced the challenge to his parish and invited more to join. By the following Sunday there were 68 participants, then 92 the Sunday after. Well into February 2011 there were over 100 participants in the Bible Challenge. He encouraged other clergy to participate, and shared the news with various friends around the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. The more people that committed to the challenge, the more others did as well.

Through this process, Zabriskie said that he found most Christians have a desire to read the entire Bible but tend to make excuses for why they can’t. “People really respond to being invited. It makes it seem possible,” he said.

He also found that reading the Bible in a year had a major impact on the kind of Christian faith people had. Participants began to bring their questions to him, and it became something more like spiritual direction.

“It created more committed, articulate, and courageous Christians. They were more willing to talk to others about the Bible. It really changes the spiritual DNA of a parish.”

Participants from Zabriskie’s congregation gained a greater focus on and interest in the Bible. More members attend Bible centred events such as a Sunday forum featuring Biblical scholars, a Bible class called Education for Ministry, and one of the participants even attended seminary. By committing to the process, participants allowed the Bible to become centred in their lives, impacting their relationships with each other, at church, and in their communities.

It also affected Zabriskie and his faith. “It has done more to help me than anything I’ve done before,” he said. “It took me from being locked in my head to being moved from the heart. You could really see the affects in my preaching.”

But what really made this specific programme take off? This isn’t the first time Christians have decided to read the Bible in a year, or even the first Bible reading programme that Christians have used. All of these programmes are helpful spiritual practices. Perhaps this particular process is designed for communities, for entire churches or dioceses. Many churches create small Bible study groups to support each other; Zabriskie prayed for various participants every Sunday during the service. But it also spread so rapidly because people were invited to join, and it gained momentum every time someone else participated. What he discovered was not only that the Bible still speaks to us today, but that people like to be invited, and once they start reading God’s word, they want more.

“We can listen to and learn from the Scriptures, but most important thing we can do for our faith is to read the Bible. As St Augustine put it, the Bible is a collection of ‘Love letters written from home.’”

By the end of 2011, The Bible Challenge, as it was now called, looked much like it does today. It had a reading schedule, online supplementary materials, and options for children and youth. The programme has been used across the US and the world, including the UK, Tanzania, and Australia.

  • Click here for more information about The Bible Challenge.