Pastoring a Church without Bibles: Possible, but Not Recommended

This update is related to the One Million Bibles: A Crossway Global Initiative campaign.

The Key Component to Church Life

Try brushing your teeth without a toothbrush, running a marathon without water, or teaching without lecture notes. All of these would theoretically still be possible—we’ve probably all brushed our teeth using the finger method at least once—but they’re clearly missing key components.

A group of Filipino pastors recently gathered together for pastoral training in Vigan City, located in the far northern region of the Philippines. They came from all over the country, some from small churches in rural villages and some from larger churches in bigger towns. But all of them had something in common: many of their congregations lack the foundational resource—a Bible—they need to effectively grow in their faith.

Michael Rayla, pastor of Rayma Worship Center near Vigan City, has felt God’s specific calling to pastorship. “God gave me this burden and passion to teach the Word of God to those who have not yet been reached with the gospel message of salvation. God called me to be a pastor, evangelist, and bearer of the truth.”

But teaching the Word of God would be a lot easier if he and his congregation had better access to Bibles. Because pastors like Michael often live in rural areas of the country, it can take a 3-hour bus ride to the nearest large city to buy a Bible. And when they arrive, who’s to say if there will be Bibles available at a price they can afford for their church members who cannot otherwise afford one?

Crossway talked with three of these pastors about their experiences in this environment. At the end of their pastoral training, each received boxes of Bibles provided by the One Million Bibles Initiative to give to members of their congregation, many who have never had a Bible of their own. We asked them what it has been like to function as a church without daily access to God’s Word, how it has impacted them as pastors, and the difference these Bibles will make for their congregations.

Do members of your church have access to a Bible?

Michael: Not all of the people in my congregation have their own copy of the Bible. To compound this problem, since I am still new in this pastoral role we haven’t raised enough funds to buy Bibles for those without them. Because of this, the Bibles we do have stay in the pews for use on Sunday mornings. When we have Bible study during the week, I distribute Bibles for our discussion time, but they give them back at the end of our time. I see to it that for every Bible study, they hold a Bible in their hands so they can look at the passages we’re discussing.

Lee Andrew Lim (Gospel Light Baptist Church, Batac City): Some of the members of my church who don’t have a Bible are using their cell phones for their Bibles, and it’s not good because it can be distracting. They may be tempted to open other apps. I know it has happened that, while I’m preaching, some are browsing Facebook and not their Bibles. But if they had a physical copy of the Bible, it would be very beneficial because they would concentrate on the Word. If you are using the cell phone as your Bible, the temptation is there to open other apps.

But it’s hard for some members of my church to have their own copy of the Bible primarily because they’re so expensive. And it’s even more expensive to have a quality Bible with good binding, which they take into consideration when weighing whether they can buy a Bible. This means that often they prefer to buy a cell phone and download the free app of the Bible instead of using a physical Bible.

How does this lack of Bibles impact your role as a pastor?

Joseph Lu (Jesus Is Alive Community Church, Vigan City): It’s very important that each person in my congregation has their own Bible. Without it, how will they grow? How will they be fed spiritually? It’s not enough that they just come on Sundays and listen to the pastors deliver the Word to them. I always tell my congregation that they ought to have read the passage for that Sunday before coming to church. But how can they read it if they don’t have a Bible?

I know how the Bible daily shapes my life and changes me. The Lord is going to use this same gospel to change them too, and they will be better Filipinos and more faithful Christians. I believe that they will witness more effectively if they know the truth that is found in the Word of God.

Michael: It’s very difficult to teach in a church where people don’t have Bibles. We have been teaching them to practice spiritual disciplines, and a key part is to read the Bible. But as it stands now, they have the opportunity to read the Bible in church only because they don’t have Bibles at home. One of my remedies is to print the passage out for the next week, so that they can take that home with them to study. But even then, it’s still not the same because they are able to see and study one portion of Scripture at a time.

What will receiving their own Bibles mean to your congregation?

Michael: For the people in my church to receive a Bible who don’t have one is a really big blessing. They will be joyful to have a Bible because they all really long to have a copy of their own. Just recently I was teaching them the significance of the Word of God for all of life, and they have come to see how valuable it is. The Bible is filled with instructions that come from the Lord—it’s a manual that they need to have access to each day, not just when they come to church.

Lee: This opportunity is so special. Your gift of giving us the Bible is really a great blessing to my church. You coming from the United States and seeing us here in the church, in our province to receive the Bible is special. Having access to the Bible is so helpful to our members because they now have daily insight into God’s instructions for them. They know it is something that they need to study, and they will grow deeper into that day by day.

Joseph: My prayer is that each recipient of these Bibles will come to know more about the Lord and grow in their faith. Right now we are studying Paul’s epistles to Timothy, especially Paul’s experiences and how he relates to Timothy as they both experience suffering (2 Timothy 2). So when suffering comes for the people in my church, we’ll be better equipped to stand because our faith is being grounded in the Word of God.

Joseph, Michael, and Lee are among the dozens of pastors who have received Bibles through the One Million Bibles Initiative. Throughout the past year, God has faithfully provided many donors to support this initiative, allowing over 350,000 Bibles to be in the process of printing and distribution around the world where they’re needed most. These Bibles will equip believers like those in churches throughout the Philippines to worship the Lord in truth and more faithfully minister to their communities.

While we celebrate this progress, the work is not yet complete. By December 31, our aim is to support the printing and distribution of an additional 150,000 Bibles. This will help us to surpass the halfway point in our overall goal of distributing one million Bibles.

A gift of $40 will support the printing and distribution of 10 Bibles. Would you consider joining us today in an effort to provide Bibles to those in need so that pastors like Joseph, Michael, and Lee Andrew would be able to provide Bibles to everyone in their congregations?

Join us as we provide God’s Word to believers in need!

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