Restoring the Bible’s Missional Role in the Family

Scripture in Mission


Restoring the Bible’s Missional Role in the Family 

by Paul C J Burgess, Bible Families



Tackling Biblical poverty in Christian homes: 1. The Situation. 2. Causes. 3. Consequences. 4. Towards a Solution




Recently retired from 24 years Seminary teaching in Pakistan, my wife and I have launched a fledgling fellowship called Bible Families to combat the increasing Biblical illiteracy stunting growth in Christian communities in both Pakistan and the West.


It began with a book – Selina Hasting’s fine Children’s Illustrated Bible – discovered in the Sale section of a Glasgow branch of W H Smith. Upon studying this book the idea occurred to me that, apart from making a great gift for our grand-daughter, it could serve an excellent double purpose of promoting regular family prayers amongst my former students (now young pastors throughout Pakistan) while ensuring a balanced grasp of the Big Story of the Bible itself as each father proceeded through these retold contributing stories with his family.


A project was begun to obtain 30 copies (at much reduced price) and send them out with various willing friends travelling to Pakistan and place them with 30 families. (We began with pastors because there seems little likelihood of success with lay people if their pastors were not “doing it” also!) A year later this March we visited 24 of these families are were impressed by their commitment to the vision of each father reading the Bible regularly to his  children and the family praying together. 


Further Bible Families were established among Pakistani families settled in America as a result of a visit there in May for a Missionary Reunion. More recently a family is joining in Sweden. We now pray for Bible Families to grow into a movement of God’s people rediscovering the joy and fruitfulness of family prayer life around God’s Word. The challenge is to engage Western parents as well as Pakistani families.

Response to Preparatory Report

Reading the Lausanne Cape Town report “Three Major Priorities In Eradicating Bible Poverty” has stimulated the following comments that pitch Western attitudes against Eastern values (as experienced in Pakistan). I will present these responses under four headings:

  1. The Situation
  2. Its Causes
  3. Its Consequences
  4. Working towards its Solution

The Situation: UK

“Biblical Poverty” – How ironic that the very Sunday night we go to a venue advertised as one of Lausanne Cape Town’s 600 Global Sites, we find the “Bible Teaching” consists of a slide show of a church member’s “world tour”, with only passing reference to a Bible passage! This thin diet was on offer at a church whose motto is “Making Christ Central in Peoples’ Lives”! 

  • “Why do the Scriptures not transform lives where and when they are available?” – This is the key question pastors and local church leaders should be asking themselves in the West. The church we attend has been blessed with more Bibles in the pews than any other I have ever attended, but that doesn’t make it a transformed church! 

The Situation: Pakistan

“Western adults and youth are mostly ignorant of the simplest facts found in the Scriptures” – Biblical illiteracy is not just prevalent in the West. In Pakistan Adnan Sandhu, once, during a family visit as a recently graduated student, was so troubled by a teenage relative’s ignorance of basic facts about Jesus, that he founded the Pakistan Sunday School Movement., Now, 8 years later, it is Pakistan’s largest Sunday School organisation. Horror can stimulate action!

Its Causes

“What blocks or hinders the Scriptures from bringing about transformation?” 

  • A busy lifestyle

“Busy with work, family, church responsibilities and entertainment” – Why has this busy lifestyle affected westerners in a way not so true of easterners? Thus, for example, the project Bible has spread quickly amongst Pakistani families in Pakistan (its origin), America and now Sweden, but has not gained commitments from indigenous UK families. 

  • Secularism. How far has secularism affected the West more than the East?
  • The TV cult engaging too much time and infiltrating a secular mind-set.
  • Individualism resisting the communal demands of family life, leaving no opportunity for praying and study of God’s Word. as a family community. In Scotland Rabbie Burn’s idea of the Cotter’s Saturday Night time of prayers and Bible reading is dismissed now as a thing of the past.
  • Lack of challenge from the pulpit about family responsibilities (often because the pastors themselves do not make time out of their busy ministry schedule to attend to their own families’ spiritual life.)

And “The barriers where I live?” 

  • No interest in Bible study by the majority of church members
  • Its perceived irrelevancy as simply a “minority academic interest”
  • Lack of regular experience of sound expository preaching with the result that any spiritual wisdom and guidance seems to come from the sermon itself rather than the living Word of God authenticating and empowering the sermon. Human homilies rather than authoritative preaching!

Its Consequences

“Biblically impoverished, because the Scriptures are not having the transforming impact on their lives that God intends.” – Have we so dwelt upon the causes leading to biblical poverty (busyness, secular pressures, etc) that we have neglected to sound loud and clear the consequences of such neglect of God’s Word in family and personal life? 

  •   Do pastors warn their people of the poverty of their spiritual lives, highlight the lack of any differential in the quality of their daily living, challenge the feebleness of their witness, and, perhaps saddest of all, explain the loss of their children to a secular mind-set?

“Two key purposes of the Scriptures” – Jesus summed up memorably the two effects of Scripture  (salvation and training) when he quoted Scripture itself: 

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 

Those who fail to get this message of Jesus – to live by regular feeding on the Word of God – cannot rest assured of life here or hereafter, but will shrivel up and die.

Contributions to its Solution

  •   Start young!

 “It was ‘from infancy’ that Timothy had ‘known the holy Scriptures’” – Young families with their first new born baby are most likely to respond to the challenge of committing to regular family prayers. The Bible Families representative in America started to read a Baby Bible Storybook to her baby from the day after he was born. Now three, he knows all the stories by heart and is eager to tackle an older Children’s Bible.

“Another question?” – How can we get Western families to return to the practice of their grand parents of regular family prayers and study of God’s Word, in an age when individual members rarely come together to eat, let alone pray?

  •   Support with intercessory prayer!

“Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice had “sincere faith,” …the same faith lived on in Timothy” – can we assume that Timothy and his mother were prayed for by grandma Lois? The additional ingredient of a close friend / relative praying for a family must increase the likelihood of that family persevering in family devotions. A family in Pakistan has joined Bible Families because her sister is a member and appreciating the value of Family devotions. A 10 year old from a Bible Family in Kashmir has said she wants when she grows up to teach her children the Bible; now in a boarding school she is already teaching younger girls in her hostel from the Children’s Illustrated Bible (suitable for 8-13yrs).

  • Start with the pastors in training!

“No one has taught them how to feed themselves or how to enter into a time around the Scriptures together with others.” – In Pakistan we taught Seminary students how to exegete passages for preaching and for group Bible Study. Scripture can only impact on lives that are open to engaging with it, whether through answering questions about the text itself or of the issues that it raises. 

  •   Provide training in congregations!

“They would never consider giving time to reading the Scriptures unless someone helped them see a reason to do so.” – Testimony of how a Scripture has helped the believer is the only likely way an outsider will see a reason to study the Bible himself or herself. Thus priority must be given to training believers in Bible study.

“A challenge for Christians to connect with the Scriptures and find the meaning and relevance of the text for their lives” – A simple course on basic hermeneutics (the principle steps in interpreting a Scripture) should be available for church members in every congregation. Pastors should give reasons for why this is important and hold regular classes every year! Perhaps a questionnaire on: “What things currently have an impact on your life?”-  prioritizing a list might be challenging!

  •   Invite to a one-off trial study!

“Many believe that biblical truths, whether about the world or morality, are just opinions from an earlier era with no universal claims on human beings.” – You can either appeal to apologetic arguments to show the inadequacy of such philosophy, or invite to “try out” a study of a Scripture and test whether or not it speaks as indeed God’s living Word. The latter certainly is a step of faith for the one making the invitation. (There is no method of evangelism or education that ensures automatic results, for God is sovereign while man is wilful!) 

  •   Don’t dismiss the “little children” approach!

“How could Peter and Angela come to value and then learn to share the grand overarching story of the Bible with Lucy and Julie?” – If we believe in the power of God’s Word. passing a copy of that Word is the first step to appreciation of the overarching story of the Bible. Bible Families began with a Children’s Illustrated Bible of Bible stories given out to families in Pakistan, mainly in pastoral ministry, with the aim of providing those families with a solid over-all understanding of God’s Story of Redemption. Tom Houston, late of World Vision, told me in a private conversation, that when Russia first allowed Children’s Bibles (but not “proper” Bibles! into the country a revival started that so impressed the British and Foreign Bible Society of the day that it ceased its policy of only publishing “the pure Word” embedded in English and other translations of the Bible and started to include Children’s Bible Storybooks.) When last year I showed an un-churched fellow patient in hospital a copy of the CIB, he was so impressed he said, “This would be good for me, I think!” and a few months later emailed me to tell me that after a long search he had eventually bought one. We still keep in touch. Indeed “The Spirit is not limited or restricted by any environment but crosses all barriers.”

  •   Encourage mutual encouragement!

“Meeting with others holds each person accountable to the other members of the group. The regularity of the meeting allows each person to give space to the Scriptures in his or her life.” – Most Bible study cells are valued also for the degree of meaningful fellowship that allows its members to share burdens in their lives that relate (however tenuously!) to the passage being discussed. Sharing each other’s burdens around God’s Word is surely an important building block in the local church. Some Bible Families mothers have said how much they appreciate the idea of another family praying for their children as they grow up. Intercessory prayer should go hand in hand with listening to God’s Word. “Bible Readings” led by the minister before a “Prayer Meeting”, while no doubt having their place, do not fulfil this deeper ministry of mutual encouragement under the Word.

A final word about Bible Families

This fellowship operates at different levels of involvement.

  • Distribution of the Children’s Illustrated Bible. While priority is given to “the household of faith”, occasional Bibles are given as present to un-churched friends and relatives, though always where there is a strong continuing connection and under-girded with prayer.
  • Active reading of the Children’s Illustrated Bible by a child. This occurs where the child is keen to read, but lacks committed parental leading. The CIB appeals greatly to 10s-13s eager for facts.
  • Family prayers led by the head of the household. Where children are very young we encourage the use of other Bible Storybooks for younger children. 
  • Prayer support from another family “close” to the first family. This is considered a crucial factor in the success of a Bible Family connection. The knowledge that another family cares enough to pray regularly for your children is a strong incentive to maintain regular family devotions.
  • Sharing the vision with another family. This provides a chain reaction that extends the influence of Bible Families in a truly missional way.

Knowing that all mission is God’s Mission means that we start with ourselves, allowing His Word to have its effect upon our families in order that our families may become his agents of mission as a result.

More information can be had from [email protected]