“Christians must not come to church every week expecting the preacher to chew up their food for them,” says Ed Stetzer. “Growing and mission-focused believers are self-feeders. God has given us His Word to correct, rebuke, train and reprove us—to train us in righteousness. The Word of God is given to us as a means of spiritual maturity and it must lead to transformation.”

Stetzer, 43, is the President of LifeWay Research. After receiving two master’s degrees and dual doctorates, he began to focus full time on training pastors and church planters. He has done so on five continents and has planted churches, or turned around dying ones, in four states. He preaches most weeks at Two Rivers Church in Nashville. Stetzer has written or co-written nine books, including Comeback Churches, Breaking the Missional Code, Compelled by Love, and the just-released Transformational Church.

He believes that a lack of biblical knowledge is hindering people from understanding and walking with God. A lack of biblical grounding is limiting their spiritual effectiveness. When Bible Study Magazine recently interviewed him, Stetzer addressed this and much more.

BSM: Why is reading and studying the Bible important for you personally and for Christians in general?

STETZER: For me, reading the Bible is essential to my spiritual growth. I make a habit of consistent and regular study in the Word of God—not just simply studying for messages I preach on Sunday, but for being changed by the Word of God. Every time I open the Word of God and teach at church I ask the Lord to speak through it. It is essential that we read, memorize, study, and meditate on the Word of God.

For Christians as a whole, we have research that shows the correlation between spiritual maturity and reading the Bible. In Brad Waggoner’s book The Shape of Faith to Come, which is based on a LifeWay Research study, we found that reading the Bible was the best predictor of spiritual maturity. In other words, if you were in the Bible, you were growing spiritually.

I think right now we’re in a season where a lot of people are realizing that we aren’t making as many disciples out there as we would like. Our LifeWay Research studies show a lack of discipleship among many evangelical Christians, and so people often wonder, what’s the answer to that? Issues such as preaching, missional living, and belonging to a covenant community are all part of the solution. But I think there’s no question that an essential element is leading God’s people to consistently engage God’s Word through reading, studying, and memorizing it. Biblical illiteracy is prevalent and personal commitment to God’s Word is the only real answer.

Church leadership must challenge people to be in the Word of God—consistently growing in their knowledge of the Scriptures.

BSM: How do you read the Bible?

STETZER: I take it in its simplest form. I just open it and read it. But I prefer to do my devotional reading in a Bible edition without notes—I just open up the text and get to it. I am easily distracted by notes, footnotes, call outs, and margin notes. So, I intentionally find ways to simply read devotionally. I love study bibles and am even working on editing one, but when I read, I want to focus on the text and what God is saying through it.

I also read with a pen and a highlighter. The things I highlight are things I’d stick on my refrigerator to see every day. I also write in the margins of my Bible and underline those phrases that show me places where I need to change at the moment. So if you ever open my Bible, you will see the stuff I like (highlighted) and the stuff I need to fix (underlined). That’s why I don’t let people see my personal reading Bible!