So…you’re new to the Bible and you don’t know where to start. Or…you’ve been around church for a long time, but you’ve never really read the Bible on your own much. Or…you’ve read parts of the Bible, but it all seems a little disconnected. Or…you’ve only recently come to know Jesus, you’re incredibly excited, and you want to make sure you start strong.
If any of these statements describe you, read on my friend! After 25 years of helping people read, study, and enjoy the Bible, I am convinced that what follows is the best Bible reading plan for beginners (and anyone who wants to lay a foundation for lifelong Bible reading)!
I call this plan the New Disciple Challenge. I call it that because it’s what I share whenever pastors or youth pastors ask me what I recommend for someone who is new to faith in Jesus. That said, it is also fantastic for anyone who wants to build a solid foundation for all of their Bible reading. I do it myself every 2-3 years.
Before diving into the New Disciple Challenge, it’s important to quickly share what MOST pastors will tell you…and why I think it’s a huge mistake! (I know that just sounded incredibly arrogant on my part, but I used to tell people the same thing, so please hear me out.)
The typical “beginner’s plan” (Don’t do this!)
- Grab one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John)
- Read one chapter each day
- Think about what it means and how you want to apply it to your life
- Write down your thoughts
- Pray about it
- Read the next chapter tomorrow (You’ll finish in 3-4 weeks.)
Sound familiar? Now, here’s why I think it’s a terrible way to start…
While I do think the gospels are a terrific place to start (more on that a few inches south of here), I am convinced that encouraging someone to “read a chapter a day” is the fastest way to bore someone out of ever being consistent in their Bible reading!
Your brain wasn’t designed to enjoy reading in 3-4 minute time periods. (That’s how long it will take you – on average – to read a chapter of the Bible.) Think of reading a novel a page a day. Not a chance! Your brain doesn’t start to enjoy what you read until you’ve been reading for at least 10-15 minutes.
Not only that, but the mission of my life is to help people read and study the Bible relationally, not informationally. Our time in God’s Word was meant to be time spent with Him, not simply learning about Him. When we start our journey in the Bible by feeling like we have to “figure out what it means” and “find something to apply” every single day, we are treating the Bible like a textbook, not a relationship guide.
Yes…there will be days when God has something to teach you.
Yes…there will be days when He shows you something you should apply.
Yes…there will be days when you look up a little background to gain some context for what you’re reading.
But not every day! Some days, God simply wants to hang out with you! After all, He is your Heavenly Father.
NOTE BEFORE MOVING ON: If these last couple paragraphs triggered an interest, I highly recommend you take a look at my video series – Relational Bible Study™.
The New Disciple Challenge (Do this!)
As I mentioned above, I do believe the gospels are the best place to start. However, I would add one other book – Acts. (It’s easy to find since it’s immediately after the four gospels.)
The New Disciple Challenge is all about laying a foundation for Bible reading for the rest of your life. The gospels are four different accounts of the life of Jesus, written by early followers of Jesus. Acts walk through what happened in the few decades immediately after Jesus’s earthly life. In fact, Acts begins with the last conversation Jesus has with his disciples.
Here are the three, simple parameters for the New Disciple Challenge:
Principle 1: Focus on Five Books
I already mentioned them above, but here’s a quick overview of each book. (These overviews are taken from my book How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible.)
- Matthew – Matthew (also known as Levi) was a tax collector who became one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and traveled with Jesus during the approximately three years of His earthly ministry. He focuses pretty heavily on Jesus as the Messiah/King and how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies (facts and predictions about future events).
- Mark – Mark (also known as John Mark) was not one of the twelve disciples. He traveled with the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey. He focuses on Jesus’ humble servant attitude. What He did, what He taught, and how He lived.
- Luke – Luke was a doctor, as well as a close friend and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. He is the only known Gentile (non-Jewish) author in the New Testament. Luke is the “detail guy.” He paints a clear picture of Jesus as the perfect Son of Man.
- John – John was one of the twelve disciples (so was his older brother James) and refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” He is out to show his readers that Jesus is not only fully human, but He is fully God as well. As we come to know Jesus’ humanity and divinity, we also see that real, abundant, eternal life can only come through Him.
- Acts – Luke is also the author of Acts. In the book of Acts, Luke gives an account of the formation, growth, success, and struggles of the early church. The first third of the book focuses primarily on the work and teaching of Peter (one of the twelve disciples). The latter two-thirds focus on the conversion of the Apostle Paul (previously a Christian hater and killer) and his three missionary journeys.
Principle 2: Read Each Book for Two Weeks
Pick an amount of time. If you can do 30 minutes, that would be ideal. If not, you’ll need at least 15-20. If you only read 5-10 minutes a day, you’ll never get into the “flow” of the narrative and it will be hard to remember what’s happening from day to day. Again…similar to reading a novel 1-2 pages each day. Boring!
Start with Matthew and read it for two weeks. Since a normal-paced, out loud reading of Matthew will take about 2.5 hours, you’ll probably walk through it 2-3 times in those two weeks.
After that, spend two weeks in Acts.
Then spend two weeks in Mark.
Then go back to Acts for two more weeks.
Two weeks in Luke.
Two weeks in Acts.
Two weeks in John.
Finish with another two weeks in Acts.
At the end of 10 weeks, you will have walked through each of the gospels 2-4 times (since some are longer and others are shorter) and the book of Acts 8-10 times. Your knowledge and understanding of the life of Jesus and the first few decades of the early church will be well-established.
Here’s the breakdown of reading times for each of the five books (approx):
- Matthew = 2 hours, 21 minutes
- Mark = 1 hour, 23 minutes
- Luke = 2 hours, 24 minutes
- John = 1 hour, 51 minutes
- Acts = 2 hours, 15 minutes
NOTE: These breakdowns are taken from this in-depth blog post by Crossway.
Principle 3: Talk About It
Whatever we talk about we get more interested in. Your favorite hobby. Sports. Movies. Cooking. Think of any topic you love. I’m guessing that you have some friends you could talk with about it for hours on end.
The Bible is no different.
Talk about it and your interest will grow. Always do it alone and you’ll find yourself setting it aside after a few weeks.
Obviously, if you can find 2-3 friends to join you for the New Disciple Challenge, and you get together at a coffee shop once a week, that will be the best case scenario. However, I’ve heard of people who email or text each other every day to check in. Other people have discussed their Bible reading over Skype [[Insert your favorite video conferencing tool here.]] Still others start a private Facebook group where they share what they’re seeing, learning, enjoying, questioning, and applying.
Whatever you do…please find at least one other person to go on this journey with you! You weren’t meant to do this alone!