By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
They’ve seen their church rejuvenated by the power of God’s Word — and that’s been the real reward.
Jonathan Osterhaus, pastor of Longview, formulated a daily Bible reading plan for church members when he came to Longview in 2008. Each year since, he has challenged the entire congregation to read through the Bible.
The church hosts a steak dinner each January to recognize and honor those who completed the Bible. The dinner also includes a time of testimony, during which the attendees share personal stories of what they’ve experienced throughout the year.
“The stories are amazing,” said Osterhaus. “I am literally in tears every single year as we hear from young and old alike. It’s so humbling to hear one after another testify of God’s power at work in their lives.”
Osterhaus said the commitment to God’s Word among the members has reinvigorated the church. It has also led to substantial growth and created the need for more space.
Longview, which had only about 15 attendees when Osterhaus arrived as pastor, now holds worship in a newly-built 9,000-square foot worship center. The church’s old building, which stood for more than 100 years, had started to show signs of structural decay, and was torn down.
Osterhaus said the growth is directly linked to the members’ renewed commitment to daily Bible readings.
“It has fundamentally transformed every area of the personal discipleship programs at our church,” he said.
Osterhaus said attendees at Longview’s annual steak dinner have shared stories about jobs being saved, marriages being rebuilt, relationships being restored and many other life-changing events.
Tennessee Baptist Mission Board Sunday School director Mark Miller applauded Longview for developing an easy-to-use schedule for daily Bible readings — and for making the program a high priority at the church.
“Through the years, most churches have challenged their members to read through the Bible in one year,” said Miller. “But what is different (about Longview) is that the church has chosen a plan and published it for their members.”
Miller noted that building “a system of accountability” is the key in making the program work. “Every one of us needs someone, some group, to hold us accountable for reading, studying, memorizing, meditating and applying God’s Word,” said Miller.
Osterhaus said reading God’s Word every day “is an obedience issue” and said it is a habit that every Christian should develop.
“Reading the Bible through in a year is one action I know unequivocally is truly generationally transformative,” he said.
Miller noted that recent research from LifeWay revealed that only 16 percent of active church goers read their Bible daily, and less than 50 percent read it at least three times a week. Miller said if more churches would commit to a congregation-wide plan/schedule, these troubling trends could be reversed.
“How often a Christian reads their Bible is the No. 1 indicator of a person’s spiritual growth — that was the conclusion of several different research projects conducted by Lifeway Research over the last 25 years,” Miller said.
Osterhaus said he modifies the template for his daily Bible reading plan each year, making adjustments for certain things — such as leap year, etc. — before giving out a copy of the schedule to his church members. He said he adopted the concept for the daily plan from a similar schedule that he had seen many years ago.
“The original formula that I now use was created by a secretary at a church in Baltimore, Maryland, where my father pastored for 15 years,” he said. “I took it and modified it and the layout is in chronological order. Since Sundays are so hectic for many of us pastors, the reading is out of Psalms and tends to be a lighter read.”
When he was developing his template for the 2020 schedule, Osterhaus had no idea, of course, that the coronavirus would soon be impacting the global landscape.But now, in wake of COVID-19, Osterhaus said the importance of daily Bible reading has increased all the more.
“I feel that we are in one of the most unsettling times in our nation’s history right now,” he said. “Now, like no other time, we must understand that until each and every one of us gets into the Bible every single day, there is not going to be the lasting change we say we want to see.”
Osterhaus said the pandemic should enhance reliance on God among believers.
“Sadly, many Christians fail to realize an unseen enemy that has a much higher kill rate (than COVID-19) is trying daily to infect and destroy us,” he said. “This enemy is the devil; he is bound and determined to do anything in his power to keep you and I from reading God’s Word. He is so determined because there is incomprehensible power in the spoken Word of God.”
“There is power to bring generational change to us personally, our families, our churches, our workplaces, our nation and our world,” he said.