Saddleback Small Group Loves Immerse

Chris Chapman has been practicing law in Southern California for well over a decade. Recently he created Chapman Sports and Entertainment—a full service sports and marketing agency where Chris is a certified agent with both the NFL and NBA. When I talked to him this week, he was on his way to the Pacific Northwest to scout out two college football players for the NFL.

Chris grew up in pastor’s home in Texas and attends Saddleback Church but had never read the New Testament. So when his small group leader at Saddleback Church recommended the group read through Immerse: Messiah, Chris jumped at the chance.

Tell me about your experience with the Bible before Immerse.
Reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, has always been on my bucket list, but when I tried to read I found it cumbersome and overwhelming. I think part of the problem was that I was reading from an older Bible that I got from church when I was a kid. I even downloaded a Bible app thinking that would help, but I found that overwhelming as well.

So how was your experience reading Immerse: Messiah?
Honestly I was a little intimidated at first. I’m not a big reader—I kind of got burned out reading so much in law school. But I was surprised at how easily Immerse read. I liked the layout, and the more contemporary language of the NLT* really helped—although at first I kept going back to my original Bible to make sure Immerse was getting it right. [Author’s note: This is what lawyers do—right?]

As a busy lawyer who’s in court a lot, were you able to keep up with the reading?
Honestly, once I got started reading, it was hard for me to stop. I’d take it to the office with me, and I actually ended up getting ahead of the 8-week reading schedule. I was surprised at how easy it was. I figured I was reading two to three hours a week. The book introductions are brilliant and helped me understand the cultural background and helped put everything in context for the reader.

How important was it that you read Immerse: Messiah with your group?
The group experience was critical. Even though I was enjoying the reading, I’m not sure I’d have kept reading without the group motivation. I really wanted to engage in the conversations when we got together, so the group really kept me on task. The book club approach was also helpful. I’m not looking for more work! So I’d just read and show up.

What were your group conversations like?
The discussions were great! People caught things that I’d missed and vice versa. A number of times we recalled that Pastor Rick had preached on this before, but now we were seeing it as part of the whole. We actually had one of Saddleback’s pastors in our group, and occasionally we’d pick his brain about something we didn’t understand, but because we’d all read about fifty pages that week, everyone had a lot to contribute.

Where do you go from here with the Bible?
I ordered copies of Immerse and sent them to members of my family. And I’m excited that Immerse: Messiah has come out in Spanish! We have relatives in Mexico and want to send them copies as well. Also, as my sports agency grows, I hope to share Immerse with the athletes I’m working with. I don’t want to cram anything down their throats, but I hope to give them a copy when the time is right.

As a group, we’re talking about starting Beginnings. I definitely want to read the Old Testament.

*This is a typical response for people who read the NLT for the first time. Another person said to me: “With the NLT, I spend more time understanding it and less time trying to understand it.”

Meet the Artist Behind the Immerse Cover Art

During the early planning stages for Immerse, our team decided we didn’t want ordinary Bible covers. We wanted something that reflected our hope for this new kind of Bible — that people would become immersed in the vibrant, dynamic story of the Scriptures.

So we worked with artist Rachael Van Dyke to create custom artwork for each of the six covers of Immerse: The Reading Bible. Needless to say, we were thrilled with the results. We immediately connected with her use of water and dye as a reflection of the movement in the Bible and emotions found in each volume.

After the work was complete, we asked Rachel to reflect on what this project meant to her.

When I was approached by Tyndale House Publishers to consider creating art work for the covers of their new Reading Bible series, I had already been in prayer for a few months about how God might use my artistic gifts for His Kingdom.

Many people had encouraged me that my landscape art was honoring to God, but there was a deep need in me to see a direct connection between my artistic expression and bringing people to the saving knowledge of Christ.

I was in awe that God had chosen me to create a series of covers for His Word. I was humbled and thankful.

The title, Immerse, is so visually expressive for me. I was thrilled to create a series of works that would embody this feeling of immersion in Christ’s love and God’s Word. I wanted to emulate this immersion using a fluid medium; water and dye, rhythmically pulsating and flowing as our own walk with Christ ebbs and flows in our personal life journey.

I was given the book titles for the Immerse series, each one inspiring me in a color and gesture. Through the series the cover art represents a set of harmonious colors to express the title to that particular Reading Bible book. I chose to use very basic materials of water and dye. It seemed perfect for producing the fluid effect I desired as well as setting a boundary of beautiful simplicity. It feels alive and moving much like the Spirit of God in our lives.

I am thankful to be a part of this beautiful Scripture series. Our Creator God is expressive, creative, and living; my desire is that these covers reflect His Glory.

Connect with Rachael: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Youth Pastor Helps Students Immerse in the Bible

Soft-spoken, studious and philosophical, youth pastor Jesse Bolinder understands the importance of the Bible in the spiritual formation of kids and teenagers. So when Jesse approached us this spring (before Immerse: The Reading Bible was complete) and asked if we’d give him pre-published files to begin testing Immerse with his youth group at Harbert Community Church in Sawyer, MI, we knew he was a great fit.

I sat down with Jesse to talk about his work with young people and how he sees the role of Scripture playing out with Generations Y and Z.

Recent data shows 40—50% of Millennials are leaving the church. This includes kids that faithfully attended youth group and went on missions trips. Does that weigh on you and shape the way you do youth ministry?

Definitely. James Emery White in his book Meet Generation Z unpacks what the world might look like to the first generation of young people born into the post-Christian era (1995—2010). For this generation it will be crucial that we get the Bible right—that we stop treating it like a user’s manual or reference book. I’m hesitant to give my students a reference Bible because I want them reading the story, not just looking up verses on what the Bible says about anger.

Immerse represents a new approach to reading Scripture. What caught your attention and attracted you to it?

I’ve really bought into IFBR’s concept of full meals versus Bible nuggets. And the book club model is perfect for young people. We don’t give them enough credit. If we invite them to read the Bible and express their opinions honestly, they’ll respond. We have to stop trying to control the conversations or thinking that honest opinions are dangerous. We’re starting to use IFBR’s book club model for more and more of our conversations.

Can you share a little about the group’s experience?

We only had pre-production scripts, but there were some immediate takeaways. For me personally, I found myself reading more. I’d read for a while, and because there were no chapter breaks inviting me to stop, I kept reading. It was only when I finished that I realized I’d read the equivalent of four or five chapters.

For the young people, the text was less intimidating. And reading whole books was a new experience. When we finished reading Mark, one of the girls said, “Is this actually the Bible?”

In addition to our group experience, I had a serendipitous experience with my nephew who’s a junior in high school. Our families were on vacation together and he saw me reading a book about the Bible. I was just finishing the book and offered it to him. But he said he’d actually never read the Bible himself and thought maybe he should read it first. By this time I had a published copy of Immerse: Beginnings and asked if he’d like to read it. That began a summer-long conversation. At one point he said to me, “Sometimes God seems to be the antagonist in the story. The people are building these cities but God steps in and messes things up.”

On another occasion, he expressed annoyance that the story of the construction of the tabernacle was repeated four times! Later he softened and remarked that it must have been very important. Here’s this junior in high school, seriously reading the Old Testament and going from annoyance to insight.

Anything else you want to add?

It’s sobering that 85% of young people today believe the church is hypocritical (I think I got that from the book UnChristian). I don’t blame them for this. This is more on us—your generation and mine. We’ve put stumbling blocks in front of them. This is why I’m a fan of Immerse—reading the bigger story and the more authentic conversations. The Bible isn’t Google! We’re definitely using Immerse more.


Immerse Pastor Interview

Chris Morrison is the bi-vocational pastor of Macedonia Temple of God in Aurora, IL, the church his father started 36 years ago. After earning an MBA from Northwestern University, Chris was living the upwardly mobile life—great job, an apartment on Lakeshore Drive, lots of friends, and lots of partying. A stint in rehab got him to pick up a Bible—which at one point he threw across the room. In time Chris got serious about his faith, and when his father died, Chris took the reigns of the church.

In late spring of 2017, Chris led his congregation through Immerse: Messiah. We sat down with Chris to ask him about the experience.

Macedonia Temple of God is officially the first church to do Immerse. What made you decide to do this?

Like most African American churches, we have a weekly Bible class that I lead. But I knew intuitively that our study of the Bible just wasn’t where it should be. Its strange, new Christians were pretty engaged, but veteran Christians rarely participated. When I would ask questions, they would just look down. When I heard about Immerse I was hopeful of what it might do. The book club model appealed to me.

How did you communicate the challenge of reading Messiah in 8 weeks?

I was pretty straightforward with the group. We’re a close-knit congregation, so I told them that if we were going to do this, they would need to read in advance, or it wouldn’t work.

I wasn’t sure what to expect the first week. I knew that in our previous Bible studies, the faithful might glance at the lesson a half-hour before coming to class. But I was seriously blown away! People had obviously read. People who hadn’t contributed for years started sharing openly. Honestly, I couldn’t get people to stop talking. And the conversations were different. I remember one lady saying, “I’ve read this a thousand times and never saw that!” Another participant said, “I didn’t realize Paul was in jail when he said that!”

I held my breath for the next week. Maybe week one was an anomaly. But weeks two and three were more of the same. People had obviously read and the conversations were lively. Frankly, one of the biggest challenges was with me. I was used to carrying the conversations. I had to quickly adjust to the role of the facilitator. The other challenge—and it proved to be a challenge all eight weeks—we never ended on time. No one was looking at the clock. I finally had to cut it off because the children’s workers were getting frustrated.

Wow! Did this impact the church beyond the weekly Bible class?

It did. After week one, people were coming to me to see if it was too late to start and asked if they could get the book (it was funny, but that’s how everyone started talking about it—“the book”). Then week two a lady showed up who I’d never met. Week four her husband came. As it turned out, he wasn’t a Christian, but picked up Messiah from the coffee table and started reading. When his wife got home, he asked her, “What’s this? It’s pretty good.” We had increased attendance and people starting buying extra copies to give to their friends.

Where do you go from here? Have you considered doing Immerse: Beginnings?

Immerse: BeginningsActually we’ve already started. Immerse recommends a cycle of two modules a year, but we had people asking “What’s next?” so we started Beginnings right away.
I can’t believe it, but we’ve just finished reading Leviticus. And we’ve had great discussions! One of my favorite observations came from a lady who said, “It’s interesting to me with everything that became unclean, there was always a way to get clean again, to get back into the family.”

Honestly for the first time in our church’s history, the Scriptures don’t feel like a burden.


Interview with Immerse Pilot Participant

Like many others of his generation, Duane Martin came to faith in college through the Navigators, a campus organization known for introducing people to the Bible right away. When it comes to the Bible, the Navigators are dedicated.

Duane bought in fully, reading through the entire Bible every year, memorizing Scripture, and joining a church that had Bible as it’s middle name.

So when Duane was invited this summer to join an Immerse pilot group with eight guys from his church in Wheaton, IL, he didn’t hesitate. But what he experienced was surprisingly different from anything he’d experienced before. We got in touch with Duane to get his thoughts on Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience.

How would you describe the overall Immerse experience?
It was great! The format without chapters and verses made it seem easier. All the notes and numbers weren’t bogging me down. Things flowed. Patterns emerged. I was amazed at how things came together. It sounds artificial to say it, but I really felt “immersed” in the Bible.

How difficult was it to keep up with the reading plan and finish Immerse: Messiah in eight weeks?
On a scale of 1 to 10, it was about a 5.7 [Duane is an IBM software executive, so precision matters.] Anybody can do anything for eight weeks. And because I did it with a bunch of guys, we had “appropriate peer pressure.” Like a lot of other guys, I’m into cross-fit training where there’s a scoreboard and everything gets measured. And you always work out harder when you work out with someone else.

Describe your weekly group conversations around the reading.
We had some newer Christians in our group and they were just overwhelmed with the story of Jesus. Without a video or syllabus, things just came out naturally. There was never awkward silence. It evoked a different kind of conversation—really quite freeing. We all agreed that if we got stumped somewhere, we wouldn’t feel pressure to resolve our questions with easy answers.

What sorts of takeaways do you have from the experience?
Immerse: Messiah felt like a book and we treated it like any other book. We dog-eared pages, wrote Post-It notes so we could bring our ideas to the group. I’m definitely interested in moving to the next Immerse experience. And a couple of us are making plans to try to get our whole church to do Immerse.

If you are interested in getting your church involved in Immerse, click here to learn more.