Why Your Team Should Do a 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge (& How!) with Mary DeMuth

Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Mary DeMuth today, an international speaker, podcaster, and author of nearly fifty books.

You may have read through the Bible in a year, but have you considered reading the entirety of scripture in just 90 days? In today’s conversation, Mary shares how this 90-day challenge started as a personal practice for her and has since revolutionized her life. Tune in to hear how you can use this practice with your staff and your church to increase biblical literacy, reorient hearts, and jumpstart spiritual growth.

  • An overarching view of scripture. // Many people tend to pick up bits and pieces of the Bible rather than exploring the book as a whole. Reading the Bible in its entirety over a short period of time can help people understand that it’s not just a collection of isolated sayings, but a cohesive whole that tells the story of God. Mary’s new book, “The 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge” gives us the tools to read all of scripture in only three months.
  • Three times day. // The 90 day challenge is broken into a morning, noon, and night approach, and includes a daily devotional as well. It’s a chronological read through the Bible so you get a good idea of the story of scripture, and the readings are designed to take about an hour each day.
  • Listen to scripture. // Mary suggests engaging with the Word in a format that suits you, whether you read or listen to it. By listening to scripture, you can take advantage of your time commuting to work or while out on a walk. Mary recommends listening to the Bible on 1.5 or 2.0 speed because the scriptures are usually read slowly.
  • Create space for time and focus. // To make room for this discipline, Mary had to take some things off her plate. We fill our lives with so many things that take up our time and focus. Participants will need to set aside time for reading that might otherwise be devoted to other activities, for example social media or entertainment, effectively helping them fast from the world’s standards and ways of thinking.
  • Try a new translation. // It’s convenient to read the digital version of the Bible as we go about our busy lives. But Mary suggests that it can be an interesting practice to have a printed Bible in a translation that you haven’t read before in order to break away from familiarity and engage more deeply with the text. She also encourages journaling and writing down questions and insights while reading, either on a separate piece of paper or in a wide-margin Bible, so you can return to them later. 
  • Increase biblical literacy. // Scripture is clear that believers need to move from consuming milk to meat, therefore engaging with God’s Word needs to be active rather than passive. Chew on what you are reading and really think about the words. If we know the Word we’ll become a lot better at discerning truth from error.
  • Join the challenge. // Mary is kicking off a group 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge in the new year. It can be easy to start strong and then fall behind in big goals so Mary has created a FaceBook group where participants can encourage one another and discuss what they are reading each day. Working through this practice with a group can make a significant difference in a person’s consistency and motivation.

You can find out more about Mary and her book “The 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge” at www.marydemuth.com. Plus, click here to participate in the group challenge this January.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to turn tune in today. You’re going to be really rewarded for this. We’ve got a great conversation lined up. Every week we try to bring you someone who will inspire and equip you; today is no exception. Super excited to have Mary DeMuth with us. Ah, she is an international speaker, podcaster, and author of nearly fifty books, which is incredible, as someone who’s working on his third the but to get to 50 is amazing. Germane to today’s conversation she’s an avid bible reading and has guided so many people ah, really back to scriptures to really supercharge their faith. We’re super excited about Mary’s upcoming book called the “90 Day Bible Reading Challenge” or not her upcoming, her current book. And I want you to pick up copies of this and so I’m just declaring that right up front today. Mary, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Mary DeMuth — So great to be here. Thank you for the privilege of being to being able to be on this platform. I’m excited. I love church leaders.

Rich Birch — Nice. Give us a little bit of your background kind of fill out the story there beyond just the kind of standard bio stuff. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mary DeMuth — Yeah, So actually I was not raised in church, a little bit raised by wolves, had a very traumatic upbringing, lots of um, difficult things happening and I didn’t even know really anything about the church until I became a Christian at 15 through the ministry of YoungLife.

Rich Birch — Love YoungLife.

Mary DeMuth —Then started to go to church right away and it was actually a it was something I had to choose to do because I was um, my family wasn’t going to go. Thankfully I had a car. And I just started back then and have been blessed. Ever since. Um, and we all have gone through our rocky moments with church. She’s messy. Ah, but um, yeah, so that’s that. And then I’ve got three adult kids who are ah making their way in the world and they don’t live in our basement. We live in Texas so there isn’t a basement, so that’s good.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mary DeMuth — And I’ve I’ll be celebrating the thirty third year of marriage to my husband, Patrick, in a few weeks.

Rich Birch — Congratulations. That’s that’s great. Well for friends that have listened to the podcast for a while they would know we don’t normally have authors on as like just a standard practice, and but when I saw this book I was like we got to get Mary on to talk about this. I think this is a really exciting topic and and you have done I think a huge favor to so many church leaders. So there’s so many of people in our churches seem to have a Chicken McNuggets approach to scripture. They like pick up little bits and pieces of it as opposed to the whole meal and you’re really challenging us to think about a 90 Day Bible Challenge. Talk us through why are you trying to encourage people to really read scripture, you know, in a fast-paced way kind of see the big story? Help us understand why would you encourage people to want to do that?

Mary DeMuth — Yeah, it started from my own journey and something that I’ve been doing for the past five years, a couple times a year. And a friend of mine was doing it and I thought, that sounds fascinating. And I had read the bible in a year before and… But this to me sounded more interesting because I was going to be able to make those hyperlinks and those connections between Old and New Testament and become a better Bible teacher. What I didn’t realize when I started it was it was going to revolutionize my life…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Mary DeMuth — …and it was the best spiritual practice I have ever done in my life, and I’ve done a lot of different spiritual practices as a longtime believer. So I just wanted to share this with others. The little story about that is in the chicken nugget story is a friend of mine is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and she was teaching a class and this was a seminary a brand new seminary student raised their hand and said, “I thought the bible was just a bunch of little sayings like things that you would find on Instagram…”

Rich Birch — Wow, right.

Mary DeMuth — “…I didn’t realize it was a whole book.” It was like oh no, oh dear.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness. Wow. Yes.

Mary DeMuth — So, this will help people know that it’s not chicken nuggets, like a whole turkey that you stick in your oven and you can make soup with later and it’s it’s everything. And the fact that it’s in three months makes it so amazing and beautiful and it will absolutely change your life. So I’m so excited about having this book out.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. We um number of years ago. We did a 40-day challenge of reading the new testament as a church. We did that in the new year. And I was amazed in my individual small group. We had so many similar comments like that where people were like, I didn’t know that was in there. Like I didn’t know that. You know, they ran into all kinds of new stuff, which is is incredible.

Rich Birch — Now you’ve broken this up, which I I think is fascinating, this kind of morning, noon, and night reading kind of approach. Talk us through that from ah you know helping people, you know, how is that, why is that a good practice? How have you seen that been helpful for folks?

Mary DeMuth — Well backing up a little bit the question I usually get is how long does that take?

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary DeMuth — And it takes an about an hour. And and so and I’m an all or nothing girl. So originally I wrote this as just one big chunk because I’m just like let’s get this done. Check it off the list. Um, but my editor was like, there’s some people that it life is really crowded, and so how can we make this a little easier? So I have two big chunks – morning and noon – and then I throw in a psalm at night because I feel so bad. But um and it’s it’s a chronological read. So it’s not like as you read the bible chronology but based on the Bible Project’s chronology. So so 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are in different places. And so that you get a good idea of the story of scripture. So um, that’s kind of how I did that, but I wanted to because I know people have busy lives, I wanted to be able to give them those three sets. And the other thing to think about—sorry I’m talking so much, but I get really excited…um…

Rich Birch — No, it’s wonderful. It’s good.

Mary DeMuth — …is it says the 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge, but you can listen to your bible. And my little hack is when you’re having a crazy day but you have a commute, or you’re taking a run, or you’re taking a walk, or you’re in the car, listen to it, but listen to it on 1.5 or 2.0 speed, because usually the bible is that’s like this really awesome person with a very slow voice.

Rich Birch — Ah’s so true.

Mary DeMuth — So if you’re trying to get it into that one hour um that will help you.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. So good. Um, so now you’ve put this together, package this into a book, but I’m ah, assuming that this would be the good a good kind of thing to do as a community. I can picture small groups doing this, or maybe um, you know, church teams doing it. I was like, hey this could be a great way we could we could still order these books and maybe say hey why don’t we challenge each other to do this together as a team to kick off ah the new year. Ah but but talk to me about how you’ve seen or what your, you know, thinking was around particularly how people could do this together.

Mary DeMuth — Yeah, I’m definitely facilitating that myself the first of the year. People can go to marydemuth.com/bible to sign up for free. Um, but I also know of a ministry that’s taking their people through it.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mary DeMuth — I’ve heard of churches taking their people through it, which is awesome. And I also have heard, like you’ve mentioned, leadership teams. And um, yeah, the book is it has everything, you know, put out like what you need to read. But um, my my editor said, you know, I’ve been reading the bible a really long time. I’m a bible teacher, I’m married to a theologian, all these things. Um so she said on every page I don’t want a summary because but that’s so boring, who wants a summary. She goes I want something that will surprise me on every page. And keeping that orthodox of course, you know, just don’t…

Rich Birch — Um, that’s a challenge That’s a big challenge

Mary DeMuth — Yeah, so I had to really like pray through and bring something fresh every day. So it was kind of like a devotional through the whole bible. So it was a huge challenge personally for me, but it also kind of brought in all of that work that I’ve been doing all those years. And just the amazing “Ah-has!” that the Lord has brought me, I have been able now to share with people who are reading. And that’s a it’s not a lot because you’re already reading a whole bunch of the bible…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary DeMuth — …but it’s just hopefully something insightful.

Rich Birch — Yeah, to be honest, when I I so I had heard about your book and then I I got a copy of it. And and I was like oh this will be interesting because because reading you know, ninety days of reading that’s a lot. You know, like you say an hour a day that and then I was like, I wonder what she wrote on top of that. Like how is that ah…

Mary DeMuth — What more could be said?

Rich Birch — …you know, as opposed to just here’s a checklist of what to read? It’s like now we’ve got a bunch of you know we’ve got more content. But I think you really nailed the like, hey this is ah, an appropriate amount of of other reading kind of appropriate context, like you say, drawing it together. I think that’s you know, fantastic. Earlier in the conversation you talked about how reading the scripture like this, you know, kind of this big read idea um, revolutionized your spiritual life, revolutionized your relationship with Jesus. Tell us a little bit about that and and it give us kind of an insight into what you’re hoping happens in the lives of people who participate in the challenge.

Mary DeMuth — Well I am a very busy person and I wear a lot of hats um, as an author, and a literary agent, an artist, all these things. And so to do this challenge I had to take something off my plate. It doesn’t work anymore to have a smorgasbord and have things falling off. You have to take some of the potato salad off, and add something. So the potato salad that that I took off was social media and maybe some Netflix. And oddly pulling those things off was its own beautiful spiritual practice…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary DeMuth — …because I was realizing I was being discipled far more by the world’s standards and way of thinking and systems than I was by the word of God. And so the sheer act of pulling that off and then adding the bible for such a long period of time, and it caused me to also be thinking christianly throughout the day because I’d had this chunk of scripture.

Rich Birch — This rhythm, yeah.

Mary DeMuth — Um, and then the thing that I guess the last part of that question is every time I read through, the Lord does something new. And this last read through it was like God, this thought: God is a relentless pursuer of his people.

Rich Birch — So good.

Mary DeMuth — And a lot of times erroneously we feel like God’s kind of like ticked off in the old testament, but the new testament he’ssuper cool and like Surfer Jesus and everyone’s welcome to the party. You know we just have this…it’s wrong, but that’s what we think…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yeah.

Mary DeMuth — …because we’ve been presented that. But I was reading through the old testament last and God just, I almost got mad at the Lord, like, come on! These people, these Israelites they are worshiping idols and they keep doing it, and the cycle of judges where they just keep turning around and turning around.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, and once again.

Mary DeMuth — And ah and and I was like ok, wait. He is just as much the one, I mean his heart in the old testament is that this nation of Israel, the chosen people would be the city on the hill gathering all people to himself. They did not do that because they got very distracted by their idols. But that was God’s intent for them all along. I mean you hear the Abrahamic covenant and, you know, I’m going to bless the whole world through you. It was always there, and his heart was always there. And so that made me fall in love with him all over the all over again.

Rich Birch — Um, so good. That’s great. Fantastic. Love it. I’m going to ask you to weigh in on a controversy, you know, people like doing that.

Mary DeMuth — Sure, but…

Rich Birch — Um, obviously your and you you mentioned this earlier. We obviously want people to read. There’s lots of different ways to read scripture. You can listen to it on your phone, you can, you know, you can listen to it on a CD, you can read it in a, you know, a paper form. Um, there’s lots of different ways and and our overall message is, hey we want people to read scripture. That’s what we want people to take away. But talk us through, from your perspective, you’ve seen people do this, you know, paper versus phone, paper versus digital. Talk us through what should we be thinking about or questions we should be thinking about on on, you know, again, it’s a little bit of an unfair question because I know your answer is whatever, both of them. We want people to read. But but talk us through that. What would what what should we be thinking about on, you know, like an old school paper bible or, you know, digital version.

Mary DeMuth — Well I do think that it is convenient to do the digital version…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Mary DeMuth — …because if you if you have a busy life and you’re in the carpool lane, it makes sense to have that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mary DeMuth — However, as a spiritual discipline and as an author who writes books typically on paper, um I I think it might be an interesting practice to have an empty bible of a translation that you’d like to read that you haven’t read before…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s cool.

Mary DeMuth — …to kind of shock you out of what you’re used to seeing. And then journal your way through or just you know write questions in the margins. One of the things I encourage people to do is that this is such a rapid read that people who are deep thinkers are going to be like, I can’t do this, I can’t do this. I want you to write down all of your questions and your insights on a little piece of paper, on a little notebook, but you could also do it in a wide-margin bible and just go through and come back to it later. You’re not missing anything. You will always keep those insights, but you’re just going to continue to move on, because there is a blessing in in both ways of studying scripture, both in the deep and the the overarching way. So in that sense I think paper would be a really great way to go about it.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. That’s good. I know um I was you know, encouraging some young people around ah a read through the bible, like a big read experience. And you know, very similarly I was saying like, listen what, you know, the the phone is super convenient, but you, you know, it yourself if you get super distracted there all the time there is something about putting the phone in the other room, and saying, okay for these, you know, this 30 minutes or whatever we’re going to sit down, we’re going to do this. Um, you know, not in ah in a legalistic way but in a, hey, like we want to help you kind of be as distraction-free as you possibly can.

Rich Birch — Let’s talk about biblical literacy. You know, biblical literacy is something we’ve seen time and again. We hear lots of people saying like, hey, you know, this is it’s waning in the church. The kind of your average person that attends the average church in the country knows less about the bible. Even that example, you used from, you know, from seminary. Pretty dramatic example. Um, talk us through biblical literacy – where’s your heart on that? What what should we thinking about? Obviously this is a potential solution for that. It’s one piece of the puzzle. But what what are some things we should be thinking about as church leaders around biblical literacy?

Mary DeMuth — I would say this, that Christianity is active not passive, but we have lulled ourselves into a passivity, thinking that if we go to church on Sunday we will be spoon-fed like little babies ah the word of God. But we are supposed to move from milk to meat.

Rich Birch — Oh so good.

Mary DeMuth — In order to do that we have to chew on it ourselves. We have to actively read it. And also we need to take into example, the example of the Bereans who when they heard all of this new stuff about Jesus, they went back and they searched the scriptures to make sure that what the apostles were saying was correct. And we have lost our discernment. And we are receiving all sorts of heresy in all different kinds of ways and we have no idea that we are. But if you know your word, if you know the bible, and especially doing a rapid read-through, it’s going to give you so much of a foundation. You’re going to be a lot better at discerning truth from error than you would have been in the past.

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s really good. So good. Um, any other benefits that come, you know, that might be not self-evident around doing a ah rapid read like this, you know, really bringing then you know the whole council of scripture in in ah in a short period of time like this that’s something we might not be thinking about?

Mary DeMuth — Yeah, another one of the read-throughs that I went through I was just so struck by the heavenly tabernacle – this whole idea of it’s there in heaven and then it’s on the earth and then it’s a temple and then we’re the tabernacle and then, you know, then we go through the book of Revelation. And so you begin to have these most profound connections of the story of God and the story of scripture and you also realize, wait a minute. In my narcissistic, um self-centered world of American Christianity, which can be that way sometimes, this book is not about me. This is about the majesty and the holiness and the story of God.

Rich Birch — So good.

Mary DeMuth — And I think we need to elevate our eyes from always looking at our belly buttons, you know, and it and it thinking about everything for us which is what I think that person that went to seminary was looking at, all the pithy nugget sayings that are all about us. We need to graduate to a grander view of who the Lord is and what his story is.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. Well talk to us about this ah you know this read-through you’re doing in the new year. Again that’s marydemuth.com/bible. We want to send people there who are interested in learning more, signing up for that. But talk us through what that what is that experience going to be like? What you know what are you hoping people will do? Give us the kind of fill out that picture for us.

Mary DeMuth — Well, there’s a private Facebook group, and if someone signs up and they’re not on Facebook they will also get an email from me every day for ninety days.

Rich Birch — Nice.

Mary DeMuth — And I’m so grateful I’m done with that task; that was a lot to do. And I actually added art to every post because um, it’s I think it’s fun to see biblical interpretations of art throughout the centuries, and how they connect to scripture. So it’s just kind of fun. So it’s illustrated as well. And ah in the group we will be ah, talking about what we have read, and hopefully that will cause people to want to keep going. I know that there are a lot of starters. I’m raising my hand – I’m one of those starters in the New Year, I’m going to work out every single day. I definitely do that. But it I actually do work out a lot more now now that I have a community of working out friends around me. There’s something about that accountability and friendship that causes me to want to be with those people. And so that’s kind of the hope of that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good. That’s so good. Yeah, I think it’s ah there is that natural kind of rhythm that happens at that time of year when we’re thinking about hey New Year, new you. You could start anytime a year…

Mary DeMuth — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …but this is inappropriate time year to get this ball rolling. So, so good. Mary, I appreciate this – any kind of final words as we wrap up today’s ah conversation? Again, I want to send people to pick up copies of “90 Day Bible Reading Challenge.” I’m assuming we can pick these up at Amazon, but where else do we want to send people to to pick up copies of this book ah, you know, to learn more to take some steps towards doing this challenge?

Mary DeMuth — Yeah, it should be in your churches bookstore if your church has a bookstore, any Christian bookstore, and any normal bookstore as well should be able to get it for you as well. Um, everything’s changed in the past twenty years…

Rich Birch — So true.

Mary DeMuth — …so mostly you can get it on, you know, all the online sites is a lot easier.

Rich Birch — Love it. Thanks so much, Mary, I really appreciate you being here. Thanks for being on today’s episode. Where do we want to send people online if they’re if they want to connect with you, kind of track with you, where do we want to send them?

Mary DeMuth — Yeah, my web website marydemuth.com and then I’m on socials at @marydemuth.

Rich Birch — Love it. Thanks so much, Mary. Appreciate you being here.

Mary DeMuth — It’s been a blessing. Thank you.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.