December 2, 2014

By Phil Maynard

Series…Top 5 Things People Need from the Church to Grow as Disciples

1 – Help Understanding the Bible

Research by Willow Creek (as reported in the book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth) identifies ‘help in understanding the Bible’ as a need reported by around 75% of people no matter where they are in their journey toward maturity as a disciple of Jesus. In fact, as demonstrated on the table below, this desire to understand the Bible actually increases in as we grow in our faith and discover the value of reflecting on the scriptures.

Seems pretty basic. You’d think we’d have this one covered!

We offer a full spectrum of biblical studies and discipleship classes, but this does not directly translate into people’s perception that they really understand the Bible better. We provide an assortment of ‘flavor of the month’ studies by well-known preachers and video-based classes by popular, photogenic teachers which are great for highlighting particular themes (and also convenient and not too demanding, preparation-wise).

But is that fully feeding people’s deeper hunger?

What we more rarely offer people is a pathway to study the Bible for themselves: how to use time-tested resources to discern truths for themselves and how to apply such thoughtfully explored teachings of scripture to their lives.

Have you noticed how the younger generation that has grown up with the convenience of GPS to get from point A to point B sometimes loses the ability to read a plain old map? Or having successfully followed the soothing and authoritative GPS guidance, they arrive safely at their destination but have no context for where they are in the larger world? (A friend’s daughter checked in on her first long driving trip by reporting she was at the McDonald’s at exit 67 for lunch, but when questioned further couldn’t say for sure what state she was in).

Have we allowed the mega-pastor-boxed-study-du-jour to take over as the GPS of biblical literacy?

Maybe it’s time to dial things back old school. Maybe there is some real value in those abandoned “How to Study the Bible” classes? What if we introduced people to the smorgasbord of powerful study tools that would help them develop independent skills for reading, understanding, and applying the scriptures. If people are going to be growing, maturing disciples of Jesus they need to be equipped to traverse the terrain of their faith with confidence. They need to be taught to feed themselves. They need to engage the Word and be transformed by the Word.

Here are some ways we can encourage this process:

  • Give people a clear pathway to develop biblical literacy
  • Provide multiple ways to access reputable resources to help them on their journey
  • Don’t forget to emphasize the power of technology to put once hard-to-access study tools at their fingertips (that’s a whole other blog entry)
  • Identify and recruit strong and passionate biblical teachers who can lead workshops, seminars, and small groups (and don’t limit this to clergy)
  • Make the application of biblical truth a fundamental part of every worship service, leadership setting, small group gathering, children’s and youth ministries, etc.
  • Look for special opportunities to celebrate the importance of the Bible (recently a local church hosted a “Celebrate the Bible” Sunday, which included activities such as encouraging church members to bring in Bibles which were personally significant to them and share their stories, as well as personally significant scripture verses and how those verses and inspired and sustained them)

A personal connection to the power of the Word only happens if we set the expectation that this is one of the fundamental elements of faith and then help people develop the skills to chart their own independent journeys.

An easy introduction to studying the Bible is found in my book Foundations: An Introduction to Christian Practices. Click here for a free download of that chapter. Feel free to pass this invitation along to others who might benefit!