When churches conduct discipleship their general take is to have young Christians or new members attend a series of classes, usually about 12, that cover the things Christians do and how to grow as a Christian. This approach is unbiblical and not as connective as people hope it would be. A careful look at the gospels will give us a clear understanding of what discipleship should be.
The way Christians should approach the Bible can be done in two manners. I encourage people to simply read their Bible as if they are reading their favorite naval such as Harry Potter, The Hobbit, or Tale of Two Cities or any book they enjoy reading. The Bible is full of stories and this is the manner by which children gain the basic understanding of the Bible, which is done in Sunday school. However, Bible Study is far more detailed and complicated.
I view Bible reading as if you are on a speed boat on a large mountain lake on a clear sunny day moving across the water at full speed. You’re enjoying the moment, no care in the world. You are enjoying the scenery and the beauty of all nature displays but you’re not really taking in the details. The rush and exhilaration of the boat moving at a great speed across choppy waters and the wind blowing through your hair, if you have hair. You’re experiencing the fun in the moment.
Bible Study is very different. Bible Study is like going across the same lake on the same day yet you’re doing so in a glass bottom boat. You take your time. You examine the details both under the water and above. You identify the various fish and plant life and the structures under the water where the plants grow and the fish hide. You scan the wood line, the edge of the water and the sky to notice the various trees, animals that may appear, the way the mountains are formed and where the tree line ends. The details allows you to learn more about what is going on around you that you had no involvement in forming. You merely learn from this information and grow as a person. You identify your small self in this bigger world.
I often tell people if they wish to learn about the Bible more they need to get away from the Bible. The biblical authors never intended to provide a great deal of detail in their narratives. They simply wrote according to their perspective and we are witnessing that perspective as we read their stories. However, these writers lived in a culture and time in history that is very different from our culture and time in history. Even today the culture in the Middle East is greatly different from our culture in Western Civilization, yet, the time of the biblical authors experienced things we don’t today regardless of what culture you live in. Their knowledge of the greater world was very limited compared to our knowledge of the world today. As we read the Bible we musts be aware of that difference. So, find sources that will help you learn more about first century Rome and the surrounding cultures and people. How did they live? How did they link? What was their daily life like? What were the political tensions taking place at the time? What were the livelihoods of the various social economic atmospheres? How did people conduct business daily?
Then, I encourage people that if they wish to gain a deeper connection with God and His plan for salvation they should get deep into God’s Word. I usually guide them to read a chapter of Proverbs a day. Not to merely read them but to meditate on what is being said, read them several times a day. When asked where they should start I suggest starting with John and then the other gospels. In the Old Testament I suggest Genesis and then Exodus. Skip the other three; Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These contain so much of the law that for a beginner they can be confusing. Skipping on to the historical books Joshua to 2 Kings and then on to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Reading these will help them get a good picture of Israel becoming and operating as a nation. I encourage people to take Romans slow, using a “study guide” can be useful. Maybe using several study guides will be more beneficial. Remember, Bible Study is not something you rush through. Time is of the essence. Bible Study is very much like developing a relationship with someone. You will not learn everything about that person in 15 minutes or an hour. The Word of God won’t change as you get deeper into it, you will.
I have some friends who are professors in Biblical Studies and Theology. I have often heard them say that people don’t need to learn the biblical languages and using them in our sermons is pointless. I have to disagree. Language is key to understanding how people think. The use of words exposes the world a person lives in. The same is true of the people in first century Roman Empire. I don’t have the time or the space to go into greater detail about the Greek language but their use of words is more precise than our lazy English language. I encourage people to use various translation of Bibles to help them gain a deeper understanding of what the author may be saying. Now there are people who strongly disagree with that notion on the grounds they believe that there is only one true translations to read from and all other translations are heresies. Such argument is comparing apples to apples. No English translation is perfect. Every English translation of the Bible has mistakes, and due to their practice of exegetical study and handling of hermeneutics they are led to imperfections in the translations. Therefore, I do not believe the Bible is infallible but we can learn from its pages. The Spirit of the Word of God is infallible and that is important to remember.
I will deal with discipleship in my next blog. Discipleship is far more than a class room instruction. Discipleship should go beyond the class room in a church on a Sunday morning or midweek service.