Having led a weekly Bible study group for the past three years, I have asked myself on more than one occasion, “What are you doing?” I’ve wondered if the kinds of Bible study experiences I’m trying to create for my group members are actually helping produce fully devoted disciples, or if they are producing people with knowledge and “degrees.” If I had to lean toward producing disciples or degrees, I’d choose disciples any day. Here are three diagnostic questions to ask yourself to make sure you are making a conscious effort to produce disciples:
- Are my Bible studies knowledge-focused or application-focused? In my experience I’ve seen many well-intentioned teachers focus almost exclusively on the biblical text, with little attention given to connecting the Scripture to present-day life. Have we accepted a teaching model that says, “You’re mature if you know a lot of facts?” Jesus said that we must “Teach them to obey,” not “Teach them all kinds of interesting, little-known factoids.” Do the people in our Bible studies have a good idea how to bridge a Bible study to life in the real world? Do they know how to apply the Scripture to their context today? Group leaders must find the balance and not just teach history lessons, but lessons grounded in the Word of God, coupled to life today.
- Is the goal to “get through” a lesson, or to allow for Spirit-led meandering? I believe many teachers believe that success = getting through the lesson. They feel like they’ve failed if they don’t cover all the points in their teaching outline. My philosophy has allowed for some Holy Spirit led “meandering,” knowing that He is at work in each of the people in my group, and they are all at different places in their growth as disciples. Sometimes what I have planned to teach has to be set aside as we chase a connected topic that is important to them. Does it make me feel uncomfortable when I don’t have control over the discussion? Sure it does. But it allows for the Spirit to spontaneously deal with issues, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that are held by me and my group members. The Spirit helps bring all of those into alignment with Scripture. Rivers always meander. They flow downhill and have a point at which they connect to another body of water, like the ocean. Rivers never make a straight line for their final destination – but they ultimately get there. That’s how I want to teach my group members! I know the destination where I’m taking them in Scripture; I know the main idea I want them to wrestle with. But if it takes some meandering to get there, I’m OK with that. The goal isn’t to get through all the points in my outline.
- Are there visible signs of people becoming more mature followers of Christ? Can you see the fruit of the Spirit present in you and your group members in an increasing way? Do you see your group members making sacrifices to serve, give, and relate to others? Do you have a sense of Spirit-inspired peace? Would you say that you are acting more and more like Christ each day? If we are leading our group members to understand and apply the Bible, they should look more and more like the Savior each day. The last thing I want is for my group members to know the Scripture but fail to live it. I want them to see the spiritual progress that can take place as they yield to Christ and the leading of His Holy Spirit.
So, how are you doing? Are your producing disciples, or people with degrees?
I encourage class members to identify with one of the characters in the lesson, similarly to watching a movie. By connecting with a particular person or people group, you can sense or feel their emotions and view points relating to the situation, reality or truth. Sometimes it is good to see it through God’s eyes as he longs for us to know more about Himself. If you watch a movie more than once, it can be enlightening to walk in a different pair of shoes than before.
I think one of the problems is the study, when it does entail application, is far too scattered to develop true disciples–you get a little here and a little there, but never intense training in the specifics of discipleship. So, little sticks, though students may wind up knowing a lot of Bible.
I’ve seen a lot of Bible students but few changed people (from whatever they are to being significantly less self-centered, prideful, materialistic, and worldly-pleasure-seeking).
I suspect most people would be hard pressed to identify what many of God’s standards of character are (100+ can be identified). People will spend enormous concentrated effort on amassing knowledge and developing skill for a profession, or even a hobby, but never serious focus on instantiating into their being the specific attributes and actions to conform to God’s Word-expressed requirements. I’ve yet to see a Bible study/teaching of any kind that does much to foster that kind of effort.