Recently we asked Nic Harding, Senior Leader at Frontline Church, Liverpool, to share his experience on how his Missional Communities are using simple bible studies as a powerful tool for discipleship.
This is the question I’ve been asking for the last 4 years, ever since we launched our first Missional Communities (where, like many, we unfortunately put structure before culture). We tried small groups, we tried accountability groups, and we tried accountability time in small groups. But nothing seemed to ‘take’. It was either to ‘woolly’, too high maintenance, or too dependant on having an ‘expert’ to make it happen. It never fulfilled my requirements for it to be SRS – simple, reproducible and sustainable.
“Nic, I’ve been reading this book and I think you might be interested in it.” So went the conversation with one of our overseas workers based in North Africa. “It’s about this guy who has been using a form of simple bible studies in either written or oral story form to both win people to Christ and make disciples who make disciples.” (in my mind making disciples who make disciples is the holy grail of a movemental dynamic). “It has worked in Hindu Northern India, and in Muslim sub-Saharan African communities, as well as other developing nations”.
This definitely got my attention. If something was simple, worked in multiple cultures and was creating powerful church planting movements, it was definitely worth investigating further.
So I read about the work of David Watson in the book ‘Miraculous Movements’ by Jerry Trousdale (click here for a YouTube clip about Miraculous Movements) and was inspired to explore the simple tool that they had used to win thousands to Christ and create a movement of disciple-makers. What was the tool? – Discovery Bible Studies. I made reference to this in my previous post
But could this be a tool of equal use in a western culture? Within a few months I was exposed to two other people’s ideas that gave me the confidence that it was. Neil Cole for years has used such a bible study using John’s gospel to lead people to Christ and plant churches. He calls it the 7 signs, and it’s based on using the 7 miracles recorded in John’s gospel. John himself at the end of Ch 20 says that there were many other miracles that Jesus did ‘but these signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you may have life in his name’. It’s like John was saying ‘this is my Alpha course’.
Then I met Caesar Kalinowski at Mike Breen’s base in Pawley’s Island. Caesar has also been using this discovery bible study approach to lead people to Christ, make disciple-makers and plant churches. And this was in N America. Caesar has developed a whole story telling approach using the stories of the bible to help people engage with God’s story, and with Christ and His mission. You can access his training for this approach on His GMC collective website. Again it was based on the simplicity of a discovery bible study approach.
So with some excitement we began to experiment with discovery bible studies for both discipleship and evangelism. Most Missional Communities in the church are now using this very simple approach, one that any small group leader could use. A bible passage of no more than 10-15 verses is selected – perhaps one that relates to the Sunday preach, or stuff the MC is currently dealing with, and then it’s over to the Holy Spirit. It works best in a small group of 4-7 people, as with any more some will not engage. The passage is read in multiple ways – first reading round the room, then one reading with others listening, and then with everyone pitching in to try and recall what they have read without looking at the passage. Then the 4 questions. The same questions are used every time. There are many versions of these questions. The ones we devised are as follows:
1. What does this passage tell us about God, Jesus, people and/or life?
2. Does it give us any promises, principles, commands or warnings?
3. What is God saying to me through this, and what am I going to do about it?
4. Who can I tell about what I have learnt here, within the next week?
The first 2 questions are about exploration – what is the passage saying? About half the time is given to these questions. This is giving space for the Holy Spirit to be speaking through all the members of the group. I normally follow this with a short pause for people to think on their own about what God might be saying to them through this (especially important for the introverts in the group!)
Question 3 is all about application – using the two discipleship questions and helping people go round the learning circle to process their kairos / light-bulb moments.
Question 4 is about reproduction – it forces people to think not just as a disciple, but also as a potential disciple maker.
Early feedback from MCs has been encouraging, with comments from small group leaders like ‘I didn’t realise leading a bible study could be so simple’, and from community leaders saying ‘I think we have got something here that is helping create a culture of accountability right across the community’, and from community members agreeing ‘this is a great way of hearing from God and growing in my faith’.
We did one bible study on generosity using the passage in 2 Cor 8:1-9. We had completed a 4 week series in our Sunday services on this topic. I came under thorough conviction that generosity for me needed to change from a discipline to a habit to a lifestyle, so from that time on I have kept a daily generosity diary to ensure that it is in my mind every day and that I keep myself accountable for developing what Bill Johnson calls ‘giving as recreation’. It was good to be able to report back to my small group that I had taken specific action and that it was bearing fruit. The accountability made all the difference.
I’ve also personally piloted the 7 signs course using the simplified questions that Neil Cole recommends. Out of the 3 people of peace who regularly came, one got thoroughly saved earlier on and the other 2 have just given their lives to Christ in the past week at our final evening of the studies!
We continue to explore best practice on this style of bible study, and will hopefully be able to give some more feedback in another post in the future.
Nic is senior pastor of Frontline Church in Liverpool. Nic and Jenny have 4 daughters and 6 grandchildren. Nic also has an increasing role in the Covenant Kingdom Network of churches. A good book in a coffee shop is his favourite kind of recharging time.
You can read Nic’s previous post for 3DM on integration and mobilisation for communities by clicking here