By Y Bonesteele
According to a study from Lifeway Research, “57% of Protestant churchgoers say they find it challenging to make sense of the Bible when they read it on their own.” Individuals in your church may lack the skills to know how to interpret and understand the Bible in its proper context and with God’s intent in mind due to being a new believer or not having the proper training.
The old proverb rings true, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” If you are always giving the main idea and the application points to your members without teaching them how to derive the same conclusion and information, you have not taught them how to live on the Word of God for themselves.If you are always giving the main idea and the application points to your members without teaching them how to derive it themselves, you have not taught them how to live on the Word of God. Click To Tweet
Whether a member of your church is in a season of healing or growth, understanding the Word of God is essential through that season and you must be equipping them, even if it’s ever so slowly, to learn the tools to study the Bible well.
But how do you do that? Here are seven suggestions.
1. Pray for your members.
The Lifeway Research study revealed that 93% of Protestant churchgoers say they enjoy exploring a passage of Scripture to understand its meaning. But just because they enjoy it doesn’t mean they know how to do it well.
Praying for your members involves praying they would be like the Bereans in Acts, who “received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). It also involves praying for your people to be led by the Spirit to prioritize studying Scripture and to have hearts and minds open to correct theology and application.
2. Evaluate your systems, programs, and activities to make sure you have provided a way to train folks to learn basic hermeneutical skills.
Hopefully, as a leader, you have a system of evaluating your year—what went well, what didn’t go well, what can change, what new ideas to try, etc. If you do not have a system of training your people on good Bible study skills, we need to add something—anything. One class, one seminar, one study group. It can start small.Although you shepherd them, you also want your sheep to learn to protect themselves from the evil one through Scripture knowledge and application. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
The shepherd metaphor is useful, but it does not encapsulate the idea that you want your sheep to have some tools in their toolbelt so they can learn and study for themselves. Although you shepherd them, you also want your sheep to learn to protect themselves from the evil one through Scripture knowledge and application.
3. Emphasize in your preaching various interpretive tips and terms.
In your preaching, you can always add tips or hermeneutical terms, so your listeners are familiar with ideas like “finding context,” “bridging the cultural gap,” “asking who the audience is,” “knowing an imperative verb,” or “wondering what a ‘therefore’ is there for.”
When your folks hear how you interpret Scripture, it won’t seem so foreign to them, and you can reinforce these ideas into their personal study.
4. Share books and commentaries.
If you have a resource library or people in your congregation with access to commentaries and books from trusted authors, make that available to those you’re ministering to and make it known.Remember that you are not some wizard with new knowledge—you teach and preach from your studies of knowledge and resources of those who have come before you. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
Books are meant to be lent out and read by others. Share the resources and let your folks know how to access those resources, whether online or through a library system. There are so many trusted authors and commentaries out there.
Remember that you are not some wizard with new knowledge—you teach and preach from your studies of knowledge and resources of those who have come before you. Help your people also be readers and people of study.
5. Gift your leaders and volunteers with training seminars through outside sources when possible.
If you don’t already have a training budget, perhaps it’s time to plan for one. We are all on a life-long journey of learning and we need to keep ourselves fresh. Conferences, seminars, leadership training, auditing seminary classes can all be beneficial.
This is important not only with theology and Bible study skills, but also with conflict resolution, safety and security protocols, cross-cultural engagement, and so on. Let your staff and leaders know you want to invest in their development, so they can also train and develop others.
6. Offer seminary-like classes to your members.
Some churches have or are starting training programs, internships, and residencies that equip laypeople with a seminary type of education. Some are basic and some are more elaborate, but they assume that we all need to start with some basic theology and basic Bible study skill sets.
In one sense, studying the Bible can be intuitive, but in another sense, it requires training. The Spirit helps guide and lead us, but we still need to do the work. Although this method takes resources, classes and training of this sort dramatically improve the discipleship process of your church.
7. Instead of saying, “There are no wrong answers,” say, “It’s okay to give a wrong answer if we’re searching for the right one.”
This is less an idea to implement and more of a mentality to have. Too many times, to make people comfortable, we suggest that there are no wrong answers when in a Bible study or small group. But if we believe the Bible to be true and that God has a specific message, there are times when people do have the wrong answer. Let’s promote being truth-seekers and acknowledge that there will be times when wrong answers exist.If we believe the Bible to be true and that God has a specific message, there are times when people do have the wrong answer. That's OK as long as they continue searching for the right answer. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
The Bible is inerrant and infallible in its original writing, breathed and inspired by God. To continue to study it well, we should always be searching for the truth of God’s intended message to us. Continue to help those you are ministering to grow in their depth of knowledge and understanding of the Word, for “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Y is an editorial coordinator at Lifeway Christian Resources. She has her M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology with an emphasis in Evangelism and Discipleship.