Before spending time on the practical and tactical details of starting a one-to-one Bible reading ministry, it is important to establish the principles and convictions that motivate us to the particular method of one-to-one Bible reading. Before talking about the how of one-to-one Bible reading, we need to discuss the what and the why.
What Would a One-to-One Bible Reading Ministry Look Like?
“Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught in a web of regular Bible reading—not only digging in the Word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement. It would be a chaotic web of personal relationships, prayer and Bible reading—more of a movement than a program—but at another level it would be profoundly simple and within reach of all.” –Tony Payne and Colin Marshall, The Trellis and the Vine, 2009, p57
When we envision the church at work, so often what comes to mind is something along the lines of set a room, schedule a time, people come, repeat weekly. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but one-to-one Bible reading is fundamentally different.
One-to-one Bible reading “is a variation on that most central Christian activity—reading the Bible—but done in the context of reading with someone. It is something a Christian does with another person, on a regular basis, for a mutually agreed upon length of time, with the intention of reading through and discussing a book or part of a book of the Bible. It is effective for evangelism. It is useful for discipleship. It is even helpful for training.”
Why focus on One-to-One Bible Reading?
“Reading the Bible one-to-one…are you kidding me? That’s it? That’s the big plan?”
Yep. That’s the idea.
“Why in the world, of all the things we could do, would we focus on reading the Bible one-to-one?”
To paraphrase David Helm, we focus on one-to-one Bible reading because it can be done by anybody, it is useful to everybody, and it is capable—in God’s hands—to change lives and further God’s Kingdom.
Underlying that response is a conviction on what the Bible is and, by the power of the Spirit, what the Bible does. Have you ever wondered what makes people grow in Christ? What you believe the Bible is and what it does determines a lot about each of us. Our doctrinal statements would indicate that we believe in the sufficiency, authority, and potency of God’s Word applied to our hearts by the Spirit. However, our stated doctrine may not match our functional doctrine when we rely on programs, entertainment, and activities to change people’s lives. The purpose of the guide at this point is to make sure we are entirely sold on the notion that the central means—the central gear—by which God changes lives is His Word, applied by the Spirit, using a relationship.
God Changes People Through His Word, Applied by the Spirit, and Using a Relationship.
The idea that God does His work through the Word and a relationship is readily found in Scripture. Romans 10:10-17 communicates that very concept:
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:10-17 ESV
To see more examples from Scripture, look at Acts 8:26-24, Luke 10:38-42, and Acts 18:24-28. For each passage, ask yourself three questions:
1. Who are the people in the passage?
2. What is their spiritual condition?
3. What is the cause of growth?
After working through those examples you might wind up with something like this:
Wouldn’t it be more efficient for the church to help people grow by having large events where people are taught the Bible?
A Ministry of the Word Where Groups Gather for the Teaching of the Word is Necessary but Insufficient for the Whole Task of Making Disciples
This describes what happens in every sermon, Sunday School Class, and group Bible study. Those are necessary and the church should engage in this those types of ministry of the Word. While large groups are more efficient for conveying information, they are not as effective for discussion, clarifying points of misunderstanding, and answering questions that people have as they work to understand the Bible and how we should live in light of it. Apollos, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the two men on the road to Emmaus had questions about the Word that needed an answer (1) through dialogue and (2) in the context of a relationship. We should plan to meet those same sort of needs today.
We Do One-to-One Bible Reading for the Sake of the Great Commission
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 ESV
When we organize all church ministry around a teacher who teaches a group, the result is people who often only see themselves as a student. It is tempting for participants to think their only role is to be discipled. However, the Bible is clear that every follower of Christ should be engaged in making disciples; everyone should be at work on the Great Commission.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV
With one-to-one Bible reading, people are being trained so that they can then go and make disciples of others on a one-to-one basis. One-to-one Bible reading discipleship helps the one who learns have a biblical mindset that they are learning not just to be students for the rest of their lives, but to go and teach others how to follow Jesus.
You Probably Still Have Some Questions…
“This article is almost over and you haven’t described what you actually do in one-to-one Bible reading discipleship.”
That is a good observation. I wanted to make sure we are on the same page and share the conviction that God works through this type of personal ministry that combines the Word and a relationship.
“Can you at least give me a summary of what you do in one-to-one Bible reading discipleship?”
Invite anybody to read the Bible with you. Meet with them whenever you want—weekly, bi-weekly, or whatever works. Read the Bible with them, discuss the passage you read together, pray with them, and model Christian living for them. The hope is to invest in their growth and help them get to the point where they can disciple others. Oh, and you’ll find yourself grow along the way, too.
“What will the rest of this one-to-one Bible reading discipleship guide cover?”
The rest of this series will cover practical things like how you would get started, how to identify who to read with, some obstacles you might encounter, a walkthrough of resources, and a demonstration of a meeting.
- David Helm in OnetoOne training course.