One-to-One Bible Reading Guide, Part II: How to Start a One-to-One Bible Reading Discipleship Ministry

This article explains how to start a one-to-one Bible reading meeting, how to prepare for the meeting, and some other helpful tips for success. If you have not read Part I of this One-to-One Bible Reading series, you can read that here.

Step 1: Pray

“Prayer is addressing God, in words, where you are communicating your heart and desire; knowing all the while that He orchestrates all things from the greatest to the smallest. He exists, is personal, and changes lives — he uses prayer in a secondary cause sort of way where He changes things.” —David Helm, OnetoOne course at Covenant Life Church

The first step in this personal ministry of the Word is prayer. I recommend praying for the following:

  • that God would accomplish His work in His people (and all people) through His Word and that He would use your effort to grow His Kingdom
  • for God to give you a desire to help followers of Jesus grow
  • to identify specific people with whom you might read the Bible
  • that God would give you confidence and boldness to get started

Step 2: Invite

Why Might this be Hard?

If you are hesitant about inviting someone to read the Bible with you one-to-one, you might be thinking something like, “Hey, I’m not ready for this; I need someone to read with me.” Any Christian is capable of engaging in a serious conversation over the Bible. For the Christian, the job is to show up. We don’t need to have all the answers (we won’t) and we don’t need to be perfect (we aren’t); we just need to be faithful to engage and let God’s Word—applied by the Holy Spirit—do all the heavy lifting.

Some of you might say, “I’m really busy.” Yes, life sure is busy. The great thing about this is that you can arrange to meet with anyone whenever it is convenient for you and on any frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly). Also, you don’t have to do lesson planning, etc.

How Do You Actually Invite Someone to Read?

The secret sauce, the pitch of a lifetime, your script to remember:

“Would you have any interest in reading the Bible with me for a few weeks?”

Or something like that. This is not a big deal. It is a simple, non-threatening question. Let’s not make this more difficult that we need to.

Some Encouraging Statistical Findings

Ed Stetzer surveyed one thousand unchurched twenty-somethings and five hundred older (30 years old and up).  They were given this prompt for a yes/no response: “I would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked me to.” Sixty-one percent of twenty-somethings and forty-two percent of those thirty years old and older said yes. Notice that the survey asks “…if a friend asked me to.” This shows the value of relationship. What I find so encouraging about these statistics is this: they indicate that if we live a credible Christian witness and we invite an unbelieving friend with whom we have a decent relationship to meet with us to read the Bible, we have at least a one in two chance that they will say yes.

How to Prepare for the One-to-One Meeting

Your invitation to meet and read the Bible has been accepted and you know which book of the Bible you will read in the meeting; so, how do you prepare for the meeting.

1. Survey Reading – Read the whole book fast (like a newspaper or novel). Don’t study it as much as you just read it fast (like a novel or a newspaper) to get a “lay of the land,” as it were. You only have to do this when you start a new book (so, every 8-16 weeks or so).

2. Read the chapter before meeting and make notes or an outline of the chapter or attempt to summarize what it is saying in your own words.

3. Pray that the meeting will be fruitful.

Bible Reading and Interpretation Tips

You might find it helpful to know how to make the most out of the Bible reading experience or to share Bible reading and interpretation tips with the person you are meeting. Here are a couple of resources to get you started:

How to Approach Reading the Bible

Seven Tips for Interpreting the Bible

Advice for the First Meeting: Setting the Conversation Foundation.

The idea here is to start the meetings with all your cards on table without demanding agreement. I think it is important to set a foundation by stating:

“I’m not telling you what to believe. I am committed to explaining biblical Christianity from the Bible.”

I also own up to the fact that I think the Bible should be interpreted literally; that is that it should be understood literally according to its literary context.  Psalm 6:6 says “every night I flood my bed with tears;I drench my couch with my weeping…”  Clearly, that is a poetic literary form and not meant to be taken literally.  When the Bible speaks in a historical narrative, I understand it as literal history (not just telling a spiritual story [e.g. maybe Goliath isn’t symbolic of my trials]). The Bible isn’t a book of science, but where it touches science, it speaks truth.  The Bible isn’t just a history book, but where it touches on history, it speaks truth.

I also admit that I have confidence in the Bible as the revealed Word of God. And, as Christians, we have good reason for that confidence. We open the Bible knowing that what we hold in our hands are reliable duplicates.  Great care and precision was exercised by the ancient Jewish scribes, as demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we have over 18,000 New Testament manuscripts showing amazing reliability.

I might summarize my interpretation of and confidence in the Bible by saying, “I take the Bible at face value.  I believe that it is the inspired Word of God that He revealed to humanity so that we can know God and be reconciled to Him.  I take the Bible as true.  You may not, and that is okay; I will be glad to share with you what the Bible plainly teaches.”

Doctrinal Priorities: How to Know Whether to Address an Issue or Not

If we are going to read the Bible with someone on a one-to-one basis—whether it is with an unbeliever or a new believer—we are bound to encounter some doctrinal and theological error along the way. Even if one has not given much thought to that possibility, we intuitively know that when we do encounter serious error at some point, it is our duty to lovingly correct the error in a one-to-one discipleship relationship.  We also know that we don’t want to be overbearing or perceived as constantly waiting to slap wrists with a nun ruler. So, how do we know when it is important to address matters of biblical truth?

For the unbeliever, we are not dealing with a new creature in Christ that is aided by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. We can’t expect them to exhibit Christian behavior or proclaim sound Christian doctrine—and we shouldn’t place that burden on them. We really should focus on communicating the gospel message to them. To spend time talking about what the Bible has to say about church discipline, for example, would be unwise and unfruitful.

For the believer, to help get you started on which issues to prioritize, I have set a few statements into categories at the end of this article. The categories are essentials (a belief necessary for salvation; to get an essential wrong is to distort the gospel), conviction (a belief where unity is necessary for Christians to work together in the same local church), and preference (a matter upon which Christians in the same congregation may disagree while maintaining local church unity). [1]

Essentials – A belief necessary for salvation. To get an essential wrong is to distort the gospel.

It is not enjoyable to correct anyone or point out error. However, we are not doing anyone any favors by ignoring a situation where someone gets an essential wrong. It is our job to lovingly address these things as they come up (in a non-confrontational way). My recommendation would be to take them to a passage of Scripture that makes it clear. For a new Christian, it will probably be a really short conversation that results in something like, “I didn’t know that.” For a new believer, instead of having this conversation regularly, it might be a good idea to go through a quick study of Christ essentials like Essential Christian Behaviors and Beliefs (or Start Strong: A Guide for New and Growing Believers) with them before starting a study of a book of the Bible.

An in-between issue.

We are only one category in before breaking the system…

There is one issue that sort of belongs in both the essential and conviction category: trusting that the Bible is God’s inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word. It is obvious from the convictional perspective: if the individuals that make up a church don’t agree on the nature of Scripture, there isn’t much chance for any functional unity.

While it is true that what a person believes about the Bible doesn’t save or condemn them, it is also true that to disregard the Bible is to disregard the God Himself. Additionally, with all the changing winds of culture and the unreliability of man, if one were to deny the revealed Word of God, how would they get truth from God?

So, right belief about the Bible doesn’t save, but to disregard it is unhealthy at best.

Conviction – A belief where unity is necessary for Christians to work together in the same local church.

For a new or growing believer that doesn’t go to your church or to a church within your denomination, this might be difficult. Additionally, for a new believer, we don’t want to pile obligations on them; for some things (like understanding that Scriptural baptism is by immersion), it might be best to let them figure that out over time. However, if they have the notion that Christian Perfection is true (the idea that upon belief it is possible, and even expected, that a Christian will reach a point of maturity that they will no longer sin), it would probably be wise to guide them around that. In general, be wise to help them discover God’s truth when it matters and to be patient otherwise.

Preference – A matter upon which Christians in the same congregation may disagree while maintaining local church unity.

These aren’t really matters where you should spend the bulk of your time making sure they have a Biblical worldview or share your perspective. The essential and (to a lesser degree) convictional doctrine should dominate your time and effort in the area of correction. Answer any questions that are asked of you that you can, but don’t spend a lot of your time (or even give lengthy answers) for these sorts of things.

Here is a spreadsheet to use as an exercise to think through some possible doctrinal statements and consider whether you would address them, how often you would address them, and how you would go about addressing them in a one-to-one relationship:

Doctrinal Priorities One-to-One (mxply.com)


Footnotes:

  1. This concept, the tripartite categorization, and most of the doctrinal statements on the spreadsheet are original to Tim Raymond of Trinity Baptist Church.

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