There will likely come a time where each church leader will wonder if Bible teaching will be effective for a successful church. There will likely be a temptation or test to adopt a philosophy of ministry that minimizes Bible teaching, because a church down the street had adopted a model that attracts a crowd and they minimize Bible teaching. Nevertheless, if you are going to make disciples you must teach the Bible.
…if you are going to make disciples you must teach the Bible.
The understanding and application of sound doctrine is a primary tool for making disciples. Converts cannot develop spiritually nor live in conformity to Christ’s commands absent Bible teaching. You can arguably entertain, motivate, mobilize, and attract people without teaching the Bible, but you cannot make disciples.
Researcher George Gallup observes, “Americans revere the Bible – but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” For example, Gallup research revealed that fewer than half of all adults could name the four gospels. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.
In a culture that is increasingly secular we should not be startled by post-Christian America’s general reply, but the greater concern is biblical ignorance among Christians. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed, “Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge.”
Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge.
Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study. The decline of Bible teaching in corporate worship, and youth and small group settings, hinders the formation of disciples.
Nevertheless, there is hope. The church at Ephesus discovered the connection between Bible teaching and effective disciple making in a culture that in many ways was similar to the pluralistic, relativistic, hedonistic, and materialistic world that we live in. Here are two key principles that reveal how making disciples is related to Bible teaching.
A. The need for the whole counsel of God. As Paul bid farewell to the elders of Ephesus he affirmed that he was innocent of the blood of all men because he had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God [Ac. 20:25-27]. Paul had just announced that he kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it … [Ac. 20:20]. The whole counsel is presumably contrast with the idea of partial counsel. In essence, to teach the whole counsel you need to address issues that may be contrary to the greater cultural narrative and thus controversial. It can be challenging, but it allowed Paul to declare his innocence.
There is reluctance on the part of some to communicate the whole counsel, because of the inherent risk of offending some who will depart from the assembly. This tension has caused some to adopt a philosophy of seeking to be sensitive to the values of the curious and guarding against offending them until they can consider the benefits of the gospel and receive Christ as Savior. Their weekend gatherings tend to offer teaching that is focused on perceived needs, and attracting rather than possibly offending people. In the “seeker sensitive” model, it is not that the teaching is heretical or unorthodox, but the problem relates to neglecting what isn’t taught. If on the other hand, you adopt an expositional approach that explains the Scripture in light of their historical and grammatical context, and teach verse by verse through books of the Bible, you are likely to address all of the issues that God intended. If we are going to make disciples people need to be taught the whole counsel of God in order to live in conformity to Christ.
B. The need for sound doctrine. Paul’s first recorded letter to Timothy was written about three years after Paul established the church. Paul recognized Timothy’s leadership prior to departing to Macedonia, and wrote to encourage, equip, and establish the church. Eight  times in the letter Paul affirms the need for sound doctrine. In the beginning of the letter we learn that the purpose of sound doctrine is to establish love and expose sin such that people discover God’s righteousness, and their need for Christ and His gospel [1Tim. 1:1-11]. There were threats to sound doctrine from Greek Gnostic philosophers, and Jewish teachers of fables and myths whose teaching did not build up in the faith.
The antidote to liberalism, legalism, pluralism, relativism, syncretism, hedonism, and any other “ism” that can cause a schism is sound doctrine.
The antidote to liberalism, legalism, pluralism, relativism, syncretism, hedonism, and any other “ism” that can cause a schism is sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is teaching that is consistent with the Bible. A key need is for teachers to teach what the passage of Scripture declares. Every teacher approaches the Bible with some sense of a philosophy of ministry or systematic theology. Too often teachers impose that viewpoint on the text to try to make the text mean what the teacher wants it to mean rather than actually teaching: what it says, what the words mean in a historical and grammatical context, and how you can apply it to your life. Don’t impose your agenda or presupposition. Also, do your homework to ensure that your interpretation aligns with the historic and accepted faith. A great free resource for sound commentaries is Blue Letter Bible www.blueletterbible.org.
Here are some practical ideas to develop a culture of Bible teaching and learning:
- Equip the local church by teaching expositional verse-by-verse Bible studies through books of the Bible to model and encourage Bible learning.
- Encourage regular Bible learning using reading (or listening) plans. Plans that help people be intentional to learn the Bible in context are remarkably helpful. Reinforce the desired behavior by frequently discussing Bible learning, and celebrating those that are growing in this discipline.
- Empower people to share what they are learning with others. Every disciple can be a Bible teacher. Each of us should be empowered to share with others what we are learning. Parents are called to teach their children [Eph. 6:4, Deut. 6:4-9]. All of us are to be diligent to present ourselves approved to God, workers who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth [2Tim. 2:15]. So each of us should be empowered to teach whether one-on-one, or to a few, or to a multitude.
- Edify the community (small) group experience by using it as a platform for developing multiple Bible teachers. The smaller group should be a place of primarily robust Bible learning and teaching that builds-up believers. The more teaching prospects that are nurtured, trained, and developed through the experiences of teaching the Bible the better. Smaller groups do not need to compromise social relationships or Bible learning – ideally groups are “both and.”