Let me ask you a question: how important has reading and studying the Bible with others been in your discipleship journey? If you’re anything like me you have sat together in a small group to study the Bible on numerous occasions, grappling with the text’s meaning and its implications for your lives.
Let me ask you another question: how overtly ‘missional’ have those studies been? What I mean by this is: how explicitly do we relate our engagement with the biblical text to mission, throughout the study and not just as an addition as part of the application at the end? How can we make our Bible Studies more missional at a fundamental level?
I suppose I am asking “what difference do the developments in our understanding of the missional nature of the Bible make to a mid-week Bible Study group?” This question was addressed by George Hunsberger in an article entitled, Missional Bible Study: Discerning and Following God’s Call.
In it, he declares that
“we will need to learn a new way of placing ourselves in front of the text. Bible study guides and methods that focus on each individual’s relationship to God will not be enough. We will need to learn to read the Bible together as a community that is called and sent by God.” (p.7, my emphasis)
I like the assumption of the ‘sentness’ of the Church in what he says. I also like his point about reading with others. Often we think of approaching the Bible as solely an individual exercise. Perhaps we also think of our involvement in mission as an individual exercise. We need a shift in our approach to studying the Bible that asks ‘us’ questions rather than ‘me’ questions. Otherwise, we are in danger of being a group of sent individuals rather than a sent community.
Asking good questions
The ability to ask good questions is a monumentally underrated skill. Consider the reflections of Isidor Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics:
“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions – made me become a scientist!”
A good question is a beautiful and powerful thing. But what kind of questions could we ask in our ‘missional’ Bible Studies? Hunsberger suggests five:
Mission – How does this text send us and equip our witness?
Context – How does this text read us and our world?
Gospel – How does this text evangelise us with good news?
Change – How does this text convert us in personal and corporate life?
Future – How does this text orient us to the coming reign of God?
This isn’t a definitive list, but it is at least a beginning of a journey we could make to ensure that when we study the Bible together we are being more intentionally missional.
If Hunsberger’s five questions seem like a big step, how about this one:
‘In what ways does this passage make a claim for the rule of God in our lives, our churches, our communities and our world?’
Such a question recognises the reign of God (whether we frame it in terms of the Kingship of Yahweh or the Lordship of Christ) and asks us to consider what this reign means for us. It is not just a call to consider the extent to which our lives are aligned with that reign, though it certainly requires that. It is also a challenge to take our contexts seriously and to consider creatively how the reign of God can be discerned and embodied in the world, and how we might participate in that.
What questions would you ask to make your Bible Studies more missional? And which (if any) of the above suggestions might you try to pose the next time your group meets to study the Scriptures?
Tim is the Bible and Mission stream leader, on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology. This course is designed for you if you’re interested in reading the Bible as a missional ‘document’, and using it to transform your mission, ministry or day-to-day discipleship.