Reading Deepen Discipleship will be challenging—and to do it well, we’ll need a community of believers and a lot of time. But this shouldn’t surprise us: following Jesus faithfully also takes people and time.
Slow Down. Take time to read slowly, pray, and reflect on the Word. Take time to be with others, bless your church, and reach out.
Deepen Discipleship is a simple process, but it’s not easy.
Deepen Discipleship is an interactive discipleship process that will prepare Christians for both local and global disciple-making in the context of local church community. Of topic, it’s also about deepening your relationship with God and others.
Deepen Discipleship will help you develop and deepen discipleship routines in community. In other words, it’s not designed as a Bible reading plan to be done alone. You should find at least one other Deepen Discipleship partner so that you can learn and obey together.
- The Word of God
- The Spirit of God
- The People of God
Even the name Deepen Discipleship is intended to suggest the process by which the Holy Spirit takes the clear message of God’s Word and writes it on our lives as we live out the gospel among the people of God in the local church. Primarily, we do this by making and multiplying disciples. This is a relational process of going deeper with Christ and with one another!
Participants will read quickly through the entire New Testament with guided reflections and activities that are designed to deepen habits of obedience in eight main discipleship categories.
The process is organized around four modules, each of them six weeks long. In them, you will Read and Learn, Reflect and Change, and Go and Do. All of this is meant to be done in community, preferably some fellow church members. This aspect is important because it’s the committed community of a local church that best enables connections for both loving God and loving others well.
Christian community invites the Word of God to dwell in us richly as we teach each other, love each other, pray together, and obey Jesus together. The pinnacle of this kind of community is found in the local church, especially in its weekly gathering. But it also happens any time followers of Jesus intentionally meet with one another for the purpose of doing spiritual good to one another. It happens whenever and wherever the Word of God works lasting change in the people of God by the Spirit of God, all for the glory of God. In sum, the local church gathering jump-starts the Christian life for a week of disciple-making in all sorts of contexts.
Christian community should work like an advertisement to the watching world that says, “Following Jesus Christ is the good life!” As followers of Jesus live to show and tell the gospel to fellow followers, as they seek to love both God and neighbor, they’re ministering out of the overflow of their abiding in Christ.
A simple Facilitator’s Guide will help the group leader to encourage and advise participants. (For those preparing for cross-cultural disciple-making, Deepen Discipleship will provide equipping consistent with and appropriate for IMB service.) This guide is designed to both plan for and execute the weekly gatherings in a way that is meaningful and efficient.
There is also a checklist in the Facilitator’s Guide that will assist facilitators in both preparing for weekly community times and encouraging the participants to be doers of the Word.
Participants must learn to read quickly but carefully through the New Testament. In doing so, they’ll discover the overarching themes of the Gospels, Acts, letters, and Revelation. The goal in this study is to focus on what’s clear and plain in the Word and to put these instructions into practice, often in groups of two or more.
Ultimately, Deepen Discipleship is an attempt to provide a pattern that promotes two things: being a faithful follower of Jesus and second, helping others be a faithful follower of Jesus—whether in the United States or across the globe. It’s really that simple.
If the Bible is a forest, then its books are trees, its chapters are branches, and its verses are leaves. Working backward, these leaves are connected to branches which are parts of trees that belong in a certain forest.
So, as we look at the New Testament, we’ll primarily be looking at branches and their connections to certain trees. Yes, we’ll inspect the occasional leaf up close, but we will spend most of our energy looking for main ideas that will be found in larger sections of the New Testament. We will then seek to understand how these larger sections fit into their respective books as well as the larger Bible forest.
Practically, this means we will be reading quickly so that we can learn the New Testament’s forest, trees, and branches, not so much its leaves.
The first module begins with you reading three chapters per day in Luke and Acts. When we get to Philippians, it slows down to just a chapter or two per day. When we slow down, we’ll be doing so to reflect on what’s clear and plain in Scripture; that is to say, we won’t skip over the clear and plain so that we can slow down for a chapter’s difficult or strange phrases or sentences. As we slow down, we want to ask one main question: How should I respond to this clear teaching of God’s Word?
Sometimes, God’s Word will compel us to START doing something we haven’t previously been doing—maybe we need to take the opportunities to share the gospel with our neighbors, or show more patience in our work and home. Other times, it’s likely that God’s Word tells us to STOP doing something we have been doing; perhaps the text will encourage a change in our thinking, or we’ll be compelled to confess a sin and turn from it. Hopefully, there will also be occasions when we just need to CONTINUE, with God’s help, a good routine or attitude. At any rate, we want the clear teaching of the New Testament to guide our responses.
We hope this kind of approach to Bible reading will develop your understanding of Scripture’s big ideas and major themes. We also hope that once these ideas are grasped, you’ll be encouraged to then reflect on Scripture, making plans to put into practice what you’ve learned to be clear and central. In this way, we might avoid our common tendency to give most of our attention to the relatively rare portions of the New Testament that at first glance are confusing. Scripture’s main message is clear, and we invite you to read more about of the clarity of Scripture here.
We believe the Bible was inspired by God in such a way that every word was exactly what He wanted it to be. Whatever the Bible says, God says. As a result of this, we affirm four other convictions about the Bible.
First, the Bible is completely true. It has no error in it. Whatever the Bible affirms to be true is true, and we can trust it completely.
Second, the Bible is absolutely authoritative. Since it is the Word of God, it carries the authority of God, and God is the King of kings and Lord of lords who rules over the entire universe. We cannot pick and choose which parts we like and which parts we don’t. We owe confidence, acceptance, and obedience to everything the Bible tells us.
Third, the Bible is sufficient. We don’t need any other authority to interpret the Bible for us, and we don’t need any other source of information to teach us who God is, how we are to be saved, or how we are to live as His disciples.
Fourth, the Bible is clear in everything we need to know. God does not fail in communication. It’s true that equally committed believers disagree on parts of the Bible, and there are other parts that everyone struggles to understand. Given how much bigger God’s mind is than ours, this is no surprise. However, God knows what we need to know about Him, ourselves, the world, salvation, and the Christian life. He has made those things clear in His Word.
- Read Prayerfully. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Bible, and that same Holy Spirit lives in everyone who believes in Jesus. Because we are small, finite, sinful people, we cannot handle Scripture correctly on our own. However, it is specifically the job of the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth (John 16:13, 1 Cor. 2:12–16). Pray for Him to open your mind and shine His light so that you can understand.
- Hero Worship. Recognize that God is the only Hero of the Bible. The human characters are shown honestly, with their flaws as well as their strengths. Only God is always good, and this is ultimately a book about Him.
- Find Jesus. Read the Bible as a book that points to Jesus. It really is all about Him. Some of it shows us why we need Him, and much of the Old Testament lays the groundwork for His coming, but always draw the biblical line to Jesus.
- The Big Story. Read every passage in light of its place in the Grand Narrative of Scripture. These are not disconnected stories, and it matters where each individual passage lies in the Big Story of the Bible. For example, if you read the dietary laws in Deuteronomy 14 without knowing Jesus’ comments on them in Mark 7, you will probably reach a very inappropriate conclusion!
- In context. Always read everything in context. Word studies—think of them as “leaves” on a tree—can be useful, but ultimately, a given word has meaning only in the context of the actual sentence in which it is used. Sentences—thinner branches on the tree—only have meaning in the context of their paragraphs. Paragraphs—thicker branches— only have meaning in the context of their chapters, and so on. Never take anything out of context. Never interpret a verse to mean something that doesn’t fit into the flow of its paragraph, chapter, and book—trees—of the Bible—or forest. Always ask, “What is the point of this word/phrase/sentence/verse in the flow of the larger passage in which it is written?” Never read anything into a text of Scripture that does not flow naturally from the text in its context. Make sure you read the large context around each verse or passage before you interpret it. Remember: Forest, Trees, Branches, Leaves! This may be the most important rule for interpreting the Bible.
- Scripture interprets Scripture. God does not contradict Himself. Never interpret one part of the Bible in a way that contradicts another part. If one passage is unclear to you, find other places in the Bible that speak to the same issue more clearly, and let the clear parts interpret the less clear parts. Never build a basic doctrine on that which is not clear in the Word.
- Interpret the Bible in the community of the Church. We all have blind spots. We need the community of fellow Christ-followers to interpret the Bible safely and well. (That seems to be what the Bereans did in Acts 17:11.) That community includes your own church fellowship and also the fellowship of all believers across time and geography. If you come up with an interpretation that no one else has ever thought of, it is almost certainly wrong!