In August, my teammate Jeremy Smith and I went to a seminar in Rwanda where we learned a lot about Church Planting Movements and what we can do to see them happen among the Makua-Metto. We got to spend time with colleagues from all over the continent and get some advice and insight about this stage of ministry. One of the best things that we learned was a new (or is it a very old?) way to study God’s word. We called it a Discovery Bible Study. It basically has three parts. First, you read the text a few times to get familiar with it (literate people can write down the text as it helps it get into your brain). Second, you put the text into your own words. Third, you talk about what you need to do to obey it. At the conference we turned a piece of paper sideways, folded it into three parts and divided the page into three columns: copying the text, paraphrasing the text, and making “I will…” statements about how to obey what you have learned. At the end of the study you ask who each person will tell what they’ve leaned. While this way of Bible study is great for church planting, it also can work in place of preaching in the church setting. One of the most immediate improvements we’ve seen is in participation. Oftentimes, the nature of preaching and teaching as it is usually done (even when it’s done well) is to make us into passive recipients of the texts instead of forcing us to be active participants with the text. Maybe the difference is like between watching ice skating on television (seeing a religious professional or qualified layperson interpret the text) and actually lacing up some skates and getting out on the ice to skate (having to wrestle with interpreting it myself). By studying in groups each person shares what they hear and how they should obey and by sharing that with the group, the group can help correct and guide the individual if their interpretation or application is unhealthy.
A couple of weeks ago I drove about 4 hours south to be with a cluster of churches in the Namuno district. I spent the night in the village of Masha and when I was asked to speak on Sunday morning I divided the group of about 60 adults into groups of 4 or 5 and asked them to read from Deuteronomy 6. We made sure that each group had someone who could read and I asked them to read the text a few times until they felt like they understood it. My small group seemed to understand it pretty well. I asked for a few volunteers to tell everybody what they heard in the text and a number of people offered up the pieces they understood as we stitched the passage back together in our own words. Then, I asked the groups to meet again and talk about what each person would do to obey the text. When I posed this question to the whole group, one man said he needed to teach God’s word to his children. An older lady stood up and said that she understood that since there is only one God, in order to obey the text she was going to give up divination. A number of us were shocked – divination is a huge problem in our area. Then I asked everyone to talk about who they would share what they learned with. Some said brothers and sisters and friends and one young man said he would share it with his family in another village.
It has also been fun to use this method of Bible study in a small group setting. On Tuesday, I met with about seven people from the church in Nkororo who have wanted to plant a church in the village of Merenge. They have gone there a number of times to visit and I’ve gone with them twice. But the last time we were there, we all left feeling that something wasn’t right. So, after we chatted for a while this week, I asked them to look at Luke 10 with me to check out Jesus’ instructions for his disciples when they were going to new areas. We read through the text a few times and then I asked them to tell me what they heard in the text. Armindo summarized it pretty well, Victorino shared some insights from the leadership meeting last weekend, and a few others chimed in to fill in some holes. Then I asked them what we would need to do to obey Jesus’ instructions to plant a church in Merenge. That kicked off a lively discussion where I said almost nothing for half an hour. As the discussion wore down, I asked them, “So, what are we going to do?” They responded that they would go two-by-two back to the village of Merenge and look for a person of peace who would be the gateway for starting the church there. It was one of the best and most practical Bible studies I have ever led or been a part of and I barely said a word.
One of the best things about this way of doing Bible studies is that the text does the work. We’ve been in Montepuez for about five years now and I’ve been directly involved in planting a handful of churches and a big issue has been reproducibility. Specifically, the way I was teaching and church planting could not be replicated well by our Mozambican friends. This way of teaching and doing Bible study is more “text dependent” and much less “teacher dependent.” It has been fun seeing the work of God’s Word in the presence of His church and I’m excited to see where this will take us.