Friday, May 18, 2012

Developing Bible Study Leaders

SCRIPTURE: 2 Timothy 3:10-11
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 May 2012

"You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them." (2 Timothy 3:10-11)

[This is Part One of a Four-part series on Bible study.]

For the past four weeks, I have been writing on the small groups ministry, a vital part of any growing church. For the next four weeks, I will reflect on the place of the Word of God. In many Churches, Bible studies remain the core purpose of coming together. Call them care groups, contact groups, family groups, Alpha groups, Christian fellowship groups, or simply Bible study groups, all of them have one common purpose: To study God's Word. Part One focuses on developing the Bible Study Leader, beginning with ourselves. Before that, let me share a little of my life last week.

A) A New Phase

I graduated last week in absentia. Due to financial and logistical reasons, I had to skip the ceremony in Boston and South Hamilton. It would have been awesome to have my entire family celebrating the occasion with me wearing my doctoral regalia and receiving the award as a visual witness of the fruits of my years of work and hard labour. At least, my seminary has been kind enough to list my name on the website here. The journey had been long and tough.  Yet I feel strange. I feel awkard when people call me "Dr" to prefix my last name. I feel shy about it all, and also a little concerned whether my new title will distance me away from people I care for. At the same time, there is also that weirdness over expectations. Are people going to expect me to say profound words all the time? Am I going to be pushed out more into the limelight? How then do I remain grateful for the accomplishments and at the same time be humble about it all?

The end of one phase is but the beginning of another.

Someone asked me if I will be continuing with this Sabbath Walk weekly writings. Of course! Sabbath Walk has become my sabbathing journal. I write not because my dissertation topic happens to be on the Sabbath. I write because I love to write. I love to share my learning. I love to think aloud with words. That is my calling. That may very well be my second vocation. One thing is for sure, the Word of God will remain my key launchpad for any writing. I hope to encourage all of us to learn to handle the Word of God carefully, passionately, diligently, and reverently.

B) What is the Bible For?

What is the Bible for? Ask any Bible believing person and they will be quick to point out Scriptures that talk about the profitability of the Word of God, and how it can be beneficial for us.
 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Plain reading of the above suggests to us the purpose of the Bible. We can use it to teach, to rebuke, to correct, and to train in righteousness. In our culture of consumerism, there is a danger to consuming the Word and letting it end in our heads. Like a dam that prevents water from flowing farther downstream, when this happens, the Bible becomes merely a tool for self-knowledge and personal devotion. It makes the Bible appealing from a consumer standpoint, that while one can find his material needs from the world, one finds his spiritual needs from the Word. Put them together and one has a 'balanced' life. Right? No. Our goal in life is not about maintaining a balanced life as if we are controlled by a "yin-yang," "black-vs-white" or a "0 and 1" world. It is about glorifying God, regardless of personal balance or imbalance.

The trouble with such a mode is that we tend to miss out the context of 2 Timothy 3:16-17. We cannot read this verse in isolation from the person who had been inspired by the Holy Spirit to write it.  It is to be read together with knowing who is writing this. It comes from the pen of one who has been taught in the Word, who has lived in the Word, who has learned the Word in patience, kindness, goodness,  who have endured great trials and tribulations, and still is able to affirm the beauty and the power of the Word.

C) Profiting or Profiteering?

Is the Bible a tool for us? Is the Bible to be used the same way we use a screwdriver or a car? Is the Bible an engine to help us achieve our own objectives? Well. Sad to say, some people do. Some clever and classy people are experts at using the Bible to draw crowds, and then to promote themselves. Look at some of the prosperity gospel preachers, who come to the people declaring their love for God, and go away with loads of cash, voluntarily given by faithful believers who are taken in by the charisma or the good-feel effects of the charismatic preacher.  Others use the Bible as a pretext for self-gain. Like a leader of the Church who uses the Bible like a judge using his gavel, to push forth his ideas and his plans, using the name of God through the Bible. Cult leaders are experts at that. They take one or two verses in the Bible and then interpret it to the extreme.

No. God's Word are not for self-profiteering. It is for God-glorifying. Make sure our leaders are not gearing themselves out for personal profits to the detriment of the people and God.

D) Servant Leadership

The Word of God is seen to be alive in Paul, the teacher and discipler of Timothy. This means that the person that we are doing Bible study with must be exemplary in his life as a disciple. This is one of the most important marks of a Bible study leader. Is this leader a practitioner of the Word of God? Has this person gone through the ups and downs of life, and is still growing faithfully? Like Paul, is this leader able to endure and trust God to deliver? What do servant leaders look like? The table below from Stacy Rinehart gives us a stark contrast between power leaders and servant leaders.

As a Bible study leader myself, I need to be reminded again that my role is not to hang on to my role. My role is to develop leaders. My role is to be loyal to the people instead of insisting on people's loyalty. My role is to be faithful even though people in my group are not as regular, as punctual, or as faithful. My role is to magnify Christ above all. My role is to affirm God's kingdom, and not grow my own empire. My role is to be a servant and not insist on others being servants. My role is to make disciples of all nations, beginning with myself.
How to develop servant leaders? Use the Five Keys as a start.

How then do you develop Bible study leaders? In the light of 2 Timothy 3:10-11, we develop leaders beginning with ourselves. We may not take on an official role anytime yet. That does not mean we disqualify ourselves altogether. Why not consider living a life of a disciple first? Let me adapt Stacy Rinehart's five points about cultivating relationships by calling them keys on learning to be servant leaders.
  1. The Key of Sharing: "learn to risk sharing our weaknesses."
  2. The Key of Speaking: "say hard words in love to a brother."
  3. The Key of Subjecting Self: "to let someone really know our temptations and faults."
  4. The Key of Solidarity: "enter into someone else's pain."
  5. The Key of Serving: "care about the person and not the objective."

THOUGHT: "When we lament to God about the lack of servant leaders, and pray for more servant leaders, do not forget to look at the mirror, and ask God by saying: 'Here I am Lord, use me if you wish beginning with the five keys above.'"


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