In spite of life disruptions due to COVID, disciple-making efforts must continue. In fact, our need to reach out in care during this time has been heightened. People need Jesus and understanding about how to live like Him (see Matthew 28:19-20). As a result, I want to focus on four critical disciple-making issues: biblical illiteracy, disciple-maker shortage, caring relationships with lost people, and care for each other.
I will share the issues in a series of four posts. In this post, I will focus on the first issue: biblical illiteracy. When I say “biblical illiteracy,” what comes to your mind? Do you think about children and people who cannot read? I wish biblical illiteracy was limited to these two groups.
What Is Biblical Illiteracy?
When I use the term, biblical illiteracy, I am not thinking about people who cannot read (illiteracy). I tend to think about what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 3:
For my part, brothers and sisters, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, since you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready…1 Corinthians 3:1-2
When you read those verses, what words/phrases stand out? For me it is the “people of the flesh,” ‘babies in Christ,” “milk to drink, not solid food,” and “still not ready.”
The main issue of biblical illiteracy has nothing to do with an ability to read. It has to do with the fact that no one has helped the person to learn to read and study the Bible for themselves. It often is due to reading the Bible as a history book instead of as a love letter from God.
How Pervasive is Biblical Illiteracy?
In my observation, more than half of the people in our churches are biblically illiterate. Most have not intentionally read and studied the Bible. They were most serious about God in the months immediately after they accepted Jesus, and they have not grown as disciples since that time.
If they do open the Bible during the week, too often it is to complete a daily task of reading the Bible. And while I am completely convinced that God’s Word will not return void (even in making Bible reading little more than a habit), the life-changing potential from reading and studying God’s Word is often dramatically diminished.
They are still babies in Christ who require being fed. They come on Sunday and don’t open the Bible during the week or simply go through the motions. As a result, they are weak from undernourishment and unable to live lives reflecting Jesus.
Solution One to the 4 Disciple-making Issues
Like a child needs help in learning to feed himself, the biblically illiterate need a guide to walk with them through reading and studying the Word. No, I do not mean traditional Sunday School classes or small groups. In the same way that nothing can substitute for seeing the Grand Canyon for yourself, nothing can substitute for the biblically illiterate spending time in the Word and discovering its truth and application for themselves. They need more than a testimony of the teacher’s preparation. They need help to do this for themselves.
Teach them to read while listening to God’s still small voice. Daily appointments with God in His Word are essential. Connecting Bible study and prayer as two halves of a conversation with God is needed. Help the biblically illiterate to gain the benefits of journaling. Share helpful questions for understanding context and applying. Teach them how to use Bible tools, such as a study Bible, concordance, commentaries, etc. Teach them to ask, “In response to what God said in His Word, did I keep my commitments to Him?”
A dramatic shift would be required in Sunday School and small groups to address this issue. That is why I wrote Disciple-Making Encounters. Disciple-makers are needed to ensure that a life-changing relationship with God in His Word is begun and practiced. This is only one of the disciple-making issues, but here is the bottom line: if disciples never learn to read and study God’s Word for themselves, they will never feel competent or confident to teach others to do so. And I am convinced they will never feel competent or confident to make disciples who make disciples.
Be a disciple who opens God’s Word seeking a life-changing encounter with Him. Then teach others to do the same. Make disciples and disciple-makers!