Understanding the Bible

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'Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. ...the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.'       James 3:13,17.



This page presents suggestions for a series of training sessions to prepare lay people for  a wide range of biblical ministry within the organisation of the local church.  


1. Introduction

It is not unusual to hear pastors and ministers complain that they do not have enough lay leaders in their church, presumably to lead various types of groups or activities, or to take on responsibilities for sections of their church’s work. Obviously not every Christian is cut-out for leadership, but we must not ignore the possibility that with appropriate training some Christians will be able to rise to the challenge. It must often be the feeling of inadequacy that prevents some people from even considering the idea. Others may blossom if given the right kind of training. Even in churches with a good provision of lay leaders there will need to be a continual cycle of training to bring-on new candidates for leadership.

If you go on-line with Internet Explorer and put “Christian leadership training” into a search engine it will list very many sites in which this type of training is described in essence or some detail, but it varies a great deal. Some of it will be for leadership in general, including business and commerce - from a Christian viewpoint, which is a good line to take, but not what we are considering here.

For an example of a church-orientated site you could go to www.woodside.org.uk/christianleadership compiled by David Devenish (I have no information on the credentials of this site but it seems to be biblically rooted). It includes sections of notes on, for instance, qualities of Christian leadership; the leadership office in the NT; key values; servant leadership; developing into leaders, teamwork etc. There are many other sites: it would be difficult to choose.

However, the breadth of material available may be rather off-putting. Indeed, if you sit down with a blank piece of paper and note down all the things you can think of that might be included in a leadership course, the list is very long - and daunting. It may well be that you conclude that you could not mount anything like it in your church setting.

On this site therefore I have included suggestions and a possible curriculum which is, I anticipate, much more achievable. You could spend many sessions going through very useful material but there has to be a limit on how much time people can spend. The important thing is to make the time count for the really important things.

2. The Purpose

The line I take here is that any leadership task must be seen as primarily ‘spiritual’. By this I mean that any leadership training given in the local church should prepare the selected candidates for a biblically-based ministry - no matter what the context of their leadership is going to be. So by ‘leadership’ we mean ‘ministry’ -

By 'leadership'  we mean 'ministry'

which is an important point if we are going to get our motivations right. Leaders must think biblically.

Some will need to teach the Bible as part of their leadership: others will not teach directly, but must have their eyes on spiritual goals. For example, in leading an after-school club for primary-age children there will be some sort of Bible slot and here it is important to be biblical and Christ-centred, not falling into the trap of moralism which it is so easy to do with children. At the parents and toddlers group there will probably only be a low-level Christian input, but the leaders need to be able to talk to parents with a biblical agenda in the background. Even just making friends or sympathetically listening to family problems will be an expression of the love of Christ and will therefore be different from merely well-meant social contact. Of course, we must not offer shallow friendship: it must be genuine. We may indeed be offering a service to the community, but ultimately we will be aiming to introduce people to Jesus Christ.

What I am really saying is that one way or another, those in leadership in the local church will have the ultimate aims of ..

(a) helping people to become Christians, and

(b) helping Christians to mature (ie to be able to run their own Christian lives), and themselves become those who can help others to become Christians.

.. in other words, there must be an underlying evangelistic intent.

Someone may feel that these purposes are much too narrow. If so, I am so bold as to ask whether your church is maintenance-orientated or mission-orientated? Don’t you think that ‘going for growth’ could be the best way to motivate, mature and stretch your congregation? How do you think the Apostle Paul would view this issue?

3. Choosing the People

I am supposing that in a typical church there will be one or two men or women who will be obvious as possible leaders, but that others will have to be identified who can be developed into the task. This must be a matter of concentrated prayer, and eventual consultation with one or two established leaders. We must not assume that those who are in some form of leadership in their employment are necessarily right for it: we are looking for godliness and godly intent not worldly achievement. 

We are looking for godliness not worldly achievement.

Those eventually identified and approached (it may only be a handful, but that’s fine) will need to understand the order of the commitment. There will have to be work done outside the training sessions themselves. During training they may have to withdraw from attending some other activities in order to find the time. If they already lead a group or activity but have never been trained until now, you may have to cope with them withdrawing for a time: this will be part of the church’s commitment to the priority of leadership training. In general the participants should not be promised an immediate role as a leader after training is over, as they will need to be matched to the tasks needing to be done. The point is that the sort of training in mind will be of enormous value in its own right apart from its application to the leadership role.

Most people identified to be trained will receive the news with a mixture of humility (‘what me?’) and encouragement (‘what an opportunity!’). If you have chosen wisely they will be like sponges - soaking up everything you can give them. So what do we need to teach them?

4. What should be included in the training?

I have made it clear above that to my mind all leadership in the local church must be, at heart, biblical leadership (or rather ‘ministry‘). This means that knowing the Bible well, thinking biblically and using the teaching of the Bible to direct the ways we do things, are priorities. Even ‘counselling’ - a favourite subject for many in these stressful days - needs to be at heart the application of the Bible’s teaching to people’s hearts, minds and lives. I recall the minister of a church we once attended observing that most of the time he spent counselling was with people who refused to live by the principles God has given us in the Bible!

You'd be surprised how woolly in their thinking people are  - even about something as fundamental as the Gospel!

So what do we include in our training? I propose that an effective biblical leaders course should encompass how to understand the Bible, both at the passage level and its overall sweep; a good grasp of at least two key books of the Bible, including a gospel: knowing exactly what the Gospel of Christ is (and is not!) - you‘d be surprised at how woolly some people are; practical skills in leading others; knowing how to help someone become a Christian; and the practice of personal holiness and devotion. It could also include a systematic treatment of prime doctrinal subjects. It could even be entirely devoted to such a series, depending on what you judge to be most needed.

You will no doubt wish to put together your own set of subjects bearing in mind how much you think your people can take. You are recommended to construct the course in short bursts over a year rather than in one continuous run. For example, you could do four consecutive weeks in each of the three terms of the year - avoiding the annual holiday period. Try to be really practical: choose your weeks so as to avoid other big church activities and, for instance, school half-terms when some people want to get away for a break. I do not recommend fortnightly meetings: it is difficult to maintain the flow of thought.

5. The Curriculum

(a) Biblical Belief

As mentioned above it is possible to construct a ministry training course made up entirely of sessions on aspects of biblical belief. This, indeed, may be the greatest need of potential leaders in any situation where it is judged that there has been insufficient opportunity for systematic teaching on doctrinal belief. The problem is that even with faithful biblical preaching from the pulpit, lay people do not always connect things together in their thinking into a coherent whole. Many have never set eyes on a doctrinal statement. It might be a good thing to begin by showing them one of these. Here is a typical basis of faith:

“We accept the revelation of the triune God given in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and confess the historic faith of the Gospel set forth in those Scriptures.

We assert doctrines that we regard as central, crucial and non-negotiable to the understanding of the faith and which should issue in love and service, namely

1. The sovereignty and grace of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, providence, revelation, redemption and final judgement.

2. The divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and its consequent entire trustworthiness and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

3. The universal sinfulness and guilt before God of all humankind, making us subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.

4. The substitutionary sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God as the sole and all-sufficient penal atonement from the guilt and power of sin and from its eternal consequences.

5. The justification before God of the sinner solely by the grace of God through faith alone in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

6. The illuminating, regenerating, indwelling and sanctifying work of God the Holy Spirit.

7. The priesthood of all believers, who comprise the universal church, of which Christ is the Head and which is committed by His command to the proclamation of the Gospel to all peoples and throughout the world in every generation.

8. The expectation of the personal, visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory to judge the world and bring in His everlasting Kingdom in its fullness.”

 Other doctrinal bases will emphasise other features and will mention things omitted above, but this compilation typifies what may be found. Much more filled-out confessions of faith may be found in, for example, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1571), The Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-46), The New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833): and particularly on Scripture, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). [The text of these statements may be seen in full in Appendix 1 of ‘Systematic Theology’ by Wayne Grudem.]

So it would be possible to construct a doctrinal beliefs course something like this:

Term 1:
    Session 1. The Nature of God (The Trinity). [See Article 2 on the Doctrine for Everyone page on this web site]
    Session 2. The Sovereignty of God. 
    Session 3. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture 
    Session 4.  Review

Term 2:
    Session 1.  God’s Problem with man.
    Session 2.  The Atonement (Substitution) [See articles on the Doctrine for Everyone page this web site]
    Session 3.   Justification by Faith [See appropriate articles on the Doctrine for Everyone page this web site]
    Session 4.   Review                                                                                                            

Term 3.
    Session 1. The Work of the Holy Spirit (Sanctification) [See articles on the Doctrine for Everyone page]
    Session 2. The Church
    Session 3. The Return of Christ

    Session 4.  Review

The Review sessions provide a time to pick up problems with understanding (which should be signalled up by the participants beforehand) and for prayer.

The subjects for each session are necessarily quite large and it will be important to prepare succinct notes for each. I envisage that each session should last 1 ½ hours. Obviously the course could be spread out over a longer period to allow more time for each subject, but you may want to limit the commitment to one year. As it stands the participants must be expected to do some preparation towards each session using material you have provided. As mentioned above, the sessions should take place weekly over four weeks to keep the continuity. 

It is imperative that the material on each of the elements of this course are connected together as much as possible. This might seem fairly obvious, as all the subjects are indeed connected, but I would like to remind you from my observation over years of teaching courses like this, that lay people often have not made the connections, particularly between teaching found in the Old and New Testaments. If you make those connections for them their eyes will light up with understanding! A good example of this point is that in the session on Justification by Faith, it must be demonstrated by using the basis of God’s acceptance of Abraham, that God has ALWAYS accepted people on the basis of faith (see Rom.4). This did not just ‘come-in’ with Jesus.

This web site already contains a lot of material you could use towards this course, more may be added over time.

(b) A Course in Leadership and Biblical Literacy/Theology.

It is also possible to construct a very helpful course by combining biblical literacy  (perhaps better recognised as Biblical Theology - see Article 9 on the Doctrine for Everyone page) with developing spiritual skills. 

The Book of Nehemiah is strongly recommended as a background book to be read and studied. For one thing it is about a godly leader who gets things done! But additionally I have recently discovered a book which I am really passionate about, which is a commentary on and application of Nehemiah. It is 'A Passion for Faithfulness' by J.I.Packer. He quite remarkably combines an insightful commentary on the text with much valuable application to the Christian life and life in the local church. It is pub. by Hodder Christian Books (ISBN 0 340 64209 2) also from Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street , Wheaton IL 60187, USA.

You could ask that Packer's book be read before reaching session 4 in Term 1, then you could review it with particular goals you derive from the book.

Such a course could look like this …

Term 1.
                    Session 1. Leadership/Servanthood in the Bible.
                    Session 2. A Gospel in one session (recommend Mark’s gospel- see this page under Group Bible Studies)
                    Session 3. What is the Gospel - and what is not. [See Article 5 on Doctrine for Everyone]
                    Session 4. Review/Prayer

Term 2.
                    Session 1. )
                    Session 2. ) Overview of the Bible 
                    Session 3. )  [See the extensive overviews on the web page of this title]
                    Session 4. )

Term 3.
                    Session 1. The Book of Colossians in one session
                    Session 2. How to prepare a Bible passage for study/speaking (see the web page on this subject)
                    Session 3. How to help someone become a Christian.
                    Session 4. Review/Prayer.

Other topics such as ‘How to lead a Bible study’ can be covered using the article on this web site - on the ‘How to Prepare and Lead’ page. The material for ‘What is the Gospel - and what is not’ may also be found on this web site - see Article 5 on the Doctrine for Everyone page.

Comprehensive material for the Bible Overview is found on this site on the page of that title. Other applicable material will be added to the site over time.

However, it can be readily seen that the aim of this second suggested course is very different, approaching doctrinal understanding and leadership from a different angle.

You may feel that a one-year course simply cannot achieve enough. Whether you could introduce the idea of a two-year programme depends a lot on what attitude to training you have promulgated and who the prospective candidates are. If they are those who might eventually go on into the full-time ministry then they will no doubt see a more prolonged course as a good opportunity . 

END (for the time being)

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