Ezra and the ministry principle of de-termination
I'm conscious that there’s a regular tendency in some (like me!) to overclaim when talking about principles of ministry. So I’m not going to suggest that the principle of de-termination—which I explain below in the context of home group ministry—is the most vital key to growing a disciple-making culture in your church. But … No, wait! You decide!
A while back I came across this interesting snippet about Ezra:
Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the LORD, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ezra 7:10, HCSB)
Ezra made a resolution to become a student of the word, to personally obey it, and to teach it to others.
Ezra is a helpful illustration of the way God works in his world. The word of God is received, and by the power of God’s Spirit the word does its work in the heart and mind of the believer. But although the word will “dwell in [us] richly”, the expectation is that it does not get locked up in us; it is shared and passed on to others (Col 3:16).
Of course, the inward, life-changing movement of God’s word is vital in the life of every Christian. It is nicely captured in the famous prayer of Thomas Cranmer: “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…”
But the outward movement of God’s word is also an important theme of the Bible. Not only do we ‘inwardly digest’ it, but the expectation is that we will pass on what we learn to others, and so the word of God will spread and grow (Ps 78:1-7; Matt 13:23; Acts 6:7; Rom 15:14; 1 Cor 14:26; Col 1:6; 1 Pet 2:9). As one of my friends puts it, “The word of God isn’t meant to terminate with me”.
Perhaps Cranmer’s prayer might helpfully be changed to “hear, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, and share” the Scriptures.
Leading a home group is one way of sharing the Scriptures, as is preaching a sermon or giving a talk. But these are certainly not the only ways, and perhaps it would be helpful to remind the members of our group—who are not preachers or home group leaders—that there are many other ways that they can share the Scriptures too.
Actually, this principle—that the word of God isn’t meant to terminate with me—is the core principle that helps home groups become disciple-making teams, because it is the prayerful spreading of the word of God that makes disciples.
So I want to suggest that there should be three key questions at the end of every group Bible study:
- What have we learned?
- How should we pray and change in response to what we’ve learned?
- Who can we prayerfully share what we’ve learned with and how?
The answer to that third question may be as simple as this: “When I get home, and my flatmate asks me how Bible study was, instead of just saying ‘Good, thanks’, I’m going to say ‘Good thanks. I was reminded that…’”
Or it might be: “I’m going to send an email to a missionary to encourage them with the truth I learned tonight that…”
Or: “I’m going to figure out how I can simplify what I’ve learned and teach it to my children over dinner tomorrow night.”
Or, for those who are a bit braver: “I’m going to look for a way to share that truth with Jeff at the office, even though he’s not a Christian, because I think it would really help him to think about that.”
Of course, considering how I might pass what I’ve learned on to others should not replace the vital question of how I might personally need to change in response to God’s word. But the process of working out how to pass it on can actually really help in internalizing what you’ve learned and be a useful prompt to implementing those needed personal changes.
So put the challenge to your group: “Let’s make sure we’re Christians of de-termination”.
Those of you who are preachers might also care to give this idea some practical thought. As you draw your sermons to a close, how can you not just help people to ‘inwardly digest’ what God has been saying to them, but also encourage them to share it with others?
Perhaps you can see why I’m sorely tempted to claim that the understanding and promotion of this principle is such a vital ingredient in developing a disciple-making culture? What do you think?