This is the third post in a series leading us to a strategy for mission in Geita, Tanzania. Previous posts are here:
In the last post, we looked at the parable of the sower and the soils, and I suggested that until we are good soil, there can be no successful strategy for mission in our churches. Good soil hears the word, understands it, and is obedient to it. And today we’ll explore a method of Bible study that promotes and encourages these very things.
I should be clear that most of the following ideas are not original with me. Several individuals and groups have influenced me to adopt what is often referred to as inductive Bible study, obedience-based Bible study, or 3-column Bible study — David Watson, John King, and Missions Resource Network, to name a few. Because there exist differences in formats of the studies above, I’ll simply explain the way in which I use this method — and why.
We want to, in our mission to the people of Geita, cultivate, as best we can, the soil into which the gospel is being sown. Therefore, this 3-column Bible study method focuses on hearing the word of God, understanding the word of God, and being obedient to the word of God.
Select a passage for study. It’s important that you choose a text which contains an entire thought — a paragraph (or group of) for instance. This method works best with 4-12 verse sections.
Start with prayer, that the Spirit will guide you to an understanding of the words you read, that he will help you apply it to your own life, AND that he will empower you to be obedient to God’s words for you. [You may want to pray even before selecting a text.]
Divide a piece of paper into three columns — horizontally, vertically, hot dog, hamburger, whatever you like.
In the first column, write out the text word for word. I know it seems silly, but it’s important.
In the second column, you should rewrite the passage in your own words — as if you were explaining it to someone else. Don’t dwell on other texts and familiar verses as you study. Instead, try to understand the words of this particular passage, in its own context, in the simplest way possible.
In the third column, write what you’ve learned about God, his church, etc. AND (this is important) write what you should do in response to what you’ve understood. Write these responses as “I will…” statements, and be specific – not “I will be more generous this week,” but “I will cheerfully give to each and every person who asks me for help this week, whether it be my money or my time.”
Share what you’ve learned about God and life with someone else, and share with them the commitments you’ve made in response. Ask them to hold you accountable to be obedient to God’s word in these areas, and to pray for you as you seek to become who God wants you to be.
I have read the word,
set specific and attainable goals in obedience,
and shared these goals with another individual.
Why this method?
In my mind, the biggest difference in this Bible study method and others is column three — obedience. I’m committing to be obedient to the word of God, and I’ve even named specific ways to do so. Too often in modern Christianity, Bible study is only about gaining knowledge. Yet we know knowledge alone is not pleasing to God. At the end of each 3-column Bible study, I have read the word, understood it, set specific and attainable goals in obedience, and shared these goals with another individual. Many people call this an obedience-based study method, and I like that. So would Jesus… “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” John 14.
It may seem like a waste of time to write the text word for word, but in doing so, you are actually reading it a number of times. And this goes a long way in understanding the text. Also, later on, you’ll appreciate having all three columns together in your study notebook / word document.
In column two, as I rewrite the passage in my own words, I’m accomplishing two things: 1) I’m understanding the passage. Until I can explain something simply and in my own words, I do not understand it. Period. Some of us, Bible teachers included, have allowed our Bibles to be obstacles to understanding, rather than the useful tools God intended. 2) Also, in summarizing a passage in my own words, I’m actually preparing to tell someone else what I’ve learned. How selfish is it to understand truths from God and not share them with others?
This method of Bible study is incredibly useful in group settings. There are numerous benefits. It removes the “teacher” from among us for a time being, and allows the word of God alone to be our authority. This involves the community in interpretation (which I believe was God’s intention). And God’s word is more firm in our hearts when we’ve come to understand it through personal struggle and thought, and even learned to express it in our own words. Additionally, we are more intelligent as a group than as individuals. We’re also sharing our ideas, so that we can hold one other accountable to the text, and also to our “I will” statements. And who doesn’t want more discussion and less just sitting in Bible class?
In a group setting, we usually read the text together aloud once before each of us begins our writing. Then we leave about 20-30 minutes or so (depending on the length of the text) for individuals to work on their three columns. The second half of our time together is then spent sharing our understanding of the passage, what God has spoken to us, and how we intend to be obedient to it. It’s useful, too, if in your next meeting you discuss how you did in your “I will” statements, and with whom you shared what you learned the week before. [I’m not sure how beneficial it is in these group studies to spend your time looking at other verses that help to explain what you’ve read -- I might suggest the group assign that as “homework,” so you don’t spend so much time gaining knowledge that it might prevent you from creating or sharing “I will” statements. Maybe you could start your next meeting by discussing in brief some of those other texts?]
For those of us who are ministering in oral cultures, we can easily modify the 3-column approach. Rather than writing the passage word for word, we simply read it aloud several times, as the group listens and takes in the spoken word of God. Column two, then, becomes a collective retelling of the text by all members of the group — and in this retelling it becomes evident that a communal memory is better than an individual one. Column three still has the same function, as we share with one another what we’ve learned about God, and what his Spirit is prompting us to do in order to be obedient to him.
Just a sidenote: The Geita mission team has repeatedly practiced these obedience-based, 3-column studies in oral form, in order to prepare for the types of studies we’ll be doing in rural Tanzania. While useful to understand how an oral study will function, this does NOT seem to be a very good method for western minds. So if you’re getting the idea that you’ll do this whole thing orally (probably so the group doesn’t have to sit in silence while writing the passage word for word), I’d suggest that you’ll benefit less from study in that fashion.
At one of David Watson’s Church Planting Movements seminars, he suggested we make a fourth column for our study: “What does this text tell us about our ministry and/or mission?” In this way, we may even be able to make “I will” statements for our ministries, small groups, or churches as wholes. This can be quite useful. I, myself, have actually added a couple of columns. Personally, I separate what I learned about God, his mission, and his church from my own personal “I will” statements — but that’s mostly just because I’m a little bit anal and like to organize things to death… But I also have added a permanent column for our mission in Geita. So each time I study a text, I consider what it might say about the way we as a team are to be Christ in our community. I didn’t want to include these comments in “how to do a 3-column study,” because they seem to go beyond the simple “hear, understand, and be obedient” approach. But all the same, they have proven useful to me.
Two upcoming posts: