Advent Canon Matt Schneider wrote the below article for Matthias Media. Reposting with permission.
For several years I’ve been asking what I could learn from overseas missionaries to apply to my ministry context in North America. It took a while, but over the last year I’ve finally arrived at some solid answers. One tool at the heart of cross-cultural work around the world is what many people call discovery Bible study (DBS).
The generic approach of DBS likely goes by many names, but common to these methods is discovering the meaning and application of passages through stock questions rather than depending on a leader who teaches. I’ve found this approach to be counterintuitive and against the grain of my Western upbringing, which relies heavily on learning content. Many long-time Christians I study together with using DBS have also had to un-learn some common values and habits. But once we finally get to the place of discovery, DBS has had a lot of power. I’ve seen several people who were not believers come to faith through DBS, and I’ve seen believers set goals that help them grow as disciples, including taking what they’re learning to share with others.
This simple study tool is being used to catalyze multiplying movements in places like Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere (even Australia and the United States). These are countries that have seen millions of people come to faith and hundreds of thousands of new churches start. The story that caught my attention the most is that of Ying Kai. He and his wife Grace catalyzed a movement with an unreached people group in China that has now seen over a million people baptized and around one hundred and fifty thousand new churches started in just the last twenty years—with the DBS format below as a central component.
A common way many people structure DBS is in a ‘three-thirds’ format that looks something like what I’ve outlined here. Not every practitioner uses this exact terminology, but an approach like this can be helpful for memorizing a simple structure and some basic questions to ask each time:
< Look back
Care: What are you thankful for? What are you worried about? Do you or anyone you know have any needs we could help meet? Lovingly pray for each other based on what you’ve just discussed.
Goal check-in: Did you do what you said you would do last time? Have you shared what you’re learning with anyone? If you’re having trouble, how could we help you meet these goals?
Vision casting: Briefly look at a verse of Scripture that reminds the group of the gospel, the great commission, or another encouraging topic from the Bible.
^ Look up
New lesson: Read a new Bible passage together (it can help to read it twice in different translations).
Discover: Is there anything you don’t understand or find difficult about the passage? What does this passage teach us about God/Jesus? What does this passage teach us about people? What does this passage teach us about the life God desires for us?
^ Look ahead
Set goals: Take a few minutes to silently pray about the following questions. If this is God speaking to you through this passage, what will you do about it? With whom could you share what you are learning? Write your answers down and share with the group.
Practice: Based on the goals you just set, break up into pairs or groups of three to practice achieving your goals by role playing a difficult conversation, facing a temptation, retelling the story of today’s passage in your own words, sharing a gospel presentation, or training someone in what you are learning.
Prayer and commission: Pray for your group’s goals and commission everyone.
There’s more to learn and details to work out, but for now you might give it a try with another person or a group—including inviting non-believers to read the Bible with you. Just make sure you give equal weight to each of the thirds. For example, if you meet for 75 minutes, dedicate about 25 minutes to each third. Don’t skip the first and final third. A natural temptation is to emphasize the middle third, but the power of seeing people come to faith and grow often lies in the commitments they make in the final third and then lovingly checking in with each other in the first third next time. (Note that for this reason you cannot do ‘goal check-in’ until your second meeting and beyond, so skip it the first time.)
DBS is what many people are using to lead others to faith and help them grow in refugee camps in Greece, in prisons in Texas, in retirement communities in Alabama, in Sheikh households in Sydney, in factories in China, in shanty towns in South Africa, and so on. Millions of people! When I heard that so many people were coming to faith and growing this way, I dropped much of what I was doing and started trying DBS—and I’m witnessing God transform many lives through one very simple yet powerful tool.
Click here to see how the DBS format describes above works in a Family Sunday School setting.