You know how certain lessons linger in the memory? I recall a sermon just after I moved to the Midlands to work with Christian Unions. I don’t remember the passage, though it could well have been Mark’s Gospel. Instead of trying to recruit us to follow Jesus by describing how amazing Jesus’ teaching was, the preacher simply wanted us to listen to Jesus’ own words and follow him.
While he was encouraged when people expressed their thanks to him, his response was, “I wasn’t doing anything special or spectacular. It’s just ‘ordinary’ Bible teaching.”
Some preachers wow their listeners with spectacular oratory or charisma. He ‘just’ opened God’s Word and brought us face to face with Jesus. This is what ‘ordinary’ Bible teaching is all about: teaching what the Bible says, rather than using the Bible to say something we want to say.
Two decades on, this distinction is so significant. You can make the Bible say anything, really. We can read whatever we like into the text (even true things) and say that God is saying this, that or the other. But if we’re not working hard at seeing what the text says, then we’re not hearing or speaking God’s words and our teaching lacks his authority.
This conviction is something we have tried to build into student ministry in Greece. Our aim as a movement is to reach students with the gospel by training believing students: they need to be rooted and grounded in God’s Word.
Student believers in Greece sometimes lack confidence in witnessing to their peers because they don’t understand that the Bible is God’s Word and he will speak to us and others through it. I used to be the same.
In all our training – at our national annual conference in September; at our summer outreach and training camp, The Wave; and at local events in different cities – we take students through the process of looking carefully at the text so that they understand the difference between making up a message and discovering the message the passage actually teaches.
We look at the difference between, for example, putting “me” at the centre of a story and putting Jesus at the centre (e.g. David and Goliath). Or between reading a verse against the backdrop of our personal experience and general discipleship assumptions, as opposed to the context of the whole book (e.g. Ephesians 6). Or between inventing a meaning and digging out the meaning (e.g. 1 Kings 19). Or between allegorising on the one hand and seeing the Old Testament background and fulfilment on the other (e.g. the feeding of the 5000).This isn’t an academic exercise or something to stir their curiosity. When they see these differences, the response every time is one of open-mouthed, wide-eyed amazement. Literally! And not because the training has been amazing, but because they meet Jesus and hear God speak as they see the Spirit-intended meaning of the text.
At The Wave 2019, three girls approached me after studying Elijah on Mount Horeb, “This makes sense at last! This is truly good news! Why have we never seen these things before?” After seeing David as a picture of Christ rather than an example for us to copy, another group expressed their relief at hearing a message of grace rather than an exhortation to be braver and stronger than they could ever hope to be.
We all need grace, we all need Jesus. Teaching the Bible so that Jesus is encountered brings grace and good news, and this leads us to action.
This year some of these Bible training events are probably going to be ‘victims’ of the coronavirus! Please pray for us and the student believers the Lord is raising up in Greece.
Jonathan Clark serves in student ministry in Greece