The Mastery Challenge – Suggestion

Back on April 7th I wrote about the need for us all to prioritize mastering, and being mastered by, the Bible.  Winston commented and asked for my suggestions on this.  I’ll share my thinking briefly here.  I’d encourage you to read the earlier post again to refresh your memory and stir the motivation – it is here.

My approach is to split personal Bible study into two halves.  These two halves are best explained as a foundation and brick wall approach:

Half 1 = Foundation – The foundation is to be reading through the whole Bible.  My strong encouragement is to keep reading through the whole Bible, at a fairly persistent pace.  Allow the big story to wash through you.  Don’t get caught up in details, or in trying to remember every interesting fact you find.  Don’t try to pronounce every long name.  Just keep moving.  Like pouring water through a sieve, the goal is not to retain, but to be cleaned and to get a big picture awareness of the Bible God has given to us.

Half 2 = Brick Wall – With the other half of the time available I suggest getting your teeth into study.  By default I would suggest a book-by-book approach.  God didn’t give us a topical index, or a collection of proof texts; He gave us a collection of books.  So pick a Bible book and study it.  Use whatever skill and resources you have.  Begin with inductive study of the book, constantly moving between analysis of the details and synthesis of the whole.  If you have original language skill, use it.  If you have quality commentaries, eventually consult them.  Make it your goal to master and be mastered by the book you are studying.  After a few weeks of this you will find that your motivation for that book wanes and you feel like you are coming to finish point in your study.  I like to be able to explain my way through a book, section by section, without looking at the text.  Perhaps you would choose another way to define the finish line.  Then move to another book you want to study.  Periodically you can do a topical study, or a character study, or a theological study, or whatever, but default back to book by book.

Tomorrow I will share my underlying thinking that helps to make sense of this approach.

4 thoughts on “The Mastery Challenge – Suggestion

  1. Personally, I master a book at a time. Presently I am teaching again I Thessalonians, and Philippians. I have sense June 2008 to present. Of course not every Sunday, with special speakers and events. I discover new insight each time I deal with the text. Now to be mastered by the message of the text is a goal not only for my self but for the members of the flock.

  2. Peter, thanks for this nice explanation (and your subsequent posts on the rationale). I have been advocating a very similar approach of breadth and depth for Bible teachers. In every case where a person has followed these practices, we observe a dramatic increase in their understanding and better background for teaching.

    Thanks, too, for your wonderful use of the English language! I love this expression: “Like pouring water through a sieve, the goal is not to retain, but to be cleaned…”

    Keep on teaching (and preaching) to change lives!

  3. I am studying the book I am preaching from (and start looking to the next one).
    Do you think a preacher should study something else, too (another book, topics, online learning)? What frequence would you suggest? Would you give some suggestions not to add too much pressure?

  4. Great question. I think the main factor is motivation. The brick wall approach is all about recognizing the motivational value of studying what you want to study. As a preacher there may be the challenge of having to study what you are preaching, but wanting to study something else. If you control the preaching schedule in your church, then you might feel the need to preach a series based on the listeners’ needs rather than your study motivation. So what do you do as a preacher? Either you are blessed to be highly motivated for what you are currently studying (often the motivation combusts and burns bright once you get stuck into the text). Or you have a personal study going on at the same time. If this is the case, then I recognize that time will be limited to study what you want to study because of what you need to study. (By the way, time is limited for “full-time” ministry people as well as for professional workplace ministry people who also preach.)

    I don’t want to add work to an already overwhelmed schedule. What I am saying is that neglecting the desire to study a particular book is a neglect that will have negative consequences in every area of life. Somehow we should all be looking to tap into and encourage those inner yearnings for God’s Word (not just in disciplined effort, but also in heart-moved study).

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