One-to-One Bible Reading in Missions

by Silas Thompson September 23, 2022

I first read David Helm’s book One to One Bible Reading: a Simple Guide for Every Christian, when I was preparing to serve in East Asia. I believe the approach to discipleship that Helm promotes in the book lends to missionary work. I think that there are a few ways that O2O is uniquely suited to the cross-cultural mission context.

The Bible is Proven to be True, Relevant, and Applicable Across all Cultures

Throughout the time I have served in different cross-cultural contexts, I have learned that language is not the only difference between a cross-cultural missionary and the people among whom they live and serve. Missionaries are required to learn an entirely new way of living due to the unique culture and values of the people. A missionary serving cross-culturally experiences a variety of differences in values, thought-processes, struggles, temptations and worldviews in their new culture. Whether for good or bad, the majority of discipleship material is written from a western perspective. The applications a businessman in Boston, Massachusetts draws from particular texts of Scripture may be vastly different from those drawn from a herdsman living in the steppes of Mongolia or a hunter in the jungles of Brazil reading the same biblical text. However, the Bible speaks truthfully across all cultures in the world throughout all time because it is the very word of God. By using the Bible as the central resource in discipleship, a missionary can be confident that the material they are using is true, relevant, and applicable in the life of the person they are discipling.

O2O Bible Reading Prevents Culture Transfer

One of the dangers of a missionary crossing cultures is the temptation to bring their cultures values and teach them as Biblical truths. To be fair, there are many things that America values that should be transferred into another culture. These include things like hospitality, work-ethic, and discipline. However, these things should be brought into another culture not because they are American, but rather because they are Biblical (ie 1 Peter 4:9, Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Corinthians 9:27). There are many things that American culture values that are not necessarily biblical. Things like individualism, punctuality, and dating prior to marriage. These things are not bad, but should not be taught as Biblical truth in a context that does not value these things. By keeping the Bible at the center of discipleship a missionary can protect themself from teaching their particular culture as Biblical truth.

O2O Bible Reading Gives a Missionary Confidence When Opposing a Cultural Values

The Bible often does confront cultural values. A missionary friend of mine was explaining to me the difficulties of serving in a primarily hindu culture. The biggest difficulty they had was opposing and overcoming the hindu “caste” system. What made things more difficult was that other missionaries around them were against opposing this cultural value and rather focused their ministry on reaching one particular caste. This missionary stated that it was very tempting to do the same. Why try to overcome this barrier when it would be easier to focus on the Brahmin caste and avoid opposing their worldview by teaching that Brahmins needed to accept those of the lower castes? However, my friend also understood that the teaching of the Bible opposed the caste system (ie James 2:1-13), and this knowledge gave him the courage and confidence to stand against it as well.

O2O Bible Reading Promotes Indigenous Churches

The goal of a cross-cultural missionary is (or should be) to plant or to come alongside indigenous churches. An indigenous church is one that is self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. O2O Bible Reading lends itself to promoting indigenous churches in all three of these ways.

Self-Supporting – A self-supporting church is one that is able to rely only on its own financial resources to provide for its needs. Because O2O Bible Reading does not require anything other than a Bible for discipleship, it frees a church from any financial need for discipleship resources.

Self-Governing – a self-governing church is one whose elders and deacons are local, national believers who are biblically qualified to be in that role. A self-governing church is able to recognize and appoint those in the congregation who are biblically qualified to lead it. A congregation with a culture of O2O Bible Reading will be able to evaluate believers who are qualified within the church and appoint them as leaders and to equip them to govern the church biblically.

Self-Propagating – A self-propagating church is one that is able to make disciples and to plant other healthy churches from within its own congregation. A church rooted in O2O Bible Reading will equip its people to make and grow disciples and to plant healthy churches through the reading of God’s Word together.

While other discipleship methods can be helpful, O2O Bible Reading is particularly and uniquely suited for discipleship and church planting in a cross-cultural context.