In today’s Western church, Discovery Bible Study is one of many options for studying God’s Word. Yet increasing numbers of missionaries serving unreached peoples are using Discovery Bible Studies. As with other elements of church-planting movements, the Holy Spirit is using the Discovery Bible Study method in very intentional ways. What exactly is the Discovery Bible Study method? Why is it so effective in reaching and discipling the unreached?
A Common Cultural Identity
First, I am facilitating a DBS among four Chinese graduate students. This is ideal: a small group of friends or family who share the same first language and cultural identity. With a common language and worldview, Bible discussions can be specific to the DBS participants. When studying the Bible in their first language, they can understand and relate to it on a much deeper level. In an English-only setting, I might spend the majority of our study explaining new words and ideas. When the Bible is read in Chinese — or any other first language — it comes alive!
God has designed our first language to pierce our hearts in a way a second or third language cannot. This is a beautiful gift of cultural identity from the Lord used in powerful ways through the Discovery Bible Study method. It is amazing that Jesus speaks to every individual on planet earth in the language that they best understand with their heart!
Facilitating vs. Teaching
A point to note is that I am simply facilitating the DBS, not leading or teaching it. This minor change in terms actually makes a world of difference. As a facilitator, I put myself in the same position as my Chinese friends: a learner who looks to the Bible as the authority given to us by God.
As we learn the Discovery Bible Study method, we see again and again that the text is the teacher — not us. There are many reasons to choose a hands-off approach. But one is that this makes the Bible the ultimate authority and source of truth from the beginning. My students do not recognize the work of the Holy Spirit yet. But I see Spirit-dependency cultivated as I step aside.
A second reason for facilitating, rather than teaching, is the simple, reproducible nature. After only two weeks of facilitating, I pass off the role to one of my Chinese students. Although I continue to meet with them for DBS, the method we follow is so simple that she can easily facilitate our study with or without me present.
Discovery Bible Study and Reproducibility
Reproducibility is key to DBS. Many of the international students and diaspora peoples we work among this year will eventually return to their homeland. The simplicity of DBS equips new believers to follow this method in their country to those who might otherwise never have the opportunity to hear the Gospel or read God’s written Word.
Laying the foundation
Nothing is better or more beautiful than knowing the person of Jesus Christ. Yet for my four Chinese students, knowing Jesus has never been a reality. This is true for millions of unreached people groups across New York City. Reality changes, however, as my students discover the Lord through Discovery Bible Study – thanks be to God!
Discovery Bible Study has laid a foundation for my international students after only four weeks. Because the text is the teacher, we go in-depth with every passage of Scripture we study. After reading the story, each of us retells the story in our own words. This solidifies the story in our hearts and minds. The retelling is so special for me as I begin to hear what God is teaching each student.
Once the story is established, we ask six questions to help us discuss the passage and grow together. The first three questions relate to what we discover about God and people through the text. My heart rejoices as students talk about the Lord with understanding and hunger. As more questions emerge, I point my students back to the Bible so they learn to look for answers themselves.
The last three questions in the Discovery Bible Study teach personal application and disciple-making. The model emphasizes application of what we learn. This enables heart changes even as worldviews shift. Of course, following Jesus is the only way to true, lasting heart change. Still, I have been encouraged to see students’ hearts move toward God as they apply Scripture to their lives. Sharing the story with a friend or classmate lays the foundation for making disciples. And it may ignite spiritual hunger in another!
Our final step in the study occurs the following week as we talk about who we shared the story with and how we applied it to our lives. Learning accountability as well as sharing praises, struggles, and needs cultivate true community. We lay spiritual foundations every week as the Holy Spirit teaches us through the Bible and each other.
Discovering Jesus in Discovery Bible Study
Many of the truths of God’s character have unfolded through the stories of Creation, The Fall and The Flood. My students already see how God creates, saves and makes wrong things right. They shared that it was good for him to punish people for eating the fruit and to destroy the earth because of man’s wickedness. Yet they also pointed to God’s love for Adam and Eve in still providing for them.
Though the words sin, redemption and Jesus have not been used, these ideas are emerging simply through reading the Bible. Genesis 1 shows God bringing order out of chaos and establishing man as the glory of his creation. Genesis 3 shows the consequences of disobeying God, and points to Jesus’ eventual victory over the serpent. Genesis 6-8 gives a picture of God’s mercy toward the righteous and his salvation for those who look to him.
The person of Jesus is written all over Scripture. Through Discovery Bible Study, my students are beginning to see Gospel themes. I fully expect the Holy Spirit to bring these pieces together week after week as we discover what the Bible says about God. As Jesus reveals himself through each study, I believe He will bring salvation among my students. What joy it will be to see them know Jesus and his love for them and love him in return!