It’s hard to overestimate what God can do in the life of a follower of Christ through a strategically chosen book. A Latin American pastor and I recently read a chapter of the Spanish version of John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage. We read during the week and talked about the content each Friday. After several weeks, the pastor asked if he could have an extra copy to disciple a couple in his church with marital problems. The following week the pastor asked for a second copy because the husband and wife refused to study together. After several weeks of studying separately, the husband showed up at the door of his old home with tears in his eyes and the Piper book in his hand. “I have been doing marriage wrong,” the man said to his wife. “Can we please read the book together?”
As Jesus proclaimed the Great Commission (Matthew 8:18-20), he provided simple, significant instructions for all Christians. He closed out his earthly ministry with a charge that calls all believers to global evangelism. Making disciples in obedience to Jesus can be done in many ways. As a frequent trainer of disciples I have seen few other tools equal the powerful effect of a gospel-centered, Bible-based book in the hands of an obedient disciple-maker.
Books as Discipleship Tools
There are few occasions where my work for the kingdom feels as powerful as when I have a theology book in one hand, a Bible in the other, a couple of chairs, a new believer or two, and a shade tree. Of course, we must use discernment; no book, save the Holy Bible, is flawless. Every author is sinful and susceptible to bias and error. Thus, when a book is used as a discipleship tool it should always be accompanied by Scripture.
How to Do It
Here are some helpful tips for using books in discipleship relationships.
Scripture. Have a Bible open and ready. When verses are cited, look them up. Don’t assume participants own or know the Bible. The book should always be used to point to the teaching of Scripture. Weigh all truths on the scales of God’s Word.
Sound. Use books that espouse biblical, grace-centered doctrine. Don’t take a risk in this setting with an unfamiliar author. A book must point to Christ and be supported by the Bible or not used.
Small. Discipleship groups should be intimate; one to five participants is ideal. People get intimidated in big groups. Encourage responses and limit the sharing by know-it-alls. Depth is desirable.
Speed. Proceed neither too fast nor too slow. Be flexible with the schedule. Allow the interest level to dictate pace. Don’t force completion of a chapter or section until it is fully understood.
Straightforward. If you don’t know the answer, say so and commit to reporting back with more clarity. Read the material in advance. Acknowledge difficult topics and stick to the relevant issues.
Seek. Pray for direction from the Lord as a group and on your own. Open, close, and cover the discipleship group in prayer. Listen to the Spirit and trust him for guidance.
This Can Happen
Some years ago, I had the pleasure of leading three teenage boys through R.C. Sproul’s book Now That’s a Good Question. Each week we read a section, and the four of us came together to talk and pray about the content. The boys came from different backgrounds. One grew up in a legalistic home, one in a culturally Roman Catholic home, and the third in an unchurched home. As we sat in a circle each week, the boys would challenge the content of the book, which seemed like wildly original theology to each of them. The discussion topics were intimate, the shouting was loud, and the tears were real. Two of them gave up the study, citing heresy, only to return weeks later. By the time we finished the book, the boys collectively asked if I had another book we could study together. I continued to disciple the boys for years. After one of them shared the “new doctrines of grace” with his pastor, I was invited to preach on this topic in his Pentecostal church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and martyr for Christ, said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” The lifeblood of the church is to make disciples for Jesus Christ and teach them how to make other disciples. The church is a place to educate, instruct, and prepare its members to reach the world and share God’s love, mercy, and truth. Books are one excellent means of achieving this goal of discipleship.