Learning to read the Bible one to one

Russell de Vries has known Jesus all his life. He grew up having been taught the gospel by his parents, and remembers car conversations about the sermon and Bible during the trip home from church each Sunday. The Bible was an integral part of church and home life. Yet in spite of all this, the idea of regularly meeting one to one with someone to read God’s word was a totally foreign concept to Russell.

So when Paul Dale, pastor of the congregation Russell attended at St Thomas’s North Sydney, sat beside him in church one Sunday and asked him if he’d be interested in reading the Bible, Russell thought it a strange idea. He recalls, “I loved the Bible, and I knew that God’s word was powerful. But I had no idea what it would look like. What would you do? What would you talk about? How would it be any different to Bible study or church?” In the end, Russell figured that reading the Bible couldn’t do him any harm. Also Paul promised that breakfast would be involved, so Russell said yes.

In the ensuing months, Paul and Russell met early in the morning for breakfast. Russell worked 8am to 6pm in the office of a consulting firm half an hour away, so early meant early. They’d meet in the church office, get a bowl of Weet-Bix and sit down with the Bible. Their time consisted of sharing how their lives were going, praying and reading the Bible.

Russell looks back on that time with great fondness. He enjoyed spending time together, talking about life and praying together, but the most valuable part was the time they spent reading the Bible: “God’s word is powerful, so when you read it and hear it, it brings a change to the way you see the world. I loved tackling a small part of the Bible with Paul each week—in particular, thinking hard about how to apply it—how to live in the light of what God was saying. We just sat together—two men before the Scriptures, challenged to live out the Bible in our lives—and we prayed that we wouldn’t be like men who look in the mirror and walk away, forgetting what they look like (Jas 1:22-25). I saw Paul living out 1 Thessalonians 2 as he shared his life and the gospel with me week by week.”

The time spent meeting with Paul has shaped Russell’s ministry ever since. He has been involved in parish council and many other roles at church, and, in recent years, he has lead a prayer and Bible study group with his wife Naomi in his home. But regardless of his other roles, he has made it his goal to meet with one or two other blokes for one-to-one Bible reading each year: “Because my time with Paul was such a great model and because I’d grown so much spiritually through it, it just seemed like the natural thing to do. In the first group I led, there was a young guy who was pretty new to Sydney, and I thought it would be good to get to know him and encourage him in good Biblereading habits. So I asked him to meet and read the Bible with me.” Russell has been doing this with people ever since.

Does he have any reservations? “I really enjoy meeting one to one with other people, but I’ve felt the responsibility not to lead other people astray. However, I know that God’s word is powerful, and you don’t need to know the entire Bible to read the Bible, understand it and obey it. God’s Spirit works in his people, so you can have a great confidence that God is at work. Therefore you know it won’t be a waste of time; it’ll benefit everyone! Sometimes I’ve been asked questions I don’t know the answer to. But that’s okay. I’m not there as an infallible teacher; I’m there to encourage the other person to read the Bible. You can always go away and find out the answers to the questions you can’t work out.”

What would Russell say to someone thinking about doing this kind of ministry themselves? “What have you got to lose? You’re spending more time in the Bible. I would say give it a go for a bit and see how it goes. The thing that often stops us is that we feel we’re too busy. But if you believe in the power of the word of God, you’ll wonder what opportunities there are to meet people and hear from God together. If you’re really time poor, you could just start with an hour every fortnight. But I would say that regularity is good; once a month is not often enough.”

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