This is Part Two of an interview with Sean Martin on One-to-One Bible Reading (listen to Part Two at 6:50 – 12:24). Read Part One or listen to the entire interview below.
Kevin: What are some of the books you read the most with different types of people?
Sean: With an unbeliever, I typically go to Mark’s gospel. It’s a way to meet Jesus as He walks off the pages of Scripture. It’s short, punchy, clear, and narrative with a lot of action. Unlike John’s gospel, there aren’t as many theological abstractions like the “I Am” statements that take a lot of time to explain. I find Mark a more straightforward and it gets to the heart quickly of who Jesus is, what He came to do, and what it means to walk with Him on the path of the cross. Mark, in my opinion, is the best book for an unbeliever.
For new believers, Colossians is my go-to book. It’s like a mini-Romans. It’s a gateway to the gospel and explains the gospel well. In the first chapter Paul reminds the Colossians of what the gospel is and the fruit it bears in faith, hope, and love. The latter half of the chapter makes clear who Jesus is and what He did on the cross, His supremacy as Lord, and the sufficiency of His sacrifice. The following chapters work out the implications of the gospel. What does it mean to put on the new life and leave the old behind? What does living out the gospel look like in married life? At the workplace? I find Colossians to be a foundational book. It’s straightforward and a great book for new believers.
With more mature believers, I work back and forth between the Old and New Testaments. I’ll ask, “What’s a book you’ve never read before that we should read together?” Some years ago a guy I was meeting with said, “I’ve never really read Isaiah.” We spend a whole summer working through Isaiah. (We did an overview—we didn’t go verse-by-verse for 66 chapters.) We had a terrific time.
Related Link: 12 Books of the Bible for One-to-One Reading
Kevin: How do you typically prepare for a one-to-one session? It’s probably different for you since you know these books well.
Sean: If you’re a pastor or someone in full-time ministry reading this, know that it’s important to not over-prepare for a one-to-one. If someone comes to meet with you, whether you’re aware of it or not, they will automatically look to you for the answers. “Sean, you’re a pastor, you just tell me.” (When I was young that was a great temptation because I was excited about the Scriptures.)
One thing I do to prepare is to tell the person I’m meeting with that this is a two-way street and we are both going to learn from one another. I make it clear that I am not teaching them what Colossians says, it is something we discover together. I make that clear.
Secondly, I mentioned the Swedish method, I give those questions to the person I’m reading with. I ask the same questions too. Over the years, I wouldn’t say I under prepare, but I just do the basics. I don’t pull out commentaries or my old sermons. I just look at Colossians afresh, ask those four questions, and come with a piece of paper and say, “Here are the things I thought of. What did you think of?” This is so the learning becomes mutual. This is very important. The tendency is to study up and show all you got. The purpose shouldn’t be that but to discover truth together.
If you’re a full-time ministry worker who learns not to come super prepared, I think it helps you develop the posture of a learner. We can learn things from brand new Christians. Sometimes new Christians ask me questions I’ve never thought of. I’ve thought, “Wow, that’s a really good question. I’m glad they asked it.” They make me think and work. You can always learn things from God’s people. Not over preparing is very, very important.
I want to share one more thing about preparation. A pitfall to avoid, especially as we grow in our relationship with our one-to-one, is that a friendship hopefully comes out of it, and the tendency is to want to chat and catch up all the time. I encourage people to be very disciplined. If I’m meeting someone for an hour, we have five minutes for catching up (unless they’ve just had a tragedy in their lives and it’s a shepherding moment). “What’s happening in your life? What did you think about the Cubs game? How’s work going? How was your holiday?”
Start with a quick catch up, time reading the text, prayer, forty-five minutes working through the text, and a couple of minutes sharing prayer requests, how can we pray the Scripture passage into our lives, how can we pray for our church and the world. One hour, we’re done.
Another pitfall to avoid deals with sharing your lives over time. You will be open and vulnerable with one another in this process about how God is stretching you or struggles that you’re having. The relational dynamics between men and women could lead you into areas that could be dangerous. I always encourage men to meet with men and women to meet with women. Whether you’re single or married.
Part Three helps us see why one-to-one Bible reading is not inefficient and recommends a resource.