Building the Body – through spiritual training
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things,” noted the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:25. The sportspersons among us can attest to this – regular training, proper nourishment, and good technique are mainstays of any athletic training programme, allowing them to build the right muscles and skill sets that enable optimal performance.
“But,” Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” – drawing a clear link between the physical discipline exercised by athletes, and the spiritual discipline that Jesus’ disciples should exercise for their continued spiritual growth. What, then, are the factors that can help build our “spiritual muscles”?
The DISCIPLE Bible Study course is one such “spiritual training programme” that can do so. It takes the form of weekly study and discussion sessions, provides solid study materials for spiritual growth, and trains participants to read the Bible by themselves and apply its lessons to their lives.
In fact, DISCIPLE was developed in response to a felt need for Christians to engage with the Bible in small groups. “As a pastor in the early 1980s, I became aware how isolated and lonely people were becoming and how ignorant they were of the Bible,” shared Bishop Richard Wilke, who authored the DISCIPLE material with his wife Julia. “We started new adult Sunday School classes, but that only reached a few – and it was hard to find teachers.”
“Then I remembered how John Wesley reached out to people with little class meetings: A handful of folks – many poorly educated, farmers and hard-working people – meeting in homes. They would gather like the early Christians in Acts 2:42 who ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship’. The ‘apostles’ teaching’ meant Scripture study and the ‘koinonia’ meant sharing life experiences together. I dreamed of starting small group Bible studies – but had neither the materials nor the lay leadership to do it.”
Bishop Wilke later had the opportunity to develop the DISCIPLE material as part of a ‘dream team’ of 18 pastors, theologians, laypersons, Christian educators, Bible scholars, publishers, editors, and marketers. The programme spread quickly throughout The United Methodist Church in the USA, and soon reached Singapore’s shores in 1991. Shortly after, Disciple Agency (DA) was set up by The Methodist Church in Singapore, and secured an agreement to develop DISCIPLE in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
DA has since been instrumental in providing regional training in DISCIPLE, and translating the material into languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, and Bahasa Indonesia, which received special mention during DISCIPLE’s 30th Anniversary celebrations at the World Methodist Conference in 2016.
What makes DISCIPLE Bible Study attractive as a discipleship programme for small groups? Firstly, it pioneered the use of video in Bible study – now a key feature in other programmes such as the Alpha Course. This enables small groups to “draw on the work of scholars to aid understanding of the Bible”.
- Assumes that the Bible is the key to renewal in the Church;
- Calls on persons to submit themselves to examination by Scripture, to put themselves under the power of God’s Word, and to be changed by God’s Word;
- Invites persons to bring their experiences and struggles to Scripture.
Shared Mr Koh Yong Jing, a recent “graduate” of DISCIPLE: “One of the lessons I learnt from this course is that there is always more to learn from the same biblical events that I felt I knew so well. Be it the bravery of Esther, the faithfulness of Daniel or the signs performed by Jesus, there are still many other lessons which I can learn from these events.”
“I have been shown by God that learning as a group can give me so many other insights to His Word. With the different interpretations of verses from my fellow coursemates, I have learnt to see things more effectively through different points of view… I thank God for giving me this chance to gear myself up to be a better disciple of His. I know now that actions are more important than knowledge. I will try my best to apply what I have learnt and hope that I will not be like the seed that lands on the thorny soil, unwilling to live out what I have learnt.”
Apart from providing DISCIPLE materials and training, DA also offers other programmes for continued spiritual formation of Christian disciples, such as the Companions in Christ series. Its mission, after all, is “to build the Body of Christ through the promotion and development of the DISCIPLE Bible Study materials and other related programmes”.
What better way to do so than through this regular, nourishing, and rigorous programme of spiritual training?
Want to train up your “spiritual muscles” in order to “build the Body of Christ”? Enquire at your local Methodist church for their DISCIPLE course schedules, or contact Disciple Agency at 6478-4755.
Grace Toh –
is the Editor of Methodist Message. She put this article together with valuable input from the Rev David Gwee, Chairperson, and Ms Chng Siew Geok, Manager of Disciple Agency.
Photos courtesy of Disciple Agency