The practice of reading the Bible together is so powerful – yet it is so often overlooked, because it is so simple. As a church, we are endeavoring to practice this old discipline, in order to create a web of discipling relationships, across our church – and outside it!
In his book “One to One Bible Reading”, David Helm offers two different methods:
- The Swedish Method
- The COMA Method
To watch a video on these methods, you can watch here. Otherwise, continue reading:1-1 Bible Reading Video
The Swedish Method
The “Swedish” Method is named after the nationality of the students that were observed practicing it. It has three basic steps. If you decide to prepare in advance for your gathering with each other, you can do these beforehand. But it’s not necessary – you can simply do these on the spot:
Begin with prayer, and catching up – briefly. Ask God to show you the truth of His word clearly.
The first step is to simply look and ask, what’s important in this passage? What stands out to me? Why? Is there a new idea here? Something you’ve never seen before? What impacts you, as you read it? Write those down, and talk about them.
The second step is to ask “What questions do I have?” about the text? What do you not understand – words or phrases? Do you understand the flow of the narrative, or the argument – why the writer moved from one thing to the next? Write down your questions, and then seek to answer them, together, from the text.
The third step is to ask, what is my take-away? What is a point to apply, in my own life? It is very important at this point to break this into two pieces: both faith and works. What should I walk away believing – leaning my whole life on? And what, out of that believing, should I then do? Write these down as well – you’ll want to refer to them later.
End with prayer. Let this prayer “feather out” from your discussion over the Word. Ask God to give you the grace necessary to do what you’ve read – to not just be a hearer only (James 1:22).
The COMA Method
This method is a little more complex, but not by much. It follows the letters of the acronym COMA, with some similarities to the Swedish method:
Again, begin with brief prayer.
- C – Context: First ask yourself, “What’s the context of this passage?” What’s the writer been talking about, in the paragraphs before, and the chapters before? Where does this book and passage sit in the Bible? Does it come before the cross (the Old Testament), or is it about the cross (the Gospels), or is after the cross, looking to the Return (the rest of the New Testament)?
- O – Observe: What do you observe about the text itself? What words or themes are repeated? What themes does the writer seem to be emphasizing? What’s the tone of the passage? What’s the structure of the passage? Any turns of phrase that stand out to you? Does the passage seem to echo other passages, from other parts of the Bible?
- M – Meaning: What seems to be the central meaning of the passage? If you could put it in a sentence or two, what’s the central point of the passage? And what are the truths that the passage is saying? Think about the words, the paragraphs – and your observations, and the context. And think most of all about how this passage is anticipating Christ, or pointing to Christ, or a result of Christ, and him crucified. Jesus is the central point and theme of the whole Bible (Luke 24:25-26).
- A – Application: So what? What now? How does this affect me, today, and this week? How should this affect me, in relationship to those closest to me? To those I have some kind of power over? To those who have power over me? What does the text demand and call me to believe? How therefore does the text demand and call me to act? What does repentance look like, in light of this passage, for me?
Again, end with prayer. Let your prayer be built out of the Word, and your discussion. Ask God to give you what you need, beginning with a changed heart. As Augustine prayed, “Lord, command what you wish, and give what you command.” Or, as the English poet wrote George Herbert wrote, “for my heart’s desire unto thine is bent: I aspire to a full consent.” In other words, I aspire to a heart that gives full consent to what You want – but I need you to give me that heart. Would you?
You can download a PDF of these questions, with further explanations from David Helm, below. This PDF also includes a guide for walking through the gospel of Mark in 8 weeks – especially helpful if one or both of you are new to the Bible:1-1 Bible Reading COMA Questions
A few other practical tips
Here are a few other tips to consider, as you begin this profitable discipline of one-to-one Bible reading:
- Prayerfully consider who you might ask – ask God to make a good match.
- Then take a risk, and invite someone.
- Decide in advance whether you want to prepare in advance, or simply read and answer the questions on the spot. Either approach is fine.
- Commit to only 6-8 weeks – this keeps both of you from feeling locked-in to a never-ending commitment. You can always re-up for more later, if it’s going well.
- This is a good time to exercise the gift of listening. Listening is a forgotten art, but one that Christians should be the best at. Even when your partner is “wrong” on an observation, listen. They may be telling you more than you realize.
- Seek and keep a balance in your discussions. If you are a talker, or if you clearly know more about the topic than the other, this is not the time to demonstrate this. This is a time for the opposite – to be a learner, too.
- As you engage in this, and God meets you in it, will you let the elders know, now and then, how God is blessing you through it? It would greatly encourage us, and we might (with your permission) share it with the rest of the church, for their encouragement.
- This is to be enjoyable – fun, even. So enjoy it. Laugh! It’s all done inside the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ. We’re doing this to walk with him and enjoy him more.
A few tips on choosing a book of the Bible
Really, you can start anywhere. But prayerfully consider these suggestions:
- For reading with someone who is not yet a Christian, I highly recommend starting with the gospel of Mark. Mark is more brief, highly readable, and has a bent for action. But there is great, deep meaning as well. Download the PDF above for an 8-week guide for going through Mark.
- For reading with a relatively new Christian, I recommend either Philippians or Colossians.
- For a more mature Christian, I recommend reading Romans, or at least Romans 5-8. Pair it with the Psalms.
- But please feel free to contact Pastor Jed or any of our other elders directly with questions about customizing the right Bible book with your situation. Jed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most of all, simply take the step. Pray, ask someone to join you, and do it. The word of God is not bound – God will work!