Would it be better to have a Bible or a mentor? You could say my question is a trick question, though it is not meant to be one. The puzzle is intended to provoke you to think first, respond second, and discuss thoroughly. The obvious answer to the question is both.
You may want to read:
- Five Things to Know to Change Your Ways
- The Doctrine of Repentance
- Three Ways to Overcome Sin and Temptation
The Bible does not say the Bible alone is all you need to change. The Bible does not suggest that all you need is a discipler. At different times and in different ways, the Bible makes a case for both of these two good things to be part of a person’s overall soul care package. The Bible teaches that five specific things serve unique and practical roles for a person to change effectually.
- The Lord will change you (Ephesians 2:8).
- The Bible will change you (2 Timothy 3:16).
- You must do something to change (Philippians 2:12).
- Other people will help you to change (2 Samuel 12:1).
- Situations will change you (Genesis 50:20).
All five of these elements should be part of any person’s change schematic. The person who is growing, maturing, and changing will be accessing all of these means of grace. The neglect of any one of them will hurt a person’s “maturation-into-Christlikeness” process.
Five Ways to Change Your Ways
Our argument should not be about how one is better than the other, but about how all of them are needful, and each one serves a unique role in the overall transformation of any person. It is similar to Paul’s discussion about the different gifts within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). All the parts of the body are needed, and it would not be helpful to speak more of one as better or to the neglect of the other.
It depends on the need of the moment, and the specific situation a person is going through that determines how we use each component of the change process. There is a time when the Bible should be front and center in a person’s life, and there is a time when a person needs to put the Bible down and do the hard work of repenting (changing).
I do not need the Bible to repent if the Bible has already taught me how to repent. For example, last week, I got angry at Lucia. I did not need the Bible to walk me through what anger is or what was going on in my heart or what I needed to do about my sin. The Bible has already informed me about these things.
What I needed to do was confess my sin to my wife and to seek her forgiveness (1 John 1:9). At that moment, the most important thing I needed to do was number three—personal responsibility in the change process. The Bible has already done its job. The Lord was doing His job. The situation was entirely in play—I was angry at her. And she was providing an opportunity for me to grow.
My call to action during my bout of anger was to repent. Was I going to step up to the plate and do what I needed to do to mature in Christ as well as mature in my relationship with my wife?
Not Either/or, but Both/and
Back to my question: what is better to have, the Bible or a mentor? You see this healthy synchronization between the essentialness of the Bible and a mentor in the New Testament. Here are a few examples:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:14-15
So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. – Acts 8:30-31
For more examples about the primacy of the human community mentoring each other, read all the “One Another” passages from the New Testament. The Bible does not make a case for Bible exclusivity in the sanctification process but calls for a more comprehensive way to think about sanctification, which requires a healthy (biblical) view of the Bible as well as how we all engage each other (koinonia).
It would not be wise to separate “sola Scripture” from “solo mentoring,” or the other three essential “sola elements” in the change process: (1) the Lord, (2) personal responsibility, and (3) the role of situations. Every Timothy needs a Paul, plus a thorough understanding of the Lord’s Word.
Community Contexts for Change
Personal mentoring, working in cooperation with growing Bible knowledge, while in the context of community, is an excellent prescription for a person to mature. This perspective is the way I have led small groups in local churches. I have a high view of the Word of God and a high view of the community, both of which work together for our overall transformation.
The way I prefer to do it is to blend the Word of God and the human community, with the goal of personal and communal transformation. This “mixture” happens in four specific ways.
- Corporate meetings
- Small group meetings
- Couple meetings
- Personal meetings
Many local churches have one big church meeting each week. It happens on Sunday morning. This event is a time where everyone comes together as a larger body to worship the Lord through singing, hearing the Word, ministering to each other, and enjoying each other. These are specific things that work together to build up the body collectively.
Typically, this church meeting provides an opportunity to see most of the members of a small group, especially the men. During this time you may joke around, catch up on your week, and possibly talk about something serious. These are pneumatic opportunities that are not conducive for deep and transformative conversations due to the hectic pace of the morning.
These brief encounters are redemptive in that you see each other, and it is another opportunity to build, with the long-term goal and expectation of having more in-depth and more transformative times later. The deeper discussions of life cannot happen consistently or comprehensively in a large crowd of people with whom you do not do life together regularly.
To expect the large corporate church meeting to be a context for more in-depth and transformative conversations could be a setup for disappointment. You need another place that is more private and slower to talk about the more profound things in our lives. This perspective is why some churches have small group settings.
Small Group Meetings
The groups that I have led meet on Sunday or Wednesday nights throughout the year. We gather to take our relationships deeper than what we could do on Sunday mornings. These meetings are more isolated and private from the larger corporate body. The nature of these meetings gives us more opportunities to be more transparent.
Our “rule” in a small group is that “what we say in this room stays in this room.” We talk to each other at different times about small group discussions, but we do not speak to those outside of our group about what we say in our group. Our small group is a tight-knit group of friends who come together to spur each other on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Small group meetings are a time for the pace and noise of our lives to slow down. It is the pulling away idea that the Lord taught His disciples (Mark 6:30-32). There are times when it is essential to get away from serving others so that you can help yourself. Without a replenishing context in your life, you will quickly deplete your soul.
This kind of context is essential for individuals, couples, and families. It is like a “quiet corporate time” where you humbly ask others to love you enough to speak into your life. It is self-acknowledgment of self-suspicion. We all have our blind spots, which elevates the value of a band of brothers and sisters reciprocally caring for each other.
Because of our sense of shame, the temptation to be easily embarrassed, as well as a “lack of community trust,” we have found that adding monthly couple’s meetings to our small group dynamic is a must. The curse of Adam not only reaches far and wide, but it goes deep too.
Love, trust, and safety do not happen just because you are Christians and you are meeting in a small group. I have found some people to be more jaded about opening up because of past experiences where others have hurt them. Besides, some conversations are not suitable for small group life.
We do not talk about a couple’s sex life in our small group meeting. This discussion is where the couple’s sessions can serve as an essential means of grace for a struggling marriage. It gives them an even safer place to talk about things that are important to them.
Couple’s meetings also can be dynamic when all the members of the small group value and participate in them. Couple’s sessions are not just for the leader to care for the group, but an opportunity for the entire group to meet in small contexts so they can learn to love and serve each other.
As you can see, our meetings go from broad to narrow. Our most non-transparent meetings are the corporate meetings because those meetings cannot meet the more in-depth sanctification care of the group. Corporate meetings are essential and fantastic for other things. Even our small group meetings are not enough for us to do sanctification well.
Some of the most effective envisionings in our small group happens when the individuals in the group are meeting privately. All the members must be pursuing each other for the group to be a success. Each person in the group will have to decide if they are going to “own the group.” The degree in which each person takes ownership of the group will determine the quality of sanctification that happens in the group.
If the couples are meeting and if the individuals are meeting, the small group meeting can be transformational. But if the group is not getting to know each other on the more individual levels, the group meeting may be smaller than the corporate meeting, but it will still be a group of strangers.
Call to Action
What is better to have, a Bible or a mentor? It is better to have both, plus the other three elements of change in which the Bible speaks. It is like a church with a pro-life emphasis, adoption ministry, global outreach, and Bible studies. It is not that one is better, to the exclusion of the others. They all are essential. When it comes to sanctification, it is better to think and implement broadly rather than narrowly. As you think about your sanctification, is there a missing element?
- Are you mature in the Bible, but weak in transparent relationships?
- Do you know what to do, but are unwilling to be personally responsible for changing?
- Are you lovingly intrusive in the lives of those in your sphere of influence?
- What do you need to do to access all the means of grace the Lord provides for you and your friends to change?