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More Than a Quiet Time: Living Out the Word of God Together

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By Tessa Baker

Editor’s Note: Tessa and her husband Nathan serves as missionaries in Madagascar. Today she shares what she’s learned about discipleship through her missionary experiences.


Recently, Thomas Schirrmacher, secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance, stated the biggest problem for global Christianity as “Bible knowledge is fading away.” Schirrmacher continued,

We have nothing else. We have no pope, we have no structure that keeps us together, no matter what we believe. We need to sit down and study the Bible, know the Scriptures, and be properly equipped for ministry.[1]

We asked our local pastors here in Madagascar how someone becomes “equipped for ministry,” moving from salvation through maturity to leadership—in other words, how to make a disciple. We expected a curriculum, possibly key doctrines, study plans. Instead, our pastors overwhelmingly answered with two main ideas: 1) relationships, and 2) God’s Word working in everyday life.

A 2019 Barna study found similar emphases for what they call “resilient disciples.” They noted 15 characteristics of “resilient disciples,” 10 of which relate specifically to relationship and God’s Word active and applied to life.[2]

Our people will answer those questions somehow; they will be discipled by something.

Hard Questions

Our Malagasy pastors explained: people who come to Christ have lots of questions and problems. A leader needs to spend time with them in church and community, helping them sort out these problems as they arise. Here are some examples from their context:

  • Mothers typically chop up thorns and put them in their children’s food to protect the children from spirits. They also practice infant baptism, not believers’ baptism. If you’re a new mom, and a new believer, and everyone in your family for generations has used one or both of these methods to protect their babies, how do you not do the same? What do you do with your fear? With the pressure from your mother-in-law?
  • If you’re a local fisherman in southwest Madagascar, you’ve probably used charms every day of your life to help you catch fish. How will you feed your family if you stop using charms?

And lest the “foreign” feel of these very real questions makes it hard to relate, consider these analogs—questions you may have asked this past year:

  • My grandmother is 90, and believes COVID is a hoax, but I disagree. Now she’s mad because I won’t come inside her house and hug her.
  • A friend at church posted questionable political statements on social media. How can someone be a Christian and vote like that?
  • Why does everyone want to talk about race so much? I don’t see races—I see everyone as individuals. Why do we have to keep bringing up the past wrongs?

None of these questions are easy. None have simple solutions. As one of our Malagasy pastors explained,

You’re preaching Jesus, and he’s listening, but it’s those questions he brought from home that are really on his mind. The questions his family is asking, the questions from his everyday life—those are what really bother him. You need to be able to explain those things to him.[3]

But can we?

People—Malagasy or American—will find answers. Whether it’s the local witch doctor here in Madagascar, or social media in the US, our people will answer those questions somehow; they will be discipled by something.

I think most of us would agree, after the year the world has had, that things are a mess. Life is harder. Questions are murkier, yet people’s responses feel more hardened and brittle, more unyielding.

Yet how do we often try to answer the hard questions? How do we tend to address the problem of biblical illiteracy? We usually point to the all-important “quiet time.” Nothing against the quiet time, but studies indicate clearly that most Americans aren’t having one.[4] If you’re a Malagasy believer in southwest Madagascar, you likely can’t have one. You may not be able to read well (or at all), and no complete Bible exists in your language anyway.

Schirrmacher says, “We need to sit down and study the Bible, know the Scriptures, and be properly equipped for ministry.”[5] And we keep saying this too—over and over.

Disciples grow when someone in real relationship with them shows them how God’s Word actually works in day-to-day life.

More Than a Quiet Time

But the problem is, according to Barna and our Malagasy pastors, sitting down and studying is not how you become a disciple. Disciples grow when someone in real relationship with them shows them how God’s Word actually works in day-to-day life.

We have whole communities of people, across the USA and around the world, who don’t know their Bibles, yet our response is an urgent call to “sit down and study.” Even as a missionary, this is what I usually say! I teach lesson after lesson, which I make sure people can and do repeat to everyone they know. Yet, as our pastor pointed out, “They’re listening, but it’s those questions they brought from home that are really on their minds.” The women I disciple are really putting thorns in their kids’ food. Some people claiming to be Christians really did storm the Capitol building a few months ago. “Study” is not all people need.

What people need is another believer to come alongside, to honestly wrestle through these questions, sharing relevant Scripture and modeling costly obedience. We need a fellow fisherman who burns his charms, prays for his catch, and then keeps trusting Jesus even when he catches nothing and his kids are hungry. We need a fellow politically-minded Christian who actively seeks out believers “across the aisle” to help inform her opinions, even if it affects her vote. We need a fellow husband who admits his addiction to pornography and invites challenging input, even if it costs his smartphone. We need a fellow white person who will listen to the struggles of people of color, apologize for any deep-seated prejudices, and work towards a more just future, even if costs her social standing. We need one another—tackling hard questions, calling one another out, listening to each other.

I’m still processing, even shaken, by what our Malagasy pastors taught us. Based on their definitions of discipleship, I’ve hardly been discipled at all, much less discipled others!

The Evangelical world definitely does have a biblical literacy problem. But I’m afraid the answers we’re offering will never help our people grow biblically. For a disciple to grow in God’s Word, someone needs to share it with him or her—live it with him or her—to answer the very real questions our world is asking.

[1] Klett, Leah MarieAnn, WEA head: Biblical illiteracy ‘utmost problem’ facing global evangelicalism, Christian Post, published 3 Dec 2020, accessed 9 Jan 2021, https://www.christianpost.com/news/wea-head-biblical-illiteracy-utmost-problem-facing-church.html.

[2] “Church Dropouts Have Risen to 64%–But What About Those Who Stay?,” Barna Research Group, published 4 Sept 2019, accessed 10 Jan 2021, https://www.barna.com/research/resilient-disciples/.

[3] Jean Christal, Edia. (2020 Sept 11). Personal Interview with author.

[4] “American Bible Society Releases 10th Annual ‘State of the Bible’ Survey, Shows How COVID-19 has impacted Religion and Scripture Engagement,” The American Bible Society: News, published 22 July 2020, accessed 22 Jan 2021, https://news.americanbible.org/blog/entry/corporate-blog/american-bible-society-releases-10th-annual-state-of-the-bible-survey.

[5] Klett, Leah MarieAnn, WEA head: Biblical illiteracy ‘utmost problem’ facing global evangelicalism, Christian Post, published 3 Dec 2020, accessed 9 Jan 2021, https://www.christianpost.com/news/wea-head-biblical-illiteracy-utmost-problem-facing-church.html.

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Tessa Baker

Tessa Baker is a wife and mom to two (with a third on the way!). She and her husband Nathan live and work in southwest Madagascar with the International Mission Board. She is a SEBTS graduate (2019) in the Biblical counseling department. Tessa and Nathan have a passion for seeing God's Word accessible to all in the many diverse dialects of Madagascar.

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