UTB for Churches

My aim for Understand the Bible is not ultimately for it to be used by individuals, but that God would use it to build the local church. Although the advertising is aimed at individuals, I hope that it will be a resource for churches.

Let me explain my vision for Understand the Bible and how I hope and pray it can be used by churches.

Who is behind Understand the Bible?

Firstly, let me explain who the “I” is who runs Understand the Bible! My name is Phill Sacre. I’m an ordained minister in the Church of England, and I spend some of my time working in a local church on the Essex coast. You can see a bit more information about me and the history of Understand the Bible on the About page.

As someone in church leadership, a few years ago I sensed there was a gap in the market for something like Understand the Bible, so I stepped in!

Why I created Understand the Bible

Over the past few years, by the grace of God we have seen a few people come into our church from secular backgrounds and turn to Christ. I have been involved in leading outreach and discipleship courses with them. One of the things which I’ve noticed is that many people who come to faith now have got virtually no understanding of the Christian faith or the Bible. It’s been a real struggle to get any of them to come to church regularly, especially younger people with families, and many of them drift away after a while. (Conversations with other church leaders from across the UK suggest that we are far from alone in having this problem).

The one thing we’ve run over the last few years which has had the most ‘success’ in reaching new Christians has been a discipleship course we’ve run on a midweek evening, working through things such as the Heidelberg Catechism, a Bible Overview and the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps part of the problem is that our evangelistic efforts previously have given the message out that you don’t really need to commit?

Back in 2018 I decided to try and film regular videos as something I could give to people who’d finished one of our outreach courses. It seemed to me that, although there was a lot of Christian content out there, most of it was aimed at more mature Christians. There was very little, if anything, to actually teach people the faith from the ground up aimed at an online audience.

This is why I decided to create Understand the Bible. The idea is to be a course like Christianity Explored or Alpha, but to be far more comprehensive. My hope is to teach the Christian faith in a comprehensive and systematic way – what the church used to call catechism. This is designed to complement, rather than replace, regular expository preaching. In fact, I believe that both are necessary!

Why systematic teaching is necessary

If you’re not convinced already, let me try to persuade you that churches need both systematic expository preaching as well as systematic Christian teaching. Allow me to quote from Sinclair Ferguson’s book Some Pastors and Teachers (originally posted on my website). Here he is looking at churches within the Reformed tradition, and comparing today’s churches with those of the past:

In the recovery of biblical exposition that has marked the church in our own time, it has not always been recognized that in addition to such exposition the Reformers and Puritans placed great stress on catechizing. We tend to think of this as children learning catechetical questions and answers by rote. But what the Puritans had in view was in many ways a more profound exercise. They saw the need to build into the thinking of all their people frameworks of reference, grids that would help them receive, understand, digest, and apply the biblical teaching given from the pulpit.

This is an essential ingredient in the recovery of biblical Christianity. Neither the Reformers nor the Puritans envisaged their task of the public exposition of Scripture without finding ways of anchoring what was heard in the hearts and minds and memories of their hearers. Without the framework of doctrine provided in some such pedagogical tool as a catechism a person might find it extremely difficult to assimilate all they were being taught. And without the personal probing of catechetical questions they might never work the public exposition through into practical understanding and application.

This is the point: catechising, or whatever you want to call it, helps people to develop a Christian understanding. This Christian understanding then helps them to develop the ability to understand and benefit from sermons. The two go perfectly together! If a church only does one of those two things – i.e. regular expository preaching – then people will find it much more difficult – even impossible – to grow as Christians.

Tell me more… You might also appreciate this interview from Speak Life with Alastair Roberts as to the difference between preaching and teaching. I have also written about this several times on my website, e.g. here.

Using Understand the Bible as a course

In our church, we have started a midweek group and we are using the Understand the Bible videos as a course. The videos would be ideal for a small group or a home group situation, or perhaps a group (like an adult Sunday school) before church on a Sunday morning.

My suggestion is to show the video and then spend some time discussing it – I haven’t produced discussion questions for each video but, in my experience, people are often quite happy to come up with their own questions!

You could run the course as an outreach course, looking at What is Christianity?

There’s no fixed charge for a course, although if you do appreciate it I would appreciate if you were able to donate to UTB.

Where Understand the Bible is coming from

As a pastor myself, I do appreciate why someone might be suspicious of an internet ministry. I often wonder when I see an internet ministry who oversees it and who the authors are accountable to. Sadly, I think there is far too much unaccountable internet ministry going on. Let me try to reassure you here.

Firstly, I am ordained in the Church of England, and as such I am coming from a classically Anglican / Reformed perspective. (I talk a bit more about this on the basis of faith page). However, my aim is to avoid ‘party political’ denominational issues and to focus on what C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity. Therefore I do not wish to get into contentious issues such as spiritual gifts, the exact nature of the sacraments, etc. I genuinely hope this website will be usable by Christians from many different denominations – free church, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc. (For what it’s worth – I grew up in an independent church and only came into the Anglican church later in life – so I have some experience of both!)

Secondly, I spend part of my time ministering in a local church – this is important for me because it keeps me grounded in people’s lives, and it means that my ministry is accountable there.

Thirdly, UTB has a group of people who meet about once a term to talk about how things are going and hold me accountable.

Any ideas / comments / questions?

I feel that UTB is still in its early days and I am still feeling my way into it all. If you have any bright ideas or you’d like to ask a question, you are very welcome to drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

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