Yes, I run a ministry that launches fifty thousand Bibles a year by balloon into North Korea. Yes, our ministry creates new versions of the Bible every year, like our new North Korean/South Korean Parallel Bible. Yes, I have helped to create programs like Bibles Unbound and the Billion Bible Club, and I am committed to creating more such programs in the future.
I, in other words, love the Bible and am passionate about distributing it.
The only thing I am more passionate about is discipleship, which I think can be defensibly defined as “teaching people what to do with a Bible once they get one.”
If we are not strategically careful, we may conclude that Bible distribution is an acceptable end in itself rather than a peerless accelerant to Christian discipleship.
Worse yet, if we are not theologically careful, we may conclude that it is our job to get Bibles into people’s hands but the Holy Spirit’s job to help them from there. This of course runs counter to Jesus’ great commission, which does not admonish us to distribute the Bible but rather to “teach people to obey everything I have commanded.” The latter presupposes the former, but we should never presume that it is an inevitable outcome of it.
Consider the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40, specifically this exchange that is repeated in its essence each time anyone is exposed to the word of God:
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?”
This is why when I am planning a Bible distribution campaign I follow a basic rule of thumb:
Don’t distribute Bibles without a discipleship component in place to enable each recipient to use the Bible to learn how to obey everything Christ commands.
It is of course not always easy to do this. How, for example, can you follow up on fifty thousand Bibles dropped by air?
Answer: By putting discipleship in the air along with the Bibles, which is why we do daily discipleship broadcasting into North Korea by shortwave radio.
The point is, never take the discipleship component of a single Bible distribution for granted. Don’t simply presume the Holy Spirit will make it happen. There is no biblical warrant for such an assumption. Quite the opposite, the Bible appears to presume that it is to come with an instructor attached everywhere it appears.
So next time you are considering supporting a Bible distribution effort, make sure to ask the distributors this question: What’s the plan to disciple the people who receive the Bibles you are proposing to distribute?
If you discover that their discipleship plan is less developed or less well funded than their printing and distribution plan, please encourage them to print and distribute fewer Bibles and use the savings to make sure that the distribution becomes a means to the end of teaching people to obey everything Christ commanded, rather than an end in itself.