Forming Habits for Growth

How do we help our students engage in Scripture for spiritual growth? Let’s hear from Lai Sze Khiong current Head of FES Chinese Work (CW). Sze Khiong initially worked in FES from 1993–1999 and then, after completing his theological studies and serving in local church ministry, he returned to FES in 2009.

As you have worked with students for many years, do you observe students reading Scripture more for gaining Bible knowledge, or mainly for devotional purposes and less concerned about knowing how to read and study the Bible more effectively?

The only reason why one would want to read God’s Word is to draw close to God. And in turn God will draw us closer to Him. Somehow, in this information-seeking era, being as pragmatic as we can, the act of Bible reading, and Bible study has been connected with Sunday School programme cards to gain stars for excellence in participation. Whether the Word of God does engage us becomes secondary.

For as much as we wish for students to look more intently into Scripture for the revelation of God, the “urge” to find meaning in what they are reading and jumping to apply seems a common trend these days. The push-and-pull effect between students and staff is then to discourage students from wanting to get immediate “answers” when we come to a Bible study. Staff workers hope to use that little more time we have with students, for them to “ponder”, thus finding meaning for their spiritual journey rather than just answers for the moment. I cannot say we are effective in such an approach, most of the time we fail, especially among younger polytechnic students.

In some of the Chinese CFs, students gather for weekly devotions instead of the usual contact group meeting. Sometimes the devotions could end up becoming a Q&A session. In summary, having observed students reading and studying the Bible, pragmatism plays a key role and an average student is neither devotional (relational) nor cognitive in their approach. This in-between dilemma is challenging for most of the CFs.

Giving students pointers on observing what is said in the Bible text and how it is said

In training students to do Bible study, how do you strike a balance between knowing the meaning behind the text (interpretation) and what the text means for us today (application)?

There is no denying that staying over for a Bible study camp enables us to correct some of the style and mindset of students in their approach towards the Bible. With the gearing towards understanding and reading the literal forms or genres of Scripture, it does help to manoeuvre students to focus more on Scripture than what they wanted to get out of it.

Building on the Bible study camps, the purpose for Bible study should not be simply devotional or cognitive, nor hoping for a revival in the CF’s interest in Bible study. The CW staff team wanted the FES distinctive of being an evangelical movement to be cultivated in the students while they are with the CF till they graduate. To facilitate this, a survey team has been formed by CW alumni and staff workers. We hope that the findings of this survey, will help the CFs and even staff workers to not merely stop at programmes and events, but focus on guiding students to live and think evangelically. 

What are some ways you would recommend, that has helped you, to engage with a Scripture text for spiritual growth?

After elaborating so much on the benefits of having a Bible study camp to bring forth effectiveness in a balanced understanding of the Bible to the CW survey on ‘being evangelical’, personally, I do recognise that there is no short cut. The interest in Bible study is not an instinct but a discipline we all need to work through on our own, in terms of the day-to-day practice of engaging Scripture.

Likening Bible study to gaming, a common activity for students today, there are far too many apps around that can help us play the ‘game’ of Bible study well. We can only pray for the Holy Spirit to sustain our interest and keep us excited in reading and discovering the gems in Scripture every day.