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Bible study can transform churches, pastor says

9/24/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS #453. A photograph of the Rev. Dennis Blackwell is available.

By Linda Green*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
The Rev. Jackye Waiters-Lee and Marilyn Magee share a laugh following Magee's address at the Great Event, the Sept. 18-20 national training event of the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century initiative. Magee, a former member of the initiative's coordinating committee, led a Bible study on healing. Waiters-Lee is director of education ministries at Munger Place United Methodist Church in Dallas. A UMNS photo by Larry Hygh. Photo number 03-301, Accompanies UMNS #454, 9/24/03
ATLANTA (UMNS) - Transforming a church from a struggling congregation into a dynamic one can be as simple as focusing on a fundamental Christian practice: Bible study.

The Rev. Dennis Blackwell cites Bible study as a factor in his church's growth from 40 people to 300 in the 15 years since he became pastor. In the process, Asbury United Methodist Church in Pennsauken, N.J., became a congregational resource center of the United Methodist Church's Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century initiative, providing mentoring help for other African-American congregations trying to grow.

"Bible study is important for Asbury as it should be at every church because it is the way we encounter God on a daily basis, and it reveals to us the character and purpose of God," Blackwell says. "Bible study is one of the foundational tools the Holy Spirit uses to transform our lives and to build Christian character."

Blackwell led a training class on Bible study and faith formation at the Sept. 18-20 "Great Event," the black church initiative's national training meeting. He described how Bible study is required for all Asbury leaders.

Lay members lead the church's Bible study, and the daily classes cover a range of topics. "People like variety," he says. "People go to Baskin & Robbins because there are 32 flavors, and they have all types of hours to be convenient for people. We have a variety of Bible studies at different times during the week to be convenient for people to come and take it."

When Blackwell went to Asbury 15 years ago, the church had no programs or money. "But by God's grace and the spirit leading ... we began biblical study and started to grow," he says. The church began weekend studies and a four-day Bible institute with the members.

"When they grew in the faith, their church work ethic radically changed. We've seen people's lives be transformed because of the daily intake of the Scriptures," he says.

"Systematic study and a daily intake of Scripture are vitally important, essential, paramount and necessary for faith development, faith formation and for you to become who God ordained you to be," he notes.

During his class at the Great Event, Blackwell offered curriculum ideas and strategies for doing Bible studies in local churches. Marlene Pollard, with Union-Wesley United Methodist Church in Chester, Md., says she felt enriched.

"I'm going to carry what I learned about Bible study back to help inspire my church," she said.

"Bible study is important because it is very vital to not only live the word but to encourage others to do so also," she says.

The study classes have strengthened Asbury's congregation during a time when the members are without a church home. The congregation meets in a high school and elsewhere because of structural damages to the church building three years ago.

"Bible study is one of the things that kept people close, on fire and faithful to the church during this transition," Blackwell says.

During the training session, he provided participants with seven spiritual life principles that drive the Asbury church. Those principles involve teaching quiet devotion, walking daily with God, praying, witnessing, ministering to others, building fellowship and teaching people how to make disciples for Christ.

Of the seven, none is more important than another, Blackwell says. "They intertwine and are interconnected, but foundational to them all is daily devotional time."
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*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

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