Discipleship Network Interview – Lindsay Olesberg

Lindsay Olesberg serves as Scripture Engagement Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She is the author of The Bible Study Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to an Essential Practice and the Lausanne Movement’s Senior Associate for Scripture Engagement. Lindsay lives in Iowa City, IA with her husband and teenage children.

How would you define discipleship?

Discipleship is the process of maturing and bearing fruit as we follow Jesus. Becoming a Christian isn’t primarily about taking on a new set of religious beliefs and activities. It’s the beginning of a life-long dynamic relationship with the triune God in which we and every aspect of our world are transformed by God’s redemptive love and truth.

What role does Scripture play in discipleship?

It’s central. Genuine discipleship is impossible without engaging regularly with the Bible. In Jesus’ context a disciple was the student of a particular rabbi, learning his teaching and rigorously imitating his life. A mature disciple could faithfully pass on his master’s teaching and make new generations of followers. Knowing what Jesus taught and did is essential for all who call themselves his followers. This means that engaging with the Gospels must be a lifelong endeavor. They are not children’s stories that we “graduate” from. Scripture is the primary means of God’s self-revelation. Through the Scripture we meet God,learn his ways, and are empowered to be his representatives in the world. Though community, prayer,and service are all significant in growing as Jesus’ disciples, without the shaping of the Scripture, there is no guarantee that our communities, spiritual experiences, and activity will be distinctively Christian. Scripture defines the path of discipleship. The Holy Spirit delights to transform people and communities through biblically based teaching (Eph. 4:22-24).

Jesus underscored the centrality of God’s Word in the life of his disciples through a simple but profound parable about a farmer with a miracle seed (Mark 4:1-20). God’s Word is like a wonder-seed that is able to bear an extraordinary amount of fruit in the lives of those who hear and obey it. Without the life-giving work of God’s Word, there is no fruitful Christian life.

Why is an entire chapter of your book devoted to prayer?

Prayer and the Bible always go hand-in-hand. For followers of Jesus, Bible study is fundamentally a spiritual activity, not an academic one. God has invited us to know him, not just know about him. We don’t study the Bible merely to satisfy intellectual fascination but out of yearning to know God and be transformed by him. Through prayer, the heart opens itself to the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. As Ajith Fernando says, “The key to spiritual depth is lingering in the presence of God in prayer and in mediation of his Word.”

How important is it to participate in the growing dialog of the global church on Scripture?

We live in a remarkable time in the history of the church. Not only is there a substantial Christian population on every continent, but also international communication is relatively easy. American Christians can learn from brothers and sisters around the world through the growing number of non-western commentaries translated into English as well as through inter-net forums.

A few weeks ago I spent a few hours studying John 8 with a Christian leader in Ghana on Skype. We were 6 time zones and almost 6,000 miles apart, but we sat with the same text before us and engaged it deeply. My Bible studies with him are so enriching as he raises different questions about the text and sees things in the Word I am blind to. At the same time, I am always struck during our studies how universal the human experience is and what good news the gospel is regardless of your culture or setting.

One of the highlights of Lausanne’s Third Global Congress, Cape Town 2010, was the opportunity to study the book of Ephesians in an international setting. All 4,000 participants sat at small tables and studied Ephesians inductively each morning. Most of the table groups had representatives from at least three different countries. Bible expositors from six different regions of the world preached from the texts studied by the table groups. Studying and applying the Scripture with brothers and sisters from every part of the globe was unforgettable. (I created Studying Ephesians with the Global Church - a small group Bible study guide with DVD- to give North Americans an opportunity to be blessed by that global conversation.)

In the last one hundred years, Jesus’ church has exploded in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.  Lausanne’s third Global Congress, Cape Town 2010, provided an arena for representatives of the church world-wide to gather in unity and humility, seeking God’s will for our common mission and listening to him speak through Ephesians.  

Ephesians:Studying with the Global Church is intended to make some of that experience available to local churches. 

This unique set contains participants guide, leaders guide, and DVD of  Bible expositions by leaders from six regions of the world. The participants guide includes a printed manuscript of Ephesians, instructions for inductive Bible study, and the same study materials used at Cape Town 2010.  The materials are designed for use in adult Sunday School or small groups.


Lindsay Olesberg

Scripture Engagement Director
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

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  • Discipleship is accepting Christ's invitation to Follow Him and participate with Him in His worldwide evangelism activities.

    The parallel is God saving His people out of slavery in Egypt and leading them into the promised land; enroute they had to engage in battle against numerous enemies before they could fully lay hold of their promised inheritance.  "Our battle is not against flesh and blood but spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph 6)

    World Evangelization by the strategy of spiritual multiplication (discipleship) is the Church's mandate.  Nothing less.

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