How I do one-to-one ministry

  • Alison Blake
  • 7 March 2017

The invitation

Before inviting a woman to meet up one-to-one, I’ll okay it with the minister or youth group leader of their congregation. If they’re under 18 I’ll ask their parents first. One-to-one needs to be done in partnership with the local church, and we want to keep a potentially private arrangement very transparent.

Then I invite them, explaining what’s involved, how it’d work and where we’d meet. I suggest a time frame for meeting—maybe a school term, or as long as it takes to read through our chosen Bible book. I do give them the freedom to opt out at anytime. I’ll mention that meeting one-to-one is not an alternative to church, unless I’m meeting with someone who’s already in a pattern of not attending the corporate gathering of God’s people for some reason.

At that point I’ll ask them to think about it and tell them I’ll get back to them in a week to see what they’ve decided.

With new or young Christians I usually have a couple of suggestions of Bible books I think would be helpful for us to read, and invite them to choose one. With mature Christians, women who are leading or serving in our church, I’ll ask them to choose a Bible book they’d like to read.

We’ll meet for no more than 90 minutes, preferably in one of our homes, but definitely somewhere open, with minimal distractions.

If I’m meeting a teenager from our church, I try to meet at the church before youth group or the church service. I try to avoid meeting in cafes because: of the week-by-week cost; it can be uncomfortable for younger believers; there are too many distractions; there’s just so much more you can model about Christian living when you allow a younger Christian a glimpse into your home life. But sometimes meeting in a cafe will be the best option.

Reading with non-Christians

You aren’t limited to meeting up with Christians: I’d really encourage you not to sideline reading the Bible with interested unbelievers. In Australia and many countries today, Christians and the Jesus of the Bible are shamelessly ridiculed and declared dangerous by politicians, policymakers, journalists and comedians. But when your interested unbelieving friend explores the gospel with you and sees it lived out in your life—that can be incredibly attractive, and potentially life saving! They may reconsider their attitude to Jesus when they see he’s nothing like the caricatures touted by secular opinion makers.

Don’t wait for your church to run an outreach event; just invite your friend, workmate or relative to read one of the biographies of Jesus with you. Gospel with the Gospels, where they can meet, see and hear the real Jesus. If you want to be well-prepared, then you can really train yourself in one-to-one with unbelievers by choosing one of the Gospels and working at becoming really familiar with its content, flow and themes—for me, that’s Luke’s gospel.

To pray or not to pray with unbelievers? We can’t know for certain whether God is currently at work in their lives, but we can absolutely be praying earnestly that God, in his mercy, through his word and by his Spirit, would be moving them towards turning and trusting Jesus as their own Lord and Saviour. I wouldn’t expect them to pray, but I also wouldn’t stop them if they wanted to—it could be an indication that God is at work in their life. As we talk through the Bible passage, I would invite them to share something that’s stood out for them about Jesus—what he says, what he does, how people respond to him. Then I’d share something about Jesus that I find striking. As we chat about life, I’d also be listening for any ‘life matters’ I could offer to pray about for them. And to finish our time together, I’d lead us in a short, uncomplicated prayer, using words that don’t assume they’re saved but reflect their interest.

To prepare or not to prepare?

When I’m meeting with Christians, I don’t usually prepare ahead, except to divide up the passage. For a young or not-yet believer, I’ll read the passage beforehand and look for any words or ideas that might be unfamiliar or misunderstood by them and I’ll think through how best to explain them.

I don’t send reminder texts, but we agree that if we can’t meet we’ll text ahead of time and rebook another time that week rather than skip a week. That’s the flexibility of one-to-one, and I want us both to take responsibility for making it happen.

When we meet

We’ll get a drink and chat and catch up for ten minutes. One of us commits our time to God in prayer, and after that we read the Bible passage aloud, and again silently.

Then we’ll spend 20 minutes exploring the passage together. We’ll talk about the passage together—looking for its flow, themes, repeated words. We ask questions together and look for answers from the passage and its wider context, that Bible book, and the whole Bible salvation story (often using any cross references).

Next we’ll spend ten minutes working out the meaning of the passage, asking: What’s the author’s big idea? What’s God saying to people everywhere through this passage? How does the passage tell us that? 

I don’t want to declare God’s truth to the other person but instead to discover his truth with them. I’m trying to model what it means to believe that God’s word is true, relevant and good, and that we sit under God’s word, not over it.

Then we’ll take 20 minutes to apply the passage to our lives. We’ll ask “What will the big idea look like in my life?” and share the answer with each other. We’ll think through how this passage affects:

  • my head (how I think and what I believe)
  • my heart (my concerns and what I value)
  • my hands (the way I live).

When applying the passage I’ll try to model what it looks like for God’s word to not just impress me but to impact my life—to confront, convict, challenge, comfort, correct and change me. I don’t want to back off from letting God’s word confront my one-to-one partner, or dodge around anything that might unsettle, offend or challenge them. Most women are prone to being conflict avoiders, so we need to let God speak on his terms, and leave the results to him.

Together we’re building a spiritual friendship where God is at the centre, shaping it. We’re discovering his truth together. We’re thinking, talking and praying about the complexities and messiness of life through the lens of Scripture. We’re seeking to have our minds renewed and our lives transformed.

We finish by praying about the Bible passage together, with our Bibles open. I’ll try to pray prayers that mirror the words of the passage, based on its big idea. We’ll pray thank you, sorry and please to God, based on the applications we came up with.

Lastly, we spend 20 minutes sharing our personal prayer points and praying for each other. One-to-one prayer is a wonderful opportunity for a younger believer to see “behind the scenes” of an older Christian’s life—to learn what it looks like to keep walking worthy of the Lord in the successes and struggles of life. It’s also an opportunity for us to love each other by bringing each other’s needs to our God who loves and cares for us perfectly.

If Bible-shaped Christian prayer is a new experience for my one-to-one partner, I’ll still encourage them to pray, but I’ll keep my prayer points uncomplicated. I’ll say “Please ask God to...” and “Please thank God that...”. I’ll pray short prayers that take the other person’s prayer need seriously and reflect God’s character and his desires for us.

I also like to suggest we choose a couple of our unsaved friends, family or work colleagues and pray a simple, all-purpose prayer each week for their salvation and our witness to them. This keeps us outward-looking and thinking about being disciple makers.

That’s a total of 80 minutes, with ten minutes to spare—you always need it!

These two books have enormously shaped my thinking and practice of one-to-one: David Helm’s One-to-One Bible Reading, and Sophie de Witt’s One-to-One.

This guide was originally published in Magnolia, and has been edited and republished with the author’s permission.