Back to the Bible: A Conversation With Mark Sheldrake

I have known Mark Sheldrake for about fifteen years when we were both in Brantford, ON. I have watched God work through Mark in many ways, most recently with Precept Ministries. One of the things that Mark and I have in common is that we are both autism dads. I am thankful that Mark has agreed to share some of his story with us.

Could you share a bit of your background and your spiritual journey?

Mark SheldrakeI surrendered my life to Jesus when I was 9 years old at a Christian Service Brigade event in Guelph. I heard the speaker talk about our need for a Savior and knew that I needed to give my life over to Jesus. I grew up in the church and was always a troublemaker. On many occasions I was kicked out of Sunday School. I just didn’t get the urgency in living for Jesus. When I was 16 yrs. old I started to attend youth group every Friday night and saw as my life was changing and my devotion to Jesus was growing.

Throughout my entire life people have told me that I have great leadership skills and people love to follow my lead. I didn’t fully understand what people were telling me regarding leadership until I stepped back and realized that people did follow my lead. I took this responsibility very seriously and so never rebelled throughout my teen years but wanted my life to be an example for others. I wanted the light of Jesus Christ to shine brightly in my life.

At the age of 18 the Lord called me to pursue ministry full-time. The calling was very clear, God had told me that I would lead many, write books and teach thousands. I had no idea what that would look like and so I pursued an education at Redeemer College. That same year my youth pastor resigned from the church and within days the church hired me to continue to disciple the youth group.

While serving at the church I attended 1 year at Redeemer and actually failed out of school and the school did not want me to return for a second year. This was devastating as I had believed God had called me to not only serve Him but also attend Redeemer. After a year off I applied and was accepted at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener ON where I would attend the school on probation for 3 months. Eventually I graduated from Emmanuel and continued to serve as a youth pastor and Sr. Pastor in the local church in both Brantford and Hamilton.

In 2006 the church I was serving in fell on hard times and struggled to grow both spiritually and in numbers and I resigned my position to seek out the potential opportunity to work in Police Services. I was angry at God as my calling had yet to be filled. I wasn’t teaching, writing or leading anybody so I determined to live for myself and just leave Christianity behind. This one year journey was the toughest time of my life physically, emotionally and spiritually. I put away my Bible, never prayed and hardly attended church.

In 2007 at my breaking point I cried out to God and said “do something with my life…like you said you would do” I told God that if He showed me a sign I would never forsake Him again. Within weeks I was connected through the right people and circumstances by God’s hand with the Directors of Precept Ministries International. In November 2007 they hired a burned out and angry man to serve as the assistant to the National Director of Precept Ministries in Canada.

Seven years later I find myself exactly where God promised I would be. I am a writer of one of Precept’s Bible Study materials, I lead thousands of people in our Canadian ministry and I have had the opportunity to teach in 4 different countries and thousands of people in Canada. I’m am married to my wife Jessica who also serves here at the ministry and we have two children Ethan who is 11 and Logan who is 9.

When we are not serving with the ministry we are advocates for Autism Speak Canada as our son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 3. We are passionate about raising funds and awareness for families with autism. Jessica has worked with many families through the diagnosis process and gives advice and shares our personal journey with Autism.

You are the National Director of Precept Ministries. What is Precept Ministries and what do you do?

Precept MinistriesPrecept Ministries International is a ministry that is focused on discipleship through Inductive Bible Study. Precept Ministries was founded by Jack and Kay Arthur in Chattanooga Tennessee more than 40 years ago. The ministry started with a local Bible Study in the rafters of a chicken barn. Kay Arthur a dynamic teacher watched as the ministry grew from that one study to now being an international ministry in more than 150 countries and 70 different languages.

The ministry in Canada started in the early 80’s when Kay visited Canada as a guest speaker for a Women Alive event. Canadian eyes were opened to the power of Inductive Study and many who attended that event prayed for the opportunity to have a Canadian office and ministry. In the early 90’s Precept USA appointed Directors here in Canada and today the ministry continues to grow beyond what our founders had ever imagined.

We partner with local churches to teach people how to study the Bible using the Inductive Bible Study Method. Our desire is to raise up disciples who know the importance of making disciples. We fulfil our mission through providing Bible Study resources, training workshops, television and radio programming

Could you give us a short explanation of what inductive Bible study is?

Inductive Bible Study is simply this – In Duh – Bible – kind of dumb but proves the point. Inductive study is using the Bible as the primary source of study. Secondary sources would be commentaries etc. We teach people how to interrogate the text using Who, What, Where, When, Why, How.
We teach people to slow down the process of reading the Bible by asking these key questions. We want to simply observe what the text says instead of jumping to a “What does this text mean to me?” conclusion. When we start asking what does the text mean to me type questions we can easily take scripture out of context and warp it to what we want it to say in that moment. Inductive study is creating historical context through observation, doing proper interpretation by using the Bible which is its own best commentary.

Using word studies to get the author’s original intent when he wrote and then looking at all of this together and applying it to our lives. The key to Bible study is always the end game. We cannot be in Bible Study simply for head knowledge, we must study the Bible with the goal of heart transformation. God’s Word is alive and sharper that any two edge sword and it pierces the heart. When we read and study by the power of the Holy Spirit it will change you.

Inductive study is so valuable because it is literally studying God’s Word for what it says. Through Inductive Study everyone has the opportunity to really understand what God’s Word has to say and that is amazing.

Why do you think it is so important for Christians to study the Bible?

I always have to go back to the Bible to tell people why they need to know the Bible. In Deuteronomy 32 Moses shares his final words with the Israelites before Joshua leads them into the Promised Land. We know that Moses who led them to the base of Mount Nebo won’t be going with them beyond this point. God in His grace tells Moses to climb Mount Nebo and look out over the Promise Land but that he’ll die right after. So Moses being the great leader he was he tells them the following starting at vs. 45 “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it (the law) is not an idle word (empty, meaningless) for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess”

I love these verses as there is so much meat there. Moses commands the Israelites that the word to your heart, plug the word into the most crucial part of your life, may God’s Word be your heartbeat. When the word becomes part of your life then teach your sons to follow it…why because God’s Word is your Life.

Just to add basis to why people should study their Bible we can look at Joshua 1. Moses has died and left his wisdom but God immediately follows up those instructions with some of His own. “Only be strong and courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have success. It’s so important for us to know God’s Word, I look at the word success in the Joshua passage and see how the world has changed the meaning of success to be of power, position, financial gain and an abundance of what the world has to offer. This was not God’s intent in remaining faithful to His Word for Joshua. The Hebrew Word for success is the same word found in Genesis 3:6 which is the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve. Eve looks at the fruit and sees that it will make one wise. The Hebrew word Sakal which is success in Joshua is the same word for wise in Genesis. God tells us that making His Word our life will bring us Wisdom to make God glorifying choices.

Peter in his second letter warns of the rise of false teachers we move closer to the return of Jesus Christ. The harsh reality is that false teachers don’t wear “false teacher” nametags or announce that they are false teachers when they present their teaching. Jude as an example shares “certain people crept in unnoticed” The conclusion is that it is vital for the body of Christ to know God’s Word for themselves. They need to learn how to study and understand His Word because the Father of lies is and will continue to use people who profess with their mouths they are Christians yet as Paul says in Titus the are people who contradict sound doctrine, they are rebellious men, empty talkers, deceivers who must be silenced as they are upsetting families and even tear down the local church.

Kay Arthur who is a well know Bible Teacher says “line up all my teaching against the plumb line of God’s Word. How will believers be able to determine the truth without knowing God’s Word for themselves. If we profess with our mouths that we are have surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ, we love Him, Serve Him then we MUST have a desire to study His Word. So many people want some sort of special revelation from God regarding His will for their lives etc. God provided a special revelation already and it’s called the Bible, it’s 66 books of God sharing what His will is for your life, how to be successful, how to live etc. This is why every believer needs to study…it’s your life.

How can Precept Ministries help Christians to grow in their understanding of the Bible?

When I started my ministry career as a pastor I wrote all of the curriculum for the church and youth group. I spent hours preparing sermons and trying to come up with the best outside sources to prove what God trying to tell people. I’d use Spurgeon, Piper and many others to help people understand. I’d spend hours trying to find the right quotes, images etc. to present the Word in an understandable way. I’m a little bias but Inductive Study through Precept has transformed my life. I’ve learned more in my 8 years at Precept than I did through any course I ever took in school. Precept has a proven method of teaching people how to study and understand God’s Word. I firmly believe that every believer in Canada should attend training with us, they will never regret. I also would challenge people to try one of our inductive studies. We offer materials from children to Bible College level courses.

Our culture is one that is rushed through daily life. A recent Bible Engagement Survey in Canada stated that 1-7 Canadians who claim to be Christian read their Bible at least once a week. The majority of those who claim they are Christian read their Bible seldom or never. Only 18% of Canadians strongly agree that the Bible is the Word of God, that is down 35% from 1996. This tells me that in Canada for the majority of Christians the Bible is not their life, this certainly helps explain diminishing church attendance, the rise in pastors who leave the ministry like myself who fail to see growth in those they lead. I firmly believe that Precept and more importantly inductive study has the answer to turn our country around…why?…because our goal is to literally put people in the word of God and teach them to feed themselves from it. I conclude where I started “God’s Word has to be your life” as a believer and sometimes we don’t know where to start or how to start studying His Word to understand. When we are saved we are told go read Romans or 1 John or even start at Genesis and work through to Revelation. Pastors from the pulpit share that we must read His Word daily but what if we don’t know where to start or we’re lacking the right tools to study? We’ll most likely become the majority in the Bible engagement survey and we’ll do nothing with it. Precept is the answer and we’ve got 40+ years of experience and millions of people who can share how inductive study has transformed their lives.

Visit our website for more detail

Thank you Mark.

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