How one church fell in love with the Bible all over again  

by Christine Leow // May 28, 2024, 9:33 am


Previously without little impetus to meet, Back to Basics gave these women a reason to come together to form a life group to share their reflections on God's Word. Photo courtesy of Irene Seah.

They went to church regularly. They served faithfully. After all, they had been believers for decades.

But for many, quiet time with God was sometimes a struggle.

“I became a Christian when I was 21,” said Irene Seah, 42. “But I wasn’t very consistent in my quiet time. I’m guilty of that.”

“It lit a fire in me for reading the Word of God.”

Two to three times a week, she would read devotions by different authors.

“I would read the verses, read what is written by the author and then say a prayer. That was my understanding of quiet time.

“But I find it overwhelming to find the right devotion material. It became a challenge to have regular quiet time.”

Then, in July 2023, something changed. Irene’s church, Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church (PLCMC), introduced a programme that not only changed the way she read and valued the Bible, but also breathed life into her life group (as cell groups are called in PLCMC).

“It lit a fire in me for reading the Word of God,” she told Salt&Light.

From an exercise for two to a mass initiative

The programme is simple. Called Back to Basics (B2B), it involves getting everyone to study the same passage together for a week as part of their personal quiet time. They then meet in life groups to share insights they have gleaned.

The idea for B2B started quite innocuously right in the home of the Associate Pastor of PLCMC, Rev Wilfred Leow.

cell group

Rev Wilfred Leow conducting B2B with the life group he leads, Beth Life Group. Photo courtesy of Rev Wilfred Leow.

“My wife and I wanted to share with each other what we had learnt from our quiet time and thought that studying the same passage together would make the sharing more meaningful.

“At the time, I was preaching from the Lectionary. So we decided that we would mediate on that Lectionary passage for a week and then come together at the end of the week to share.”

“The problem before was that we didn’t give enough time to meditate on each passage.”

The Lectionary is a collection of readings from the Bible. Each week, it offers four readings – Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, Epistles. Specially curated, the readings cover key events in biblical history, as well as follows the seasons of the church calendar.

Rev Leow and his wife had, in the course of nearly 30 years of marriage, tried different ways of doing quiet time together. From couples’ devotion to walking through the Bible, each attempt would fizzle out in mere months.

However, week after week, the exercise of pondering a passage each week gained more and more traction for the couple. They had much to share because they found they gained much from God’s Word.

“I think the problem before was that we didn’t give enough time to meditate on each passage,” said Rev Leow.

After nearly nine months doing this at home, Rev Leow decided to extend the practice to the congregations he led, the Contemporary Service and Bilingual Service.

He called the programme Back to Basics because “establishing regular quiet time is basic to every Christian”.

More than just a mass reading programme

What sets B2B apart from usual mass Bible reading exercises is that it is not really a Bible reading programme.

Said Rev Leow: “It isn’t reading through the Bible. It isn’t Bible study. It is a meditation of a passage over the course of many days.

“This is a spiritual formational way of approaching the Bible in which you allow God to speak to you about yourself and your life through His Word.”

The B2B programme offers a seven-day method of approaching the Bible. Here is how it works:

Day 1

1. Read the passage to understand its gist.

2. Consult a commentary if you need help grasping the fuller meaning of the passage.

3. Ask yourself the following to help you focus:
a) What is the main point of the text?
b) Does the context help me?
c) What does the passage say about God?
d) What does it say about Man?
e) What does it say about Man’s relationship with God?

Day 2

1. Read the passage.

2. Recollect and meditate on its main points.

3. Ask yourself the following:
What is God saying to me through insights from Day 1 about my
a) Spiritual walk and life
b) Relationships
c) Work / Studies
d) Ministry

Day 3

1. Read the passage slowly and meditatively.

2. Note certain words, phrases or ideas that strike you.

3. Ask and reflect on:
a) Why does it strike me?
b) What might the Spirit be saying to me?

4. Write down the thoughts and feelings you experience

5. Respond to the Spirit’s revelation:
a) Pray through it
b) Make a commitment if needed
c) Steps to take if necessary

Day 4

Repeat Day 3.

Day 5

Pray through the passage.

Day 6 & 7

Give thanks to God, and evaluate your week’s spiritual walk and events.

Going deeper into Scripture

The structured approach, breaking it down not just into days but steps in each day, has been greatly welcomed by the congregations.

Said David Teo, who leads a life group of seniors: “The B2B initiative has introduced a more focused approach, emphasising on the quality of our quiet time.

“It encourages going deeper into Scriptures and spending more meaningful time in prayer and meditation. This has led to a more enriching and spiritually fulfilling experience.”

Irene agreed: “When B2B was first introduced, I was very excited and determined to get to the basics of quiet time because no one had taught me how to do quiet time before.

“Reading a passage repeatedly over time allows me to understand it from different perspectives and that adds depth to my understanding.”

“There is so much clarity now in how my quiet time is done.”

What also helped was the discipline of sitting with just one passage for a whole week.   

“It helps for most of us who have short attention span. Breaking it into short bursts over a period of time is helpful,” said Choo Shiao Bing.

“I used to use devotional pieces which were generally stand-alone passages. There was no strong impetus to continue, and so quiet time was very much based on the mood for the day and usually it would be superseded by other more pressing or alluring activities,” Shiao Bing admitted.

“B2B is more intentional, with better continuity. There is progression in the passages and better linkage, especially in the Old Testament passages.

“We went through the development of biblical characters, which faced similar challenges in life as you and I. There was the stronger motivation to go on week after week, searching for answers or role models in real life issues we face.”

Cheng Tai Hee, a leader of a men’s life group, said in Mandarin: “Reading a passage repeatedly over time allows me to understand it from different perspectives and that adds depth to my understanding.”

Growing as a community

The two PLCMC congregations have practised B2B for almost a year and it has not only impacted individual quiet time, but brought members of life groups together.

Irene started a life group for women so that they could share their B2B reflections. Called the Beauty Life Group because they want to reflect the beauty of God, they had four members in the beginning. In one year, the group grew to 11 women.

cell group

Irene (right) with the women from Beauty Life Group. Photo courtesy of Irene Seah.

“Our group is very diverse. The youngest is about 20 and the oldest is 60. Some of us are first generation Christians, some are second, third generation Christians.

“When we share, we see how God works in different ages and different life stages. That deepens our insights and broadens our understanding of God.”

One of the women in her group so enjoyed B2B that she constantly shares with her husband the reflections she and her life group mates gained.

Her excitement was so contagious that her husband joined the men’s group led by Tai Hee.

cell group

Cheng Tai Hee (back with mask) and his men’s life group. Photo courtesy of Cheng Tai Hee.

Another member of Beauty Life Group now talks about her quiet time reflections with her colleagues during lunch instead of just chatting about work.

There is another component to B2B. The sermon each week is based on the same passage of the Lectionary that the people have been using for their quiet time.

“Because I have read the passage, I wouldn’t want to miss the sermon.”

Said Rev Leow: “This way, the people can have a macro view of the text. They can also gain further insights and a greater depth of understanding of the text.” 

Many welcomed this synchronising of the pulpit with personal quiet time texts.

“When what you understand is consistent with what the pastor preaches, you feel encouraged in the faith,” said Tai Hee.

“You can also adjust and correct yourself immediately when there are deviations from the pastor’s teachings.”

Added Shiao Bing: “Knowing that the sermon will be on the week‘s passage pushes me to be regular in my quiet time.

“I also find it very helpful to have gone through the passage before listening to the sermon. Usually, the sermon will provide a different take on how the passage has spoken to me.

“And because I have read the passage, I wouldn’t want to miss the sermon.”

Grounded to Go

PLCMC is not stopping here. After a year of B2B, the two congregations are progressing to Grounded to Go (G2G) in July.

For the next two years, cell groups will go through different themes that will deal with questions commonly asked by both believers and pre-believers alike.

Such questions include: How do I know God exists? How did the universe begin? Are we the result of creation or evolution? Did God know man would sin and, if so, why did He create man? Is the Bible reliable? Did Jesus really resurrect? Why does God allow sin and suffering? How can a good God send people to hell?

“We want our members to be grounded in a reasonable and rational faith.”

“We want to give our members a reasoned and reasonable basis for their faith,” explained Rev Leow who created the curriculum of 40 lessons which are divided into sets of five lessons per theme.

The hope is also that, once equipped, members will be able to use the material to bring the gospel beyond church walls.

Said Rev Leow: “For example, you have a friend who is interested in science and faith. You can take the five lessons that deal with it and meet them to go through the material with them.

“So it isn’t only when they come for church service that they get to encounter the Word.

“Or cell group members can invite their friends who are interested in certain themes to join the cell groups for those five weeks.

“We want our members to be grounded in a reasonable and rational faith so they can go out and persuade others about God’s truth.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.