Why Bible school is not just for the “up-there Christian”

Growing up in my Christian circle, the words “Tung Ling” were bandied around as some sort of mystical place you would go to get woke about Christian stuff.

Much like Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), I thought it was something only for the “up-there Christian”. So I pretty much shied away from thinking about such things.

Recently, however, I attended Tung Ling Bible School (TLBS) and graduated from it. So I want to demystify Bible school and take it off the pedestal that many of us may have put it on. I would sum up TLBS simply as a time and place to learn about God, encounter Him and meet His fellow children.

WHY I WENT

In my three months at TLBS’ School of Ministry, we went through over 20 different courses about Christian living, ranging from the basics like praise and worship and hearing the voice of God, to more advanced topics like understanding Christianity’s Jewish roots, discovering Jesus in the Old Testament and apologetics.

“Tung Ling” means “eastern mountain”. It’s funny, but I never actually realised that was what it meant until after I graduated. It’s a reference to Bethel, where the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob met God. Fitting name, as I’m sure every one of my friends who went for TLBS have met God in some way.

You won’t just find full-time church staff, missionaries or parachurch workers in TLBS. A lot of my classmates who went to TLBS did so in a season of transition. Some were waiting for school to start, others were in between jobs or newly retired and looking to be re-tyred.

For me, the idea of going to TLBS actually came at a pretty inconvenient time. It was difficult to balance family, work, ministries and school as a newly married man. But I still chose to go because I saw it as a formative part of my Christian education in full-time ministry.

WHAT I EXPERIENCED 

Here’s a picture of what Bible School looked like for me: Classes were held from 8.30am to 1pm, with an optional component from 8.15 to 8.30am called the “early bird”, which was when the Dean would share a devotion.

8.30-9am was chapel time, where we worshipped and someone from the class would share. This wasn’t just sermons or quiet time reflections – there were some truly incredible stories of hope in this segment.

9.30-10am was breakfast – my favourite part of the day – where we would have conversations over a meal. This is the part where you meet people, many of whom come from all over the world. The first day was extremely awkward but honestly, it gets a lot better once you make the effort to get to know people.

10am-1pm would be classes, with breaks in between. And 1pm was lunch. The whole thing, repeated five days a week for three months, felt like a Christian conference on steroids at times. But I don’t regret it, because through TLBS I picked up what I call the 4 Is – incredible things – from my first time in Bible school.

1. Inspiring courses

Some of the things you can learn at a Bible school are really mind-opening and heart transforming. My favourite was Jewish Roots taught by Pastor Joel Baker. He brought Jewish culture alive as we sang Hebrew songs and celebrated the Passover together.

Experiences like that are something you can’t quite get in a church service or at a conference. They brought me new inspiration for my work and a new love for fellow children in the Kingdom.

One thing that was clear to me was how the lecturers weren’t there to puff up the students. One could sense they really wanted to help us love God and others more, and that was really precious. I think that’s what the best Bible schools should do, not merely fill their students up with head knowledge, but also charge hearts and hands to love God and fulfil the Great Commission.

2. Intimate moments

Each of us encountered God at special moments in worship and teaching, but one course, in particular, stands out.

We had this one module in the middle of the term called Silence and Solitude. This was where we went to a retreat situated in nature and learnt to meditate on Scripture.

Without the need to interact with people and all the time in the world to spend with God, I found a new level of intimacy there as I meditated on the Word. Even meal times were quiet and to be spent with Jesus.

Such a level of intentionality in living was something I had not encountered or tried before, and that time fulfilled a large part of what I wanted at Bible school, which was to encounter God in a fresh new way.

3. Incredible diversity

I ended up making so many friends! And though they’ve all returned to their home countries or embarked on their next seasons in life, we’re still in touch.

From South Korea to Kazakhstan, you meet all kinds of people at TLBS. And it reminded me that the Kingdom is huge, wonderful and surprising, and that everyone has an incredible story worth listening to and telling.

4. I got what I came for

Before I came to TLBS, I was a busy person.

I was so caught up with Christian activity that I had lost that first love and intimacy with God. I believed that since I was doing all these good, Christian things, it meant that I was on the right path. But as a busy worker bee zipping here and there, I forgot how to be still before God.

Bible school is a time that is carved out for God intentionally. The discipline to come to school early every day taught me how to restart my spiritual disciplines. The unhurried time to go back to the basics brought me a renewed drive to seek God in His Word, which was what I had wanted at the beginning. It also gave me clarity on my next steps for when I graduated from the school. 

So that was my experience. I may have been sceptical at parts and tired at others… but I was refreshed by the end.

Given that I was with students, working professionals, retirees, stay-at-home mums, church leaders and missionaries in the same classroom – I think it’s fair to say that there’s something for everyone in a place that simply teaches the Word of God and hosts His presence daily.

So whether it’s BSF, Bible school, that midweek programme in your church or your own personal study of the Word – would you consider carving out that time to give to God intentionally?

We just can’t say we have no time for God. And we can’t say we’re not “smart” enough – we’re called to love the Lord with all our minds as well. Knowing and loving God more is for everyone, and the efforts made to do so will always be worth it in the end.

Gabriel Ong (SOM 2019 T2) / Thir.st
Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church

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