I recently had the privilege of baptizing a new believer. I quickly came to realize this was not going to be the typical discipleship scenario (as if there is one). He is an elderly man who cannot see well and more importantly cannot read or write. This situation should not concern or discomfort us. We should, actually, rejoice at these opportunities to challenge our regular practices, throw the rule book out, and use discernment to know how to best care for these sheep whom God desires to know his Word and ways to the same extent as the doctors and lawyers in your congregation. Here have been five effective ways we have cared for those who struggle to read well or read at all:
1) Audio Bible
Never assume you can give someone a Bible, tell them to read your recommended passages for new Christians, and think your effort is done. As soon as I realized this elderly brother could not read, but had a CD player, I went and bought him audio CD’s of a good translation of the Bible. The following week when I came to visit him unannounced he was listening to them. He tells me he spends hours a day listening to God’s Word being read.
2) Audio Sermons
If he can listen to the Bible being read, he can listen to the Bible being preached. Any good faithful expository sermons are good. However, if this member misses church regularly because of physical ailments, be sure to provide him with audio sermons from your local congregation. That way, he will stay connected with the ministry of your church.
3) Read Scripture with them
One of the reasons Richard Baxter was so faithful to visit people in their homes was to check to make sure they understood what was being preached and read to them. Many of them were common people and could not read well. Visiting someone in their home and reading Scripture to them are always fruitful ways to serve and encourage your fellow church members. Imagine the fruitfulness of your efforts to do the same for those who cannot read at all. You will find those who cannot read receive the public and private reading of Scripture more eagerly than those who can.
4) Pre-sermon discussion
Try to call and visit those who have trouble reading the day before they will hear the Word preached. Read the passage with them, share a few insights from the passage you have gathered through your own preparation to hear the Word preached, then pray that the Lord will give them understanding when they gather with God’s people and hear the Word read and preached. Any mature Christian in your local church can do this, and I promise you, anyone you serve in this way will hear the Word with a greater attentiveness.
5) Use good children’s materials
I find myself regularly giving out good children’s resources not just to those who read at a basic level, but new Christians in general. Good gospel-centered children’s materials don’t change the message at all, they just simplify it. I just walked an unbeliever through the Two Ways to Live tract and sent the children’s version home with him. I regularly have new Christians in our church reading David Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible and those that do in a matter of months have a grasp on redemptive history that I would argue most Christians do not.
Remember, you don’t have to be remarkably creative or pragmatic to make these adjustments. Just think like a shepherd who will not rest until all his sheep are faithfully cared for and you will have all you need to make good decisions in all the “outside the box” circumstances of discipling new Christians.