It all started when I walked my oldest son to the bus stop for his first day of kindergarten. Gathered at the stop were five other concerned moms, equally nervous about their children’s first day of school. As we got acquainted, I began praying for a chance to share Christ with these neighbors from varied backgrounds. After a group lunch one afternoon, one of the moms remarked that we should get together more often. Before I knew what happened, I blurted out, “Would anyone be interested in coming to a Bible study at my house?” Stunned at what I had just said and certain that everyone would look at me like I was a fanatic, I was totally shocked when they all said they would love to come.
That began a seven-year Bible study with mostly unsaved women. Those women invited their friends, shared their lives, and enjoyed interacting with other young moms in our neighborhood while studying and learning about the Bible. Our study eventually expanded beyond my house to our church so we could use the nursery. That was over 20 years ago, and most of those years I have been involved in evangelistic or First Steps Bible studies. The thrill of introducing people to the Word of God and the God of the Word is definitely addicting.
Perhaps you are thinking, “I could never lead an evangelistic Bible study,” and you might be right, but God could do it through you. His two prerequisites are simple. First, know Christ as your Savior. Second, allow Him to use you.
We often think God needs a superstar teacher to reach unsaved people, but God says He just needs people to reach people. Paul stated in Colossians 1:28 and 29, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (NIV). Imagine the joy of presenting people perfect in Christ. The necessary wisdom and energy for this supernatural task come only from God, not from the skills of people. God can work powerfully through anyone who is available.
God proved this point over and over in Scripture. Jeremiah thought he needed public-speaking skills to serve God, but God reminded him that He would put the words in his mouth (Jeremiah 1:9). Moses knew he was not an orator, but God reminded him in Exodus 4:12, “Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” In the New Testament, Paul reminded believers that we have received the Spirit “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Corinthians 2:12, 13). While the Spirit teaches us, Christ desires to use us. We are His ambassadors to the dying world. Our voices become His voice, pleading with people to be saved, because He is not willing that any should perish. Through Bible studies we can introduce friends and neighbors to Jesus in a natural setting. What an awesome privilege to be part of God’s work, but what a big responsibility to shoulder.
Another amazing thing I discovered after leading evangelistic Bible studies is how much fun they are. Unchurched people are real about their lives. Instead of glossing over their sins or problems, they readily share them. At first I was shocked to hear people talking about wanting to leave their husbands or hating their neighbors. I realized that these thoughts were not unique to those women but that they had not learned the art of covering their sinful thoughts with a pasted-on smile. The transparency was refreshing and gave me a glimpse into life as it really is. It also helped me understand how much my friends and neighbors need Jesus. How easy it was for me to take for granted the joys of knowing Christ until I saw firsthand so many people who were struggling to make sense of this world and had no hope for the next. Then when the Holy Spirit helped one of them believe and put her faith in Christ, the joy of knowing we would spend eternity together was overwhelming. Belief did not come immediately for most students, however, since many came without any prior Bible knowledge.
Growing up in a Christian home, I had taken basic Bible knowledge for granted. Women in my classes have asked questions like, “What is the difference in an Old and New Testament?” or “What page is John 1 on in the Bible?” or “Could someone show me where Genesis is?” I have to admit that until I led these classes, I did not even notice that the Bible had page numbers. Now I often offer to buy everyone the same Bible so I can give page numbers if necessary. Many groups offer Bibles inexpensively if they are for evangelistic purposes.
Gerry had gone through parochial schools and college, yet she told me she had never learned as much about the Bible as she had in our basic Bible study. She asked if she could bring her friends to our meetings, which she did. Although I have made it a practice not to mention any religious denominations, but simply to discuss what the Bible says, some people catch on that Baptists know the Bible. One woman said, “I need to sit by a Baptist next time because they seem to be able to find verses in the Bible.”
I have come to realize that even in the United States few people have the privilege of growing up with the Word of God central in their lives. Because of this, people are trying to piece together knowledge of God from media sources, televangelists, and even churches that do not open the Bible. Several women have told me they had never heard the gospel before. Obviously they are not listening to Christian radio in their cars, so they need someone to share the good news with them personally. I remember after a study of John 1, Tracey came up and said, “I can’t believe that Jesus really is God. I never knew that before.” A few months later on the elevator on our way to Bible study, Tracey told me she had accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation. I cried with joy. She is living proof of Romans 10:17—”So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” She was later baptized and joined our church. Many other women came to know Christ as well, even though they started out with almost no knowledge of the Bible.
Because of this lack of fundamental knowledge, if you are planning to start a study, I would encourage you to use Bible study materials that have five basic criteria.
Find a study in which the gospel is presented each week. It is frustrating to have people miss the one lesson that is on salvation.
Studying a single text is best since you can study it verse by verse. People can put a marker in one page and not have to find other passages. Cross-references can be read or printed out on a separate piece of paper so they can have them accessible without the embarrassment of searching for them.
An inductive study helps people who are unfamiliar with Scripture. While jumping around in Scripture may be fine for those familiar with the whole Bible, it can be confusing to those who are new to Bible study. Also, it leaves them open to cults who take verses out of context and misuse texts. Inductive study helps people see that the context of a verse is very important to its meaning.
Questions need to be answered from the text and not spiritualized. People need to know that they can read the Bible like any other piece of literature to grasp meanings. Sometimes studies ask for deeper meanings from the text (e.g., How does the well in John 4 symbolize going deeper with Christ?). This type of question is not only subjective, but the answers are often not intended by the original Biblical writer and can confuse someone new to Bible study.
Religious jargon should not be used. Words that Christians have used for years mean nothing to people off the street. Even simple words like “Christianity,” “belief,” and “salvation” should be carefully defined because they are often misused by groups who do not believe the Bible. Using phrases like “washed in the blood,” “abiding in Christ,” or “the Rapture” without explanation can cause misunderstanding and confusion. Each word should be either a standard English word or a word that the leader explains. If the word is a Biblical term such as “propitiation,” the explanation should be given in clear, simple English but can be supported by other Biblical examples.
It has been interesting to me that people are more open to Bible studies than I would have thought. From my first study, I have been amazed that people are interested in Bible study even when they do not know Christ personally. The first step to begin a study is always prayer, because it is God Who draws people to Himself. Praying for groups of people you know is important because God can soften their hearts. Walking through your neighborhood praying for neighbors you do not even know will often lead to opportunities to meet and minister to people.
Praying for God to lead you to a group that desires to know more about Christ is another important step. Let me share with you how I became involved in a corporate Bible study. One evening my friend Cindy called me and invited me to teach a Bible study at her office, the headquarters of a large insurance company. She had been praying for her coworkers and decided she would send an invitation to a Bible study through the inter-office memo system, which she cleared with the administration first. The first week we had about 30 attendees squashed into a small room. We held a Bible study in that office until I left the area two years ago. Cindy’s initial invitation for me to teach this study came after I had been praying about more opportunities to share the gospel. God allowed me the joy of meeting and teaching a delightful group of professional women whom I did not know, but whom God had prepared.
Offering a six-week Bible study to a group of people you already have a connection with can be a great starting point. At other times it is helpful to organize a Bible study after an event at church. I often told people it was a Bible study for those who never studied the Bible before and wanted to know what it is about. People come for various reasons—from social connections to basic curiosity to seeking God. Some will come because someone has taken the time to show interest in inviting them. No matter why they come, God will meet them there. His Word is powerful and can pierce a heart quicker than the greatest speechwriter or orator.
Use 2 Corinthians 3:4 and 5 as your study’s theme verses: “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (NIV). I hope you will consider this way of sharing the good news. If you do, you can plan on a big block party in Heaven someday with great rejoicing over your friends who will join you there.
Crisis pregnancy centers: Sometimes centers will offer extra benefits to clients who complete a Bible study.
Elderly care centers: Many older people are willing to study the Bible to get to know others in their building.
Jails: Prisoners see how their lifestyle has failed and are often interested in hearing God’s perspective on life.
Local businesses: Bible studies held during lunch hour ease the time crunch of working moms.
Neighborhoods: Many neighbors lack connection due to busy schedules. Many people welcome a chance to study the Bible in your home.
Church: Many parents drop off children for Wednesday night events and are willing to use that time to study the Word.
Food pantries: If your town has a food pantry, ask if you can insert a card offering a beginner Bible study to those interested.
University campuses: Take a survey of young people about their religious views. If they are interested, set up a time for Bible study.
School districts: Schools allow Bible studies before or after school or as release time during the school day.
Parenting classes: Offer to teach parenting classes at a local school, using a Bible-based curriculum.
Jeannie Vogel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a women’s ministry consultant and the wife of Jim Vogel, associate national representative of the GARBC.