I offered to teach my hairdresser how to study the Bible. Her counteroffer: every Thursday she’d close up shop and I’d teach her entire staff! “Now, we’re all from different backgrounds,” she said. “But you’re going to teach about us how to study the Bible for ourselves, not promote a specific denomination, right?”
Next Stop: Ady’s Salon Bible Group. It was a perfect set-up for the Holy Spirit – I would just let the Bible speak for itself. And God has worked! Even the stylists who came to snicker started hanging on every word, learning how to navigate around a Bible, asking and answering questions, taking it seriously. The ones who were already Christians finally had the tools to grow. Christians and non-Christians have started confessing their own sinfulness.
What we do has a fancy name: “inductive Bible study”. You can buy books and even an Inductive Study Bible, but you need only a Bible and writing materials. And the basic are simple: 1. OBSERVATION (what does it say?), 2. INTERPRETATION (what does it mean?); and 3. APPLICATION (what does it mean for my life?).
I was bitten by the Inductive Bible Study bug early on. In high school we took a college-level course, and I was amazed at how much could be learned through diligent use of even the most simple processes and resources. In Bible college, we used the great little book The Joy of Discovery. The material was more in-depth when I took Gary’s course at Biblical Seminary, but the message was the same: God’s Word is full of treasure for those willing to look for it.
Also: A Course at ESEPA. The ball first got rolling last year, when they asked me to teach inductive Bible study. My 20 students ranged from college grads to those who had only elementary school. How would I get them hungry to keep studying after the course? I obviously underestimated the Bible’s power to motivate people!
We started by reading a passage in different Spanish translations. Then they started making their own observations, noticing things they had never seen before. Each time they read the passage, they saw new gems. They were hooked! It was hard to stop the class each week. Before my eyes, they quickly developed a new confidence in God’s Word and a hunger to keep learning from it.
And then, a Bible Study Club. The ESEPA students didn’t want to stop meeting, so we started a weekly club.
Los Guido Bible Study. Every Wednesday, I meet with as many as 10 women in the home of a friend. Los Guido is a “precario”, a shanty-town that has developed into a community. I ride an hour on the bus to reach the house and we meet in the small main room. Every week we laugh and remind one another to go back to rule #1 over and over: “But what does the verse actually say?”
Christmas Bible Study. Several months later, a friend asked if I could teach inductive Bible study in the devotional at her neighborhood Christmas party. Women from all backgrounds, and I had only 45 minutes. Seriously? Well, God provided the opportunity, so there had to be a way. I chose a nice, familiar Christmas passage: Mt 1:18-2:23. I brought a copy of the passage for each person, and lots of brightly colored pens and pencils. I asked everybody to read it over and mark with a bright highlighter all the miracles that appeared. They were to call them out as they found them. Everybody did it, and everybody spoke up! We proceeded to mark other interesting observations as they found them. They were fully engaged, and by the end it only took a few sentences of application for God’s Word to speak directly into each of their lives.
And the Next Bible Study Group…? Why am I telling you all this? Because if I can do it, YOU can do it! I know that many of you have had some training in inductive Bible study, yet you don’t teach it to anyone else. But it’s not difficult! There are a few important principles to keep in mind, and the rest is training ourselves to pay attention, look at it carefully, write down what we learn.
If you have ever studied anything about inductive Bible study, go find your notes, or dig out Joy of Discovery, and refresh your memory. If it’s new to you, it’s not very hard to learn. Start using it, maybe with your family or your coworkers at lunch. I’ve found that folks who would not be receptive to a “Bible Study” have been very receptive to “How to study the Bible”: somehow it sounds less threatening. If you are more of a “helper” than a “leader” you too can do some basic preparation and study along with the others.
That’s my challenge to you – you can’t change lives, but the Word of God can.