Part 1 of this series began by relating the background of how most members are brought into fellowship with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is through Bible studies. It also gave the definition of a Bible study: the systematic search for the meaning of a given theological issue. The article then went on to explain the four purposes of the Adventist Bible study philosophy and the wonderful fulfillment one experiences when students choose to accept Christ as their personal Savior and are baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll review the 15 pre-study steps to be taken by the instructor before arriving at the study location and what to do before opening the Bible for the first time with the students in their homes.
The following methodology is based on established procedures used successfully for decades in societies of general Christian background (the United States, Latin America, the Philippines, Australia, Canada, and parts of Europe) and in some non-Christian countries (India, Africa, China, other parts of Asia, and even Russia). The general methodology has already been shown to be successful by thousands of pastors, local church leaders, and laymembers. After a few studies using the following procedures, you—the elder, deacon, deaconess, or lay worker—will become an expert in soul-winning. As your skills deepen and your successes grow, the desire to make every effort to bring Christ to each new contact (and to look for new contacts) will become a burning passion, and, through you, God will continually increase His kingdom. The subsequent points are directly related to Bible study procedures; a careful study and occasional review of them will increase your skill in sharing Bible studies with your students.
BIBLE STUDY METHODOLOGY: SETTING THE STAGE
1. Before giving the study in your home or office, review the particular study that you are going to give that day. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to be present and for God to lead you in your delivery and enlighten the minds of the person or group with whom you will be studying. It is true that God can speak through a donkey if necessary (as in the case of Balaam) and that God’s grace will cover all the mistakes you are surely going to make. However, God will not give His blessing on a bad preparation.
2. It is important that you have a complete theological understanding of each study you will be giving. Your understanding should be in harmony with the Church’s official position; otherwise, if your students learn later that your position is at variance with the Church’s or pastor’s position, they will be confused, which may lead to a falling away of their personal commitment or previous spiritual and doctrinal development. If you feel you don’t have enough understanding, contact your pastor or refer to the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe.
3. The studies should be progressive, that is, from the easiest to the more difficult ones. And certain studies should be given before others, so that successive lessons may be more easily understood, such as the Law of God before the Sabbath.
4. During your review, read the texts before and after the verses in the study you will be giving. Sometimes the context verses don’t seem relevant to the particular verse you will be using, and since sometimes the people you will be studying with will read these verses and ask questions about them, you need to be prepared to deal with them properly. It could be embarrassing (or worse, you could lose credibility) if you can’t give a good explanation.
5. Always look for the good news in every teaching. Find the link between it and Jesus, the loving Savior.
6. During the review, if you are timid, pretend to be actually studying with the students, as in a mock study. You can go through the study with them audibly, asking the questions out loud and making your comments the same way. Hearing your own voice will strengthen your self confidence. Remember that you are not alone: Jesus is with you.
7. While you are doing the personal review/mock study, try to anticipate possible rebuttals and objections that may be raised by your students so that you can prepare satisfactory answers. Make notes in your Bible or in the proper place where you can quickly access them.
8. Arrive at the study on time. Be prompt, even if the culture isn’t a precise one. Arriving late may be an excuse for any of the students you will be studying with to absent themselves from the study the next time.
9. After arriving, greet everyone cordially, but don’t spend a lot of time chatting. Dive straight into the study. Learn some key sentences to move from small talk to the essential reason why you have come.
10. If you know your students are not acquainted with the Scriptures, explain some basic things about the Bible. For example, you might explain that the Old Testament has 39 books and was written between 1600–400 BC, while the New Testament has 27 books that were written between 35– 100 AD. Show the student where the two are divided, how they are separated into chapters and verses, and where the index is. Explain that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Koine Greek, which was the vernacular of that time and not the same Greek that is used in Greece today.
Explain that the Old Testament is a history of God’s people (mainly the Jews). They were first called the Children of Israel, the name God later gave to Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel that later became the Hebrews. The Old Testament is categorized into five sections: Pentateuch (the five books written by Moses), Historical Books, Poetic Books, books of the Major Prophets, and books of the Minor Prophets. The New Testament was written by Jesus’ disciples and apostles.
Next, explain that the New Testament tells about Christ’s life on this earth, the early works of the apostles, the beginning of Christianity, and the theological writings of various apostles. The 27 books are divided into the Four Gospels, the Historical Book of Acts, the General Epistles, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Prophetic Book of Revelation. There are no original manuscripts (autographs, as they are called) existing today. There are only copies.
Explain to your students that, in ancient times, there were scribes who dedicated their lives to copying the Old and New Testament books, which they did very carefully in order to avoid errors. Religious documents were written by the scribes without commas, periods, semicolons, verses, sentences, or paragraphs. There were no separations between words, and people were used to reading that way. After copying a document, the scribe would find the middle letter and word and check those against the original. If they didn’t match, the scribe rechecked the manuscript until the error was found.
Then, in 1227, Archbishop Stephen Langton broke the text of all the books of the New Testament into chapters; later, in 1550, Robert Stephanus printed a final edition into the Greek language that was the first to have word separations, sentences, and verses in it, a feature Stephanus invented to help the reader more easily understand the meaning.
11. If the television or radio is on, ask as diplomatically as possible for it to be turned off. If the hosts have prepared a lot of food, eat it, but make it clear that you do not wish to eat every time you visit them. In some cultural settings, this remark might be a relief for the hosts.
12. Be sure not to offend people. Even if your host insists you should not take off your shoes, always take them off anyway, if that is part of the culture.
13. Invite the family or person to sit at the table or to be seated in a formal setting. This makes the study more serious. Sitting in the living room on the couch and in comfortable chairs changes the dynamics of the environment and often leads to a casualness which isn’t conducive to serious study. Be sure to have enough light so everyone can see and read well.
14. Either before or after the study, suggest that the meeting be done alternatively in the students’ homes and in your house. Asking people to visit you is a good way to avoid the perception of a giver-receiver relationship.
15. Have prayer if it won’t offend them, asking God to enlighten the study. Make the prayer short. Don’t ask anyone else to pray. Later on, you may do so when you are able to discern the students’ spiritual status and willingness to pray. Don’t sing a religious song (or a secular one) unless someone suggests it and you are absolutely sure it won’t offend anyone.
Lamar Phillips is a retired minister and church administrator who served for 39 years in six world divisions.