Bible Study Bookmarks for Different Genres of Scripture

In many Bible study groups, the following thing happens: you come together and read a Bible text. After a short moment of silence, somebody brings up his or her favorite topic that is vaguely connected to the text. This might be predestination, baptism or world politics. All these topics are important, but the purpose of the meeting gets lost – that is, to share around a Bible passage and let God speak to you.

At the IFES World Assembly 2015 in Mexico, I got to know the Intervarsity USA Bible study bookmark that guides through an inductive Bible study. Back in Germany, I translated it into our context. It was great: the students concentrated more and dug deeper into the text with the guidance of the bookmark.

As long as we read the Gospels, it worked quite well. Yet as we studied other types of biblical texts like prophetic, poetic or apocalyptic literature, it became more difficult to work with the bookmark. It was, for example, problematic to read Old Testament law as we read the Gospels – we couldn’t simply apply the law directly to our life. Some students asked: “Why should I follow Jesus and not the whole Old Testament law? Both are in the Bible and come from God…? And what about the psalms that talk about vengeance? Doesn’t Christ call us to love our enemy?”

We realized that we need different kinds of questions for different literary genres in Scripture. When reading narratives, we observe what the different characters say and do, how events evolve and how God is at work in the midst of this. When reading prophetic texts, observation is more about asking what social, ethical or religious wrongs are being addressed. Poetic texts often use imagery to convey their message and so we need to give them appropriate attention. Similarly, the questions we ask in interpretation will differ from one kind of biblical text to another.

After a while, we developed Bible study bookmarks for seven different genres: narratives, epistles, prophetic passages, poetic texts, Old Testament law, wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature. For each genre, the questions suggested for the Bible study correspond to the theological and literary characteristics of this type of text. You can find them here.

With regard to these bookmarks, Markus Heide – head of SMD student ministries – says: “I experience their value when they help student groups to unearth the treasure of Scripture instead of only hearing what they already know. I experience their value when they help a Christian to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend and together they make discoveries, instead of the Christian explaining everything to the non-Christian.”

Fabian Mederacke, former regional staff of SMD Germany
fmederacke@gmx.de

One Bible Study Multiplied into Many

As a student, I had the opportunity to join a Bible Study group, in addition to our weekly FES fellowship meetings. We met once a week during the semester. We named the group “Bible Surgeons” because we wanted to dissect the Word, discover it and process these discoveries in our lives. We did not just want to hear the outcome of someone else’s study, but engage with Scripture ourselves. These studies taught me to look at biblical passages through the eyes of different people, perspectives and entry points. This has been a great gift for me in my discovery of God and his Word.

Our FES staff worker, Annette Arulrajah, facilitated the Bible Surgeons’ group. Through this experience, I learned to lead Bible studies. As a student, I mainly observed how Annette facilitated. This wasn’t difficult because she would explain the reason behind why she did certain things, even if she had to repeat it weekly! In this way, we studied biblical books and at the same time learned to facilitate studies. I learned from Annette that you can facilitate Bible studies with 1 person or with 100 people. I discovered that engaging with the Word can be interesting, interactive and alive. I think the most valuable thing I learned is how to lead a Bible study in such a way that students learn how to study the Word for themselves and are enabled to facilitate a Bible study for others.

What inspires me to continue facilitating Bible studies with others is the desire to see students discover for themselves who God is through His Word. Since the Word is alive and still speaks to us, it can pierce our heart and draw us back to God – if we allow it to. I have often seen students so moved by the Word that the door for deep conversations was opened and new steps of faith were taken. For me, it is always important to remember that when I mentor a student, I do not do so with my words, but with God’s Word.

For eleven years I have been facilitating Bible studies and training others to do so. I thank the Lord that because of this, many students in turn have started to facilitate Bible studies!

Beatrice Leong, beascuits@gmail.com
staff worker FES Malaysia until 2018

Empowering students to study the Word

Listen to the testimony of one of the student participants in the FCSI Israel Bible Study Conference:
“Last year, I faced the most difficult circumstance in my life – the loss of my mother after a long battle with cancer. She was my best friend, my role model, my source of support and the greatest blessing God has ever given to me. I could not imagine my life without her. When I went to the conference, she had stopped responding to treatments and her condition was deteriorating very fast. At this Bible study conference, we studied the story of Jesus calming the storm; through it, Jesus met my paralyzing fears, sorrow, and brokenness and calmed the raging storms within me. His strong presence and overwhelming peace embraced me, carried me above this crushing situation and helped me overcome what seemed to me insurmountable.”
Our vision for the Mark Manuscript Bible Study Conference started in 2014; we wanted to see students who are both passionate about the Word and who know how to study and engage the Scriptures. We wanted students to meet Jesus through his Word and be transformed from within. Yet, the reality showed that our students were lacking the tools to study the Bible as individuals and with one another. So our desire was to offer them a study method which can help them feel comfortable studying the Bible with their friends and within their student groups. We believed that through this our students would also have the courage to start inviting their non-Christian friends to study the bible with them, offering them the chance to meet Jesus in his Word.

As we look back at these beginnings, we are filled with gratitude and joy to see God’s vision for the Christian students in Israel unfold. When we first invited students to meet Jesus through the book of Mark at this conference, less than 20 students committed to joining us. This year we had the third consecutive annual conference – for the first time, we had 110 participants altogether! Students have been sharing how this conference has shaped their faith and given them new eyes to see Scripture. More and more students are reading the Bible, leading to noticeable change in their personal lives.

Our prayer is to see the love of the Scripture and the passion we are witnessing among our students influencing the body of Christ in Israel.

Rasha Saba, rasha@fcsi.ws
Arab students’ ministry and training coordinator FCSI Israel

The Joy of Studying the Bible with Seekers

I believe that seeker Bible studies are the single most effective way to show Jesus to a friend. God is not a message or a theory, but a person. And this person is made known to us by the gospel stories.

The Italian context in which I live is characterized by suspicion and skepticism. It surprises me that in this context more seekers than I would have expected are curious to study Bible passages in a safe place with other fellow seekers. And when they come, oh, it is fascinating to see their reactions: “My first impression was shocking: I discovered in the Bible a marvelous figure, so human when angry and indignant in the face of unbelief and hypocrisy, and so divine in speaking with an authority never seen before… and even able to forgive his persecutors!’” says Gianluca, a medicine student.

Over and over again, I’ve witnessed how in studies like these, people get so much into the story that Jesus himself seems to jump out of the pages. They see Jesus, they see God. They are so shocked by his actions and struck by his words that they become hungry for more. As the weeks go by, and as they discover different aspects of this fascinating Nazarene, some cannot respond otherwise than with a decision to follow him.

When the first person in the group decides to do so, it’s amazing. The others see the life of someone who was sitting next to them in the previous weeks (‘one of their own’) transformed – just like the people they have been reading about in the gospels. The new believer becomes the most powerful witness within the Bible study group.

“It is real. It is not a fairy tale. Something happened to me that I still cannot fully understand, but I know that it is real” says Viviana, a business student. This is so intriguing that sometimes others in the group will want to experience the same thing. I had the joy of seeing almost entire groups of seekers become followers of Christ.

This is the power of God working through people who have met him in his Word. The Word did become flesh, and he is living among us today. He is waiting for our faithfulness and boldness in inviting our friends to find the living God through the gospel stories.

Sarah Breuel, GBU staff in Italy
sarahbreuel (at) gbu.it

Surprised by Jesus

I used to believe that the Bible is an old book that nobody reads. But then in October 2012, I met José, a Christian graduate who became a good friend. One day we started talking about the Bible. For me, this was a very sensitive topic. I thought that you had to avoid talking about politics and religion if you want to have a good relationship with others.

Then José invited me to a COMPA Bible study. I came away with more questions and doubts than before. José had given me a Bible, but I did not know how to read it. So, I asked him to teach me. He agreed and in the following week, we had our first official Bible study.

The approach which COMPA Mexico used to study the Bible was similar to the study technique which I used in science. This attracted me. I was surprised to realize that it is possible to take a rational approach to the Bible.

I was even more surprised by the person of Jesus. I discovered a new face of Jesus; I met a different Jesus. Previously, I thought that Jesus was one of many smart people in the history of our world – the smartest in his time. But I did not know that he has a big heart full of love. I used to think that Jesus was just a human being, but discovered that he is God.

BiblestudyMexicoReading John 1 was particularly significant for me. When I first read this passage, I was very confused: How can Jesus be God? How can he be both a person like me and fully God? These questions made me want to investigate more.

As I got to know Jesus better through other biblical stories, I started to understand. My vision of the world changed and I started to believe in a personal God. I became aware of my sin and the darkness in me. And what is most important: I met the love of God through the grace and hope which he gives us in Jesus.

I’m a scientific person. I want to be sure of something before I believe in it. If somebody had shown me a miracle, I don’t think that I would have believed. But I love to read; I love words. Jesus came into my life through his Word. I discovered that all the evidence necessary to believe in Jesus is there in the Bible, the Word of God. Early 2014, I started a Bible study group in my own school (see picture).

Sara Medina, student of chemistry and physics in Mexico
(sara.medinagom (at) gmail.com)

Uncover – Introducing your Friends to Jesus

They say that the best ideas are often the simplest ones. Uncover is a simple idea – an attractively designed Bible study resource with a series of six evangelistic studies in Luke’s gospel. This booklet can be used in small groups or more informally in one-to-one meetings.

Along with it, a special “Uncover” edition of Luke’s gospel was published. It encourages seekers to go beyond reading just the passages which are included in the Bible study booklet to discovering the whole story of Jesus. This gospel edition includes links to short online videos which speak to some of the questions which seekers might have as they read the gospel.

After an initial training phase, the IFES movement in Great Britain (UCCF) challenged all of their core student members to read Luke’s gospel with at least five of their non-Christian friends.

Sam Hardy dared to take up this challenge: ‘I shyly asked my flatmate to do the Uncover study with me and he thoroughly enjoyed it. He has since become a Christian.’

Ed was invited to an Uncover Bible study by his Christian friend Jonno. He shares: ‘I found it interesting to look at the gospel in depth with someone who knew more about it. The more I read, the more I wondered if it were true. Jesus was always able to answer people’s questions and loved them. He was an incredible character.’ As Ed continued to investigate, he was drawn to Jesus and became a Christian.

Many similar stories could be told. All of this is taking place in a post-Christian context which means that many students have little or no understanding of who Jesus is and what Christians believe. A negative attitude towards faith is common. Uncover invites these students to examine the evidence about the life and purpose of Jesus using Luke’s gospel – to uncover for themselves who he is. Instead of expecting the students to come to Christian meetings, the gospel is taken to them: in the coffee shop, in their flat or wherever.

The response to Uncover has been amazing. Students have grasped the vision like we have never seen with any past gospel project. They have found new confidence to invite their friends to meet Jesus in the gospel. Since we started this project in 2011, thousands of non-believers have been reading Luke with their Christian friends; hundreds have come to faith. God’s Word is still powerful to draw students to Jesus today – in any and every context!

It has been encouraging to see that a number of other IFES movements in Europe have been inspired by Uncover. Some have translated the material for use in their own context.

For more information on Uncover, see: http://www.uccf.org.uk/uncover/.

Pod Bhogal (PBhogal (at) uccf.org.uk)
Head of Communications, UCCF

Speaking Scripture

He, who has an ear, let him hear! Reading Bible passages out loud is one way of actually hearing what we are reading. ‘Speaking Scripture’ takes this into an account. It is an excellent way of entering into a passage, for example in small group Bible studies. Instead of the Bible passage being read aloud once, it is spoken repeatedly. Students learn to listen carefully. As they listen and imagine the context of the first hearers, they begin to speak the words in a way which is so much more alive and meaningful.

When using this approach in a small group Bible study, the facilitator gets different students to ‘speak Scripture.’ As one student speaks a portion of scripture, invite those listening to respond: ‘How was the speaking? Can you feel anything? Did it make you think further?’ Then ask other students to try speaking it. Some background information can help the students imagine the situation. The facilitator can ask the students to identify with what is happening by putting themselves in the shoes of the people involved: this includes all the characters of a narrative, but also, for example the psalmist, the prophet, or the writer of a letter. The facilitator can ask questions along the way, like: How do you think Jesus says this to the invalid? In what tone does the invalid respond? (John 5). How would Paul have said what he writes in the letter to Philemon? How does the psalmist utter his thanksgiving to God?

‘Speaking Scripture’ has proved to really help students enter into the passage. In the initial stage, students may find it a bit awkward, and they may laugh as they speak. But when they put themselves into the passage, the Word comes alive to them, touches their own lives, and changes their approach to understanding God’s Word. To be a little bit more creative, acting can also be added in as the students speak scripture. However, the facilitator needs to see whether this will distract or help, as it can sometimes be a hindrance.

You can begin by trying out passages from the gospel narratives. You can then try out epistles, psalms, prophecy. In fact, all genres found in the Bible can be approached in this way. ‘Speaking Scripture’ has changed me and the way I facilitate Bible studies with students. May you also discover the great value of this approach! Come and be participants by speaking Scripture, speaking and entering into the Word that transforms lives.

Lee Wan Ling, staff worker FES Malaysia
wanling (at) fes.org.my

An Albanian Experience

I really wanted to help students read the bible, not only on a daily basis, but also in such a way that they read it book by book. Together with the students, I discussed about how we could do this. It was hard to find a way. Many things did not work:

  • We thought that each one of us would read the bible on their own and then once a month we would discuss what we had read. That did not work because a lot of us did not find the time to read.
  • We tried to meet together to read a bible passage and discuss it. That did not work because we were reading isolated passages and it was difficult to see a connection between them.
  • We had problems finding a time for the group to meet together.
  • We found it hard to decide how we would do the reading with so many reading plans around.

In the end, we decided to read through the whole bible in three months. We helped each other by meeting twice a week to read and discuss together. We discovered that it was best to meet at 6:00 in the morning. Since we did not have a place to meet, we met in a bar café. This was really good because it gave us the opportunity to speak about what we were doing with the waiter, bar manager, and other staff members.

It was a difficult experience because towards the end we struggled with our readings. If we missed a day, we had to read double as much the next day. Now, the three months are over: one of us finished on time and three of us finished two weeks later.

We are really happy with what we did. So, we decided to read through the bible another two times this year – once in six months and once in three months.

We have started to pray for October 2012 because our desire is that each of us can get involved with three other people to read the bible next year.

Was it a worthwhile experience? It was one of the best experiences in my Christian life: the joy of reading together, studying together, discussing together and starting the day with God is an experience that I would never trade for anything else. It is not over. I’m looking forward to doing it with another group and seeing how the students will do with their new groups.

The question is: Reading the bible? How can we help students to do it? My experience and answer to this is: READ IT WITH THEM.

Juljan Muhameti, staff worker BSKSH (IFES Albania)
juljan.muhameti (at) gmail.com

 

 

 

Bible Study Nights in Burkina Faso

Five years ago, the first Bible study night took place within our fellowship. The idea is to have students gather and spend a long time studying the Bible. Since days tend to be very busy and weekly fellowship meetings usually last one to two hours, we thought about nights. Nights of prayer were common, and so we decided that in a similar way we could use nights for studying the Bible. It is encouraging to see how this activity has since been spreading from one city to another.

What does a Bible study night look like? Usually 60 to 90 minutes are dedicated for each Bible study. The activities are largely run in small groups using different and creative methods of Bible study. On April 30, 2012, around 200 students met from secondary and tertiary schools in Koudougou. The main theme of the night was “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:8). It was amazing to see so many students spending the whole night around the Bible seeking to improve their relationship with God.

This was their programme:

19:30Welcome, prayer and worship
20:20-21:50Bible study on James 1:16-25
22:00-23:30Bible exposition
00:15-1:45Bible study on Acts 17:1-12
1:55-3:25Bible study on 2. Timothy 3:10-17
3:50-4:20Bible study on Joshua 3:1-17
5:00Closing Prayer

The Bible studies were done using different approaches e.g. “head, heart, hands” or “journalist of a Jerusalem newspaper”. Times of worship and breaks were interspersed between the Bible studies.

Youl Juliette attended the event in Koudougou: “I learnt a lot from this night. I used to often read the Bible in a superficial way, but the different methods used during this night allowed me to ask questions of the text and understand it better.”

Nignan Emmanuel from secondary school came for the second time. Of his first experience, he says: “I learnt to read, meditate, and examine the Scriptures. Before that experience, I was not taking things so seriously. I also learnt that there are various methods of studying the Bible and some of them are even easy to use.”

Repeatedly, we hear students say that these Bible study nights have fostered their love and passion for Bible study. Thank God!

Dieudonné Tindano
Member of the national Bible Study Department, Burkina Faso
tindieud (at) yahoo.fr