How to Teach the Bible to the Unsaved
Leading Seeker Bible Studies, Step-By-Step
“We are seeing a great appetite to read and understand the Bible.” --Roy Peterson, President of the American Bible Society
Secularization (“religion isn’t important”) and religious pluralization (“all religions are equally true and valid”) are specters that intimidate Christians and church leaders in North America:
“People aren’t interested in the Bible or Jesus anymore!” “How can we share the gospel, since Americans don’t believe in the Bible now?!” “So many people have their own religious beliefs now and don’t want to hear about Christianity.”
But, a 2018 survey sponsored by the American Bible Society disputes those excuses:
Many Americans, 66 percent, are expressing some curiosity to know more about the Bible including 29 percent who express a strong desire. And 63 percent say they are interested in knowing about who Jesus is, while 31 percent are strongly interested.
The spiritual bankruptcy of post-“Christian” America seems to be creating opportunities to teach the Bible to unbelievers. But teaching the Bible to people who may be interested, but perhaps skeptical of its content and claims, is not like teaching Sunday school to your church’s senior saints.
Twelve Tips for Leading an Investigative Bible Study, Seeker Bible Study, or Evangelistic Bible Study
Whatever you choose to call it, there’s hardly anything more exciting to me than introducing a non-Christian to the Bible’s BIG story of redemption. Here are some tips I have learned over the years:
- Use the same Bible for everyone in the study, including yourself—same translation and same edition of the Bible with the same page numbers. When it’s time to locate a Bible passage, give participants the page number, as well as the reference. Remember how awkward and potentially embarrassing it is for them to try to navigate their way around in a book they may have never opened before. And be sure to use a translation that an unchurched person can understand. I can vividly recall leading an evangelistic Bible study using the King James Version with a group of unchurched young adult professionals. I spent nearly half the time defining KJV words and unravelling archaic phrases.
- Choose very carefully the place where you will meet—it can contribute to success or lead to failure. You want it to be:
- Quiet and free from distractions.
- Private. Non-Christians will probably not want to be “seen” studying the Bible.
- Informal and comfortable, maybe even sort of “cozy.”
- Determine whether or not the study participants are willing to prepare ahead of time for studies. If you are leading a group, you probably can not assume that all of the study members will prepare ahead of time. But, sometimes in one on one studies, the participant will be eager and willing to read and study prior to the actual Bible study time. If so, you will be “miles ahead” toward your goal of a successful study.
- In our world of Biblical illiteracy, the best content for investigative Bible studies is to study the Big Story of the Bible, the grand narrative of the Bible, chronologically from Genesis through Revelation. Unless a person already has a fairly good understanding of the Old Testament, to lead him or her in a study of the Gospel of John (etc.) is like introducing him to a movie by starting three-fourths of the way into it.
- Don’t assume any previous Biblical knowledge, regardless of the students’ backgrounds. Even the most basic facts and teachings of the Bible—who is God? What is the Old Testament? Why is Jesus called “God’s Son”?—may be new to your unbeliever friends.
- If a student (or group) approaches the study with skeptical predispositions, ask him or her to temporarily set aside disbeliefs or biases and let the Bible speak for itself. Assure skeptical students that you will address their questions and concerns once they have had a chance to see the whole story, from beginning to end.
- Learn to discern the difference between a question that contributes to the study in a positive way and a “story stopper”—a question that will sidetrack or derail the study from your goal of helping students to understand God’s redemptive plan. Postpone “story stoppers” until you have covered the BIG story and are at the end of the study. You might give each person in the group a little pocket-pad to write down questions that you deem to potentially be “story stoppers”—such as, “Where did Cain get his wife?” or “What about evolution?” Tell them that at the end of the study there will be as many sessions as they want to deal with their questions.
- Don’t go too deep. Stick with and stay focused on the Big Story. Remember it’s the Big Story of the Bible they want to know and need to know. A seeker Bible study must not be focused on your interests or those of other Christians.
- Don’t be shocked or become defensive with any of their questions. Some skeptical students may try to shock you. I remember a lady in one of my seeker Bible studies who proclaimed at the outset—“I am not going to promise you that I will believe all of this!” My response was, “Oh, that’s OK. I wouldn’t expect you to make that kind of promise.”
- Be willing and prepared to say – “I don’t know, but I will find the answer.” Avoid trying to create an answer for a question you really don’t have a solid answer for. But, if you promise to find an answer, be sure to do your homework and keep your promise.
- Engage them in the study, keep it interactive, don’t preach. Encourage sincere questions that contribute to clarifying the Bible texts that you are studying. In some situations you might even allow sincere unbeliever-students to lead a study session. I’ve even taken a couple of sessions to build a model of the Old Testament tabernacle and used the appropriate Chronological Bible cards for fun review activities. The more a student enjoys the study (finds it fun), the more receptive he or she will be to the Bible and its message.
- If you allow Christians to be in the study, make sure ahead of time that they understand all of the above tips. One uninformed foolish Christian in an evangelistic Bible study can sabotage the whole study. I suggest that you limit the number of Christians in a group study and meet with them ahead of time to understand the “do’s” and “don’ts” of studying the Bible with unbelievers and especially the central purpose of the study.
The Story of Hope – A Chronological Bible Study Workbook For Evangelistic Bible Studies / Seeker Bible Studies / Investigative Bible Studies