The first week (and possibly other weeks, especially if new people join) you should take a few minutes for everyone in the group to learn each other’s names and get to know one another better. Starting out with a question (humorous is good as long as it doesn’t make fun of the participants, international cultures, or religions) can help “break the ice” so people feel more comfortable. That initial conversation can help build trust so participants are also more willing to share their thoughts during the Bible study. Here are a few questions you can choose from (or use your own):
- What are the most surprising things you’ve discovered about this country and its culture since you’ve been here?
- What do you miss most about home?
- [Other ideas?]
Some will appreciate hearing you pray, but others may not. Prayer can invite God in and show your friends that your faith is real, but ask first if it is ok for you to pray for your time together. Keep it short and informal.
REMIND YOUR FRIENDS EACH TIME
- This is a GROUP; we need to work together to understand the text.
- This is a group INVESTIGATING GOD. No question is too simple, too unfriendly, or too difficult, but try to ask questions related to the Bible text we are studying.
All Bible study questions are numbered, so participants can quickly find where you are. If someone doesn’t seem to understand when you ask a question, you can say “We’re looking at question __ on page __.”
LISTEN TO YOUR FRIENDS’ POINTS OF VIEW
Let your friends ask questions and say what they think, even if they do not know anything about God or the Bible. If you listen to them, they will want to hear your opinions. You do not need to give them all the right answers, for God will speak to them through his Word.
See Responding to Questions and Comments, below.
Cultural Tips for Communication
We all want to communicate clearly. This is especially true if we are speaking with people whose home language and culture are different from our own. We may feel that we are missing the right words or that our pronunciation is getting in the way. We repeat ourselves and check for understanding. However, even when we are comfortable with our language, we can still have communication problems. Listen to what these people are thinking:
ANN: How boring! She just sits there and doesn’t say anything.
MARY: How rude! She talks and talks and never lets me say a word.
JOE: He’s not listening. He won’t even look at me.
JOHN: The way he looks at me makes me uncomfortable.
What can we do with problems like these? The best answer is to go out of our way to show interest and respect as we speak. However, we have different WAYS of showing interest and respect. Our style or pattern of communication can differ from culture to culture, family to family, and yes, even between men and women. These differences often cause us to send – and receive – wrong messages. But if we see the problem, we can make small changes to adjust to the other person’s style.
ADJUST YOUR STYLE
VOLUME Try speaking a little louder or softer.
BODY LANGUAGE Try looking at the person when they are speaking to you, or stop looking so directly at them if they seem uncomfortable.
S P A C E Try standing or sitting a little closer or further away.
PACE has to do with timing. Here we mean the time we wait between one speaker and the next. Some people speak as soon as someone else finishes and others wait several seconds. The first group thinks “jumping in” shows you are interested, and the second group thinks the others are rude. If you are in the first group, try W..A..I..T..I..N..G for others to speak. (Count to ten.) If you are talking with those who jump in, learn how to jump in politely. Watch what happens when you do!
Umm... Let me see... Just a sec… Excuse me. I have something to add here... Umm, I have a question about that... Could I interrupt for a second? Could I go back to something you said?
SHARING AND DISAGREEING…
In my opinion… It seems to me... My feeling is... What if…?
Actually... Well, actually...
Another way of looking at this is... I am not sure I completely agree.
Avoid directly telling someone that they are wrong. In many cultures someone “loses face” when that happens in a group, and they may stop sharing or even coming to I-GIGs altogether.
Do you (Did you) mean…? …Can you give me an example of that? … I’m not clear on that, could you explain it to me? … Let me see. You said… Could you say more about…?
Do you have the same opinion? … Do you agree? … What’s your point of view? You haven’t had a chance to talk. What do you think? That’s a great idea... I like that idea because…
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6 (NIV)
Responding to Questions and Comments
Our culture and personal history influence what we believe. However, we each choose our beliefs for ourselves. For this reason, we need to listen to each other without pre-judging what another believes. Ask lots of questions and pray for understanding. Sometimes it is more important to listen to your friends than to answer their questions.
1. RESPOND TO QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS BY SHOWING INTEREST.
That’s a good question. That’s an interesting point. (“Interesting” is not good or bad.)
2. TAKE THE TIME TO FIND OUT WHAT THEY MEAN OR WHAT THEY ARE REALLY ASKING OR SAYING.
Is there a specific reason why you ask? (Note: Use a polite tone.) What leads you to think that?
3. LET THEM KNOW HOW AND WHEN WE WILL RESPOND TO QUESTIONS.
"Would you like to take a few minutes to talk about it right now?"
"We don’t have time to discuss that now, would you like to meet me to talk about that later?"
"I’m not sure how to answer that. I’ll check on that and we can talk about it next time."
"I don’t really know how to explain that. I’ll work on it and get back to you."
4. SOMETIMES IT IS BEST NOT TO RESPOND, BUT WE CAN STILL SHOW INTEREST.
"That’s interesting, I never thought of that before."
We have invited our friends to come and share their ideas. They may have thoughts about God that seem unusual to us, but if we say something is wrong (from a Christian perspective), they may not want to continue to share. Also, we may not want to take time in the group to talk about it. A short comment that shows interest is often enough, and then we can continue our discussion.
5. DURING THE BIBLE STUDY, HELP EVERYONE TO STAY CONNECTED TO THE TEXT.
"Let’s take a look at that. Where in the text do you see that?"
"Good point. How did you come to that?"
"Does this connect with the text in some way?" (You can use this whether their idea fits with a Christian understanding or not.)
"Let’s try to stay with the text for now, but we can discuss that later, if you like."
"I can see your point. I’m not sure I completely agree, but it’s possible."
If our friends have a comment about the Bible text, we can ask them to show us how they got their answer. That will help others to see it. If their idea does not come from the text, questions can help that person (and others) see what the text does say. Even a mistaken idea can be corrected gently by asking questions. Try to keep everyone in the Bible text, but be patient and let the Bible speak for itself.
When they ask, “How can you believe in God?” you might need more information before you answer. Are they asking….
- How can you believe in something outside of science and the natural world?
- How can you believe in God with all the suffering in the world? (Or another problem…)
- What reasons do you have for believing in God?
- How did you, personally, come to believe in God? What is your personal story?
- What does it feel like to believe in God?
Prayer for Participants
At the end of studies, you can offer to pray for participants’ needs (in Jesus' name). Let them know there is no guarantee that God will answer each request or that we will get the outcome we want, but God does hear every prayer. Be specific. It's difficult to know whether a prayer to "help me study" is answered or not, but one for "Yi to successfully defend his thesis on Thursday so he can graduate in August" will either happen or it won't. God often reveals himself to those who are earnestly seeking him, so pray and trust God to show himself to your friends. You can end prayers with something like this: “I pray for these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
You can refer them to Section F in the Participant’s Guide for more about prayer.