It can be easy to explain the Gospel to someone with an understanding of the concept of one God and sin. However, many international students come from a background unfamiliar with these ideas and may require more explanation. Investigative Bible studies help provide the tools for internationals to understand what Christianity is about.
God speaks to people through investigative Bible studies. He wants to bring His word to everyone, and Bible studies do that. They allow people to find out who Jesus really is. As a leader, you need to believe God has been preparing the hearts of some people to be receptive to the Word and become Christians. You must trust that God will speak through the Word, and rely on the Spirit rather than your own competence.
- Pray for people to be brought to you; pray for seeking hearts
- Find a partner - many internationals arrive as Christians already, partner with them to be missional on your campus together
- Assess who to invite to your study; find out about the community you will seek out
- Engage in spiritual conversation from the beginning as you build relationship both during and outside of the study
- Develop relationship!
- Continue inviting people
- Print scripture out in their language
- Keep their background and perpective in mind when leading and asking questions; change the study method from something familiar to you if it is distracting to them
- Apply the scripture!
The group should be comprised mostly of international seekers, not Christians. A group of mostly Christians can cause seekers to feel under pressure or uncomfortable sharing their questions. You should only have 2-3 Christians per Bible study.
Leaders should be moderators, not preachers or encyclopedias. Don’t show off your Bible knowledge or talk down to the members of the group. Find out what the members want to learn about and what they already know. Make sure you address stereotypes or pre-conceived notions in the group, as they could cause rifts or problems if left alone.
Think about what scripture to use – you want to use ones that are appropriate for the people in the group and the questions they’re asking. As the main purpose of an investigative Bible study is to discover who God and Jesus are, you might want to start with a Gospel. You could also use a study guide or choose to structure your study around a theme, such as Who is God? or Why Did Jesus Come? or, depending on where the students are at, Where does the Holy Spirit come in?
Make sure you have Bibles for everyone in the group (of the same translation) or a handout of the text you will look at. It may be helpful to have scripture in the native language of the international students joining you.
When you invite people, let them know how long the study will go and how often it will be repeated (the full semester, four weeks, etc). Be sure to follow up on them about half an hour before the study starts. You may want to pick up group members and bring them to the study, as that would be polite in some cultures. Pray before starting! Pray on your own for guidance while you prepare, and open the study with prayer. (Explain to the members why you pray.)
During the Study
Be creative in how you lead! You could have members act out part of the scripture or examine the situation from the point of view of an unexpected person. Ask questions of your own to get them thinking, and have them write down questions for the group to think about. Be excited about studying the scripture and have it be read aloud. Talk about difficult words or unfamiliar phrases or concepts.
Let the students work out the meanings themselves – only turn to commentaries or other resources if it’s truly necessary. Guide the conversation or point out places where you think they might find more answers. Encourage the students to share what they think about the text, and make sure they know they’re in a safe place. Let them say they don’t understand, or think something is wrong! It will bring about more discussion than members afraid to talk at all. Sitting in a circle so you can see everyone can help with conversation flow.
International students are often more interested in the practical application of the Bible than in theological points. Have applications prepared, and be ready to answer tough questions.
Help the members to stay on point and gently bring them back if they stray too far from the scriptures. Try to avoid referencing other places in the Bible, as those who are unfamiliar with it could become confused or frustrated.
At the end of the meeting, summarize the most important points of the passage in one or two sentences. Remind the members of how the scripture applies to daily life or ask a thought-provoking question. If you had to cut a discussion short or feel like the group would be interested in talking more, say that the meeting is done but those who wish to stay around and talk can do so. This allows students to leave if they feel like they need to, but doesn’t stop honest discussions from taking place.
Application is an incredibly important part of the study. If there is no application, the knowledge and challenge from the scripture is less likely to stick and make an impact in their lives. Think ahead of time about what might be meaningful for the members from the passage, and identify a relevant and obtainable challenge for them. Application is not always inviting them to follow Jesus (though that is good to do if you feel they are ready for it), it is inviting them to continue taking steps on a journey. The attached file is a tool you can use for planning what application you might want to draw out of the passage.
Meeting with members outside of the Bible study is essential! The deeper and stronger the relationship, the more likely members will be to open up during the study and ask the tough questions. Take time for people, visiting them and spending time together. This will also give you the opportunity to talk to them about questions they may have brought up that you want to discuss further.
Share what Jesus means to you personally. Encourage the group members to ask you questions about your faith, and don’t shy away from them. Also be sure to be patient with them if they don’t feel ready to commit to anything right away. Continue to pray!