How to Encourage Bible Study

As Seventh-day Adventists we take pride in the concept that we are “people of the Book.” Yet today we seem to be more “people of the quarterly” or “people of this or that opinion” when it comes to Sabbath School classes and discussion. In-depth Bible study seems to be a lost or dying art.

For new members as well as longtime members there is a crying need to learn or relearn how to really study the Bible. This isn’t a cheap shot at our doctrinal understanding or church structures. Those are solid. But giving a Bible study on a doctrinal topic is only one way to study the Book. The general Adventist member or visitor simply does not know how to study the Bible for themselves, let alone how to lead others to study it.

Here are a few ideas that will enliven your own study as well as ignite sparks of interest for a class.

Tools

There may be some expense, but the excitement and outcomes are worthy of the investment. You could build a house by using a rock to pound in the nails, but a hammer makes the job both easier and more successful! For starters you will need: 

  1. A well-researched study Bible, such as the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. It has good (conservative) notes, maps, and references. Paraphrased Bibles (The Clear Word, The Message, The Living Bible, etc.) are fine for reading and overview, but I do not recommend paraphrased works for deep study.
  2. A complete unabridged concordance, such as Young’s, Cruden’s, or Strong’s (for the KJV) or Goodrick and Kolenberger’s NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Zondervan).
  3. A Bible dictionary and/or encyclopedia. 
  4. Bible lands maps. 
  5. Optional (and to be used last), a Bible commentary.  

So now that the basic tools are in hand, what to do with them? Here are some suggestions for individual or class study.

  1. Set individual or group goals for the study. Encourage students to determine to listen to what God is saying to them personally or to the group. Strive to find out what this part of Scripture tells:
    1. About God.
    2. About the people to and/or about whom it was originally written. 
    3. About humanity in general. 
    4. About you specifically.
  2. Work toward life application, not just information gathering.
  3. Develop an accountability and follow-up process for the application aspect. 

Bible Study Methods

One of the best books on various Bible study methods is 12 Dynamic Bible Study Methods, by Rick Warren (Victor Books). Warren expands and adds to the brief discussion of just a few methods of Scripture exploration.

A key element of these kinds of study is to write down material as the individual study takes place, then bring those discovery notes to the class and share them with one another. In learning, as in life, “the shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.” Written materials are far better for sharing than recollections or opinions. 

Biographical Study. Look up all the references having to do with a particular person. Build a biography with that data. When and where did they live? What impact did their society have on them and they on it? How did God intervene in their life? How can He do the same for us today? What can I learn from their successes and/or mistakes?

It has been well said that we need to learn from the mistakes of others, because we can’t possibly live long enough to make them all ourselves. By working individually and then sharing as a group, we will have many eyes looking at the biblical person. The learning will be multiplied for everyone. 

Character Traits Study. This is similar to a biographical study and can complement it or follow a biographical study as a next step. The focus is on the character of the individual rather than their place in the flow of history. Look for strong and weak traits of character and how the person shaped them and used the traits in shaping others. Ask: What does it say about my character development?

Book Overview. Look at the Bible as a whole. What is its structure and style? What themes or major ideas make up the “backbone” of the book? What are secondary themes? What are the basic building blocks of the book? If the book were to be condensed into a page or paragraph (a good thing to attempt to do as a way of capturing the essence of the book), what would be the vital parts and points? The idea here is to have a clear overview, not an in-depth detailed analysis.

Verse Study. Word meanings, connections with other parts of the Bible, historical and geographical facts. Ask what the verse would mean to those who first read it and to people today.

These styles of study get students into the Bible. They provide energetic discussions in class when the written notes are compared and discussed. The Sabbath School will automatically be energized.


Dick Stenbakken
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists