Updated: Mar 2
Let me take you back to January 17, 2009 where we'll join a group of men and women called to minister to the Airmen of the United States Air Force. We are gathered with Navigator staff and key laborers at the Glen Eyrie Conference Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Each of us take our seats in a Great Hall (about the size of a basketball court) within the Palmer Castle with its large fireplace front and center. Soon guest speaker Jerry White, author, scientist, retired US Air Force Major General, and former International President of The Navigators will take the podium.
To this day I can't tell you the whole thrust of General White's talk. My only real takeaway was his encouragement for each of us to read the Bible with friends of every persuasion. Just read with them, and talk about whatever presents itself. It may seem an overly simplified approach to reaching people for Christ, but the simplicity is of course its genius.
For starters, let’s take a moment to consider the alternatives for our unreached friends. What options do they really have? A study? Why not invite them to study the Bible? Below are four good reasons not to begin with small group Bible study:
1) Neither the word “Bible” nor “study” have much appeal to the average person.
I wonder if you would even get them in the door. When we invite folks to a “Bible study,” we are inadvertently asking them to consider a dry and mundane approach to the Kingdom of God—at least in many a mindset. Those of us who are part of a active church probably by and large enjoy Bible study, but that's not the starting point for your average man on the street.
2) Most Bible studies are set to agendas and topics aimed at believers.
Bible reading allows for flow without confines, for adjustments such as flipping back a few pages. It allows you to naturally meet the needs of the individual or individuals you are with. When just reading with them, you can stop and discuss the text, add background color and context based on the setting, and address any questions that arise. Your discussion will remain relevant and your friend(s) will remain engaged.
3) Bible studies are typically populated by people with well-formed opinions and strong convictions.
A person who is a stranger to God’s Word can do little more than reveal their ignorance in such a setting. No one wants to be in over their head on any topic, especially when their own opinions and worldview might even be challenged by those less sensitive.
4) Some of us simply do not read well, and even among those who do, many will be challenged by new vocabulary and the idiomatic language of the Bible.
In a Bible study, anyone who has difficulty reading will likely deal with personal embarrassment or the scrutiny of their peers. This is exposure, when really, weaknesses like these need covering. With you as a friend (and possibly mentor)—in a Life-to-Life situation—they’ll fare much better. You can help them in very practical ways, to not only grow in their knowledge of God, but quite possibly, even in their reading abilities.
What about preaching? Some have the conviction that the themes of the Bible should be preached. If you can get your friends beyond the front door of your church or into a similar setting where preaching is considered appropriate and acceptable, that’s a great option. At the same time, many will not appreciate the value you place on it. Some may even be uncomfortable with the idea.
I think most of us can agree: however it is we advance the Gospel, the goal is to let the Spirit of God use the Word of God as the means by which He reaches our friends and frees their hearts. We need to keep in mind that even in a church service, the pastor typically reads from scripture first.
An additional word of caution here: don't rush things. Because of your friendship, you are not confined to a one-hour church setting, and it’s likely to take a number reading sessions (over a number of weeks) before God's Truth may be ready to find a home in their heart(s).
And that leads us to the central reason for reading the Bible with friends: they can come to faith through reading the Bible. As The Spirit puts it, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” —Rom 10:17 (NIV).
Let me encourage you. You can do this. Take a moment, sit down, and prayerfully make a list of friends who are currently strangers to the things of God. Next, begin to consider who you would want to invite to read the Bible with you. Spend at least a week praying over this list, asking God to open doors for you. Then take a look at your schedule and theirs. This can help you see doors the Lord may be opening. If your relationship has proper depth, ask your friend(s) if they'd like to get together just to read and discuss life aspects of the Bible. Centering it over coffee and easy finger foods can increase the appeal. If folks are geographically separated, you can use FaceTime, Zoom or a similar video software hosting service.
If you get a yes, don't stop praying. God’s work in their heart(s) is just beginning. Conversely, you do not need to be overly concerned about delays or schedule changes. The Lord can work through all of these. All He asks is that we faithfully pray and avail ourselves to Him. Yep,.. just show up, catch up (lots of small talk that helps with the deepening of any friendship), and then crack open this Book of books. Take a paragraph, let them have the next, and begin discussing God’s breath of life. Together with the fragrance of your own life, God not only can, but will do a work beyond your imagination.
As Paul puts it, "It's not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What's important is that God makes the seed grow." (1 Corinthians 3:7) This process of new life and subsequent growth is a mystery, and it remains His work alone. He does not share this glory with anyone. Let us be content to be amazed at the sight of God at work. We have the privilege of enjoying, of watching faith take root and grow.
🌵 Doug is Navigator staff assigned to military ministry in the Desert Southwest. He lives with his wife Beth Ann in Tucson, Arizona.
For further reading, we recommend NavPress' 24-page booklet by Jim Peterson.