God’s Own Bible Study Method

God’s Own Bible Study Method

Did you know that God inspired the question-and-answer Bible study format so familiar to us today as a way for church members to easily share Bible truth? The discovery of this simple method goes back to the early years of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

The Bible Study Reformation Vision

It was the summer of 1883, and at that time the truth was spread primarily by tracts and literature or by preaching to crowds. Elder S. N. Haskell was preaching in a tent meeting in Southern California when a severe storm arose. The thunder was so loud that the people could not hear the speaker, and there was thought of canceling the meeting, when Elder Haskell was struck with a divinely inspired idea. He called the people to crowd around him in the center of the tent and began to call out a question followed by a text, which they were encouraged to look up. Then he would call on one or another to read the text aloud. In this way he was able to conclude his message, and the effect was powerful! The people had seen many of their questions answered straight from their own Bibles and were deeply impressed with the truth. 

After the guests had dispersed, one of them—Elder W. C. White—shared with his mother what had taken place that night. The next day, Ellen White met with Elder Haskell and the other ministers and told them that the meeting described to her was in harmony with the light she had received from the Lord. God had shown her a vision in which she saw hundreds and thousands of Seventh-day Adventists going into homes and sharing the truth in this same way. 

A description of the vision is given in Christian Service, page 42. “In visions of the night representations passed before me of a great reformatory movement among God’s people. … Hundreds and thousands were seen visiting families, and opening before them the word of God. Hearts were convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and a spirit of genuine conversion was manifest.” This powerful vision revealed God’s plan for a mighty reformation among His people—a Bible study reformation! 

Empowering the Laity 

Elder Haskell was inspired by Ellen White’s vision to provide simple instruction for sharing the Bible using the same question-and-answer format that he had used. In October of that same year, he established a ten-day Bible Reading Institute for the training of lay people (“Bible studies” were then called “Bible readings”). 

A general announcement to all Adventists was given in one of our leading papers, encouraging them to attend the training. It read, “Not only young men and women are wanted, but men of mature years; even if their heads are sprinkled with gray hairs, they are none too old to visit families and tell what God has done for them, and read the Scriptures” (S. N. Haskell, in The Signs of the Times, October 18, 1883, p. 465). Ellen White would later write, “The plan of holding Bible readings was a heaven-born idea. There are many, both men and women, who can engage in this branch of missionary labor” (Christian Service, p. 141). 

It is worth noting who was being recruited to give Bible studies. Old and young, men and women—anyone who could tell what God had done for them, and read the Scriptures. Here was the genius, the “heaven-born” wisdom, of the Bible study method. Here was the secret to the excitement it generated in the church. The church was not dependent upon the ministers alone to spread the truth. Here was a method that would empower thousands of lay people and be an important means of finishing the work. 

The whole reason the Seventh-day Adventist Church produces question-and-answer Bible study guides is to give every church member a helpful resource for sharing their faith more effectively. If you’ve never shared your faith using a series of these Bible study guides, ask the Lord for a divine appointment today!

Church Growth Bottleneck

Church Growth Bottleneck

Jesus gave the secret to church growth when He said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2). Ellen White affirms, “All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 109). In these passages, which reveal the good news of multitudes of souls hungering for truth and light, we also discover a sobering reality. The reason a great harvest is not realized is that the laborers are few. The reason men and women all over the world are not flooding into the church is that they are “waiting only to be gathered in.” There are a great number of people in our world in whom the Lord has already prepared the soil of the heart. Through life experiences, the workings of providence, or our own friendship and labors, they have become open to the truth. Yet the sad reality taught by Jesus, and affirmed in the inspired counsel of Ellen White, is that the number of those open to receiving Bible studies is greater than the number of those willing to give them. 

We might call this condition of things a Bible study bottleneck. In manufacturing, a bottleneck is the part of the production process with the slowest rate of output. Companies invest significant time and money attempting to improve the bottleneck because they know that the only way to increase total output is to increase the rate of output in that particular area. In the evangelism process, the bottleneck is usually Bible studies. While many church members volunteer to serve in a wide variety of soil preparation ministries—felt needs ministries and community outreach initiatives, only a small percentage are generally involved in cultivating and harvesting with Bible studies. This means that we can keep increasing our labors in every other area, but as long as only a few are giving regular Bible studies, we will never see a significant increase in church membership. That’s right, the secret to growth in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is simple, old, tried-and-true Bible studies! When great numbers in our churches begin to take hold of this vital ministry, it will open the bottleneck and our growth will be exponential.

Bible Studies & Christ’s Method

Some might push back on the idea that Bible studies are the secret to church growth, asserting that the true missing ingredient in our witness to the world is “Christ’s method alone.” Let’s take a closer look at this oft-invoked council and see what connection it has to our Bible study bottleneck.

In The Ministry of Healing, p. 143, Ellen White pointed to Jesus as the model soul-winner: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’” While nothing about sharing Bible truth is specifically mentioned in this oft-quoted passage, a closer look at the context reveals that this was nevertheless the ultimate goal of Christ’s ministry. 

In the paragraphs that follow the description of Christ’s method, Ellen White writes, “We should ever remember that the object of the medical missionary work is to point sin-sick men and women to the Man of Calvary. … And personal ministry often prepares the way for this.” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 144).

As an example of Christ’s method, Ellen White tells us of the medical missionary who “prepares the way” for the gospel. She goes on to say, “Missionary nurses who care for the sick and relieve the distress of the poor will find many opportunities to pray with them, to read to them from God’s word, and to speak of the Saviour. …

Many have no faith in God and have lost confidence in man. But they appreciate acts of sympathy and helpfulness. … They see that God cares for them, and they are prepared to listen as His word is opened” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 144-145).

We find from the context of the well-known passage about “Christ’s method alone” that the eventual goal of medical missionary work, or any soil preparation ministry, is to “point sin-sick men and women to the Man of Calvary.” Ellen White explains in another place, “When properly conducted, the health work is an entering wedge, making a way for other truths to reach the heart” (Counsels on Health, p. 434). Preparing the soil with compassionate ministry, as vital as this component may be, is still only the first part of the evangelism process—the “entering wedge, making a way for other truths to reach the heart.” What must follow is the often labor-intensive phase of pointing people to Christ, as revealed in the truths of the Bible, and leading them to accept and follow Him. In other words, what must follow are Bible studies!

Now let us consider one more description of Christ’s method of winning souls: “From Christ’s methods of labor we may learn many valuable lessons. He did not follow merely one method; in various ways He sought to gain the attention of the multitude; and then He proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel” (Evangelism, p. 123). Here we discover that Christ used various methods in order to prepare the soil, or to “gain the attention” of the people. Once the attention was gained, however, the next step in Christ’s method of soul-winning was always the same. It simply says that Jesus “proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel.” Jesus’ method of evangelism doesn’t exist without this vital component, because there is no substitute for sharing the truth.

Friends, we absolutely need more of “Christ’s method” in our soul-winning labor! We should not only look for but create opportunities to minister to people’s temporal needs as an “entering wedge” to “proclaim to them the truths of the Gospel.” May the Lord give us each a heart to win souls as Jesus did. 

Why Bible Studies?

Why Bible Studies?

Methods of evangelism have always been a hot topic among Christians. As culture changes, innovative new methods of church growth are on high demand. In the quest for “all things new” in evangelism, the mention of giving more Bible studies hardly gets anyone excited. Why should we be excited about the church growth potential of simple, old, tried-and-true Bible studies? To answer this question, we must first review how evangelism works. 

The Evangelism Process

Jesus used the growth process of a plant or tree to describe the process of winning souls to Christ and growing the kingdom of God. He spoke of sowing seed and of laboring for the harvest (see Matthew 13:3-23 and Luke 10:2). He used illustrations of a mustard seed that starts small and grows into a large tree, and a fig tree that needs to be fertilized in order to bear fruit (see Matthew 13:31-32 and Luke 13:6-9). The apostle Paul picked up on these teachings of Jesus, explaining that those who sow bountifully will reap bountifully (see 2 Corinthians 9:6), and that while we are called to plant and water, only God can cause something to grow (see 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

These consistent illustrations from nature’s growth process should impress us with the realization that there are no short cuts in evangelism. Soul-winning is a process, not an event. The soil of the heart must be prepared with friendship and service. The seed of the Word must be planted to test the soil. Spiritual interest must be cultivatedwith ongoing Bible study. Decisions to follow Christ and the truths of the Bible must be harvested, and the harvest must be preserved with ongoing discipleship of new members. All of this may seem straightforward and simple, but it is frequently forgotten when evaluating methods of church growth. 

We often hear that new and different methods are needed to reach the current generation. Creative ideas that assure better than average results are presented, all while drawing attention and funding from church leaders who are more than ready to reward “innovation” in evangelism. But the question we should be asking those with new methods of evangelism is this: “What phase of evangelism?” Is the new method intended to prepare the soil of the heart, or is it a new method of planting the Word? Is it a new method of cultivating spiritual growth or of harvesting decisions to follow the truth? Or is it a method of preserving new members? We need to understand which phase of the evangelism process the new method proposes to accomplish, because it rarely if ever will accomplish them all!

The Indispensable Method

Most new methods of evangelism focus on the first one or two phases of the evangelism process. This is important to understand, because new methods of preparing the soil will never replace the need for cultivating and harvesting with Bible studies. Even so, many churches today hardly mention the need for members to give Bible studies, and they stopped holding full-scale evangelistic meetings long ago. Their evangelism focus has shifted almost entirely to random acts of kindness, community service projects, family-friendly social events to establish belonging and community, or perhaps weekend lectures covering contemporary topics. Is there anything wrong with any of these ministries? Absolutely not! The truth is, we need these and a thousand more like them. The problem is not with these methods, but with the idea that they can ever grow a church without Bible studies or evangelistic meetings. Not only do new methods of preparing the soil or planting seeds not replace the need for Bible studies, they actually increase that need by finding and developing more people who are open to hear the truth!

The reality is, Bible studies are timeless and indispensable, and they will always be at the heart of Seventh-day Adventist evangelism. Someone may become a member of the church without ever being the recipient of a random act of kindness or felt-need ministry; or without ever attending a health event, church social, or Vacation Bible School. But no one becomes a Seventh-day Adventist without Bible studies. They may be personal Bible studies or small group Bible studies. They may be in the form of a one-month evangelistic series, or last a year or more. They may be video Bible studies, online Bible studies, or correspondence Bible studies. But one way or another, every Seventh-day Adventist goes through Bible studies before baptism. Here is where the truth grips the heart and decisions are made to believe and practice in harmony with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

The Message Matters

It must always be remembered that soul-winning power does not lie in us, but in the Spirit of God working through the message entrusted to us. Building friendships, gaining trust, and being compassionate will always be vitally important; yet the ultimate goal is not merely for people to trust us, or to love us, or even to be blessed by us. In the end, we want them to behold Christ, hear and accept the message of the gospel, and be gripped by the truth of His Word. Only Jesus, through God’s Word, can convert hearts. They must be “born again … through the Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23), and sanctified through repentance, faith, and obedience to the truth.

It is often asserted that “actions speak louder than words,” and when dealing only with humanity, this is true. Yet we should always remember that our actions donot speak louder than God’s words. Herein lies the real reason that Bible studies will always be at the heart of Seventh-day Adventist evangelism. Because the only thing powerful enough to persuade someone to become and to remain a Seventh-day Adventist Christian—to follow a path that is contrary to culture, contrary to mainstream Christianity, contrary to ease and convenience, and often contrary to friends and family, is the overwhelmingly clear and compelling power of the message itself, revealed in the Bible and written on our hearts by the Spirit of God. 

Take a moment to consider how the truths of Scripture have changed your own life. Then, ask God to begin preparing you to share those same soul-saving truths with others.

Pr. Jim Howard is the Associate Director of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.