Leading a group bible study
If you decide to lead a Bible study for international students, there are some practical aspects to consider.
Time and commitment are essential: To begin with, you need to consider the time and dedication that you will need to prepare the study. Even if you choose to use a Bible study guide with questions and information already provided, you need to read the passage of scripture as well as the questions beforehand, and spend time in prayer. You will also need to commit time to inviting friends and maintaining contact with them.
This leads us to other practical considerations. You need to consider how you want the Bible study to run: what sort of programme will the Bible study involve? Who would you like to invite? What atmosphere do you want to create? Based on your answers, you can move ahead and plan more concretely.
Who would you like to invite? This could be one friend that you want to meet to read the Bible with, an existing group of international students that you have contact to, or you may want create a brand new group. The size of the group is up to you, though experience has shown that a group of 4 students and 2 of you leading works very well. You could invite them personally, which is often most effective, or you could supplement this with a poster hung up somewhere. When inviting students, it is important that you are transparent about what you intend to do at your meeting and that you want to read the Bible with them. Make it clear that they don’t need to know anything about Christianity beforehand. They should not be caught off guard or be put in an uncomfortable position when they arrive for the first time.
Location and venue
The location needs to be quiet enough to read and discuss the text. A busy cafe is not ideal for this as it is too loud, but neither is a library where the students may be afraid of being overheard. Ideally, the place you meet would have comfortable seating, a table to sit around, and should be easily accessible to students. The time at which you meet should also suit all those attending, and the meeting shouldn’t last too long - you don’t want students going home absolutely exhausted and dreading the next meeting, and studying in a foreign language is strenuous!
You can incorporate various elements into your meeting. You could, for example have a social element at the beginning or end, where participants can relax and chat, while enjoying something to drink and/or eat. This would also enable you to get to know students and build a friendship with them.
Asking questions and leading the study
You could either choose a text and prepare your own study on it, or use an existing study. Either way, each student should have a Bible or a copy of the passage, where they can read along. In preparation, you need to have read the text and questions and know in which direction the study is going. When in the group, try not to do all the talking but allow participants to share their opinions and ask questions. React kindly to their responses, but also keep the discussion on track to minimise confusion. If a question seems important to one participant but not to others, or if it doesn’t come at a good time, you can answer it later or afterwards.
Sometimes it can be helpful to open with a question before you even look at the passage. The idea is to get people thinking about a topic before looking at what the Bible says. For example in a study of John 4 you might ask: “What do you think gives people the most lasting satisfaction in life?”
Things to bear in mind:
While we shouldn’t allow the fear of making mistakes to paralyse us, there are some general things to keep in mind when preparing for and carrying out Bible studies with international students.
Be mindful of assumptions you may be making. Don’t assume that participants know the context of a passage or can relate it to other passages. They may also have a very different understanding of certain concepts such as “sin”, who God is, or what a “father” is like. Rather ask questions to gain a better understanding.
It is very likely that not everybody will speak the group-language at the same level. When you ask questions, try to see if they have really understood. They may also express themselves awkwardly. Ask a question like ‘what do you mean by ….’ if you aren’t sure.
Some cultures, such as those from East Asia, avoid disagreeing. They may tell you what they believe you want to hear. Being aware of this can help you to encourage them to speak their mind. However, don’t pressure them to speak more than they want to.
Be thoroughly prepared. Know the context of the text, where the discussion is going, what questions you will be studying, and how you could answer potential questions from participants.
Listen carefully and try to understand where questions or comments are coming from. Be honest about your own thoughts and transparent about your experiences. If you don’t know the answer to something, it is better to say you don’t know and refer them to somebody who does, or find the answer and talk about it again.
When asking questions, try to get everybody to weigh in, but avoid asking too directly. Some participants may not want to share their opinion or perspective, or may feel intimidated. Handle such situations sensitively.
Be aware of cultural issues (e.g. how men and women relate in a group, how one handles the Bible, what food is on the table, and so on).