Inductive Bible Study Process
North India known as the ‘graveyard of missions and missionaries.’ Some of these churches are tenth generation church plants and studies show that the tenth generation is as mature and Biblically sound as the first. While persecution in this area is high, so is the faith of the church. They walk and talk with God. They see miracles everyday. They share their faith. They plant more churches. They pray for the sick. They take care of the widows and orphans. Although many are illiterate, they study the Bible inductively. They believe we have a choice – we read or listen to God’s Word, believe, and obey Him or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
People ask, “Why don’t we see church planting movements in the North America?” It is because we read God’s Word, but are not obedient. We amass knowledge about God, but we don’t do anything with our knowledge. We say we read God’s Word inductively but we usually stop before we get to the hard part: obedience. Until we read God’s Word and obey it, we will not see church planting movements in the United States.
Read, obey, and share – that is the inductive process in a nutshell. We read God’s word out loud (if we are in a group) or write it word for word (if we are studying on our own.) Next, we write God’s Words into our own words as if telling another person what we read – just to make sure we really understand what it says. Finally, we commit to two things: to change our life to obey God’s Word and share what God taught us with at least one other person. Obedience and sharing must happen within the next 24 to 48 hours. If too much time passes between reading God’s Word and obeying it, people disobey God and establish a habit of negligent disobedience in their lives.
According to Scripture, if we read God’s Word and disobey it we either don’t love God (John 14:15-21) or we are a fool (James 1:22-25, Proverbs 10:8, 14:9, 14:16). If we don’t share God’s Word, we don’t love others. (John 14, Matthew 22, 1 John 3:13) If we know what to do, but choose not to do it, we are disobedient. (James 4:17) But we often follow a religious system that does not require obedience (which makes the religion disobedient.) We judge spiritual maturity by what someone knows rather than if they obey what they know. If we judge spiritual maturity by obedience to God’s Word, there are new Christians in North India who are more spiritually mature than many people who chose to follow Christ years ago. If we want to grow spiritually, we need to adopt a system that encourages behaviors that lead to spiritual growth. Inductive Bible Study is one process that encourages those behaviors.
If you are like me, you probably want me to get to the point and tell you exactly how this looks. Let’s take a look at how Inductive Bible Study works for personal study and group study. I will also address what this looks like for oral cultures.
Personal Inductive Bible Study
When I study the Bible I use a three column process. I turn a piece of paper on its side, or landscape. Then I divide the paper into three columns. I label the first ‘Scripture.’ I label the second ‘My Words’ and the third ‘I Will.’
I started practicing Inductive Bible Study with the book of James. James is a short book with short sections. The length of the passage you chose affects how much time the study takes. Longer passages take longer to study. This isn’t a bad thing, but you need to keep it in mind. Generally, I try to keep my passages between 10 and 15 verses. I break larger passages into several sections, spread out over several days.
In the ‘Scripture’ column, I write the passage: word-for-word. This takes time but like I said before, you control how much time by choosing smaller chunks of Scripture. What is most important, however, is this – when you copy a passage word-for-word you actually read it through several (about five to seven) times. It is a form a forced meditation for those of us who can’t sit and think about a passage without losing focus. This process also keeps me from skimming familiar passages. When I write it out I have to think about every word.
My Own Words
When I finish copying the passage, I use the second column to write the passage in my own words. I write it like I’m telling a friend about it over a cup of coffee. I don’t move on until I can write the passage in my own words. You see, you don’t really understand it if you can’t tell it to someone in your own words. And you can’t obey Scripture unless you understand it. It’s that simple. Sometimes I have to stop on a passage, read it again, and think about quite a bit before I can put it in my own words. When I started this process, I found that there were several familiar passages that I couldn’t write in my own words! I couldn’t believe how much I ‘knew’ and how little I understood.
In the third column I transition from knowing God’s Word to obeying God’s Word. In the ‘I Will’ column I look at each part of the passage. I ask God to reveal things I need to add to my life, take away from my life, or change in my life for me to obey this passage. I am very specific. The passage may say that God created the Earth, but I have to decide what that means in my life. How does my life change because I believe that God created the Earth? What do I need to do differently? What can I do in the next 24 to 48 hours to obey this passage? I believe every time we open God’s Word, He invites us into relationship. We call His invitation ‘grace,’ because we can’t do anything to deserve it. Obedience is how we accept His invitation. God lives with those who obey His Word. (John 14:23-24) When we study God’s Word we have a choice: we choose to obey Him or we choose to disobey Him. It is really that simple. I see this third column as my response to God’s invitation.
As I finish this study, I have two responsibilities. First, I need to meet with other followers of Christ and discuss what I learned. I need to tell them my ‘I Will’ statements. They hold me accountable and they figure out ways to help me obey God’s Word. Second, I look for opportunities to share what God said to me. I try to work the phrase, “God taught me something today.” or something similar, into my conversation and I wait for their response. This creates discussion opportunity. If people are interested, they ask for more information. If it isn’t the right time for them, they ignore me and I don’t continue to share. When they do ask, I share what God taught me. And I stop. If they are interested, and if it is the right time, they will ask more questions. Their questions help me understand where they are in their spiritual journey. I don’t want to move faster than the Holy Spirit wants me to, or I risk inoculating them to the Gospel.
To summarize the process:
- Write the passage word-for-word in column 1.
- Write the passage in your own words in column 2.
- List the actions you must take to obey this passage in column 3.
- Share what you learned with other believers for accountability.
- Create discussion opportunities with not-yet-believers. Share with people who are interested.
Group Inductive Bible Study
When you meet with groups for Inductive Bible Study, go around the room and have everyone share one thing they are thankful for and one thing that is stressing them out. Eventually, point out to the group that prayer in its simplest form is telling God the things we are thankful for and talking with Him about what stresses them out. Transition this interaction from a group share time to an open, interactive prayer time. This form of prayers is very interactive and gets the quietest people involved in group prayer.
The Holy Spirit
Right after you pray, ask the group to share what God said to them in their personal time with Him since your last meeting. Asking this question at the beginning of every meeting encourages group members to have a personal time with God. It also reiterates every member’s ability to hear God’s voice. Giving them an opportunity to share allows room for the Holy Spirit to take the group study in a completely different direction than you planned. Be sensitive to the group and make sure they have this time.
After everyone has a chance to share, have someone read Scripture out loud while everyone follows along in their Bible. When they are done, have someone else read the same passage out loud again. This time have everyone listen to the reading. When they are done, ask for a volunteer to retell the passage in their own words. When they finish, ask the group to fill in any points they feel were left out.
Reading, listening, and retelling Scripture is more important than you might think. This pattern allows different learning styles to engage Scripture. Everyone has time to think about the passage and ask the Holy Spirit to speak through God’s Word. Retelling the passage allows them to think through sharing this passage with someone outside the group. Allowing the group to add to the retelling encourages everyone to think about the main points in the passage. Even though going through the passage multiple times seems repetitive and time consuming, the process helps develop reproducing disciples.
After your group retells the Scripture, you can study the passage. Your discussion must be question driven. Questions facilitate the discovery process. Questions allow your group to wrestle with Scripture and grow spiritually. Below are some sample questions to encourage interaction with Scripture:
- Did anything in this passage capture your attention?
- What did you like about this passage?
- Did anything bother you? Why?
- What does this passage tell us about God?
- What does this passage tell us about Man?
- What does this passage tell us about living to please God?
Keep discussion focused on Scripture. If you or someone else in your group is well-read, it will be hard to avoid introducing outside materials into the study. You, as the facilitator, need to work hard to limit the discussion of extra-Biblical or other Biblical materials. These materials are not bad, but they don’t facilitate interaction with Scripture. In most cases extra-Biblical materials underscore the knowledge of the one introducing the materials rather than keeping Scripture at center stage. Sometimes this is not the case, but those moments are rare. Do your best to keep discussion focused on the Scripture that is the focus of the study.
Knowledge of God’s Word must translate into obedience or it is wasted. This next step begins with a statement and a question: “Since we believe God’s Word is true, what must we change in our lives to obey God?” Everyone in the group must answer this question before they leave. If they already obey this Scripture, have them share how they obey it. Ask them if there is anything else they need to do to increase their obedience to God’s Word in this area of their life.
Keep this part of your time focused on specifics. For example, realizing that there is only one God is awesome, but that realization needs to become action. In this case you might encourage them with a follow up question: “Now that you believe there is one God, what do you need to change in your life? What will you do differently?” Encourage your group to identify specific things to do to obey the passage.
After everyone shares how they are going to obey Scripture, have them identify someone who needs to hear what God said to the group. Encourage them to share what they learned with that person.
Before you wrap up, ask the group to identify people they know who are in need. Ask the group to identify ways to meet those needs in the next week.
Finally, close in prayer.
To summarize group Inductive Bible Study:
- Share one thing you are thankful for and one thing that is stressing you out in a group prayer process.
- Ask the group to share what God told them through His Word since the last meeting. Ask them to share how they were obedient to the previous week’s Scripture.
- Read Scripture out loud while people follow along in their Bibles.
- Have someone else read the same passage out loud while the group listens.
- Have someone in the group retell the passage in their own words. Allow the group to add to the retelling, if necessary.
- Use discovery questions to encourage the group to engage the passage.
- Challenge the group to obey God’s Word. Have each person share what they are going to do to obey the passage over the next week.
- Have the group identify people they will share the passage with during the next week.
- Have the group identify people in need and commit to meeting those needs.
- Close in prayer.
Inductive Bible Study in Oral Cultures
In oral cultures the inductive process is similar to the group process outlined above. Since they can’t read, you need to use an audio Bible like those provided by Faith Comes by Hearing (www.fcbh.org) or you need to have someone who can read actually read the passage through for the group. Allowing the group to retell the passage is even more important in oral settings because repetition helps them remember the passage.
Adaptation for Group Inductive Bible Study
Have each group member work through the three columns on their own. After a pre-determined period of time, have group members come together and share what they learned. This is a great way to teach the Inductive Bible Study process. This adaptation also works great in seminar settings where you distribute several different passages on a specific topic to group members. Each person reads a different passage and together the group determines what the Bible says about the topic and what they need to do to be obedient.