I recently heard a new Christian woman say, “I just get lost in our small group Bible study especially when people start throwing out Greek words and what they’ve learned in other studies. I just want to understand the words that are actually printed here. They lose me. I feel so ignorant like I can never understand the Bible.” My heart just hurt for her. And, from my experience, I know this precious new Christian, who is also new to the Bible, is not alone in how she feels in our typical Bible study groups.
Bible Study Newbies Get Lost without Nurturing
In our current culture, it is not wise to assume that anyone already has a fundamental understanding of the characters and historical details in the Bible. Most first-time attendees are women new to the Bible. They are Bible Study newbies. It isn’t likely they will just “catch up” by being part of a Bible Study group. Most of them didn’t grow up in the church and/or don’t have years of church life where they were taught from the Bible (sermons, Sunday school classes). These are the ones who get lost in our Bible-oriented churches.
We have women all around us who were not raised in a church setting. Or, they attended a church that even discouraged personal Bible study. They are new to the Bible. They have no clue how to read it to feed themselves.
New Christians Need the Milk of the Word
When those unchurched women trust in Christ, they are like the newborn babies in our own families—hungry for the milk of God’s Word. Starving for it. Peter talked about this yearning in his letter,
“And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,” 1 Peter 2:2
Picture bringing a newborn baby home and sitting her at the table saying, “Watch the rest of us eat. You will learn how to feed yourself and not be hungry anymore.” Do we do that? No! We feed them regularly with nourishing milk and bathe them with parental love for months so they will be healthy physically and relationally. Parents do the feeding—milk first then gradually introducing solid food. After that, we start giving them finger foods they can handle. By the middle of their second year, they are usually feeding themselves from the table using a mouthful of teeth to do so.
Yet, we expect our new Christians (because they are in grown bodies) to feed themselves from God’s Word just by being “at the table” (in a regular small group or worship service). Yet, this lack of care and feeding of new Christians leads to discouragement and insecurity and a feeling of “I am not smart enough to understand the Bible.” Soon, they give up. I’ve seen this happen.
When I Was the Small Group Leader Who Assumed
This happens for Christians who are not new to Christ but are new to Bible Study. For one sweet woman, I was the guilty one who assumed.
“Lynn” told us on her first day to our Bible study group that she had never been in a Bible study before this. She was a shy Christian, having just started attending our church. I thought, “She’ll catch on as we go through the study each week.” I was wrong.
Lynn didn’t know how to read Bible verses and answer questions in a study designed for experienced Bible students. She might get the observation questions, just looking for information. But, after that, she wouldn’t answer anything. She felt so inadequate.
Instead of coming alongside her, I waited a few weeks. Lynn stopped coming. When I asked why, she told me how hard it was to do the study. I had her moved to a Beginners group, but the whole process of getting to know another group of people was overwhelming. She dropped altogether.
As an experienced follower of Christ, I failed this precious Christian. Since then, I’ve learned to come alongside someone new to the Bible and help them get a good start by doing simple studies together.
How to nurture women new to the Bible:
#1 Acknowledge their presence.
Women who are unfamiliar with the Bible attend your church, your Bible study, and your women’s group. You may not know who they are, but they are there. Look for them and desire to provide a safe place for them to learn.
#2 Sympathize with their insecurity.
If a woman is not much of a book learner anyway, she is going to feel insecure right away and even defeated that she will never be able to learn the Bible on her own. Come alongside that woman who is new to the Bible and let her know you want to help her as much as you can. Show compassion to the woman who signs up to attend your Bible study and then feels absolutely overwhelmed because it is too hard for her. Help her.
#3 Provide the best tutoring for them.
Start with something designed especially for anyone who is new to the Bible. You want basic lessons with simple questions and easy-to-understand terms and applications. Check the resources at the end of this blog for good studies designed for Bible Study newbies.
If you are an experienced Christian woman in a Bible study group with a new-to-the-Bible Christian, don’t let her try to chew steak with only a few baby teeth. Work through the weekly Bible study lesson with her. If it’s too much, back down to something more basic for her to understand.
Getting to Know Jesus Is the Priority!
Always start with Jesus because Christianity is Christ! What they need first and foremost is to get to know Him well and be secure in their relationship with Him. Graceful Beginnings, Painting the Portrait of Jesus, and Satisfied by His Love are great places to start.
- If you want to read through a book of the Bible, work through the gospel of Mark with her. Show her how to read the passage and let the Holy Spirit show her something from it. I usually ask the question, “What jumped out at you?” That’s the milk for the day God wants to feed her.
- If they want to follow a “Read through the Bible” plan for regular feeding, lead them to do the New Testament only, always beginning with the gospels. Getting that relationship established with Jesus is top priority. Newborn babies don’t need to know all the family history before we establish our love relationship with them.
For you, new-to-the-Bible Christian: Please ask an experienced Christian to help you learn how to study the Bible for yourself. The Spirit of God inside you will make you able to understand God’s Word over time. And, it will be so satisfying. You will not be hungry again.
For you who have influence over other women in your church, women’s ministry, or any kind of small group: Change the way you feed your new Christians or those new to the Bible. Nurture them well.
Make it easy for “Bible study newbies” to learn and not give up!
- Nurture Women New to the Bible
- A Fresh Start Bible Study for New Christians (download pdf)
- Graceful Beginnings: New Believers Guide (read online)
- Painting the Portrait of Jesus (read online or download pdf)
- Satisfied by His Love (read online or download pdf)
- Leadership Resources (checklists and pdfs)
- “For Anyone New to the Bible” blog