May 07, 2018


Helping Students Start Studying the Bible

Conan Sherlin reflects on what he learned as a college student and how he now equips students to study the Bible.

I distinctly remember when I got serious about faith and committed my life to Christ through the ministry of the BCM at the University of Tennessee. I remember being confused when an older student with a church background talked about having a regular “Quiet Time.” I remember wondering what that was and whether or not I needed the same thing. I sought answers and was shown a method that I call the Magical Finger.

The Magical Finger is where a believer sits down with the Bible and with the holiest of intentions opens the book to wherever the spirit leads and places a finger without looking somewhere on the page. The passage highlighted would then be the message God wanted to teach me that day. I was supposed to read for an indeterminate about of time and then close my eyes and try to appear as pensive as possible. I actually tried this for a while. This practice allowed me to never read the first five books and the last five books of the bible (goodbye Leviticus and Revelations). Many QT’s focused on Psalms (it is near the center) and a few with the Gospels and one or two rather confusing studies of Ecclesiastes.

This odd methodology resulted in me reading the Word but lacking any definable way to communicate my practices or to be able to show others how to feed themselves. I continued in this uncertainty until the day I met Max Barnett. He was teaching a class at my seminary and I recall the first day of his class, Max stated that he was going to teach us how to have a Quiet Time and he was going to teach us in a way that we could then turn around and teach someone else. He then showed the steps that I will go through below, but the intent is what struck me the hardest. He didn’t pretend that he was giving us the magic bullet for bible study and spiritual growth. He was simply trying to teach us a way to get the most out of scripture that we could then easily pass on to others. The easy steps, and easy to remember questions could be used for the rest of our lives when inexperienced brothers and sisters wondered how to approach a fruitful Quiet Time. It was a method that was geared towards how to teach others to study the Bible. This was an important lesson that I had not previously wrestled with, after all – what better mark of maturity can we use for these young or new believers than the ability to feed themselves on the transforming and inspiring word of God?

Here’s the step-by-step process that you could use with your students:

Step 1: Start with Prayer
Begin by inviting God to speak to you and shape you through your study. Steve Moore, a staffer with Navs, said that the quality of your quiet time is often determined by your attitude in prayer before you begin..

Step 2: Read the selected passage.
Spend some careful time reading through the passage you have chosen. Perhaps even re-read it a few times.

Step 3: Answer three questions about the passage.

  • What does it say? Summarize it in your own words. No interpretation, just a re-telling.
  • What does it mean? Dive further into what God is saying and the significance of key phrases.
  • How do I apply this? Identify what actions you need to take in order to be obedient to God. Perhaps create some SMART goals to pursue in light of God’s direction.

Step 4: Pray again.
The prayer this time can be for God to help them to retain the information they just learned and for help in accomplishing the goals that they have set out for themselves.

This easy-to-follow format allows for the most amount of understanding to come from studying a passage. This also allows for action to follow reading. I have heard uncertainty from so many young students when it comes to studying the Bible. They substitute theology books and devotion books to the tried and true method of going straight to the source. Quiet Times, involving us digging into the Word, are so vital for growth that perfecting some easy to follow format is essential for discipleship and really should be included in one of the earliest lessons we teach.

The next time a student approaches you for help in studying the Bible, I hope you will have a concrete and reproducible way to show them how to get started. If there is any way that I can help you as you seek to implement some of these ideas, please do not hesitate to contact me!

about the author

Conan Sherlin

Conan directs the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Nicholls State University in South Louisiana. He grew up in the mountains of East TN and previously directed the BCM at UVA-Wise before. He and his wife Christy have four children.