A Reluctant Housewife Starts an Evangelistic Bible Study
By Rebecca L. Ridenour
After becoming a Christian 19 years ago, I was always interested in evangelism but did only a little. Then, four years ago, I started an evangelistic Bible study for women in my neighborhood. Seeing God work in that Bible study has been one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me.
Five years ago I attended a conference on starting evangelistic Bible studies for women using the Neighborhood Bible Studies series. I received a follow-up phone call from Jeanette VanAuker, who offered to come out, give a presentation, and help me get launched. Suddenly I was being forced to make a commitment.
First, I was concerned with what my neighbors would think of me. I had many acquaintances in the neighborhood, but I was sure that few thought of me as a particularly religious person. I was afraid that they might begin to think I was some kind of religious fanatic.
Second, I had no confidence in my leadership skills. I had been an average “Joe Christian” type for years, never particularly gifted or outstanding in any area – certainly not in evangelism – and I was afraid that I did not have what it takes to handle the group dynamics of an evangelistic Bible study.
Third, my life was already too busy. I was very involved in my church and attended numerous meetings each week. I felt that I simply did not have the time to add one more meeting to my life. And perhaps there would be all kinds of needy people to take care of. With three children under four years of age and one on the way, I had no time to spare.
I kept putting Jeanette off, but finally, after she faithfully continued to call me for several months, I said, “Okay, you come out on March 10, and I’ll have some neighborhood women at my house to hear your presentation.
Making A Start
During the next month I read and reread Gladys Hunt’s book You Can Start a Bible Study Group in which she says, “Faith is like a muscle. If you want it to grow, you have to exercise the little you have.” I realized that I had more fear than faith and that I needed to step out and trust God, leaving the results to him.
Two Christian friends who were moving into the neighborhood agreed to help with the study, and we sent out 13 invitations. You don’t have to believe what the Bible says to take part, we told women. You just have to believe the Bible is worth studying. Four women, new to Bible study, came to the presentation and were excited about the idea.
We began to study the Gospel of Mark together. One of the women rushed out and bought a new Bible that very week. The excitement was contagious and that original study grew to 10 women. At one point we had 21 preschoolers for whom we arranged babysitting at another house.
Eventually we split into two groups, which are still active in our neighborhood. One woman from the first group moved out of town and began a neighborhood Bible study in her new townhouse complex, thus introducing even more women to Christ.
Keeping It Simple
The format for the weekly meeting is extremely simple. After 15 minutes of greeting and getting settled, we take an hour to read a portion of Scripture and answer the questions provided by Neighborhood Bible Studies. We end with 15 minutes of socializing.
The questions are on three levels: observation, interpretation, and application. Even women who are brand new to reading the Bible can begin to answer the observation questions, which are about the facts. This builds their confidence that they can read the Bible with understanding. The leader poses the questions and whoever has something to say offers an answer. We don’t go around in a circle, in order not to put pressure on anyone.
We rotate leadership. This gives all the women a sense of ownership. I found that the women welcome the opportunity to use their minds, especially those who are home during the day. They particularly like the opportunity to lead, and often look things up about the passage beforehand.
I also learned that some Christians talk too much about what they already know about the Bible. The whole point of the Bible study is to help everyone discover the truth of the Bible for themselves.
Watching God Work
Many of the women in these groups make great sacrifices to come to the meetings each week because they are meeting real needs. I was surprised at the number of women in my neighborhood with deep spiritual hunger, who have either never attended church or have fallen away due to family and career pressures, who are thrilled to have an opportunity to study the claims of Christianity in a small neighborhood setting.
While I had been worrying about what my neighbors might think of me for inviting them to a Bible study, many in my neighborhood were longing to know the one true God but did not know how to find him. It is easy for those of us who have been Christians for many years and have received good teaching to forget the hunger and desire that is in the hearts of so many.
From Wary To Grateful
I think of Karen, who appeared rather wary when she came to the original presentation. “I’ll only be able to attend half the time, since I go away every other weekend,” she declared. “Half the time is better than none at all,” Jenny responded warmly.
In over a year, Karen has missed only one study, in spite of the fact that she works at a stressful job four days a week, has two children under four, and is pregnant.
The Holy Spirit is changing her heart through the study of God’s word. She always expressed strong pro-choice views about abortion, but appeared softened when she told us she was unexpectedly pregnant with her third child. Although she is at the age where her doctor recommended a genetic test to determine the health of her unborn child, she was very interested in hearing what the Bible study group thought. She opted not even to take the test.
On another occasion, when reading Acts 19 about the Ephesians burning their magic books after becoming Christians, Karen questioned the necessity for such an extreme action. She believed that certain people had powers that should be developed, such as her sister, who claimed to be a Christian but visited a psychic regularly. What could be wrong with that?
At this point another woman in the study related her confusion over a psychic she had once contacted who was able to commune with the spirit of her second husband who had committed suicide.
After studying a list of scriptural references on the occult, divination, and sorcery at the following week’s study, and reading a book on the occult by Josh McDowell, the minds of both women were radically changed. Karen even borrowed the book to lend to her sister.
Two weeks ago at Bible study Karen’s voice broke as she said, “this Bible study means so much to me. Before I started coming here, I was very immature. But I have grown so much in this study. I am so thankful to be part of this group, where we can discuss together what the Bible says and how it relates to our lives today.”
God Is Knocking On The Door
I am also reminded of my Mormon neighbor, Judy. I almost did not invite her to the study. She seemed to have it all together. What if she tries to evangelize us to Mormonism? I worried. What if she polarizes the group with her comments?
Yet I have seen God speaking powerfully to Judy through his word. As we have read the Bible as a group and have talked about it, Judy has not felt threatened by our exchanges but learned important facts about how the Bible and her Mormon faith differ.
While studying Acts 17, in which the Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was really true, we discussed the NBS study guide question, “How has the study of the Bible affected your life?” Judy was the first to speak.
“I’ve really liked reading the Bible because it’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve studied all the other books – The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants. But I’ve really enjoyed reading what the Bible says.” Tears welled in her eyes as she expressed appreciation for this group of women who have accepted her for who she is.
I held my breath in awe. How wonderful to be a part of Judy’s first exposure to the living and active word of God. What if she had not been invited to come to the study? Truly God is knocking on the door of Judy’s heart, and he is doing it through the reading of his word.
Talking With God
Another way God has touched the lives of these women is through learning to pray. None of the non-Christians would even consider praying aloud at the beginning of the study. But as we read Scripture together, the women began to realize that God cares for them personally.
One day, several months into the study, we introduced the idea of conversational prayer, and the women agreed to try it. It was a new experience for these women to talk to God personally. One in particular had a hard time praying aloud. She would pray, but invariably would keep her eyes open and often giggled as she prayed. She also frequently requested prayers for trivial things like her cat’s litter training. I have seen God mature her deeply in the past few months, as she has experienced his faithfulness in prayer.
Two months ago when we met, no one had any particular request, so one new Christian said, “Well then, let’s just lift our praises to the Lord and thank him for his goodness to us.” The group of eight women began thanking and praising God for what he has done in their lives, for the families he has given them, and for the Bible study group. Four of the women wept as they prayed, and I felt as though we were in the throne room of grace. I was sure that God was pleased with us and was blessing us with a strong sense of his presence.
I knew at that moment that there was no place I would rather be than there in my neighbor’s living room with this small group of women, as their simple prayers ascended like fragrant offerings to the Lord. What a privilege to witness God’s mighty power as he calls women out of darkness into his marvelous light.
God has proven himself more than faithful. My faith continues to grow as I am involved in this women’s neighborhood Bible study. The secret is not in great leadership skills, hours of preparation, or a charismatic personality, but in a heartfelt concern for non-Christian friends, a willingness to be available as Christ’s ambassador, and trust in the power of God’s word.
This article “A Reluctant Housewife Starts An Evangelistic Bible Study” written by Rebecca L. Ridenour is excerpted from Faith & Renewal Magazine the March 2004 edition.